We all played Ring Around the Rosie as kids. Singing, laughing, dancing, having a good time. But did you know the rhyme was inspired by the Black Death? Ring Around the Rosie also knows as Ring a Ring o’ Roses, first appeared in print in 1881. Reports say that a version of it with the same tune was sung in the 1790s with and similar rhymes were known all across Europe. The actual meaning of the song has been argued for centuries, but most folklore believes it is about the Black Death.
“Pocket full of posies” relates to the flowers used to either help create the “good smells” like inside doctor’s masks or the strewing of flowers on dead bodies. “We all fall down” relates to the fact everyone was dying, and we’d all die eventually. “Ashes, Ashes” is debated, but most believe it was the burning of bodies, namely the Jews that were punished after forced confessions. The title “ring around the Rosie?” It’s said it refers to the buboes on an infected person’s body. So before you happily sing that old rhyme, remember what it was based on.
Before the Black Death, life was happy, abundant, and great all around. Think of it as the Roaring 20s before the Great Depression. Music was plentiful and happy, and the art was beautiful. Artists were respected professionals who often interacted with princes and the Pope. During the Black Death, things changed for the worst. Music became rare and grim. People would hear the grim church bells chime day and night constantly due to increasing deaths. Eventually, people had enough of the bells, and they stopped chiming with every death since the toll was too great.
Paintings took a darker turn during this period. They were overflowed with tortured souls, death, dying, fire, brimstone, and all around darkness. Thousands of craftsmen, artists, painters, writers, and art patrons perished from the plague. Many artists began painting the Grim Reaper, Hell, and Satan due to the insecurity of survival. Others stopped creating art altogether because they believed it was hopeless to create beauty in a world full of death and destruction. So not only was the world a mess, music, and art didn’t help to ease the hopelessness.
15. The Plague Created Peasant Uprisings and Urban Worker Revolts
When the plague hit, it created a massive labor shortage, especially in cities where 70% of the population died. Workers started demanding higher wages which is something nobles and guild masters strongly opposed. The Black Death also severely depleted the tax base. This caused kings to raise taxes drastically to meet expenses coming from the warfare of the time, mainly the Hundred Year’s War between France and England. Thwarted demands and high taxes caused revolts among the people.
These uprisings would take authorities by surprise who were already dealing with death and issues of fornication and playing the blame game. Authorities would either be killed or flee to the safety of local castles and towns. Rebellions would sweep like wildfire but eventually would be squashed due to poor planning. Rebels were poorly armed, untrained, and highly unorganized. Authorities would gather forces and leave more death in their wake with massacres and executions as a warning to quell other rebellions.
We know that rats and humans were affected by the plague, but were other animals immune? Nope. Chickens, sheep, pig, and cows were all susceptible to the plague. At one point, sheep were dying off so quickly that it was dubbed the “European Wool Shortage.” Funnily enough, a ship from England carrying wool made it’s way to Bergen, Norway in 1349. The ship carried the plague with it and made its way throughout Norway. Within days the ship’s crew was dead.
Eating the dead animals probably wasn’t a good idea either. Even with cooking, you could still become infected with the plague. Other wild animals would often eat the dead ones that were waiting to be buried, and they too would contract the plague since it could be passed through blood. The massive death toll of animals created a shortage of food for people, so if they didn’t die of pestilence, they could die of starvation or some other disease/infection.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: