Covid 19 and the Great Pestilence: How Much Have We Really Learned?

Image by ivabalk on Pixabay.

This post reminds me of the lessons I’ve been doing with my Year 8 History class about Medieval Europe and the Black Death.

My students were very interested in the plague, and surprised by the fact that this was when quarantine, social distancing, and the wearing of masks became the go-to modes of dealing with contagious disease. They were also surprised by the time it took the Europeans to understand the importance of basic hygiene, and how very long it took to develop good medical knowledge.

These lessons were highly relevant in These Times, and helped the kids to understand why we’re being reminded to wear masks, wash and sanitise our hands, and keep away from other people. It was good to be able to discuss how relevant history can be. 

We all agreed we are incredibly thankful for modern medicine, science, vaccines and health care. 

It does strike me as bizarre, however, that with all the scientific and technological advances we’ve made, we still have to remind people to wash their hands. Some things, it seems, never change. 

murreyandblue

This illustration is simply that, a suitable illustration – the Flagellants followed the first wave of the Great Pestilence and aren’t mentioned here.
from https://www.britannica.com/event/Black-Death

In this time of Covid 19, when we don’t know why it seems to affect men more than women, and some ethnicities but not others, it is interesting that back in the 14th century the tsunami of the Great Pestilence of 1348 was followed by lesser waves that differed in many ways from the original. The first of these, in the England of 24 Edward III (January 1360 to January 1361) was called the secunda pestilencia and appeared to affect mostly the very young, babies and adolescents. Women were not affected in the same way.

The Chronicle of the Greyfriars of King’s Lynn notes: “…In that year [1360] began a plague among Londoners at about the feast of St Michael, where at first infants…

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‘The Seafarer’: An Anglo-Saxon Poem

I really enjoy the story of Beowulf. I read it with my Year 9 students in English, and we explore the ways in which the poetry and storytelling are similar or different to the ways in which things are done now. 

That’s why I was excited to learn of the existence of The Seafarer, another AngloSaxon poem of similar vintage, which was almost lost to history for all time.

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

It, too, is written in Old English, and uses similar devices of imagery and poetic narrative to those found in Beowulf, such as kennings and alliteration. This poem, though, reads more like a dramatic monologue than an epic heroic adventure, and is far more religious and deeply spiritual than the secular, wildly fantastic and, at times, quite superstitious story of Beowulf. 

What treasures these stories and poems are – snippets of the past that have survived the centuries despite the best efforts of warring tribes and religious authorities alike to destroy everything that stood between them and the power they sought over Britain and her people. 

You can read a translation of the poem in today’s English at The Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry Project website

You can read Dr Oliver Tearle’s thoughts on the poems at the Interesting Literature blog. It is to this blog that I owe my thanks for drawing my attention to the poem. 

The Black Prince’s Cursed Ruby and Richard III?

Medieval British history is my absolute favourite era to read and study, so this article really appealed to me.

Seriously, who isn’t going to be intrigued by a series of kings who faced various challenges and misfortunes, connected by a ruby that is said to be cursed? What a fascinating historical mystery!

I hope you enjoy this post from the murreyandblue blog. If you’re at all interested in English medieval history, you should definitely give that blog a follow.

murreyandblue

Imperial State Crown, with the Black Prince’s Ruby at the front
from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Prince%27s_Ruby

“….It is said that Henry V wore it [the Black Prince’s Ruby] in his jewel-encrusted helmet at the battle of Agincourt, and Richard III did also at the battle of Bosworth….”

I found the above sentence in a post on the British Medieval History Facebook group. How very intriguing. It’s something I had never heard before. Did Richard really wear the priceless but cursed gem at Bosworth? If so, was he (as one friend has suggested) emulating Henry V? Or even the Black Prince himself?

The ruby is actually “a magnificent 170-caratredspinel, the largest uncut spinel in the world. This particular precious stone, known as ‘the Great Imposter’, has a traceable history dating back seven centuries and is rumoured to be cursed, as its consecutive royal owners have been dogged by…

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Two More Reasons Why History is Not Boring

I’m always a bit lost for words when people remark that history is boring. Not because I have nothing to say— far from it— but because I know they are never going to be anywhere near ready for the conversations I want to have with them.

I accept that in the past, some teachers have been guilty of making history very, very dull, but it was not the history that was boring: it was the teacher. 

I’ve had some of my own students question, “Why do we need to learn about this? How am I ever going to use this in real life?”
My responses vary depending on the topic at hand, but they are consistently positive and enthusiastic about how interesting and inspiring history can be. 

I have recently discovered two new examples to offer to students or friends who complain about history. 

A week or so ago, I read a story of a 14th century nun named Joan who faked her own death to get out of the convent she was living in.
How’s that for dedication?

Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who wanted to escape either. Having studied medieval history and knowing the lifestyle adhered to by monks and nuns of the time, I can’t say I blame any of them.

Faking your own death is definitely taking it to the next level, though, so I feel that Joan deserves a bit of recognition and applause for her commitment to the performing arts. 

Original painting: Jan Van Helmont Portrait of the Sisters of the Black. Public Domain
The clever edits are my own. 

Then, today, one of my favourite History blogs on WordPress posted about “the mythical animal with a deadly rear end”. I followed the link to the full story about the Bonaccon, and did a little more research after that.

I now know more about this amazing creature than my friends will ever think beneficial. You can bet I’m going to tell them all about it, and I know my Year 9 boys are going to love it, too. I almost can’t wait until they complain again, so that I have a good reason to get the story out and share it. 

Seriously, take a look at this beast. This picture from a medieval bestiary, or book of animals, portrays this particular bonnacon as being rather pleased with himself and his toxic poop. He’s never going to be sorry. 

Go on. Tell me now that history is boring. I dare you.