A Summary: Effects of the Black Death
on European Society
Joseph Patrick Byrne. 2004.
This chapter in Byrne’s book, The Black Death (2004), summarises the plagues effect on medieval population, society, commerce, the clergy and the monarchy in the Europe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Byrne discusses the arguments that the plague contributed to the end of the medieval era, the rise of Protestantism and Royal power and the decline of Feudalism.
No one can accurately state how many people died from the Black Death during the period from 1347 to 1352. In this article, Byrne cites a number of scholarly studies in order to estimate the mortality rates. Byrne states that the death toll ranged from 20 to 60% of the population. Recent research estimates that 75-200 million people died; 45- 50% of the European population (Phillip Daileader, quoted in Black Death: Depopulation 2007).
The aftermath of the plague outbreaks, and the sudden shortage of cheap labour, provided an incentive for landlords to compete with each other for peasant workers with wages and freedoms, an innovation that, some argue, represents the roots of capitalism, and the resulting social upheaval caused the Renaissance, and even the Reformation (Penn 1990. p366).
In many ways the Black Death improved the situation of surviving peasants. Workers gained power and were in demand because of the shortage of labour; employers and landholders now had to pay more for service rendered and were disadvantaged by this. The English monarchy introduced the Ordinance of Labourers (1349), and the Statute of Labourers (1351), restricting both wage increases and the relocation of workers. If workers attempted to leave their current post or demand higher wages, employers were able to have the workers imprisoned (Penn 1990: p357). This heralded the shift of the monarchy from a titular role as of head of state, to a position of rising power.
The plague, it is argued, was responsible for...