Ralph Tailor's Summer A Scrivener, His City and the Plague Keith Wrightson

Publication date:
15 Sep 2011
Yale University Press
224 pages: 235 x 156mm
16 pp. b-w illus.
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One man's life in the plague, his record of the calamitous decimation of a city where nearly half the people died, and its sometimes surprising impact on families and communities

The plague outbreak of 1636 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne was one of the most devastating in English history. This hugely moving study looks in detail at its impact on the city through the eyes of a man who stayed as others fled: the scrivener Ralph Tailor.

As a scrivener Tailor was responsible for many of the wills and inventories of his fellow citizens. By listening to and writing down the final wishes of the dying, the young scrivener often became the principal provider of comfort in people’s last hours. Drawing on the rich records left by Tailor during the course of his work along with many other sources, Keith Wrightson vividly reconstructs life in the early modern city during a time of crisis and envisions what such a calamitous decimation of the population must have meant for personal, familial, and social relations.

Keith Wrightson is the Townsend Professor of History at Yale University and the author of Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain. He lives in Guilford, CT.

"The approach is scholarly yet at the same time imaginative and deeply sympathetic. Wrightson feels that Ralph 'tugged at my sleeve'. Once the two are together in partnership we feel like we are standing at the scrivener’s shoulder."—Rab Houston, BBC History Magazine 

"Following Tailor requires Wrightson to muster the knowledge, skill and imagination that has earned him recognition as one of the leading historians of Early Modern Britain. The result is an intimate portrait of a society under strain…..This is a charming book. It shows life in Early modern England at a time of enormous stress and never lapses into the repellent, sensationalistic or sentimental. Students of the period should read it for fun; everyone else should read it alongside Manzotti’s The Betrothed or take it on holiday to Newcastle."—Lauren Kassell, History Today

"A vivid morsel form which a whole world can be reconstructed."—Rosemary Goring, The Glasgow Herald 

"We have only patchy evidence...and never very much of it from a single epidemic…Hence the importance of Keith Wrightson’s new book, and the value of the small but very rich cache of documents…He can take us through the doors to look inside and listen to the voices of the inmates, because the author of his documents, Ralph Tailor, saw and heard and wrote it all down."—Paul Slack, Times Literary Supplement

"Ralph Turner’s biography is one of very few capable of distinguishing fiction from the 12th-century fact. It also offers a rattling good read."—Nicholas Vincent, BBC History Magazine