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Scribner Seminar, London FYE 2013

Famine, Warfare, and Plague in 14th-Century England
Erica Bastress-Dukehart, Associate Professor of History

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England in the fourteenth century may be considered the embodiment of what we think of when we use the term “medieval.” It was a time of famine and disease, prolonged and bloody battles with France, of chivalry, art, new architecture, and the end of the Crusades. If someone living at the beginning of the century survived famine and warfare, it was likely that they succumbed to the plague that crept onto England’s shores three decades later, with deadly consequence. This was a dynamic time socially, politically, and culturally: London’s back alleys were alive with beggars and pickpockets, its markets filled with hawkers, fishmongers, barbers, and wool merchants. The City stank of rotting garbage, and the Thames was fouled by toxic runoff from the local tanners. Yet, everyone wanted to be part of this exciting city. Pilgrims arrived daily at it gates ready to be swept up in its wonders. In the fourteenth century, London was the place to be. Our task this semester will be to peel back the layers of the intervening centuries to rediscover London and its surrounding towns as they may have been in the age of famine, warfare, and plague.