Category Archives: Plague – Black Death

The Plague that Savaged London

Black Death1 - London

According to historical accounts, a bright comet, shot across the skyline of London in the winter of 1664… Fear abounded, questioning what events were to take place.

17thcentury London was much different, than we see it today.  It was surrounded by a city wall, and gates located at; Ludgate, Newgate, Moorgate, Bishopsgate, Aldersgate and Cripplegate, which covered an area of some four-hundred and fifty acres.

Property varied from large houses with many servants, to town houses, and timbered framed Tudor styled houses and tenement styled properties to house the poor of that time.

Sanitation … what sanitation!  For they had open drains, you have to remember sewers did not come into use, until the 19thcentury.  Sewage, rubbish and slops were tossed into the streets.

London was overcrowded as pedestrians and horse-drawn hackney carriages fought their way along roads.

Shanty towns were built outside the city walls, they consisted of wooden shacks, and sanitation, did not exist, so it became a breeding ground for diseases.  It is believed some 250,000 people resided in these rat-infested slums.

As with many diseases at that time, “Bubonic Plague” was not understood, but feared by many… they would blame the cause on anything from weather, livestock sickness or abnormal animal behaviour.

In 1662 an approximate census, stated that some 384,000 people were believed to be living within the City of London, and by 1665 it had increased to 460,000.

Reports of the Black Death Plague reached the ears of those in England in the early part of the 1660’s.

Ships destined for London from the continent, arriving from the autumn of 1663, were quarantined on Canvey Island for thirty days before travelling up river to London Docks.  In May 1664 quarantines were increased to forty days as the continental plague increased.

The first appearance of the Black Death Plague appeared in the English port of Melcombe Regis on the 8thMay 1348.  Many died as it ran rampant across England, and subsided in 1350.

The plague did not strike us and go away completely, it returned many times in small outbreaks over the next few centuries.

1361-62, 1369, 1378-83, 1389-93, 1471, 1479-80, 1498, 1535, 1543, 1563 and 1589.

From 1603 “The Bills of Mortality” were published on a regular basis, which showed registered recorded deaths, as a result of the plague.

1603 = 33,347 plague victims.

1625 = 41,313 plague victims.

1640-46 = 11,000 plague victims.

1647 = 3,597 plague victims.

The Great Plague of London, first infested the docklands on the outskirts of London and the parish of St.Giles in the Fields, areas consisting of the poor, living in poor sanitation, and housing.  Firstly in December 1664 and then again in February 1665 which totalled up to 400 deaths per week during this period, yet few were officially listed as plague deaths.

Yet quarantine rules were implemented, any house found with infected inhabitants, was sealed shut with them inside.

As the warm weather arrived in May, so the deaths started increasing.

By July 1665, the plague had become rampant in the City of London, and King Charles II, like many other important people, took their families out of the city.

Many poor died from this wretched plague, some from starvation and then thirst caused by the hot summer of that year.

As the number of deaths rose, burial grounds filled quickly … public alarmed by the number of bodies being taken for burial.  Streets had become empty, except for carts carrying away the dead bodies.

Some 2,000 were dying at the hottest time of the summer, each and every week, by September the number had risen to 7,000 per week and the plague was well out of control.

By late autumn, the death toll started dropping and by February 1666, it was deemed safe for the King to return to London.

The occasional plague death, continued until the summer of 1666, and the last officially recorded death from the plague was registered in 1679.

The estimated death rate of the London plague is believed to have reached some 200,000 souls.

The Great Plague of London affected the poor, as they had nowhere else to go…

The plague may have died… more than likely just dormant, so we should be on our guard in case it should return.

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The Plague that Savaged England

Black Death 2

Medieval England did not know how to respond to this outbreak of “The Black Death Plague” as it swept across England at such an alarming rate.

It had started in the south of the country, and reached the capital; London in September 1348 and spread upwards into East Anglia.

As spring 1349 arrived, this plague was running rampant through Wales and up into the Midlands. It leapt across the Irish Sea, and infected Ireland.

The Scottish armies invaded England as the plague ran rampant, and attacked Durham in 1349, and by 1350 the plague was spreading across Scotland.

Black Death, a Bubonic Plague, was caused by feas carried by black rats.  One bite by a flea and you were infected, three to four days later you died.

Evidence of infection: small black boils on the skin.

Hygiene in the 14thcentury was not paramount, and streets were littered with filth, an ideal breeding ground for rats and fleas.

The lifestyle was affected, as farm workers became victims to the plague; animals not tended to, land unploughed, no harvesting.

Food shortages was upon them, as villages faced starvation.  Towns and cities who relied on farmers to supply food, were unable to provide adequate for their needs.  Grain farming went down, bread was in short supply but demand was high, and the prices rose and rose…

Historical facts on the attack upon London, with its streets laden with filth, and high number of people living in poverty, was attacked by the pneumonic and bubonic plague’s simultaneously.  This would account for the high number of deaths accounting for some fifty per cent of the population.

Three Archbishop’s of Canterbury are known to have died from the Black Death Plague.  In the southern cloister in Westminster Abbey a black slab was laid, dedicated to Simon de Bircheston the Abbot of Westminster and 27 of his monks who died from the plague, and are buried here.

The Archbishop of Canterbury; John Stratford died in May 1348.  His successor; John Offord died in 1349 before being ordained to the post of Archbishop of Canterbury.  Within months his successor Thomas Bradwardine died in August 1349.

How did the Black Death plague, enter England?

It is a known fact, that a ship left the port of Bordeaux, at a time when itself was infected with the disease, and arrived at the English port of Melcombe Regis on the 8thMay 1348.  The epidemic broke out in early June.  The disease, not only infected land, but ships, some of which docked at Bristol, Grimsby, Colchester and London, increasing the spread of the disease.

  • Black Death broke out in Melcombe Regis in June 1349.
  • Black Death infected Bristol in August 1848, killing all 10,000 souls.
  • Black Death infects London and by September 1348, they witnessed the full force of the disease.
  • October 1348, Winchester is infected.
  • The plague spreads throughout East Anglia and the Midlands in Jan – Feb of 1349.
  • Wales struck down by the plague in April 1349.

In 1349 Black Death laid waste to Wales, and it is described well in the words by the Welsh poet; Jeuan Gethin, who died at the heart of the plague in 1349.

We see death coming into our midst like black smoke,

A plague that cuts off the young,

A rootless phantom which has no mercy or fair countenance.

Woe is me of the shilling in the arm-pit;

It is seething, terrible, wherever it may come,

A head that gives pain and causes a loud cry,

A burden carried under the arms,

A painful angry knob, a white lump.

It is of the form of an apple,

Like the head of an onion,

A small boil that spares no-one.

Great is its seething,

Like a burning cinder,

A grievous thing of an ashy colour.

It is an ugly eruption that comes with unseemly haste,

It is a grievous ornament that breaks out in a rash,

The early ornaments of Black Death.

The plague spread to Ireland by way of a ship from Wales in July 1349, carrying plague carriers, fleeing to save their lives.

This Black Death plague ran amok through Ireland.  If one touched the dead or sick, this deadly infection would attack the uninfected, and death followed quickly.

Priests could not visit the sick.  Burials of the dead did not take place individually but in mass.

If one person caught it, then the whole family would die from this disease, servants and all.

This Black Death plague infected the population of Ireland, and between 1348-1350 some 30-45% would die.  Villages were stripped, and scarcely anybody was left alive.

The Scots hearing of this cruel plague, attacked the English, they saw it as their chance to invade.   In 1349, they gathered their armies in the forest of Selkirk and crossed the border in England and attacked Durham.  What seemed like an open opportunity to them was doomed with disaster, as 5,000 of their warriors died on English soil from the plague.  The remainder of their army made in home by the autumn of 1349.

The harsh Scottish weather enhanced the spread of this disease, and an outbreak of pneumonic plague and septicaemia ran rampant through Scotland in the spring of 1350.

Early signs saw the plague was dying out in September 1350, and by the end of the year no new cases were being reported.

Further outbreaks occurred in 1361-62, 1369, 1379-83, and through the early years of the 15thcentury.

England had gone through a disease, which saw high numbers of deaths, which would see a new problem arise; Famine would grip the country.

The Plague of Children, a disease that ran rampant through England, which only affected them. First seen in1361 and by 1364 extinct.

The Black Death plague is not extinct, for it is still with us, in a dormant state.  It is quite common in areas of rodent populations.  Fortunately we have a cure for it, but we have to remember, this disease moves quickly… so we always need to be on our guard.

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The Plague that Savaged Europe

Black Death - Europe

Medieval Europe of the 13thcentury came to an end.  The warm climate that had prevailed turned to a “Little Ice Age” as temperatures plummeted, and harsh winters were experienced, with smaller harvests.

The Black Death is believed to have originated in the 6thand 7thcenturies and called “The Plague of Justinian.”  According to historical facts, some 40% of Constantinople’s people died from the plague as it ran wild, with no known cure.

It was to disappear as easily as it arrived, and would not rage havoc upon this world again until the 14thcentury.

It is believed the Black Death Plague reared its head once again in the arid plains of Central Asia, in regions close to China.  From there it travelled along the Silk Road, reaching Crimea in 1346.  The disease was carried by fleas, which would live on the coats of black rats, who travelled upon merchant ships.

The Black Death Plague is believed to have started in the latter parts of the 1320’s in the Gobi desert.

According to weather conditions in the early part of the 14thcentury, Earth underwent a period of extreme cold weather, as temperatures plummeted well below what would be considered normal temperatures for that time of year.

  • In 1345 the plague had reached the Volga River.
  • By 1346 it had reached Caucasus and Crimea.
  • By 1347 it had spread to Constantinople.

There was no control against this disease as it spread from village to village, town to town, and country to country, as thousands died, day by day.  The disease was known to travel by sea and land, with no available solution to stop it, in its tracks.

  • By the winter of 1347 it had reached Italy, and reports were coming in, it was running rampant through the streets of Rome and Florence.
  • January 1348 the plague had reached Marseilles, for the dead were lying where they died; in houses and on the streets.
  • It travelled along the Rhine, and reached Germany in 1348 and the low countries.
  • By the middle of 1348, this disease had struck Paris, Bordeax, Lyon and London.
  • Norway was hit by the plague in May 1349.
  • The Eastern European Countries in 1350.
  • It reached Russia in 1351.

What was this disease that was responsible for the killing of millions, with no way to halt it, in its tracks?

We know it as Bubonic Plague an organism carried by rodents and fleas.  The process from first symptoms of fever to death lasts three to four days at most … this disease is swift and terrifying.

Forms of the Disease?

Bubonic Plague was considered a fatal disease during the 14thcentury, but things have changed now, for we have a cure, if the drug can be administered in time.

If the victim, the patient is suffering from malnutrition, it is a much more deadly disease.

There are two typed of plague known; Septicaemic which attacks the blood and Pneumonic known to attack the lungs, and it airborne.

Accounts handed down through history, leave us to believe that some form of pneumonic plague ran alongside bubonic plague at the outbreak.

In October 1347, twelve Genoese trading vessels arrived at the harbour of Messina in Sicily.  The sailors bore a disease that if anyone spoke or touched them; the disease attacked their body also.  The infection spread one to another with such an alarming rate.  Their bodies were covered with small black boils, and they would vomit blood.  Once infected death was a welcome release to the pain, and death would take place in three to four days.

When the officials of Messina discovered this disease has no cure and originated from the fleet of trading ships sitting in their harbour, they were ordered to leave.  Yet, it was too late; it had taken hold of the inhabitants of Messina, and spread like wildfire.

Corpses lay where they died, houses of the dead were not entered, and many were buried.

It didn’t take long for news to spread, that Messina had become a plague infected port, and residents fled their homes, seeking safety far away.  Some settled in vineyards and fields, others descended upon the town of Catania.  They didn’t realise they had become carriers of the plague.

The further the plague carriers of Messina spread through the island of Sicily, so the plague was expanded, becoming completely out of control.  The disease infested Catania in late October of 1347 and by April 1348, no living person remained.

The Pope seeked help from medical scientists of Paris in 1348, in dealing with such a deadly disease, which was responsible for deaths on a large scale.

Their reply wasn’t the answer one had expected, they blamed the cause upon the planets; the conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in the sign of Aquarius had taken place in 1345. This had caused hot moist conditions, and so the Earth had exhaled poisonous vapours.

They recommended no eating of meats, fish or poultry.  Olive oil was dangerous and stress was to be avoided.  They suggested one spends time with aromatic plants and herbs that had been grown naturally.

What actually worked was quarantine of one’s self from fleas and avoidance of anyone showing signs of disease.

Pope Clement VI from Avignon sat between two fires, thus the plagues bacillus was being destroyed by the heat, and the air he breathed was pure and clean.

Whilst the plague spread from town to town in Germany a new sect arose; the Flagellants, and believed they had the answer.

They stripped themselves to the waist, and marched through towns, undertaking penance, by inflicting punishments on their body to atone for their evils of the world.  They flogged themselves until they drew blood. All they did was attract the attention of the Pope in October 1349, who condemned their actions, and outlawed it.

Man did not understand the biology of this disease and believed wrongly that Black Death was a divine punishment upon them by God for their wrong doings; Greed, Blasphemy, Heresy and Worldliness.

In turn they believed the Jewish communities were to blame, and many Jews were massacred in cities running close to the Rhine River.

Pope Clement VI stepped in to forbid the slaughter of Jews in 1348.  Yet his words did not hold out, for in 1349 some two hundred Jews were burned to death in Strassbourg.

So it was during the 14thcentury, the Jewish communities were being pushed out of Western Europe and settled in Poland.

The lasting effects of the Plague?

14thcentury chroniclers stated, that this plague had affected everyone, whether they were rich or poor, young or old.  Many lands and cities lay desolate.

This loss of life in such high numbers, and to such a disease, with no known cure, brought utter despair.  For it is believed eighty out of every hundred died at the height of the disease. Many men of learning believed this marked the end of the world, it must have seemed so, as many died around them; friends, family and fellow scientists.

Political Fallout:

One would have expected to see political issues come into play, as the disease spread through country after country, killing thousands each and every day.

Yet the only reigning monarch to be struck down and die from the plague was King Alfonso XI of Castile. Other’s considered as lesser notables of their countries to be struck down and die from this disease included The Queen of Aragon and The Queen of France.

The Hundred Years War was suspended in 1348, due to high mortality rates amongst the military, caused by the plague, yet it was reconvened once the plague had passed.

The Black Death plague became one of the worst pandemics in human history, killing an estimated two hundred million people between 1347-1350.

The plague is reported of having haunted many countries throughout the 14th– 18theh centuries, fearing that Black Death would return and strike them down.

  • 1603 The Plague of London
  • 1629-1631 The Italian Plague
  • 1647-1652 The Great Plague of Saville
  • 1665-1666 The Great Plague of London
  • 1679 The Great Plague of Vienna
  • 1720-1722 The Great Plague of Marseille
  • 1738 The Great Plague of Europe
  • 1770-1772 The Russian Plague.

Since the late 1770’s the Black Death plague gradually disappeared through all parts of Europe… Hopefully it will never rear its head again, yet we have to be on our guard at all times…

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