Positives Of The Black Plague: Labor Shortages Empowered The Working Class

By | April 10, 2020

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The Great Plague actually created opportunities for Europe's poorest people. (northumberlandarchives.com)

The Black Death—the great waves of the bubonic plague that swept across Europe in the Middle Ages—killed more than one-third of the population, profoundly changing medieval society. While the catastrophic loss of life was devastating, it created opportunities that had significant effects on Europe and the rest of the world forever. The end of feudalism, opportunities for entrepreneurs, and the rise of the middle class all occurred in the wake of the Black Death

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Peasants reaping the corn. After illuminations in the Luttrell Psalter- 14th century manuscript, c. 1340. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

Pre-Plague Europe

Europe before the Great Plague was crowded, dirty, and unequal. A strict two-class system meant people in the lower class had almost no opportunities to move up. The royals, nobles, knights, and clergymen who comprised the upper, or ruling, class held all the power, wealth, and land, while the serfs and peasants of the lower class lived on the brink of starvation. In the medieval era's feudal system, serfdom was akin to slavery. These unfortunate souls not only worked lands owned by the wealthy elite, they paid for the privilege, and their rent and taxes often tallied up to nearly everything they harvested. Peasants were just a step above the serfs. Although many of them still worked the land for others, some were tradesman, like blacksmiths and builders.