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In August 1348 the bubonic plague, or Black Death, suddenly [#permalink]
15 Oct 2012, 17:54
In August 1348 the bubonic plague, or Black Death, suddenly appeared in England. Its germs were carried by the fleas on black rats that came into the country on ships from abroad. The first outbreak of the plague was of intense ferocity, for the people had no immunity and persons living close to the margin of subsistence fell victims to the disease.
Returning in 1361, the plague caused high mortality among children born since 1348; there were other visitations in 1368 and 1375. High farming in the thirteenth century had been based on the scarcity of land, a large population, and a great demand for food—conditions that had forced the peasants to remain on their holdings and to accept the burdens of serfdom. But when the demand for food was less, the profits of agriculture shrank. High farming, which had already been slipping before 1348, came to an end.
The startling fact about those figures is the amazing drop in population between 1348 and 1377. It may be the number of people in overcrowded England already was beginning to decline before the coming of the Black Death. There were floods and famines in the years between 1315 and 1317. Certainly the plague caused a high mortality. In some monasteries the monks all but disappeared (it is thought that half the clergy in England fell victims to the pestilence). The Black Death had its most striking effect on the rural economy. The balance between the number of labourers and the amount of land under cultivation and the relations between lord and peasant were quickly altered. There were deserted villages and many unoccupied peasant holdings. After the first visitation widows and widowers remarried quickly and produced as many children as before; but because of the high mortality among young people this population increase was not maintained later in the century.
The work of the manor could not be performed by the villeins who had survived the plague; the lord had to employ casual labor at wages that doubled within a decade. Moreover, a villein, once tied to his holding by economic necessity, could easily run away to another manor where employment would be offered to him with no questions asked.
Landowners complained bitterly of the labour shortage and of the wages they had to pay. In 1351 they obtained the Statute of Laborers, which fixed wages at the rates before the plague, declared that all landless men must accept work when it was offered to them, and prohibited peasants from moving from one manor to another. For a time the statute had some effect, but in the long run it was useless, for wages continued to rise and employers had to pay them. There was also a scarcity of tenants. Few manors were without vacant holdings; hence the yield was less and income from the land declined. Agricultural products no longer fetched high prices. Yet the cost of luxuries and of manufactured goods was rising.
Thereafter the plague subsided in the rural areas but remained endemic in London and other towns, where it could become active at any time and could spread along lines of communication into the country. It remained in England for more than 300 years.
Which of the following claims would, if true, most substantially weaken the author‘s claim that the plague brought an end to the practice of high farming? A. The practice of high farming was reinforced after the floods and famines in the 1310s reduced the amount of arable land. B. Immediately following the plague, the profits of agriculture would see a rebound due to the stabilization in wages and food prices. C. The numbers of peasants working on English farms decreased throughout much of the years of plague. D. The Statute of Laborers began to be strictly enforced when it became apparent that wages were still rising. E. Over the next few years following the plague, the incomes of agriculturists kept falling lower and lower