Tag Archives: Black Death

Jake Savage – Character Profile – a man and his demons

Hell has its DemonsIf you have read my latest novel, Hell has its Demons, then you might be interested to find out more about one of the main characters: Jake Savage.

Here’s the character history I wrote for him while I was planning the novel. Hope you enjoy it! The cover of the book might be Jake – you never no – it’s not only hell that has demons – Jake does too.

Jake’s family moved to St Brett’s when he was 11, a year after the Plague first struck in 1348. His young sister died, but otherwise his family was relatively unharmed. The village where they lived all but disappeared though. His father sold the small plot of land they held and left the village before their lord could demand the fine payable for villains leaving his manor. They arrived in St Brett’s and found that they were able to get a burgess plot on the cheap – the abbey desperate for money with half the town’s tenants having died.

As a child Jake was entranced by stories of knights and seeing them go past in their armour, with their fancy ladies – visiting the abbey for instance or coming into town for the fairs that happened three times a year. He was taken in by the romance of these stories and the pageantry of the knights he saw. He would later bitterly resent the wealth of these nobles and his own foolish hope that he might become a knight too.

His father earns a living through a variety of enterprises, becoming most successful at brewing and running a tavern. John is a shrewd businessman and also sees opportunities for speculating on the trade of cloth manufactured in the town. He encourages others to invest capital into ventures, thereby avoiding risk, but takes a good share of the profits. He uses his son, Jake, to ensure the shipments reach their destination safely – Jake is physically intimidating and also John trusts him. Jake is party to occasional deception of John’s business clients. Jake travels to London and ports in East Anglia on business.

From the age of 16 to 17 John is able to send his boy Jake to the grammar school briefly. Jake learns quickly but can’t stand the discipline of study and the hypocrisy of the monks. He is expelled for a prank on the teacher – who will later be an obedientary or abbot?

The Abbey observes the success of the cloth exports from St Brett’s and the lack of income it derives and seeks to impose levies on St Brett’s merchants – whereas previously it could tax merchants coming to fairs at St Brett’s to buy produce.

These taxes affect John and his associates – a group of wealthier burgesses who control the cloth trade and regularly drink in his tavern. In 1361 when the abbey imposes these tolls the burgesses rebel and the abbey’s tax-collector is murdered.

His Mother died during second coming of the Black Death in 1362.

In 1363 when the abbey bring in local gentry to support their collection of the tolls there is street-warfare. The abbey is briefly besieged. The Abbot promises to withdraw the new tolls, but asks instead for increased tolls for use of the Abbey mills. John is happy with that – he has organized house fulling mills in the workshops of his suppliers.

Jake is supportive of all this activity and helps his father – they are always seen together and effectively control what happens in the town.

Jake is a keen sportsman, football, archery and poaching in the Abbey’s forest.

Jake has some of his own money now and plans to set-up on his own. He buys his own tavern.

Jake marries in 1365 a girl called Edith. She died in childbirth as did the child. Jake has given up on being a father now. Is it worth bringing a child into such a world?

Jake’s tavern is struggling to make a profit. He has become more distant from his father. He no longer represents him on business trips – he doesn’t have time – he is running his own business now, but also morning his dead wife and child.

The conflict with the abbey has died down. The abbey still demands its rights and seems to exert more control – but only over the lesser people of the town – John and his cronies have come to an arrangement. In 1367 they form a new fraternity and pay for an endowment to the abbey. Jake has offended his father by going off on his own and rejecting his advice – his father is quietly cutting him out of his dealings and making him suffer for going against him.

Jake finds Margery and her mother camped out on his doorstep one cold morning early in 1369. He is ready to turn away the two beggars who have appeared from nowhere, but something stops him. He lets them in and cooks them some hot food. His housekeeper, who has taken a shine to him which he hasn’t realized, immediately takes a dislike to them – witch she calls the old woman, who mutters superstitiously under her breath. Jake allows them to board at his house. The old woman does not last the winter. Jake and Margery become lovers, the housekeeper is sacked and Margery lives with Jake (in sin). She has a hold over him.

His father is jealous of Jake’s romantic success and plots against him, first having others accuse him in the abbey’s canon court of fornication. Jake promises to marry. John tries something else, pointing out Jake’s poverty to Margery.

Jake leaves St Brett’s in 1369 (when he was 31) after his father marries Margery (when she was 27). Jake tried to kill his father and Margery shortly before he left in an angry confrontation.

Jake joins a retinue being assembled to support the Black Prince’s forces in Aquitaine. From 1370 to 1374 involved in chevauchées, sieges and skirmishes in various parts of Western France. Involved in war crimes – but this is part and parcel of being a soldier? Jake has become cynical – life has dealt him a cruel hand so he feels it is alright for him to take it out on others. He has realised that only get what you can take in this world.

In 1374 effectively becomes an outlaw in France with a gang of other unpaid soldiers. They capture Roger and some other clerks on their return from Avignon. They plan to ransom the priests for money. But for Roger their plan fails, the other priests are worth something, but not Roger. The other soldiers plan to kill Roger and take his stuff. Jake protects him and saves him. They part. Jake returns to England, but ends up in gaol. Roger hears that he is in gaol and helps secure his release if he will become his servant. Roger is on his way to Oxford to take up a post as Master of Astronomy at the University.

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Black Death pit unearthed by Crossrail project


BBC News - Black Death pit unearthed by Crossrail project

BBC News – Black Death pit unearthed by Crossrail project.

Excavations for London’s Crossrail project have unearthed bodies believed to date from the time of the Black Death.

A burial ground was known to be in an area outside the City of London, but its exact location remained a mystery.

Thirteen bodies have been found so far in the 5.5m-wide shaft at the edge of Charterhouse Square, alongside pottery dated to the mid-14th Century.

Analysis will shed light on the plague and the Londoners of the day.

The Black Death and a Jewish Holocaust

Jews are burned alive during the Black Death.
Image via Wikipedia

I have been reading The Scourging Angel by Benedict Gummer, which is an account of the Black Death in Britain. The books is well worth a look if you are interested in this period of history during the Middle Ages. One thing I came across that I didn’t know is what happened to Jewish populations in Europe when the Black Death began to sweep across the Continent.

Medieval Europeans didn’t know why the plague was upon them. Many Churchmen put the blame on man’s sin – it was God’s divine punishment. But lay people however had more down to earth suspicions and decided that there were being maliciously attacked. Rumours spread that wells were being poisoned by enemies. And enemies in Medieval Europe usually meant the Jews, who were seen as outsiders and subject to myths such as the blood libel (the murder of children), the murder of Christ and well poisoning. The stresses of the Black Death turned people’s attentions to people who were seen as outsiders living amongst them and as the plague spread so did the attacks on Jews.

The Church did try to stop this – indeed Jews were protected by Papal order, but these orders were ignored (the Church was not all powerful in the Middle Ages).

In scenes chillingly similar to what would happen under the Nazis whole populations of Jews were slaughtered. For example in Strasbourg the burning of Jews lasted for six days. This was not just people attacking Jews opportunistically where they found them, but an organized slaughter of every Jew that the city authorities could get hold of.

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Medieval Black Death bacteria extinct (phew breathes sigh of relief)

A scanning electron micrograph depicting a mas...
Image via Wikipedia

And you thought it was all over? Well it is now. Seems to be loads of news at the moment about research into the plague/Black Death that caused mortality of up to 50% during the mid-Fourteenth century. It seems to be all unrelated items, but its a bit weird to be seeing so much in the news at the moment. Perhaps time for those time travelers to go back and cure the plague for our 14th century friends?

Here’s some more information from the scientists who recently published a paper on the subject in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science:

The remains of more than 100 plague victims buried between 1348 and 1350 in the East Smithfield burial site showed evidence of a strain of Y. pestis, according to the researchers, led by Hendrik N. Poinar of McMaster University in Canada and Johannes Krause of Tuebingen University in Germany.

“Our data reveal that the Black Death in medieval Europe was caused by a variant of Y. pestis that may no longer exist,” the researchers wrote.

This courtesy of azcentral.com.

No cause to relax though as other variants of plague are alive and kicking, however, we, unlike the 14th century chaps, have antibiotics to fight any further outbreaks.

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Black Death genome nearly found

I came across this fascinating piece of news this morning in the TheSpec.com about work being done to track down the genetic pattern of the virus that caused the Black Death in the fourteenth century.

Here’s a bit more information from the full article:

‘The principal investigator at McMaster University’s ancient DNA centre says his team has found a match confirming that Yersina pestis, the source of the modern bubonic plague, is also behind the Black Death plague that ravaged medieval Europe.

‘Associate professor Hendrik Poinar, who is also Canada’s research chair in paleogenetics, is excited the finding may one day lead to the discovery of the Black Death plague’s entire genome so scientists “can have the history of the development of this bug and the changes in it that made it so deadly.”’

Perhaps once the genetic code is cracked some time traveller boffins could go back and help prevent the outbreak? How would history have been different? Hmm, sounds like an idea for a story!

To read more visit TheSpec.com

Rats Not to Blame for Black Death?

Illustration of the Black Death from the Togge...
Image via Wikipedia

According to a report on a new study in the Guardian the Black Death was not spread by rats, and there’s even some debate about whether it was plague at all. The evidence against rats (in London at least) is the lack of rate skeletons found. Barney Sloane says that you’d expect to see lots of dead rats in excavations too, but they aren’t there!

Here’s an extract from the article about why rats weren’t to blame:

Mortality continued to rise throughout the bitterly cold winter, when fleas could not have survived, and there is no evidence of enough rats.

Black rat skeletons have been found at 14th-century sites, but not in high enough numbers to make them the plague carriers, he said.

In sites beside the Thames, where most of the city’s rubbish was dumped and rats should have swarmed, and where the sodden ground preserves organic remains excellently, few black rats have been found.

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Season of the Witch Synopsis and Cast

Here’s a bit more information about Season of the Witch, although there’s not much available apart from the synopsis and cast list at the moment. Apparently some screenings happened in December 2009, but no reviews yet. The film is due out in March 2010.


Nicolas Cage stars as a 14th century Crusader who returns with his comrade (Ron Perlman) to a homeland devastated by the Black Plague. A beleaguered church, deeming sorcery the culprit of the plague, commands the two knights to transport an accused witch (Claire Foy) to a remote abbey, where monks will perform a ritual in hopes of ending the pestilence.

A priest (Stephen Campbell Moore), a grieving knight (Ulrich Thomsen), an itinerant swindler (Stephen Graham) and a headstrong youth who can only dream of becoming a knight (Robert Sheehan) join a mission troubled by mythically hostile wilderness and fierce contention over the fate of the girl.


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Season of the Witch – interesting film coming out March 19, 2010

This looks quite interesting, and the plot is definitely up my street:

“14th century crusaders take a woman accused of witchcraft to an abbey where the monks will examine her and determine if her sorcery is the cause of the Black Plague which has decimated Europe.”

Video Trailer for Season of the Witch

And here:

But difficult to tell from the trailer! Apparently not based on a book, but the title sounds very familiar. There is a novel with the same name, but it’s got a different setting, and also a George Romero film from 1973, but again set in modern times. I wouldn’t be surprised if they took the same plot and put it back into medieval times to give it a more fantasy feel.

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