The Black Death and the Peasants' Revolt in England

Professor Chris Given-Wilson


The Black Death was the greatest natural disaster in recorded history, killing between a third and a half of the population of England (and Europe) during the years 1347-50. The aim of this module is to examine the social, economic and political consequences of the plague in England during the second half of the fourteenth century, with particular emphasis on the part it is sometimes thought to have played in stimulating violent social unrest such as the great rising of 1381.

Original sources (in translation) are used extensively. All members of the class must buy a copy of Rosemary Horrox (ed.), The Black Death (Manchester University Press, 1994), and bring it to classes. In addition, a source-booklet of primary texts on the 1381 revolt will be distributed to the class.

Although this course concentrates on the experience of England during the aftermath of the Black Death, members of the class are encouraged at all times to read more widely and to compare England's experience with that of its neighbours (Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Germany, Italy, etc.). This applies not only to the events of the plague itself, but also to the 1381 revolt, which was but one of several popular uprisings to have broken out in Europe between 1378 and 1385. Study of these events should also lead to consideration of similar (or potentially similar) events at other times: the consequences of rapid demographic expansion or contraction, the social and economic effects of epidemic disease, and the causes of violent social unrest are clearly relevant to all periods of history, including the early twenty-first century.

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