When we extend the question of effects over the balance of the fourteenth century and into the fifteenth, more complications arise. How rapidly did the population of Europe recover its pre-1300 level? Did the depression in population have major effects on wages, prices, land tenures? Did productive processes or land uses change? Were authorities—ecclesiastical, political, intellectual—called into question? Clear answers to all those questions are diffi- cult, but the great epidemic certainly had some weight in all such issues.
First, the Black Death of 1347–1353 seriously reduced the population of Europe. Mortality may have ranged from 30 to 60 percent, in some places higher, in some places lower. But the plague’s impact on the European popula- tion did not end in 1353. Although controversy continues about just when the population began to grow again, much local evidence suggests that repeated vis- itations of plague in the years after 1353 contributed to holding populations down. The population of Cuxham in 1377 had reached only one-third of its 1348 level.18
Many writers, in fact, see no real recovery of growth in the European population until the end of the fifteenth century. For this remarkable period of declining or stagnant populations the plague bears at least some responsibility. Once plague established itself in the 1340s it remained an almost constant menace for over three hundred years, in what may be properly called a prolonged plague pandemic. Jean-Noël Biraben has compiled tables which claim that plague was pres- ent somewhere in Europe every year between 1347 and 1670.19 The most serious and widespread episodes followed on the heels of the great Black Death; thus the epidemics of the early 1360s and middle 1370s, though overshadowed by the 1347–1353 catastrophe, rank as demographic disasters in their own right. Such massive after-shocks hampered the recovery of population levels late in the fourteenth century; and although the intervals between major plague waves seemed to have lengthened in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the disease could still be a powerful brake on growth in some localities.