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Western Civilization 10, Lesson 145 – Effects of the Black Death on Europe

The Black Death was one of the most destructive and deadly pandemic in all of history.  It killed nearly half of the European population when it first appeared in 1346.  As anyone could expect, the plague led to many disasters and crises, even after the worst of it was over.  In this essay, I am going to talk about the 14th century crisis that the Black Death caused.

The Black Death itself was a crisis on its own.  It seemed to be a merge of the bubonic plague and the pneumonic plague.  Now, we know that the plague came through the rats on Italian trade ships, but when it first started, no one knew where it came from.  People started to go crazy.  Some went hunting for answers while others drank themselves to death before the plague could get to them.  Others would impose physical pain on themselves as penance for their sins so they would go to heaven when the plague inevitably killed them.

After the plague started to “calm down”, there was not much left for survivors.  The Church had lost half of their men, and started to fill their positions with unqualified people.

Serfs either lost their masters, or simply had no motivation to work anymore.  Many started to abandon the land, forcing landowners to hire workers who demanded more pay than the serfs did.  With nothing left, some landowners had to exchange feudal services instead of money payments for their workers.  However, they did not enjoy doing this and demanded to have a rule on wage stability.

After 1351, the Statue of Laborers was created.  It was stated that no wages were to be paid higher than it was in 1346.  It also stated the prices on certain goods were to be fixed and could not be changed.  However, this rule did not stop serfs from leaving the lands.  If anything, it only promoted them even more than before.

In 1360, it was declared that any serf or peasant who tried to leave the land without permission could be returned by forced and could even be branded on the forehead.  More repressive measures like this were created between 1377 and 1381.

In 1380, a Poll Tax of 1380 was formed.  Everyone over the age of 15 was required to pay the tax to support the government since they were losing funds.  However, majority of the population were unwilling to do this.  The people were frustrated with why they should pay taxes after all their loses in the Hundred Years War that ended in 1369.  Any law enforcers who tried to force the people to pay were chased away.

John Ball, who was one of the few qualified priests at the time, voiced his opinion on the idea of a world with neither rich nor poor man.  No lords or serfs.  His voice is what sparked the Peasants’ Revolt (or the Great Rising).  

The serfs wanted their freedom and the peasants wanted to end all feudal debts that were being hung over their heads.  Towns joined as well, demanding they have the ability to self-govern themselves.  Unfortunately, their efforts were fruitless.  King Richard II did not appreciate this and put down the revolt by executing 110 people, John included, and adorning London Bridge with John’s head.

As you can see, the Black Death was a horrible and devastating event.  But what happened afterwards was equally troubling to the people, especially the lower classes.  As Mr. Woods said in one of his lessons, there were many crises in the 14th century.  The Black Death and the Peasants’ Revolt only being a few of them.  It is safe to say, being a peasant in the 14th century was rough.

Thanks for reading!

Author: sophiaelahirpc

10th Grade student in the Ron Paul Curriculum. Full-time teen writer living in Singapore.

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