Tuesday, 28 April 2015

You've got the plague!

Mixed grain breads at dolls house 12th scale by MedievalMorsels

I was sitting outside last week. Spring has really sprung now, here in southern England.

My father used to partially quote, or misquote, a poem
"Spring is sprung,
the grass is ris!"
This nonsense poem has more lines. About birds and wings and things. But being of a then very tender age, I do not remember him reciting more, although he probably completed the poem. (He also liked to quote "Hiawatha" by Longfellow). Should you need to know, the above lines are attributed to one or other of: the English nonsense verse writer E.E. Cummings or the American poet Ogden Nash. But in reality we probably must put them down to Anon!

Anyway, I was sitting outside "distressing" some dollhouse wooden bowls and plates. Children were running home from school and I heard some words that suddenly brought back memories because, in my obviously uncaring youth, I had often uttered them too. I bet you did as well. And, what is more I bet millions of children across Europe have shouted this taunt for more than 100 years now, even though it references go even further back to Medieval times. Tell me, did your school playground taunts and tag games involve this now overheard and very mean-spirited slur?

 "You've got the Plague! You've got the Plague!"

The Black Death, the most virulent of a series of outbreaks of the bubonic plague, killed a massive proportion of the Medieval population across Europe during the years 1348-1350. In England alone it killed nearly a third of the population, and London's population was halved. The pestilence followed all of the trade routes to every country, carried by fleas on rats. It was believed to have originated in the Gobi Desert.  I really didn't know that. I thought it came to England, London probably, on ships from Norway. And perhaps it did! 
Malnutrition in England, due to bad weather conditions and consecutive failed harvests, was a reason why so many people sucombed to this malaise so easily. Death was swift, so you could say that a taunt that you had the plague was particularly cruel! Chances are though, that the taunter would have be incubating the dreaded disease as well! 

More one inch miniature food -bread- as featured in Wolf Hall by MedievalMorsels

 Wheat and other failed cereal crops either could not germinate or were flooded or blown down by driving rain. This meant a shortage of cereal meal thickening for pottages and for making bread. 
 And limited availability for pastry "coffyns", such a Medieval favourite.
A small chewetty or pie by MedievalMorsels
Fancy table pie with minced meats and fruits, spices

Root vegetables and beans rotted in the fields.

12th scale onions grown by MedievalMorsels

Organic dollhouse vegetables, cabbages by MedievalMorsels
In England the population drop following the Plague resulted in a higher value being placed on labour - the Peasants Revolt followed in 1381 challenging young King Richard II's authority. He, incidentally, grew to be a thoroughly disliked monarch, which is saying something by English Medieval and Tudor standards!

But farming and life for a peasant changed in the years after the Great Plague. The wool industry boomed. Less land was worked because previous levels of food production were no longer needed. They were less mouths to feed! The canny tenant Lord looked to save his money so indentured peasant labourer lost out to the more profitable woolly coated sheep. Many medieval hamlets and villages, devastated by Plague in the first place, were now abandoned as land-use changed and the less viable countryside could no longer sustain a working population.

Plague was to return many times in Europe and England. The Great Plague of 1665 brought death on a massive scale once again. A late as 1900 Australia and Portugal had outbreaks of bubonic plague.

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