One of the most devastating epidemics in human history, the Black Death, lasted from 1346 to 1353. Over 25 million people (one third of Europe’s entire population) died. The disease is thought to have originated in China, where it spread from the busy trading nation through fleas. The fleas were carried to Europe on rats, and the heavy rat population in Europe helped the disease spread at an alarming rate. The Black Death, or Bubonic Plague, gets the name from the inflamed lymph nodes or buboes victims experience while infected.
Since this disease is highly contagious and spread through Europe at an alarming rate, the population was devastated very quickly. As a result, it sped up the changes in Medieval Europe that were already underway. It’s not surprising that more peasants died off than nobles. Peasants lived in dirtier environments, and were more likely to come in contact with rats and their fleas in which the plague used as carriers. Without peasants, there was most noticeably a shortage of labor. Since there was so much land could no longer be cultivated, nobles started to refuse to continue the standard process of gradually eliminating serfdom. Serfs were no longer able to buy their freedom, many rebelled, and the use of serfs started slowly to break down. Many serfs saw the labor shortage as an opportunity, and used it to demand better terms that benefitted them more than the nobles. If the feudal lords didn’t relent, serfs simply migrated to areas where wages were better and land rental prices were cheaper.
So to sum things up, even though the Black Death wiped out over one third of Europe’s total population, it sped up some changes that were already in the works and brought on a few of it’s own. The feudal structure was greatly weakened by the sudden labor shortage, and this vastly increased the opportunities for the common working man.