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The Black Death: The Spread of the Disease

In October, 1347, a strange disease entered Europe through a port in Sicily, traveling on the merchant ships from the Eastern Mediterranean. The ships docked long enough for rats, which were carrying infected fleas, to get ashore. As the rats died, the fleas had to find new carriers, many of whom were humans. Within days, hundreds of people were dying each day from the illness. People fled to the countryside, only to spread the disease even further. By November, the island of Sicily had submitted, and by December, the plague had reached the mainland of Italy and much of Southern Europe. This infection was called the Black Death.

Within the next year, the plague engulfed all of Europe, spreading from Italy to Marseilles to Spain. It spread east to Bavaria in June and north to Paris and Normandy in July and August. From there it crossed the English Channel and struck southern England and London in September, 1348. Henry Knighton, a canon from a parish in Leicester, gives this account of the arrival of the plague: “Then the dreadful pestilence made its way along the coast by Southampton and reached Bristol, where almost the whole strength of the town perished, as it was surprised by sudden death; for few kept their beds more than two or three days, or even half a day. Then this cruel death spread on all sides, following the course of the sun. And there died a Leicester, in the small parish of Holy Cross,, 400; in the parish of St. Margaret’s, Leicester, 700; and so in every parish, in a great multitude.”

When the plague reached England, the Scots to the north rejoiced at seeing their enemy suffering so badly from the attack of the Black Death. They took the opportunity to plan an invasion in the summer of 1349, and raised an army to prepare. But the army never reached England. By July, the plague had hit Scotland, killing most of the army and unsettling the survivors.

The Effects on England

History of England