When was the worst time to live in Britain?

The British nation has had its fair share of sorrow, suffering, brutal invasions, civil war, famine, disease and political chaos.

When was the worst time to live in Britain? © Getty Images

But the worst time to live in what we now call Britain must be the mid-14th century – when the Black Death ravaged the land.

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Known then as the Great Pestilence, the bubonic plague that was crippling Europe arrived in south-western England in June 1348. It was seen as the punishment of God for people’s sins.

Spreading rapidly thanks to infected ships, unsanitary living conditions, fleeing victims, and Scotland’s misguided decision to invade while England was vulnerable, the disease had extended its grip to the Irish and the Scots by autumn 1349.

Agonising and incurable, the tell-tale symptoms were erupting boils around the armpits and groin and vomiting blood. Few lived beyond three days.

Terrified parents abandoned their dying children, and one contemporary report described towns covered in corpses, with the living “scarce able to bury the dead”.

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By the time the plague faltered in the autumn of 1350, it had wiped out as much as half of the population. In the words of an inscription made at a Hertfordshire church in 1349, only ‘the remnants of the people’ remained.

This article was first published in the September 2015 issue of History Revealed and answered by one of our Q&A experts, Emily Brand.