By Tony DeLorger © 2011
Sweet remembrance of kingdoms lost, forgotten lives and struggles, victorious deeds of chivalry and honour for king and land. Serfs, their fingers callused, hands of the earth, toil under a bleaching sun to eke out an existence and pay their Lord for the trouble. Inequities of gender and class abound in dark and dangerous times. Knights brave and ruthless wander lands in search of causes, bountiful quests and the pleasure of their king. Nobles vie for royal favour and uphold the systems of power and administer their justice to the poverty-stricken masses.
While the poor suffer the pangs of hunger in their makeshift hovels, the nobility sit in castles and quarrel over politics, stuffing their bloated faces and surrendering to a life of debauchery and cruelty. They treat the poor like dogs, without rights or any say in life. Their task is to expand their wealth at the expense of their serfs; use their cheap labour, tax them hard and when they break, replace them. Being a serf was better than being on the streets without a trade, especially when winter came. The poor would die like flies.
High up on the hills outside the city walls sat the monasteries. The church oversaw the land, administering the holy word like an iron hammer. Men of God ruled from a self-professed throne, their weapon of choice, the fear of God’s retribution. The people believed and both King and nobility bowed to the church with all its corruption and power.
Heretics or any non-believers were tried and put to death as demon possessed, witches or simply as seditious troublemakers. Burning at the stake was seen as a cleansing of the evil and remained a favourite punishment. Even the poor came to watch God’s work in action.
The streets of the cities were strewn with garbage and rotting refuse. Rats ran unnoticed in the streets, their presence a normal part of life. Sickness was rife and with little medical knowledge even the slightest infection could be fatal. Often monks from the monasteries would administer basic medicines derived from herbs and roots and made into ointments, infusions and poultices. But their knowledge was limited and death was a part of street life.
When the black plague emerged there was no answer or treatment other than isolation. But that too proved difficult with both rats and mosquitoes passing on the disease. At one point the reigning Pope endured weeks of sitting between two fires to protect him, and it did.
The poor suffered most with no treatment or knowledge of how to protect themselves. All in close proximity the plague swept through towns and cities and then to counties and via ship to England and all of Europe.
The church saw the plague as God’s retribution for man’s sins and impropriety. They organised holy processions and groups of flagellants beating themselves to pay penance and plead for God’s mercy. They in fact helped to spread the disease as people gathered to be cleansed, they were infected. They then returned to there homes and spread the disease even further. Within a year a third of Europe was lost.
The smell of burning flesh and the sight of mass graves imbued the cities for a long time. It took many years to recover from this insidious disease. For those that survived life continued in hardship. Even livestock died and it took many years to re-establish food supplies and crops.
We live in such affluent times; the memories of our history so far removed from our luxurious lives. Not so long ago kingdoms existed, were decimated but survived the greatest human disaster yet to challenge the human race. We are blessed to live in this time, to enjoy the riches of life and the bounty of our earth. It makes you think about what’s important.