The Black Death

Looking at the High Middle Ages (1000-1300) in comparison to the Late Middle Ages (1300-1500), it’s easy to think of the High Middle Ages as being the best period of medieval history. Education was thriving, people were making advances in technology, and things were certainly moving forward.

The Late Middle Ages was a period of crisis. People of this period faced, including famine, plague, and wars over who should truly rule countries, but it’s always good to keep in mind that every period of history has its positives and negatives, and despite the challenges the people of the Late Middle Ages faced, the end result was a movement toward new thinking and the beginning of a period known as the Renaissance-the turning point of European history.

Fast and lethal, the Black Death spread more than a mile per day

Unlike the warm climate of the High Middle Ages, the Late Middle Ages saw fairly unstable changes in weather. Europe shifted into a cooler climate, and the land became harder to farm. The change took place slowly, and shifted back and forth, which made it hard to predict the weather. It also made it hard to tell if crops would grow enough food or simply die off. There was more rain than usual during this period, and many farms flooded, destroying what had been planted. Lands could not be looked after properly, and so they were left to waste.

People who depended on the land for raising animals or food were forced to move, abandoning farms. In the end, the lack of good farmland and crops meant hunger and eventually famine for the people of Europe. This event became known as The Great Famine and lasted from 1315-1322.

The Great Flood and Great Famine of 1314

Many people died or moved to already crowded towns with winding narrow streets and alleys with no sewage treatment.

The lack of sanitation practices of the time made conditions particularly bad-in other words, keeping things clean was a very hard thing to do. People dumped garbage and waste into the streets-the same narrow streets that were used to walk on throughout the city.

Contemporary Accounts of the Black Death (Classroom Activity)

Summarizing the situation: people were starving because there wasn’t enough land to farm, and without enough land, there wasn’t enough food. This pushed people into crowded cities that could not hold more people and were already getting dirty from practices of the time. Without proper diets, people became sick more easily, and serious illnesses such as rickets, gout, dysentery, and tuberculosis were common.

Battle of crecy froissart.jpg

Wars raged between England and France over who should sit on the French throne. This is what is known as the Hundred Years War. Then, without any real warning, true disaster struck: the plague arrived in Europe.

From 1347-1349, what was known as The Black Death moved quickly across Europe, entering through port cities on the coasts and moving inland. Fleas, which carried the illness, leapt on rats. People who were already living in poor conditions easily caught the illness and an enormous percentage of Europe’s population died as a result. Medicine at the time had no real cures for the plague, and those who caught it often transferred it to other members of the household. It was a great loss, and it took a very long time for Europe to overcome the situation.

However, from tragedy came many good things. People realized that there was much learning to be done, many improvements in medicine were made, and once the plague had ended and Europe began to rebuild. Language changed. Latin was abandoned and verancular languages were spoken and used in writing, and literature became available to more and more people with the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the early 1400s. Banking and commerce developed, and trade began again, this time on a larger scale.

Art shifted to a new style, showing human life as it really was and producing some of the greatest artists of Early Renaissance Europe. Patrons (supporters of the arts) began to pay for works to be created, exploration was on the rise, and a return to Greek and Roman schools of thought emerged in the beginning of the Renaissance, making the end of the Middle Ages.

Printing Press - HISTORY

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