A host of books have been written on the horrendous epidemic of 1346-50, which is now known to have killed around 40 per cent of the people of Europe. But this work provides entirely new perspectives by viewing the world's greatest disaster through the eyes of the ordinary people who died in it or lived through it.
This is done by focusing on life in an exceptionally well-documented rural parish in mid-fourteenth-century England. With scrupulous attention to historical accuracy, and a meticulous reconstruction of the precise chronology, the events of the tumultuous years from 1345-51 are recreated, and by so doing what these folk knew, believed and experienced are brought vividly to life.
A profusion of contemporary sources are used to illuminate this remote period, from priests' manuals, liturgies and sermons, through chronicles, statutes, royal proclamations, bishops' registers, and medical texts, to manor court records and farm accounts. As the world of the middle ages is unfolded medical knowledge, theological debates, pious beliefs, attitudes to charity, farming methods, estate management, serdom and seigneurial rights, family relations, law and order and much more are all rendered uniquely accessible and strikingly comprehensible to the reader. A much greater understanding of the true horrors of the Black Death, and the variety of means by which people and institutions attempted to deal with them, is imparted by placing them precisely in the context of the world in which they took place. And this innovative approach also ends up revealing that the people of the fourteenth century were far closer to ourselves in their beliefs and behaviour than the vast differences between their material world and ours have led us to understand.
John Hatcher is Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Cambridge, Vice-Master of Corpus Christi College, and will shortly become Chairman of the Faculty of History.For many years he was editor of the 'Economic History Review', the leading international journal in the field.John Hatcher graduated from the London School of Economics, where he obtained a B. Sc (Econ) with First Class Honours while studying as an evening student and working as a salesman for J&J Colman & Co. He stayed on to complete a Ph. D and then taught at the University of Kent before moving...
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