Why the Bubonic Plague was a Turning Point
English contemporary observer Henry Knighton wrote, “In this year 1348 and in the following one there was a general mortality of people throughout the whole world.” This was the start of his account of the Black Death. Also known as the bubonic plague, this devastating disease quickly spread around Western Europe, killing many. It had several significant effects in the 14th century, most of them for the worse. Europe took a long time to recover from the societal, cultural, and economical turmoil. This destruction is what made it a major turning point for the middle ages. First, the way people interacted in society changed a lot. Most of the population started “living for the moment.” There was uncontrollable drinking in the taverns and sexual acts everywhere because people knew they could be dead in a matter of days. Many abandoned their families and estates to escape. Others became flagellants, people who publicly flogged themselves because they believed God was punishing them. This movement was destroyed by 1350, but an outbreak of anti-Semitism soon followed. Jews were accused of causing the plague, and were persecuted in Spain and Germany. They fled to Russia and Poland for safety where Jewish communities were formed. Women were oppressed as well due to the societal upheaval. Sex roles became more defined and women were expected to be submissive and give up functions in society like having a job or participating in the legal system. The bubonic plague also caused the economy to crumble. Resources were extremely cheap due to the small population and lack of demand. A horse previously forty shillings could be bought for six. The serious labor shortage caused a dramatic rise in the price of labor. For instance, a farm worker who received two shillings a week in 1347 would receive eleven by 1350. Therefore, landlords had to pay more for labor while their incomes declined. Even aristocrats suffered, their incomes...
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