The Black Death

The Black Death was one of the most serious illnesses in history. It was a gruesome disease which was spread by fleas on rats who would infect humans,which formed Buboes on a victim’s neck, armpit and groin area, and a victim would die 4-7 days after getting the first symptom. So many people died that the dead people would just be dumped into a mass grave, and it took 150 years to recover. It was truly something to be feared of.

Significant People Affected by the Plague

Not only the poor peasants were affected by the Black Plague; many important people were also killed by the Black Plague. Some important people were Joan Plantagenet (King Edward III’s favourite daughter) and William of Ockham.

Joan Plantagenet’s story – King Edward III (1312 – 1377) was King of England during the terrible period of the plague. Edward had arranged a marriage for his favourite daughter Joan Plantagenet. Joan was born in February 1335 in Woodstock. She was to marry King Pedro of Castille, the son of Alfonso XI and Maria of Portugal. The marriage was to take place in Castille. She left England with the blessing of her parents. At that time, the Black Death had not yet taken its hold in England and its first victims had only been claimed in France in August 1348. Joan travelled through France and contracted the deadly disease. She died on 2 Sep 1348 in Bayonne of the Black Death.

William of Ockham’s story – William of Ockham was not only influential in metaphysics, but also in all other major areas of medieval philosophy, like logic, physics or natural philosophy, theory of knowledge, ethics, and political philosophy, as well as in theology.

He died of plague during the black death epidemic in a convent in Munich either in 1347 or 1349(, the exact date is unknown). However, as the disease did not reach Munich until late 1348, the year of his death is more likely to have been 1349. Medical historian Dr Jim Leavesley from Margaret River in Western Australia, talks about this period and has set the time for this tribute half way between, to make this year the 660th anniversary of William of Ockham’s death.

– William of Ockham

The Plague Today

Despite how many people think that the Black Death is no longer around, it actually still kills and infects people today. Yersinia pestis, the plague bacterium, is still around. It is endemic in rodents in the US and in other wild animals around the world (and so are the fleas that transmit plague to humans), and outbreaks still occur. Modern medical care, like antibiotics, intravenous fluids, and respirator support, have made the plague much more survivable than it was in the past, although it can still be fatal.

In many parts of the world, like the United States, China, India, Vietnam, and Mongolia, it has been confirmed that the Black Death has killed many people in recent years. In 2003, almost all in Africa, 2100 people were infected and 180 deaths caused by the Black Death were reported. Also, in 2006, at least 50 people died because of the plague in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

However, most people survived because they were given the right antibiotics at the right time. Since rat-infested, crowded, and dirty places are beneficial places for the plague to spread, outbreaks can be prevented by keeping places clean.

It was also feared that some people might even think of converting the plague into a gas type form and turn it into a terrorism attack that attacks people biologically, like chemical warfare.

     – Buboes on the neck

The Symptoms of the Black Death

The victim of the black death would die 4 to 7 days after the first signs of the illness. Below are the symptoms of the black death.

1. Plague-infected flea bites the victim

2. Victim develops fever and pains

3. Victim feels tired and weak, but finds it difficult to sleep

4. Body temperature increases

5. Victim feels giddy, appears dazed, and begins to talk wildly

6. Swollen glands appear in the groin, armpit, or neck. These are called Buboes.

7. Bleeding under the skin causes blue-black or purple blotches

8. Red rash with small red spots appears on Buboes

9. Victim dies

–  Buboes on the Neck

Types of the Plague

1. The Bubonic plague – this is the most common form of the plague. This is when Buboes, which are painful, swollen lumps grow on the neck, armpit, or groin area.

2.The Septicemic plague – this plague which comes from fleas or from contact with a plague-infected body, spreads throughout the body via the bloodstream.

3. The  Pneumonic plague –  this is the most infectious type of plague. This advanced stage of the Bubonic plague is spread directly, person to person, through droplets coughed from the lungs that stay in the air. Someone can be infected simply by breathing in the air that an infected person breathed.

While the Bubonic Plague only kills half of thevictims that it infects, the other two, the Septicemic and Pneumonic Plague kills almost everyone who is infected.

15 Interesting Facts

1. The “Black Death” wasn’t the original name for that horrible disease. Back in the Medieval Times, it was called “The Great Mortality”, or “The Pestilence”. The reason it was call

2. Around the time when the Black Death started, there was a sudden growth in population in Europe. Also, there were two years of cold weather and torrential rains that killed the grain crops, so there was a shortage of food for everyone, even the animals. This then caused people and animals to all crowd in the cities, creating a good place for disease to spread.

3. The first named victims of the plague died in 1338 and 1339 in the area around Lake Issyk Kul (Lake Baikal) in Russia. On their grave it says: “In the year of the hare (1339). This is the grave of Kutluk. He died of the plague with his wife, Magnu-Kelka.

4. In November 1347, a fleet of Genoese trading ships landed in Messina, Sicily after trading along the coast from the Black Sea to Italy. The ships carried dead and dying sailors, many of whom had Buboes grown on their necks, in their armpits, or in their groins. Many coughed blood. Those who were alive died within days.

5. In Siena, more than half the population died. Work stopped on the city’s great cathedral, which was planned to be the biggest in the world, and was never resumed. The architecture still stands as reminder of the death that stopped its construction.

6. In May 1349, the plague reached Bergen, Norway, on a ship carrying wool from England. Within days of arriving in Bergen, the crew and passengers of the ship had all died.

7. A November 2000 study of tooth pulp in a French plague grave showed the presence of Yersinia pestis in all of 20 samples from three victims.

8. Yersinia pestis infects its flea by blocking its stomach. The flea tries repeatedly to feed, but the blockage causes it to regurgitate bacilli into its host. When the host dies, the flea and its offspring seek a new host, infesting humans when necessary.

9. Medieval doctors believed the plague had at least one of several causes. Many thought it was a punishment from God for the sins of the people. Virtually nobody suspected the ever-present rats and fleas.

10. After being tortured, some Jews confessed that they were poisoning wells and other water sources, creating the plague. As a result, Jews were expelled or killed by the thousands. As a result of these confessions, the entire Jewish population of Strassburg, Germany, was given the choice to convert to Christianity or be burned on rows of stakes on a platform in the city’s burial ground. About 2,000 were killed.

11. Although the poor were hit hardest, nobility didn’t escape. King Alfonso XI of Castile and León was the only reigning monarch to die, but many members of royal families from Naples to England were killed.

12. Of 140 Dominican brothers in Montpellier, only seven survived the Black Death

13. Prior to the Black Death, music was plentiful and cheerful. During the plague, music was rare and grim. Other art forms, including visual arts and literature, also reflect the misery of the time.

14. Closed communities, such as monasteries and nunneries, were especially vulnerable. If one person became infected, the whole community might die. And because friars and nuns tended the sick, infection among them was common.

15. Bodies were piled up inside and outside city walls where they lay until mass graves could be dug. This contributed to the bad air and helped to spread the disease.

– Skeletons of victims in a mass grave

I hope you’ve had fun and learnt a lot with this post!


Year 8 History Exam Revision Sheet, Semester 1, 2012