No Black Death


Forum Staff
Aug 2006
During the course of taking a uni class on the Black Death, I did an annotated bibliography and all the associated requisite research on a particular, and what came to be very interesting, thesis: That the Black Death, through its massive toll in human lives, but more specifically amongst the Catholic clergy, played a large hand in setting up the Reformation. Based on this thesis, which I feel can be backed up to a substantial degree, it's quite easy to conversely put forward the idea that without the Black Death, there may very well have been no Reformation, or at the least nothing bearing resemblance to the OT.
You make a good point here. The Black Death had a huge impact on the mid to late 14th century...partiuclarly on the Church. Many people began turning to a more individualized style of religion. The Brethren of the Common Life is a great example of what I mean. Many of these groups are beginning to pop up more frequently as a result of the plague. On the other hand, I disagree that if it never happened, the Reformation wouldn't have happened. There are several other factors beside the Black Death that helped to sprout the Reformation...most of it intellectual. The Renaissance was already in its beginning stages in Italy prior to the Black Death. In my opinion, it's the combination of Renaissance ideas, corruption of the Church, the Black Death, and very turbulatn 14th century that aided in the development of the Reformation. While the Black Death was influential, I think even without the events of 1348-1350 the Reformation would have still occurred.
Apr 2008
An interesting question, but difficult to speculate about. Northern Europe was in crisis before the Black Death hit. By the end of the 1300s agriculture was no longer in a position to sustain Europe's population growth. The result was the Great Famine of the 1320s. The Black Death compounded things. In the short term Europe suffered from catastrophic population decline - perhaps by as much as 50%.
However, for those who survived, times were relatively good. Wages increased, forcing a crisis in feudalism - i.e. serf labour was scarce and competition for it led to greater emancipation. In England, lords switched from arable to pasture (sheep) if possible, leading to the growth of the woolen industry. Food was also in greater abundance.
The plague also contributed to the rise of the nation-state and, according to some, the Renaissance. If I recall correctly David Herlihy, the great medievalist, suggested that without the Black Death Europe would have continued to stagnate - perhaps no Renaissance etc. etc. So short-term pain, long-term gain.