14th Century:   Effect of the "Black Death" on Europe and our Ancestors

Researched, Posted & Written by:  Wanda Bostic Dunlap

March 2009


"14th Century Conditions in Europe:   Wars prevailed in Europe, and extreme global temperature shifts.  Under the rule of King Edward III, he attacked France in 1347.

In the 14th century the church had "absolute rule and power" over the country and the people.  The Catholic Religion was more powerful than the King Edward III.

 1347 the plague known as the "BLACK DEATH" shows up in Mongolia, China and India.  It spread throughout Europe at twice the speed of the "Bubonic Plague" that swept Europe in the 6th century.  By 1351 it had claimed 200 million lives.

The plague begins with "flu like" fever, and swelling of the lymphoid in the neck and/or groin.  The organs begin to swell; hives and whelps begin to appear. 

It was called the "Black Death; named after the color of the whelps that appear on the body in its final stages. 

1347 the Mongolians attack the shores of "CAFFA" Italy and brought the plague with them to Europe.  Flea infested rats from their ships infiltrated Europe.  In Messina, Italy on the Island of Sicily 600 people a day were dieing.  Once bitten, the coughing starts and the airborne bacteria spread through Europe like wildfire.

The Mongolian and Italian Merchant ships carried the plague to Barcelona Spain and it traveled up the river to Avignon, France.  They landed in Bordeaux, France in 1348.

In France 400 people a day had died. In one 6 week period France lost 11,000 people; eventually loosing over 40% of its population

1348 the plague reaches London, England.  Millions have already died and Europe was having great difficulty burying the dead.  By 1349 in London 300 people a day had died; one third of England's population died.

In Siena, Italy 50% of the population had died, and in Venice 60% of the population died.

The plague reaches Scandinavia in 1349 and Russia in 1351 and had already wiped out nearly 200 million people.

In the 14th century there were no documented medical procedures or cures; and very few physicians; many of them refused to see plague patients. The people believed it was a curse from God,   Astronomers believed that when 3 planets align it gave off vapors that causes the plague.  The common man did not believe this to be an infectious disease.

Whole villages were wiped out.  Those that did survive started abandoning their sick for fear of death.   The Nobles fled the cities for their countryside homes and most of them survived. 

Pope Clement VI resided in Avignon, France in 1347; an area that was hit the hardest by the plague. The Pope's personal physician "Guy de Cauliac's journals that he kept during the five years the plague swept Europe.  Guy contracted the disease himself but survived it. Rather than running from the disease, he chose to try to "understand" it.  He catalogs the symptoms, recording which treatments were most effective and  He noted that the use of fire causes a "purifying effect" and helps ward off the plague.  Fires burned through Europe during this time.

In 1363 Guy wrote the manual used by physicians for 3 centuries "Chirurgia Magna".

Guy was also given credit for Pope Clement VI surviving the plague.  This journal became the first recorded physician's manual, which caused uniform treatments and procedures throughout Europe.

Millions have already died and Europe was having great difficulty burying the dead, and/or finding people to dig the graves.   The Pope and King decide to issue "Urbal Reform" and pass ordinances on the handling of the dead.  No infected bodies could be brought into the city, no bells would ring,  and they imposed "Mass Burials".  As the Epidemic claims over 40% of the population; the priests stopped giving last rights to the dying.  In one monastery there were less than 45 out of 150 priests that survived the plague. 

The survivors had to do the unspeakable;  bury their dead in mass graves with no formal service and above all;  no last rights.  With no Christian burials the people began to believe they were in hell and the Church fell out of favor among the masses. They took measures into their hands and searched for someone to blame for the plague.

Many traveled through Europe "flogging" and torturing themselves; mimicking the torture and crucifixion of Christ.  Popularity of this group grew to enormous numbers, and it began attracting outlaws. 

King Edward III had sent his Jewish servant to Italy in 1348 to purchase spices and supplies.  The floggers captured and forced him to sign a paper that he had poisoned the wells, thus pushing the blame on the Jewish population.  The group started persecuting the Jews through mass crucifixions; which also spread to Germany & Switzerland.

 By 1349 the King took advantage of this time to crack the religious hold on the country, and took measures to separate church and state, reducing much of the church's rule over the country.

The plague had tremendous effects on Europe.  By 1357 there was a labor crisis in Europe.  Those that survived married and reproduced in record numbers. With such enormous population reductions, famine was wiped out.  There were no longer food and land shortages.  Peasants that once worked the fields now owned their own land and prospered.  The Nobles experienced a shortage of laborers for their fields and were forced to work their own fields or pay exorbitant amounts of money for labor.

Labor saving devices were invented; printing presses eliminated the need for the priest and monasteries hand printing services. Mills popped up across Europe eliminating the need for hand grinding and people services; marking the beginning the industrial revolution in Europe.

In the winter of 1631 the plague of a smaller scale swept Europe again."


The Plague in  Cheshire

Some of these are from Civil War Memorials, others are from Quarter Sessions records.

1605: -

Relief of plague in  Chester

At Nantwich  23 Sep 1605 . Before Sir Richard Lewkener and Sir Henry Townshend Justices.

Forasmuch as the Lords of the King's most honourable privie council have heretofore addressed their letters to diverse Justices of Peace for a collection to be made for the relief of infected persons of the Cittie of Chester. And there upon the half of one payment of the myse within the County was granted to the Cittie And as it appeareth unto the Justices by letters to them from Edward Dutton Esq, Mayor, that the state of the Cittie is verie poore and the infection great, and that they do want relief. It is therefore assented unto by the Justices of the Countie and so ordered that one other half of one payment of the myse through the whole Countie shall be taxed and assessed towards the relief of infected persons in Chester (except those towns in the Countie which are now infected) And the same to be collected by the Justices in every hundred which collected the former, and by them paid to the Mayor at or before  02 Oct  next.

Thomas Vernon, R. Lewkenor, H. Towneshend, John Poole, W. Brereton, Vrian Leighe... G. Bouthe, Geo. Leycester, Hu: Beeston... Tho. Smith... Caulveley, ... Beeston, Tho. Venables, Wm. Done, Thoms Wylbram, Ar. Starkie, Rich. Lee, Ric. Egerton, Henrie Delves, Geo. Cotton, P. Warburton, William Brereton, John Ardern, ... Legh, Henry Maynwaring, R. Brereton.

Endorsed:  23 Sep 1605

Memorandum that at the place and time within written it was ordered the Justices within named that whosoever shall refuse to contribute the payment within mentioned shall be comitted to prison named or bound for their appearance at the next assises to be holden for the Countie of Chester.

R. Lewkenor, H. Towneshend.

1631: -

This Year the Plague was dangerously dispersed in many Parts of the Kingdome: as in London, Yorke, Yorkshire, Lancashire, & especially in Preston, where it raged so that the Town was almost depopulated, & the Corn rotted on the Ground for want of Reapers. It was also in Shrewsbury , Wrexham & many other Parts of Wales: but  Cheshire was graciously preserved, where were many publick Fasts kept for the turning away of God's Hand.


Northwich,  02 May 1648.

Cleansing of Bostock Hall from the Sickness.

 Petition of Samuel Caryngton, Clerk, for the return of certain goods he claims which are about to be sold.

 To Sir George Booth, Thomas Standley Esq and Colonel John Leigh or to any of these gentlemen. Humbly sheweth. Whereas it appears by an order under your hands bearinge date  05 Oct 1647 that the goods of John Mainwaringe, late of Bostocke gent, should bee seized and sold towards the cleansinge of Bostocke Hall from the sickness. May it please your honors your peticoner's wife layd upp certaine goods with her sister, wife unto the said John Mainwaringe now deceased, to be kept from plunder, and they beinge now found in the possession of John Mainwaringe are with the rest of the goods seized on and by Thomas Church and others though well knowne by them to bee your peticoner's, have under pretence of the foresaid Order offered them to sale in Middlewich to the great wronge ...

May it please you therefore to grant an Order directed both to the old and new Constables of Bostocke, to Thomas Church and Thomas Barrow that forthwith they deliver unto your peticoner's wife a suite of greene cloth for a bed, with greene and white lace and fringe of the same color, one bible in folio, a geneva print lent unto the said John Mainwaringe in the time of his sickness and with other goods shee lent to her sister which shee may make just claime unto.

Order: Shee to have them delive'd unto her, giving security to be responsible for the same in case the sequestrators goe against her."


Researched and Posted By:  Wanda Bostic Dunlap

       March 2009

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