Nothing experienced in human history, before or since, eclipses the terror, tragedy and scale of the Black Death, the disease which decimated medieval Europe.
The Scourging Angel tells the story of Britain immediately before, during and after this catastrophe. It charts the spread of the plague from its inception in Europe and the moment it strikes the south coast of England, to its devastating march northwards through the British Isles, and provides a full and original account of the aftermath of the pandemic. Against a backdrop of empty homes, half-built cathedrals and pestilence-saturated cities, we see a nation gripped by unimaginable fear, shock and paranoia: infected houses are boarded up with survivors still inside; desperate villagers steal clothes from the corpses of their dead neighbours; men driven mad through grief roam the countryside while the invisible contagion incubates within them.
By the time it burnt itself out in 1350, the plague had left half the population of the British Isles dead. Despite the startling toll of life, however, local and royal government showed an impressive resilience, trade continued and rural estates recovered, and within a decade an English king came close to seizing the French throne. Amidst disaster many found opportunity, as a new society was forged out of the embers of pre-plague existence: labour could now be sold for market value; decimated cities were re-energised by new migrants; long-held assumptions about the nature of authority and man’s place in the world were irrevocably ruptured. The story of the Black Death is ultimately one of survival.
Challenging widely accepted theories about the plague’s spread and effects, The Scourging Angel is the definitive account of the British Isles during one of the greatest catastrophes in human history.
“A moving and incisive history of the Black Death.”
“Gripping and illuminating”
“Benedict Gummer’s highly impressive book charts the subsequent spread of the disease in meticulous and terrible detail … this is also a history of the mid-14th-century British Isles, with fascinating sections on Wales, Scotland and Ireland.”
“Stories to excite your inner eight-year-old … a timely reminder that when biology goes bad, there are no boundaries.
“What [Benedict Gummer] does very well indeed is to gather the best that has been thought and written about the great death and plait it into a coherent narrative for a general audience.”
“A rich, thoughtful and utterly riveting historical narrative … a treasure chest of detail.”
“This remarkable, ambitious book by a new, young historian is positive about the new society that survived disaster. Read on and learn a very great deal about life in Britain and more widely throughout Europe in the mid-14th century”
“Benedict Gummer has produced an excellent if somewhat idiosyncractic introduction to the age of the Great Death, an extraordinarily rich period in England's history despite the terrors of disease.”
“[A] glorious picture of 14th-century England … a work of self-evident scholarship … this truly impressive work of narrative and interpretative history. In Mr Gummer’s elegant prose, with its ultra-precise vocabulary, Britain in the mid 14th century comes alive: you see it, hear it, smell it…”
“Benedict Gummer’s absorbing new study.”
“The enormous value of Gummer’s book … is that it concentrates attention on the plague
as an episode in the Hundred Years War. [A] fine book.”
“What he does is retell the story with extraordinary colour and clarity, using the medieval plague as the frame for a vast panorama that encompasses self-flagellating monks, Perpendicular churches, bloody battles and grime-encrusted peasants. It’s a terrific debut, brimming with life and detail.”
“Brilliantly researched and written with an easy but informed style which makes learning about the past such a pleasurable and accessible experience, this is one of the best history books of 2009.”
“[Benedict Gummer] establishes the facts more thoroughly than any of his predecessors… but he never loses the attention of his readers. He enriches the narrative with well chosen tales of personal tragedy and good fortune, the human experience that lies beneath the relentless narratives of death…”
“The fact is the Black Death was just bad, very bad indeed, and Gummer’s detailed book makes that obvious.”
“A … general and sweeping account.”
You can purchase The Scourging Angel at Amazon:
You can contact Benedict via his agent, Andrew Lownie.