The Black Death – diary accounts

26 March 1348

The new trade routes to our country have brought many new thing, new medicines, new medical ideas and new ways to kill our people. The most vicious of these is the Black Death. I heard about how this sickness had affected many of the busiest port towns, but I never thought it would affect my small rural community. How wrong could I have been? It has now taken so cruelly the lives of my mother and many of my close friends. Only last week, I remember sitting at my mother’s bed side dampening her forehead with cool water on a flannel in an effort to keep her fever at bay.

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My husband and father were also gathered around me, offering support. We prayed twice every day, asking for Gods forgiveness. But the illness just took a firmer grip on my mother’s life. She developed painful swelling on her armpits and groin and smaller blister appeared all over her body. The fever stayed and soon turned into a raging headache. We gave her herbs and took her to see the local medicine man, but nothing worked. After five days of pain and suffering, my mother finally left us. She had died a slow and painful death and I prayed that the Black Death would not rid me of any more family members. God obviously did not here my solemn repent.

31 March 1348

My father, with the sadness of my mother’s death, has now contracted the Black Death. Many of the other people in my town say that it serves him right for staying with my mother and the bad air from mother had attacked father. I do not believe this; I do not know what to believe. My father has different symptoms to mother. Father is finding it increasingly difficult to breath and he frequently coughs up blood. My husband has forbidden me from venturing into my fathers room. He says that if the other town’s folk are correct, then I must not breathe in the stale air from my father’s room. My husband has locked himself in with my father vowing only to come out to get food and drink. He has told me that the food we eat must not contain any hot substances such as pepper, garlic and onions as they generate excess heat. Instead I have been told to use cucumber, fennel and spinach. Every morning I inhale a sweet smelling perfume before going to buy our daily shopping. I do not see how this helps, but I continue to do it as to please my husband.

28 April 1348

My father has joined my mother in the mass grave at the edge of our town. The alderman ordered that thee be no stranger entering the town unless on urgent business. If for that reason a stranger did enter, no one was to look directly at him. He believed many strangers to be carries of the Black Death. Now my husband has been struck with this seemingly incurable ailment. He has taken it upon himself that he must have displeased god.

He now wanders round town in nothing but a linen cloth with red crosses painted on the hood. He carries with him a whip with three thongs. Each thong has a knot in it and through each not he has put a sharp needle. He travels through crowded areas of the town whipping himself. Three times in each procession, he lays down on the ground with his arms outstretched din the shape of a cross. This is in order, he says, to show god that he is punishing himself, so that god does not have to punish him with the Black Death.

30 April 1848

My husband, mother and father all lay next to each other in the same grave.

2 June 1848

My family all contracted the pestilence. They all tried various methods to cure themselves. They all have left me. I am alone, sad and dying of the plague with nobody to look after me. The rich can not offer any aid, as there are none of them left. My fellow poor cannot share in my burden as they have been lunber4ed with it themselves. They only place I may find aid, is the mass grave. There I will find people who have suffered as I have, but have got over it and gone to a better place.