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The Black Death: The Effects on England

But England had more to worry about than just the Scots. The plague hit England particularly harshly, as it entered the country at several of its many ports. When the disease reached London it September, it met a city of 50,000 people, all crowded into an area of only one square mile. In the early 1300’s a breakdown in sanitation and public health systems had been caused by overcrowding, nut by 1348, the situation had improved slightly. The Thames was used a waste dump, overflowing with sludge, garbage, and animal and human waste to the point that water barely flowed. However, with the Tower and the Thames surrounding much of the city, London could have been isolated from the surrounding countryside. Apparently, city officials put into effect new quarantine laws which could have helped prevent spread of the disease. Unfortunately, this didn’t help at all. From June through September of 1349, civic reports averaged 290 deaths a day. Some 40% of Londoners were killed within a period of 18 months. The city did not fully recover its population until the sixteenth century.

Cities were not the only places the disease could easily take control. In monasteries, the people lived so close together that when one fell ill, the others soon followed. At the monastery of St. Albans, the Abbot Michael of Mentmore was the first to die. According to chronicler William of Deves, the Abbot began to feel ill on Maundy Thursday, but celebrated High Mass anyways. The next day, he made his last confession and took to his bed. On Easter Sunday, three days after the first symptoms, he died. Within weeks of the Abbot’s death, 47 monks dies, including the new Abbot, and the monastery was abandoned.

Throughout the prosperous West Midlands, manors experienced labor shortages due to the high number of deaths. Chronicler Henry Knighton states, “So few servants and laborers were left that no one knew where to turn for help.” The manor managers could not escape, either. The manager of Cuxham Manor held his post from 1311 until he died of the plague in March, 1349. His successor died in April, a third manager in June, and a fourth in July. Finally, the manor lands were leased or sold. The source of livelihood died out as well. Wool was one of England’s main exports, until high amounts of sheep died out across the countryside. In one field, over 5,000 sheep died.

The Spread of the Disease The Medical Response

History of England