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THE SCOURGING ANGEL - BENEDICT GUMMER
on 24 July 2009
Nothing like a good epidemic to get the juices of the popular imagination running. SARS, avian flu and sine flu all spring to mind, but all have been rather over-egged, natural caution by the medical authorities has been whipped up by the media more intent on selling themselves rather than informing us. Don't believe me? How many died from all of the above? Don't know? Neither do I. However, look around you and imagine for every ten people you know between five and seven of them die. That was the Black Death.
Its shadowy origins and precise nature are still being argued over, but it's impact isn't. It could take several weeks to manifest itself, so in an almost Bram Stoker-like setting, ships crewed by corpses could glide into ports to wreak devastation, travellers could find abandoned settlements in the woods.
Arriving in South-West England in 1348, it cut a long swathe through a country with rudimentary health care. The economic life of the country is well drawn here so you have a good feel of 14th century life. The regions especially are very well detailed by Gummer (courtesy of the indispensable chroniclers of medieval life, the monks). He makes the convincing argument that the Black Death accentuated rather than caused the later social upheavals like the Peasant's Revolt as economic development, the withering away of villeinage was already well under way.
A very good narrative that outlines what was viewed by many as an apocalyptic event with a very well developed description of time and place