The Black Death: An Intimate History

Orion Publishing

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'Agnes sat up with John all night, intermittently mumbling prayers and falling into fitful and troubled short naps. And when she did doze off she was confronted by a crowd of grinning demons striving with their infernal claws to snatch away her husband's soul.

John did not regain his senses, and soon after sunrise he stopped breathing.

Agnes arose and looked vainly around the bare room. She lit the candle that the priest had sold her and recited the Placebo as best she could. But the words of the prayer which she had known well since she was twelve kept slipping from her mind. As she washed John's body she was shocked to see that much of his skin was now blotched and blackened, and that there were a number of swellings as well as a carbuncle in his groin. She folded him into a clean sheet. Then she fetched some sticks of wood that she washed and dried, and placed them at the edge of the embers in the hearth and waited till the ends blackened and burned to ash. Taking them up she allowed them to cool, and then carefully traced a cross on the shroud, and smoothed and shaped it with her fingers.'

The Black Death remains the greatest natural disaster to befall humanity. Within the space of a few years in the mid-fourteenth century this horrific pestilence swept across the known world wiping out some 40 per cent of the population. Yet the sources available on the Black Death reveal only part of the story. The intimate history of the plague, as witnessed by the ordinary people who experienced it, was never recorded.

Focusing on the Suffolk village of Walsham, John Hatcher vividly recreates the lives and deaths of the ordinary people forced to live through these terrifying times. His narrative is peopled with characters developed from the villagers named in surviving records. With scrupulous attention to historical sources, he describes in unique detail what the parishioners experienced, what they knew and what they believed.

A series of dramatic scenes portray how contemporaries must have experienced the momentous events. Rumours, fear, hysteria and recrimination abounded as the epidemic drew closer. With the plague at its peak, as many as fifty villagers a day were wiped out by the pestilence. We witness the full horror of the disease for those who succumbed to it and for those who survived. The pressure on the clergy was overwhelming, as they struggled to fulfill their roles both as ministers to the dying and as spiritual guides to the parishioners left bewildered and bereft by the extent of the devastation.

In a gripping and historically precise narrative, John Hatcher probes deeper into this extraordinary event than historians have in the past, to tell the stories of the individuals who lived and died in a time of unprecedented turmoil and upheaval.


Condition: Pre-loved book. Minor yellowing of pages. Otherwise in good condition.

Format: Hardcover
Year published: 2008

Pages: 301
History; non-fiction
Imprint: Orion

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