The Black Death: A Personal History

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In this fresh approach to the history of the Black Death, John Hatcher, a world-renowned scholar of the Middle Ages, recreates everyday life in a mid-fourteenth century rural English village. By focusing on the experiences of ordinary villagers as they lived—and died—during the Black Death (1345–50 AD), Hatcher vividly places the reader directly into those tumultuous years and describes in fascinating detail the day-to-day existence of people struggling with the tragic effects of the plague. Dramatic scenes portray how contemporaries must have experienced and thought about the momentous events—and how they tried to make sense of it all.

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About the Author:

John Hatcher, a leading expert in medieval and early modern social and economic history, is Professor of Economic and Social History and Chairman of the History Faculty at the University of Cambridge.

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In an experimental narrative for an academic historian—blending some fiction with solid facts—Hatcher, of Cambridge University, offers a literary docudrama that looks at the lives off ordinary people during the Black Death that devastated Europe in the 1340s. Focusing on the English town of Walsham de Willows, Hatcher helps readers understand the deep terror that prevailed, including rumors of awful omens, including rains of frogs, serpents, lizards, scorpions, and venomous beasts. He describes the plague itself, which caused coughing up of blood, carbuncles and boils on the neck, underarm and groin, and death in a few days. Especially affecting are accounts of the psychological agonies of those who, in a deeply religious age, saw their often delirious relatives die without proper confession. Finally, Hatcher notes the socioeconomic upheaval wrought by the plague, including poor people unexpectedly inheriting land from relatives killed by the plague, and a severe labor shortage as a third of Europe's population was wiped out.. While a glossary would have been helpful (will readers know what a rood of land or a heriot is?), this is a fine work that gives an intimate sense of the Black Death's horrors. Maps. (June)
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