The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut, from the Nuremberg Chronicle of Hartmann Schedel

The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut, from the Nuremberg Chronicle of Hartmann Schedel

The James Ford Lectures in Hilary Term 2019

After the Black Death: Society, economy and the law in fourteenth-century England

Professor Mark Bailey, University of East Anglia

5pm, South School, Examination Schools

As the single greatest catastrophe in recorded history, the Black Death of 1348-9 continues to grip both the popular and scholarly imagination.  This series of six lectures reassesses the main social, economic, legal and cultural responses to the great mortality during the second half of the fourteenth century and explores how they were shaped by the prevailing institutional framework—the rules, laws and belief systems—regulating social and economic behaviour in England.

Lecture Four  - Injustice and Revolt

Recent studies of the Peasants’ Revolt have focused less on modern pre-occupations with class and revolution and more upon the common threads of conflict uniting different social groups across diffuse power structures.  This perspective provides fresh insights into the innate tensions and widespread sense of injustice generated by the structure and implementation of government legislation between the Black Death and the uprising.

Lecture Three - A mystery within an enigma: the economy, 1355-75

The absence of many of the anticipated economic and social consequences of the Black Death during the third quarter of the fourteenth century, and the presence of many contradictory signals, have long puzzled historians.  The mystery owes much to the disruption and volatility caused by a succession of further environmental and epidemiological crises in the 1360s, and to the complex human responses to the continuing instability and uncertainty.

Lecture Two - Reaction and Regulation

Escalating prices and the sudden shortage of labour in the immediate aftermath of the Black Death posed an urgent threat to the ordained social order, spurring both seigniorial attempts to tighten control over serfdom and a raft of ambitious new government legislation.  By the 1360s, however, compromise and competition were more prominent than coercion, and irreversible institutional changes had been set in motion.

Lecture One  - Old problems, new approaches

The scale, impact and significance of the Black Death have divided opinion since the nineteenth century, but recent multi-disciplinary research has sought to restore its central position in the transition from feudal to modern society.  The reconstruction of the institutional framework of pre-plague England—as revealed through the workings of the land, labour and grain markets—enables its subsequent dynamic interaction with sudden and precipitous demographic decline to be properly explored.

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