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Plague Mortality and Demographic Depression in Later Medieval England

Plague Mortality and Demographic Depression in Later Medieval England

Poos, L.R. (Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge)

THE YALE JOURNAL OF BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE, 54, (1981)

Abstract

Both direct and indirect evidence implies that England experienced a lengthy period of stagnant or declining population during the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Black Death of 1348-1349 had brought about profound changes in England’s agrarian economy, and this subsequent demographic depression is most commonly interpreted by historians as the result of plague mortality, recurring in severe out breaks after the disease’s introduction into the country.This paper reviews the evidence and assumptions behind this interpretation,in light of recent research by historical demographers and epidemiologists into bubonic plague epidemics and general mortality crises during the post-medieval period.

In recent years historians and historical demographers have made considerable progress in defining patterns of population and mortality in early-modern Europe. For England, through close analysis of such sources as parish registers and the London Bills of Mortality, severe and recurrent short-term fluctuations in mortality rates resulting from epidemic disease and occasionally harvest failure have become recognized as ubiquitous experiences in preindustrial communities.

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