Last Updated 12/10/2007 12/9/2007
By the 1200s, wealthy towns replaced their palisades were
Walls and towers protected the town.
Towns were safer, but they were dirty, noisy, and crowded.
Public buildings of stone and houses of wood were all jammed inside the walls.
Houses had extra stories.
Garbage and raw sewage was thrown in the streets.
Rats were everywhere.
In the 1300s, rats carrying the "Black Death" arrived on ships from the Middle East.
The disease killed 1/3 to 2/3 or 25 million of the people in Europe.
England took 200 years to recover.
To escape the plague, people left the towns and lived in the country.
Trading, farming, and war came to a stop.
Dogs, cats, chickens, oxen, donkeys sheep showed the same symptoms and died of the same disease.
No pigs or other animals were allowed in the town.
They were killed on sight.
The main symptoms was a swelling of the lymph glands of the groin or armpits.
The swellings filled with pus and turned black, accounting for the name "The Black Death."
A high fever accompanied the swelling along with coughing up blood and a pink rash.
A common belief was that the sickness was cause by "corrupt vapors."
This gave birth to the rhyme:
Ring around the rosies,
A pocket full of posies,
We all fall down.
The first line refers to the pink rash.
The second, posies were carried to perfume the corrupt vapors.
Sneezing was brought on by the high feverish chills.
Lastly death came to all.
Doctors dressed in Plague garb to protect himself from this disease.
They wore a long leather coat with a hood and glove-covered hands.
They wore a mask like a bird.
The beak is stuffed with special herbs and the eyes are made of glass so that the disease cannot harm him.
Burying the Dead
People are dropping dead in the streets and fields.
No one could be found to bury the dead for money or friendship.
Great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead.
In many places the dead are so hastily buried that at night dogs dug them up and eat them.
The cemeteries in some places became so full that the bodies are thrown into the river.
Towns used local brigands, criminals and poor men to board up the housed of infected families.
They call these men the becchini.
For a fee they will also collect corpses and cart them to the cemeteries.
The becchini are feared by the townspeople almost as much as the plague.
Jews Blamed for Plague
In Switzerland and western Germany Jews were blamed for the Black Death.
Jews were tortured to admit that they had poisoned the water in cities with the plague.
Thousands of Jews were hanged or burned to death.
In Strasbourg 2000 Jews were going to be burned to death.
All of their money was divided among the people who lived in Strasbourg.
All debts that were owed to Jews were forgiven.
The nobles had borrowed from the Jews so they did not try to stop the executions.
Jews moved to eastern Germany and Poland
Merchants and artisans called "burghers" controlled the towns.
They hired workers from the country to make goods.
Burghers later meant rich merchants.
Daily life began with prayer at dawn.
The burgher went to the docks and markets to check on his products.
He had meetings with business partners.
The burgher's wife kept house, managed the servants, and cared for the children.
They ate two large meals a day.
One at 10 and one at 6.
They ate eels, roast beef, lark pastry, and curdled milk.
They went to bed a 9.
Changing Ways: Rise of the Burghers
Town land was owned by kings, nobles, and bishops.
They taxed the people to use the marketplace.
Burghers did not like this.
Burghers did not like to get permission to marry, move, own land.
The did not want to serve in the noble's army.
Nobles viewed towns as a threat.
Nobles tried to keep wealthy burghers in their place.
The Church was also against the growth of towns.
Burghers now had wealth.
They depended less on nobles.
Burghers were loyal to their town.
Burghers built schools, hospitals, and churches.
They demanded changes.
Communes and Charters
1100s, townspeople in Italy formed communes.
They worked against the nobles and tried to develop self-government.
The idea of communes spread to other towns of northern Europe.
Some kings and nobles gave towns charters to run their own town.
The charter allowed people to elect their own officials.
A council collected taxes.
They set the charges merchants had to pay.
The council repaired streets.
It ran hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the poor.
The town enforced their own laws.
They punished lawbreakers severely to deter crime.
Murderers were hanged.
Robbers had a hand or an arm cut off.
You were whipped or put in the stocks for minor crimes.
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Greenblatt, Miriam, and Lemmo, Peter. Human Heritage A World History. Columbus, Ohio: McGraw-Hill, 2001.
Halsall, Paul. "Jewish History Sourcebook: The
Black Death and the Jews 1348-1349 CE." July 1998. 10 Dec. 2007. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/jewish/1348-jewsblackdeath.html.
Marszalek, C.S. & Panagakis, B. "Black Death." 8 Aug. 1996. 10 Dec. 2007. http://www.twingroves.district96.k12.il.us/renaissance/Globe/BlackDeath.html.
Svendsen, Lyle. "The Black Death." 3 Feb. 1997. 10 Dec 2007. http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/tbacig/hmcl1005/plague/.