A Post-Apocalyptic Plague Becomes Real

Many of us have watched the Walking Dead or read Stephen King’s The Stand.  But in Medieval Europe, a post-apocalyptic plague actually become real, and it had a dramatic impact on almost every aspect of life.

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Dance Macabre images became very popular in Medieval European art

We’ve discussed some of the myths around Medieval Europe, but those do not extend to the Black Plague. As a matter-of-fact, the impact of this plague tends to be frequently understated.

The Black Death or Bubonic Plague killed somewhere between 75 and 200 million people, or between 30%-60% of Europe’s total population. The plague peaked for four years in the 1300’s. During these four years, in some areas, such as Italy, the South of France, and Spain, it’s thought the death toll reached as high as 75%-80% of the total population.

If you put that into context, it means out of a family of five, one person would bury the rest of their family members.

There are stories of entire villages being wiped out, and years later, visitors finding cattle roaming free.

Apocalyptic, indeed.

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Not quite like this, but I imagine it was close.

This also happened fast. From the time a victim was infected until the time they died was usually no more than three to four days.

Death was awful as lymph-nodes swelled from the disease then burst.

There were many long-term consequences of this Plague that paved the way to the societies we have today.

  • Drastic Reduction in Labor – Labor went from being plentiful to being in very short supply. Landowners were suddenly forced to pay wages and make working conditions better. Serfdom was was all put abolished and feudalism crumbles. Wages paid to artisans rose, and with landowners becoming less wealthy as they had to share with workers, those who provided services become more wealthy. This offered a new fluidity in a previously very hierarchical society.

Decades later, when lords tried to revoke the improved conditions, there were peasant revolts that forced the lords to maintain the better conditions and pay.

 

  • Catholic Church Lost Some of It’s Hold – The Protestant Reformation stated in 1517 AD, approximately 150 years after the worst bout of Black Plague. The loss of power, however, is believed to have already started during the Black Plague. Distrust in God and the Catholic Church, which already in poor standing due to recent Papal scandals, grew as people realized the Church could do nothing to stop the disease or help their family.
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Beautiful, but it doesn’t feed people or save them from the Black Death.

 

  • Anti-Semitism Rises – Jewish populations became scapegoats, particularly as they suffered less from the Black Plague. We now believe this is because of better hygiene, but at the time, people thought they were poisoning Christian’s water. Many would flee east to Poland and Russia.

 

All in, if you want to find a very real account of what happens in the Walking Dead, take a look at Europe during the Black Plague. The accounts are gruesome and horrifying. I actually stopped reading them because my heart ached for those people, and there is literally nothing I can do for them.

 

How about you? Ever watched the Walking Dead or read The Stand? Could you imagine if we lost half our population today? Any other real-world examples of an apocalypse?

What Is a Knight?

What is a knight? Most of us picture a man clad in heavy armor, similar to this:

Knights

But, as with many things, our general perception doesn’t encapsulate the entire truth.

I did a bit of research on historical knights so I’d know what they were and could borrow from reality and legend to create the knights in my own work.

In reality, a knight was usually a mounted soldier serving under a feudal lord in Europe. The concept of what a knight was would come to mean men, usually of noble birth (but not required), who would be apprenticed as first a page and then a squire.

During this apprenticeship, they were taught all of the skills necessary to be a skilled fighter, as well as religion, reading and writing, and social decorum. They’d then be given the military rank of knight and be bound to the code of chivalry.

This code of chivalry was enacted partially to control behavior. Because history has taught us how well behaved soldiers can be. See also, Vikings.

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They’d terrorized much of Europe, so yeah, chivalry had its reasons.

Unlike many other titles (duke, baron, etc.), knighthood was not hereditary. It was given to a person by a sovereign because of personal merit or service. This means that it was easier for men who were good at being soldiers to move up in rank. It also meant you never had a six-year-old knight. Unlike some kings. And helped reduce the crazy, unlike in kings.

Knights were an important part of feudal system established by Charlemagne. Under this system, the king owned all of the land, and he granted fiefs to various lords in return for loyalty, protection and service.

In order to provide this protection, the knight class was created. Many knights were professional warriors, and the lord they served paid them for the services, and provided food, lodging, armor, weapons and horses.

Knighthood was a way for a man to advance in a society that offered few other means. As it also wasn’t an inherited position, it was a way for a younger son of a lord to advance himself. Knights could make fortunes from their service, and they could be granted land from the king and become a lord in their own right.

While many of us think of Knights of the Round Table when we think of knights.

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Okay, maybe not this King Arthur.

In reality, knights were experienced mounted soldiers. They were also supposed to have a firm grounding in religion, among other things, but the reality was knights were about as religious as any other general order of soldiers.

Stories of knights have been told for a very long time. I think it somewhat relates to the legends of King Arthur, but I also think seeing men riding in armor on horseback left a strong impression. It was story worthy.

 

How about you? What do you think of when you think of knights? Maybe Sir Lancelot or Sir Galahad from King Arthur’s court? Ser Bronn from Game of Thrones? Sir El Cid of Spain? Or maybe you think of something all together different?