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The Black Death, along with subsequent strikes of plague into the early modern period, has been the spark of academic debates over the past century or more. Before the 1990s discussion concentrated on the disease's consequences, first the demographic ones, then the plague's effects on economy, society, and religion: did the great destruction of population have a silver lining, leading to higher standards of living, especially for the lower tiers of the population? Did it lead to a more rational distribution of resources and a better organization of commercial society, as David Herlihy, Richard Goldthwaite and others have argued for Italy and especially Tuscany? Was it the trigger of the tidal changes in Renaissance and early modern culture? Did the deaths of so great a proportion of clerical populations across Europe serve to promote the importance of literature written in the vernacular? Did this demographic catastrophe among the clergy encourage a new dependence on the laity for religious solace and confraternity, while at the same time provoking challenges to religious authority and hierarchy? Was the Black Death at the origins of the Reformation?
None of these questions has been resolved; much depends on when and where in Europe, as well as the Middle East, such changes are, or their absence is, being observed. Many subsequent changes in culture and economy can be seen rising before 1348, and afterwards factors other than the Black Death or its demographic consequences contributed to these broad transformations in civilization.
Contrary to received opinion, revolts and popular protests in medieval English towns were as frequent and as sophisticated, if not more so, as those in the countryside. This groundbreaking study refocuses attention on the varied nature of popular movements in towns from Carlisle to Dover and from the London tax revolt of Longbeard in 1196 to Jack Cade's Rebellion in 1450, exploring the leadership, social composition, organisation and motives of popular rebels. The book charts patterns of urban revolt in times of strong and weak kingship, contrasting them with the broad sweep of ecological and economic change that inspired revolts on the continent. Samuel Cohn demonstrates that the timing and character of popular revolt in England differed radically from revolts in Italy, France and Flanders. In addition, he analyses repression and waves of hate against Jews, foreigners and heretics, opening new vistas in the comparative history of late medieval Europe.