Episode 120: The End of the World

In the mid-1300s, most of Europe was devastated by a massive plague known today as the Black Death. The disease killed about one-third of the population of England, and an even higher percentage of clerics and teachers who were trained in Latin and French. These disruptions permitted a younger generation who only spoke English to fill those positions. As a result, English replaced French in the grammar schools of England, and the stage was set for a revival of English learning and literature over the following decades.

10 thoughts on “Episode 120: The End of the World

  1. Happy New Year and thanks for another thought-provoking episode.

    I was very interested in your comments about the effect of the Black Death on the decline of Feudalism and the decline of the French/Latin domination. When I learned History at school in England in the 1960s it was taught in a very fragmented way so that we learned how the Black Death started, how it progressed and how it ended but not its ramifications and how it affected other events that were going on at the same time so it never occurred to us that the Hundred Years War was happening at the same time and the Peasants’ Revolt occurred a generation later when the English-speaking clerics, like John Ball and John Wyclif had come to maturity.

    Incidentally have you ever read “1066 and All That” by WC Sellar & RJ Yeatman. apart from being very amusing it gives an interesting insight into how English History was presented to English schoolchildren.

    • Thanks for the comments. One of the things I try to do in the podcast is to illustrate how seemingly unrelated events are actually connected. As I move forward, I will continue that approach – even though there will be a lot of balls to juggle when I get to the split within English with the creation of the British Empire. And I am familiar with the book you mentioned, but I haven’t read it.

  2. You said of the word “disease” that it was “borrowed from Latin via French”. But was this any different from other borrowings? I mean, most words that came into English from French had evolved from Vulgar Latin? I suppose there are exceptions, such as Germanic words that came to English via French, like belfry, bivouac, and boulevard (fr.wiktionary has a nice list). And I imagine there are Latin words that came into French in the middle ages directly, then hopped over to English like bubonic fleas, though I don’t know any examples off the top of my head. By the way “disease” is one of those words that has since disappeared from French, replaced by “maladie”.

    • There were quite a few Frankish words and even a few Celtic words that passed through French into English. But I didn’t really mean to imply anything special by saying that the word was “borrowed from Latin via French.” I am at the point where I am looking for new ways of expressing the same basic idea that a lot of words were borrowed from French and Latin.

  3. When my wife and I were dating I told her over text “…we don’t end our sentences in prepositions…”.

    She replied, “Okay, where you at, butthead?” (we’ll just go with ‘butthead’ here)

  4. Kevin, I happened to be on a cycle ride at Laxton (Nottinghamshire – England midlands)when I heard your comments about priest Etc dieing through the Black Death so stoppped at St Michael the Archangels Church. Inside the list of vicars relavent to your podcast, are December Adam W 1348 – August 1349 then someone at 1352 and gap till 1395. Would this co-incide with your thread of the priesthood being affected by the plague.

    • That was such a neat thing to do at the spur of the moment. It’s hard to say for certain, but it is possible that the Black Death caused vacancies in the position or perhaps the Church simply stopped having services in the aftermath of the plague. There were recurrences of the plague in the second half of the century, but none were as severe as that original outbreak from 1348-51.

  5. I keep hearing “this loan word was borrowed into English” from French. Let’s hope they don’t ask for them back!

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