Black Plague Essays

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Lists kept in bishop’s registers recording the appointments of parish priests to newly vacant posts are a more reliable source for studying the chronological and geographical distribution of the Black Death in England.

Lists kept in bishop’s registers recording the appointments of parish priests to newly vacant posts are a more reliable source for studying the chronological and geographical distribution of the Black Death in England. The dates and location of these “institutions to benefices,” offer a rough guide to the pace and spread of the plague, indicating that around 45 percent of the beneficed parish clergy died in the course of just over twelve months.

In the four years that the Black Death was at its height in Europe (between 13), the epidemic killed 30 to 60 percent of the population, amounting to tens of millions of people.

This essay argues that a full understanding of the epidemiology of this devastating plague—that is, its levels of mortality; the distribution of deaths by age, sex, wealth, and location; and the susceptibility of victims to disease—can only be attained by bringing together archaeological and documentary evidence.

Medieval documentary sources also offer information on the spread, seasonality, and duration of the disease.

Chroniclers identified the first English victims during the summer of 1348 in port towns, emphasizing its arrival on ships from the Continent, though they disagree on the exact dates (sometime between late June and late September) and which ports it struck first (Bristol, Southampton, or Melcombe).

For more information, read Michigan Publishing's access and usage policy. “Mortality Risk Factors Show Similar Trends in Modern and Historic Populations Exposed to Plague.” 48(3) (1983): 489–98.

Abstract: The fourteenth-century Black Death was one of the most important and devastating epidemics in human history.

The documentary sources employed by historians to analyze the Black Death have been known for some time.

They include chronicles, which offer direct statements from contemporaries about the symptoms, pace, and mortality rates of the plague, as well as appointments of parish priests, wills, and especially manorial records, which reflect the experience of the rural majority.

Several medieval accounts recognized the distinct symptoms of pneumonic plague, which included respiratory distress such as shortage of breath and coughing up of blood or sputum, as well as a quick death.

To explain the apparent greater virulence of historic plague compared to modern plague, some scholars have suggested that the Black Death was an outbreak of pneumonic plague, which has very high case-fatality rates and can spread from person to person.

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