Black Death Affected Feudalism in Essay

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As feudalism altered, it changed many other aspects of change and social standing. A historian notes, "As you move away from feudalism, the lord stops eating with everybody and goes to a private chamber and eats with his family, creating the beginnings of family life as opposed to courtly life. And houses change to reflect that the halls shrink and eventually disappear" (Sargent 2007, 114). There were slightly greater opportunities for women after the epidemic, too. There was such a shortage of labor; many women began working, mostly in the textile and beer brewing areas. Therefore, everything from the size of housing, to family life also altered after the plague, and eventually that would lead society from feudalism to capitalism, one of the biggest changes of all.

Because of the Black Death, the prices of goods were higher and food prices lower, the nobles were making less money. They wanted sanctions from the government to fix prices and increase their profits. Around Europe, the governments complied, and peasant revolts began to take place. Author Backman states, "All across northern Europe, peasants were resentful that what they had hoped would be their gain from the epidemic -- decreased rents for tenants and increased wages for rural laborers -- turned instead into increased dependence on the landlords" (Backman 2003, 379). As word of the revolts spread, more peasants began to demand their rights, and one of the largest revolts, called the English Peasant Revolt of 1381, showed that feudalism was a dying cause.

The English Peasant Revolt of 1381 came about because of the government's issuance of statutes that taxed the peasants and limited the amount of wages they could be paid. Historian Kreis notes, "In 1380, the English government issued a new poll tax, the third in just four years. Meanwhile, landlords were constantly increasing rents on their land, and to which the peasants was now tied by the Statute of Labourers" (Kreis 2006). The poll tax taxed everyone just because they existed, and it was the last straw for the peasants. Another historian notes, "While these conferences were going forward, there happened in England great commotions among the lower ranks of the people, by which England was near ruined without resource" (Muhlberger 2010). Sixty-thousand protesters marched to London and sent a list of demands to the king. They wanted the poll tax repealed, but more than that, they wanted their freedom. Their petition also asked for the end of feudalism. An early historian writes, "And he demanded that there should be no more villeins in England, and no serfdom or villeinage, but that all men should be free and of one condition" (Oman 1906). Young King Richard agreed to meet the protestors, but could not get through the many numbers to meet their leaders for negotiation. This led the protesters to grow in numbers, as city workers joined their cause, and they rioted in London, looting, burning, and terrorizing the residents. Eventually, the king did meet with them and met their demands to end feudalism. However, he rounded up many of the leaders and had them executed before he pardoned the rest.

In conclusion, the Black Death brought monumental changes to Europe. It killed millions of people, halted trade and the economy, and led to great social and lifestyle changes. Ultimately, it changed agriculture, too, and that led to the demise of the archaic system known as feudalism. There were no longer peasants and overlords, who depended on each other for survival in the name of slavery. The peasants were free to own their own farms rather than work for a lord, and that ultimately led to capitalism throughout Europe.


Backman, Clifford R. 2003. The worlds of medieval Europe. New York: Oxford University Press.

Browne, Anthony. 2002. Pop the pill and think of England. New Statesman, November 4, 28+.

Kreis, Steven. 2006. In the wake of the black death. History: History Guide. (accessed 23 April 2010).

Layton, Robert. 1995. Functional and historical explanations for village social organization in Northern Europe. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 1, no. 4: 703+.

Muhlberger, Steve. 2010. Beginning of the English peasant revolt. History: Nipissing University. (accessed 23 April 2010).

Oman, Charles. 1906. The great revolt of 1381, Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 200-203, 205. (accessed 23 April 2010).


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