Post-classical history



BUT while the Black Death had thus moved northwards to the Scottish border, Wales and the adjoining British counties had not been spared. From Bristol the plague had spread into Worcestershire, rising to its crescendo in June 1349; then dying away in August only to return in the late autumn.1 As early as April it had proved necessary to forbid further burials in the cathedral churchyard at Worcester because the congestion of the dead was beginning to threaten the survival of the living.2

‘Alas,’ recorded the Bishop,

the burials have in these days, to our sorrow, increased … (for the great number of the dead in our days has never been equalled); and, on this account, both for our brethren in the said church ministering devoutly to God and His most glorious Mother, for the citizens of the said city and others dwelling therein, and for all others coming to the place, because of the various dangers which may probably await them from the corruption of the bodies, we desire, as far as God shall grant us, to provide the best remedy.3

The Bishop’s remedy was to open a new graveyard beside the hospital of St Oswald and transfer there not only all burials which would otherwise have been in the Cathedral cemetery, but also from several of the parish churches of Worcester as well. ‘Hence’, in the lapidary phrase of a local historian, ‘that prodigious assemblage of tumulation which, at this time, cannot be viewed with indifference by the most cursory beholder.’4

Bishop Wulstan Bransford himself remained secluded in his manor at Hartlebury, four miles south of Kidderminster. In spite of this precaution he died on 6 August 1349. The King’s Escheator reported on the state of his estates between early August when he died and late November when a successor was appointed. His record shows that Hartlebury was not an isolated case. Tenants, he said, could not be got at any price; mills were vacant, forges standing idle, pigeon houses in ruins with all the birds fled. Of £140 owing to the Bishop in cash or in the form of various feudal services, £84 were never received, ‘… on account of the dearth of tenants, who were wont to pay rent, and of customary tenants, who used to perform the said works, but who all died in the deadly pestilence’. As late as 1354 relief was still being sought on the grounds that it was impossible for the Bishop to obtain any of the customary services which had once been his due; ‘… the remnant of the said tenants had changed them into other services and, after the plague, they were no longer bound to perform services of this kind’.

Some time in 1349 a serious riot took place between the townsmen and the monks of the Priory of St Mary, the Cathedral monastery. The townsmen broke down the gates of the priory, chased the prior ‘with bows and arrows and other offensive weapons’ and tried to set fire to the buildings. Here, as in the somewhat similar incident at Yeovil,5 it is tempting to see some link with the Black Death. Certainly such a possibility cannot be excluded. But chasing the prior with bows and arrows and other offensive weapons was by no means unheard of in Worcester. Relations between town and cathedral monastery were often strained in medieval England and, though the Black Death may have heightened the tension, there is no reason to believe that in Worcester or elsewhere it actually created it.

Bishop Trilleck’s neighbouring diocese fared no better. In Hereford the Bishop forbade the acting of ‘theatrical plays and interludes’ in the city churches, a belated attempt to avert the wrath of the Almighty which seems to have met with little success. In the end, it is claimed, the epidemic was checked ‘by carrying the shrine of St Thomas of Cantilupe in procession’. In 1352 a joint petition was lodged by the patrons of the two churches of Great Colington and Little Colington:

the sore calamity of pestilence of men lately passed, which ravaged the whole world in every part, has so reduced the number of the people of the said churches and for that said reason there followed, and still exists, such a paucity of labourers and other inhabitants, such manifest sterility of the lands, and such notorious poverty in the said parishes, that the parishioners and receipts of both churches scarcely suffice to support one priest.

The Bishop saw the justice of the complaint and the two parishes were duly amalgamated.

The county historians illustrate the impact of the plague by quoting the inquisition post-mortem on the family of John le Strange of Whitchurch.7 John died on 20 August, when the plague had already done its worst over most of the county. He left three sons: Fulk, Humphrey and John the younger, of whom Fulk, as eldest, was naturally the heir. By the time the inquiry was held on 30 August, Fulk had already been dead two days. Before an inquisition could be held on Fulk’s estate, Humphrey too was dead. John, the third brother, survived but inherited a shattered estate. Even before his father died the three water mills ‘which used to be worth twenty marks’ had been reassessed at only half the value, ‘by reason of the want of those grinding, on account of the pestilence’. In another of his manors, ‘two carucates of land which used to be worth yearly sixty shillings’ were held to be worth nothing ‘because the domestic servants and labourers are dead and no one is willing to hire the land’.

Cheshire, to the north, was thinly populated in the fourteenth century but there is plenty of evidence to show that the losses were still severe. The heads of three of the largest religious houses – the abbot of St Werburgh’s, the prioress of St Mary’s, Chester and the prior of Norton – all died within a few weeks of each other. It was impossible to find anyone able and willing to hold the eyre of the forest, the bridge over the Dee remained out of repair for several months, the income gained from tolls at the passage of Lawton dropped away to little more than half its former value. The increased bargaining power which the Black Death put into the hands of the surviving tenants is well illustrated by the case of the manor of Rudheath, between Northwich and Macclesfield. A note on the Court Roll reads:8

In money remitted to the tenants … by the Justices of Chester and others, by the advice of the Lord, for the third part of their rent, by reason of the plague which had been raging, because the tenants there wished to depart and leave the holdings on the Lord’s hands unless they obtained this remission until the world do come better again, and the holdings possess a greater value … £10 13s. 11¾d.

It would be interesting to know more about the status of the tenants. The Government was shortly to pass legislation seeking to prevent the migration even of free tenants but it would not be surprising if the tenants of Rudheath in fact enjoyed no legal right to quit their tenements and were blackmailing their landlord with a threat to commit an unlawful act. Certainly such a case would not have been unique. The knowledge that the law was on his side was small comfort to a lord whose tenants had escaped and were now working on some neighbouring estate, enjoying more favourable terms and sheltered by their new master who, however he might deplore their breach of the feudal laws, was still primarily interested in ensuring that his own houses were lived in and his own lands were tilled.


Mr Rees, the leading authority on the Black Death in Wales, has recorded the lament of the contemporary Welsh poet, Jeuan Gethin, who must have seen and described the plague in March or April of 1349:9

We see death coming into our midst like black smoke, a plague which cuts off the young, a rootless phantom which has no mercy for 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. They are similar to the seeds of the black peas, broken fragments of brittle sea-coal and crowds precede the end. It is a grievous ornament that breaks out in a rash. They are like a shower of peas, the early ornaments of black death, cinders of the peelings of the cockle weed, a mixed multitude, a black plague like halfpence, like berries. It is a grievous thing that they should be on a fair skin.

‘Black smoke’, ‘Rootless phantom’: such phrases convey something the mystery and horror of the plague to those who suffered it. But what is so moving about Gethin’s comment is that he did not allow the horror to overwhelm him but, with the vocabulary of a poet and the eye of a scientific observer, struggled to pin down the physical appearance of the phenomenon, to find the simile which would convey to the reader precisely what he saw. It was the defiant dedication of the doctor who, on his death-bed, records his symptoms from moment to moment for the future education of his colleagues. In the response of men like Jeuan Gethin lay the victory of mankind over his adversities.

Geoffrey the Baker traced the course of the plague around England. ‘The following year’, he went on, ‘it devastated Wales as well as England …’10 The chronicler’s phrasing is obscure but it seems from the context that ‘The following year’ must refer to 1350. This must be incorrect. The Welsh were affected at much the same time as their English neighbours; in the south, indeed, somewhat earlier since the infection apparently moved across the Severn valley into Monmouthshire before it had run its course through Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.11

By March 1349 the infection had taken a firm grip on the whole lordship of Abergavenny. The lord of the eastern portion died at the beginning of the month, and by the middle of April, devastation was almost complete. In the manor of Penros only £4 out of rents worth £12 could be collected ‘because many of the tenements lie empty and derelict for lack of tenants’. The guardian of the heir petitioned for a reduction of £140 in a rent of £340. An inquiry allowed arrears only to the extent of £60 but, more significantly, accepted a permanent reduction of £40. The damage must have been grave indeed if the sceptical royal officials were prepared to accept that there was no hope of it being made good in the foreseeable future.

So far as any course can be plotted the disease seems to have travelled northwards through the border counties of Hereford, Shropshire and Cheshire and re-entered Wales in the North-East. The lead miners at Holywell, a few miles west of Flint, suffered so severely that the survivors refused to go on working. The Court Rolls of Ruthin provide an unusually complete picture of the depredations of the plague in that part of Wales. Nothing at all unusual seems to have happened before the end of May. Then, in the second week of June, the abnormal number of seven deaths took place within the jurisdiction of the Court of Abergwiller. The plague quickly spread. Seventy-seven of the inhabitants of Ruthin died within the next two weeks; ten in Llangollen, thirteen in Llanerch, twenty-five in Dogfeiling. Mortality continued at this level or even higher until the middle of July, abated for a few weeks, then returned to its most ferocious excesses in the last three weeks of August. The worst was then over and the winter passed with relatively little further loss.

Rees considers that the Black Death probably reached Carmarthen by way of the sea. Certainly two of the officials of the Staple were among the first victims and, if infected boats were putting into the harbour, their post would have been one of peculiar danger. The Lord of Carmarthen, in fact the Prince of Wales, suffered no less than other great landlords: receipts from mills and fisheries fell drastically and fairs, one of the most profitable sources of revenue, had to be abandoned altogether.

In Cardigan, so great was the mortality and the fear of infection that it proved almost impossible to find anyone to fill such offices as beadle, reeve, or serjeant. Out of one hundred and four gabularii or rent-paying tenants, ninety-seven died or fled before midsummer.

Wales in the mid-fourteenth century was divided into the lowland ‘Englishry’, largely controlled by colonizers from across the border and run on a manorial basis similar to that of England, and the upland ‘Welshry’ where the unfortunate natives skulked in what was left to them of their country. In the latter areas the writ of the English hardly ran and such records as survive give little indication of what befell the inhabitants. That they suffered seems certain and, if the analogy of the English hills is anything to go by, they suffered worse than their invaders in the valleys. But the damp mist which hangs so constantly over the Welsh mountains seems as apt to confound the historian as the tourist and even the small nugget of fact on which large guesses can be based is here entirely lacking.

Painful readjustment, demoralization, lawlessness: such are the familiar symptoms of a society recovering from the shock of the plague. Madoc Ap Ririd and his brother Kenwric

came by night in the Pestilence to the house of Aylmar after the death of the wife of Aylmar and took from the same house one water pitcher and basin, value one shilling, old iron, value fourpence. And they also present that Madoc and Kenwric came by night to the house of Almar in the vill of Rewe in the Pestilence, and from that house stole three oxen of John le Parker and three cows, value six shillings.12

How many others must have ‘come by night in the Pestilence’, to profit by the concomitant chaos, to rob the survivors or loot the houses of the dead.

But in Wales as in England, though law and order was badly shaken, substantially it survived. Burglary and banditry were anyhow far from uncommon in medieval England and self-defence the only satisfactory answer to the would-be aggressor. Things certainly got worse at the time of the Black Death but not sensationally so. The main highways were little less safe than in the past; the streets in the cities and big towns, anyhow never to be recommended during the hours of darkness, do not seem to have become conspicuously more perilous. In some cases, where the authorities lost their grip, the more prosperous citizens formed vigilance committees and took their protection into their own hands. A great many Aylmars were fated to lose, not only their wife but their pitcher and their old iron, value fourpence, as well. But the situation never became intolerable. Certainly the greater lawlessness was an inconsiderable extra burden compared with the overwhelming weight of the plague itself.

Mr Rees records that the effects of the Black Death in Wales seem to have been very similar, at least so far as the Englishry was concerned, to the effects in England itself. The decay of the manor and the manorial system was the immediate and the permanent consequence of the plague. The garden of the manor, with no one to tend it, was more and more often let out as pasture. The dovecot and fish stew were allowed to fall into disuse and often never reactivated. The lords of the manor renounced the fanning of the manorial demesne and began to let it out at the best rent they could get. The principle of bondage thenceforward played a far less significant part in the social structure of the manor. The system, in short, broke down because of the shortage of labour and the improved bargaining position of the villein.

All these phenomena were recorded in England too. But in the latter country so many qualifications have to be made to allow for the history of the previous decades, for regional variations and for eccentric and inexplicable movements against the trend that any generalization is open to destructive criticism. In Wales the scope for generalization is greater. Partly the reason for this is geographical: the area was smaller and more homogeneous; variations therefore were less. But the nature of the manorial system in Wales ensured that it would bear the imprint of the plague in a way much more clear-cut and decisive than its English counterpart. On the one hand the seeds of decay, which were already beginning to corrupt the English system long before Pasteurella pestis added its contribution, had by 1349 hardly affected Wales. Any change which did take place at this period can therefore be attributed with greater confidence to the plague. On the other hand, since the manorial system in Wales was younger and more fragile, it succumbed more rapidly to the blows which it received in 1349. In Wales the Black Death accomplished in a year or two a revolution which in England was worked out over the whole of the fourteenth century.

In part this statement depends for its validity upon a comfortable foundation of ignorance. Very little is known about the Black Death in Wales and far less work has been done upon the evolution of the manorial system there than is the case with its English parent. No doubt a greater knowledge of the facts would suggest the need for important qualifications. But it is unlikely that the central proposition would be overthrown. The generalization so often made and so often disputed in the case of England – that the Black Death was directly responsible for the ending of the manorial system – can with greater confidence be applied to Wales.

But even here one is on shaky ground. For before the effects of the Black Death had fully worked themselves out, a cataclysm in some ways still more violent had fallen on Wales. The wars of independence of Owen Glendower, however noble or well-justified, set back the economic and social development of Wales by two hundred years. Through the thick clouds of hatred and bloodshed, through the appalling destruction and loss of life, it is difficult to see clearly what lay before and impossible to deduce how things would have developed but for the obliterating catastrophe. That the Black Death altered Wales is certain but the dimensions of the change can be no more than speculation.

And I, Brother John Clyn, of the Order of Friars Minor and of the convent of Kilkenny, wrote in this book those notable things which happened in my time, which I saw with my own eyes, or which I learned from people worthy of belief And in case things which should be remembered perish with time and vanish from the memory of those who are to come after us, I, seeing so many evils and the whole world, as it were, placed within the grasp of the evil one, being myself as if among the dead, waiting for death to visit me, have put into writing truthfully all the things that I have heard. And, lest the writing should perish with the writer and the work fail with the labourer, I leave parchments to continue this work, if perchance any man survive and any of the race of Adam escape this pestilence and carry on the work which I have begun.13

John Clyn added two words to his peroration: magna karistia – ‘great dearth’, then he joined his fellows; another hand briefly added at some later date, ‘Here it seems that the author died.’

Even if no other evidence survived from Ireland, John Clyn’s cry would show how painfully the country must have suffered. He was a lonely, frightened man, who had already witnessed the death-agonies of almost all the other members of his house and now sought to record their end for posterity before the oblivion of death swept over all Kilkenny and all the country – even all the world. Whether anyone would live to read his words he did not know, hardly dared even wonder, but that instinct which leads men to seek to communicate with their unknown successors, whoever they might be and whatever they might be doing, now drove him on to write his chronicle, a memorial to the terror and grief of those who were still alive.

There is still much that is obscure about the course of the Black Death in Ireland.14 We cannot even be sure from whence it came. The most likely source is Bristol which was then the main centre of Anglo-Irish trade, but it could well have come direct from Gascony or one of the ports of Brittany. More important and considerably more mysterious is the period of the epidemic. John Clyn was categoric. Referring to 1348 he said:

… in the months of September and October, bishops, prelates, priests, friars, noblemen and others, women as well as men, came in great numbers from every part of Ireland to the pilgrimage centre of That Molyngis. [Teach Molinge on the River Burrow.15] So great were their numbers that on many days it was possible to see thousands of people flocking there; some through devotion but others (the majority indeed) through fear of the plague, which then was very prevalent. It began near Dublin at Howth and at Drogheda. These cities were almost entirely destroyed and emptied of inhabitants so that in Dublin alone, between the beginning of August and Christmas, 14,000 people died.

There is no more reason to take Clyn’s statistics seriously than those of any other chronicler but, equally, there is no reason to expect him to be seriously wrong over dates. On this basis, therefore, Ireland must have been infected within a month or two of England. On the whole a rather longer delay was to be expected but there is nothing wildly improbable in such a conclusion.

Yet in August 1349 Richard Fitzralph, Archbishop of Armagh, told the Pope during a visit to Avignon that the plague had destroyed two thirds of the English nation but had not yet done any conspicuous harm to the Irish or the Scots.

Such minor outbreaks as there had been were confined to the coastal areas. Fitzralph may have been a few weeks behind the times with his information but he went directly from Ireland to Avignon and would anyhow have kept closely in touch with affairs in his diocese. It took a minimum of fifteen or sixteen days to get from London to Avignon and an allowance of four weeks was not considered over-generous. From Dublin it would probably have taken a few days longer. But on any calculation the Archbishop must have been aware of any major calamity in Ireland which happened before the end of June. Even allowing for hyperbole on the part of John Clyn, it is incredible that the Archbishop should have dismissed as of minor importance an epidemic which could be described as having ‘almost entirely destroyed and emptied of inhabitants’ Howth, Drogheda and Dublin.

Other information supports Richard Fitzralph. The Archbishop of Dublin died on 14 July 1349, and the Bishop of Meath in the same month. If Fitzralph had left Ireland about the middle of July it is not at all surprising that he should not have had this news by the time of his audience with the Pope. But it is more surprising that both deaths should have occurred almost a year after John Clyn’s plague had ravaged Ireland. Further evidence from the Annals of Connacht for 1349 lead to the same conclusion. ‘A great plague in Moylurg’ these record ‘and all Ireland this year. Matha, son of Cathal O’Ruairc died of the plague. The Earl’s grandson died. Risdered O’Raigillig, King of East Brefne died.’16 Clyn may have expressed himself badly and meant that, though the first cases of the plague were recorded in 1348, the epidemic did not become serious until 1349, in particular the summer and autumn. For the want of a better explanation this will have to suffice. Certainly John Clyn can be excused a certain stylistic looseness given the circumstances in which he wrote.

Whatever the dates of the epidemic there is ample evidence of its disastrous impact. Even while Fitzralph was making his way to Avignon it was spreading out from the Pale on the east coast to the midlands and the west. John Clyn records that, of his own Friars Minor, twenty-five died in their house at Drogheda and twenty-three at Dublin. In July 1350 the Mayor and Bailiffs of Cork filed a petition pleading for the revision of certain taxes. Clonmel and New Ross also petitioned successfully for relief. The citizens of Dublin begged for a special allowance of a thousand quarters of corn. As late as 1354 the tenants of certain royal farms around the capital were claiming that they had been reduced to pauperdom by the ‘plague lately existing in the said country’, and because of ‘the excessive price of provisions’ which was exacted by certain royal officials. Geoffrey the Baker states that the Anglo-Irish were almost wiped out but the pure blooded Irish in the mountains remained inviolate till 1357.17 This cannot be accepted but it is possible that comparatively little damage was done among the indigenous Irish and that these suffered more severely in another epidemic eight years later – perhaps of some quite different disease.

But to see the sufferings of Ireland in their proper perspective it is necessary to remember that, in appealing for relief, reference was usually made not only to the plague but also to the ‘other many misfortunes which had happened there’ – ‘the destruction and wasting of lands, houses and possessions by our Irish enemies’. An inquisition of the lands of Roger de Mortimer found ‘a great and flourishing manor, full of free tenants, farmers and burgesses, waste’. The manor of Geashil, belonging to the Earl of Kildare, was ‘worth nothing’. The demesne lands in County Longford ‘lay waste for lack of tenants’. All these statements of sad fact sound familiar enough and could have been culled from the records of any county of England which was recovering from the plague. But in Ireland they stem from the 1320s and 1330s; fruit not of the plague but of the perpetual, ruinous civil war which ravaged the country in the fourteenth as in almost every other century. The Black Death was no less painful to the Irish because they were accustomed to live in a state of even bloodier disorder than their neighbours across the Irish Sea but it should not be forgotten that a high proportion of their misfortunes would have arisen even though there had been no plague to help them forward.


It would be proper to conclude this tour of the Black Death in Britain with some account of its spread to Scotland. Unfortunately, little detail is recorded. According to Knighton18 the Scots were delighted when they heard of the fate which had overtaken their hated neighbours in England. They regarded it as a proper retribution for past offences and, as the plague swirled over Cumberland and Durham, massed their forces in the forest of Selkirk, ‘laughing at their enemies’ and awaiting the best moment to invade. It was their last laugh for, as they were on the point of moving into action, ‘the fearful mortality fell upon them and the Scots were scattered by sudden and savage death so that, within a short period, some five thousand died’. The panicstricken soldiers dispersed throughout Scotland, dying by the side of the road or carrying the infection with them to their homes.

‘God and Sen Mungo, Sen Ninian and Seynt Andrew scheld us this day and ilka day fro Goddis grace and the foule deth that Ynglessh men dyene upon.’19 Such was the prayer that the Scottish soldier was trained to say as he watched the sufferings of the English on the other side of the frontier. It is certain that his prayers went for little but so little attention is paid to the Black Death by historians of Scotland that one is tempted to believe that St Mungo, St Ninian and St Andrew must have spared their admirers some part at least of the tribulations of other less well protected Europeans. One of the few people living at the time of the plague whose account survives is John of Fordun.20

‘In the year 1350,’ he wrote,

there was, in the kingdom of Scotland, so great a pestilence and plague among men … as, from the beginning of the world even unto modern times, had never been heard of by man, nor is found in books, for the enlightenment of those who come after. For, to such a pitch did that plague wreak its cruel spite, that nearly a third of mankind were thereby made to pay the debt of nature. Moreover, by God’s will, this evil led to a strange and unwonted kind of death, insomuch that the flesh of the sick was somehow puffed out and swollen, and they dragged out their earthly life for barely two days. Now this everywhere attacked especially the meaner sort and common people; – seldom the magnates. Men shrank from it so much that, through fear of contagion, sons, fleeing as from the face of leprosy or from an adder, durst not go and see their parents in the throes of death.

This all-too familiar description could have applied as well to any other country. Androw of Wyntoun,21 who was contemporaneous with John of Fordun but certainly never read the latter’s chronicles, confirms that Scotland suffered severelv.22

In Scotland, the fyrst Pestilens

Begouth, off sa gret wyolens,

That it was sayd, off lywänd men

The thyrd part it dystroyid then

Efftyr that in till Scotland

A yhere or more it was wedand

Before that tyme was nevyr sene

A pestilens in oure land sa kene:

Bathe men and barnys and women

It sparryed noucht for to kille them.

Finally, the Book of Pluscarden,23 a slightly later chronicle but still written dose enough to the date of the plague to have some ring of authenticity, also refers to a third of the population being slain and to the poor suffering far worse than the rich.

‘They were attacked with inflammation and lingered barely four and twenty hours,’ noted the anonymous author, concluding more hopefully: ‘The sovereign remedy is to pay vows to St Sebastian, as appears more clearly in the legend of his life.’

The most striking feature of these accounts is the reiterated statement that a third of the population perished. This is a conservative figure compared with the speculation of the chroniclers of other countries whose estimates of the mortality might be anything between fifty and ninety per cent, or even on occasion the entire population. It is perhaps to be expected that the medieval statisticians of Scotland would approach their task with a sobriety not to be found in the English or the still more volatile Latins but, even so, it seems unlikely that they can be acquitted entirely of exaggeration. Unless their estimates were very far out of line with those of other countries the figure of a third must have been substantially too high. If this is so, then Scotland must have escaped more lightly than England or Wales.

The emphasis given to the virtual immunity of the rich and powerful is also interesting. Everywhere it was the poor who suffered worst and, generally speaking, the more eminent the individual’s position, the greater his chances of survival. To take only one example: 18 per cent of the English bishops died as against some 40 per cent of all beneficed clergy. But it was by no means unusual for the great to perish; there are innumerable cases of noblemen or merchants, living in large and spacious houses, who met the same fate as their less prosperous neighbours. Clearly such cases cannot have been unknown in Scotland but John of Fordun’s emphatic statement that ‘the meaner sort and common people’ were above all the victims suggests that the discrepancy was even more marked north of the Tweed.

With lower overall mortality and relatively trivial losses among the nobility and upper levels of society it is less surprising that the plague should have left so light a scar in Scotland. It does not seem, however, to have disturbed the balance of power between England and Scotland, though the failure of the English to win the lasting success which had seemed to be made possible by the rout of the Scots at Neville’s Cross and the capture of King David, can perhaps in part be blamed on the shortage of man-power which resulted from the plague. At all events, the appetite of the Scots for plunder and revenge was temporarily checked and it was several years before they recovered their full zest for forays across the border.

Though cases of the plague occurred north of the border in the autumn of 1349, it seems to have been largely held in check by the Scottish winter. This can, to some extent, be ascribed to the reluctance of rats to change their residence in intense cold but winter does not seem to have been much of an impediment to the advance of the Black Death in other countries. Whatever the reason, the lull was short-lived. In the spring of 1350 the plague was on the move again and quickly blanketed the whole country. By the end of that year all Britain had been infected; all Europe, indeed, since the countries to the north were ravaged at much the same time. In the whole continent, with the exception of a few lucky pockets, hardly a village was left unscathed, hardly an individual can have escaped without the loss of at least one friend or relative. It was a continent in mourning. Millions of fresh graves provided a visible memorial but it was not only the dead who paid the price. To survive the Black Death was not to survive unscathed. Indeed, in some ways, the shock which it inflicted on the minds of men seemed even more significant than the fearful harvest which it had reaped among their bodies.


1 Gasquet, op. cit., p.141.

2 V.C.H. Worcestershire, Vol. II, p.32.

3 T. R. Nash, History of Worcestershire, London, 1781, Vol. I, p.226.

4 V. Green, History of Worcester, London, 1796, p.144.

5 p.132 above.

6 H. L. V. Fletcher, Herefordshire, London, 1948, p.22.

7 Owen and Blakeway, History of Shrewsbury, London, 1825, Vol. 1, p.165.

8 Gasquet, op. cit., p. 170.

9 W. Rees, ‘The Black Death in England and Wales, as exhibited in Manorial Documents’, Proc. Roy. Soc. Med., Vol. XVI, Pt. 2, p.34.

10 Galfridi le Baker, op. cit., p.100.

11 The subsequent paragraphs draw heavily on W. Rees’s monograph ‘The Black Death in Wales’, Trans. Roy. Hist. Soc., Fourth Series, Vol. III, 1920.

12 Court Rolls, Portfolio 218, No. 4, cit. Rees.

13 Friar John Clyn, Annals of Ireland, ed. R. Butler, Irish Arch. Soc., Dublin, 1849, p.37.

14 I am fortunate in having been able to consult in proof Chapter VIII of Dr. Otway Ruthven’s History of Mediaeval Ireland (London 1968). A. Gwynn’s monograph ‘The Black Death in Ireland’ (Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. XXIV, 1935, pp.25–42) is also of value.

15 A. Gwynn, op. cit., p.28.

16 Annals of Connacht, ed. A. M. Freeman, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1944, cit. Ruthven.

17 Galfridi le Baker, op. cit., p.100.

18 op. cit., pp.62–3.

19 Col MacArthur, ‘Old Time Plague in Britain’, Trans. Roy. Soc. Trop. Med. Hyg., Vol. XIX, p.360.

20 Chronicle of the Scottish Nation, ed. W. F. Skene, Edinburgh, 1872.

21 Cronykil of Andrew of Wyntoun, ed. D. Laing, Edinburgh, 1872, Vol. II, p.482.

22 David Macpherson’s preface to 1795 edition of the Chronicle, London, p. XVII.

23 ed. F. J. Skene, Edinburgh, 1880, p.225.

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