Covid 19 and similarites with the second wave of the Great Pestilence in 1360…

This illustration is simply that, a suitable illustration – the Flagellants followed the first wave of the Great Pestilence and aren’t mentioned here.

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 died in huge numbers…’ This was the autumn.

Then, the following spring, the Chronicle notes again: “…and after the next Easter following [April 1361], men and women died in great multitudes … In that year the plague raged in the southern parts of England with great mortality among children, youths and the wealthy. This plague was however much less serious than that which had befallen thirteen years before…”

available from Amazon

What follows now is both quoted and paraphrased from the above book, The Black Death in London by Barney Sloane  :-

“….The Anonimalle Chronicle called it the mortality of children, and states that several people of high birth and a great number of children died. But it was killing men disproportionately, Higden’s Polychronicon claimed it started in London, describing it as a “great pestilence of men … killing many men but few women”. Walsingham also asserted that the disease devoured men rather than women. John of Reading’s chronicle stated that ‘this year the mortality was particularly of males, who were devoured in great numbers by the pestilence’; and the chronicle of Louth Abbey described ‘a mortality of men, especially of boys’.

“….The anonymous Canterbury Chronicle provides us with some description of the outward symptoms of the disease: “….Children and adolescents were generally the first to die, and then the elderly. Members of religious orders and parish clergy and others died suddenly without respect of persons when the first spots and the other signs of death appeared on their bodies, as on the bodies of the victims everywhere. Many churches were then left unserved and empty through lack of priests. The plague lasted for more than four months in England.

“….In contrast to the first epidemic, the course of the 1361 plague across England and indeed Europe has yet to be clearly established – certainly there seem to be few warning references in clerical correspondence, so it may well be that the outbreak originated in England and possibly in London as the Lynn Greyfriars and the Canterbury Chronicles maintain…”

Today we are mystified as to why men are more affected by Covid 19 than women, and why some ethnicities are more exposed to it than others. There is no way of knowing now if immigrants of whatever nationality/ethnicity were more adversely affected, because there simply weren’t as many of them and records weren’t as thorough. Especially as back then there were always diseases of one sort of another picking people off, when today our medicine can offer cures to most of them.

But looking back at the secunda pestilencia of 1360-1361 I’d say that—modern medicine aside—very little has changed over the centuries.

PS: I should add that the book by Barney Sloane is excellent and very detailed. It really captures the panic and very hasty will-writing that galvanised the unfortunate citizens.


  1. Reblogged this on WordyNerdBird and commented:
    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.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: