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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting insights into the Black Death and 14th century London, 5 May 2013
This review is from: The Black Death in London (Paperback)
The Black Death struck Europe between 1348 and 1349 but it remains uncertain as to just how many died, when it started and ended and even what the plague really was and how it was transmitted. In this book, Barney Sloane focuses on the effects of the Black Death on London by examining a combination of legal documents from the time (including wills and correspondence) and archaeological evidence from digs within the city.

Sloane does well at setting the scene for the beginnings of the Black Death, tracking how the news of its progress in Europe was greeted by the London authorities and the preparations that they made as a result. He looks at the registration of wills by the better off classes as a way of tracking how virulent the Black Death was and how fearful the local population was of its effects, extrapolating from the numbers to produce a rough figure for the rest of the London population. As a lawyer, I found the examination of the wills to be fascinating, particularly because of the insights they gave on how the trades banded together, with Guilds trying to support the families of the men taken and because the speed between wills being lodged and the probate claims made under them. That said, however, it does make for dense reading and there are a lot of different names being mentioned - some of which come up in later discussions of donations and uses of land, contributions to churches etc - which sometimes made it difficult to keep track.

Also interesting are the sections where Sloane looks at the results of archaeological digs - particularly bone analysis and a look at the way bodies were buried as a way of ascertaining how the city was coping. I really enjoyed the descriptions of items found with bodies, including charms and bits of clothing.

The book ends with a neat summation of the different theories as to what the Black Death was and how it spread, with Sloane leaning against it being spread by flea bites in favour of pneumatic plague. This fits the progress of the disease through England and the way the disease went through a series of peaks that ran contrary to the climatic factors.

All in all, this was an interesting read that offered interesting insights into how the Black Death affected London and as such it's worth a look.
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