The Black Death

The Black death which is also known as the bubonic plague wiped out millions of people in medieval times, it spread across the city of London like wild fire killing people in towns, cities and villages. A detailed record was kept of the Black death or bubonic plague by Samuel Pepys that gives a detailed account of how the Black death destroyed so many people’s lives in medieval times.

What caused the Black death or bubonic plague

In medieval times nobody knew what caused the Black death or how to stop or treat it, this led to panic amongst medieval people in this period of medieval history. Historians believed that the Black Death was caused by the dirt and squalor that people lived in which was easily spread in crowded highly populated areas. The city of London was a particularly dirty and highly populated place, it is believed that rats thrived in these conditions and that the black death was spread by fleas that lived on the rats and carried the bubonic plague and transferred the disease to humans when they bit them.

Black Death Medieval Doctor

A medieval doctor would wear a herb mask to protect against the Black death

Black death bubonic plague symptoms

The symptoms of the Black death or bubonic plague were particularly gruesome, within minutes of being bitten by a rat flea the victim would break out in black blotches and large painful lumps would appear all over their bodies. The victims would be in excruciating pain for days shaking and vomiting, parts of their body such as their fingers and toes would turn black and completely fall off until they finally succumbed to the disease and died.

Spread of the Black death

The Black death quickly spread through the towns, villages and cities of medieval times, the bigger more populated areas suffered the most. People were even afraid to leave their homes for fear of catching the bubonic plague and they would rather starve to death than risk catching the Black death. A red cross was painted on the doors of the dead to warn others not to enter their homes. The cry of bring out your dead could be heard across London and other towns and cities in medieval England. The corpses of people who had died from the Black death were thrown on to carts and dumped at the edge of towns and cities.

Black death toll

The Black death or bubonic plague wiped out a huge number of people, in London alone it was believed that one in five of the population had been killed by the bubonic plague, that was around 68,000 Londoners.

Samuel Pepys

This is Samuel Pepys who wrote the famous diary about the Black Death

Samuel Pepys diaries

Samuel Pepys was a MP (member of parliament) in medieval times and also worked at the Navy as an administrator, much of what we know about the Black death or bubonic plague is thanks to the detailed records that he kept from 1660-1669 in which he made notes in his diary almost every single day. Samuel Pepys diary details the spread of the bubonic plague and gives his account of how the Black death affected him personally. Samuel Pepys diary describes what he witnessed as he walked through the streets of London witnessing, the Red Crosses being painted on the doors. the people in the streets full of sores and the sad stories that he heard as he walked around the city.

Doctors and the Black death

Although medieval people did not know at that time what caused the Black death, bizarrely doctors walked around the city wearing leather robes, gloves and strange masks that resembled bird beaks stuffed with herbs, they believe that dressing this way protected them from the bubonic plague, they certainly looked ridiculous but it is doubtful that this protected them from such a vicious disease as the Black death.

How did the Black death end

It is believed that the Black death spread more rapidly during hot weather and it was a very cold snap that eventually killed off the rats and led to the end of the bubonic plague as well disease being killed off as well, so it was the cold winter weather that killed off the rats and fleas and stopped them from biting people which stop the bubonic plague spreading any further. This allowed the disease to be contained and the medieval villages towns and cities to be cleaned up.

The Black death facts:

  • The Black death was spread by fleas that were carried by black rats who bit medieval people
  • Victims of the bubonic plague usually died within days
  • The Black death was a painful death, peoples fingers toes and noses would turn black and fall off
  • Nobody knew what caused the Black death in medieval times and there was no cure
  • Many people would rather starve to death than leave their houses and risk catching the bubonic plague
  • The Black death killed around 68,000 people in London alone
  • Samuel Pepys kept a detailed diary of events during the bubonic plague
  • Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary every day for around nine years
  • Red Crosses were painted on the doors of people who had died of the Black death
  • People were told to bring out their dead during the bubonic plague
  • Doctors wore bizarre masks filled with herbs that they thought protected them from the Black death
  • The nursery rhyme ring O roses is believed to be about the Black death
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