1348年に起こった黒死病 (black_death) について，本ブログでも何度か取りあげてきた（cf. 「#119. 英語を世界語にしたのはクマネズミか!?」 ([2009-08-24-1])，「#138. 黒死病と英語復権の関係について再考」 ([2009-09-12-1])，「#1206. 中世イングランドにおける英語による教育の始まり」 ([2012-08-15-1])）．今回は，英語史における黒死病の意義を考えるにあたって，特に農業経済の変化に焦点を当てつつ，広い視野から当時の歴史的背景を紹介したい．
黒死病に関する McDowall (46--47) からの文章を引こう．
Probably more than one-third of the entire population of Britain died, and fewer than one person in ten who caught the plague managed to survive it. Whole villages disappeared, and some towns were almost completely deserted until the plague itself died out.
The Black Death was neither the first natural disaster of the fourteenth century, nor the last. Plagues had killed sheep and other animals earlier in the century. An agricultural crisis resulted from the growth in population and the need to produce more food. Land was no longer allowed to rest one year in three, which meant that it was over-used, resulting in years of famine when the harvest failed. This process had already begun to slow down population growth by 1300.
After the Black Death there were other plagues during the rest of the century which killed mostly the young and healthy. In 1300 the population of Britain had probably been over four million. By the end of the century it was probably hardly half that figure, and it only began to grow again in the second half of the fifteenth century. Even so, it took until the seventeenth century before the population reached four million again.
The dramatic fall in population, however, was not entirely a bad thing. At the end of the thirteenth century the sharp rise in prices had led an increasing number of landlords to stop paying workers for their labour, and to go back to serf labour in order to avoid losses. In return villagers were given land to farm, but this tenanted land was often the poorest land of the manorial estate. After the Black Death there were so few people to work on the land that the remaining workers could ask for more money for their labour. We know they did this because the king and Parliament tried again and again to control wage increases. We also know from these repeated efforts that they cannot have been successful. The poor found that they could demand more money and did so. This finally led to the end of serfdom.
Because of the shortage and expense of labour, landlords returned to the twelfth-century practice of letting out their land to energetic freeman farmers who bit by bit added to their own land. In the twelfth century, however, the practice of letting out farms had been a way of increasing the landlord's profits. Now it became a way of avoiding losses. Many "firma" agreements were for a whole life span, and some for several life spans. By the mid-fifteenth century few landlords had home farms at all. These smaller farmers who rented the manorial lands slowly became a new class, known as the "yeomen". They became an important part of the agricultural economy, and have always remained so.
Overall, agricultural land production shrank, but those who survived the disasters of the fourteenth century enjoyed a greater share of the agricultural economy. Even for peasants life became more comfortable. For the first time they had enough money to build more solid houses, in stone where it was available, in place of huts made of wood, mud and thatch.
黒死病の勃発する1358年より前にも，疫病，人口増加，農地不足はすでに大きな問題となっており，農業経済は行き詰まっていた．農奴制 (serfdom) も持ちこたえられなくなっており，賃金労働者たる自由農民 (yeoman) という新しい身分が出現し始めていた．そこへ黒死病が到来し，生産者人口が激減するに及んで，生き残った生産者の社会的地位が高まった．このようにして，とりわけ自由農民の層が15世紀にかけて存在感と発言力を増していった．そして，彼らの話す言葉こそが，英語だったのである．
McIntyre (15) が述べている通り，"the greater the influence a particular group has within society, the more likely it is that the language spoken by that group will be seen as prestigious."である．英語は，中世イングランドの農業経済の変化（農奴制から自由農民制へ）とともに復権を果たしたといえる．
ただし，黒死病が必ずしも農業経済に直接の影響を及ぼしたわけではない，それは旧来の学説だとする見方も，近年影響力を高めてきているようではあるマクニール（下巻，p. 58 を参照）．
・ McDowall, David. An Illustrated History of Britain. Harlow: Longman 1989.
・ McIntyre, Dan. History of English: A Resource Book for Students. Abingdon: Routledge. 2009.
・ ウィリアム・H・マクニール（著），佐々木 昭夫（訳） 『疫病と世界史 上・下』 中央公論新社〈中公文庫〉，2007年．
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