The Bubonic Plague- Political Effects

The Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death was one of the worst disasters in European and human history. The plague was believed to been originated in China but in a less serious form and spread to Europe through trade and travel. When the plague hit Europe, it rapidly spread and began taking its toll among the empires. In just three years, over one-third of Europe’s population had died, a drastic 100 million deaths had occurred all over the continent.[1]
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The plague caused the infected victim to have purplish-black tumors all over their body the size of small apples. The bumps were a sure sign of death. The plague killed in around three to five days.[3]
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Many people had believed that the sickness was spread through the air or by touching plague victims. There were people who tried to cure the illness. Plague doctors wore bird-like masks with large beaks to stuff with flowers, herbs, spices, and other fragrant things. They did this to keep away the “bad smell” that they believed caused the plague.
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Most people thought that the plague was God punishing them for their sins, while it was actually spread by fleas biting rodents and then biting humans, transferring the sickness to humans. There was a group name The Flagellant that beat and severely injured themselves in hopes of being forgiven for their sins.
The plague caused a political uprising. At that time, the Roman Church had complete rule and say over the government. The Pope was more powerful than kings and led the church and the government. What the plague did was it opened the eyes of many followers of the church. Since so many people thought that the plague had to do with God, they thought that praying and making amends for their sins would cure them or their loved ones of the sickness. Not only did that not work, but high ranking church officials such as bishops who were supposed to be close with God, were also infected by the plague. This weakened the church follower’s faith.[5]
Something else the plague caused was the attacks on outsiders. Since they didn’t want more people to come bringing the plague, they didn’t welcome visitors and even began persecuting them. Some people were accused of poisoning the water or the air. Others were killed because they had any kind of skin disease, like acne or leprosy. They thought that it was a sign that they had a defective soul.
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Europeans looked for a scapegoat to blame the cause of the plague on, they also targeted Jews. Flagellants would attack and blame them. Even families turned on each other. Husbands and wives would leave each other in fear of getting ill, children and parents would abandon each other.
The Black Death also caused complete anarchy for a period of time. Most political figures or government officials were either dead, infected/soon to be dead, or locked up in their homes with their families trying not to get infected. During that time, there was no stable government. One reason for the lack of rule was because the government didn’t know what to do. They had no idea how the plague spread or how to treat it. In some areas, many plague victims were killed or shut off from the rest of society to prevent further spread of it. Such cases prevented minimal amount of deaths in places such as Milan and Cracow, who took those drastic measures. Even doctors and other medical workers left to go other places to avoid contracting the deadly disease. Even wars and other kinds of disputes were put off during the period of the plague outbreak. Many lords and vassals died which allowed kings to claim power and set up strong nation-states that controlled Europe during the Renaissance.[7]
A huge effect that the Bubonic Plague had on European government, was causing the death of feudalism. Because of the plague, so many people died, including vassals, lords, and especially serfs. Many serfs whose lords died left the land and went to go seek other work. This made them much more valuable then they were before since they were so scarce now; since the lords never worked and needed their land kept, they had to hire serfs and the price they demanded. This meant that the serfs were able to keep more crops for themselves.
So in conclusion, the Bubonic Plague took a huge toll on Europe. It wiped out about one-third to one-half of its population. It killed feudalism as well. Making room for kings to set up their own land and areas. It stopped wars for a short period of time, but the death toll was still staggering at over 100 million, taking over 150 years to recover.

The Black Death: Political Effects on the Church

The Black Death had a really large impact on the church in the middle ages. The church lost a lot of people, and its political and social power was greatly weakened, yet the church became richer through acts of giving, people giving money to the church during this time. Less educated priests (Some were even illiterate) were given the roles of priests who were more educated, because those more educated priests either died from the plague, or fled.[8] The church became extremely busy during this time, trying to give so many victims their last rites.[9] Sadly, they were not able to reach all of the victims due to being so busy with others. No reason had been given from the church as to why this disease was affecting people, which led to many people turning to other religions and beliefs, such as Flagellants. Flagellants were people who believed that causing harm to themselves would prevent the Black Death from spreading to them.[10] Though of course, this radical practice to prevent the disease didn’t work. Overall, the church’s power was greatly weakened due to the plague.
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The hierarchy of the church became very unstable due to the causalities that the Black Death had brought. Because so many popes and high-ranking people died, the peasants who were lower-ranking in the church (who survived through the hell) tried to take over the church, for a short period of time. During this time, chaos was going around the continent of Europe, so it was inevitable. Starting in around 1349, these German flagellant movements came into conflict with the Church in Rome. The Masters of these groups claimed that they could purify sins of people (which were said that only the Church alone can do).
This group took direct approaches in taking over the hierarchy of the Church. They formed associations without permission, made their own uniforms, and wrote their own Church statutes. Because of such disobedience, the princes in France and Germany, and of course the Catholic Church, decided to get rid of these associations. They burned Masters alive; the clergy, ones who were assigned by the church to supervise opposing acts, denounced these groups. The flagellants, not able to take this any further, stopped doing things to take over the Church, and by the year of 1350, a year after these uprisings had started, they had vanished.[11]
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The Black Death had led to a large change in the political life of the church. The opinion of the church by the people was continuously changing and questioned, as they could find no cure and could offer no prayer to the sick for fear of catching the disease themselves. The disease was so horrible that Pope Clement VI had to give remission of sins to everyone who died of the plague, further bringing disbelief in the church's ability to help the people, but lowering the amount of deaths from trying to give the sick last rites.[12] In addition, the deaths among the Christian community (clergy and other members of Church) led to the recruit of more incompetent clerks, who demanded even more pay and lowering the quality of the church and its services.[13] Above all was the rising doubt in the Church's power, which they had once believed was bringing about messages of the will of a great all-mighty deity that they called God.[14] Now, they were not sure what to believe in, and Christianity started to lose popularity among the people.
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  1. ^ Vendel's Page December 5 2011,
  2. ^
  3. ^ Vendel's Page December 5 2011,
  4. ^,r:14,s:0
  5. ^
    Walter S. Zapotoczny,
    The Political and Social Consequences of the Black Death, 1348 – 1351, December 2 2011
  6. ^,r:3,s:0
  7. ^
    E.L. Skip Knox, The Black Death December, 3 2011
  8. ^ (After illiterate priests line)
  9. ^ (After last rites line)
  10. ^ (After flagellants)
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^