image Four image

PESTILENCE IN LATER FOURTEENTH-CENTURY LONDON

Pestis Secunda, 1361

Secunda mortalitas. Eodem anno mortalitas generalis oppressit populum que dicebatur Pestis Secunda. Et moriebantur tam maiores quam minores, et maxime iuvenes et infantes.

The second mortality. That same year a widespread mortality, known as the Second Plague, overwhelmed the people. And the great were killed along with the masses, and especially infants and the young.362

Anno xxxv (Edward III): And that same yere men, bestys, treys, and howsys were smyght fervently with lytthenyge, and sodenly i-peryschyde. And they fonde in mennys lyckenys splatt men goyng in the waye.

The 35th year (Edward III): And in that same year, men, beasts, trees and houses were smitten violently with lightning and suddenly perished. And fiends in the likeness of men accosted men as they went their way.363

Mesme celle ane fuist la secunde pestilence parmy Engleterre la quel fuist appelle la mortalites des enfauntz.

That same year was the second pestilence in the country of England which was called the mortality of the infants.364

Such are the chronicles of the events in 1361, but there is a short foreword to this second disaster in which London may have been visited by some kind of outbreak as early as the autumn of 1360. The Chronicle of the Greyfriars of King’s Lynn notes: ‘In that year [1360] began a plague among Londoners at about the feast of St Michael, where at first infants died in huge numbers.’365 This lone reference has, perhaps, the feel of a scribal error about it, and might best be conflated with the main outbreak of 1361, but we cannot actually tell. Apart from the fact that a disease initially affecting the young would be unlikely to be well represented in evidence from wills, the wills themselves do not survive for this specific time: roll 88 of the Husting court, dating to between January 1360 and February 1361, is missing.366 Of the wills drawn up in 1360, we have just ten which happened to be proved in March 1361 or later when the sequence resumes, and none of these offer any clue about such an outbreak. Additionally, among charters from Colchester, Essex, is one from 1410 which notes a will from 34 Edward III (so January 1360 to January 1361) at the time of the secunda pestilencia.367 It remains possible, therefore, that a plague, one which affected the young, did strike the city in the last months of 1360.

There is, however, no doubt about the events of the following spring. The greyfriars of Lynn may be quoted again:

and after the next Easter following [April 1361], men and women died in great multitudes … In that year the plague raged in the southern parts of England with great mortality among children, youths and the wealthy. This plague was however much less serious than that which had befallen thirteen years before.368

This report is backed up by most other contemporary chroniclers. As well as Henry Knighton (above), the Anonimalle Chronicle called it the mortality of children, and states that several people of high birth and a great number of children died.

A striking aspect of the reports was that not only was this outbreak apparently killing the young, but it was disproportionately killing men. Higden’s Polychronicon, claiming that it actually started in London, called it a ‘great pestilence of men … killing many men but few women’; Walsingham also asserted that the disease devoured men rather than women. John of Reading’s chronicle stated that ‘this year the mortality was particularly of males, who were devoured in great numbers by the pestilence’; and the chronicle of Louth Abbey described ‘a mortality of men, especially of boys’.369

The anonymous Canterbury Chronicle provides us with some description of the outward symptoms of the disease:

Children and adolescents were generally the first to die, and then the elderly. Members of religious orders and parish clergy and others died suddenly without respect of persons when the first spots and the other signs of death appeared on their bodies, as on the bodies of the victims everywhere. Many churches were then left unserved and empty through lack of priests. The plague lasted for more than four months in England.370

In contrast to the first epidemic, the course of the 1361 plague across England and indeed Europe has yet to be clearly established – certainly there seem to be few warning references in clerical correspondence, so it may well be that the outbreak originated in England and possibly in London as the Lynn greyfriars and the Canterbury Chronicles maintain. The Husting wills for 1361 do show the Canterbury Chronicle to be absolutely correct regarding the date, and the outbreak in the city can probably be dated to as precise a time as the second half of April (see Fig. 13).371 A total of fifteen wills were drawn up in that month, nine of them in its last twelve days. To put this into perspective, in the decade from January 1350 to December 1359, a total of 129 wills were drawn up (which were eventually enrolled in the Husting court), meaning the yearly average had been exceeded in one month.

Agnes, the unmarried daughter of cordwainer Richard Sorel, living in the parish of St Michael-le-Quern, is probably the earliest identifiable victim: her will dated 22 April and was proved in Husting just four days later. Another early victim may have been Margaret Cadoun, an orphan and minor whose death on 25 April was reported by her guardian, Richard Russell, when he came to recover money left in trust for her.372 Enrolments during the first two weeks of the plague totalled eight, seven of which had been drawn up before the outbreak. Of these, one was for Alan de Scarnyngge, a clerk at Holy Trinity priory, Aldgate, who had lived through the first plague and who left 10s for his daughter’s wedding, to be arranged by the prior for whom he had worked.373 Perhaps significantly, the king also issued orders strongly reminiscent of those made during the first outbreak, closing the ports on 30 April to any except merchants.374

In May, the number of wills drawn up leapt to twenty-nine. Among these was the will of Roger de Codyngton, dated to 29 May, who specified burial in the church of ‘St Mary of the New Work’ in Aldersgate, the chapel founded by de Mauny in the West Smithfield plague cemetery.375 The chapel and cemetery were the subject of intensive planning at this dangerous time, evidence of which comes from an agreement drawn up on 9 May 1361 between de Mauny himself and Michael de Northburgh, Ralph Stratford’s successor as Bishop of London. The agreement, relating to the foundation of both chapel and cemetery, was of such importance that it was recited verbatim in the early sixteenth-century Register of the Charterhouse. It said:

Walter de Mauny received the said bishop as his first associate for the foundation and advowson and building of the church of the Annunciation of Our Lady without London beside Smethefeld … It was also agreed that the beginning of this foundation was, during the pestilence which was [in 1349] and is in the present, to bury here in the cemetery the bodies of all Christians, especially of the City of London, who wish to be buried there, of rich as well as of poor … and as well without regard to the pestilence as during the pestilence, but especially during the pestilence.376

It is important in the context of this study because it specifically refers to further burials in the Smithfield cemetery during this second outbreak: the emergency cemetery was being pressed into service once more. De Northburgh’s will, dated 23 May, in reinforcing the agreement, further indicated his intention to found a Carthusian monastery on the site of the Newchurchehawe, for which he bequeathed the very considerable sum of £2,000. De Mauny issued a letter patent just a day after de Northburgh’s will was drawn up, notifying that:

an agreement having been arranged between him and Sir Michael de Northburgh, bishop of London, with reference to the church of the Annunciation of Our Lady without Smethefeld, which he had lately founded, it had pleased him that the said bishop for the advancement of that church, and of the religious house [Charterhouse], which they both intended to found, and for the benefit of the said place, might henceforth act as he, the said bishop, thought fit without hindrance from him, or without obtaining his consent, if absent.377

Such plans were, however, going to suffer a setback: de Northburgh was to die in just four months’ time.

Work on royal projects was not to be set aside despite the worsening situation, and as de Scarnyngge’s will was being copied into the Husting rolls, the king was appointing Richard de Normanton, clerk of the king’s works in the Tower of London, with funds to source sufficient workmen, to accommodate himself in the Tower and to convey materials there. Thomas Chamberleyn likewise was charged with the delivery of stone, timber, lime, tiles and other necessaries for the king’s works in Westminster Palace and the Tower of London, and carriage for the same, to be paid for by the hands of the king’s surveyor, William de Lambheth.378 Edward appears to have shown urgency in the matter of completing one particular royal religious project among the several he was progressing at this time, and perhaps for good reason. St Mary Graces, founded on the site of the Holy Trinity plague cemetery near the Tower, remained substantially incomplete.

On 17 March 1361 Edward appointed John Cory, the clerk who had consolidated the land for the cemetery in 1349, and John de Tiryngton, a master mason, ‘to take twenty-four carpenters, masons, tilers and other workmen’ for works at the abbey. The king also provided royal protection for the workmen, wishing ‘to hasten on the works as much as possible’.379 The reason for the haste is unclear, but a royal grant of lands to the abbey may provide a clue. On 7 May 1361, the king granted ‘a messuage and a brewhouse called Le Ram’ at Tower Hill; other tenements ‘which the king had of the grant of Gilbert Bromzerdes, “garlykmongere”, and Joan his wife, and Thomas Heywode son and heir of Thomas Heywode … [and] the whole tenement called Le Cornerhouse [also on Tower Hill] … to find chantries and alms in the abbey for the soul of the king and for the soul of his mother Isabel late queen of England’.380 It may, therefore, be that the king had got wind of a second outbreak as early as March and, through the establishment of chantries in his own royal foundation, was once again keen to improve his spiritual defences.

Royal concern with sanitation and the link between refuse disposal and the plague was once again raised. In May, Edward ordered the removal of slaughterhouses from the city to Stratford or Knightsbridge, complaining to the mayor and commonalty of London that:

by the killing of great beasts, from whose putrid blood running down the streets and the bowels cast into the Thames, the air in the city is very much corrupted and infected, whence abominable and most filthy stench proceeds, sickness and many other evils have happened to such as have abode in the said city, or have resorted to it; and great dangers are feared to fall out for the time to come, unless remedy be presently made against it.381

The wills continue to provide evidence both of the speed of death and the impact the plague had on whole families. Robert de Guldeford, a draper, made his will on 12 May, making provision for his four children. He died within two weeks, and his wife Johanna’s will, made on 27 May, specified her burial place by his side in the Lady Chapel of St Augustine Papey. By this time two of their children had also perished, leaving Roesia, 11, and Henry, 9. The remaining two children were placed with different guardians shortly after the enrolment of both parents’ wills in December 1361.382 Nicholas Horewode from the parish of St Nicholas Olave died within two weeks of his will, dated 16 May. In the will he left bequests to his children, but by 7 June, the date of his wife Johanna’s will, only one son survived.383 The number of enrolments in May was eight, matching April’s figure, but six of those eight had written their wills since the outbreak of the pestilence.

The crisis once again precipitated confusion among the citizens, exemplified by the family of one victim, Richard de Wycombe. He was a wealthy corder, married with three daughters, one of whom was a nun in Barking Abbey. His will, enrolled on 10 May, made his wife guardian of his youngest daughter, Isabella, and provided for the latter 200 marks of silver for her future marriage and his best silver spice dish. However, by 4 July 1361, it was necessary for the mayor and chamberlain to order the serjeant of the Guildhall to take Isabella, now an orphan, into the city’s hands, and to summon the executors of de Wycombe’s will. The serjeant reported on the same day that the little girl, said by the executors to be about 9 years old, had been ‘carried away’ and could not be found; the executors meanwhile brought in the money and the dish to be placed in safekeeping for Isabella’s return. The hope of her return was obviously held long, but was ultimately in vain: seven years later, her cousin came to court to claim the legacy, confirming that she had indeed died in 1361.384 The plague thus probably killed father, mother and at least one daughter.

Some properties, for want of any surviving legal heirs, reverted to the king himself. One example was Edward’s grant in fee to John Pecche, a London citizen, of three tenements held by Matilda Wight (died between May and July); and a brewhouse, six shops and a garden at ‘Le Barbikan’ (in the area of the modern Barbican Centre), which Nicholas de Horewode held (the same Nicholas mentioned above, whose wife also died shortly after). The grant specifically states that ‘These all came into the king’s hand because the said tenants died without heirs, as has been found by inquisitions’,385 so we may safely assume that de Horewode’s son mentioned in his will had also died.

Despite the relatively low enrolment figure, stories such as this hint at how serious an emergency this outbreak was for the city, and soon, as before, it was affecting royal administration. On 10 May the king was compelled to write to Robert de Thorpe, the chief justice, the justices of the Common Bench, and to the treasurer and barons of the Exchequer:

Whereas great multitudes of the people are suddenly smitten by the deadly plague now newly prevailing both in the City of London and in neighbouring parts, and the plague is daily increasing [in strength], whereby many presenting pleas and business in the king’s court have for fear of death drawn to their own parts leaving such pleas and business in peril of loss; wherefore, by assent of the nobles and others of the council, the king has appointed that all pleas pending in the Bench shall be continued [carried forward] in the state they now are until the morrow of mid-summer.386

Key personnel in the cathedral and in monastic houses once again fell victim. On the same day as the Common Bench was suspended, the will of William de Ravenstone, the almoner of St Paul’s Cathedral – effectively also the schoolmaster – was enrolled. Ravenstone’s will, drawn up by him in 1358, is interesting on two counts: first, attached to it was a list of the books of learning he bequeathed to the boys; and second, it provides clear detail of the furnishings and arrangement of the almonry school.387 The prior of St Bartholomew in Smithfield, John de Carleton, succumbed in early May. On 15 May the king committed to the sub-prior and convent the guardianship of the house and all temporalities, ‘for as long as it is void following the death of John, the last prior’. The next day, he further provided licence for the sub-prior and convent, ‘to elect a prior in the room of John, deceased’, and within five days he had signalled his assent to the election of canon Thomas de Watford.388

Across the river in Southwark things were no better, and it is probable that plague carried off John de Bradewey, the master of the hospital of St Thomas, before 13 May, when a new master, a former canon from the priory of St Mary Overie called Richard de Stokes, was elected. He, too, was gone before December 1361, the appointment of his successor falling to William Edington as bishop because all the brethren bar one had died in the plague.389 Secular clergy were no more immune than they had been in the first outbreak, and presentations by the king on 29 May of John de Thorneton, chaplain, to the church of St Dunstan in the West, and on 17 June of Robert de Ellerker, chaplain, to the church of St Stephen Walbrook,390 suggests losses among the parish incumbents.

In June, will-making peaked at thirty-three, with a quarter of these dating to the three days of the 12th to the 14th. The plague continued to strike rapidly. William Derby, a tailor, made his will on 5 June and was dead and buried at the foot of his father’s tomb in the church of St Mary Aldermary by the 12th, when his wife Agnes made her will to be buried at his side under a marble slab.391 One of the important figures in London’s civic administration who drew up wills at this time was Thomas de Walden, former Chamberlain of the Guildhall and principal apothecary of Westminster Abbey since at least 1340. His will was not enrolled until 1362, but his servant and executor, John of Hurley, issued a general release of his role as executor and of Walden’s own role as executor to a third party (a cheesemonger called Walter de Blechynglye) to Simon Langham, Abbot of Westminster, on 29 September 1361.392 Such a release indicates the death of Walden between June and September of that year.

The will of another apothecary, John Offham, was the subject of a remarkable delay in enrolment. Offham, who probably lived in the vicinity of Milk Street, made his will on 16 April and was dead before 26 June, when his son Peter was placed under the guardianship of Thomas Frowyk by the court (Offham’s wife and other child, alive in April, were not mentioned so had presumably also perished). The will, however, would wait an astonishing thirty-two years before enrolment in March 1393.393 An example of a will not enrolled in Husting but which survived in copy form in Chancery was that of William de Neuton, dated 28 June. Probate occurred three weeks later on 19 July. He desired burial in St Stephen Walbrook, leaving money for services for his soul for five years following his death.394

One tragic aspect of these wills is the appearance in the Husting rolls of a cluster of fathers wishing to be buried alongside their child or children. Hugh le Peyntor was the most famous of these. He was the same Hugh who had been appointed master painter for the chapel of St Stephen Westminster in March 1350, and was destined to survive until the third outbreak. He nevertheless kept his will dated 16 June 1361, stating his desire to be buried next to his child in the churchyard of St Giles Cripplegate;395 William Wyle on 20 June chose his burial plot adjacent to the tomb of Alice his daughter in the church of St Sepulchre Newgate; Robert Forneux, a fishmonger, willed burial next to his children in the church of St Leonard Eastcheap (one child survived); and Walter de Chendyngton wished burial next to his children in the churchyard of St Dunstan in the West. The appearance of such cases two months into the plague may indicate that children were among the earlier victims of the outbreak, and may explain why it was considered to have been so virulent among the young. As we will see, the archaeological evidence for the plague’s impact on children is less clear-cut than the chroniclers’ reports would imply.

Hugh le Peyntor’s will, starting with an apt Biblical quote, ‘Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live’, favoured his local church, St Giles, with bequests to the lights (candles) of the painters, the Holy Trinity, St Mary, and the Fraternity of St George; he also favoured the religious recluses in the vicinity of London and left money to the anchoresses of St Giles, St Benedict and ‘St Mary de Manny’ (Walter de Mauny’s chapel in the West Smithfield plague cemetery); and the hermits of St Lawrence Jewry, Charing Cross, Bishopsgate and ‘beyond the Thames’. Le Peyntor’s will was not the only one which made bequests to one of London’s religious fraternities. A total of thirteen wills made such directions during the plague, equivalent to 10 per cent of all Husting wills drawn up in the plague months, a rate of over six times that in the first plague. If the first plague acted as a catalyst for bequests to these local, craft-based religious groups, then the second outbreak confirmed their importance in the eyes of London’s wealthier testators.

Twelve enrolments were made before the court recessed in mid-June; of these ten had been drawn up since the beginning of the plague. One testator, draper Richard atte Moire, whose will was made on 26 April and proved on 14 June, left bequests to both emergency cemeteries at ‘Newchurchehawe’ and at ‘Holy Trinity de la Newchurchehawe near to the Tower’,396 providing important additional confirmation that both the West and East Smithfield cemeteries were still recognised, and were presumably being pressed into use once more for the burial of plague victims. Other wills enrolled in June included Alice de Northall, wife of John, alderman of the city, who had died during the first plague exactly twelve years earlier. Alice chose her burial place by the tomb of her husband in the chapel of St John in the church of St Nicholas Acon.397

Of significance also are two wills proved in June which made arrangements to leave money to the ‘perpetual chaplains’ of St Paul’s Cathedral residing in the precinct in a ‘common hall’ near the dean’s mansion.398 This coincides with a significant increase in will-makers’ wishes to be buried at the cathedral during this outbreak, rising in frequency from about 2.5 per cent per annum following the first plague, to over 8 per cent of wills during the pestis secunda. An especial focus was the Pardon churchyard there – in June, 12 per cent of will-makers chose that location, and overall, during the second outbreak, fifteen wills (around 11 per cent of the total drawn up) identified it as a preferred burial location. The popularity of this particular churchyard may have been enhanced by an indulgence (as was probably the case in the first plague), the support for the chaplains helping to ensure plentiful intercessory prayers for the souls of the victims and their families.

The plague evidently breached the walls of the Tower of London in June, for the king gave licence for two of his noble French hostages, no less than the son of the French king, Louis, Duke of Anjou, and one Lord Mauleverer:

[each,] for his health’s sake, to go from London, where he is obliged to stay as one of the hostages for the performance of the peace with France, to any place within the realm for one month from Monday next, on condition that at the end of the month he present himself before the king or his council in London, as he has promised, to remain a hostage.

One of the knights responsible for the monitoring of the prisoners was Walter de Mauny.399 The option provided to the French hostages appears to have been a valuable one. John of Byker, the king’s master of artillery in the Tower, made his will on 19 June and was dead before 1 July, the day the king granted the office to his son, Patrick, on 12d a day (around £18 per annum). John’s will was proved three weeks later in the Husting court. Andrew de Turri, the king’s smith in the Tower, also perished at about this time. His will is not dated, but in early August the king granted his office to Stephen atte Merssh, ‘as much and in such manner as Master Andrew de Turri, late the king’s smith took’.400 A third officer of the Tower may also have succumbed: on 30 August the king issued an arrest warrant for two men who had taken the assets of William de Rothewelle, the keeper of the king’s warderobe in the Tower. The latter, in debt to the king, was described as having ‘departed this life, and not yet rendered account of such jewels and things’.401 The plague was still passing through the Tower in September when Sir Thomas of Moray, a Scottish hostage imprisoned since 1357 in the Tower to ensure the repayment of David II of Scotland’s ransom, and not apparently given leave of absence, contracted the plague and died there sometime before Michaelmas.402

Outside the Tower, another of the king’s London servants, John Malewayn, who held the office of ‘tronage and pesage’ (duties paid for the official weighing of merchandise) of wool imports and exports through London, made his will on 10 June, dying before 28 June. He was buried near his wife in the church of Holy Trinity priory, Aldgate. The king passed the office for life to John Wroth, the Mayor of London.403 Malewayn may have died at what Italian merchants reported was the peak of the outbreak: the Florentine chronicler Matteo Villani recorded (quite accurately) that the plague had broken out in London in April and (now difficult to prove) that at its peak on 24 June, 1,200 people perished.404

Royal favourites were frequently rewarded with corrodies (pensions) within the precincts of particular religious houses. Such people were by no means immune to the pestilence, and at least two corrodians may have died in the priory of St Saviour Bermondsey during the second plague. On 30 June the king sent John Romeseye, one of his esquires, to the prior of Bermondsey, ‘to have such maintenance of that house for life as Geoffrey de Sessoun and Colet his wife had’, implying that the couple had recently passed away. Another death that occurred there between February and November 1361 was that of William Turk, a citizen and fishmonger favoured by the king since at least the 1330s. In May 1355 a royal grant for life had provided him with a yearly pension of £20 in the priory, a robe of the suit of the priory’s esquires, or 20s every Christmas, and two cartloads of good hay yearly from the priory meadows at Bermondsey. The grant itself refers back to a previous royal grant of a house and land within the priory, and we may be sure that Turk lived within the precincts. His will, written and dated 4 February 1361, ‘within the cloister’ of the priory (named erroneously ‘St Mary de Suthwerke’), shows that he enjoyed his pension for over five years. It requested his burial according to the directions of John Asshewell, one of the monks (most likely in the priory church or cemetery), and left the generous sum of 100 marks to the priory.405

Such corrodies could be extremely expensive for the host priory, especially given the impact that the plague had on labour and prices. In the face of the death toll, the king’s closure of the court of the Common Bench until midsummer proved optimistic, and on 23 June he was forced to extend the closure until September, ordering Robert Thorpe and other justices to adjourn all pleas for Trinity and midsummer in the exact state at which they were ‘by reason of the plague both in the City and neighbouring parts’.406

July brought no relief from the misery. The national scale of the epidemic is confirmed by the issue of a letter by the Archbishop of York, John Thoresby, dated the 12th of that month. Its content and recommendations for prayers were very similar to instructions issued in 1348, and these were surely spread to Londoners with haste:

the Kingdom of England has been assailed with … pestilences and other misfortunes, directed at driving away the sins of men, on such a scale and for such a long time … Therefore we believe it is important to urge, more devoutly and insistently, suffrages of devout prayer and other offices of pious propitiation.407

Thirty-three further wills were drawn up during the month. One such was for the widow Alice Outepenne, daughter of a William de Derby, who desired burial in the Pardon churchyard of St Paul’s next to her husband. It may be that her father was the William de Derby buried in St Mary Aldermary less than a month before.408 Two former mayors also prepared for the worst: Henry Picard, mayor in 1357–8, drew up his will on 3 July, but survived the plague; Richard de Kislingbury was not so lucky and died mid-month. Swifter still was the passing of Richard Lacer, a merchant of Bromley (in Kent) with interests in London. His will was dated 27 July 1361, yet that of his wife Isabella, drawn up just two days later, described her as ‘relict of Richard, late mercer’. The gap between death and enrolment was a considerable one – both Lacer wills were enrolled four months later at the end of November.409

The plague stalked the halls of the royal palace at Westminster as well as the city streets. On 6 August the king granted to his servant John de Saxton the prebend which John Leche, who died shortly before on 21 July, had in the chapel of St Stephen there.410 The Husting court, suspended as usual for the Boston fair from 17 June, resumed in late July and a total of thirty-nine wills were enrolled in the two remaining sessions that month. Of these, only four wills had been drawn up before the outbreak of the pestilence and thirty dated to June or July. Given the time-lag between death and enrolment, and the delay for the Boston fair, it is very probable that all these victims died within just a few days of writing their wills. Judging by the rate at which wills were being drawn up and enrolled, the death rate by high summer was comparable with that of January 1349, marking the outbreak as a very serious one indeed.

Despite the availability of the extra-mural plague cemeteries, burial space seems once again to have been an issue. On 26 July the king gave licence for the transfer by Simon de Mordon and his wife Alice to John de Hoghton, parson of the church of St Martin Orgar in Candelwykstrete, of a plot of land in London, 47ft long and 33ft broad (approximately 14m x 10m), situated between St Martin’s churchyard and the church of St Michael in Crokedelane, ‘for the enlargement of the said churchyard’.411

Land transactions and construction by no means ceased during these worst weeks of the outbreak. For example, on 25 June Nicholas, prior of Holy Trinity priory, Aldgate, leased to Nicholas de Donmowe, a carpenter, a tenement with garden in the parish of St Olave by the Tower of London, with a condition that they rebuild the entire street frontage to one storey’s height within five years.412 Many transactions were indeed triggered by plague deaths. William de Preston, one of those who had left money to the common hall of the chaplains at St Paul’s, also bequeathed lands in Rotherhithe and Bermondsey to his two sisters, Sarah and Isabella. He died after 24 May, his will being enrolled on 16 June. Three weeks later, on 7 July, his sisters, both now widows, formally granted the land to Thomas Pykenham and Simon Lincoln, citizens, in front of a gathering of several witnesses.413

The importance attached to the role of the fraternities in celebrating funerals is clearly set out in the will of one John de Eneveld, penned on 1 April and proved in Husting on 20 July. Leaving a significant property to the fraternity of the Blessed Mary and All Saints in the church of All Hallows by the Wall, of which he was a member, he:

wills and ordains that the brethren and sisters of his fraternity … attend his funeral at the church of St Audoen, and that born bondmen go to his houses and tenements in Smethfeld after his funeral and there eat together, and by so eating take seisin [possession of the property] for the said fraternity, for which purpose he bequeaths a certain quantity of bread, corn, and malt.414

The virulence of the epidemic began to diminish as summer turned to autumn, and will-making dropped to single figures. Only seven wills were drawn up in August, nine in September and six in October, and of this total, four were made by people dwelling in Essex, Middlesex and Kent rather than London. After this period, matters returned to a ‘normal’ level: collectively the city was no longer in a panic about mortality. The closure of the Husting court for the harvest period of August and September delayed proceedings, and we see a spike in October of twenty-eight enrolments, followed by elevated but diminishing numbers in November (fourteen) and December (eleven).

Among other signs of a return to normal city business was the resumption of the recording of witness of land grants in the City Letter Books. The earliest which survives is one dated 21 September of a lease by Robert Alyen to John Blake, blader, of a brewery and shops in Thames Street in the parish of St Botolph Billingsgate.415 Enrolment of October’s total complement of twenty-eight wills included just four that had been drawn up before the plague erupted in this year, and only one will that had been written in October itself: the plague had begun to recede. Of the ‘plague’ wills, sixteen had been made during August and September, when the courts were normally suspended, leading to the large number. Curiously, despite this backlog of work, enrolment of all twenty-eight wills was delayed a further three weeks until the 25th of the month for a reason now unknown. One will proved that day was that of Johanna Hemenhale. She, like Alice de Northall (above), was a plague widow, surviving Edmund Hemenhale, the city sheriff, who had died in the first outbreak. Succumbing in this second pestilence, she left an extensive bequest to found an important chantry in the church of St Martin-le-Grand, and references to this give us the date of her death as 5 September.416

By November the plague was clearly faltering. Only two wills were drawn up this month, and of the fourteen enrolled, five had been drawn up well before the plague’s outbreak (in one case eighteen years before) and the others were probably remaining backlog. This is demonstrably true for over one-quarter of December’s relatively high enrolment total of eleven wills. Among them was that of John Stable, a mercer, whose will dated December 1360 but came to Husting on 13 December 1361. He had died being owed money, and his executors were chasing one debt of £33 15s 6d as early as 1 May. The writ of that date sent to the sheriff of Essex by the Mayor of London described him as ‘citizen of London, now deceased’. Robert de Guldeford, already mentioned, had died by 27 May, but his will was enrolled on 10 December; and finally, the Bishop of London, Michael de Northburgh, had died on 9 September, his will being enrolled at the same court as Stable’s.417 We may assume a similar story for many of the others.

The plague appears to have affected the clergy of St Paul’s Cathedral significantly. Upon the death of de Northburgh, the king, empowered by the vacancy to appoint officers and to confer prebends, immediately began filling positions. From this we can see that at least six, and possibly as many as nine, former holders of prebends had perished between July and October 1361, out of a total of thirty. These were principally non-resident canons, but significantly, the majority held prebends in proximity to London (such as Hoxton, Wilsden, Mapesbury and Rugmere, near St Pancras). In addition to this, the treasurer and the Archdeacon of Middlesex had both died (as well as the almoner in May). The office for binding the cathedral’s books also fell vacant during this time, one William de Mulsho providing the replacement at the king’s request.

Other religious houses probably fared no better, but evidence is scant. December saw the appointment of a new master for the hospital of St Thomas in Southwark. The election devolved on the Bishop of Winchester and former treasurer William Edington, ‘owing to the death of all the brethren save one’. At the important Hospitaller monastery of St John Clerkenwell, it is significant that in 1361 the number of serving clerks and chaplains at Clerkenwell was well below strength, and at Westminster Abbey the reduction from fifty monks to less than thirty appears to have persisted until the late 1370s. In 1378 the community comprised the abbot and twenty-seven monks, with one more by 1381, though by September 1390 the figure had once again risen to forty-nine monks and the abbot.418

The outbreak thus lasted from the middle of April to perhaps the end of October, a total of over six months compared with the nine months of the first main outbreak. It was, therefore, a major event, only eclipsed in the literature and in the records by the magnitude of what had preceded it twelve years earlier. To fully understand the wider impacts on London’s population over the century we need to understand better the death toll of this second plague.

Archaeological Evidence for the Pestis Secunda

There is good reason to believe that the East Smithfield cemetery of the Holy Trinity was reused for the burial of some victims of the second pestilence. In March 1350 Edward had presented to the Cistercian order of monks the land adjacent to the cemetery of the Holy Trinity for a new abbey. The cemetery chapel was almost certainly granted to the monks, since in 1351 King Edward made reference to the Royal Free Chapel of the Holy Trinity and of St Mary Graces,419 but as far as the burial area itself was concerned, the situation is more complex. John Cory, the clerk involved in the cemetery’s original foundation, continued his acquisitions and transfer of land to the king for the new abbey, and in August 1353, Edward was able to make a grant:

[to] the house of St Mary Graces of the Cistercian order, founded by the king in the new burial-ground of the Holy Trinity by the Tower of London, of all the toft and place of land newly dedicated for the said burial-ground and all the messuages, houses, garden, curtilage and lands at Estsmethfeld and la Tourhull … which tenements John Cory granted to the king in fee, to augment the endowment already made them by the king of messuages at la Tourhull which he likewise had of the grant of the said John.420

By 1353, the Cistercians owned the land. However, the cemetery remained as a separate entity in the minds of Londoners until at least 1361. In December 1351 Johanna Cros made bequests to the ‘new sepulchre of Blessed Virgin without Aldersgate’ and to the ‘like work of the Holy Trinity towards the Tower’; and in 1361 Richard de Moire’s will likewise specified ‘Holy Trinity de la Newchurchehawe near the Tower’. The fact that the monks built their first, small cloister to the south of the chapel, away from the cemetery, despite the relatively confined space available,421 suggests that they too were respecting this entity. The answer to this lies in the fact that the land occupied by the cemetery had been passed to the abbey, but rights of burial and the income resulting, held by the prior of Holy Trinity Aldgate, had not. The latter were, in fact, held by the prior until 1364, when Simon, Bishop of London, ruled that ‘oblations arising from the cemetery newly consecrated close to the Tower … shall be converted [from Holy Trinity priory] to the use of the abbey of St Marys Graces’. Thus, during the second plague, the cemetery was directly adjacent to, but remained administratively separate from, the new abbey.

The confusion in the popular eye caused by this odd situation is neatly captured by Richard de Walsted’s will of July 1365, leaving money to the ‘abbey of Holy Trinity near Towrhille’.422 The cemetery was still available for burial without recourse to the new abbey, the rights of burial residing with Holy Trinity priory as they had during the first outbreak. After 1364, the monks owned and managed the land outright, and no further surviving wills make reference to the cemetery of the Holy Trinity. It is believed that the plague cemetery area was no longer physically available for burial by 1405, since a tenement belonging to William and Katherine Somers existed by that date to the north of the Great Court and abbey church door (and thus in the area of the plague cemetery), and included a garden that took in part of the abbey churchyard.423 This provides us with a ‘latest date’ for any burials made following the 1349 outbreak.

Archaeologically, burials encountered on the site of the cemetery and abbey split into three principal groups: those which certainly dated to the 1349 outbreak, already discussed; a later group of 228 graves lying above the western 1349 cemetery plot and in many cases cutting into the mass trenches and individual graves; and a group of ninety-seven burials lying in a separate space between the western and eastern 1349 plots, centred on a stone churchyard cross base (see Fig. 14). It is the group of 228 overlying the 1349 cemetery, previously considered to have belonged to the abbey cemetery, which were most probably buried in the pestis secunda.

The features which suggest this interpretation are physical location, archaeological dating evidence and, most suggestive of all, the similarity of demographic make-up and burial practice between the group and the earlier, underlying burials from the first outbreak. This area of burial was at a significant distance from the site of the abbey church – the nearest known burial from the group was over 30m to the north of the church. A separate burial area (of ninety-seven graves) which most certainly did function as the abbey cemetery lay 12m to the east of the group. It lay in the land which had been unused at the time of the first plague, and was centred on a churchyard cross. The group has the appearance of a completely separate entity.

The archaeological dating evidence from the group of 228 graves is very slender. In the absence of any radiocarbon dating, the only burial which could be dated was that of a man buried clothed: a pair of breche buckles was recovered from the grave, and these are fairly securely dated to no later than c. 1400. Dating evidence from the adjacent abbey cemetery was equally thin, but what we do have suggests a later period: an adult whose bones have been radiocarbon-dated to 1402–1625;424 and an older man buried with a shoe buckle which is thought to be of fifteenth-century date. The proposed chronology of the area of the plague cemetery is not refuted by the evidence. However, it is the nature of the people buried there and how they were buried which provides the sharpest contrast between this group and those clustered around the abbey cross. First, the demography shows marked differences. The proportion of children in the latter was much lower – 17 per cent of the total as compared with nearly 33 per cent in the group overlying the plague cemetery. The number of women around the cross was also lower – 25 per cent compared with 40 per cent in the plague cemetery area. And, as Table 4a shows, where age and sex can be compared together, those buried around the cross were likely to have been significantly older at the time of death – one in four were in their forties, compared to one in eleven in the plague cemetery. The group of 228 are, therefore, simultaneously very different from those buried around the abbey cross and very similar to those buried in the earlier plague cemetery.

This comparison is reinforced when the use of coffins for burial is examined. Coffins were used to bury nearly 49 per cent of all the dead found on the plague cemetery site, a close comparison with the figure for the individual graves from the 1349 plague, but very much greater than the figure of 23 per cent for those buried around the cross. Taking a wider, national perspective, the demographic and cultural pattern displayed by the plague cemetery groups (both that of 1349 and the later group) is dissimilar to any other published cemetery to date, while the general structure of the group from around the churchyard cross is repeated at a number of monastic sites.425

Age

1361

1349

Abbey

 

Age

1361

1349

Abbey

 

Age

1361

1349

Abbey

Young
men

9%

14%

13%

Mature
men

43%

48%

46%

Old
men

8%

5%

15%

Young
women

9%

6%

5%

Mature
women

27%

24%

10%

Old
women

3%

4%

10%

Table 4a. Proportions of the adult population of all burials where both an age and a sex could be established for the 1361 burials, compared with the 1349 group and those buried around the abbey churchyard cross.

Infants

12%

   

Children/teens

23%

   

Young men

6%

Young women

6%

Mature men

28%

Mature women

18%

Old men

5%

Old women

2%

Table 4b. Age and sex distribution of the skeletons buried in the East Smithfield cemetery, probably in the pestis secunda of 1361.

In aggregate, the historical and archaeological evidence combines to reinforce the notion that the group buried on the 1349 plague plot was indeed formed principally of victims of the second plague. If this is correct, then we can make some very tentative observations about the differences between the two plague groups. The overall nature of the cemetery population, using the same recorded data as for 1349, is very similar. The number of infant deaths is slightly greater, that of teens a little less, and the overall proportions buried suggests that the 1361 outbreak was only very slightly more dangerous to the young than that of 1349. This may not be so surprising since the majority of the youngsters represented in this group would have been born after 1349, and so would possess no immunity (unless any were transmitted from mothers who had survived).

In conclusion, the East Smithfield cemetery appears to have been reused for plague burials as one of two cemeteries specifically set up in 1349 for dealing with the crisis; the burials indicate that the second outbreak was of a very similar nature to the first in terms of the population; and the burial customs employed were also very similar.

The Effects of the Pestis Secunda

Such consideration as has been given to the direct impacts of the 1361 outbreak in the literature has mainly attempted to provide a national picture, suggesting a mortality of between 4.5 to 6 times the average for the first half of the fourteenth century,426suggesting that the outbreak was up to one-third as powerful as the 1349 pestilence. In London itself previous estimates suggest that things were worse, perhaps as much as nine times the average death rate of the ten years since 1351.427 However, a closer look at the evidence from the enrolments, taking into account the already reduced population, suggests an even higher mortality. A total of ninety-five wills were enrolled in the seven months between the beginning of April and the end of October 1361. This compares to a minimum of 135 wills enrolled between April 1351 and March 1361, a figure that should be increased (by around ten) to account for the missing enrolments of 1360. This actually represents a factor of over eleven times the annual rate of this decade, a disaster of major proportions. Certainly, Parliament raised the issue of the labour laws and of the prices for employing clergy once more, and both the king and the lords spiritual responded by restricting wages and stipends as they had in 1349–51.

The signs are that fertility rates were down and mortality rates up in the aftermath of the first outbreak, but our only clue as to the extent to which London had repopulated itself before the pestis secunda is the 1357 description of the city as one-third empty. This is obviously a very crude indicator, but we should anticipate a slow recovery, mainly through immigration. Reproductive recovery rates appear to have been severely reduced. Allowing an entirely nominal 2 per cent net increase each year after 1349 (the equivalent of two people arriving per day), the population would recover from c. 33,000 after the first outbreak to perhaps 42,000 by 1361. The estimate of mortality in the second plague would reduce such a figure to as few as 34,000 in the space of six months or so.

There is little direct London evidence for the chroniclers’ claims that the second outbreak attacked children in greater numbers than the first. One indirect indicator may be the appearance in the Husting wills of testators’ preference for burial near the tombs or graves of their predeceased offspring. As noted above, four wills were made with this specification, all during the pestilence, and all were made two months or more after the beginning of the outbreak. Of course, we do not know how old these four testators were, or when their children died, but cluster (4 per cent of wills made during the plague months) is probably significant; there was just one example from among all the wills enrolled during the 1348–9 outbreak.428

The restriction of these wills to the last two months of the plague may indeed support reports in the chronicles that the second plague affected children first, and adults later. It seems more likely to this author that the belief that the second plague disproportionately affected the young arose through the value parents and families attached to the post-1350 generation and younger survivors of the first outbreak – it would have seemed so much more dangerous to them. In support of this, the use of coffins for infants and children at the East Smithfield cemetery increased dramatically from 20 per cent in the 1348–9 outbreak to over 51 per cent in the pestis secunda. If this was representative of child deaths across the city, the effort of preparation for the burial of children was clearly much greater than in the first plague.

The remarkable thing about the second pestilence is that it was a major disaster on its own terms. Approximately 34 per cent of London’s population died. If the 1349 plague had not occurred, it is probable that the impact of such an outbreak would have featured prominently in historical analyses of the fourteenth century. Like an aftershock to a massive earthquake, it is seldom reported on in detail, but its effects must surely have amplified considerably the enormous damage wreaked by the first plague. And, like an aftershock, it was to be followed just seven years later by a third visitation.

The Third Plague, 1368

There is some confusion over the date of the third outbreak. The Anonimalle Chronicle (written at the abbey of St Mary, York) noted that ‘in 1369 there was a third pestilence in England and in several other countries. It was great beyond measure, lasted a long time and was particularly fatal to children.’ The Chronicle of the Greyfriars of King’s Lynn also repeats 1369 as the year in which ‘there occurred a great pestilence of nobles and children’.429 Indeed, many principal commentators since have noted that the plague was confined to that year.430 However, a chronicle of Peterborough Abbey describes how in the third pestilence in 1368, among the dead were a great number of foreigners in London.431 The evidence from both the Husting wills and the wills proved in the Archdeaconry Court of London are categorical in demonstrating that the plague affected the south of the country from about May 1368, probably fading out in the city around October of that year.

While the Archdeaconry Court testaments do not survive before 1393, an index of those from 1368 does,432 and analysis of this shows that 180 records of will and/or probate were registered between May and October 1368, over three times the average non-plague yearly figure of just under sixty probates in that court.433 There was an overlap between those whose wills were proved in the Archdeaconry Court and those, owning estate in the city, who wished subsequently to have wills enrolled in Husting. However, the relationship is complex. First, the jurisdiction of the Archdeaconry Court covered only about half the city parishes, but included some of the larger extra-mural parishes such as St Leonard Shoreditch and St Mary Clerkenwell. Second, not everyone who could have their will proved at the Archdeaconry Court either wished to or could also afford to have it enrolled in the Husting court. Third, not everyone who owned estate in the city dwelled in the jurisdiction of the archdeacon. Thus, of 193 testamentary records dating to 1368, just thirteen (6.7 per cent) were written by individuals who also paid for Husting will enrolments. Conversely, those who had their wills proved at the Archdeaconry Court made up a significant 46 per cent of all Husting enrolments for 1368. The link between the two courts provides further evidence of the potential lag between probate and subsequent enrolment at Husting. Of the thirteen Husting wills, seven were enrolled after the summer fair recess of August and September, all on 16 October 1368, but the remaining six wills took up to a year after this date to appear on the Husting rolls. Of these, three could have been plague victims since their wills were drawn up during the plague months. Extrapolated, this suggests that of the twenty-eight wills enrolled later, during 1369, seven were probably proved as a result of plague death, bringing the total to thirty-five.

The twenty-eight wills enrolled at Husting in 1368 provide some flavour of the march of the epidemic. The outbreak probably began in late April or early May, shown by the evidence of two new wills drawn up in the last week of April and another seven by the end of May. Prior to this, only three wills had been drawn up in the previous five months. Of these nine, two willed burial in the churchyard of St Paul’s – one, the goldsmith John Hiltoft, specifying the Pardon churchyard. The other, Henry Yerdelee, left a bequest for a chantry to be founded in the chapel of the Holy Trinity at the ‘new cemetery towards the Tower’, the plague cemetery at East Smithfield. A third, carpenter Robert de Watford, specified the ‘Pardonchirchehawe’ of St Bartholomew’s priory, almost certainly de Mauny’s adjacent West Smithfield foundation, or possibly a cemetery by that name within the precincts of the priory itself.434 In this small sample, then, there is good evidence of themes common to previous outbreaks.

The plague was evidently of sufficient severity for Edward to completely suspend the business of the King’s Bench, Common Pleas and the upper Exchequer on 22 May until 30 September; the exchequer of receipt, also based in Westminster Palace, did stay open but conducted business on only three days during this period, a consequence and illustration of the impact the plague had on economic activity.435 Significantly, the king had pressed ahead with his Parliament at Westminster between 1 and 21 May, indicating either that the business to be discussed was of too great importance to be delayed, or that the pestilence was not considered to be as potent as in previous outbreaks. It may have been the latter, for in the city the Husting and other courts continued to be held throughout the outbreak, unlike on previous occasions. The Letter Books and the Pleas and Memoranda rolls both show activity throughout the plague, with records set down from April through to August, and the Assize of Nuisance held throughout April, May and June (though there was a pause between 30 June and 21 October).436

Amidst this activity are the inevitable guardianship hearings for children orphaned from the death of their father or of both parents. The earliest example during the outbreak was held on 4 May and concerned Alice, 7-year-old daughter of Nicholas de Pekham.437Alice appeared in a custody hearing just a month later, since one of the relatives to whom she had been assigned had by then himself died. Other similar cases highlight probable plague deaths. Orphan Johanna, aged 8, daughter of Walter de Harwedone, was committed to William de Harwedone, her uncle, on 13 July. Sureties for her were paid by three men, including one Thomas Wylby who himself succumbed that year; his will was proved by the Archdeaconry Court within two months of the hearing.438 Draper Thomas de Welforde had died during the 1361 outbreak, leaving his estate to his wife Johanna and his children John, Elizabeth and Johanna. Between his death and 1368, both John and Elizabeth also died, leaving the last child, Johanna, the sole beneficiary under the guardianship of a Michael Ede. On 3 July 1368 Michael brought Johanna to the Guildhall handing her and her property into trust. Three weeks later, she was committed to a new guardian, draper Richard de Kyllyngworth, but within a few weeks she perished.439

Two unusual and linked cases were heard in court on 19 June, each passing custody of three children to their respective, and still living, fathers, William de Tyngewyk and Henry de Markeby. Children who still had a father did not come under the jurisdiction of the mayor and aldermen, and it seems that in these cases the children had received a bequest from the will of a third party, the mechanism of guardianship being used to protect that inheritance from waste through the process of providing sureties. Both men were goldsmiths, and this, coupled with the fact that both of the assignments of guardianship happened on the same day, suggests the bequest came from another goldsmith.440

June was, curiously, unremarkable in terms of wills: just four were drawn up and one enrolled – figures which would not in themselves suggest plague. However, corroborative evidence from another town, Derby, makes it clear that much of England was in the grip of the disease by this time. On 12 June Edward issued royal protection for the town, its burgesses and merchants, because it was:

for the most part wasted by the death of burgesses and other men of the town in the present pestilence, and the men now remaining are not sufficient to maintain and govern the town, and that the men of the adjacent country, whom they cannot resist, depasture and tread down the said pastures with their animals.441

July was rather different. Ten wills were drawn up, eight of them in the last week of the month, suggesting that conditions were especially grim. Of these, one was for John Lovekyn, the man whose mayoralty had spanned the first great outbreak and who had gone on to be mayor three more times until his death some time before November 1368. Another was for chandler William Hathefeld, whose testament was proved in the Archdeaconry Court in 1368, before being enrolled at Husting in January 1369.442 Other wills did exist which were neither listed in the Archdeaconry Court registers nor in Husting, such as that of Robert Faukes of Gaddesby, tailor and citizen of London, dated 18 July. He requested burial in Holy Trinity priory beside Robert, his uncle, and left 20s to the box of the tailors’ fraternity of his trade, along with cloth to be sold and the proceeds distributed to the poor.443 Wills of non-residents (proved in courts outside London) make it clear that many who lived beyond the city walls had significant interests in London, and indeed probably died there (not necessarily of plague it should be noted). One such was Robert de Pleseleye, rector of the church of Southfleet, in the diocese of Rochester. His will, dated at London on 22 May 1368, ‘in my dwelling [hospicio] in St Martin le Grand Lane’, and proved on 7 August, set out his desire to be buried in the church of St Martin-le-Grand, and left over £13 to the friaries and nunneries of the city.444

The summer progression of the pestilence raised once again the perceived dangers surrounding animal slaughter and butchery in and around the city. On 3 July the mayor, Simon de Mordon, and his aldermen, received a writ from Edward III enclosing the complaint from no less than the Bishop of London, the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury, the Countess of Pembroke, and other residents of Old Dean’s Lane alleging that the butchers of the Shambles (near Greyfriars):

who used to slaughter their cattle and leave their offal and refuse outside the City, had recently taken to slaughtering … within the City, carrying the offal and offensive refuse by day and night through Oldedeneslane and by the King’s Wardrobe to a small plot by the Thames close to the Friars Preachers, to the grievous corruption of the water.

The writ demanded that the practice be stopped. The mayor initiated an inquest covering four wards – Castle Baynard, Farringdon Without, Vintry and Queenhithe – to discover the extent of the problem of disposing offal and waste in the Thames, and the extent to which people considered it a real nuisance. A jury of twelve men from Castle Baynard ward found that it was indeed the Shambles butchers who carted their offal to a place called Butchers Bridge (‘Bochersbregge’), near Baynard Castle, and not only was it polluting the river, but blood from slaughter yards and offal dropped from carts fouled the streets and lanes, too. It was recommended that slaughter should take place beyond the city walls.445

Will-making in August was still at an elevated rate. Thirteen such wills were later enrolled in Husting. Among them was that of William de Burton, a goldsmith, who drew up his will on 31 August. His wife and executrix was disposing of property to third parties within four weeks of this date, so we may be confident that he had passed away within a week or two of making his will. Pepperer John de Evenefeld included in his will a rather curious stipulation: ‘his body not to be left above ground, but to be placed in a chest [coffin] underground, and to be previously covered with 10 ells of black or russet cloth’. Why he wished this treatment, and how it might have differed from a standard funeral, is not clear, but it suggests that he did not wish a period of watch or wake over his body either at his home or in church.446 He willed burial in the church of St Mary Aldermary, next to his first wife. Burial space appears not to have been the issue it had been during the earlier outbreaks, despite the fact that the emergency cemetery at East Smithfield had certainly gone out of use by this time. There is a reference to the enlargement of the cemetery of St Leonard Eastcheap in this year,447 but this seems a somewhat piecemeal response and rather underscores the sense that this pestilence was less severe than previous outbreaks.

The beginning of the end of the outbreak came in September. Only four wills were drawn up, in one of which John Briklesworth requested burial in the Pardon churchyard at St Paul’s. As with August, the intermission of the Husting court for the harvest meant that no enrolments took place. These were left over until October (or later), in which month just three wills were drawn up, returning the level of will-making to a pre-plague scale. Two of these wills are significant. The first, apparently a nuncupative will given on 29 October, is the only will in the entire Husting roll which mentions pestilence. It is that of an Ipswich man with commercial property in the city:

In the name of God, amen. I, Richard of Holewelle of Ipswich, being of sound mind and good memory, seeing the danger of this world and especially of this pestilence, establish my will for my freehold in the city of London in this form. First I leave all this holding with three shops adjoining and all things pertaining to them … to Geoffrey Sterling, Robert of Preston and John Holt of Ipswich and their heirs and assigns, to have and to hold in perpetuity. In witness of this, I have affixed my seal, and because my seal is unknown to many, I have arranged for the seal of the office of the bailiffs of the town of Ipswich to be affixed.448

The second will of importance is that dated 14 October, of Simon Benyngton, a draper. He bequeathed a quitrent for the maintenance of a chantry at the altar of St Mary in Gysma (in childbirth), probably situated in the Lady Chapel in the priory of St Thomas Acon. This is the earliest reference to such an altar, and its dedication in the face of successive child-killing plagues is likely to have carried a particular resonance. Benyngton’s will was enrolled in December, but he was certainly dead by the beginning of November.449

The backlog of enrolments brought the total for October to sixteen. Of these, thirteen were enrolled on one day (16 October). Only one of these had been penned before the outbreak of the plague, making it very likely that the majority of the remainder were victims of the disease. Among them were John Deynes (who had died before 1 September) and his son Henry. The latter, choosing not to pass his inheritance on to his stepmother, John’s second wife, instead bequeathed the proceeds to the maintenance of a clock on the church of St Pancras, a new belfry at St Margaret Lothbury, and the maintenance of six Oxford scholars. Such were the winners and losers during the epidemic. November and December saw further enrolments of wills of those who had died in the outbreak, but in smaller numbers. It is clear that by the end of October, the pestilence had once again passed.

The impact of the third plague is hard to gauge. Wills enrolled at Husting averaged sixteen annually between 1362 and 1367; the total number likely to have been associated with the seven plague months, enrolled in 1368 and 1369, was thirty-five – a figure 3.8 times higher. An annual average of eight Husting wills were drawn up over the same six-year period; in the seven pestilence months of April to October that figure was forty-four, eight times higher. On the face of it, this suggests a mortality of about II per cent, but an expectation of mortality that was far greater. Even if we allow again for an (unproven) increase of 2 per cent per annum in the resident population of London from 34,000 in 1361 to 39,000 by 1368, this suggests that the population fell again to perhaps 35,000 by the winter of that year.

The constant erosion of London’s population must have had a significant long-term impact on a wide range of institutions in the city. There is little direct evidence of this, although problems of recruitment at two religious houses in 1370–1 may be represented by the fact that four acolytes were ordained as canons for the hospital of St Mary within Cripplegate (Elsyng Spital) in St Paul’s Cathedral on 21 December 1370; and in October 1371 Raymond Berengar, master of the entire order of Hospitallers, was forced to write to John Dalton, the prior of the church of St John Clerkenwell, ordering him to restore the number of chaplains serving in the church from around seven to the appointed fifteen.450 So, 1368 appears to have been considerably less severe than either of the two previous outbreaks, but was nonetheless a notable event in its own right, perhaps killing upwards of 4,000 of London’s pestilence-weary population.

The Fourth Plague, 1375

In 1374 the fourth pestilence began in England in several towns in the south of the country. In the following year a large number of Londoners, from among the wealthier and more eminent citizens, died in the pestilence. Several well-placed clerks of the Chancery, Common Pleas and Exchequer also died.

In 1375 the weather was scorching and there was a great pestilence which raged so strongly in England and elsewhere that infinite numbers of men and women were devoured by sudden death.451

The last plague under consideration in this volume broke out in London towards the end of May 1375, persisting across the summer months until about the middle of August.452 Just two wills enrolled in Husting were made in the second half of May, one by carpenter Richard de Chelmeresford and one by vintner John de Rothyng, and while this presents no evidence for the plague’s outbreak, de Rothyng’s will dated 23 May is interesting. In it he specified that the bodies of his father Richard and mother Salerna should be exhumed from where they lay and placed with him in his chosen burial place in the floor at the centre of the belfry of St James Garlickhythe, a definitive example of the increasing interest in co-locating family burial.

The number of enrolments in May was also normal and probably unrelated to plague deaths. One was that of Adam Fraunceys, the influential mercer who had been alderman and then mayor in the 1350s. By it, he set up two chantry chapels in the Benedictine nunnery of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, one dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and the other to the Holy Ghost; he also bequeathed money for the marriage portions of unmarried poor girls, a facet of late fourteenth-century will-making to which we shall return in the concluding chapter.453

This was a slow start, and the outbreak gathered speed only in the latter half of June. Twelve wills were made of which seven occur in the last ten days of the month.454 The will of William Olneye, fishmonger, drawn up on 24 June, was careful to specify the place of his burial in the church of St Mary at Hill, ‘before the Salutation of the Blessed Virgin Mary where Salve is daily sung’; such a location was quite possibly triggered by a desire for the Virgin’s intercession during plague.455 Dramatic evidence of sudden death and rapid remarriage among families is provided through the Pleas and Memoranda rolls from January 1376. In January 1375 Adam Cope, a skinner, drew up his will leaving his estate to his wife Agnes and their five children, John, William, Joan, Alice and Maud. Three of the children, William, Alice and Maud, perished on a single day (18 June), Adam himself having already died. The mother remarried four days later and, it was alleged, with her new husband, dispossessed her own son John from a tenement and shops he believed were his.456

July saw a further increase in the rate at which wills were being drawn up. A combined total of thirty-eight survive in the indexes of the Archdeaconry and Commissary Courts, and in the Husting rolls.457 Of thirty-four in the court indexes, ten (29 per cent) were subsequently enrolled at Husting. The total of Husting enrolments made in June was thirteen, of which these ten represent 77 per cent: therefore, most of the Husting wills were enrolled by Londoners. Notable among them were William Herland, the king’s chief carpenter in the 1350s and responsible for major work at Windsor, the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. He was dead within ten days of making his will and was buried in his local parish church of St Peter Paul’s Wharf, ‘before the image of St Katherine’ in the Lady Chapel there. John de Mitford, a draper, left in his will money to the rector and his fellow parishioners of St Mary Magdalen Milk Street for the good of his family’s souls, but with a note stating that if his bequest was in some manner illegal, then the rightful heirs should use the money for the same purpose. This suggests that it was difficult if not impossible for de Mitford to establish the proper checks himself.458

Of the makers of the thirteen Husting wills dated in July, four were dead before the month was out. A total of seven wills were enrolled during July. Also dead was the long-standing master of the hospital of St James near Westminster, John de Norwich. His will was proved in the Commissary Court before 30 July, the date his replacement Thomas de Orgrave was recognised. John de Norwich was the (until now unrecognised) head of the hospital, running it from at least 1354.459 Apostasy from religious houses may have been at least partly responsible for the issue on 20 July by the king of an order ‘to all sheriffs and bailiffs to arrest all those of the order of Friars Preachers whom they shall find vagabond in their bailiwicks, as the prior provincial or any prior conventual of the said order shall intimate to them, and to deliver them to the said priors’.460

The seriousness of the plague was confirmed on 15 July when Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, sent out a letter requesting penitential processions, using the following words:

Would that those … who give their attention to the mortality, pestilence or epidemic now reigning in England … could be persuaded to pour out unceasing prayers to the most high for the cessation of this pestilence or epidemic … in our modern times we are mired in monstrous sin and the lack of devotion among the people provokes the great king to whom we should direct our prayers. As a result we are assailed by plagues or epidemics.461

The weather during the summer raised another spectre – that of fire in the city. The temperature soared and at the end of the month the mayor ordered the aldermen to see that in front of every house in each ward ‘there should stand a large cask or other vessel full of water during the presently intense hot and dry season, that there should be ladders and crooks, and that the watches should be properly kept’.462 The existence of this precautionary edict is interesting insofar as it contrasts with any direct reference to the pestilence itself. It is a reminder, perhaps, of the difference between positive action to ward off a risk that was physical and preventable and the lack of any coherent response to an intangible punishment brought down by a wrathful God.

Eight Husting wills were drawn up in August, six in the first fortnight. All except one came before the Archdeaconry (four) or Commissary Courts for probate. They included the will of skinner Henry de Sudbury, a man clearly very keen on religious houses. His two sons, John and William, were monks at Battle Abbey and Westminster, while his daughter Agnes was a nun at the Franciscan convent of St Clare in the Minories;463 he also left the bed ‘where he may die’ to a sister in the hospital of St Katherine by the Tower. His probate is dated to 1375, but it took until 1381 for his will to be enrolled in Husting. Across two ecclesiastical courts, probate of eighteen separate wills took place in August,464 but no details of enrolments exist since the Husting court was closed for August and September.

August raised once again fears about lepers and leprosy, and the keepers of the city gates, including those of London Bridge and the Tower postern gate, were instructed not to allow lepers to enter the city. The instructions were explicit. They were to prohibit lepers from the city and suburbs, restraining them if necessary, and failure would be met with a grim punishment:

that they will well and trustily keep the Gates and Postern aforesaid … and will not allow lepers to enter the City, or to stay in the same, or in the suburbs thereof; and … if any lepers or leper shall come there, and wish to enter, such persons or person shall be prohibited by the porter from entering; and if, such prohibition notwithstanding, such persons or person shall attempt to enter, then they or he shall be distrained by their or his horses or horse, if they or he shall have any such, and by their outer garment … And if even then such persons or person shall attempt to enter, they or he shall … in safe custody be kept … And further, the same porters were told, on pain of the pillory, that they must well and trustily observe and keep this Ordinance, as aforesaid.465

The strategy was extended in the same instruction to attempt to cut off any possible contamination at source: the ‘foremen’ of the leper hospitals of the Lock in Southwark and Hackney, just north of the city, were also required to swear that ‘they will not bring lepers, or know of their being brought, into the City aforesaid; but that they will inform the said porters, and prevent the said lepers from entering, so far as they may’. Leprosy was, of course, feared generally, but this order, examined in the light of the concerns over roaming lepers from St Giles in 1354, raises the possibility that outbreaks of plague may have hardened the hearts of civic authorities against a somewhat laxer approach normally taken towards London’s lepers. The issue of lepers is touched upon further in the concluding chapter.

Following the harvest recess, the Husting court reconvened on 15 October, and again one week later. It enrolled twelve wills, the earliest of which dated to late June and the latest to 6 September. These, and one or two in November, represented the rather modest tail end of the fourth plague, the last outbreak to blight Edward III’s reign.

The impact of this plague was undoubtedly much less than that of those preceding it. Overall, 237 wills were proved in London’s ecclesiastical courts during the whole year of 1375. Of the thirty-six wills enrolled in Husting, eighteen were from this probate number, leaving an equal number of wills probably proved outside London courts. To this number we can add the cases of those who had died intestate, also the responsibility of the courts. The complexities surrounding claims against such estates meant that there was a lag in hearings and judgements, so the numbers extend well beyond the end of the outbreak. Sixteen such cases occurred in 1375, twenty-five in 1376, and twenty-three in the final year of Edward’s reign.466 The level of mortality associated with the pestilence itself is as ever difficult to calculate, but we do have two wills series to compare.

The average number of Husting enrolments between 1370 and 1374 was fourteen per annum, or about 3.5 every three months. A total of twenty-three wills were enrolled during or as a direct result of the three plague months, an additional mortality of 5.4 times the normal figure. The Archdeaconry Court figures suggest something a little lower than this. The average annual probate rate for the same five-year period between the third and fourth plagues was fifty-eight wills. This equates to an additional mortality level during the three months of about 4.1 times the pre-outbreak figure. We should, therefore, work on an estimated mortality rate about five times greater than in the years since the third plague. The duration is critical here – only just three months. It is this which saved the city from another terrible hammering, as the death toll may have been as low as 1,500 in this outbreak, or nearly 4 per cent of the population. London in 1375 may, therefore, have had as few as 38,000 residents.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!