Throughout British history, there have been few events that have had such a drastic effect on England such as the plague. Beginning in the fourteenth century and lasting to the end of the seventeenth century, the plague succeeded in devastating the British population as well as bringing about social reform to the region. Thought to be spread by rats, the plague originated in India, and then gradually made its way into Europe through Italy. In 1348, the Bubonic Plague, or Black Death, crossed the English Channel, proceeding to spread across the British population like a wildfire. The first outbreak ended in 1351, lasting for roughly four years. However this was not the only time that England was subject to “the pestilence.” England was constantly hit by outbreaks for about three hundred years after the original epidemic, spreading from the medieval to early modern time periods. There were large outbreaks in England during 1498, 1509-1510, 1563-1564, 1603, 1636, and 1665-1666. The plague affected everyone, regardless of social class. With little to no medicine available for treatment, thousands of British citizens died with each outbreak. The high levels of impoverished citizens, along with overcrowding and lack of hygiene created literal breeding grounds for the disease. Everyone was affected by the plague, yet some had the ability to resist infection better than others. For example, those who were wealthy had the ability to flee high-concentrated plague areas, while those who were poor were forced to endure the epidemic as best they could. The government attempted to try and inhibit the growth of the outbreaks by implementing quarantines on people and trade shipments, but this proved to be rather ineffective. When looking at the plague however, it is important to analyze the effects of such a disaster, and how it affected English society at the time. Interestingly enough, the plague can be seen as beneficial to the growth of England. By redefining the concepts of hygiene, relief for the poor, and having drastic effects on the British economy, the plague that ravaged early modern England became one of the most influential and revolutionary events in English history, spurring widespread reform within the region. By examining these factors of English society, one can accurately understand why the plague was so instrumental, albeit morbid, in promoting reform and growth within early modern England.
When attempting to understand how the plague affected the citizens of England, it is important to examine how citizens of England interpreted the plague. As the plague began to ravage the population there were those that understood the plague as if God had abandoned them. People began giving up their faith, instead believing that there were other factors attributed to the cause of such an epidemic. Many began to examine the patterns of which the outbreaks would occur. For example, some believed that an outbreak would occur every twenty years, or that each outbreak was associated with the change of reign in England. Some went as far as to offer astrological explanations for the disease, such as the alignment of Mars and Saturn, and horoscopes for entire cities began to emerge. These beliefs were all widely accepted as causes of each outbreak. But during the time periods in which the plague was present in English society, many held on to their religious beliefs with an even greater strength than before. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, England was predominantly Protestant. Being Protestant, many believed in the concept of Providence, or that all occurrences are God’s will, and that every event has a purpose. In believing this, the reason for the plague was attributed to the belief that it was a divine punishment sent from God to punish those who sinned. Some believed that it was a divine instrument of population reduction, and that the reason the poor suffered worse than the wealthy, was that they sinned more. Most...
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