Reform By Destruction: The Black Death

1175 words - 5 pages

As the residents of Europe conducted their activities of daily living during the mid-fourteenth century, they had no knowledge of the fate that they were to succumb to. Twelve Genoese trading ships docked at the Sicilian port of Messina after venturing through the Black Sea. Those that were waiting at the dock for the sailors believed that all was well. However, they were proved wrong (“Black Death”).
Not only were the ships carrying cargo; with it, they carried a silent pestilence. This pestilence had already taken the lives of many on the ships, only to leave those who remained gravely ill. Not only did they exhibit delirium and excessive vomiting, the sailors also had mysterious black boils enveloping their bodies. Those boils oozed a black, odorous pus. The Sicilian authorities ordered that the ships leave the harbor immediately; however, it was too late (“Black Death”).
That was only the beginning of a deadly chain of infection. Around the year of 1347, this affliction like no other struck Europe. It is known as the Black Death. In addition to its toll on lives, it brought with it the incentive to reform religion and structure. It also caused a psychological response that, in turn, caused the first holocaust. How exactly did a microscopic pathogen cause such reformation and other effects on medieval life?
Structurally speaking, the Black Death was a contributing factor to the weakening of the feudal system. Prior to the Black Death’s entrance into Europe, the nobility could count on loyal vassals and peasants (Bill 47). These vassals and peasants were required to work a predetermined amount of days per year on the lord’s land in exchange for working on their own. They were required to use supplies and roads owned by the lord instead of making their own. In doing so, they had to pay the lord some type of toll or fee. The lords milked this opportunity as the peasants and vassals could not create their own roadways or supplies. The vassals and peasants had no true freedom from their lords, and no sufficient payment for their servitude (“Feudalism”).
After the plague, the peasants who were once loyal and dependable now demanded higher payments of cash (Routt). Without compensation, they refused to work any longer. This caused the nobility to finally realize that with such a high demand for these workers, they had to pay them. In addition to their newfound freedom and pay, peasants could now purchase their own land (47). This was a major change in the system of feudalism. The world of the nobility was forever upturned (47).
In addition to structural changes, the Church changed as well. It altered by losing its prestige and power. Due to this, people began to question why the Church could not receive forgiveness (Marks 133). As a result, the authority of the church began to erode and the Church began to weaken (Bill 46). Faith was no more, and the Church was no longer infallible. Some believe this single change was the most vital influence on...

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