In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made

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Overview

The Black Death was the fourteenth century's equivalent of a nuclear war. It wiped out one-third of Europe's population, takingmillion lives. And yet, most of what we know about it is wrong. The details of the Plague etched in the minds of terrified schoolchildren -- the hideous black welts, the high fever, and the awful end by respiratory failure -- are more or less accurate. But what the Plague really was and how it made history remain shrouded in a haze of myths.

Now, Norman ...

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Overview

The Black Death was the fourteenth century's equivalent of a nuclear war. It wiped out one-third of Europe's population, takingmillion lives. And yet, most of what we know about it is wrong. The details of the Plague etched in the minds of terrified schoolchildren -- the hideous black welts, the high fever, and the awful end by respiratory failure -- are more or less accurate. But what the Plague really was and how it made history remain shrouded in a haze of myths.

Now, Norman Cantor, the premier historian of the Middle Ages, draws together the most recent scientific discoveries and groundbreaking historical research to pierce the mist and tell the story of the Black Death as a gripping, intimate narrative.

The Black Death was the fourteenth century's equivalent of a nuclear war. It wiped out one-third of Europe's population, takingmillion lives. And yet, most of what we know about it is wrong. The details of the Plague etched in the minds of terrified schoolchildren - the hideous black welts, the high fever, and the awful end by respiratory failure - are more or less accurate. But what the Plague really was and how it made history remain shrouded in a haze of myths. Now, Norman Cantor, the premier historian of the Middle Ages, draws together the most recent scientific discoveries and groundbreaking historical research to pierce the mist and tell the story of the Black Death as a gripping, intimate narrative.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
From acclaimed historian of the Middle Ages Norman Cantor comes an absorbing look at the Black Death and the myths and legends that it spawned. Weaving together historical research with scientific findings, Cantor tells the stories of the medieval men and women from all walks of life whose lives were taken or drastically altered by the Plague. But despite these heartbreaking stories of devastation, Cantor also argues that the Plague actually had a cleansing effect on society, leading to an artistic explosion, an economic upswing, and the acceptance of scientific thinking.
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
"The best book on the Black Death...."
Anne Rice
"[Cantor] sounds the depths of medieval history for truths that are always relevant to our times."
Book of the Times - The New York Times
"Historian Cantor pull[s] together existing scholarship on the subject and provide a wide-ranging overview."
Boston Globe
"Cantor illuminates intricate connections [that] allter the course of culture, religion, war, and peace in incalculable ways."
Booklist
"A most accessible, fascinating resource for high-school world history studies."
The New York Times Book of the Times
"Historian Cantor pull[s] together existing scholarship on the subject and provide a wide-ranging overview."
The Washington Post
"...impressionsitic and interesting...."
Robert Rietz
Norman E. Cantor's book In the Wake of the Plaque: The Black Death and the World It Made is a fascinating reading on the immediate and longer-term social and cultural effects of the Black Death.
Journal of the American Medical Association
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The author, currently an emeritus professor at New York University, has had a distinguished career as a medieval historian, and his textbook The Civilization of the Middle Ages has been popular with many students over many years. Here Cantor produces a popular account of one of the greatest disasters ever to befall the people of Europe. The great plague that struck in the mid-14th century, and returned intermittently for centuries thereafter, had a mortality rate of perhaps 40% and consequently ushered in several profound changes. Beginning with a biomedical survey of the disease, the author points out many problems with current beliefs about its origins, transmission and nature. He suggests that in many instances the likely cause of death was anthrax, which has the same initial symptoms as plague. The plague fell on all classes and regions, and the author uses the stories of several individuals to personalize the devastation and its consequences. He makes a particularly compelling case that the death of Thomas Bradwardine, newly consecrated archbishop of Canterbury, had deep repercussions for the development of both science and religion. In some instances the book raises points that deserve fuller treatment, such as the possible role of serpents in the transmission of plague, but the final chapter neatly summarizes the consequences of this calamity. This book will be welcomed by anyone who wants a good introduction to the topic. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Forbes Magazine
In the late 1340’s Europe suffered a catastrophe the equivalent of a nuclear war. Within months, a third of the population died from the “Black Death.” This wee book examines the impact of the plaque on European civilization, most particularly England, whose population did not reach preplague levels for another 400 years. The pandemic greatly accelerated the already-unraveling system of serfdom; labor became critically short, emboldening peasants to shuck off their manorial servitude and demand a stiff increase in their compensation. England’s dream of forging a major European continental empire was fatally undermined; its military machine depended on infantry, which in the aftermath of the plaque became prohibitively costly. The plaque led to a fatal split in England’s ruling Plantagenet family, resulting in the War of Roses. And Jews, scapegoated for the disaster, were hideously massacred in numerous parts of Europe. (11 Jun 2001)
—Steve Forbes
Library Journal
Cantor (emeritus, New York Univ.; The American Century, LJ 8/99) here looks at the effects of the Black Death on 14th-century Europe. The author believes that our future may be threatened by epidemics as devastating as the Black Death, whether brought on by natural causes or by bio-terrorism. Surveying recent biomedical research on the Black Death, he believes that two diseases were at work in the 14th century the Bubonic Plague, long identified as the major component of the Black Death, and a variety of anti-humanoid Anthrax. The result was devastating, with up to 40 percent of Europe's population dying from the diseases. Among the historical consequences, Cantor believes, was the end of the Plantagenets' Anglo-French Empire, for the Black Death decimated the peasant population that supplied the English kings with the skilled infantry archers that were the backbone of England's military might. This work should appeal to both specialists and general readers and is highly recommended for public and academic libraries. Robert J. Andrews, Duluth P.L., MN Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060014346
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 203,290
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Norman F. Cantor was Emeritus Professor of History, Sociology, and Comparative Literature at New York University. His many books include In the Wake of the Plague, Inventing the Middle Ages, and The Civilization of the Middle Ages, the most widely read narrative of the Middle Ages in the English language. He died in 2004.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



All Fall Down



In the sixth month of the new millennium and new century, the American Medical Association held a conference on infectious diseases. Pronouncements by scientists and heads of medical organizations at the conference were scary in tone. Infectious disease was the leading cause of death worldwide and the third leading cause in the U.S.A., it was stressed. The situation could soon become much worse.

As the world becomes more of a global village, said one expert, infectious disease could by natural transmission become more threatening in the United States. Here monitoring is lax because of a mistaken belief that the threat of infectious disease has been almost wiped out by antibiotics.

Bioterrorism presented a further and much greater possibility of terrible outbreaks of pandemic in the United States. The New York Times reported: "A speaker at the meeting warned that the healthcare system in the United States was not prepared for a bioterrorist attack, in which hundreds or thousands of people might flood hospitals, needing treatment for diseases: anthrax, plague, or smallpox, which most doctors in this country have never seen.

In the same week as this AMA conference and its Cassandra-like speeches, the NBC Nightly News featured a brief segment showing American biochemists helping their Russian counterparts clean up and close down a large germ warfare factory. The TV correspondent remarked that the Russian plant had been capable of producing far more than the minimum required for effectivebiochemical warfare. He did not pursue the obvious questions of whether the Russians had been exporting the plants' surplus to Iraq, or if this was only one of several Russian germ warfare factories and whether the others may still be operating.

That The New York Times report was tucked away on page fifteen of its National Edition and that NBC News devoted all of four minutes to the Russian disease factory indicate that the problem of infectious disease and its pandemic threat to American wellbeing is still regarded as a marginal matter. By the time the next president of the United States finishes his term, it could be the most visible problem facing American society, similar to the biomedical crisis of late medieval Europe, England in particular.

In the England of 1500 children were singing a rhyme and playing a game called "Ring Around the Rosies." When I grew up in Canada in the 1940s children holding hands in a circle still moved around and sang:

Ring around the rosies
A pocketful of posies
Ashes, ashes
We all fall down


The origin of the rhyme is the flulike symptoms, skin discoloring, and mortality caused by bubonic plague. The children were reflecting society's efforts to repress memory of the Black Death of 1348-49 and its lesser aftershocks. Children's games were — or used to be — a reflection of adult anxieties and efforts to pacify feelings of fright and concern at some devastating event. So say the folklorists and psychiatrists.

The meaning of the rhyme is that life is unimaginably beautiful — and the reality can be unbearably horrible.

In the late fourteenth century a London cleric, who previously served in a rural parish and who is known to us as William Langland, made severe reference to the impact of infectious diseases "pocks" (smallpox) and "pestilence" (plague) in Piers Plowman, a long, disorganized, and occasionally eloquent spiritual epic. As translated by Siegfried Wenzel:

So Nature killed many through corruptions,
Death came driving after her and dashed all to dust,
Kings and knights, emperors and popes;
He left no man standing, whether learned or ignorant;
Whatever he hit stirred never afterwards.
Many a lovely lady and their lover-knights
Swooned and died in sorrow of Death's blows....
For God is deaf nowadays and will not hear us,
And for our guilt he grinds good men to dust.


The playing children, arms joined in a circle and singing "Ring Around," and the gloomy, anguished London priest were each in their distinctive ways trying to come to psychological terms with an incomparable biomedical disaster that had struck England and most of Europe.

The Black Death of 1348-49 was the greatest biomedical disaster in European and possibly in world history. Its significance was immediately perceived by the wise Arab historian Ibn Khaldun, writing a few years later: "Civilization both in East and West was visited by a destructive plague which devastated nations and caused populations to vanish. It swallowed up many of the good things of civilization and wiped them out in the entire inhabited world." A contemporary Florentine writer referred to "the exterminating of humanity."

A third at least of Western Europe's population died in what contemporaries called "the pestilence" (the term the Black Death was not invented until after 1800). This meant that somewhere around twenty million people died of the pestilence from 1347 to 1350. The so-called Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 killed possibly fifty million people worldwide. But the mortality rate in proportion to total population was obviously relatively small compared to the impact of the Black Death — between 30 percent and 50 percent of Europe's population.

The Black Death affected most parts of the Mediterranean world and Western Europe. Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film The Seventh Seal depicts the impact of the Black Death on Sweden. In Bergman's view the Black Death, which reached Sweden by 1350, caused an era of intense pessimism and widespread feelings of dread and futility.

But the great medical devastation hit no country harder than England in 1348-49 and because of the rich documentation surviving on fourteenth-century England it is in that country that we can best examine its personal and social impact in detail. Furthermore, there were at least three waves of the Black Death falling upon England over the century following 1350, nowhere near as severe as the cataclysm of the late 1340s, whose severity was unique in human history. But the succeeding outbreaks generated a high mortality nonetheless.

The population...

In the Wake of the Plague. Copyright © by Norman Cantor. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Table of Contents

Pt. I Biomedical Context 1
1 All Fall Down 3
2 Rodents and Cattle 11
Pt. II People 27
3 Bordeaux Is Burning 29
4 Lord and Peasants 63
5 Death Comes to the Archbishop 101
6 Women and Men of Property 123
7 The Jewish Conspiracy 147
Pt. III History 169
8 Serpents and Cosmic Dust 171
9 Heritage of the African Rifts 185
10 Aftermath 201
Knowing About the Black Death: A Critical Bibliography 221
Acknowledgments 231
Index 233
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First Chapter

Chapter Six: Women and Men of Property

Ninety percent of the wealth of England in 1340 lay in land. Of this land perhaps 40 percent was owned by the king and the royal family and the high aristocracy that usually carried the titles of duke, earl, baron, or simply "lord." Another 30 percent of the land was held by ecclesiastical officers and corporations. This left nearly 30 percent of the land to be owned by the rural upper middle class, who came to be called gentry in the fifteenth century. At most 2 percent was in the hands of free peasants, later called yeomen.

In England before the Black Death there were probably around half a million people in the gentry class, including women and children. By 1400 the gentry comprised half that number. Their family incomes varied as greatly as those of the American middle class today: anywhere from the equivalent of fifty thousand dollars a year in today's money to three or four million dollars a year. The lesser gentry were sometimes called esquires, an obsolete military term. Perhaps half of the upper gentry were called "knights," another obsolete military term. Knighthood entitled the senior male (as today) of the family to use the title of Sir and his wife to be given the honorific appellation of Lady. But a significant portion of wealthy gentry families resisted the official awarding of knighthood from the king because to be a "belted knight" could increase military and tax liabilities and put a heavier strain on the hospitality and entertainment budget of the family.

Marriage, the production of progeny, and inheritance were the core of gentry life. A gentry family in the fourteenth century could rise from relative mediocrity by favor of the king, by collecting booty in the French wars, or — less commonly — by careful "husbandry" or estate management.

But another and common route up the social and economic ladder was a series of good marriages — that is, those that brought in heavy dowries — plus the availability of male heirs steadily over several generations to keep the estate perpetually intact.

On the other hand, marrying a woman of modest means and thin dowry, or losing her rich dowry after her death because of complicated legal maneuvers by which most of the landed dowry was returned to her family, and absence of male heirs, or even widows who lived too long and sat on a big share of family income, could damage or ruin a great family. This relationship between generations and property was the central and certainly most interesting theme in the life of fourteenth-century gentry families.

Over this process of marriage, birth, death, and inheritance, the Black Death fell like a tornado sweeping across the countryside. It generated a much higher level of mortality than usual among the gentry — especially among male gentry — and many great families were suddenly shaken and their security threatened, their wealth and social status undermined. Coveted estates that had taken generations to build were suddenly swallowed by another family, distantly related, and the losing family's honorable name was expunged from society and history.

There were two kinds of people who especially benefited from the squabbles brought about by the Black Death and the endless litigation that was the result. The first were the "common lawyers" (so-called to distinguish them from civil — Roman — lawyers who practiced in ecclesiastical courts).

The common lawyers were graduates of the Inns of Court, the four residential law schools cum bar associations located in Westminster in London (they are still there today). They made their money protecting, expanding, and defending the gentry estates. There was actually a shortage of them, and their fees were high, but no gentry family could endure long without their services. Since medieval English procedure did not allow a defendant to be represented by an attorney in a criminal trial, the criminal justice bar was almost nonexistent.

Many of these barristers specializing in property and inheritance cases were on permanent retainer to leading families. It was not enough to know the law — not an easy thing to do because property law was frequently changed by judicial decisions as well as by occasional legislation (as in the United States today). They also had to be expert at drawing complicated documents in a highly specialized language, law French, and it also helped to know Latin and English, which were also used in the law courts. Above all they had to be expert "pleaders" (later called barristers), attorneys who were licensed to appear in court, stand on their feet, and with little or no aide-memoir argue immensely complicated cases before judges and juries for hours or days on end.

They perforce got so expert in doing these things that they created a body of real estate law that is largely still in effect today. A barrister of 1350 deep frozen and thawed out today would need only a six-month refresher course at a first-rate American law school to practice property or real estate law today. In every U.S. law school, a required course in the first semester for entering students is entitled "property." Its principles and procedures were worked out empirically by the English bar in the fourteenth century, given a big boost by the carnage and confusion visited upon gentry families by the Black Death.

The other beneficiaries of the plague, besides the lawyers, were women of the gentry class. The common law had a procedure for protecting widows, partly because the gentry landlords engaged in serial marriages with wives who died like flies in childbirth and were often gone by age thirty.

The heir to the family estate was usually a product of the first marriage and the widow, wife number two or three, was his stepmother, sometimes younger than the heir. Oedipal tensions ("that sexy young wench, my father's third wife and now his widow, is eating up the old man's estate," a great plot line that Shakespeare and Hollywood missed) could inflame an heir's greedy disdain for taking care of his stepmother or even his actual birth-mother, in this cruel, selfish society.

Therefore, the law stepped in and decreed that every widow had a right to "dower," one-third of the income (not the capital) of her husband's estate until she died. Within forty days of her husband's demise she was supposed to vacate the family mansion. But one-third the income from the family lands would allow her to live comfortably elsewhere and play the role of the grand dowager.

Complex legal instruments called jointures, a sort of prenuptial agreement, might allow her to recover part or even all of the landed dowry she had brought to the marriage, a common occurrence when the bride was much wealthier than the upwardly mobile groom. A great deal of late medieval litigation, miles of parchment court rolls, written on sheepskin, was taken up by litigation following the heir's visceral disdain for dower and jointure belonging to his stepmother or even his own birth-mother.

A favorite trick was simply to refuse the widow the entry to the dower, leaving her in anxious frustration and genteel poverty. Then the heir's and widow's attorneys would try to work out a settlement giving the widow comfort but much less than she was strictly entitled to by law. If agreement could not be reached — and especially if the widow had important relatives who stood by her — then it was on to the courts where such cases could drag on not only for years but decades.

The worst thing that could happen to a gentry family was biological nullity — the family became extinct in children of either sex. No legitimate son or daughter survived the father or brother to inherit. Even without the added impact of the plague years, this occurred with remarkable frequency. In any given year before the Black Death, one out of twenty families of the wealthier gentry and also the nobility experienced extinction in direct succession.

If this happened a variety of outcomes could occur. The king might declare the family void and take the estate back into his demesne, his crown property, and then possibly give or sell it to an entirely unrelated family. Often a cousin would be allowed to inherit it from the extinct family, frequently taking their surname if he did not already bear it. This latter transaction required a hefty bribe to the royal government, in addition to the normal onerous inheritance tax, and could burden the estate for a generation or more.

Short of biological nullity, the worst thing that could happen to a gentry family was for two or three heirs in rapid succession, father, son, and even grandson, and all married, to die in a pandemic leaving three hale and hearty widows with dower rights in the family estate.

The fourth male heir (or rather his attorney, since he was likely to be a child) faced the gloomy prospect of two or even three dowagers asserting their dower rights upon the estate at the same time, taking away large parts of the family income and leaving a fraction only for the new heir. As the new heir came of age and found the majority of his ancestral income siphoned off by the two or three dowagers, personal animosity would exacerbate fiscal strain.

Then as now a dysfunctional family would be sucked into a whirlwind of psychological stress, fiscal tightness, and bitter litigation. It could take two decades to straighten out this mess, if it ever was straightened out. The lawyers clucked in pretended sympathy while adding up the steadily mounting legal fees.

No historian has yet come up with a statistical study of whether gentry males were harder hit by the Black Death than women in the same family. But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support such a theory. There was a plethora of dowagers in the two or three decades after the Black Death of the late 1340s. It is easy to understand how this difference in the mortality rate of male and female gentry happened.

The Black Death resulted either from bubonic plague or anthrax. The male gentry would commonly be out in the fields inspecting their lands, barns, and cattle and encountering plague-ridden rats or diseased cows daily. While there were some activist female gentry who would do the same thing, the majority of them lived a more confined and sheltered life and were less likely to have close daily physical contact with rodents and cattle.

The resulting difference in mortality from the Black Death was a boon to women of the gentry class. Their superior survival rate brought enhanced wealth, independence, and position in local society. But this sexual disparity could play havoc with the stability and economy of a gentry estate, especially due to the law's generosity to dowagers, and thereby generate decades of bitter family infighting.

*

The case of the le Strange family demonstrates well what the Black Death and the courts could do to an unlucky upper-class family. The le Stranges lived in Whitchurch in Shropshire in the black-earth, high-grain-yielding country intensely competed for by gentry families. The rich le Stranges were ambitious and on the rise, and because of their upward mobility were starting to make marriages in some instances with younger daughters of the nobility.

But the le Strange family was exceptionally unlucky in losing male family members during three successive outbreaks of the plague — two in 1349, and one each in 1361 and 1375. By 1375 not even the relative fecundity of the family in producing sons for the next generation could help them escape extinction in the male line. The plague had eliminated sons and left ambitious dowagers.

The le Stranges going back to the 1330s were not originally a great gentry house. They were a family on the make, principally through marriages with rich women, plus good estate management. The enhancement of family fortunes was launched by the marriage of John le Strange the First to a wealthy gentry heiress, Anakretta le Botiler. In the next two generations the le Strange heirs married into the nobility. This raised their social and political profile and with luck would have accrued vast landed wealth to the family.

But the Black Death countered that luck. Fulk le Strange, John I's eldest son, married Elizabeth, the daughter of Earl Ralph of Stafford. Earl Ralph drove a hard marriage bargain. Fulk's father, Ralph Stafford insisted, had to settle land worth two hundred marks a year (about a half-million dollars) jointly on the couple. This meant that if both John I and Fulk died close in time to each other and Fulk's marriage to the heiress Elizabeth Stafford was short, the le Strange estate would be affected severely by loss of income from land held as dower for the widow.

Fulk le Strange died in the Black Death on August 30, 1349. But Elizabeth Stafford lived to a ripe old age by medieval standards, not dying until 1376. During those three decades Elizabeth not only collected dower from her deceased husband's estate but remarried twice, taking with her the succulent property that John I le Strange had to settle jointly on his son Fulk and Elizabeth Stafford to get Earl Ralph's permission for the marriage. The land thus eventually passed to the family of Reginald, Lord Cobham, Elizabeth Stafford's third husband.

The story gets worse and more complicated for the pathetic le Stranges. Not only did Fulk le Strange, the elder son and prime heir of John I, die in the Black Death in August 1349, but the old man himself, John I le Strange of Whitchurch, had died of the plague only five weeks earlier. For a rich gentry family this blow was equivalent to a 60 percent crash in the stock market today — if every single asset was held in stock.

Anakretta le Botiler survived her husband, John I le Strange, until the next visitation of the plague in 1361. This meant that there were now two living dowagers, Anakretta le Botiler le Strange and Elizabeth Stafford le Strange, both women from families powerful enough to get their full dower rights and then some. For the twelve years of her widowhood Anakretta held the family house at Whitchurch in Shropshire (contrary to custom, by which she should have vacated it within forty days of her husband's death). She held on to one estate that came with her dowry, since it was jointly visited upon her and John I. For another piece of land she paid her son John II le Strange and his estate the modest sum of twenty marks (thirty thousand dollars) a year.

This medieval soap opera in the age of the Black Death gets worse still for the le Strange gentry. John II le Strange got back some of his father's lands when his mother, Anakretta, died in 1361, but he himself died of the plague in the same year. This left a third dowager to be taken care of from the le Strange lands, a great lady indeed, Mary, daughter of the earl — later duke — of Arundel.

Mary Arundel le Strange had to be taken care of in the lifestyle she had come to expect as a product of the high aristocracy and as a lady dominating local society. She took possession of most of the income or actual real estate of the le Strange inheritance, dying in 1396. After the dowager Mary died, the remaining le Strange lands passed to Richard, Lord Talbot, who was married to Anakretta, the daughter of John II le Strange.

For Richard Talbot the benefits of this marriage alliance and ultimate inheritance were timely. His father, Gilbert, had run up huge debts and was sitting in debtor's jail in London. His debts were the result of a lifetime of unprofitable military campaigning in France and Spain.

Not all military gentry struck gold in looting the countryside and ransoming high-born prisoners during the Hundred Years War. Some put up their own money to campaign for the Black Prince or John of Gaunt and never got a return on their investment of time and money. Richard Talbot, newly enriched by the le Strange fortune, got his father out of debtor's prison and the old soldier died of the plague in 1387 in Spain, battling on to the end and losing.

The le Strange name thus disappeared from gentry history. Richard and Anakretta Talbot, however, turned out to be good managers in their efforts to recover the level of income, which had fallen during the great plague years of 1348-49, of their estate, Whitchurch. Some of this recovery stemmed from increasing commercial activity, which attracted tenants who hoped to get high market prices for their grains.

Overall, the experience of Whitchurch confirms the now well-accepted view of economic historians that in the agrarian sphere, the full economic impact of the plague was delayed by at least a generation. Even the fall in grain prices in the 1370s did not spell immediate disaster for careful landlords who were prepared to use imaginative means to boost their incomes. By the time of his death in 1396, Richard Talbot had actually increased income from the Whitchurch demesne by 25 percent and from the manor as a whole by 10 percent.

But successive outbreaks of plague and the failure of the population to make a sustained recovery made the situation gradually worse. Against this background, it was difficult for the manorial economy to bounce back from any new incidental blow that it suffered. There were several of these — a serious outbreak of plague in 1391, harvest failure in 1428, and floods in 1434.

But by far the most significant setback was the Welsh wars of the first decade of the fifteenth century. In the raids of 1404 Whitchurch was burned up to the gates of the manor by Welsh terrorists (or as they are called at Oxford today, freedom fighters). The damage was so severe that peasant rents were remitted for five years afterward.

The Talbots after about 1410 could not hire enough labor to continue direct cultivation of their own family lands, the demesne. They did what most other landlords did in the fifteenth century. They split up their demesne into farm blocks that they leased ("farmed") out to the wealthier and more enterprising peasants. From these yeomen leaseholders new gentry families emerged in the late fifteenth century.

Thus John I le Strange's great dream of a huge gentry estate and his family's eminence in local society over long time, and respect and honor for the le Strange name, came to absolutely nothing, even for the Talbots. The Black Death and all those privileged dowagers had brought this to pass.

In the high mortality of the Black Death there were plenty of other stories of women surviving and the men of the family perishing. This happened in Bordeaux in the family of the vintner and wine merchant Raymond le Clerque. In 1340 le Clerque drew up a long and complicated will dividing his land and property in and near the city among his six children, two sons and four daughters. His eldest son, Jean, got most of the property, and his second son, Guillaume Arnaud, one valuable vineyard. In return Jean was to pay five hundred pounds (about half a million dollars) to each of two of his four sisters, Margaret and Gaya, as dowries when they married. The other two sisters were apparently unprovided for.

Raymond le Clerque died in 1346. A year later the plague had completely undone his plans. In the end only Gaya survived, and the whole estate devolved on her and her new husband. Gaya became a grand lady. In 1351 she withdrew to a house in the more salubrious countryside, appointing her husband and a lawyer to manage her property in Bordeaux on her behalf.

Nor was the le Strange case singular in the way that the Black Death and bad luck in matters of inheritance could bring down a great family much as a massive stock market collapse could affect a very rich American family today. The story of the Hastings family, for example, reads like a comedy out of Shakespeare.

The tomb of Sir Hugh Hastings of Elsing in Norfolk (d. 1347) is representative in several ways of the world that was swept away by the Black Death. The style of the brass displays an aesthetic refinement that was not repeated in the aftermath of the plague. The brasses' iconography provides a history of family harmony that turned into bitter division as aristocratic estates passed between families more rapidly in an atmosphere of intensified competition.

The art historian Paul Binski has concluded that the brass on Sir Hugh Hastings's tomb was the product of an important London workshop, active during the 1340s and responsible for several impressive brasses. The style of this workshop is one of ebullience and confidence combined with artistic delicacy. It is distinguished by its eclecticism. Sir Hugh Hastings's tomb of 1347 is a delicate mix of English and continental influences, especially in the scene of the coronation of the Virgin, but also in the incorporation of an equestrian portrait of St. George above the figure of Sir Hugh.

This mix probably reflects the cross-Channel influences that transmitted to England through Edward III's French campaigns. Sir Hugh himself had fought at Crecy. The workshop flourished only briefly. After 1349 this style of brass completely disappears from England, leading scholars to believe that the artist had died in the Black Death or that the workshop had been broken up in the wake of the disaster.

Sir Hugh in his tomb is flanked by a group of eight weepers, headed by King Edward III and including companions in arms and members of the Order of the Garter such as Ralph, Earl of Stafford, and relatives such as Roger, Lord Grey of Ruthin. According to Binski, the tomb expresses "a form of corporate identity, embedded in shared military honor and badges of allegiance."

The Hastingses of Norfolk who commissioned this famous tomb were a younger branch of the family of John of Hastings, Earl of Pembroke, one of the richest men in England. The earl being childless, his nearest heir was his cousin Reginald de Grey of Ruthin, commonly called Lord Grey. Second in line was another cousin, William of Beauchamp.

As the earl of Pembroke prepared to leave anew for the continental wars in 1372, he had a bitter falling out with Lord Grey. While the earl had previously been fighting in France, Grey dispensed a rumor that the earl had died abroad and proceeded to invade some of the earl's lands. When the earl returned he made Grey apologize publicly in front of several great lords but retained his pique against Grey.

Pembroke regarded Grey as a nouveau riche arriviste, and Grey was indeed descended from a younger son of a minor baronial family. The other cousin — and next in line as the earl's heir — was William of Beauchamp, descended directly from one of England's ancient families.

Before the earl again departed for the French wars in 1372, he placed his lands in irrevocable trust. This provided that in event of his death abroad the trustees were to grant the whole estate to William of Beauchamp, provided that the king would make Beauchamp earl of Pembroke. In effect John Hastings was adopting William of Beauchamp as his son and heir, with the king's anticipated approval and cutting out entirely Lord Grey. This was a clever but dicey legal maneuver, just the kind of complicated instrument a common lawyer loved to draw up.

The whole plan fell apart when John Hastings, earl of Pembroke, heard while he was in captivity in Spain that his young second wife was pregnant and then that she had borne him a son, John II. Pembroke had no doubt that he was the genetic father of the child. The trust that the earl had set up giving everything to William of Beauchamp had not provided for this possibility. In effect John Hastings had disinherited his own yet-to-be-born son by a rash and sloppy legal maneuver. "Everything that was done has gone wrong," he lamented.

John Hastings promised a monstrous ransom to his Spanish captors (equivalent to thirty million dollars) and hurried back to England to try to straighten out this mess. Between Paris and Calais in 1375 he took ill and died of the plague.

While Lord Grey was exulting that the trust meant to exclude him would have to be canceled — itself a very difficult legal engagement — the possible new heir, John II, made things easier for Grey by dying accidentally in a tournament. After protracted litigation that went on for two decades, Grey and Beauchamp settled the inheritance between them. Grey assumed the inheritance but by collusive prearrangement sold off a substantial part of it to Beauchamp at bargain rates.

The fears of John Hastings I, earl of Pembroke, of what would happen to his great estate and family name if it fell into the hands of parvenus had come strikingly to pass, partly because of the plague and partly because of his rash reliance on an expensive but incompetent lawyer who drew up a flawed trust.

At this point Edward Hastings of Elsing, descended from Sir Hugh, the knight portrayed in the magnificent brass of 1347, belatedly put in a claim. He went so far as to challenge Lord Grey to the archaic process (not finally abolished until 1819) of trial by battle: "Thou lying false knight, I am ready to prove with my body against thy body," Edward Hastings proclaimed. Grey wisely declined the duel.

Edward Hastings's legal claim was very weak. The courts turned him down and ordered him to pay the enormous court costs of 987 pounds (two hundred thousand dollars). Though he could afford to pay he refused on the principle that he was the true earl of Pembroke.

For this ridiculous pride, Edward Hastings was consigned to debtor's prison and languished there for twenty years, complaining of the inhumanity that left him there "bound in fetters of iron more like a thief or traitor than a gentleman of birth." Not to say earl of Pembroke. After his wife died, he softened at last and made his peace with the now billionaire aristocrat Lord Grey, marrying his son to one of Grey's daughters. Edward Hastings died shortly thereafter. The Grey family played an important role in early-sixteenth-century politics.

Edward Hastings was undoubtedly a litigious crank, but there are some aspects of his irrationality that point up the subtle difference between the pre- and post-Black Death gentry worlds.

The plague had shaken the gentry society like an earthquake, and the fissures ran deep and long. It would be wrong to view the pre-Black Death era as a golden age of chivalry and consistently elegant behavior. But after the plague a certain restraining sense of honor and civility among the gentry and nobility was attenuated.

A seemingly endless war and the bitter politics of the reign of Richard II in the last two decades of the century certainly contributed to violence and rapacity among England's landed elite. The takeover of the crown by Henry IV of Lancaster, John of Gaunt's son, from the Black Prince's son, the gay and erratic Richard II, in 1399, Richard's condemnation as a tyrant by Parliament, and the murder of the deposed monarch, probably by starvation, were the ultimate symbolic acts of this new dark age of bad behavior.

The havoc randomly visited upon rising gentry families by the plague certainly contributed to the advent of an era of rural capitalism, unceasing aggressive litigation, and the conviction that unrestrained greed is good. American law students in their first-year course on property law are today imbibing a judicial heritage crystallized in Black Death England and the culture of contention and merciless conflict it embedded in the common law.

The social and cultural equation works in the opposite direction. If the judicial heritage of Black Death England embedded contention and merciless conflict in the common law and legal profession, the formality of the law itself and its slow-moving judicial procedures imposed restraint on the behavior of the gentry.

It is not that some wealthy gentry did not resort, like the great nobility, to gangsterism and violence. They did occasionally. But this was always measured against the due process of the common law and widely regarded among the upper middle class as bad behavior.

Under a renewed strong monarchy in the late fifteenth and the early sixteenth centuries the peaceful resolution of conflict and the juristic socializing of ambitions mitigated the violence and privatism and brought the gentry back to a rule- and process-driven life. It was not a generous or charitable culture that was transmitted into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but it was one that operated within the rule of law. Within the juristic culture even dowagers had their share of triumphs.

*

At first glance it seems that the gentry world in the age of the Black Death treated women of this class harshly — as property. But closer consideration moderates this easy judgment. Not only were widows privileged by the law of the dower, but brides bringing substantial landed wealth to their marriages were protected from abuse and impoverishment by prenuptial agreements giving them a joint ownership in the real estate that was the main part of their dowries, defending such wives from abusive treatment and curt dismissal.

Furthermore, even saying that married women in gentry society were mere property in the time of the Pestilence does not get at the reality of their situation. As in rich families today, the words mere and property did not go well together. There was nothing dismissive or pejorative about property. It was the heart and soul of gentry life. The males of the gentry household knew full well that their well-being and status followed closely from the level of property they held, particularly in landed estates. To be equated with property was no insult in the gentry world.

Nor did this mean that marriages were necessarily without love and passion, even if their transactional business character ultimately prevailed. The young people of this affluent class were well-conditioned in the psychology and ritual of romantic love. They were immersed in this culture, in the romances that they read or that were recited to them after dinner in the great halls of the stone family houses. They were prone and ready to take sexual initiative at any time after they reached puberty. Gentry women as yet did not wear underwear. Men wore a doublet with a movable codpiece covering their sexual organ. Coupling was quick and easy and the steady increase in the number of private bedrooms in the gentry houses — an amenity in the twelfth century reserved only for the head of household and his lady — facilitated sexual unions with due regard for female modesty, which wasn't very much to start with.

The one great lack in the lives of gentry women was their exclusion from higher education and the learned professions. It didn't inevitably have to be that way, but this sharp exclusion crystallized as the universities and secular professions, particularly law, were constituted in the period 1200 to 1350. This sexual segregation in higher education and the professions was not breached in England until around 1900, and not in substantial degree until around 1965.

In recent years there has been a tendency to lay the blame for medieval exclusion of women from higher education and the secular professions at the feet of church tradition and hierarchy. The church fathers St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, around 400, were outspoken misogynists, greatly respecting nuns for their spiritual qualities, but insisting that they be excluded from all leadership and sacerdotal roles in the church, and thus from the education needed to gain these posts.

Some historians have seen the triumphs of Ambrose's and Augustine's misogyny as the final chapter in a bitter conflict over the role of women in the church that goes back to the first century a.d. The attitude of the church fathers, further institutionalized by an exclusively male priesthood, can be regarded as the imposition of a male chauvinist position from which twelfth- and thirteenth-century ecclesiastical culture could not depart. Yet the church and medieval society changed in many directions over the centuries and their exclusionary attitude to women could have changed also. From the twelfth century on, many separated ("heretical") medieval religious communities, including the fourteenth-century English Lollards, allowed women preaching and leadership roles.

There was also a generation or so between about 1120 and 1160 when the church did produce top, highly educated intellectuals such as Heloise in Paris and Hildegard of Bingen in the Rhine valley, as well as a strong visible female hand in patronage of the arts and letters.

By 1250 the prospect for this road not taken was wiped away. The main reason was the inconvenience, instability, and costs that education and entrance into the professions would have meant for upper-middle-class gentry families. The English gentry families of the fourteenth century experienced no democratic ideological pressure toward enhanced privileges for their daughters. On the contrary, the weight of church tradition was strongly in favor of excluding women from higher education and the professions, and the gentry fathers and brothers had no hesitancy in cultivating these male chauvinist traditions.

There were frustrated intelligent and ambitious women among the gentry class of the late Middle Ages, of that we can be sure, who did not like early marriage and motherhood or the nun's veil and cloistered chastity as the only viable alternatives in their lives. Yet the great majority of gentry women of propertied families who followed the conventional role (and were still following it in the era of Jane Austen or even George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf) still led comfortable and dignified lives, as much as women of the suburban middle class in America today.

The women to be pitied, if any, among the gentry class in the age of the Black Death were not married or widowed ones. The pitiable gentry women in the fourteenth century were daughters who for one reason or another — too ugly, too pious, and most commonly, lacking adequate dowries because the family already had too many other daughters, despite the widespread practice of female infanticide — found no husband and were shunted off to nunneries by the age of twenty. Some convents were still as most had been in the twelfth century — rich and genteel. The food in these high-toned establishments, nearly always of the Benedictine Order, was good. Diversion was gained by choral praying, writing, painting, embroidering, and (in spite of the indignant complaints of bishops) breeding and raising birds and greyhounds. When you win big at the greyhound track today, give silent thanks to those medieval dog-loving nuns.

In England of 1340, however, as was amply demonstrated as long ago as 1924 by the great medievalist Eileen Power, there were many dozens of small nunneries that were underfunded (funded by a rich family in the past and then forgotten about), even impoverished (sometimes by mismanagement), and sadly deficient in good food, entertainment, and amenities. This bleak ambience was unrelieved, in spite of the jokes and anecdotes about straying and licentious nuns — the medieval equivalent of Playboy magazine — by the sexual activity that married women and many a rich dowager enjoyed. They had to make do with piety alone.

Copyright © 2001 by Norman Cantor

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2012

    I believe In the Wake of the Plague provided a great insight int

    I believe In the Wake of the Plague provided a great insight into how the people lived there lives in the middle ages and
    was thoroughly detailed and accurately portrayed the medieval times. It gave several different theories that were wildly believed,
     including but not limited to, the theory that Jews caused the plague or even that it was god’s wrath. My negative on this is I felt
     Norman Cantor was quite opinionated and liked to state his point very bluntly with not much to compromise with. At some
    points I felt as if I was being talked down too. His style of writing and dash of sarcasm does create a lighter mood to the book
     though. In the Wake of the Plague does provide a great general analysis on the time period but seems a little vague at sometimes
    . Cantor overall provides a lovely introduction to the Black Plague for the general reader. He exhibits a mastered grasp of the era he
     has long studied. I would also like to praise Cantor’s organization of sub-topics. 
    I felt the In the Wake of the Plague is less successful in describing the broader relationship between humans and infectious
     disease in the centuries that followed the Black Death. The history of this relationship is marked by many different types of epidemics
     as well as changing scientific and medical views of their causes and the best methods of preventing them. I believe the element
    of bio medical research is the most provocative and controversial portion of this book because it’s such a large topic and can be
     interpreted and viewed different ways. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2012

    In the Wake of the Plague by Norman F. Cantor was thoroughly det

    In the Wake of the Plague by Norman F. Cantor was thoroughly detailed and accurately portrayed the medieval times, not only including the Black Plague, but also the many events that effected or were effected by the Black Death. The book informed me about the bubonic plague in many ways I never knew even existed. I would have never speculated that the royal personnel of the medieval times died in the same accounts commoners did. I would've thought that the royals had more protection from the plague, but we now know it could've originated and formed into other diseases much more easily carried. When I chose the book I thought I would be reading more about buboes and blisters, but instead I read about the different people affected by the plague and the historical context the changed due to the mass number of deaths. This book left me with a lasting impression and a vast array of knowledge.
    The author completes his purpose quite well in my opinion. In some places he adds a dash of sarcasm and often includes words not frequently used when talking about a plague. In places, these occasions brighten the mood and keep the reader interested, while in others it truly adds character and depth to the story. The word choice also sets a proper, medieval, English feel to the non-fiction tale. I also think the author, Norman F. Cantor, accomplishes his task to inform the reader, but also while giving a twist on the story. He tells the side of the Black Plague that most don't. Instead of focusing on the painful disease and death, he relates historical events back to the plague itself. It made me think about the whole time period as a whole instead of the Black Death being the only major event happening between 1300 and 1500. He chooses events not necessarily well-known and connects them to the plague. I believe his goal was to think about the plague in a new way, and he achieved it. I recommend this book to anyone wanting learn anything new about the medieval times.

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  • Posted December 5, 2011

    AP World History Review: immensely informative.

    In the Wake of the Plague was an impressive work of non-fiction by Norman F. Cantor. Cantor appropriately encompasses all sub-catergories of this vast topic, creating an immense insight on the subject of the Black Death. The novel is not simply about what happened, but about how it happened. He conveniently splits his information into three parts: biomedical context, people, and history. Therefore, he is able to illustrate how the disease came about, how people reacted, and how it progressed thorugh European history. It was great learning about how the disease may have not only been a form of the bubonic plague, but also a variation of anthrax that some victims could've caught by eating unhealthy meat. Learning about how different classes of the population reacted was also insightful--all the way from the royalty to the peasants I was informed of how their specific lives were affected. And understanding how the pestilence may have even began as early as the fall of the Roman empire was a great way to realize how diseases can endure through time. Furthermore, Cantor's writing is impressive and actually interesting to to read. His word choice may seem advanced for younger readers, but it's easy to understand the context of his underlying purpose when reading. He also uses irony and sarcasm in his writing of history, which makes things much more colorful. Plus, most importantly, the way he chose to write this non-fiction piece of work was not to simply explain the Black Death and its effects on medieval Europe, but by illustrating medieval Europe through the angle of the pestilence. Simply a great novel written by a great medievalist.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2011

    AP World History Review: Very informational but gets off topic

    In the Wake of the Plague by Norman Cantor, Cantor does a great job getting his points across but gives bad citations of where he got the information from. He continuously stays in England and not in any other place in Europe, but as he states at the beginning that most of the available information comes from England. I thought he could have at least put more about the effects across Europe and not just England. You do on the other hand end up getting a good understanding of changes to the social, cultural, intellectual, political, and economical ideas of mainly England. I did enjoy the book at first, but then Cantor began going off topic. When I say he went off topic, I mean he would say something about an event or person then state a page or two about a description of it. With this happening you could easily lose what he was originally talking about before and be totally lost. Cantor would also make quirky jokes, opinions, and ideas that are debatable about parts of history that I saw as unreasonable to state. I noticed most of the book was revolving around certain people (for example, Princess Joan) and not the plague itself. I wouldn't recommend this even though you will come out with good information, you could easily find most of this information elsewhere.

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  • Posted April 19, 2011

    The Black Death with ADD

    I am a history buff and I have read many history books in my time, but this one stands out as one of the worst! Cantor presents the Black Death as if he has Attention Deficit Disorder. His thoughts are sporadic and do not flow logically. He is all over the place. He seems to have an interest in creating plot lines from individual stories during the time; but he does not tie them into the book at all. It seems only 50% of the time he was talking about the Black Death and the other 50% of the time he was rambling on about people and events either way before or way after the black death, without any apparent relevance. I love when Historians can relate even the most abstract events back to one cause, or vice versa, but Cantor attempts to do this with poor foresight. His stories lead nowhere, at the very least you may develop a small feeling of empathy, but I imagine any book that mentions the devastating loss of life and socioeconomic factors of the Black Death would have the same effect. I do not recommend to anyone seeking to be informed about the Black Death.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2010

    Student Review-- Recommended

    Norman F. Cantor does a splendid job of informing the reader of all aspects of the Black Plague. He explains where it comes from at first, then moves on to how it affected the people. He gives you lots of facts and no opinions. He explains how the plague affected everyone from the serfs to the royal families. He also shares the affect of the disease on different ethnic groups such as the Jewish people. After giving the reader the full knowledge of the affects, he mentions the aftermath and what it did to the countries. This is a very informational book that clears up any questions or uncertainties about the Black Death.
    I would recommend this book to anyone who is thirsting for more knowledge about the Black Plague. This is not an opinion-based novel, but rather a factual and story telling book. His index in the back shows how much research he did. This allows the reader to be confident that he has the right information. He researches many people and is able to tell the story of the Black Death by explaining how if affected their lives. He disproves many mislead thoughts that one might have of the Plague. Cantor explains every aspect of the disease and allows the reader to truly understand the affects on the countries it hit. This is an informational novel that is relatively easy to read. If one wants more information about the Black Plague, this is a great book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2010

    AP World History Review: Opinion-Informational, but poorly written.

    When I started reading this book I was intrigued, however, I gradually became less intrested as the author got more and more off topic. He focused on certain events and victims of this disease, (such as Princess Joan) and not as much about the disease itself or the overall outcome of it. He did, however, do a good job about informing the reader about social, cultural, economic, religious, and intellectual portions of this time period. In this book you saw his point of veiw and got many insights to help you better understand what it was like to live during this time in the fourteenth century. The reader could see how this disease affected different people, but got a lack of understanding about the plague itself. Norman F. Cantor also did a great job at stating facts, but they could have been more organized and thought-out. He was very straigtfoward when writing this. For the most part I felt like I was reading a textbook, which has it's beinifits as well as it downfalls. By writing a novel this way, Norman Cartor, could have lost a lot of readers, due to lack of intrest. However, those who did read the whole thing finished with a lot of information and some unknown facts about this horrific disease. Norman Cantor obviously did a lot of research and is definitely qualified to write this, but I didn't feel like the information belonged in a novel. He had few personal insights and the majority of these didn't directly relate to the topic. Overall, my first impression on this book was good, but afterwards I wasn't as happy with it. I would reccomned this to a student wanting to learn about the Bubonic Plague, but a lot of other research is needed to completely understand this outbreak and what happened because of it.

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  • Posted December 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    AP World History Review: For the Nonfiction Reader

    This book, In the Wake of the Plague, by Norman Canton, is a very complex one. If you're interested in reading this book, you might need to reconsider. While trying to focus on the pro's of this publication, it is difficult to ignore the many con's. The structure of Cantor's text is possibly the worst I have ever experienced reading. At times, I have absolutely no clue how it relates to the Black Death. Sometimes, later I understand. But more times than not, I still have no idea why Cantor thought it necessary information to include in a book of this topic. I am not a frequent nonfiction reader, but this seems inadequate to the bar of acceptance. If you are interested in the Black Death, reading this book requires a level of prior knowledge to understand the contents, and if the reader is that knowledgeable, they most likely know most of the information stated. However, one of the few pro's I enjoyed in this book is the unusual facts that Cantor instills in my mind, such as the origin of the extremely-popular children's song, Ring Around the Rosie. The lyrics of this rhyme seem apparent in not just the Black Death, but plagues that have been harassing mankind since the beginning of history. "Ashes, ashes!" could refer to many occurrences during this time period, such as the persecution and burning of many Jews, blamed for poisoning wells all around the Mediterranean (this was one of the times where I did not understand how it connected to the Black Death). "We all fall down!" speaks for itself. The common English in this book is not very well understood if not very intelligent, and Cantor's poor attempts at humor and irony are easily noted. Nonetheless, Cantor is obviously a very well educated scholar on the matter once one has read the book. The book taught me more about the Black Death than I ever knew about it, even if it was not that enjoyable. Cantor is obviously an educated intellectual on the Black Death, but he is mediocre at authoring.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2009

    AP World History Review

    This book is very informative about the Black Death and Bubonic Plague and the consequences it brought to Europe, but it might be perhaps a little too informative. Norman F. Cantor does a great job of completely covering all aspects of the Black PLague and all of its effects on Europe. He also traces all of the effects from the midieval era up until the 20th century and even in todays medical world. In the Wake of the Plague will help you better understand what was going on in the time of the plague in Europe and also how the people delt with its harsh consequences.I personally thought this book was excellent for the purpose in which i needed it to serve, which was to educate myself about the Black death and its global impact, because there was alot of information.

    However, if you are looking for an easy read with simple bits of information about the Plague, you might want to find another book. This novel goes into very deep detail about the impacts of the Plague and it sometimes feels as though it trails off into another topic. There are alot of dates and names of historical people on just about every page and its confusing trying to keep them all straight...and then remember how they tie into the title of the book, In the Wake of the Plague. While it does talk about the Black Death and The BUbonic plague frequently, the passages aren't very long and the information presented is very repetitive. In a nutshell, this book has alot of information, but depending on your purpose in reading, it might not be necessarily useful informtation to you.

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    As a scientists, I was disappointed

    I was interested in reading this text as a scientist and was a bit disappointed at the amount of general history. I stopped reading the book at the half-way point and decided it was not really for me.

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  • Posted July 25, 2009

    Informative, interesting, useful for general public, teachers, students.

    Eminently readable with interesting stories of people and places affected by the Black Death. Cantor shows how the plagues changed life in Europe and how those effects can still be seen in modern times.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2008

    AP World History Review

    Overall, I felt that this book completed its purpose of informing the reader about the ¿world of the Black Death¿ and would recommend it to my peers to learn more about the subject. This book seems is aimed at people/students with a higher reading level, because of its use of strange words and lengthy descriptions of each event that takes place. If you do not have the right mindset while reading the book, Cantor¿s writing can become very boring. He seems to have a tendency to go off topic for a couple pages, but then, sometimes in the weirdest ways, ties it all together to the subject he was talking about before.<BR/> This book focuses more on the social effects of the bubonic plague than any other book I have read. Most of the books I have read focus on the population loss, rather than the effect on other parts of the societies. Cantor seems to have just the right mix of symptoms and population loss, things most students already know, and the other aspects of European life that affected. He seems to have hit all the main points: social, political, economical, and religious effects. This book is a good read for those interested in the history of the Black Death.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2008

    In the Wake of the Plague

    While his writing style does tend to include jumping to different topics and dates, he wrote In the Wake of the Plague in a manor of truth and informity that makes you feel like you've experienced the troubles of the time and in some ways the disease.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2008

    I read this for an AP World History class.....

    It was okay, only Cantor tends to often go on tangents which tie losely 'or not at all' to the topic of the Black Death. It's not terribly long and not excruciatingly boring apart from the winding tangents, which are often tied up very very briefly by a small connection to the Black Death. However, you will probably learn from this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2007

    A great way to learn

    In the book In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made created a fun and easy way to learn the background information on Europe and the affects disease has on the human population. This book did an exhalent job on describing a problem the Black Death caused and then giving an example of a specific event which for me made it more interesting and entertaining. I also liked the one metaphor that Cantor used when he was describing how many people they buried in one area looked like lasagna. That not only made me sort of laugh but it gave me a visual on how many people they buried with each other. The reason I recommend this book to students and teachers is because it gives so much information and it is less than 250 pages long. The only reason I didn't give this book a five is because it repeated itself a lot in the ways that the plague affected the population of humans and the civilization. Besides that this was one of the best books I have read in a long time and I would recommend that you should get the book and read it for yourself.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2007

    AP World History Review

    Norman F. Cantor divides the book 'In the Wake of the Plague' into three sections. The first gives a is about the biomedical aspects of the black plague. Throughout this section he tells about the sypmtoms of the plague and the remedies that formed against it. It also goes into detail about what was done with the dead bodies. The eventual decision was to burn them. The second section gives accounts of the people who were affected by the plague. This section also begins to talk about the affects of the plague. The third and final section discusses the plague from a historical standpoint. In this section it is mainly the affects of the plague that are discussed.-----New Paragraph----- Although the information in this book is excellent, it tends to stray from its central topic. The author often finds himself giving random information or going off on tangents. The writing of the book is also informal at times. Fragments and incomplete thoughts can be found. I often times found it hard to concentrate when I was reaeding the book for it often times did not stay one idea too long.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2007

    Not Great but Okay

    In my opinion, Norman F. Cantor does a poor job getting many of his points across. He tends to lump important ideas together when they should clearly be separated. This is evident in the one chapter where Cantor discusses medieval and modern superstitions and the attempt to use them as an explanation for the epidemic. He throws together both the mystical causes, such as serpants, and the more serious scientific explanations, such as the dust theory, in the same chapter. These explanations, or theories, are of two different natures and should, therefore, be placed in two different chapters in my opinion. I also think that Mr. Cantor makes the book horribly complicated to read. He goes for pages covering a complicating history filled with names and dates before even telling us his side of the argument. By the time he gets his point across to the reader, he has already lost thier interest. If his supporting details weren't so hurried and run together the book might have been a little easier to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2007

    In Wake of the Plague

    In Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World it Made, appears to be a book simply of the Black Death and random facts, but this book reveals a whole new side the Black Death that is not viewed very often. This book should be read by those wishing to get an in-depth discussion of the Black Death, not just an over view of the disease. In Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World it Made was a lengthy book and at times was rather boring, but for the most part it was fairly interesting. The whole point of the book was for people to see the effects the Black Death had on Europe socially, economically, physically, and religiously. Norman Cantor does a good job of addressing all the outcomes with in-depth examples for each. The main point of the book could be gathered by the time the end was read, but during the middle of the book, there was some unnecessary information, which confused me. Norman Cantor felt the need to write examples for each effect the Black Death had on Europe. Examples can be a good thing to glean a better perspective of the time period, but I felt that some of the information about the heritage and blood relations of Europeans were not necessary. At points in the book it is hard to concentrate because it seemed that Cantor went off on tangents and got off topic. But once I got past the boring parts, the overall point and information of the book well put and insightful. This book enabled me to glean a good insight on the effects of the Black Death in Europe.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2007

    I agree with the other current reviewers

    I'm somewhere between a 3 and 4 on this book. Cantor repeats himself a lot in this book. I enjoyed his survey of the causes and effects of the plague, but by p. 200, it really begins to drag. I wish he would have stopped repeating himself and dwelved more into some of the themes he was developing. Yet, don't get me wrong. I enjoyed reading it a lot. I wouldn't call it okay - but i would not completely recommend it either.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2006

    Not what was Expected

    The book In The Wake Of The Plague by Norman Cantor is not what I expected it to be. When I read the title I thought that is was going to be about the plague and what it did to the people in a medical sense. Instead the book is about how the people were affected in a financial sense as well as how the economy was affected. It says that the economy was hit hard by this epidemic because the focus of people shifted from buying and producing goods to staying alive and getting rid of the dead. The plague wiped out roughly 40% of Europe's population at the time. The book also covers the affect it had on the political a religious side of things along with the superstitions that developed through out the period of the Black Plague. I like that the author is knowledgeable on the subject of the plague. It helps you develop what really was going on during the time period. On the other hand I dislike that, in my opinion, the book is poorly written. He will begin to talk about one thing then kind of fade into another but then go back to his initial point. He goes of on too many tangents like this. I do not recommend reading this book unless you are more interested in the economical aspect of the plague rather than the actual plague it self.

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