The Black Death

Book:        By J.F.C. Hecker

Author:      Hecker, J.F.C.

Translation: Babington, B.G

 

About October 1347, galleys carrying refugees from the conquered Genoese colonies in the Crimea brought the plague to Western Europe. In the course of the next few years, a truly appalling number of people died, and an indelible mark was left on European history.

 

 

Black Death Ravages Europe

 

     Different parts of the oriental world have been mentioned as the probable

locality of the first appearance of the plague or pestilence known as the

"black death," but its origin is most generally referred to China, where, at

all events, it raged violently about 1333, when it was accompanied at its

outbreak by terrestrial and atmospheric phenomena of a destructive character,

such as are said to have attended the first appearance of Asiatic cholera and

other spreading and deadly diseases; from which it has been conjectured that

through these convulsions deleterious foreign substances may have been

projected into the atmosphere.

 

     But while for centuries the nature and causes of the black death have

been subjects of medical inquiry in all countries, it remained for our own

time to discover a more scientific explanation than those previously advanced.

The malady is now identified by pathologists with the bubonic plague, which at

intervals still afflicts India and other oriental lands, and has in recent

years been a cause of apprehension at more than one American seaport.

 

     It is called bubonic - from the Greek boubon ("groin") - because it

attacks the lymphatic glands of the groins, armpits, neck, and other parts of

the body.  Among its leading symptoms are headache, fever, vertigo, vomiting,

prostration, etc., with dark purple spots or a mottled appearance upon the

skin.  Death in severe cases usually occurs within forty-eight hours.

Bacteriologists are now generally agreed that the disorder is due to a

bacillus identified by investigators both in India and in western countries.

 

     The first historic appearance of the black death in Europe was at

Constantinople, A.D. 543.  But far more widespread and terrible were its

ravages in the fourteenth century, when they were almost world-wide.  Of the

dreadful visitation in Europe then, we are fortunate to have the striking

account of Dr. Hecker, which follows.

 

     The name "black death" was given to the disease in the more northern

parts of Europe - from the dark spots on the skin above mentioned - while in

Italy it was called la mortalega grande ("the great mortality").  From Italy

came almost the only credible accounts of the manner of living, and of the

ruin caused among the people in their more private life, during the

pestilence; and the subjoined account of what was seen in Florence is of

special interest as being from no less an eye-witness than Boccaccio.

 

Text

 

     The nature of the first plague in China is unknown.  We have no certain

intelligence of the disease until it entered the western countries of Asia.

Here it showed itself as the oriental plague with inflammation of the lungs;

in which form it probably also may have begun in China - that is to say, as a

malady which spreads, more than any other, by contagion; a contagion that in

ordinary pestilences requires immediate contact, and only under unfavorable

circumstances of rare occurrence is communicated by the mere approach to the

sick.

 

     The share which this cause had in the spreading of the plague over the

whole earth was certainly very great; and the opinion that the black death

might have been excluded from Western Europe, by good regulations, similar to

those which are now in use, would have all the support of modern experience,

provided it could be proved that this plague had been actually imported from

the East; or that the oriental plague in general, whenever it appears in

Europe, has its origin in Asia or Egypt.  Such a proof, however, can by no

means be produced so as to enforce conviction.  The plague was, however, known

in Europe before nations were united by the bonds of commerce and social

intercourse; hence there is ground for supposing that it sprung up

spontaneously, in consequence of the rude manner of living and the

uncultivated state of the earth; influences which peculiarly favor the origin

of severe diseases.  We need not go back to the earlier centuries, for the

fourteenth itself, before it had half expired, was visited by five or six

pestilences.

 

     If, therefore, we consider the peculiar property of the plague, that in

countries which it has once visited it remains for a long time in a milder

form, and that the epidemic influences of 1342, when it had appeared for the

last time, were particularly favorable to its unperceived continuance, till

1348, we come to the notion that in this eventful year also, the germs of

plague existed in Southern Europe, which might be vivified by atmospherical

deteriorations.  Thus, at least in part, the black plague may have originated

in Europe itself.  The corruption of the atmosphere came from the East; but

the disease itself came not upon the wings of the wind, but was only excited

and increased by the atmosphere where it had previously existed.

 

     This source of the black plague was not, however, the only one; for, far

more powerful than the excitement of the latent elements of the plague by

atmospheric influences was the effect of the contagion communicated from one

people to another, on the great roads, and in the harbors of the

Mediterranean.  From China, the route of the caravans lay to the north of the

Caspian Sea, through Central Asia to Tauris.  Here ships were ready to take

the produce of the East to Constantinople, the capital of commerce and the

medium of connection between Asia, Europe, and Africa.  Other caravans went

from India to Asia Minor, and touched at the cities south of the Caspian Sea,

and lastly from Bagdad, through Arabia to Egypt; also the maritime

communication on the Red Sea, from India to Arabia and Egypt, was not

inconsiderable.  In all these directions contagion made its way; and doubtless

Constantinople and the harbors of Asia Minor are to be regarded as the foci of

infection; whence it radiated to the most distant seaports and islands.

 

     To Constantinople the plague had been brought from the northern coast of

the Black Sea, after it had depopulated the countries between those routes of

commerce and appeared as early as 1347, in Cyprus, Sicily, Marseilles, and

some of the seaports of Italy.  The remaining islands of the Mediterranean,

particularly Sardinia, Corsica, and Majorca, were visited in succession. Foci

of contagion existed also in full activity along the whole southern coast of

Europe; when, in January, 1348, the plague appeared in Avignon, and in other

cities in the South of France and North of Italy, as well as in Spain.

 

     The precise days of its eruption in the individual towns are no longer to

be ascertained; but it was not simultaneous; for in Florence the disease

appeared in the beginning of April; in Cesena, the 1st of June; and place

after place was attacked throughout the whole year; so that the plague, after

it had passed through the whole of France and Germany, where, however, it did

not make its ravages until the following year, did not break out till August

in England; where it advanced so gradually that a period of three months

elapsed before it reached London.  The northern kingdoms were attacked by it

in 1349; Sweden, indeed, not until November of that year, almost two years

after its eruption in Avignon.  Poland received the plague in 1349, probably

from Germany, if not from the northern countries; but in Russia it did not

make its appearance until 1351, more than three years after it had broken out

in Constantinople.  Instead of advancing in a northwesterly direction from

Tauris and from the Caspian Sea, it had thus made the great circuit of the

Black Sea, by way of Constantinople, Southern and Central Europe, England, the

northern kingdoms and Poland, before it reached the Russian territories; a

phenomenon which has not again occurred with respect to more recent

pestilences originating in Asia.

 

     We have no certain measure by which to estimate the ravages of the black

plague.  Let us go back for a moment to the fourteenth century.  The people

were yet but little civilized.  Human life was little regarded; governments

concerned not themselves about the numbers of their subjects, for whose

welfare it was incumbent on them to provide.  Thus, the first requisite for

estimating the loss of human life - namely, a knowledge of the amount of the

population - is altogether wanting.

 

     Cairo lost daily, when the plague was raging with its greatest violence,

from ten thousand to fifteen thousand, being as many as, in modern times,

great plagues have carried off during their whole course.  In China, more than

thirteen millions are said to have died; and this is in correspondence with

the certainly exaggerated accounts from the rest of Asia.  India was

depopulated.  Tartary, the Tartar kingdom of Kaptschak, Mesopotamia, Syria,

Armenia, were covered with dead bodies; the Kurds fled in vain to the

mountains.  In Caramania and Caesarea, none was left alive.  On the roads, in

the camps, in the caravansaries, unburied bodies were seen; and a few cities

only remained, in an unaccountable manner, free.  In Aleppo, five hundred died

daily; twenty-two thousand people and most of the animals were carried off in

Gaza within six weeks.  Cyprus lost almost all its inhabitants; and ships

without crews were often seen in the Mediterranean, as afterward in the North

Sea, driving about and spreading the plague wherever they went on shore.  It

was reported to Pope Clement, At Avignon, that throughout the East, probably

with the exception of China, twenty-three million eight hundred and forty

thousand people had fallen victims to the plague.

 

     Lubeck, which could no longer contain the multitudes that flocked to it,

was thrown into such consternation on the eruption of the plague that the

citizens destroyed themselves, as if in frenzy.  When the plague ceased, men

thought they were still wandering among the dead, so appalling was the livid

aspect of the survivors, in consequence of the anxiety they had undergone, and

the unavoidable infection of the air.  Many other cities probably presented a

similar appearance; and small country towns and villages, estimated at two

hundred thousand population, were bereft of all their inhabitants.

 

     In many places in France not more than two out of twenty of the

inhabitants were left alive.  Two queens, one bishop, and great numbers of

other distinguished persons fell a sacrifice to it, and more than five hundred

a day died in the Hotel-Dieu, under the faithful care of the religious women,

whose disinterested courage, in this age of horror, displayed the most

beautiful traits of human virtue.

 

     The church-yards were soon unable to contain the dead, and many houses,

left without inhabitants, fell to ruins.  In Avignon, the Pope found it

necessary to consecrate the Rhone, that bodies might be thrown into the river

without delay, as the church-yards would no longer hold them.

 

     In Vienna, where for some time twelve hundred inhabitants died daily, the

interment of corpses in the church-yards and within the churches was forthwith

prohibited, and the dead were than arranged in layers, by thousands, in six

large pits outside the city.  In many places it was rumored that plague

patients were buried alive, and thus the horror of the distressed people was

everywhere increased.  In Erfurt, after the church-yards were filled, twelve

thousand corpses were thrown into elevent great pits; and the like might be

stated with respect to all the larger cities.  Funeral ceremonies, the last

consolation of the survivors, were everywhere impracticable.

 

     In all Germany there seem to have died only one million two hundred and

forty-four thousand four hundred and thirty-four inhabitants; this country,

however, was more spared than others.  Italy was most severely visited.  It is

said to have lost half its inhabitants; in Sardinia and Corsica, according to

the account of John Villani, who was himself carried off by the black plague,

scarcely a third part of the population remained alive; and the Venetians

engaged ships at a high rate to retreat to the islands; so that, after the

plague had carried off three-fourths of her inhabitants, their proud city was

left forlorn and desolate.  In Florence it was prohibited to publish the

numbers of the dead and to toll the bells at their funerals, in order that the

living might not abandon themselves to despair.

 

     In England most of the great cities suffered incredible losses; above

all, Yarmouth, in which seven thousand and fifty-two died; Bristol, Oxford,

Norwich, Leicester, York, and London, where, in one burial-ground alone, there

were interred upward of fifty thousand corpses, arranged in layers, in large

pits.  It is said that in the whole country scarcely a tenth part remained

alive.  Morals were deteriorated everywhere, and public worship was, in a

great measure, laid aside, in many places the churches being bereft of their

priests.  The instruction of the people was impeded, covetousness became

general; and when tranquillity was restored, the great increase oflawyers was

astonishing, to whom the endless disputes regarding inheritances offered a

rich harvest.  The want of priests, too, throughout the country, operated very

detrimentally upon the people.  The lower classes were most exposed to the

ravages of the plague, while the houses of the nobility were, in proportion,

much more spared.  The sittings of parliament, of the king's bench, and of

most of the other courts were suspended as long as the malady raged.

 

     Ireland was much less heavily visited than England.  The disease seems to

have scarcely reached the mountainous districts of that kingdom; and Scotland,

too, would, perhaps, have remained free had not the Scots availed themselves

of the misfortune of the English, to make an irruption into their territory,

which terminated in the destruction of their army, by the plague and by the

sword, and the extension of the pestilence, through those who escaped, over

the whole country.

 

     In England the plague was soon accompanied by a fatal murrain among the

cattle.  Of what nature this murrain may have been can no more be determined

than whether it originated from communication with the plague patients or from

other causes.  There was everywhere a great rise in the price of food. For a

whole year, until it terminated in August, 1349, the black plague prevailed

and everywhere poisoned the springs of comfort and prosperity.  In other

countries it generally lasted only half a year, but returned frequently in

individual places.  Spain was uninterruptedly ravaged by the black plague till

after the year 1350, to which the frequent internal feuds and the wars with

the Moors not a little contributed.  Alfonso XI, whose passion for war carried

him too far, died of it at the siege of Gibraltar, March 26, 1350. He was the

only king in Europe who fell a sacrifice to it.  The mortality seems to have

been less in Spain than in Italy, and about as considerable as in France.

 

     The whole period during which the black plague raged with destructive

violence in Europe was, with the exception of Russia, from 1347 to 1350.  The

plagues which in the sequel often returned until 1383, we do not consider as

belonging to the "great mortality."

 

     The premature celebration of the Jubilee, to which Clement VI cited the

faithful to Rome 1350, during the great epidemic, caused a new eruption of the

plague, from which it is said that scarcely one in a hundred of the pilgrims

escaped.  Italy was, in consequence, depopulated anew; and those who returned

spread poison and corruption of morals in all directions.

 

     The changes which occurred about this period in the North of Europe are

sufficiently memorable.  In Sweden two princes died - Haken and Canute,

half-brothers of King Magnus; and in Westgothland alone four hundred and

sixty-six priests.  The inhabitants of Iceland and Greenland found in the

coldness of their inhospitable climate no protection against the southern

enemy who had penetrated to them from happier countries.  The plague wrought

great havoc among them.  In Denmark and Norway, however, people were so

occupied with their own misery that the accustomed voyages to Greenland

ceased.

 

     In Russia the black plague did not break out until 1351, after it had

already passed through the South and North of Europe.  The mortality was

extraordinarily great.  In Russia, too, the voice of nature was silenced by

fear and horror.  In the hour of danger, fathers and mothers deserted their

children, and children their parents.

 

     Of all the estimates of the number of lives lost in Europe, the most

probable is that altogether a fourth part of the inhabitants were carried off.

It may be assumed, without exaggeration, that Europe lost during the black

death twenty-five million inhabitants.

 

     That her nations could so quickly recover from so fearful a visitation,

and, without retrograding more than they actually did, could so develop their

energies in the following century, is a most convincing proof of the

indestructibility of human society as a whole.  To assume, however, that it

did not suffer any essential change internally, because in appearance

everything remained as before, is inconsistent with a just view of cause and

effect.  Many historians seem to have adopted such an opinion; hence, most of

them have touched but superficially on the "great mortality" of the fourteenth

century.  We for our part are convinced that in the history of the world the

black death is one of the most important events which have prepared the way

for the present state of Europe.

 

     He who studies the human mind with attention, and forms a deliberate

judgment on the intellectual powers which set people and states in motion,

may, perhaps, find some proofs of this assertion in the following

observations.  At that time the advancement of the hierarchy was, in most

countries, extraordinary; for the Church acquired treasures and large

properties in land, even to a greater extent than after the crusades; but

experience has demonstrated that such a state of things is ruinous to the

people, and causes them to retrograde, as was evinced on this occasion.

 

     After the cessation of the black plague, a greater fecundity in women was

everywhere remarkable; marriages were prolific; and double and treble births

were more frequent than at other times.  After the "great mortality" the

children were said to have got fewer teeth than before; at which

contemporaries were mightily shocked, and even later writers have felt

surprise.  Some writers of authority published their opinions on this subject.

Others copied from them, without seeing for themselves, and thus the world

believed in the miracle of an imperfection in the human body which had been

caused by the black plague.

 

     The people gradually consoled themselves after the sufferings which they

had undergone; the dead were lamented and forgotten; and in the stirring

vicissitudes of existence the world belonged to the living.

 

     The mental shock sustained by all nations during the prevalence of the

black plague is without parallel and beyond description.  In the eyes of the

timorous, danger was the certain harbinger of death; many fell victims to fear

on the first appearance of the distemper, and the most stout-hearted lost

their confidence.  The pious closed their accounts with the world; their only

remaining desire was for a participation in the consolations of religion.

Repentance seized the transgressor, admonishing him to consecrate his

remaining hours to the exercise of Christian virtues.  Children were

frequently seen, while laboring under the plague, breathing out their spirit

with prayer and songs of thanksgiving.  An awful sense of contrition seized

Christians everywhere; they resolved to forsake their vices, to make

restitution for past offences, before they were summoned hence, to seek

reconciliation with their Maker, and to avert, by self-chastisement, the

punishment due to their former sins.

 

     Human nature would be exalted could the countless noble actions which, in

times of most imminent danger, were performed in secret, be recorded for

future generations.  They, however, have no influence on the course of worldly

events.  They are known only to silent eye-witnesses, and soon fall into

oblivion.  But hypocrisy, illusion, and bigotry stalk abroad undaunted; they

desecrate what is noble, they pervert what is divine, to the unholy purposes

of selfishness; which hurries along every good feeling in the false excitement

of the age.  Thus it was in the years of this plague.

 

     In the fourteenth century the monastic system was still in its full

vigor, the power of the religious orders and brotherhoods was revered by the

people, and the hierarchy was still formidable to the temporal power.  It was,

therefore, in the natural constitution of society that bigoted zeal, which in

such times makes a show of public acts of penance, should avail itself of the

semblance of religion.  But this took place in such a manner that unbridled,

self-willed penitence degenerated into luke-warmness, renounced obedience to

the hierarchy, and prepared a fearful opposition to the Church, paralyzed as

it was by antiquated forms.

 

     While all countries were filled with lamentations and woe, there first

arose in Hungary, and afterward in Germany, the Brotherhood of the

Flagellants, called also the Brethren of the Cross, or Cross-bearers, who took

upon themselves the repentance of the people for the sins they had committed,

and offered prayers and supplications for the averting of this plague.  This

order consisted chiefly of persons of the lower class, who were either

actuated by sincere contrition or who joyfully availed themselves of this

pretext for idleness and were hurried along with the tide of distracting

frenzy.  But as these brotherhoods gained in repute, and were welcomed by the

people with veneration and enthusiasm, many nobles and ecclesiastics ranged

themselves under their standard; and their bands were not unfrequently

augmented by children, honorable women, and nuns.

 

     They marched through the cities with leaders and singers, their heads

covered as far as the eyes, their look fixed on the ground, with every token

of contrition and mourning.  They were robed in sombre garments, with red

crosses on the breast, back, and cap, and bore triple scourges, tied in three

or four knots, in which points of iron were fixed.  Tapers and magnificent

banners of velvet and cloth of gold were carried before them; wherever they

made their appearance they were welcomed by the ringing of bells, and the

people flocked from all quarters to listen to their hymns and witness their

penance.

 

     In 1349 two hundred Flagellants first entered Strasburg, where they were

hospitably lodged by the citizens.  Above a thousand joined the brotherhood,

which now separated into two bodies, for the purpose of journeying to the

north and to the south.  Adults and children left their families to accompany

them; till, at length, their sanctity was questioned and the doors of houses

and churches were closed against them.  At Spires two hundred boys, of twelve

years of age and under, constituted themselves into a brotherhood of the

Cross, in imitation of the children who, about a hundred years before, had

united, at the instigation of some fanatic monks, for the purpose of

recovering the Holy Sepulchre.  All the inhabitants of this town were carried

away by the delusion; they conducted the strangers to their houses with songs

of thanksgiving, to regale them for the night.  The women embroidered banners

for them, and all were anxious to augment their pomp; and at every succeeding

pilgrimage their influence and reputation increased.

 

     All Germany, Hungary, Poland, Bohemia, Silesia, and Flanders did homage

to them; and they at length become as formidable to the secular as to the

ecclesiastical power.  The influence of this fanaticism was great and

threatening.  The appearance, in itself, was not novel.  As far back as the

eleventh century many believers in Asia and Southern Europe afflicted

themselves with the punishment of flagellation.

 

     The author of the solemn processions of the Flagellants is said to have

been St. Anthony of Padua (1231).  In 1260 the Flagellants appeared in Italy

as Devoti.  "When the land was polluted by vices and crimes, an unexampled

spirit of remorse suddenly seized the minds of the Italians.  The fear of

Christ fell upon all; noble and lowly, old and young, and even children of

five years of age marched through the streets with no covering but a scarf

round the waist.  They each carried a scourge of leathern thongs, which they

applied to their limbs, amid sighs and tears, with such violence that the

blood flowed from the wounds.  Not only during the day, but even by night and

in the severest winter, they traversed the cities with burning torches and

banners, in thousands and tens of thousands, headed by their priests, and

prostrated themselves before the altars.  The melancholy chant of the penitent

alone was heard; enemies were reconciled; men and women vied with each other

in splendid works of charity, as if they dreaded that divine omnipotence would

pronounce on them the doom of annihilation."

 

     But at length the priests resisted this dangerous fanaticism, without

being able to extirpate the illusion, which was advantageous to the hierarchy,

as long as it submitted to its sway.

 

     The processions of the Brotherhood of the Cross undoubtedly promoted the

spreading of the plague; and it is evident that the gloomy fanaticism which

gave rise to them would infuse a new poison into the already desponding minds

of the people.

 

     Still, however, all this was within the bounds of barbarous enthusiasm;

but horrible were the persecutions of the Jews, which were committed in most

countries with even greater exasperation than in the twelfth century, during

the first crusades.  In every destructive pestilence the common people at

first attribute the mortality to poison.  On whom, then, was vengeance so

likely to fall as on the Jews, the usurers and the strangers who lived at

enmity with the Christians?  They were everywhere suspected of having poisoned

the wells ^1 or infected the air, and were pursued with merciless cruelty.

 

[Footnote 1: Thucydides, in his account of the earlier plague in Athens, B.C.

430, says, "It was supposed that the Peloponnesians had poisoned the

cisterns."]

 

     These bloody scenes, which disgraced Europe in the fourteenth century,

are a counterpart to a similar mania of the age which was manifested in the

persecutions of witches and sorcerers: and, like these, they prove that

enthusiasm, associated with hatred and leagued with the baser passions, may

work more powerfully upon whole nations than religion and legal order; nay,

that it even knows how to profit by the authority of both, in order the more

surely to satiate with blood the swords of long-suppressed revenge.

 

     The persecution of the Jews commenced in September and October, 1348, at

Chillon, on the Lake of Geneva, where the first criminal proceedings were

instituted against them, after they had long before been accused by the people

of poisoning the wells; similar scenes followed in Bern and in Freiburg, in

1349.  Under the influence of excruciating suffering, the tortured Jews

confessed themselves guilty of the crime imputed to them; and it being

affirmed that poison had in fact been found in a well at Zofingen, this was

deemed a sufficient proof to convince the world; and the persecution of the

abhorred culprits thus appeared justifiable.

 

     Already in the autumn of 1348 a dreadful panic, caused by this supposed

poisoning, seized all nations; in Germany, especially, the springs and wells

were built over, that nobody might drink of them or employ their contents for

culinary purposes; and for a long time the inhabitants of numerous towns and

villages used only river - and rain-water.  The city gates were also guarded

with the greatest caution: only confidential persons were admitted; and if

medicine or any other article which might be supposed to be poisonous was

found in the possession of a stranger - and it was natural that some should

have these things by them for private use - he was forced to swallow a portion

of it.  By this trying state of privation, distrust, and suspicion the hatred

against the supposed poisoners became greatly increased, and often broke out

in popular commotions, which only served still further to infuriate the

wildest passions.

 

     The noble and the mean fearlessly bound themselves by an oath to

extirpate the Jews by fire and sword, and to snatch them from their

protectors, of whom the number was so small that throughout all Germany but

few places can be mentioned where these unfortunate people were not regarded

as outlaws and martyred and burned.  Solemn summonses were issued from Bern to

the towns of Basel, Freiburg in Breisgau, and Strasburg, to pursue the Jews as

poisoners.  The burgomasters and senators, indeed, opposed this requisition;

but in Basel the populace obliged them to bind themselves by an oath to burn

the Jews and to forbid persons of that community from entering their city for

the space of two hundred years.  Upon this, all the Jews in Basel, whose

number could not have been inconsiderable, were enclosed in a wooden building,

constructed for the purpose, and burned, together with it, upon the mere

outcry of the people, without sentence or trial, which, indeed, would have

availed them nothing.  Soon after the same thing took place at Freiburg.

 

     A regular diet was held at Bennefeld, in Alsace, where the bishops,

lords, and barons, as also deputies of the counties and towns, consulted how

they should proceed with regard to the Jews; and when the deputies of

Strasburg - not, indeed, the bishop of this town, who proved himself a violent

fanatic - spoke in favor of the persecuted, as nothing criminal was

substantiated against them, a great outcry was raised, and it was vehemently

asked why, if so, they had covered their wells and removed their buckets?  A

sanguinary decree was resolved upon, of which the populace, who obeyed the

call of the nobles and superior clergy, became but the too willing

executioners.  Wherever the Jews were not burned they were at least banished;

and so being compelled to wander about, they fell into the hands of the

country people, who, without humanity and regardless of all laws, persecuted

them with fire and sword.

 

     At Eslingen, the whole Jewish community burned themselves in their

synagogue; and mothers were often seen throwing their children on the pile, to

prevent their being baptized, and then precipitating themselves into the

flames.  In short, whatever deeds fanaticism, revenge, avarice, and

desperation, in fearful combination, could instigate mankind to perform, were

executed in 1349, throughout Germany, Italy, and France, with impunity and in

the eyes of all the world.  It seemed as if the plague gave rise to scandalous

acts and frantic tumults, not to mourning and grief; and the greater part of

those who, by their education and rank, were called upon to raise the voice of

reason, themselves led on the savage mob to murder and to plunder.

 

     The humanity and prudence of Clement VI must on this occasion also be

mentioned to his honor.  He not only protected the Jews at Avignon, as far as

lay in his power, but also issued two bulls in which he declared them

innocent, and he admonished all Christians, though without success, to cease

from such groundless persecutions.  The emperor Charles IV was also favorable

to them, and sought to avert their destruction wherever he could; but he dared

not draw the sword of justice, and even found himself obliged to yield to the

selfishness of the Bohemian nobles, who were unwilling to forego so favorable

an opportunity of releasing themselves from their Jewish creditors, under

favor of an imperial mandate.  Duke Albert of Austria burned and pillaged

those of his cities which had persecuted the Jews - a vain and inhuman

proceeding which, moreover, is not exempt from the suspicion of covetousness;

yet he was unable, in his own fortress of Kyberg, to protect some hundreds of

Jews, who had been received there, from being barbarously burned by the

inhabitants.

 

     Several other princes and counts, among whom was Ruprecht of the

Palatinate, took the Jews under their protection, on the payment of large

sums; in consequence of which they were called "Jew-masters," and were in

danger of being attacked by the populace and by their powerful neighbors.

These persecuted and ill-used people - except, indeed, where humane

individuals took compassion on them at their own peril, or when they could

command riches to purchase protection - had no place of refuge left but

thedistant country of Lithuania, where Boleslav V, Duke of Poland, 1227-1279,

had before granted them liberty of conscience; and King Casimir the Great,

1333-1370, yielding to the entreaties of Esther, a favorite Jewess, received

them, and granted them further protection; on which account that country is

still inhabited by a great number of Jews, who by their secluded habits have,

more than any people in Europe, retained the manners of the Middle Ages.

 

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