What were the short term and long term impacts of the Black Death on Medieval society? The Black Death is one of the most fatal diseases in human history and took its peak in Europe from 1348 to 1350. Half of Europe’s population was wiped out due to this disease and the short and long term impacts greatly affected the structure of Medieval Society. The Black Death or otherwise known as the plague was thought to have begun in Central Asia, which spread down the Silk Road and eventually to Europe in the 14th century.
The disease was caused by the fleas on infected rats, which spread the infection by biting a person or animal. However, the disease could also be contracted by breathing in airborne droplets from a person who already had the plague. Trading ships helped spread the plague as there were many rats on board who could jump off at the harbours they were trading in. Symptoms for the plague began in the first few days and included headaches, feeling of weakness, aches in the legs and groin, a white coating on the tongue, fever, vomiting, muscles pains, bleeding of the lungs and mental instability.
The victim would also begin to develop black buboes on the armpits, leg, neck or groin that are red when first formed but will eventually grow to the size of an egg, turn black and burst, ultimately killing the victim . This disease killed very quickly, between 2 to 4 days and gave the victim a strong desire to sleep, which would kill them if it was allowed. There were many ‘treatments’ to the Black Death, many of them ineffective and superstitious such as wearing a magpies beak around your neck and cutting a hole in your head to let out bad spirits.
However, there were wise women that lived in villages who provided medicine from herbs that actually worked. In all, there were not many effective way to cure the plague as people back in the Medieval times had little scientific understanding and believed the plague was a punishment sent from God, hence there were people called flagellants who went around whipping themselves and begging for God’s forgiveness. The short impacts of the Black Death had changed Medieval society greatly. Whole families and towns were wiped out and it is estimated that around 200 million people in Europe fell to the plague.
Villages and towns began barring anyone from entering in fear of the plague and some of the rich chose to escape overseas. People began running amok, drinking and enjoying themselves as much as they could as they believed they had not long to live. Others thought that living quietly would cure them of the plague while a large amount of people believed that the world was going to end. The Crusades (a religious war fought between the Christians and the Muslims) came to a halt as the soldiers fighting the war had mostly died from the plague.
Prices for everything also went down as most of the customers were dead and Free land become quite common as the people who owned the land were all dead. There were so many deaths that there was no one to farm the lands and barely anything had been harvested, resulting in starvation. The Long term impacts of the Black Death were better living conditions for the peasants after the plague as there were hardly any people left so the peasants remaining could get more wages subsequently improving their houses, tools and clothes.
Higher wages also meant that some could send their children to school where they learnt to read and write to get better jobs. More schools were built due to this development and life became much easier for the poor. The power that the church had over the people was also diminishing as many believed that the plague was sent to punish the wicked, which was mainly the peasants but when even people of the church began to die, people began to question the church’s power. There were also more opportunities for women as many men had died so the women had to fill in for their jobs.
For the first time, women could be the head of a household and own a wage earning job such as a blacksmith. Peasants were not so bound to the land anymore and this caused problems as the feudal lords of those times lost power and more peasants began looking for a better life. However, these were not the only long term impacts of the Black Death and in 1381; an event occurred in England that had never taken place before in the Medieval Ages. This event took place due to the smaller number of people to work the land; the peasants wanted more wages and freedom so that they could live a better life.
Taxes also grew higher because of war and the Poll Tax in 1381 was the highest ones, leading the Peasants to rebel in what is now called ‘The Peasant’s Revolt’. The Peasants Revolt was an event in Medieval history where common people fought for more rights and freedom. It began in the villagers when Essex refused to pay taxes and attacked the tax collectors starting a riot that spread through Kent and Essex. The peasants eventually grouped together and decided to march to London to force the King to give them more rights.
They elected a leader called Wat Tyler on the 7th of June, released a priest called John Ball and assembled together outside of London where King Richard (the present 14 year old king) met the rebels at Mile End. Wat Tyler demanded six things from the King. He demanded that Serfdom was abolished, that there be no more feudal services for the peasants, that land would be held freely at 4d an acre per year, the church lands must be given to the people and that there should be no legal difference between one man and another. King Richard agreed to these requests and pardoned the rebels.
The same day, King Richard went to meet the rebels again at the Banks of Thames but confusion amongst the rebels stopped him from landing. Some rebels left after being pardoned but some stayed and murdered two of the King’s advisors in the tower of London. After this, the King went into hiding when the peasants destroyed the Duke of Lancaster’s palace and freed the prisoners. Finally, the King met with the rebels again and Wat Tyler made more demands but was stabbed to death when some felt he was threatening the King. The rebels were disbanded and killed under order of the King, the revolt had failed.
However, it would not be until at 500 years later that Wat Tyler’s demands became a reality. The Black Death was a devastating disease that occurred in Europe in the 14th century that wiped out half of the population. The short term impacts were not only of mass death but also of the events that took place afterwards, such as the Peasant’s Revolt that resulted from the short term impacts of the plague. Whether short term or long term, the Black Death greatly impacted Medieval Society and triggered some of the most major events in English history.
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