Bubonic Plague

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When Bubonic Plague visited England in 1348, it was called the Great Mortality. We know it as the Black Death that lasted until 1352 and killed vast populations in Asia , North Africa , Europe , Iceland , and Greenland . In total, it extinguished as much as fifty percent of the world's population.

In England , bubonic plague on average killed at least one-third of all inhabitants between 1348 and 1349. In London alone, one out of two people died during the visitation. The bottom line is that every English man, woman, and child at the time encountered plague in some way, and all feared it.

After 1352, the plague became endemic in England , flaring up routinely and then yearly from 1485 to 1670. Within those two centuries, the plague regularly contributed to dramatic increases in English mortality. English plague tracts and tales came into existence and grew in number: Langland railed against plague -time physicians in Piers Plowman; Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale takes place in plague -time, unlike the other previous accounts of the same story; Hans Holbein--essential painter of Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More--died of plague in 1543; Erasmus wrote many letters on his being nearly imprisoned at Oxford while plague raged in London; Spenser used plague as a setting for his "Prosopopoia or Mother Hubbard's Tale"; it is assumed that John Fletcher died from plague in 1625; Jonson lost a son to the plague and immortalized him in poetry. The list is much longer. It was not until well after 1720 with the last great plague in Marseilles that the litany would wane. 1

The fear of plague was inherent in Renaissance English society. At least two periods of extensive mortality occurred on average with each reign of an early monarch. The Black Death is generally related with Europe and the period 1346-1350 but it neither began nor ended then. The earliest records of this pestilence are in China . In 46 AD an epidemic in Mongolia killed two-thirds of the population. In 312 northern and central China became a wasteland and in the province of Shensi , only one or two out of 100 taxpayers survived. In 468, 140,000 inhabitants died in the Chinese cities of Honan , Hopei , Shantung and others.

Plague spreads

During the next 900 years this pestilence traveled gradually all over China and the Middle East though major outbreaks were not frequent. By 1346 it had reached the Crimea and took on a far more strong form, spreading to Turkey and the major islands in the Mediterranean and then into the rest of Europe.

Most major European centers felt the impact of the Black Death. It reached Sicily in 1346, Italy in early 1347, and towards the end of 1347 was in Marseilles , France . In 1348 it attacked Spain and spread throughout Germany and France . It arrived in London early in the same year and by 1349 was in Oxford and spread throughout England where it was present until 1359. Scotland was affected rather later. 2

"In any given period, the plague accomplished its work in three to six months and then faded from view. The plague came and went like a tornado -- its appearance and movement was totally unpredictable. In northern cities, the plague lay dormant in winter and then reappeared the following spring. In 1349, the plague reappeared at Paris and eventually spread to Holland , Scotland and Ireland . In Norway , a ghost shipped drifted offshore for months before it ran aground with its cargo of death. By the end of 1349, Sweden , Denmark , Prussia , Iceland and Greenland felt the full effects of the plague. The plague left nearly as quickly as it had appeared. By mid-1350, the plague had completed its deed across the continent of Europe ". 3

The mortality rate of the Black Death was horrendous. It is estimated in various parts of Europe at two-thirds to three-quarters of the population. In England it was even higher during the first wave. Some countries were less seriously affected. Shrewsbury, the...
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