From 1348 to 1350 Europe was devastated by an epidemic that left between a third and one half of the population dead. This book traces, through contemporary writings, the calamitous impact of the Black Death in Europe, with a particular emphasis on its spread across England from 1348 to 1349. It charts the social and psychological impact of the plague, and its effect on the late-medieval economy. Focusing on England, an exceptionally well documented region, the book then offers a wide range of evidence for the plague's variegated repercussions on the economy and, no less complex, on social and religious conduct. It is concerned with the British experience of plague in the fourteenth century. Students of intellectual history will find a wealth of pseudo-scientific explanations of the plague ranging from astrological conjunctions, through earthquakes releasing toxic vapours, to well poisoning by Jews. From narrative accounts, often of heartrending immediacy, the book further proceeds to a variety of contemporary responses, drawn from many parts of Christian Europe. It then explains contemporary claims that the plague had been caused by human agency. The book attempts to explain the plague, which was universally regarded as an expression of divine vengeance for the sins of humankind.
This section introduction presents an overview of the historiography and provides background to the following translations that chart the social and psychological impact of the plague, and its effects on the late-medieval economy. In the course of the twentieth century historians generally became much less willing to ascribe sweeping cultural or psychological changes to the plague. The re-assessment of the plague's impact went on a revision of the accepted levels of plague mortality. J. Huizinga's famous evocation of the late middle ages stands in the same tradition as J. J. Jusserand's description of the religious scepticism which followed the plague. Cardinal Gasquet had been convinced that the first outbreak of plague had carried off half the English population. For contemporary chroniclers, the behaviour of the lower classes after the plague was a clear sign of the world plunging further into sin. The belief that the loss of one third of the population could be absorbed without immediate economic distress rested on the assumption that the population of pre-plague England had become too large for the available resources.
expropriated Irish, and this no doubt contributed to the colony’s rapid demise.
The economy of early modern Ireland was significantly different from its latemedievaleconomy. It had become a place of profit for those who held the land as Elizabeth’s grantees, and also for those who traded in the port towns. The origins of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy can be traced to Elizabethan policies, interrupted but also reinforced by the Nine Years War, and to the government’s ready acceptance that members of the new colonial administration would find their
might change, so a change in research focus was also determined by the application of certain source types. Investigation of lordship, of the demesne, of the agrarian economy and of productivity both prompted and was encouraged by detailed work on the central and local fiscal records of the great estates, including cartularies, extents and, above all, accounts, both obedientary and manorial. Kosminsky also effected a partial shift of focus by examining the Hundred Rolls of the later thirteenth as a source for the latermedievaleconomy. 57 While information on
diminished resource. 41
In some contrast to the Postanian perspective on the condition of the latermedievaleconomy, some historians have taken a rather different view of the economy’s capacity to help effect a recovery in the population, or at least to encourage a different interpretation of the way in which the population’s immobility in the later middle ages should be explained. In an early challenge, Barbara Harvey questioned the evidential base for Postan’s conclusion that a declining population had prompted a retreat from marginal land by
of class struggle or expressly identified in it the machinery of transition from feudalism to capitalism.
In an approach that is generally consistent with Hilton’s theoretical stance, Robert Brenner, chiefly in two articles published in Past and Present in the 1970s and 1980s, offered a more polemical thrust at the historical analysis of the relationship between lord and tenant, but one also aimed at establishing the motive force in the latermedievaleconomy. 54 Brenner’s use of a range of secondary literature in relation to the
date has tended to locate consumption within a wider discussion of a changing latermedievaleconomy and an adjusted standard of living which presented new consumption choices to peasants and rural labourers. In this respect, peasant consumption and, by extension, culture have remained adjuncts to consideration of the market, the economy and features of demographic change. As such, discussion of consumption as a manifestation of culture has been secondary to consideration of consumption as a reflection of adjusted economic conditions. This is the case, for instance
and return which is the basis of the late-medievaleconomy too. The vocabulary of richness, swelling, struggle, value, and exchange that suffuses the description is also integral to perceptions of economy and of ecology in this period. The narrating voice's comment that ‘A yere yernes ful yerne and yeldes never like: / The forme to the fynisment foldes ful selden’ (498–9) expresses this relationship of circularity and momentum in a brilliantly compressed form: what a year ‘yeldes’ grows out of and at the same time is distinguishable from the act of tracing its