Outbreak and Spread
The Black Death or Bubonic Plague as it also known, is an often fatal pandemic disease that is believed to have originated in asia, swept across europe and eventually to England. In the summer of 1348, the first deaths in England were recorded. The earliest, closest reported cases to Sussex were in Southampton in the neighboring county of Hampshire. The disease was carried by the fleas on the rats that frequently infested ships holds. While the disease did spread overland from Southampton, it undoubtably also entered Sussex directly via its ports, such as Bosham, Rye and Winchelsea.
Symptoms and Mortality
The symptoms of the disease are a high fever, muscle cramps and seizures, followed by the development of painful lymph gland swellings known as buboes. These were commonly found in the groin and sometimes in the armpits or neck, usually at the site of the initial infection. In the current day, bubonic plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics, but in the fourteenth century, before the discovery of antibiotics, death resulted in 50% to 90% of cases.
Impact on Sussex
All areas of Sussex were affected by the disease. The religious houses were badly impacted. At Michelham Priory Only five of thirteen brothers survived and more than half the monks at Battle Abbey died. In the village of Appledram, the number of reapers was reduced from two hundred and thirty four to one hundred and sixty eight, making it difficult to conduct the harvest. Whole families were lost. By the summer of 1349, in the village of Wartling over seventy freemen and villeins had died, including twenty five who left no heirs. Loss of life in some villages, such as Barpham and Lordington, was so great that the villages were abandoned.
The shortage of labor to work the land impoverished some landlords, who now not able to farm their land which was left fallow or abandoned. The lord of the manor now had to compete for the remaining workforce. Surviving serfs were able to demand higher wages from the local manor. For example, a plough man who might have earned two shillings a year before the plague, could now charge seven shillings.