BLACK DEATH. THE AFTERMATH.

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Stanley
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BLACK DEATH. THE AFTERMATH.

Post by Stanley » 28 Jul 2013, 04:08

BLACK DEATH. THE AFTERMATH.

In 1349 at least a quarter of the inhabitants of West Craven died of plague. I’m going to concentrate on Barlick but what I am going to describe would be broadly true for the whole of the region. This week I want to make some assessments about how this catastrophe altered the social structure of West Craven forever.

What was this structure before the plague hit? The first thing to recognise is that there was no organised industry and everyone lived off the land. There would be a few people skilled in crafts like metal-working or spinning and weaving and they could supplement their income by barter. There was no wage labour as such because all the inhabitants were subject to a local lord who controlled all the land and the peasants. In effect, Barlickers and the land they worked were owned by the Lord of the Manor and he got his income by tithing them either in money, produce or labour. There were two sets of laws; the Manorial Law which was administered by the Lord’s officials in a local Manorial Court and the King’s law which was promulgated throughout the local area called a Wapentake.

The Lord of the Manor had rights to his domain by reason of favour from even greater Lords who got their original grants of land from William the Conqueror after the Norman Invasion of 1066 when he rewarded all those who had helped in his campaign by giving them control over enormous areas of England. In return for this gift, these greater lords administered their fiefdoms, kept the peace by armed force based in castles and paid service and taxes to the king. The local lord here was the De Lacy’s at Clitheroe Castle.

Barlick was slightly different from most other manors in that on 18th May 1147 Henry de Lacy gifted the manor of Barnoldswick to the Cistercian monks of Fountains Abbey in order to found a monastery. By 1152 they had given up the struggle against the climate, the local inhabitants and the Scots Raiders and transferred to what is now Kirkstall Abbey at Leeds. However, they still retained ownership of the manor and with the help of the de Lacy’s fought off rival claims to the manor until in 1156 Kirkstall and all its satellites was taken under the protection of Adrian IV the Pope in Rome. The Crown never ceased to claim that the transfer of 1147 was illegal and despite the Pope’s protection the dispute rumbled on for 200 years until a final settlement in favour of Kirkstall Abbey in about 1340.

We know for certain that the Abbot of Kirkstall was firmly in charge of Barnoldswick in 1344 because there is record of a suit between the Abbot and Simon de Blakay who was accused of taking trees to the value of 100 shillings from the Abbot’s woods at Barnoldswick ‘by force of arms’.

So, in 1349 Barlick was firmly under the control of the Abbot. The priest at Gill Church was a monk and the Manorial Court was run by the Abbot’s appointees who collected rents, fines, tithes of produce, taxes and service for the coffers of Kirkstall Abbey. The church was powerful in every manor, whoever the lord was but it seems reasonable to suppose that in the case of Barnoldswick, the ecclesiastical writ was even more pervasive.

Let’s step back a bit and consider what the world view of a 14th century peasant was. He or she believed implicitly in a concept known as the ‘Chain of Being’. This was an hierarchy of everything in the world which had God at the top followed by the different orders of Angels. Next in line was the Pope and the Church, followed by the Kings and descending to stones at the bottom. Peasants came in just before the animals, but only just. There was some opportunity for advancement in the higher orders, a priest could become Pope and a noble a King but lower down everything was set in concrete. You were born into your station in life and stayed there. Our Barlick peasants absolutely knew their place and who were their ‘betters’. Because Kirkstall owned the manor their immediate ‘betters’ were the monks.

Right, now we’ve got the context in place, let’s have a look at what happened when the plague struck. For as long as they could remember, Barlickers had been brainwashed with the idea that they were menials, fit only to serve their lord. They were tied by law to the land and couldn’t move out of the manor, in effect they were slaves. The monks preached that they were born sinful and that disease and accidental death were punishments for sins from God which had to be accepted. It was their lot in life. Then came the plague…..

The first thing that Barlickers noticed was that the church gave no protection against the plague. Indeed, the plague took lords, clergy and peasants alike. If death from infection was a punishment for sin it followed that everyone who died was equal! This was directly contrary to everything they had been told but the evidence was clear to see. Doubts began to stir in the minds of the peasants. Just imagine the conversations round the fireside as Barlickers tried to make sense of what was happening in 1349. If the monks were as pure as they said they were, why were they being punished for sins?

There was another consequence of the plague. There were less hands to labour on the land to produce tithes of produce and give service to the Abbot. This meant a reduction in food for the Abbey and a gradual deterioration in the assets as cultivation and maintenance of the directly farmed land was curtailed. The Manorial Law started to break down, you couldn’t exact tithes from people who had nothing. From evidence in other parts of the country it appears that deference to the Lords and Clergy also suffered, in December 1349 Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury was attacked by a mob as he preached in Yeovil and there was two days rioting against the church. The peasants were getting stroppy, they had been badly let down and their confidence in the ‘Chain of Being’ shaken. Something quite fundamental had happened as a consequence of the Black Death.

I don’t know whether you have ever come across ‘Chaos Theory’ but briefly what it proposes is that quite small events can have immensely powerful knock-on effects. A butterfly flapping its wings in China can start a chain of events that leads to a typhoon in the South Seas….. The death of a hundred peasants in Barlick was a minor event. The death of over a million in Britain was serious but a few years of breeding would put that right. I don’t think it was as simple as that and subsequent events seem to bear me out. I believe that what happened in Barlick in 1349 changed our village and the attitudes of its people forever. Let’s go a bit further into this next week.

SCG/20 December 2006
1192 words.

One pic attached. Caption reads: The bottom of Gill churchyard. Could this be where the plague burials were?
Stanley Challenger Graham
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scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Stanley
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Re: BLACK DEATH. THE AFTERMATH.

Post by Stanley » 02 Mar 2019, 02:48

Bumped
Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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