Pandemics in the Parish

The medieval approach to emergency planning may offer lessons for the 21st century.

Fear of Plague in the House of Fitzeisulf, a detail from Trinity Chapel window, Canterbury Cathedral, 14th century.
Fear of Plague in the House of Fitzeisulf, a detail from Trinity Chapel window, Canterbury Cathedral, 14th century. Alamy.

In the summer of 1348 the Chronicle of the Grey Friars at Lynn recorded the arrival in England of the Black Death. It described how sailors from Gascony had disembarked in the port of Weymouth bringing with them ‘the seeds of the terrible pestilence’. From the south coast the plague spread rapidly throughout England. The medieval chronicler Henry Knighton remarked how ‘few lay sick for more than two or three days’ before dying. According to another medieval chronicler, Thomas Walsingham, there were barely enough living to bury the dead. Within 18 months of the disease arriving on English shores it had killed approximately half the population; the repercussions were felt for two centuries. 

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email digital@historytoday.com if you have any problems.