The spread of the Black Death

The Plague

The bubonic plague was a painful disease, with black buboes or swellings, in the groin and armpits, which lasted up to a week. There was some chance of surviving if the buboes burst. If the buboes burst of their own accord it was a sign that the victim might recover.

An estimated 30% to 60% of the population of Europe died from the plague. This is often referred to as the 'mortality rate'. There were different types of the disease with different mortality rates:

  • Bubonic plague - victims of bubonic plague itself had a 50% chance of death.
  • Pneumonic plague - this attacked the lungs. Victims died quickly, in one or two days. The mortality rate in this case was 90%.
  • Septicaemic plague - this infected the blood. Again victims died quickly and the mortality rate was 100%.
Estimated death toll for the British Isles and Ireland 3.2 million. Mortality rate: Bubonic Plague 50%, Pneumonic Plague 90%, Septicaemic Plague 100%

How the plague spread

  1. The plague seems to have started in China in the 1330s.
  2. In 1347, armies attacking the town of Caffa in the Crimea, catapulted dead bodies into the town. Italian merchants took the plague with them to Sicily in October 1347.
  3. In June 1348 Black Death arrived at Melcombe Regis (in Dorset). By the end of the year it had spread throughout the south of England.
  4. During 1349, the plague spread into Wales, Ireland and the north of England.
  5. The Scots – thinking that God was punishing the English – invaded the north of England, where their army caught the plague. In 1350, therefore, the plague spread through Scotland.
  6. The first plague died out in 1350.
  7. The plague returned between 1361 and 1364, and five more times before 1405. These plagues mainly killed children, who had no resistance to the disease.