For an assignment, I need to be studying the Black Plague, and different people's reactions to it. I know about England when the Black Plague hit it. However, were people in England aware of the fact that a plague was coming their way, and if they were, what did they do to prepare?

I'm assuming that leaders of countries and cities would communicate with each other to inform them that a disease was heading their way, but considering the plague hit hard in the beginning, were people aware, or did they even care that a disease was coming their way? What did different types of people (e.g. town leaders, peasants, freemen) do to try to stop the plague affecting their regions?

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    Welcome to History:SE. What has your research shown you so far? Where have you already searched? Please help us to help you. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and Help Centre and, in particular, How to Ask. Apr 3, 2018 at 13:22
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    You might find chunks of this course interesting for your research: oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-234 and youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3AE7B3B6917DE8E6 Apr 3, 2018 at 14:39
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    There were of course several episodes of Plague between 1348 and the last one in London around 1665, when it was finally killed, it is believed by the Great Fire of London. (The term Black Death was not used until the 17th century)
    – WS2
    Apr 4, 2018 at 7:20

1 Answer 1


There were quite a few different reactions, and panic was probably the main one. People didn't understand much about disease in those days so some of what they did wouldn't make much sense to us today.

Here's one reaction before the plague came to England - yes, people knew it was coming:

By June 1348, the plague was in Paris, but the fear of it travelled more swiftly and England watched and prayed.

from historyanswers

King Edward III didn't show any signs of panic - he carried on as normal and even held tournaments instead of resorting to "excessive religious fervour and abstemious living in the hope that God would see fit to keep them safe". Later he was more cautious and left plague-infected London.

For the population in general, sciencemuseum says

With no accurate knowledge about the disease and the way it was spread, what could be done in the face of such horror? While many followed Hippocratic advice and fled, others waited.

Here are some other things people did.

The people of the Medieval Ages were uneducated about diseases and cleanliness. Many thought it was caught through the air, so they would burn incense like juniper and rosemary to try to prevent infected air. People would dunk their handkerchiefs in aromatic oils to cover their nose and mouth from the air. Another common remedy was the cure of sound. Church bells would ring to ward off the plague. Church bells were often rang during a crisis, so they felt this was a justifiable remedy. Sometimes cannons were fired because they were so loud. Local apothecaries made a lot of money off people during the plague years by selling and marketing all sorts of talismans, charms, and spells for protection.

from https://sites.google.com/site/theblackdeathmary/medical-prevention

Also, there were some religious fanatics called The Flagellants. These were more common in Europe than in England but 600 came to London and beat themselves in "Attempt to Repel the Black Death".

from http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/flagellants.htm

The question specifies England but one interesting reaction in neighbouring Scotland involved taking advantage of the plague by invading England. A BBC article quotes Henry Knighton who wrote

The Scots, hearing of the cruel plague of the English, declared that it had befallen them through the revenging hand of God, and they took to swearing by 'the foul death of England' - or so the common report resounded in the ears of the English. And thus the Scots, believing that the English were overwhelmed by the terrible vengeance of God, gathered in the forest of Selkirk with the intention of invading the whole realm of England.


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