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    The Effect of The Black Death on the Culture and Lives of the English People

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    Small pox. Tuberculosis. AIDS. These diseases have been considered epidemics at various points throughout the history of the world. None of them, however, had such an impact on the population and culture of the people than did the Black Death. The Black Death was a disease that invaded England in the middle of the fourteenth century.

    Reports on the total amount deceased have varied from between twenty-five percent and fifty percent of the European population. However, it is known that many millions of people were eliminated from the English population, and that the Black Death was a catalyst for social change within Europe. The culture and lives of all people rich and poor was changed forever due to the effects of the Black Death.

    First, the Black Death had a great effect on the upper class in England. This disease did not discriminate. A rich man when put into contact with the disease was just as likely to acquire the disease as was a poor man. The epidemic changed many common practices in England that no man had ever been able to control before the disease. One effect the Black Death had on England’s upper class was that it reduced the number of members significantly. When the deadly disease struck landowners and their families, their lands would pass to the closest family member.

    This practice was very common and caused the estates of the surviving landowners to become very large. So, the Black Death shrunk the upper class and made it wealthier at the same time. Though the disease made the upper class wealthier in lands, working the lands became less profitable. Because the population of the people paid to work the land was also reduced by twenty-five to fifty percent, there were fewer people to work the land. This occurrence promoted higher wages from the worker and less total profit for the landowner.

    The Black Death also had an impact on the lives of the lower class and the commoners. The effects of the disease were not all negative. In some ways, the disease actually improved the quality of life for the common person in England. One way that the Black Death improved life was by raising the wages paid to the people who worked the land. Because the disease obliterated so much of the English population, there became a severe shortage of labor. When you combine this premise with the economic principles of supply and demand, changes take place in England.

    With the shortage of workers and the need for people to work the land, a competitive market was created. Wages greatly increased. Working conditions improved. The disease also caused an increase in respect for the commoner. The peasants and the yeoman actually prospered more in England than they ever had. Another effect the disease had on England was that it opened up lands for the commoners to own and or work. Though the amount of land a commoner owned may be small, if the same person works the land that owns the land, the yields are usually going to be greater than if the work is farmed out to hired hands.

    Recovery from the Black Death was a very gradual process. England’s population would not be as great as before the disease for a couple of centuries. It was common for a family to have no male heirs three generations later, so its impact on the population was very severe. The Black Death did leave many factors for a strong recovery. Because of the decrease in population, there was a great surplus of land. Commoners who worked their own ground as a result of the land surplus prospered. Also in surplus was food.

    This large supply of food was more than adequate to sustain the population left spared by the Black Death. A raise in the wages of the common person was another effect the disease had on England. When you combine these three factors, land surplus, food surplus, and high wages, England’s population recovered. It must be understood that it took a couple of hundred years to fully restore the population, as replacing millions of people doesn’t occur in one generation.

    The Black Death is often looked upon as a very negative disease in history, but it also had many positive effects. England needed the disease to slow its problems of overpopulation. The Black Death also helped England pull itself out of the doldrums of the Middle Ages, as a market economy actually developed more rapidly due to the disease. Improving the lives of the common people was another positive effect the disease had on England. As has been the case many times throughout history, in times of crisis, people will show their resilience and persevere.

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