The ‘light touch’ of the Black Death in the Southern Netherlands: an urban trick?

The ‘light touch’ of the Black Death in the Southern Netherlands: an urban trick?

By Daniel R. Curtis and Joris Roosen

The Economic History Review, published online, 2018

Abstract: Although the fanciful notion that the Black Death bypassed the Low Countries has long been rejected, nevertheless a persistent view remains that the Low Countries experienced only a ‘light touch’ of the plague when placed in a broader European perspective, and recovered quickly and fully.

However, in this article an array of dispersed sources for the Southern Netherlands together with a new mortmain accounts database for Hainaut show that the Black Death was severe, perhaps no less severe than other parts of western Europe; that serious plagues continued throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; and that the Black Death and recurring plagues spread over vast territories—including the countryside.

The previous conception of a ‘light touch’ of plague in the Low Countries was created by the over privileging of particular urban sources, and a failure to account for the rapid replenishment of cities via inward migration, which obscured demographic decimation. We suggest that the population of the Low Countries may not have recovered faster than other parts of western Europe but instead experienced a greater degree of post-plague rural–urban migration.

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Top Image: Gilles li Muisis, Burial of Plague victims in Antiquitates Flandriae ab anno 1298 and annum 1352. Brussels, Bibliotheque Royale, MS no. 13076, fol. 24v

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