The Black Death, or bubonic plague, ravaged Europe between the years 1347-1353. In six short years, it took the lives of millions of people. In the next 350 years, several other epidemics followed. Experts have not reached a conclusion on the percentage of thepopulation that disappeared with the plague and it is more than likely that they never will, as deaths of the general population were not recorded back in C 14th, but they guess that the population of England was reduced at least 30% to 40%.
At the time of the greatest pandemic Europe had ever faced, witches, fairies and alchemy were all as viable as microscopic beings carrying a mortal disease,though the latter would not be discovered for another 600 years. Back in the mid-C 14th, science as we know it today was still ages away and the medieval medical knowledge was nowhere near being able to provide answers to the God-fearing people, so pestilent body humours, the wrath of God or Jews poisoning wells were all suitable explanations for the mysteriously rapid spread and fatality of theplague as Anne Roberts in the article The Plague in England points out. It is now known that the plague was caused by the bacterium Yersinia Pestis, which resided in the black rat, a common rodent that lives close to people’s homes and ships. To put it briefly, infected rat flea travelled from rats to humans and, then, from human to human, infecting everyone they encountered, causing the disease tobecome an epidemic.
The spread of the plague and its virulence baffled Medieval people. According to Ole J. Benedictow, realisation of the epidemic took from 40 days in the countryside to 8 weeks in metropolises with over 100,000 inhabitants. That equals two whole months of complete unawareness, infected people walking around with fleas in the clothing jumping from one unsuspecting guest toanother. Ill people and infected rodents often travelled from one city to the next, aiding the spread of the disease. Sanitary measures were virtually nonexistent back then, and medical knowledge was scarce, but even if those measures had existed and medical knowledge had been more advance, Medieval folk simply lacked the tools to create public awareness on the disease, implement preventive measuresand, thus, prevent the spread of the plague. It would not be far-fetched to draw a parallel between the bubonic pandemic in Europe and the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to Laurie Garret, member of the the Council on Foreign Relations and author of HIV and National Security: Where are the Links?, even in this day and age and despite the enormous scientific breakthroughs and thevast amount of readily available information on the causes and ways of prevention of this disease, Botswana hast lost nearly 20% of its health care workers to AIDS, and by 2020, more than 20% of its agricultural workforce will disappear to the same sidease. Information is a powerful tool when seeking to prevent the spread of a disease, and not only did Medieval people lack these tools which are sowidespread today, but they also had the wrong information to begin with.
People back in C 14th England were fearful of God. In light of the mass deaths, many believed that, as sinners, they deserved such awful fate. However, the plague spared neither the lives of those deeply religious nor the ones of the members of the clergy. Nearly 60% of the priests needed to be replaced at the peak of theplague. That goes to show that, for the Medieval Christian people, guilt and penitence did not take them any closer to curing or preventing the disease.
Plague tractates of C 14th are undeniable evidence of the medical misinformation of the time, and the role this had in the subsequent spread of the plague. One of the most popular papers was written by an Englishman named John of Burgundy,...