13 Geoffrey Chaucer’s portrait of a poor parson: Chaucer’s portrait of “a poor parson” is contained in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, of which there are innumerable modern editions. Unfortunately Master John’s favorite manual, William Pagula’s Oculis Sacerdotis, which was deliberately chosen for this book as it was written before the Black Death, has not been published. However, there is a modern edition of a manual written in the 1380s which borrows heavily from Pagula: John Mirk’s Instructions for Parish Priests, edited by G. Kristensson (Lund, 1974). Discussions of the role of the parish priest, together with excerpts from a wide range of contemporary sources, are provided in J. Shinners and W. J. Dohar, eds., Pastors and the Care of Souls in Medieval England (University of Notre Dame Press, 1998); and R. N. Swanson, ed.,Catholic England: Faith, Religion, and Observance Before the Reformation (Manchester, 1993).

14 Robert Shepherd, a man who was more interested: There are abundant references in the Walsham court rolls to Robert Shepherd, chaplain, which show him engaged in money lending and dealing in land between 1329 and 1348 (e.g., Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 172, 173, 195, 204, 207, 231, 238, 297, 298, 307, 312).

15 Time and again John had disappointed: In this he was unlike the priests “in modern times,” satirized by John Mirk (quoted in Owst, Literature and Pulpit, pp. 276-277).

16 If gold rust, what shall iron do?: From Chaucer’s Prologue, as is the reference to the “shiten shepherd.”

17 two of his favorite: For the first mentions of John Beck, chaplain, and John Kebbil, chaplain, see Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 305, 324.

18 Master John, like William Pagula, saw: The matters contained in this and succeeding paragraphs are based on the Oculus Sacerdotis. For a discussion of this work and its author, see W. A. Pantin, The English Church in the Fourteenth Century (University of Notre Dame Press, 1962), pp. 195-202; for an extended quotation, see Shinners and Dohar, Pastors and the Care of Souls, pp. 138-151.

19 He expected his flock to know: This program of religious instruction, recommended by Pagula, was laid down by Archbishop Pecham in the Provincial Council of Lambeth in 1281, and was also used by Archbishop Thoresby of York as the basis of his catechism in 1357 (Pantin, English Church, pp. 193-194, 199-200).

19 warned how easily an infant might be killed: Following William Pagula’s advice (Pantin, English Church, p. 199).

19 Master John was quick to reprove: For a recent study of the treatment of fornication and illegitimacy, see J. M. Bennett, “Writing Fornication: Medieval Leyrwite and Its Historians,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th ser., 13 (2003).

20 In the face of considerable criticism: In the Walsham court held on November 12, 1345, both the fining of Catherine Cook, “for giving birth outside wedlock,” and her death were noted (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, p. 286).


21 the importance of a “good death”: Descriptions of the drama and liturgy of the deathbed, funeral service, and burial in England in the late Middle Ages are contained in E. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (New Haven, 1992), pp. 301-337; P. Binski, Medieval Death: Ritual and Representation (British Museum, 1996), pp. 33-50; and C. Daniell, Death and Burial in Medieval England, 1066-1550 (London, 1997), pp. 30-64. G. R. Owst, Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England (Cambridge, 1933), pp. 335-347, provides many graphic quotations from contemporary sermons of the ordeal of dying, including temptation by fiends, the decay of the body, the pains of Purgatory and Hell, and suchlike.

22 William Wodebite was close to death: Notice of William Wodebite’s death, together with details of his landholdings, heirs, death duties, and so on, were recorded in the High Hall manor court held on September 24, 1345 (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, p. 283).

23 Then, one by one, he put on: F. A. Gasquet, Parish Life in Medieval England (London, 1907), is an informative guide to the vestments and accoutrements of parish priests, and to funeral processions.

24 Hail! Light of the world: Gasquet, Parish Life, pp. 204-205.

24 with bowed heads, devotion of heart: Gasquet, Parish Life, pp. 203-204.

24 the image of thy savior: Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, p. 314 (from Julian of Norwich, A Book of Showings).

25 thou art not my God: Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, p. 315 (from Monumenta Ritualia, III). The late medieval church was well aware of the dangers of the worship of images.

25 the Seven Interrogations: These passages are based on John Mirk, Instructions for Parish Priests (quoted in Shinners and Dohar, Pastors and the Care of Souls, pp. 195-196).

27 As one of the prominent tenants: Many references to occasional events in William Wodebite’s life between 1317 and 1345 can be found in Lock, Walsham Court Rolls; the remarkable business venture with John Baude is briefly described on p. 92.

28 dying, in their last sickness: Owst, Preaching in Medieval England (Cambridge, 1926), p. 342 (from The Boke of the Craft of Dying).

28 There are invisible demons here and For the Mother of Mercy: John Mirk, Instructions for Parish Priests (quoted in Shinners and Dohar, Pastors and the Care of Souls, p. 210).

28 took his sprinkler and scattered holy water: This description is taken from the chronicler Thomas Walsingham’s account of the death of the Black Prince in 1376.

28 William grudgingly admitted: References to Wodebite’s dealings with Packard and Syre can be found in Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 165, 245.

29 ego auctoritate dei patris omnipotentis: Latin was the language used for most of the liturgy and for the highest form of prayer uttered by the priest. It was considered holier than the vernacular. It was not understood by more than a tiny proportion of the laity.

29 seal his contrition: Any gifts made by William Wodebite have not been recorded, but for those given by William Lene some years before, see Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, 135.

30 Master John placed the rest: The giving of the last sacraments, and the accidents that can occur, are described in M. Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 77-82.

30 shriven and cleansed of his sins: This is from Mirk, Instructions for Parish Priests (quoted in Daniell, Death and Burial, p. 43).

31 purge me with hyssop: Psalm 51:7.

32 sight of corpses and weeping: In John Mirk’s Festial (quoted in Owst, Preaching in Medieval England, p. 268).

32 might have lived a hundred years: From Gesta Romanorum (quoted in Owst, Preaching in Medieval England, p. 342).

32 very seldom does any man: From the fourteenth-century Book of the Craft of Dying (quoted in Swanson, Faith, Religion, and Observance Before the Reformation, p. 139).

32 a hall whose roof : From John de Bromyard, Summa Predicantium (quoted in Owst, Preaching in Medieval England, p. 343).

32 a mirror for us all: The rest of the sermon is based on John Mirk’s late-fourteenth century example of a sermon for the burial of the dead (quoted in Shinners and Dohar, Pastors and the Care of Souls, pp. 208-211).

33 Six wethers, four piglets: Details of the sumptuous “common feast” held in Walsham on the day of William Lene’s funeral in 1329 are given in Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, 135, together with the expenses of sending a friar from Babwell to the shrine of St. Thomas of Lancaster at Pontefract in accordance with Lene’s last wishes.


35 There are thousands of surviving records: Discussions of the nature of court rolls and the information they contain, as well as details of many of the surviving collections, are given in Z. Razi and R. Smith, eds., Medieval Society and the Manor Court (Oxford, 1996). M. Bailey, The English Manor, c. 1200-c. 1500 (Manchester, 2002), is an excellent, accessible guide to the medieval manor and its principal records. For descriptions and analyses of rural England in the decades before the Black Death, see E. Miller and J. Hatcher, Medieval England: Rural Society and Economic Change, 1086-1348 (London, 1978); and M. Bailey, “Peasant Welfare in England, 1290-1348,” Economic History Review (1998). Data on harvest yields and grain and livestock prices are abundant, since they are meticulously recorded in the comprehensive accounts of the operation of demesne farms drawn up for landlords, which survive in great numbers. See, for example, the national series compiled from such records by D. H. Farmer in The Agrarian History of England and Wales, vols. 2-3 (Cambridge, 1988 and 1991). A brief, accessible account of the early stages of the Hundred Years War is given in B. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century (1978), pp. 70-91. Most of the plethora of books on the Black Death pay some attention to the origin and spread of the devastating epidemic, and a number attempt detailed discussions. See, in particular, O. Benedictow, The Black Death, 1346-1353: A Complete History (2004), pp. 44-67; and M. W. Dols, The Black Death in the Middle East (Princeton, 1977), pp. 35-67, both of which examine the testimony of Gabriele de’ Mussi.

37 For those who might forget: The description of the doom painting is based on the one above the chancel arch of St. Thomas’s Church, Salisbury.

38 Acrimony between Walter Cooper: The dispute between Walter Cooper and Thomas Bec can be followed in Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 282-286.

38 Few quarrels, however, were as remorselessly bitter: The tumultuous affairs of William Wodebite’s children were recorded in successive High Hall court rolls: Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 283-284, 290-291, 295-297, 299-300, 307-308.

42 a glorious victory in the war: This description of the battle of Crécy is based on the account written by the famous contemporary court chronicler, Jean Froissart.

43 her private confessor: Later fourteenth-century writings abound in criticisms of the friars, who operated largely outside of the jurisdiction of the English Church hierarchy and posed a threat to the local regular clergy by diverting revenues from parish priests and competing with their authority in spiritual matters. Many of the failings of the Franciscan friar in Walsham are taken from the portrait of the friar in Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.

44 Lady Margery, who was particularly fond: Chess was a popular game in the Middle Ages, and a moralized game of chess was often used to drive home lessons from the pulpit. This sermon is based on that quoted by C. Smyth, The Art of Preaching: A Practical Survey of Preaching in the Church of England, 747-1939 (SPCK, 1940), pp. 89-90 n. 2.

44 Devils and demons are with us: Demons are commonly featured in fourteenth-century sermons, especially Tutivillus (Owst, Literature and Pulpit , pp. 512-514).

46 The harvest of autumn: The fourteenth century was a period of climatic deterioration, including markedly increased rainfall and lower temperatures (M. Bailey, “Per Impetum Maris: Natural Disaster and Economic Decline in Eastern England, 1275-1350,” in B. M. S. Campbell, ed., Before the Black Death: Studies in the “Crisis” of the Early Fourteenth Century (Manchester, 1991). The famines and agrarian crises of 1315-1322 were among the worst that Europe ever experienced: I. Kershaw, “The Great Famine and Agrarian Crisis in England, 1315-22,” Past and Present 59 (1973).

48 from the lands of the Great Khan: Based on a highly imaginative account written by an anonymous Flemish cleric who relied on a letter sent from the papal court at Avignon, in southern France by Louis Heyligen (quoted in P. Ziegler, The Black Death [New York, 1971], p. 14).

50 a London merchant visiting Bury: Largely based on Gabriele de’ Mussi of Piacenza, who relied on travelers’ tales for his account of the early spread of the pestilence (quoted in R. Horrox, The Black Death [Manchester, 1994], pp. 16-18, which is the best collection of contemporary documents).

50 the doings of Idonea Isabel: Examples of Idonea Isabel’s rebelliousness can be found in Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 238, 284, 295.


53 The spread of the pestilence: The precise dating of the spread of the pestilence across the known world is a difficult task, owing to inconsistencies and inaccuracies in both contemporary sources and the works of modern historians. The most recent and most comprehensive chronology is provided in Benedictow, The Black Death. Gui de Chauliac’s description and analysis of the pestilence in Avignon is contained in his Chirurgia, and a translation of a key passage is given in S. K. Cohn Jr., The Black Death Transformed: Disease and Culture in Early Renaissance Europe(2002), p. 87. For histories of the town and abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, see M. D. Lobel, The Borough of Bury St Edmunds: A Study in the Government and Development of a Medieval Town (Oxford, 1935); and A. Goodwin, The Abbey of St Edmundsbury (Oxford, 1931). A recent account of aspects of monastic life, including diet, health, and the infirmary, is given in B. Harvey, Living and Dying in England: The Monastic Experience (Oxford, 1993). Monastic chroniclers are discussed in A. Gransden, Historical Writing in England: c. 1307 to the Early Sixteenth Century (Cornell, 1983).

54 model of the stable at Bethlehem: For the widespread use of such models in the Middle Ages, see B. Hamilton, Religion in the Medieval West (1986), p. 74.

58 there had once been twenty thousand people: Gilles li Muisis, abbot of St. Giles in Tournai, southern France (quoted in Horrox, Black Death, p. 47).

58 Just four days ago a young clerk: The testimony of the young clerk fleeing the papal court at Avignon is based on a letter written during the plague by a young musician in the papal court, Louis Heyligen, a close friend of Petrarch, that was sent to his friends in Bruges and ended up being copied into an anonymous Flemish chronicle. Lengthy excerpts are quoted in G. Deaux, The Black Death 1347 (New York, 1969), pp. 100-103; and Horrox, Black Death, pp. 41-45.

58 from the city of Avignon: It should be noted that the clerk had fled from Avignon during the early, pneumonic phase of the pestilence.

60 on the persons of the Genoese: It was widely accepted at the time that the plague had been brought to Europe on the ships of Genoese fleeing from Caffa, a trading port on the Black Sea that was besieged by the Tartars.

61 A sick man had to be cured: The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 admonished the sick to first seek cures for the ills of their souls. With spiritual health restored, medications and physical remedies would provide greater benefit.


63 Pilgrimages were incessant: J. Sumption, Pilgrimage: An Image of Medieval Religion (London, 1975), provides an accessible introduction to pilgrimages and shrines; for Walsingham, see J. C. Dickinson, The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham (Cambridge, 1956). This chronology of the spread of the pestilence has been based on many sources, medieval and modern. For the death of Princess Joan in Bordeaux, see N. F. Cantor, In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made (New York, 2002), pp. 42-52.

65 wrestling matches in the churchyard of St. Mary’s: On the use of Suffolk churchyards for various sports and entertainments, see D. Dymond, “God’s Disputed Acre,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 50 (1999).

66 pray before the magnificent altarpiece: The painted and gilded altarpiece, now known as the Thornham Parva Retable, has been recently restored.

69 At this Margery Wodebite: Some of the characteristics attributed to Margery Wodebite have been borrowed from Margery Kempe, a famous and highly eccentric mystic who lived in King’s Lynn at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. For a sympathetic portrait, see “The Making of Margery Kempe: Individual and Community,” in D. Aers, ed., Community, Gender, and Individual Identity (Routledge, 1988).

70 had a special talent for finding lost keys: For the belief that saints could help find lost keys, see Owst, Literature and Pulpit, pp. 147-148.

70 bearing trays of badges: Large quantities of pilgrims’ badges and souvenirs from the fourteenth century survive, many of which are equally as shoddy as today’s tourist wares. A well-illustrated standard book is B. Spencer, Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges (London, 1998).

71 When, after a very long wait: Descriptions of the Lady Chapel and its contents are contained in S. Morrison, Women Pilgrims in Late Medieval England: Private Piety As Public Performance (London, 2000); and Dickinson, Shrine of Our Lady.

73 plague has never been heard of : This and the other opinions of the pestilence voiced by the pilgrims have all been taken from contemporary sources. See, for example, those cited in Cohn, Black Death, pp. 224-226.

74 It was delivered with calm: Sir Robert Godlington’s account of the plague in Avignon is based on the letter written by Louis Heyligen while he was in the papal curia in 1347-1348 (quoted at length in G. Deaux, The Black Death 1347 [New York], pp. 100-103; Horrox, Black Death,pp. 41-45).

76 Ipswich sea captain: The seaman’s report of the stories circulating in Bruges are based on the letter Heyligen sent to his friends in Bruges (quoted in Ziegler, Black Death, p. 67; Horrox, Black Death, pp. 41-45).

78 dog left pissing against the wall: This picturesque phrase is attributed to Cola di Rienzo, a colorful Roman who was exiled in Abruzzi at the time of the pestilence.

78 scarcely one in seven survived: Gabriele de’ Mussi, in Horrox, Black Death, pp. 20-21.

79 shrift and housel: The last sacraments of confession and Communion, to which “annealing,” the anointing of the body with oil, was usually added.


81 Many bishops wrote letters: A selection of these letters is provided in Horrox, Black Death, pp. 111-118. The quotations from Boccaccio, Giles li Muisis, and the Neuberg chronicler are in Horrox, Black Death, pp. 26, 49, 70. For the dating of the earliest plague outbreaks in England and a discussion of the probable length of time between first contamination by microorganisms and their carriers and the recognition of the presence of plague in human communities, see Benedictow, Black Death, pp. 57-60, 126-133.

83 Almighty God uses thunder: The letter read by Master John combines passages from letters written by the archbishop of York on July 28 and the bishop of Bath and Wells on August 17. There is no such surviving letter written by the bishop of Norwich.

84 O Lord God: Psalm 94; “For the Lord is a great God,” a version of Psalm 95.

84 the ruin that was justifiably prophesied: Drawn from the letter of bishop of Bath and Wells, August 17, 1349.

84 Who can tell if God will turn: Jonas 3:9-10.

85 Remember not our former iniquities: Psalm 78:8.

86 All things are subdued to God ’s will: The sentiments expressed by Master John have been taken from a number of the episcopal letters written at this time, and directly reflect prevailing attitudes among church leaders.

86 conjunction of ill-fated stars and planets: Astrology was commonly used to explain events in the late Middle Ages. These statements are taken from the report of the Paris Medical Faculty into the causes of the pestilence, completed in October 1348 (in Horrox, Black Death, pp. 158-163).

87 death of the two-headed child monster: This story is from the chronicle of Meaux Abbey, Yorkshire, written by Thomas Burton (in Horrox, Black Death, pp. 69-70).

87 It is said in Avignon: King Andrew of Hungary was murdered in September 1345, and his widow Jeanne I was suspected of complicity. She fled to Avignon, where Pope Clement VI acquitted her of the charges and gave her permission to marry again (letter of Louis Heyligen from Avignon, printed in Horrox, Black Death, p. 40).

88 pestilence that threatens us: A number of chroniclers criticized the behavior of gentlewomen at tournaments held in the years before the Black Death, which included dressing like men and fornication or adultery with knights and champions. This speech is drawn from Henry Knighton (Horrox, Black Death, p. 130).

88 extravagant and unseemly dress: Fashions in clothes began to change with unusual speed in the mid-fourteenth century and attracted great criticism. The tailor’s speech is based on an anonymous Westminster chronicler’s entry for 1344 ( Horrox, Black Death, p. 131).

89 Jesus has now become English!: This intriguingly jingoistic assertion comes from Henry Knighton’s chronicle, which tells us that verses were found written up in various places in France claiming it mattered little that the pope was French because “Jesu devenu Engleys” (Pantin, English Church, p. 82).

89 the set of glass windows: Stained glass windows, like statues and paintings, were an important part of the instruction of the laity in medieval churches.

90 Acting together in a community: Religious guilds established by parishioners flourished in the later Middle Ages and were especially numerous in East Anglia (V. Bainbridge, Guilds in the Medieval Countryside: Social and Religious Change in Cambridgeshire (Boydell, 1996). Walsham had a Guildhall Street, but it is not known when its guild was founded.

91 Corpus Christi was a new and exhilarating feast: For a detailed study of the cult of Corpus Christi and its rise in the fourteenth century, see Rubin, Corpus Christi. For the guild of Corpus Christi in Cambridge, see also C. P. Hall, “The Guild of Corpus Christi and the Foundation of Corpus Christi College,” in P. Zutshi, ed., Medieval Cambridge: Essays on the Pre-Reformation University (Woodbridge, 1993), pp. 65-91.

91 made of a pelican in its piety: The pelican was a common symbol of Corpus Christi.

91 Pious Pelican, Lord Jesus: A prayer dating from the thirteenth century (in Rubin, Corpus Christi, p. 311).

92 among the seven acts of mercy: The other acts were to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and comfort those in prison.

93 As I live, saith the Lord God: Ezekiel 33:11.

94 even the houses and clothes: From an account of the plague in Padua (Horrox, Black Death, p. 34). People trusted the evidence of their own eyes and experience, even if it conflicted with the medical analysis of doctors and academics. They were right to do so, for we now know that the houses and clothes of plague victims would have been likely to harbor infected rats and fleas.

95 yields of corn turned out: For all main crops the harvest of 1348 was a substantial improvement on those of the preceding two years, and significantly above the long-term average. Consequently grain prices fell very sharply indeed, sometimes by almost a half (D. L. Farmer, “Crop Yields, Prices, and Wages in Medieval England,” Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History (1983), p. 125; Agrarian History, II, p. 791).

96 now lying in narrow pits in the earth: Taken from a mid-fourteenth-century sermon by the Dominican friar, John Bromyard (Owst, Literature and Pulpit, p. 293).

96 I looked, and beheld a pale horse: Revelation 6:8. The preacher’s other declamations are from Revelation 6-12.

97 for God has said: From Gabriel de’ Mussi (Horrox, Black Death, p. 15).

98 For those that shall be damned: These visions of Hell come from a number of contemporary sermons, many are quoted at length in Owst, Preaching in Medieval England, pp. 336-337.

98 when the head quaketh: From Fascisculus Morum, a fourteenth-century preacher’s handbook (quoted in Daniell, Death and Burial, p. 41).

99 in Hell a man shall weep: Quoted in W. J. Dohar, Black Death and Pastoral Leadership, p. 62.


101 Knowledge of the plague in London: The scarcity of information on the Black Death in London is extremely frustrating, and most general books and articles tend to recycle the same scant evidence. For new work, however, see B. Megson, “Mortality Among London Citizens in the Black Death,” Medieval Prosopography, 19 (1998); and R. Britnell, “The Black Death in English Towns,” Urban History 21 (1994). An accessible and informative, if rather dated, account of magic in the Middle Ages is given in K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic(London, 1971), pp. 27-56. The letter of the bishop of Bath and Wells is in Horrox, Black Death, pp. 271-273.

103 William Sr. purchased: Details of these arrangements were recorded in the Walsham manor court of October 24, 1348 (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 312-313, 315).

104 Terrible is God toward the sons: The bishop of London’s letter is in Horrox, Black Death, pp. 113-114.

106 assemble in our churchyard: From a letter sent by the bishop of Winchester on October 24, 1348, to all the major officeholders and vicars in his diocese. For the text, see Horrox, Black Death, pp. 115-117, where the penitential psalms are given as Psalms 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, 142, and the psalms of degrees as 119-133.

107 During the proceedings: The proceedings of this court are printed in Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 312-316.

108 twenty-three of the twenty-six monks: Shrewsbury, Bubonic Plague, p. 60.

109 These cities, castles, towns, and villages: Taken from the bishop of Winchester’s letter of October 24, 1348 (Horrox, Black Death, p. 116).

110 laid them side by side: A similar account is given by the Sienese chronicler who wrote, “And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children, with my own hands.” W. M. Bowsky, ed., The Black Death: A Turning Point in History? (1971), pp. 13-14.

111 Parliament in Westminster in late January: The pestilence, which was said to have subsided in late December, clearly flared up again in January (Shrewsbury, Bubonic Plague, p. 84).

112 beseech all the saints in heaven: From an account of the conduct of processions, possibly the work of John Mirk (Owst, Preaching in Medieval England, p. 202).

112 The flock was repeatedly warned: These sentiments and the story of the devout woman who withheld a small sin at confession are taken from Fascisculus Morum: A Fourteenth-Century Preacher’s Handbook, edited by S. Wenzel (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), p. 497.

114 hungered no less fervently: The phrase is from the Sarum Manual (Manuale ad Usum Percelebris Ecclesie Sarisburiensis, edited by A. Jefferies Collins [Henry Bradshaw Society, 1960], p. 4). The bread was given in lieu of the Host and regarded as a medicine for the sick and a preservation against the plague (Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, pp. 31-33).

114 the well of Our Lady: See C. Paine, “The Chapel and Well of Our Lady of Woolpit,” Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History 38 (1993).

115 at least be able to see: This phrase comes from Robert Rypon, subprior of Durham in the late fourteenth century (Owst, Literature and Pulpit, p. 140).

115 When you kneel before the images: From an anonymous treatise on the Decalogue (Owst, Literature and Pulpit, pp. 140-143).

116 confession might be made: This dispensation and the reasons for it are spelled out in a mandate issued by the bishop of Bath and Wells on January 10, 1349 (Shinners and Dohar, Pastors and the Care of Souls, pp. 284-285).

117 contrition could not slay mortal sin: This passage on the unique power of confessing to a priest is drawn from William Langland’s later fourteenth-century poem Piers the Plowman (Penguin ed.), p. 169.

117 They presented themselves: Exceptionally high numbers of clerks had been ordained to first tonsure and holy orders in the nearby diocese of Ely in 1346 and 1347. J. Aberth, “The Black Death in the Diocese of Ely: The Evidence of the Bishop’s Register,” Journal of Medieval History 21 (1995), p. 283.


119 The monks charged with: For the office of infirmarer and the operation of the infirmary at Westminster Abbey, see B. Harvey, Living and Dying in England, 1100-1540: The Monastic Experience (Oxford, 1993), pp. 81-111. For an accessible introduction to medieval medicine, see C. Rawcliffe, Medicine and Society in Later Medieval England (1995).

123 authority of the great Greek master: The works of the ancient Greek writers Hippocrates and Galen formed the basis of medical education in the Middle Ages. Their writings were first rediscovered in the Middle East and reached the West through Latin and Hebrew translations of Arabic texts. For Galen’s theories, see R. E. Seigel, Galen’s System of Physiology and Medicine (Basel, 1968).

123 Galen might well have lived: There is no evidence in Galen’s time or before of a disease anything like the Black Death.

124 Galen taught us that the body: For a brief discussion of Galen’s three emunctoria and the symptoms of plague, see Cohn, Black Death Transformed, pp. 68-71.

124 Unnatural lumps are to be divided: Excerpts from The Art of Medicine are contained in Galen: Selected Works, edited and translated by P. N. Singer (Oxford, 1977). The quotations are from page 369.

126 flee the plague quickly: This is the most certain and common advice given by doctors and the writers of plague tracts (Cohn, Black Death Transformed, p. 118).

126 Rufus of Ephesus: The preventatives and cures of Rufus of Ephesus were prescribed during the Black Death over thirteen hundred years after he had first proposed them (Deaux, Black Death, pp. 60-61).

126 advised Master John to buy as much oil: The price of wax used to make church candles rose sharply in 1349, but there is insufficient information on the price of oil (Thorold Rogers, History of Agriculture and Prices, vol. 1, pp. 445-450).

127 witnesses to the liturgy: Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, pp. 91-130, provides much information on the Mass in late medieval England. See also M. Rubin, Corpus Christi.

128 These plain-minded folk complained: Such sentiments were expressed by some pious lay folk who shunned what they saw as excessive displays and ceremonies, long before Wyclif and the Lollards (e.g., Owst, Preaching in Medieval England, p. 133).

129 Pardoners, unlicensed as well as licensed: See the portrait of the pardoner given in Chaucer’s Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. J. J. Jusserand, English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages (Methuen, 1961), contains much of interest on pardoners, as well as wandering preachers, friars, herbalists, and charlatans.

130 Before him went the pestilence: Habakkuk 3:5; there shall be famines: Matthew 24:7-8.

131 a cloud of infection: For a lively survey of contemporary medical advice on the avoidance of infection, see J. Kelly, The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death (London, 2005), pp. 170-175.

132 ordering incense to be burned: Horrox, The Black Death, pp. 101-106, provides a brief, accessible introduction to the role of astrology and humoral theory in medieval medicine. For more advanced information, see E. J. Kealey, Medieval Medicine: A Social History of Anglo-Norman Medicine (Baltimore, 1981); and N. G. Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine (Chicago, 1990).


135 The early onset of plague: Details of the outbreak of plague in Suffolk may be found in the excellent chronology provided in Bailey, History of Medieval Suffolk, pp. 176-184. Benedictow, Black Death, pp. 123-145, provides the most recent examination of the evidence for the spread of the Black Death through the British Isles. The crucial Walsham court rolls, with their notices of the deaths of tenants, are printed in Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 317-327. The ceremonies of Lent and Easter, as well as the other festivals of the late medieval liturgical year, are described in Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, pp. 11-52.

139 News of the imminence of the pestilence: Land markets in many manors were exceptionally active in early 1349, as people tried to get their affairs in order before the pestilence arrived (Bailey, Medieval Suffolk, p. 179).

141 Wyverstone, Wetherden, Elmswell: Based on the information that new priests had been instituted in these parishes between mid and late May (The Register of William Bateman, Bishop of Norwich, 1344-55, vol. 2, edited by P. E. Pobst [Canterbury and York Society, 1996], pp. 88-93).

142 railed against the brewers: Such complaints about retailers and traders, especially of food and drink, were common currency in the moral literature of the later fourteenth century.

142 the time of Lent is entered: From a contemporary Lenten sermon (Owst, Preaching in Medieval England, p. 147).

143 As Holy Week approached: The ceremonies of Holy Week are described in Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, pp. 22-29.

144 Behold, then, that good Lord: from a contemporary sermon quoted in Owst, Literature and Pulpit, p. 508.

145 Master John came down from his pulpit: The liturgy of the Easter sepulcher is described in Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, pp. 29-37.

147 careful to wrap their fingers: Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, p. 110.


149 accounts of the sickness and deaths: The contention that rages about the nature of the Black Death is exemplified in the two most recent scholarly books on the epidemic: Cohn, The Black Death Transformed; and Benedictow, The Black Death, 1346-1353. Both contain lengthy descriptions and analysis of contemporary evidence of the pestilence and modern medical knowledge of plague. However, they differ radically in their interpretations, with Cohn insisting that the Black Death was “any disease other than the rat-based bubonic plague,” and Benedictow insisting that it was nothing other than rat-based bubonic plague, allowing scant significance to pneumonic and septicemic plague. The accounts given here are based on a host of primary and secondary sources which, like de’ Mussi, provide invaluable clues if not always consistency (Gabriele de’ Mussi, Historia de Morbo, translated in Horrox, Black Death, pp. 24-25).

151 It was the second marriage: Evidence for the statements in this paragraph can be found in numerous entries in the Walsham and High Hall court rolls. For example, the marriage of Agnes Helpe and John Chapman is recorded in the High Hall court roll of April 16, 1345 (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, p. 281) and the name and age of their daughter, Agnes, is recorded in the court roll of May 25, 1349 (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, p. 319).

157 Death gives no certain respite: Quoted by Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, 310.

157 Without confession the just man: From Fascisculus Morum, edited by Wenzel, p. 35.

157 a crowd of grinning demons: From a mid-fourteenth century sermon of John Bromyard (Owst, Preaching in Medieval England, p. 343).

158 recited the Placebo as best she could: The Placebo was a prayer from the Office of the Dead, the liturgy of funeral Masses, named after its first word.

158 both the Goche brothers are dead: The High Hall court recorded that John Goche and his wife died and left two sons, Walter, age ten, and John, age two; and that Peter Goche and his wife died and left a son John, age four (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, p. 325). Daughters would not have been mentioned in the court roll because they had no right of inheritance if there were surviving sons.


163 Precise death rates: Numerous examples of death rates from manors in many parts of England are given in Benedictow, Black Death, 1346-1353, pp. 342-379; and J. Hatcher, Plague, Population, and the English Economy, 1349-1530 (1977), pp. 21-25. See also R. Lock, “Black Death in Walsham,” for estimates of the death rate and pattern of mortality in Walsham. This sermon is by Thomas Brinton, a monk at Norwich before becoming bishop of Rochester, who lived through the Black Death. It is quoted in Owst, Preaching in Medieval England, pp. 206-207, which also contains many other examples, as does Owst, Literature and Pulpit. For selections from many of the chronicles of the period, see Horrox, Black Death.

165 far more would die in a month: An average of six tenant deaths occurred each year from 1327 to 1348, compared with 109 in 1349 (Lock, “Black Death in Walsham,” p. 322).

166 So great was the ceaseless press: This description follows, inter alia, passages written by Boccaccio and Heyligen (Horrox, Black Death, pp. 32-33, 44).

167 a portion, perhaps one in five: Spontaneous recovery from untreated bubonic plague can exceed 20 percent.

168 The passage of death: From the Book of Dying, quoted in Swanson, Catholic England, p. 126.

169 Dread of catching the pestilence: Similar sentiments are a commonplace of contemporary descriptions of communities during the pestilence.

171 Why is God scourging us: Questions like these were commonly posed during and after the pestilence, as can be seen from the many attempts of preachers to answer them in a rhetorical fashion in their sermons. See also William Langland’s lament that “Since the plague, friars and other impostors have thought up theological questions just to please the proud” (Piers Plowman, Attwater ed., p. 78).

172 So he repeatedly scoured his memory: The bishop of Winchester struggled with a similar problem when he wrote in October 1348, “It is not within the power of man to understand the divine plan. But it is to be feared that the most likely explanation is that human sensuality—that fire that blazed up as a result of Adam’s sin and which from adolescence onwards is an incitement to wrongdoing—has now plumbed greater depths of evil, producing a multitude of sins which have provoked the divine anger, by a just judgment, to this revenge” (Horrox, Black Death, p. 118).

172 God drowned the whole world: Genesis 6:5.

173 Sometimes, in a hostile or angry manner: This paragraph and quotations are based loosely on Thomas Brinton’s sermon on pestilence, taking the text “Be Watchful” (Horrox, Black Death, pp. 144-148).

173 Prayers have no power this pestilence: from Langland’s late-fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman, (Attwater ed., p. 78).

174 supervised the adding of quicklime: This was the practice followed for the bodies of plague victims in Christchurch priory, Canterbury.

176 henceforth be called the bede roll: Drawn from the experiences of the Corpus Christi guild of Cambridge (Hall, “The Guild of Corpus Christi and the Foundation of Corpus Christi College,” p. 69).

176 Yet piety and steadfastness: The next three paragraphs draw on a range of contemporary descriptions of behavior in communities during the pestilence, especially in Florence, as described by Boccaccio. G. H. McWilliam, ed., Decameron (Penguin Classics, 1972).

178 Particularly disgraceful were the piles: Again, drawn from Boccaccio.

178 sheep, cows, oxen, and horses strayed unchecked: As Henry Knighton stresses in his account of the effects of the Black Death (Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, pp. 59-63).


179 The lords of the little manor: High Hall manor has excellent court rolls, but unfortunately few other manor records have survived, and there is even less for Walsham manor until the fifteenth century. A comparison between High Hall account rolls in the 1370s and Walsham’s in the 1400s suggests that Walsham may have been worth five times as much each year as High Hall. All the High Hall and Walsham records are deposited in the Suffolk Record Office at Bury St. Edmunds. Given the intrinsic interest of the subject, there are remarkably few studies of rural communities during and immediately after the Black Death to complement E. Levett’s pioneering “The Black Death on the Estates of the See of Winchester,” in P. Vinogradoff, ed., Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History, vol. 5 (Oxford, 1915). But see P. D. A. Harvey, A Medieval Oxfordshire Village: Cuxham, 1240-1400 (Oxford, 1965); and B. Harvey, “The Abbot of Westminster’s Demesnes and the Black Death of 1348-1349,” in M. Meek, ed., The Modern Traveller to Our Past (2006). Invaluable evidence of Suffolk in the Black Death is contained in Bailey,Medieval Suffolk, pp. 176-184. Studies taking a somewhat longer perspective include R. H. Britnell, “Feudal Reaction After the Black Death in the Palatinate of Durham,” Past and Present 128 (1990); and J. Hatcher, “England in the Aftermath of the Black Death,” Past and Present144 (1994).

182 Edmund made up his mind: The court was held on May 25 (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 318-319).

185 Robert Sare, who had theatrically: These deaths were reported at the next court, held on July 23, 1349, along with those of a further three tenants (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 325-326).

187 the pestilence was no longer raging: The disappearance of plague is usually even more difficult to date than its appearance, but the registers of the dioceses of Salisbury and Bath and Wells display a striking decline in deaths in the opening months of 1349 (Shrewsbury, Bubonic Plague[Cambridge, 1970], pp. 59, 64).

188 Those participating in the procession: For Corpus Christi day processions and jostling for precedence, see Rubin, Corpus Christi, pp. 243-271.

190 there were more than 250 acres: Based on the acreage under crops in the early fifteenth century (Suffolk Record Office, Bury St. Edmunds, HA504/3/5).

192 Blakey remonstrated with Rath: The local peasant reeves usually had the responsibility for hiring laborers to work on their lords’ farms, but the wages they paid them were subject to the approval of their superiors. In many surviving manorial accounts claims made by reeves for wages have been crossed out by the auditors for being excessive. For evidence of how wages and additional bonuses were handled by reeves and estate accountants, see Hatcher, “The Aftermath of the Black Death,” pp. 20-25.

192 demanding yet another shilling to be paid: Evidence of sharply increased demands in late 1349 is abundant (e.g., Harvey, “Westminster’s Demesnes and the Black Death,” pp. 293-295; and Harvey, Cuxham, pp. 168-171).

193 I don’t give a pea: William Langland’s rebellious hired worker put Piers and his plow at the price of a pea in Piers Plowman (Attwater ed., p. 55).

193 Most of those who have turned up: Contemporary writings are full of complaints about the high cost and low productivity of workers (Hatcher, “The Aftermath of the Black Death,” pp. 13-19). John Gower, writing in the 1370s, stated, “One peasant insists on more than two demanded in days gone by . . . Yet [then] one performed more service than three do now.” William Langland portrays hired laborers sitting down, drinking ale, and singing when they should be working (Piers Plowman, Attwater ed., p. 54).

195 I have tried, but I have only: Henry Knighton wrote in his Chronicon of these times: “A horse that was formerly worth 40s could be had for half a mark [6s 8d], a fat ox for 4s, a cow for 12d” (Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 60). Knighton seems to have exaggerated somewhat, but the broad truth of his testimony is borne out by statistics gathered from contemporary manorial accounts.

196 with generous slices of meat: The diet demanded by servants and laborers improved markedly in the weeks after the Black Death, and generous allowances of food became a major part of their additional remuneration. Langland writes angrily of common workers refusing to be fed on cheap ale, bean bread, vegetables, and bacon, and demanding instead fresh meat and fried fish served warm or hot, with fine wheat bread and copious quantities of good ale (Piers Plowman, Attwater ed., p. 58).

196 a brightly colored doublet and gown: Clothing called livery was frequently supplied to servants engaged on long contracts, and this too became part of the remuneration that was bargained over. Contemporary literature and sermons contain many amusing descriptions of lowly servants and laborers dressed in what the authors saw as ridiculously inappropriate clothing. There was concern also that the social order was being disrupted, and in 1363 Parliament passed a statute against the “outrageous and excessive apparel of diverse people against their estate and degree.”

198 Blakey had brought with him a rental: No rental of Walsham manor has survived, but there are two rentals for High Hall manor dating from the 1330s.

200 the legitimate means to compel heirs: Under common and manorial law the lord of the manor had the right to compel the unfree to take up vacant lands, although this had scarcely ever needed to be exercised in the preceding era of population pressure (Hatcher, “English Serfdom and Villeinage,” Past and Present 90, 1981).


201 Such momentous mortality: Lock, “Black Death in Walsham,” pp. 329-336, provides a valuable listing of the Walsham tenants who died in 1349, their holdings, the heriots paid, and their heirs, if any. An informative analysis of the transmission of landholdings to heirs and successors in 1349-1350 on Coltishall manor, Norfolk, is contained in B. M. S. Campbell, “Population Pressure, Inheritance, and the Land Market in a Fourteenth-Century Peasant Community,” in R. M. Smith, ed., Land, Kinship, and Life-Cycle (Cambridge, 1984), p. 98.

201 One such record is the roll: This momentous court roll is translated and printed in Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 319-325.

209 Suitable guardians had to be found: For social security offered to the weaker and disadvantaged members of fourteenth-century rural communities, see E. Clark, “Some Aspects of Social Security in Medieval England,” Journal of Family History (1982).

211 John Kebbil, avorite protégé: The court roll entry records that the heir to Richard Kebbil’s landholding “is John his son, chaplain, who has entry” (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, p. 324).

213 two women had produced bastards: The imposition of a double fine, presumably for twins, might be unique in English records.

216 remaining male member of the Cranmer family: There is no trace of a male Cranmer in the Walsham and High Hall court rolls from 1350 to 1399 (Lock, Court Rolls of Walsham, II).


217 The alarm that elites felt: The Ordinance of Laborers, passed by an emergency meeting of the king’s council on June 11, 1349, is translated in A. E. Bland, P. A. Brown, and R. H. Tawney, eds., English Economic History: Select Documents, pp. 164-167. The ordinance sought to restrict the prices charged by craftsmen such as shoemakers and tailors, as well as the wages of agricultural laborers. The classic study of the legislation is B. H. Putnam, The Enforcement of the Statutes of Laborers During the First Decade After the Black Death, 1349-1359 (New York, 1908). The price of wheat between the harvests of 1348 and 1349 was a third lower than it had been in the previous year, and the prices of rye, barley, oats, and peas were 45-53 percent lower (Agrarian History, III, p. 791).

219 When stock was taken of the victims: On High Hall manor, 75 percent of all tenant deaths occurred by May 25, and on Walsham more than 95 percent of all deaths occurred by June 15. The next Walsham court, held on August 1, 1349, noted that only five tenants had “died since the last court,” and no deaths were recorded in the subsequent courts held at Walsham on November 18 and High Hall on November 30.

220 The great monastery had lost: R. S. Gottfried, Bury St. Edmunds and the Urban Crisis, 1290-1539 (Princeton, 1982), pp. 51-52. For Norwich, see Harper-Bill, “The English Church,” p. 97.

222 But they were no longer: The abundant “complaint literature” of the post-Black Death era is full of lamentations about the idleness and insolence of the laboring and peasant masses. For a brief review see Hatcher, “England in the Aftermath of the Black Death,” pp. 13-19, and for a more comprehensive study, see J. Coleman, English Literature in History, 1350-1400: Medieval Readers and Writers (Hutchinson, 1981).

223 a pair of quite ordinary shoes: From Henry Knighton, Chronicon (Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 62). Once again Knighton’s near contemporary statements are borne out by the price statistics collected by historians (Thorold Rogers, History of Agriculture and Prices, I, p. 591).

225 people were rushing into matrimony: An upsurge in marriage was a common response to the Black Death, and Walsham and High Hall manors were no exception. Court rolls are imperfect records of the numbers of marriages, even involving unfree tenants, but it is significant that in the records of the courts held in Walsham in the whole of 1347 just six marriages were noted, while in the records of the court held on November 18, 1349, eight marriages are mentioned. For peasant marriage in medieval England, see P. R. Schofield, Peasant and Community in Medieval England, 1200-1500 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), pp. 90-127.

226 Robert Terwald, had just been appointed rector: Terwald’s appointment on August 13, 1349, is recorded in the Norwich diocesan register (The Register of William Bateman, Bishop of Norwich, 1344-55, II, ed. P. E. Pobst (Canterbury and York Society, 2000), p. 134).

227 inexperienced and incompetent chaplains: Knighton writes, “A chaplain was scarcely to be had for £10 or 10 marks [whereas] before the pestilence a chaplain could be had for 4,5 or even 2 marks with his board” (Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, pp. 61-62). A mark was 13s 4d.

229 lords being fined if they paid: The ordinance prescribed that “if the lords of towns or manors shall presume in any wise to contravene our present ordinance . . . then prosecution shall be made against them,” and that “no man, under the penalty of imprisonment, shall presume under color of pity or alms to give anything to such as shall be able profitably to labor.”

231 if the rustics should get the upper hand: The voice of elite conservatism which resonates through the years after the Black Death is eloquently expressed in John Gower’s poem, probably written in the late 1370s (Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 97):

But it is certainly a great error 

to see the higher estate 

in danger from the villein class. 

It seems to me that lethargy 

has put the lords to sleep 

so that they do not guard against 

the folly of the common people.


233 a long-term and dramatic shift: The forces that drove the economic and social changes of the later Middle Ages are analyzed in J. Hatcher and M. Bailey, Modelling the Middle Ages: The History and Theory of England ’s Economic Development (Oxford, 2001), pp. 106-120. For surveys of the impact of the Black Death, see J. Bolton, “The World Turned Upside Down: Plague as an Agent of Economic and Social Change,” in M. Ormrod and P. Lindley, eds., The Black Death in England (Stamford, 1996); and C. Platt, King Death: The Black Death and Its Aftermath in Late-Medieval England (London, 1996). For continuing population decline and stagnation until the early sixteenth century, see J. Hatcher, Plague, Population, and the English Economy, 1348-1530 (1977). The longest and most continuous series of harvest yields, calculated from records of the forty demesne farms of the bishop of Winchester, are provided in J. Z. Titow, Winchester Yields: A Study in Medieval Agricultural Productivity (Cambridge, 1972). They show that the yields of the harvest of 1349 were lower than any since the famine harvest of 1316, which in turn was worse than any since 1211. No data survive for peasant harvest yields. Accounts survive for High Hall for 1327 and 1377. They show that in normal years the de Welles could expect to receive no more than £10-15 from rents, court fines, and the sales of produce from their demesne farm. From this sum various costs had to be deducted, most notably the wages of farm servants and farm laborers and repairs to equipment and farm buildings, leaving them around £5-7 clear in cash. In addition to this cash sum, the demesne farm would have provided food and other commodities for their household. It is likely that High Hall was the de Welles’ only manor.

235 higher receipts from the sale of corn: There is considerable evidence that landlords, assisted by their officials, commonly applied economically rational policies to the exploitation of their agricultural assets. D. Stone, Decision-making in Medieval Agriculture (Oxford, 2005).

237 The court, which was held on Thursday, July 23: The proceedings of the July 23 court are printed in Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, 325-326.

239 let vacant holdings on very short leases: On the basic reasoning that a little rent is better than no rent, this was a very common expedient ( J. Z. Titow, “Lost Rents, Vacant Holdings, and the Contraction of Peasant Cultivation After the Black Death,” Agricultural History Review 42 (1994).

239 On their extensive lands: Olivia and Hilary were ordered to pay seven bushels of barley at High Hall court on November 30 for the damage done in the lords’ barley field by sixteen cows and bullocks owned by them (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, p. 330).

239 Alice Pye was no less entrepreneurial: Alice was fined on November 18, 1349, for having thirty sheep in her fold on the common (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, p. 328).

241 the scarcity of farm servants: This was also the experience on at least three of the Worcestershire manors of Westminster abbey (Harvey, “Abbot of Westminster’s Demesnes,” p. 294).

242 the king’s law is held in contempt: Although few employers were fined under the labor legislation, there are constant complaints that they took in runaways and competed with each other by offering excessive wages (Hatcher, “Aftermath of the Black Death,” pp. 19-20).

244 he could not find any carpenter: This anecdote is based on the carpenter who made the stocks at Knightsbridge, who refused to swear obedience to the Statute of Laborers and was paid an illegally high wage of 5.5d per day (Hatcher, “Aftermath of the Black Death,” p. 24).

244 he asked 5d per day: This was the evidence given against an itinerant laborer called John Bishop when he was prosecuted by the justices of laborers in Warwickshire (Hatcher, “Aftermath of the Black Death,” p. 25).

244 Rath was duly elected reeve: Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, p. 327.

245 the steward lost patience: Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, p. 327. In the same court, August 1, 1349, Thomas Hereward and William Jay were forgiven for “withdrawing from the lady’s service without leave.”

246 Rath and his foremen: Taken from a scene drawn by William Langland (Piers Plowman, Attwater ed., p. 54).

246 but at the end of September: There is evidence that harvests were much delayed; that at Bourton-on-the-Hill, for example, did not end until October 25 (Harvey, “Abbot of Westminster’s Demesnes,” p. 294). The national series shows that on average the harvest of 1349 produced for landlords yields of wheat of only 2.34 times seed and of barley of 2.81 times.


249 new power fostered self-confidence: For a restatement of the venerable argument that the Black Death created tensions in the countryside that led to the Peasants Revolt, see C. Dyer, “The Social and Economic Background to the Rural Revolt of 1381,” in R. H. Hilton and T. H. Aston, eds., The English Rising of 1381 (Cambridge, 1984). The king’s letter is printed in Horrox, Black Death, pp. 117-118. In Book VI of Piers Plowman (Attwater ed., pp. 51-59) Langland first describes an idyllic scene in which everyone, including a knight and “lovely ladies,” work happily at the tasks for which they are best suited. But because they are well fed, the peasants and laborers soon become lazy and truculent, refusing to work and insulting their superiors. It was only when Piers called down Hunger to chastise “these wasters who ruin the world,” that the slothful began to labor (Hatcher, “The Aftermath of the Black Death,” pp. 14-15).

251 every interest in breaching it themselves: Custom was extremely important in regulating the relations of landlords and tenants prior up to the fourteenth century, but after the Black Death customs which had protected the peasantry in a time of land scarcity had the potential to become exploitative in a time of land abundance (Hatcher, “English Serfdom and Villeinage,” pp. 36-39).

252 When they were held low: The prior’s sermon is drawn from a wide range of late-fourteenth-century sermons and homilies, as well as the opinions of Batholomew Anglicus, who wrote presciently in the thirteenth century of the common folk: “When they be not held low with dread, their hearts swell, and wax stout and proud against the commandments of their sovereigns” (Miller and Hatcher, Rural Society and Economic Change, pp. xiii-xiv).

253 drinking in the alehouses, hanging around: As John Gower put it, “They desire the leisures of great men, but they have nothing to feed themselves with, nor will they be servants” (quoted in Hatcher, “Aftermath of the Black Death,” p. 17).

254 The king’s letter was duly dispatched: Printed in Horrox, Black Death, pp. 117-118.

255 the evil lovers of the world: From a later fourteenth-century sermon by John Bromyard (quoted in Owst, Literature and Pulpit, pp. 293-294).

255 servants serve their masters worse: Henry Knighton, quoted in Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 69.

256 eleven men out of selfishness and arrogance: The names of the rebels are listed in the court roll of October 24, 1348, and those who died are in the court roll of June 15, 1349 (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 315, 319-325).

257 Master John was deeply saddened: Master John’s sentiments are those expressed by a host of contemporary clergy and moralists . For a concise review with many quotations, see Owst, Literature and Pulpit, pp. 361-370.

258 remembering what he had been taught: Based on Langland, Piers Plowman (Attwater ed., pp. 61-62).

258 almsgivers must choose carefully: Close attention was paid after the Black Death to the need to distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving poor (G. Shepherd, “Poverty in Piers Plowman,” in T. H. Aston et al., ed., Social Relations and Ideas: Essays in Honour of R. H. Hilton(Cambridge, 1983).

258 the Brotherhood of Flagellants had landed for the first time in England: Ziegler, Black Death, pp. 84-97, and Kelly, The Great Mortality, pp. 262-268 give introductory surveys of the movement. The description of the flagellants in London used here is based on an account given by Robert of Avesbury (Horrox, Black Death, pp. 153-154).

261 They do these things ill-advisedly: The phrase is used by Thomas Walsingham, a monk of St. Albans who commented briefly on the visit of the flagellants to England in his great chronicle, Historia Anglicana (Horrox, Black Death, p. 154).


263 Women enjoyed unprecedented opportunities: For the effect of the Black Death on the prospects of working women, see M. Mate, Women in Medieval English Society (Cambridge, 1999); S. Bardsley, “Women’s Work Reconsidered: Gender and Wage Differentiation in Late Medieval England,” Past and Present 165 (1999); and the debate between J. Hatcher and S. Bardsley in Past and Present 173 (2001). D. Aers, “Justice and Wage-Labor After the Black Death: Some Perplexities for William Langland,” in The Work of Work: Servitude, Slavery, and Labor in Medieval England, edited by A. J. Frantzen and D. Moffat (Glasgow, 1994), provides many examples of independent and mobile female laborers appearing before the justices. Legal proceedings in Suffolk in 1361-1362 report that “Robert le Goos, laborer, goes to other workers, warns and advises them that none of them should accept less than 3d per day and food” (D. Aers, Community, Gender, and Individual Identity: English Writing, 1360-1430 [London, 1988], pp. 28-29). B. Putnam, The Enforcement of the Statute of Laborers During the First Decade After the Black Death (Columbia, 1908) remains the standard work on the early years of labor legislation (the references to early commissions are on pp. 12-13 and 32*-35*).

267 brought before the upcoming February court: Rath was not brought before the February 1350 court, but in the court held in January 1351 he was fined heavily for a list of offenses for negligence and fraud, some of them dating back more than a year, including 3s 4d for insulting John Blakey (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, II, pp. 27-31). Unfortunately, not all Walsham court records survive for 1350.

267 the correct words of the Placebo: The colloquial term for the Office of the Dead.

267 In Hell a man shall weep: A short discussion of these matters is contained in Dohar, Black Death and Pastoral Leadership, pp. 61-62.

268 pray for all the souls: A common bidding by the fifteenth century (Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, p. 346).

268 the benefits bestowed on individual souls: Or, as the Council of Lambeth in 1281 put it, “Let no man think that one mass said with pure intention for a thousand men might be considered equal to a thousand masses [for one man] also said with pure intent” (Daniell, Death and Burial,p. 16).

269 celebrated the marriage of his daughter: For the marriages of John Wodebite and his daughter, see Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 326, 331, 332.

269 enmity between the Packards and the Wodebites: Some details of a bloody assault ten years earlier by Packard’s wife on John Wodebite’s mother are given in Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, p. 245. Packard was involved in a dispute with his stepson, John Helpe, when he came of age to assume possession of his father’s tenement in 1366 (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, II, pp. 86-87).

269 gang of wayfaring workers: The activities of “enticers” or “procurers” of labor are described in S. A. C. Penn and C. Dyer, “Wages and Earnings in Late Medieval England: Evidence from the Enforcement of the Labour Laws,” Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 43 (1990). For women in gangs of migrant laborers, see Bardsley, “Women’s Work Reconsidered.”

270 William Warde was well-known: Warde was one of the eleven tenants who refused to work for Lady Rose at the harvest of 1348 (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, p. 315).

270 a failure who had twice been forced: Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 302, 311.

271 There will be no . . . penny ale: Taken from Langland’s description of the sort of free food and drink demanded by lowly wage laborers (Piers Plowman, Attwater ed., p. 58).

272 Hilary, who had spent all her life: Far more women than before found employment as assistants to craftsmen, and the wages of these assistants rose faster than those of the craftsmen (Hatcher, “Debate, Women’s Work Reconsidered”).

273 Olivia, in particular, enjoyed a reputation: In the court of February 27, 1347, John Bonde was ordered to deliver to Olivia a quarter of wheat, which he probably owed her for a loan of money (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, p. 299).

274 In 1338 Olivia had married Robert Hawys: Records of the matters referred to in this paragraph are contained on the court rolls (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 216, 222, 334; II, 37).

275 declared this year to be a Roman Jubilee: The Jubilee year, the plenary indulgence, and the pilgrimage to Rome were major events ( J. Sumption, Pilgrimage: An Image of Medieval Religion, London, 1975, pp. 231-242).

275 remission of the penance: There was popular confusion over whether the guilt would also be remitted.

276 the old librarian got out the itinerary: This and other routes are described in D. J. Birch, Pilgrimage to Rome in the Middle Ages (Woodbridge, 1998), pp. 43-58.

277 she wished to endow a chantry: A short introduction to chantries is provided in Harper-Bill, “Church and Religion after the Black Death,” pp. 111-113.

277 giving up his cure of souls: There was much contemporary criticism of priests who abandoned their parishes for the easy life of a chantry priest.

277 a promising but very young cleric: There was a huge jump in the number of ordinations in most dioceses in the aftermath of the plague, which inevitably resulted in a drop in the age of the ordinands. Unfortunately no records of ordinations have survived for Norwich diocese.

278 better to appoint good young men: Based on Henry Knighton’s criticisms of the sort of men “who flocked to take orders” after the pestilence (quoted in Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 62).

278 he heard that the bishop of Norwich: Harper-Bill, “Church and Religion After the Black Death,” p. 87.

278 bishop was founding a school: Trinity Hall was founded by the bishop in 1350; the story of the founding of Corpus Christi College in 1352 is told in Hall, “The Guild of Corpus Christi and the Foundation of Corpus Christi College.”

279 he knew of a couple of priests: For recent studies of pastoral support and education provided in the wake of the Black Death in the dioceses of York and Hereford, see J. Hughes, Pastors and Visionaries: Religion and Secular Life in Late Medieval Yorkshire (Boydell, 1988), pp. 127-173,and W. J. Dohar, The Black Death and Pastoral Leadership (Philadelphia, 1995).

279 inability to correct the behavior: Harper-Bill, “Church and Religion After the Black Death,” provides an introduction to some of the issues facing the clergy and the Church in the aftermath of the Black Death. For a case study of the diocese of York, see Hughes, Pastors and Visionaries.

279 the celebration of a Mass created by the pope: The new Mass is described in Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, p. 293, and the liturgy translated in Horrox, Black Death, pp. 122-124.

280 It was called The Form of Living: For Richard Rolle and his famous text, see M. Glasscoe, English Medieval Mystics: Games of Faith (London, 1993), pp. 58-115; and also Hughes, Pastors and Visionaries.

281 Master John was also troubled: The phrases come from the Memoriale Presbiterorum, a treatise written in 1344 (quoted in Pantin, Church in the Fourteenth Century, p. 209).

282 oaths of fealty to their lord: The swearing of fealty was adhered to with exceptional vigor on the manors of Walsham and High Hall. For its operation there, see M. A. Williams, “The Nature of Fealty and the Tenants of the Manors of Walsham and High Hall, Suffolk, in the Fourteenth Century” (M.Phil. thesis, University of Cambridge, 2003).

282 a spate of thefts: An unusually large number of petty thefts is recorded in the court of November 18, 1349 (Lock, Walsham Court Rolls, I, pp. 327-330).

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