Medieval England and the Arrival of the Black Death
with Ron Gallivan
Thursday 27 September 2018
The Society launched its 2018-9 season of Speaker’s Nights on Thursday 27 September with a grisly but riveting exploration of the Black Death and its far‑reaching consequences.
It may be the 730th anniversary of the arrival of the Black Death to these shores but its effects are still very much in evidence in our present lives suggested Ron Gallivan, the Chairman of the Redditch Military History Society, in a fast paced and detailed description of the 14th Century scourge.
For peoples who had suffered years of economic hardship due to climate change, with attendant famine – when cannibalism was not unknown – the three dreadful diseases, collectively known as the Black Death, were rampant and deadly.
Originating in Kyrgyzstan in Asia and travelling via the trade routes, overland and by river and sea, the black rats and their flea passengers brought the diseases to all Europe, Asia and beyond. Some areas were lucky: Scotland escaped until a Scottish army invaded Berwick on Tweed to plunder but took back more than they wanted.
How is this relevant today? The speaker suggested that as the Black Death was no respecter of status or power, whether secular or ecclesiastical, this indelibly changed the very structure of English society. The 50% mortality rate meant that the feudal serf system began to collapse. Peasants were able to demand payment for labour, and with so much abandoned land some would become landowners themselves. Indeed the very language we use today became universal, with the demise of so many of the monks and nobles for whom French had been the principal language.
The Black Death is still alive today – but the medieval cure of drinking a pint of urine is no longer prescribed.