Source Problems in English History

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World History

4.

Chronicon Henrici Knighton.

1349. (From the Latin of the Rolls Series edition, II, 61–65. Translation by W. J. Ashley in Edward III. and his Wars, pp. 122–127.)

Then the grievous plague penetrated the seacoasts from Southampton, and came to Bristol, and there almost the whole strength of the town died, struck as it were by sudden death; for there were few who kept their beds more than three days, or two days, or half a day; and after this the fell death broke forth on every side with the course of the sun. There died at Leicester in the small parish of St. Leonard more than 380; in the parish of Holy Cross more than 400; in the parish of St. Margaret of Leicester more than 700; and so in each parish a great number. Then the bishop of Lincoln sent through the whole bishopric, and gave general power to the priests each and all, both regular and secular, to hear confessions, and absolve with full and entire episcopal authority except in matters of debt, in which case the dying man, if he could, should pay the debt while he lived, or others should certainly fulfil that duty from his property after his death. Likewise, the pope granted full remission of all sins to whoever was absolved in peril of death and granted that this power should last till next Easter, and every one could choose a confessor at his will. In the same year there was a great plague of sheep everywhere in the realm, so that in one place there died in one pasturage more than 5000 sheep, and so rotted that neither beast nor bird would touch them. And there were small prices for everything on account of the fear of death, for there were few who eared about riches or anything else. Pot a man could have a horse, which before was worth 40s., for 6s. 8d., a fat ox for 4s., a cow for 12d., a heifer for 6d., a fat wether for 4d., a sheep for 3d., a lamb for 2d., a big pig for 5d., a stone of wool for 9d. Sheep and cattle went wandering over fields and through crops, and there was no one to go and drive or gather them, so that the number cannot be reckoned which perished in the ditches in every district, for lack of herdsmen; for there was such a lack of servants that no one knew what he ought to do; . . . In the following autumn no one could get a reaper for less than 8d. with his food, a mower for less than 12d. with his food. Wherefore many crops perished in the fields for want of some one to gather them; but in the pestilence year, as is above said of other things, there was such abundance of all kinds of corn that no one much troubled about it.

. . . . . . .

Master Thomas of Bradwardine was consecrated by the pope archbishop of Canterbury, and when he returned to England he came to London, but within two days was dead. He was famous beyond all other clerks in the whole of Christendom, especially in theology, but likewise in the other liberal sciences. At the same time priests were in such poverty everywhere that many churches were widowed and lacking the divine offices, masses, matins, vespers, sacraments, and other rites. A man could scarcely get a chaplain under £10 or 10 marks to minister to a church. And when a man could get a chaplain for five or four marks or even for two marks with his food when there was an abundance of priests before the pestilence, there was scarcely any one now who was willing to accept a vicarage for £20 or 20 marks; but within a short time a very great multitude of those whose wives had died in the pestilence flocked into orders, of whom many were illiterate and little more than laymen, except so far as they knew how to read, although they could not understand.

Cowhides were at the low price of 12d., a pair of shoes for 10d., 12d., or 14d., and a pair of boots for three or four shillings. Meanwhile the king sent proclamation into all the counties that reapers and other laborers should not take more than they had been accustomed to take, under the penalty appointed by statute. But the laborers were so lifted up and obstinate that they would not listen to the king’s command, but if any one wished to have them he had to give them what they wanted, and either lose his fruit and crops, or satisfy the lofty and covetous wishes of the workmen. And when it was known to the king that they had not observed his command, and had given greater wages to the laborers, he levied heavy fines upon abbots, priors, knights, greater and lesser, and other great folk and small folk of the realm, of some 100s., of some 40s., of some 20s., from each according to what he could give. He took from each carucate of the realm 20s., and, notwithstanding this, a fifteenth. And afterward the king had many laborers arrested, and sent them to prison; many withdrew themselves and went into the forests and woods; and those who were taken were heavily fined. Their ringleaders were made to swear that they would not take daily wages beyond the ancient custom, and then were freed from prison. And in like manner was done with the other craftsmen in the boroughs and villages. . . .

After the aforesaid pestilence, many buildings, great and small, fell into ruins in every city, borough, and village for lack of inhabitants; likewise many small villages and hamlets became desolate, not a house being left in them, all having died who dwelt there; and it was probable that many such villages would never be inhabited. In the winter following there was such a want of servants in work of all kinds, that one would scarcely believe that in times past there had been such a lack. The cattle and flocks which a man had wandered about everywhere without pasture, and everything which a man had was without care. And so all necessaries became so much dearer that what in times past had been worth a penny was then worth 4d. or 5d.

Magnates and lesser lords of the realm who had tenants made abatements of the rent in order that the tenants should not go away on account of the want of servants and the general dearness, some half the rent, some more, some less, some for two years, some for three, some for one year, according as they could agree with them. Likewise, those who received of their tenants day work throughout the year, as is the practice with villeins, had to give them more leisure, and remit such works, and either entirely to free them Or give them an easier tenure at a small rent, so that homes should not be everywhere irrecoverably ruined, and the land everywhere remain entirely uncultivated. And all victuals and necessities of every sort became very dear.

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Chicago: W. J. Ashley, trans., "Chronicon Henrici Knighton.," Source Problems in English History in Source Problems in English History, ed. Albert Beebe White and Wallace Notestein (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1915), 135–140. Original Sources, accessed November 28, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=IFN7VCHRYNX9QUQ.

MLA: . "Chronicon Henrici Knighton." Source Problems in English History, translted by W. J. Ashley, Vol. II, in Source Problems in English History, edited by Albert Beebe White and Wallace Notestein, New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1915, pp. 135–140. Original Sources. 28 Nov. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=IFN7VCHRYNX9QUQ.

Harvard: (trans.), 'Chronicon Henrici Knighton.' in Source Problems in English History. cited in 1915, Source Problems in English History, ed. , Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York, pp.135–140. Original Sources, retrieved 28 November 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=IFN7VCHRYNX9QUQ.