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King Death: The Black Death and its Aftermath in Late-Medieval England (1996)

by Colin Platt

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1003221,389 (3.11)4
This illustrated survey examines what it was actually like to live with plague and the threat of plague in late-medieval and early modern England.; Colin Platt's books include "The English Medieval Town", "Medieval England: A Social History and Archaeology from the Conquest to 1600" and "The Architecture of Medieval Britain: A Social History" which won the Wolfson Prize for 1990. This book is intended for undergraduate/6th form courses on medieval England, option courses on demography, medicine, family and social focus. The "black death" and population decline is central to A-level syllabuses on this period.… (more)
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The devastation of the plague on the way of life in medieval England was both profound and long lasting. The information provided by the author will be very helpful for me as I add the information from King Death into a novel I'm working on.

This book was generally well-researched and written, however the sexism of the author rang through loud and clear. His point of view was always that of the leading males, whether land owner or head of household, and as such, could only see the long lives of dowagers and "hardship" for the "family." Apparently the dowager's themselves should have just died and freed up their dowries. ( )
  doengels | Aug 30, 2020 |
I’m not quite sure how to rate this one. The subtitle is “The Black Death and its aftermath in late-medieval England”, but it’s more of a hodge-podge about English life, ranging all the way from the 1100s to the early 1700s. Author Colin Platt makes the familiar claim that the Black Death revolutionized English society by destroying serfdom (not by killing the serfs off, but because the immense labor shorter made it lucrative for a serf to run away from the land and work for money somewhere). However, he doesn’t really provide much causal evidence for this, just relying on the argument as a given. I admit that it’s plausible and I’m sympathetic to it, but while reading King Death it puzzled me: why just England? Italy and Spain and France and Germany were hit just as hard as England, but serfdom seemed to go on in all those places.


Amidst the hodge and podge are a lot of other interesting things. Platt attributes the shortage of clergy after the plague partially to the plague itself and partially to the new doctrine of Purgatory, which required memorial masses for all the dead who could afford them. Thus a lot of clergy disappeared from parishes and monasteries and turned up as private chaplains to wealthy families. Less convincing is Platt’s claim for a change in architecture – a lot of grandiose building plans were abandoned when the sponsors died off. There are illustrations of churches with grand towers and tiny naves, naves with no chancels, and so on, but some of these date to 200 years after the Black Death. Similarly, there is a supposedly a change in inheritance practice from primarily jointure to primarily entailment, which gets blamed on the prevalence of widows after the plague, but why should women be favored over men? (Platt hints at the possibility that the plague was much less severe in the country than in the cities, and noblewomen were more likely to stay on their estates while their lord went to London).


Pretty good maps, references, and illustrations, but not good as a first or even second book about the Black Death.; ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 14, 2017 |
I have every book on the plague that I can get my hands on. Without a detailed review, my primary observation is that this is the least interesting one I've owned. It's a discussion of the economics and subsequent history of various localities in England post-plague. While the content is interesting, the author doesn't hold my attention.
1 vote GeekGoddess | Dec 25, 2010 |
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This illustrated survey examines what it was actually like to live with plague and the threat of plague in late-medieval and early modern England.; Colin Platt's books include "The English Medieval Town", "Medieval England: A Social History and Archaeology from the Conquest to 1600" and "The Architecture of Medieval Britain: A Social History" which won the Wolfson Prize for 1990. This book is intended for undergraduate/6th form courses on medieval England, option courses on demography, medicine, family and social focus. The "black death" and population decline is central to A-level syllabuses on this period.

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