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Key Learning Area: History

Date: 28/10/14

Curriculum Links: (ACHHS154) (ACDSEH070)

Grade Level: 8

Topic: Flagellants & the Black Death

Lesson objectives:
1) Students identify why the flagellants were so prevalent during the
Black Death
2) Students recognise the importance of artistic representations as
primary sources

Flagellant information & worksheet, internet, ipads, A year of wonders
by Geraldine Brooks

Ok, can I just get one fact from all of you just how bad was the black
death? How many died? Were people pretty freaked out?
When people are really scared they often do strange things if they
think it will help. The flagellants are an example of this.
This is a clip from a Swedish Film called Seven Seals, directed by
Igmer Burgen.
(from 4min mark)
Ok this is what the flagellants did!
I also want to read you a few pages from this novel, It's about the
plague in the 1600's and its historical fiction but I think this gives a
very vivid depiction of flagellants and their beliefs. (reads to class)
I have emailed you all a document called 'Flagellants'. Please open and
we will read through together.
Ok, so they were pretty freaky! Please complete the 4 questions in
your workbooks.

Time 50min

(goes through questions as a class)

Why do you think we are studying this? People have chosen to paint
pictures write books and make films centuries later- what does this
tell us about the impact that the black death had?
Assessment Opportunities: formative participation in class
discussion and activity.


The Flagellants
The Flagellants were religious zealots of the Middle Ages in Europe who
sought atonement for their sins by vigorously whipping themselves in public
displays of penance. This approach to achieving redemption was most popular
during times of crisis. Despite condemnation by the Catholic Church, the
movement gained strength and reached its greatest popularity during the
onslaught of the Black death that ravaged Europe in the mid-fourteenth century.
Wearing white robes, large groups of the sect roamed the countryside dragging
crosses while whipping themselves into a religious frenzy.
Although prevalent on the European continent, the Flagellants did not achieve
popularity in England. However, a large contingent of the sect crossed the
English Channel in 1349 and converged on London. The following description
of the Flagellants comes to us from Sir Robert of Avesbury who witnessed their
"In that same year of 1349, about Michaelmas (September, 29) over six hundred men came to London
from Flanders, mostly of Zeeland and Holland origin. Sometimes at St Paul's and sometimes at other
points in the city they made two daily public appearances wearing cloths from the thighs to the ankles,
but otherwise stripped bare. Each wore a cap marked with a red cross in front and behind.

Each had in his right hand a scourge with three tails. Each
tail had a knot and through the middle of it there were
sometimes sharp nails fixed. They marched naked in a file
one behind the other and whipped themselves with these
scourges on their naked and bleeding bodies.

A Contemporary View
of the Flagellants, ca 1350

Four of them would chant in their native tongue and,

another four would chant in response like a litany. Thrice
they would all cast themselves on the ground in this sort of
procession, stretching out their hands like the arms of a
cross. The singing would go on and, the one who was in the
rear of those thus prostrate acting first, each of them in turn
would step over the others and give one stroke with his
scourge to the man lying under him.
This went on from the first to the last until each of them had
observed the ritual to the full tale of those on the ground.
Then each put on his customary garments and always wearing their caps and carrying their whips in
their hands they retired to their lodgings. It is said that every night they performed the same penance."
This eyewitness account appears in: Robert of Avesbury: E.M. Thompson (ed), Robertus de Avesbury de Gestis Mirabilbus Regis Edwardi
Tertii, Roll Series 1889; Cohn, Norman, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle
Ages (1970).
"The Flagellants Attempt to Repel the Black Death, 1349", EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2010).

A Procession of Flagellants
in the Netherlands, ca, 1350


#1 Find another example of a paintings that depicts flagellants. Do you think this is a strange subject
matter for an artist to paint? What does it tell us about society at the time?

#2 How helpful are paintings as a primary source of information? What do they tell us that written
accounts cannot?

#3 What the flagellants did was extreme yet thousands of people took part. Why do you think that

#4 The flagellants claimed to be Christians, yet the Catholic church condemed them why? Again
what does this tell us about the impact the Black Death had on society?