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Shift in Plagued Society

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Many aspects of European life changed as a result of "the Black Death." Not least among these changes was the shift that occurred among the economic standing of the medieval family and the ultimate "ushering out" of the feudalistic age. Prior to the plague, society in Europe remained largely feudalistic. Kings had their lords, lords their dukes, dukes their barons, and so on and so forth, with the majority, the peasants, sitting at the bottom virtually providing for all the nobility above them. Providing for the masters of the land was not easy for the peasants, taxes here and there kept there worth low, and their only assets to begin with were the little they had, "their land, family labor, and capitalÐ'..." (Hanawalt, p112)

Regrettably, for the nobles, things began to shift in the economic make up of Europe. As a noble, one was expected to maintain an army at call in return for land received from the king. Each successively lower noble had less land and a smaller army to maintain, but it remained that in order to be a noble one had many expenses to provide for. As the trade routes began to reopen after the plagues, people began to find the cities much more attractive than the farms that entailed a life of servitude to a lords.

Prior to the plagues, the population of Europe as a whole had been largely stagnant, while there were famines rather frequently, they were merely a result of population overspill, and society as a whole did not topple. (Herlihy, p39) With the introduction of the plague to Europe, the city populations rapidly declined, thus making room in the cities for the farmers who eagerly entered the cities. Because they were, of course, not farming in the cities, people had to take up trades and so Europe began to flourish again economically. But because the people were living in the cities, they had little need to pay taxes to a lord, and thus emerged the middle class, a class that was able to make good money off of their trade, but, unlike the nobility, had no need to spend their money on armies and land maintenance, and could save for themselves. Furthermore, with the sharp drop in overall population peasants who continued to farm had a much smaller population to support, and as some peasants moved to the city, so did the farming peasants move to take over the land left over. Consequently, as the middle class emerged, so did a sort of wealthy farmer class (wealthy for farmers, anyway).




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