ANST - FW: Musing on October 1st -- A Plague on Both Your Houses

j'lynn yeates jyeates at
Mon Oct 2 08:18:05 PDT 2000

Hash: SHA1

- -----Original Message-----
From: Ellsworth Weaver [mailto:astroweaver at]
Sent: Monday, October 02, 2000 09:36
To: 2thpix at
Subject: Musing on October 1st -- A Plague on Both Your Houses

Dear Folk,

On October 1, 1348, the citizens of Florence looked around and
a shaky relief. It appeared the Black Death was over... at least for
the moment. Shall we talk about a force greater than a crusade,
than a king or emperor or even pope?

Most of what we remember about this particular epidemic in Florence
comes from Marchione di Coppo Stefani’s  The Florentine Chronicle.
Marchione di Coppo Stefani was born in Florence in 1336. He wrote his
Florentine Chronicle in the late 1370s and early 1380s

In March 1348 the first cases started appearing. The illness seemed
strike like wildfire. Houses which had servants taking care of the
suddenly had everyone dying of the same illness. None of the ill
past four to six days. Nothing, not doctor nor medicine effected any
help at all. It killed almost everyone who became ill. It started
a painful swelling in the groin where the thighs met the trunk or a
smaller swelling under the armpit. These they called buboes. The
would develop a sudden fever and might also be spitting up blood.
who had bloody spittle were invariably terminal within three days.

The citizens were in such fear of the disease that if someone
the rest of the household might run away. One house abandoned led to
another. Soon those in towns ran to villages. Those who fled to
in the outlying villages often brought the plague with them to the
surrounding areas. Physicians died like the rest. Those few doctors
could be found demanded and received large sums of money to visit the
sick. When they got there, the doctors would take the pulse with
faces turned away. They examined the patient’s urine at a distance.
Priests were likewise not there to deliver the consolation of the

Family members deserted the sick and dying. Many died of hunger
unattended because when one became sick, the other members might say,
"Wait here, I’ll get a doctor" and then slink away. The more
ones left a little food and water for the victim before they left. If
the victim did survive a little longer, they might make it to a
to call for help. Help seldom came. Folks did not want to enter the
houses of the sick and even shunned those who had exited from them.

And so the victims died unseen, remaining in their death beds until
they putrefied. Neighbors, if there were any left alive, might put
unfortunate corpse in a shroud and send it off for burial. Burial was
usually in a church yard pit or trench. All night long the dead were
carted in; the next morning the few attendants would shovel dirt over
the bodies. More bodies were added and then more dirt, they layered
them like cheese and noodles in lasagna.

Life was not easy or cheap for those who were not stricken. The cost
and scarcity of food made living difficult. Eggs, chicken, sugar,
extremely hard to find and horribly expensive. Wax for candles, a
necessity of life and a luxury for funerals, would have disappeared
entirely had the government put a limit on the number of large
(two) allowed per funeral. The price of funerary equipment such as
biers, pillows, mourning gowns also went through the roof.

The churches were forbidden to sound their bells for funerals. No one
would have gotten any rest, for the bells would have had to be rung
continually. The sick hated the sound of it and rather discouraged
healthy as well.

Those priests and friars who did brave the fear of disease and tended
to the ill chose to serve the rich. They received such gratitude from
their wealthy parishioners that they became wealthy from it
The authorities did what they could to limit this. They passed
ordinances that said that one could not have more than a certain
of clerics of a local parish church at hand nor more than six friars
a time.

Shops, guild houses, restaurants all closed. Soon nothing but
and apothecaries (another suddenly wealthy trade) were open. Small
groups of men would have a dining circle where one would host one
and another the next. At first it might work but then one by one
members would not show up. The word came back that they had been
stricken. The streets were empty. If a rich person went out to
he was carried on a litter with four beccamorti (means "vultures")
heavily to be in attendance and a tonsured clerk paid to go before
holding a cross.

When the plague disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared, the
survivors were left to try to pick up their lives. There now were
houses and possessions just standing around vacant. No master would
claim so much of the goods. Cloth was hard to find. Moths and mold
claimed raw and processed wool. Nevertheless, folks claiming
inheritance became almost catastrophically rich.

How many did the Plague take? The best estimates had that in Florence
alone some 96,000 men, women and children died between March and
October. Deaths across Europe and Asia from this wave of pestilence
reached the tens of millions. This was only one wave. The first
recorded wave was in the sixth century and continued until the
seventeenth. The plague seemed to come inexplicably in 11 year

There were effects other than those of depopulation. Laws were made
restrain survivors from raising prices beyond reason. Judges were
to enforce ordinances against folk like farm workers and servants who
suddenly sensed how valuable their services were. Laws covering the
minute details of how many wedding guests one could have, what kind
clothing folks could wear on the street and at parties were quickly
passed and enforced. After all, weddings brought large groups of
together, a perfect way to spread contagion. Sumptuous clothing
increased the scarcity of cloth.

A deeper effect was that on the feudal society. The top of the
hierarchical pyramid was taken away – both actually as the rulers of
Church and State became plague victims and mentally as commoners
noticed that God protected neither king nor pope. Surely God would
protect His own. What did that say about the "Divine Right of Kings"
and the sacredness of the clergy? Peasant revolts spread throughout
Europe with this realization.

What have we learned from this? Some will always profit during a
disaster? It is hard to find good help? Governments when it suits
will try to limit inflation? The plague actually helped democracy?
about blessed are the nurses? That’s one of my mottoes as anyone who
has read my poetry can attest.

So if you are out there starving for attention, treating the
bringing out your dead, or just carrying some rich dude to church and
you want to forward these missives, do but please leave my name and
sig. attached. May St. Roche, patron saint of plague victims, protect
you all from anything which plagues you.

Feeling much better, really,
J. Ellsworth Weaver

SCA – Sir Balthazar of Endor
AS – Polyphemus Theognis

SmileWeavers Astrology Charts
SCA & Veteran Discounts
1748 Tierra Nueva Ln. Oceano, CA 93445 805.473.8867

Musing Archive at

Ray Clark Dickson Poetry

Do You Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Photos - 35mm Quality Prints, Now Get 15 Free!

Version: PGPfreeware 6.5.8 for non-commercial use <>


Go to to perform mailing list tasks.

More information about the Ansteorra mailing list