IN 1345 the bubonic plague of Asia broke out in Europe. During the next three years it swept across the Continent, reaching England in 1348. At least a third of the people alive at the time died amid fearful suffering and distress. It was a human disaster on a scale never known before in history.
The consequences of the plague were important and far-reaching. Labour became scarce, land was plentiful, prices rose; the old manorial system went into rapid decline. Among rural people, who formed most of the population, there were implanted bitter discontents. These found expression in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, when London lay at the mercy of the mob, and the whole of medieval society seemed in danger of collapse.