My fourth novel, set during the 14th century pandemic, will be published on 1st January 2021 by Wings ePress, under the title Thirteen Forty-Nine. I’m planning a series of blogs before that time, containing some reflections on the parallels between our own pandemic experience and that of our ancestors.
I’ve dedicated the novel to the key workers of the 2020 pandemic – frontline NHS personnel, including those working in the community, care home workers, and all the supermarket staff, delivery drivers, postmen, and others who have continued to work hard throughout the year, often in difficult or even dangerous conditions, for all of us. They deserve all the thanks we can give them, and this is my small contribution to those.
The story is set during the 14th century pandemic, later known as the Black Death, which raged across the Middle East and Europe from 1347 to 1350, killing about 40% of the population. Although our Covid-19 pandemic has not been as bad as that in terms of death rate – indeed, even the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918/1919 killed far more people – there have been a surprising number of parallels between the 14th century pandemic and our own. Pandemics in history have tended to run unchecked, mainly because medicine had no answer to them, but they often exhausted themselves and eventually fizzled out, leaving society reeling. In our case we have the blessing of vaccines on the horizon, but we need to remember that there are no guarantees that their immunity will last, or that the virus won’t mutate to outflank them. The episode has been a salutary reminder – and perhaps we needed one – that humanity is not in control of history, something of which the 14th century inhabitants of the Earth were only too well aware!
The Black Death continued to plague Europe for three centuries, with the outbreaks gradually becoming smaller and more localised, only coming to an end in 1665. The consequent fall in population was not made up until the 18th century, but the economy bounced back fairly quickly and headed in new directions, while the social changes that happened as a result laid the foundations for the modern world. I suspect that when the history of 2020 is written in years to come, it too will be seen as a watershed for new social and economic, and possibly religious and political, developments as yet unforeseen.
In the next blog I will look at the way the Black Death came to the United Kingdom, and how the authorities and ordinary people reacted to it.