The Longbow

Submitted by Gene Garay on Tuesday, 12/13/2011, at 4:19 AM

Gene Garay                                                                                                                                                                                                  11/30/11

Professor Shawcross                                                                                                                                                                            History 121

The Longbow

            The longbow reached its peak during the 14th and 15th Centuries, as it was a major weapon in battle.  As the readings for class have been concentrated on the fighting that has taken place during the Hundred Years War, the longbow situates itself as a key component to this discussion, as it was what elevated the English to victories in important battles.  It reinforces that the English won through a means of tactical brilliance, even when they were outnumbered.

            The longbow showed its greatest strength in three battles during the Hundred Years War, which were the battle of Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt.  The article also refers to the crossbow, which proved to be weaker than the longbow, as the French used this as part of their tactic at the battle of Crecy.  As stated in the article, “…With a firing rate of three – five volleys per minute they (the crossbowmen) were however no match for the English and Welsh longbow men who could fire ten – twelve arrows in the same amount of time…” The French then proceeded to send in their cavalry, as their leaders deemed their archers useless, resulting in the mounted troops being mowed down by English longbow men.  Similar to this scenario, the French had developed a small cavalry unit for the battle at Poitiers, whom when sent to attack, were demolished by English archers yet again.  The Germans, who had become allies with the French, followed this action with the same approach, proving to be as unsuccessful as before.  At the battle of Agincourt, a siege of the town had taken place that lasted up to five weeks, much longer than expected.  After an initial stalemate, the English forced the action, creating the French to react and once again send their cavalry after the English troops.  A factor that played a role in the English’s success at this battle was the rain-soaked ground, which made it hard for the French cavalry to advance, leaving them in a position to get hit by the volley of English arrows.  6,000 to 10,000 French soldiers perished while the English only lost men somewhere in the count of hundreds. 

            This article definitely provides insight into the significance of the longbow during these battles.  The use of factual information makes the material believable, even with the astonishing numbers that are presented.  However, primary sources would have aided in creating the authors argument into just how important the longbow really was.  Also, more information on the longbow itself should have been given, to provide the reader with better insight into how it works and why it was such a dynamic weapon at the time.

            Further investigation that should be done would be to look into how an archer was most effective, whether it was shooting for accuracy or pace, and what was required of a man to become a skilled longbows man.  This article did relate to the readings in class though, providing more insight into these battles that had taken place during the Hundred Years War.

515 Words

[Waley] [Daniel] [Denley] [Peter] [Later Medieval Europe 1250-1520] [3rd Edition] [Great Britain] [Longman Group] [1964]


The Welsh/English Longbow

Submitted by Gene Garay on Monday, 12/12/2011, at 4:04 PM

Duan, December 8, (Delaney, Ultimate Goal)

Submitted by Lian Duan on Wednesday, 12/7/2011, at 9:10 PM

History 121

Professor Shawcross

Lian Duan

Delaney, Carol. “Columbus’s Ultimate Goal: Jerusalem.” Comparative Studies in Society and History (2006), 48: 260-292.

Around the Quincentennial of Columbus’s Discovery of the Americas, a group of historians came forward to reassess the historical event, and Columbus’s historical character. Much has also been said about the causes of Columbus’s voyages and the European expansion outside of Europe. The attempts to reach Indies and the Americas after it is discovered are considered as the continuation of the centuries-long European expansion including the crusades, Norman expansion, German expansion, and the Iberian Reconquista[1]. In the same tradition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, European Christians were used to travel to the end of the known world for worshipping. Besides the adventurous culture shaped by religious practice, less known is the religious zeal per se behind Columbus’s determination to reach Indies. Delaney’s article focuses on this aspect through investigation of Columbus’s writing.

Delaney heavily draws on the sources from Columbus’s journal of his first voyage, the Diario, and the less known Book of Prophecies. Evidence shows that Columbus is a pious Christian, although Delaney’s analysis does not prove he is excessively religious by the contemporary standard. Derived from his thinking and contemporary knowledge, Columbus was convinced that the second coming of Jesus was near, and “the conversion of all peoples to Christianity and the re-conquest of Jerusalem are necessary preconditions for the second coming” (Delaney, 261). Therefore, the dual goals of Columbus’s voyages were to convert the Asian peoples, and to accumulate wealth to launch another crusade. In the Book of Prophecies prepared for the Spanish monarchs, Columbus also conveyed his conviction that he is prophesized to play a great role in the fulfilling the two ultimate missions before the second coming. Columbus wrote in his letter, “Of the new heaven and earth which our Lord made, as St. John wrote in the Apocalypse, after he had spoken it by the mouth of Isaiah, He made me the messenger thereof, and showed me where to go.”[2] In general, Columbus’s efforts were driven by his religious zeal and his conviction of his heavenly mandated role. If the religious drive is so salient in Columbus’s motivation, it needs to be explained why it has never been emphasized before. Delaney devotes half of the article to the explanation, which focuses on the modern scholar’s inability to acknowledge religion as an enveloping structure for a medieval person’s knowledge, and the failure to understand Columbus’s motives in the context of contemporary world view.

Delaney’s article draws our attention to a less studied, but undeniably important aspect of any medieval enterprise, Christianity. The perspective is an important development on the existing literature on Columbus. However, Delaney’s method is not without flaw. Out of the ninety documents written by Columbus survived, only two are intensively studied. One dangerous mistake made by Delaney is that Columbus’s writing is largely taken at its face value. It is not clear who the audience of Columbus’s writing was. It is perfectly possible that Columbus claimed the religious goal and his prophesized role in order to convince Spanish monarchs of the importance of his voyages, or later, to cling to the governorship of the new colony. More private writings, if could be proved without goals outside of Columbus’s personal use, will be conducive to further research.


Word Count: 569



1. Delaney, Carol. “Columbus’s Ultimate Goal: Jerusalem.” Comparative Studies in Society and History (2006), 48: 260-292.

2. Phillips, Seymour . “European Expansion Before Columbus: Causes and Consequences,” The Haskins Society Journal Studies in Medieval History 1993 (5): 45-59.

[1] Seymour Phillips, “European Expansion Before Columbus: Causes and Consequences,” The Haskins Society Journal Studies in Medieval History 1993 (5), 47.

[2] Carol Delaney, “Columbus’s Ultimate Goal: Jerusalem,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 2006 (48), 271.

PDF icon columbus.pdf1.26 MB

Reed: 8th December 2011 (Jackson, Marco Polo and his 'Travels')

Submitted by William F. Reed on Wednesday, 12/7/2011, at 4:43 PM

Peter Jackson: Marco Polo and his 'Travels'

Peter Jackson, in his article “Marco Polo and his ‘Travels,’” seeks to disprove those who doubt the authenticity of Marco Polo’s travels to China. Jackson writes that Polo initially was met with skepticism when he returned to Venice, a viewpoint that, “sprang from an unwillingness to accept his depiction of a highly organized and hospitable Mongol empire that ran counter to the traditional Western Christian view of the ‘barbarism’ and especially the view of the barbarian Mongols that had obtained since the 1240s.” Similarly, Polo’s accounts have been met with skepticism recently as well. Modern commentators, in particular Dr. Frances Wood, have argued that Polo might not have ever even stepped foot in China. Wood “concludes that the famous Venetian probably never got much further than Constantinople or the Black Sea.” Wood’s argument is centered around three major points. First, Wood argues that Polo’s depiction of China omitted aspects that would not have been omitted by anyone who actually visited China during this time period. These omissions include foot-binding, tea-drinking, and the Great Wall. Second, Wood points out that Polo’s name has not appeared in any Chinese sources, and last, that Polo claims to have taken part in the siege and capture of a Chinese city that has been documented to have been captured a year prior to Polo’s arrival. Jackson quickly throws out the assertion that Polo’s omission of the Great Wall has any weight, writing that “we can be fairly certain it had not yet been built: walls there certainly were, but not the continuous and impressive structure we see today.”

While Jackson acknowledges that Polo’s depiction of China is much less impressive (or lengthy) than his depiction of the Mongolian steppe, he centers his paper around the following questions: “What is the book we associate with Polo’s name? With what purpose was it written? What claims does it make for itself? To what extent does it purport to represent Polo’s own experiences? Just where did Polo go?” In particular, Jackson focuses on the last question.

Answering the first of those questions, Jackson quickly points out that the book, “in any of the forms that have come down to us,” is not by Marco Polo. Due to various authors and copyists in the book’s early history, we “simply cannot be certain what was in the work originally drafted by Rusticello…” Therefore, Jackson argues effectively, “we cannot afford to lay too much stress on matters that the book does not mention.” Therefore, Jackson has already ruled out one of Wood’s three major reasons Polo never made it to China. Jackson points to the description of the diplomatic and commercial contacts between Yuan China and southern Asia as evidence, writing that “it is difficult to see how Rusticello might have come by the information without an Italian who had not spent time in the far East. Regarding the falsehood of the siege, this can be attributed to the copyists who attempted exaggerate the accomplishments of the Polos.

Overall, Jackson writes an extremely effective article. In it, it is important to note, he has no intention of providing proof that Polo did indeed visit China. Jackson writes, “The fact that Marco Polo or his co-author or later copyists exaggerated his importance while in China or on the voyage from China to Persia has long been suspected and can hardly be in doubt.” However, “It does not in itself demonstrate that he was never in China, or, worse still, never east of the Crimea.” Indeed, Jackson is able to commendably disprove much of Dr. Frances Wood’s “proof” that Polo never made it past Constantinople. 

Word Count: 602

Works Cited:

Peter Jackson, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London , Vol. 61, No. 1 (1998), pp. 82-101

PDF icon Jackson Marco Polo.pdf7.03 MB

Rudolph: 6 December 2011 (Runciman, The fall of Constantinople, 1453)

Submitted by Kyle T. Rudolph on Tuesday, 12/6/2011, at 9:46 AM

Kyle Rudolph

Professor Shawcross

Short Response to additional reading

6 December 2011


            The Kristovoulos primary source attributes the Roman loss in the Battle of Constantinople to: “evil and pitiless fortune betrayed them.”[1] The Romans had been fighting tirelessly, yet two ambiguous factors: “evil and pitiless fortune” doomed the defenders. This account of the battle, however, is arguably not valid. The writer was not present when the battle took place. Kristovoulos probably relied on the accounts of the victorious Ottomans[2]. They likely attributed the victory to ambiguous consequences, rather than a lack of Roman fighting skills. This heightens the significance of their victory, as there is little glory in crushing a weak opponent. According to Steve Runciman in The Fall of Constantinople, 1453, the Byzantines lost this battle not because of “evil and pitiless fortune”1, but rather external factors put them at a predisposition to loose.

Runciman advances this notion starting with the description of Mehmet II. He describes that Western ambassadors viewed the sultan as an: “incapable young man.”[3] Runciman then transitions to the renewal of a peace treaty between the Ottomans and the Byzantines. He includes that the Byzantine ambassadors: “cheered”3 when Mehmet swore on the Koran to renew and uphold the treaty. Next, Runciman describes the factors prohibiting kingdoms in Western Europe from sending troops to Constantinople. In arguably the most important part of the selected pages, Runciman portrays Francesco of Tolentino’s a plea for aid to King Charles of France: “The Turks would be unable to put up any resistance.”[4]

Runciman's argument is persuasive. It is, at times, well structured, and contains important specifics. Consider the description of Mehmet renewing the peace treaty. Runciman incorporates primary sources to provide critical details on this event: Mehmet swearing on the Koran, resulting in a “cheered”3 reaction. These details contribute to the perceived success of this treaty, appeasing the European powers into assuming that there will be no conflict at Constantinople. Furthering this notion is Runciman’s incorporation of European ambassadors viewing Mehmet as an: “incapable young man.”3 They did not see him as a threat to overtaking Constantinople; therefore did not see the need to provide aid. A semi-weak point to Runciman’s argument, however, was the letter from Francesco of Talentino to King Charles. There is very little analysis of this primary source. The question: Why would Francesco think that Constantinople was unable to put up any resistance?, goes unanswered. It would have been interesting and helpful for Runciman to provide commentary on the source. The organization of the latter portion of the expert also comes into question. It would have been beneficial to place Francesco of Talentino’s letter before the European’s reasons for neglecting aid. The reader is forced to assume that Constantine is in need of troops with the original organization. Francesco’s plea provides a concrete example of the urgent need for help, so it should be placed first. Nevertheless, the European nation’s excuses not to send troops provide an interesting insight to Western-Eastern European relations. Some of the reasons not sending troops seemed very menial (like Frederick III preparing for coronation). This forces the reader to question if the real reason for not sending troops were strained relations between Eastern and Western Europe, and not the reasons Runciman provided.

Runciman’s The Fall of Constantinople 1453 was a pleasant, engaging read. Surprisingly, it was not dull, and provided interesting insight on the fall of Constantinople. His overall argument was very sound.  It had very few weak points, solidifying the notion that the Byzantines were predisposed to loosing at the battle of Constantinople.



Word Count- 582



                                                                                     Works Cited

Allen, S. J., and Emilie Amt. "Kristovoulos on the fall of Constantinople." In The Crusades: a reader. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2003. 401.

Runciman, Steven. "Price of Western Aid." In The fall of Constantinople, 1453. Cambridge: University Press, 1965. 62.

Runciman, Steven. "The Price of Western Aid." In The fall of Constantinople, 1453. Cambridge: University Press, 1965. 60.




[1] Allen, S. J., and Emilie Amt. "Kristovoulos on the fall of Constantinople." In The Crusades: a reader. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2003. 401.

[2] Most of the residents of Constantinople where massacred leaving a majority of Ottomans in the city

[3] Runciman, Steven. "The Price of Western Aid." In The fall of Constantinople, 1453. Cambridge: University Press, 1965. 60.

3 Runciman, Steven. "The Price of Western Aid." In The fall of Constantinople, 1453. Cambridge: University Press, 1965. 60.

4 Runciman, Steven. "Price of Western Aid." In The fall of Constantinople, 1453. Cambridge: University Press, 1965. 62.

File pic.docx3.46 MB

GoodSmith: 6th December 2011 (Radushev, Peasant Janissaries)

Submitted by Matthew S. GoodSmith on Sunday, 12/4/2011, at 11:39 PM

Matthew GoodSmith

December 6, 2011

History 121: Medieval Europe form Charlemagne to Columbus


The “Peasant” Janissaries and Their Connection to the Spread of Islam


Radushev, Evgeni. "'Peasant' Janissaries’?" Journal of Social History 42, no. 2 (Winter 2008):

447-467. Accessed December 4, 2011. Historical Abstracts with Full Text, EBSCOhost.


            The janissaries were an elite military group in the Ottoman Empire.  Many of the first janissaries were Christian children who were taken though the devşirme tax, which came to be dreaded as the “blood” levy in the Balkan states.[1] Daniel Waley and Peter Denley briefly mention this levy in their work.[2] As a result of the devşirme, taken children were forced to adopt Islam and they were provided with societal and economic advantages that they would not have enjoyed otherwise. Indeed, there were many socioeconomic advantages for Janissaries and, more broadly, for Muslims in general. Evgeni Radushev’s article explores the mechanisms through which Balkan peoples sought theses benefits.

To this end, Radushev attempts to explain how the spread of Islam to the Ottoman Balkans corresponded with the existence of Janissaries in those areas. Conversion to Islam had many advantages for Christians under Ottoman influence. These advantages included exemption from the Cizye, a tax which only applied to non-Muslims, and the ability to enter the askeri, the socially superior military class.[3]  The conversion of Christians out of desire for socioeconomic advantages corresponded with the interest in becoming Janissaries.  Indeed, after the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, compulsion to serve in the Janissary Corps gave way to an avid desire to join the Corps for its advantages.  Radushev explains these trends in the context of two rural areas in particular: the Western Rhodope Mountain in Nevrekop and an area in north-eastern Bulgaria. Both of these areas saw large proportions of their populations converting to Islam, and they both contained a large number of local Janissaries. In his attempts to explain the existence of these “peasant” Janissaries, Radushev describes the decline of the devşirme, especially in the seventeenth century. As the devşirme declined, many Christians converted to Islam as a step towards becoming Janissaries, and many Janissaries hoped for their descendants to become Janissaries as well. These tendencies indicate the societal and economic advantages associated with the position. Indeed, the Janissaries emerged as the social and political elite of these rural areas, as was increasingly the case throughout the Empire. Radushev ultimately concludes that the institution of Janissaries, which offered many socioeconomic advantages to Muslims, necessarily led to the Islamisation of a section of the Balkan Christians and directly corresponded with non-compulsory conversion in these areas.

Although Radushev’s argument is an interesting one, it is problematic in several ways.  He concludes that “the institution of the Janissaries is one of the main factors in spreading Islam in the Ottoman Balkans.”[4] True, he describes Janissaries that converted to Islam for the advantages associated with being a Janissary, and he describes the larger populace’s tendency to convert for the advantages of Islam.  However, he does not clearly communicate the idea that the institution of the Janissaries was a main factor in spreading Islam to the general populace. In addition, Radushev bases his argument on primary sources from narrow time periods in only two locales. His extrapolations of broader trends are thus not entirely to be trusted. Further research must be conducted to show conclusively that the correlation between the spread of Islam and the institution of Janissaries persisted throughout the Ottoman Empire.



Radushev, Evgeni. "'Peasant' Janissaries’?" Journal of Social History 42, no. 2 (Winter 2008):

447-467. Accessed December 4, 2011. Historical Abstracts with Full Text, EBSCOhost.


Waley, Daniel, and Peter Denley. Later Medieval Europe: 1250-1520. Harlow: Longman, 2001.


Word Count: 526

[1] Evgeni Radushev, "'Peasant' Janissaries?" Journal of Social History 42, no. 2 (Winter 2008): 447-448, accessed December 4, 2011, Historical Abstracts with Full Text, EBSCOhost. 
[2] Daniel Waley and Peter Denley, Later Medieval Europe: 1250-1520 (Harlow: Longman, 2001), 254.
[3] Radushev, "'Peasant' Janissaries?" 448. 
[4] Radushev, "'Peasant' Janissaries?" 460.
PDF icon Peasant Janissaries.pdf205.86 KB

Holahan, 12/8/11, (Delaney, Columbus and Jerusalem)

Submitted by Thomas Holahan on Sunday, 12/4/2011, at 10:53 PM

Tom Holahan

Professor Shawcross

History 121: Medieval Europe: From Charlemagne to Columbus


Columbus the Crusader

Carol Delaney argues that the ultimate goal of Christopher Columbus was to recapture Jerusalem.[1]  In her work, “Columbus’s Ultimate Goal: Jerusalem”, Delaney notes that Columbus, writing in his journal the Diario, sought to acquire gold and valuables “in such quantity that the sovereigns… will undertake and prepare to go conquer the Holy Sepulchre; for thus I urged Your Highnesses to spend all the profits of this my enterprise on the conquest of Jerusalem.”[2]  Columbus wanted to initiate a new Crusade across Europe, and use the riches generated from his voyages to help finance the cause. 

Delaney cites the testimony of Bartolomé de las Casas as evidence that Columbus was a deeply religious man.  De las Casas says,

“He [Columbus] observed the fasts of the church most faithfully, confessed and made communion often, read the canonical offices like a churchman or member of a religious order, hated blasphemy and profane swearing, was most devoted to Our Lady and to the seraphic father St. Francis; seemed very grateful to God for benefits received from the divine hand. . . . And he was especially affected and devoted to the idea that God should deem him worthy of aiding somewhat in recovering the Holy Sepulchre.”[3]


Columbus also named many of the islands that he discovered after religious symbols such as San Salvador and Trinidad.[4]  Delaney argues that as a devout Christian Columbus would have believed, according to the book of Revelation, that the recapture of Jerusalem and the conversion of all of the people of the world to Christianity were necessary for the “Second Coming” of Jesus.[5]  It has been noted by many scholars that Columbus promoted the conversion of the natives to Christianity.  Delaney recounts in the Diario that Columbus speaks of, “how easily they [the natives] would become Christian if only the sovereigns would send religious persons who would learn their language and instruct them.”[6]

Further evidence supporting the claim that Columbus’ goal was to recapture Jerusalem exists in the form of a letter from March 4, 1493.  In the letter allegedly written by Columbus to the Spanish monarchy, Columbus wrote, “that in seven years from today I will be able to pay Your Highnesses for five thousand cavalry and fifty thousand foot soldiers for the war and conquest of Jerusalem, for which purpose this enterprise was undertaken.”[7] 

Delaney’s article is very interesting and addresses points that the other readings did not.  Seymour Phillips and several other authors cite the Crusades as the beginning of European expansion; however, Delaney is the first scholar whom I have read that explicitly declares that the initiation of a new Crusade was Columbus’ primary motivation for his voyage.  I believe that there is overwhelming evidence to support Delaney’s claim.  The strength of her argument rests in the passages she extracts from Columbus’ diary and letters, and in the quotations of Columbus’ peers, such as Bartolomé de las Casas.  In regards to future scholarship, I believe that it is worth investigating why Columbus failed to accomplish his goal of starting a new Crusade despite both acquiring the massive amount of riches needed to finance such a venture and ensuring that these funds went towards, “the purpose of liberating Jerusalem.”[8]  




Word Count: 533

Works Cited


Delaney, Carol. "Columbus's Ultimate Goal: Jerusalem." Comparative Studies in Society and History 48, no. 2 (2006): 260-266.

[1] Carol Delaney, "Columbus's Ultimate Goal: Jerusalem," Comparative Studies in Society and History 48, no. 2 (2006): 260.

[2] Delaney, 261.

[3] Delaney, 262.

[4] Delaney, 262.

[5] Delaney, 261.

[6] Delaney, 265

[7] Delaney, 266.

[8] Delaney, 266.

PDF icon Medieval Ind. Project SOURCE FINAL.pdf290.15 KB

Burkot, 29 November, Bagnoli, Holy Relics

Submitted by Alexandra E. Burkot on Monday, 11/28/2011, at 10:04 AM

Artistic Production from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance

            Judith Bennett discussed the evolution of architecture from the Romanesque of the Central Middle Ages to the Gothic of the Early Renaissance period. Daniel Waley and Peter Denley similarly discussed the transition from the medieval period to the Early Renaissance in terms of both urban and secular life in Italy.  In “Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe,” editor Martina Bagnoli discusses the importance of holy relics and the fashioning of reliquaries from precious materials through the medieval period into the Renaissance. I felt that this chapter was important to the class readings because of the connections within Christendom, obviously, but also because the development of materials used in reliquaries reflects a change in social thought from secular to urban just as clearly as it does when discussing cathedral architecture or urban Italy.

            The veneration of relics is something of a paradox; if one is supposed to worship God before all others, why would one also pay homage to the remains of a mortal? Why would human remains possess the power of God if He exists in spirit? Thiofrid of Echternach (d. 1110) argued that relics not only commemorate those who achieved spiritual purity through God, but are also able to be physically “accessed,” as it were, by mortal man more easily than a purely spiritual means. “Knowing that man cannot see and touch rotten flesh without being nauseated, [Christ] hid his body and his blood in the bread and wine, to which men are accustomed. Similarly, he has persuaded the sons of the Church to conceal and shelter the relics of the saint’s happy flesh in gold and in the most precious of natural metals so that they will not be horrified by looking at a cruel and bloody thing.” The riches that housed the relics would reflect their spiritual worth by their material value, and the grandeur of the precious containers would inspire awe and reverence in worshippers. However, all the focus on the richness of the reliquary made many clerics nervous about the dangers of idolatry, a direct violation of God’s will. But the materials used to house the relics created a sort of boundary between the contents and the observer; instead of directly worshipping the image of a saint, medieval Christians worshipped the idea of divinity that the relic represented.

            In the early Middle Ages, only people of importance were allowed to observe the relics themselves, but in the Gothic period, people began to rely more on sight as a perception of God’s grace, and there was an upsurge in optic science. There was a change from the traditional theory that vision was archetypal images projected onto the world by the self, to the idea that external perception was processed in the brain to obtain knowledge. In broader terms, this was a change from a supernatural understanding of the world to a scientific one. This passage occurred at the same time as the other changes discussed in the class readings.

497 words




The Stuff of Heaven: Materials and Craftsmanship in Medieval Reliquaries. in Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe, edited by Martina . Bagnoli, New Haven:Yale University Press. 2010.

PDF icon medieval art.pdf17.88 MB

Barrett McBride, 11/17/11 (Borsch, Black Plague)

Submitted by Barrett A. McBride on Wednesday, 11/16/2011, at 9:43 AM


The Black Plague in England and its Rural Economic Impact

The Black Death spread quickly to Europe through trade routes. The traditional theory is of a bubonic plague, but the origin still remains uncertain. Most historians’ theory is that the bubonic plague started with fleas that bit rats, and eventually jumped species to bite a human. Humans had no natural immunity to the fleabites, so the disease spread quickly from person to person. At the time, Europe was also overpopulated, making for close living quarters that could easily transfer germs. Whatever the cause, the impact was still nonetheless devastating. Between one-quarter and one-third of Western Europe died of the plague.

Europe was hit very hard because of the plague. People would look to the Church for help. Unfortunately, the Church took a toll as well because so many of its clergy members died. Most of the population of Europe turned to the Church for solace, so without the help of priests and clergymen, many survivors underwent psychological disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Church tried to be successful in sending a message to the people that sin was not the cause of the Black Death.

The worst result that the plague brought was economical problems. Famine and war had already been occurring throughout Europe, adding to the widespread pandemic and enhancing financial problems. The enormous amount of deaths lead to an overabundance of crops. Wheat sales dropped because there were not enough people who needed to buy it. The plague also interestingly enough didn’t affect farm animals or cattle, so meat was still available. Meat prices ultimately dropped as well because of the sudden drop in population.  Farmers had no incoming money, causing many to lose their homes and land. Aside from those who faced financial problems, there was an age of great inheritance because of the large number of deaths during the Black Plague. Unfortunately, those who inherited money or land were often sickened with the plague and could not enjoy what they had just inherited.

Labor shortages were also a problem during the Black Death. Landlords relied on rural labor for so long that when the Black Death hit, there was a shortage of workers. Many landlords could not find replacements. Tenants and leaseholders had to lower their rents, while the remaining workers demanded a higher pay. The rural economy began to slowly rise and demand better situations from their landlords, making the peasants more successful than ever before. Tenants were forced to pay out more cash to hired labor while losing income from fallen grain prices. They received less pay from their renters while paying more to their manufacturers. The lower class of England was finally enjoying higher incomes, while most upper class citizens suffered tremendous losses.

The most tremendous losses, however, were not monetary or inanimate. The losses of family members, friends, and loved ones was truly the most devastating experience for Europeans during the Black Death. 


Word Count: 482



"Maps: The Great Famine and the Spread of the Black Death." In Atlas of Medieval Europe, edited by David Ditchburn, Simon Maclean and Angus Mackay, 243-246. Abington: Routledge, 2007.

Epstein, Steven A. "The Great Hunger and the Big Death." In An Economic and Social History of Later Midieval Europe, 1000-1500, 159-189. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Borsch, Stuart J. "Chapter 4: The Impact of the Plagues on the Rural Economy of England." The Black Death in Egypt and England: A Comparative Study. Austin: University of Texas, 2005. 55-66. Print.