The Scourging Angel : The Black Death in the British Isles, Paperback Book

The Scourging Angel : The Black Death in the British Isles Paperback

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


Nothing experienced in human history, before or since, eclipses the terror, tragedy and scale of the Black Death, the disease which killed millions of people in Medieval Europe.

The Scourging Angel tells the story of Britain immediately before, during and after this catastrophe.

Against a backdrop of empty homes, half-built cathedrals and pestilence-saturated cities, we see communities gripped by unimaginable fear, shock and paranoia.

By the time it completed its pestilential journey through the British Isles in 1350, the Black Death had left half the population dead.

Despite the startling toll of life, physical devastation and sheer human chaos it inflicted, Britain showed an impressive resilience.

Amid disaster many found opportunity, and the story of the Black Death is ultimately one of survival.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Publishing
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: British & Irish history
  • ISBN: 9780099548836

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Realizing the gravity of the situation, Bishop Ralph sent an ordinance throughout his diocese on 10th January 1349, in which he set out the challenge he and his flock faced: not only were priests dying and leaving their parishes destitute, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to find replacements who were willing to visit the sick for fear of infection or contagion. Shrewsbury's anger at the failings of his clergy, unwilling (he claimed) to risk their lives for the 'salvation of souls', was palpable. So to ensure that everyone who died had been able to make a final confession, he instructed that if a priest could not be found, then the dying could make their confession to a layman; if a man could not be found, then a woman would suffice. In this moment of crisis, when priestly mediation was needed most, the bishop effectively delegated sacramental powers to the laity: Shrewsbury had been forced to concede the complete incapacity of the church in the face of this overwhelming catastrophe.The way the author showing how historians were able to track the spread of the epidemic and the mortality rates was really interesting. They used contemporary information on the numbers of replacement priests that had to be sent out by the bishops, records form the manor courts held in villages every few weeks showing the increase in numbers of tenements switching hands after the death of the previous tenant, and in towns and cities, the number of wills of richer men executed each month.The Great Plague was followed by further outbreaks later in the century, the first of which hit hardest in places that had got off relatively lightly before, and later plagues hit children particularly badly, probably because the adults had built up resistance after their previous exposure to the disease. The author tracks the social and political changes caused by the Great Death for 30 or so years, ending with the Peasants' Revolt, by which time its effects were becoming too diluted by time to track. The author usually refers to the epidemic that swept across Europe as the Great Death or the pestilence, and sometimes as the plague, and must have been really annoyed at his publishers making him use "The Black Death in the British Isles" as a subtitle, as he stresses in the introduction that the term Black Death was invented by the Victorians.

Also by Benedict Gummer