Saturday, July 23, 2011

Benefits Of The Black Death, A Medieval Catastrophe

When the Black Death started to sweep across medieval Europe in 1347 it seemed as if the whole structure of the world was collapsing. The mortality rates were horrific and there was no ready explanation as to what caused this plague. When you then add in the confusion and superstition common to these years you can start to get a feel for the panic and confusion which must have covered the land.

However, albeit hard to believe, there were benefits and the plague introduced or increased the speed of social changes across Europe. Let's look at some of the changes ,,,

1. From these years came the glory of the Renaissance. Starting in Florence and often associated with the works of Dante it represented a flowering of art which was the perfect opposite from the great death.

2. With so many people dead labour became scarce and this helped to bring an end to serfdom. Simple facts like the shift from earthenware cooking pots to ones made of metal are a reflection in the growing wealth which came to the working class.

3. The role of women in medieval society became more important. In particular they became vital for the beer and brewing industries.

4. The impact on the church and medieval worship was substantial. At one level it could be seen in the lowering of the age when a man could become a priest. It created plenty of opportunity for young priests with new ideas to flourish but it had another and largely unexpected impact. That was the "privatisation of the church". Basically wealthy people started to build their own churches and private chapels.

5. There was a growth in activism and religion. Heresies such as that preached by the Lollards started to spread and this was also fuelled by the start of early European Universities.

6. The Hundred Years War between England and France was curtailed when the English Plantagenets, so dependent upon their infantry, found that 40% or so of the fighting men in the population were dead. Read more about King Edward III one of the last Plantaganet kings.

So in conclusion we can indeed look back on the horror of the plague years but we must also remember that it instigated many changes for the better in society and heralded the start of the Renaissance.

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