The ‘light touch’ of the Black Death in the Southern Netherlands: an urban trick?

Joris Roosen, Daniel R. Curtis
Published Online:
05 Feb 2018
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Although the fanciful notion that the Black Death bypassed the Low Countries has long been rejected, nevertheless a persistent view remains that the Low Countries experienced only a ‘light touch’ of the plague when placed in a broader European perspective, and recovered quickly and fully. However, in this article an array of dispersed sources for the Southern Netherlands together with a new mortmain accounts database for Hainaut show that the Black Death was severe, perhaps no less severe than other parts of western Europe; that serious plagues continued throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; and that the Black Death and recurring plagues spread over vast territories—including the countryside. The previous conception of a ‘light touch’ of plague in the Low Countries was created by the overprivileging of particular urban sources, and a failure to account for the rapid replenishment of cities via inward migration, which obscured demographic decimation. We suggest that the population of the Low Countries may not have recovered faster than other parts of western Europe but instead experienced a greater degree of post‐plague rural–urban migration.

© 2018 The Authors. The Economic History Review published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Economic History Society.

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