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Bubonic Plague

By | March 2005
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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...

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