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The Great Famine Of 1315

January 27, 2013

By Paul Homewood




After the wet summer of 2012, it is perhaps sobering to remember the events of 1315, and the years after. According to Wikipedia:-



The Great Famine of 1315–1317 (occasionally dated 1315–1322) was the first of a series of large scale crises that struck Northern Europe early in the fourteenth century. Places affected include continental Europe (extending east to Russia and south to Italy) as well as Great Britain. It caused millions of deaths over an extended number of years and marks a clear end to an earlier period of growth and prosperity between the eleventh to thirteenth centuries.

Starting with bad weather in spring 1315, universal crop failures lasted through 1316 until summer harvest in 1317; Europe did not fully recover until 1322. It was a period marked by extreme levels of crime, disease, mass death and even cannibalism and infanticide. It had consequences for the church, state, European society and future calamities to follow in the fourteenth century.

During the MWP (the period prior to 1300), the population of Europe had exploded, reaching levels that were not matched again in some places until the nineteenth century. However, the yield ratios of wheat (the number of seeds one could eat per seed planted) had been dropping since 1280 and food prices had been climbing. In good weather the ratio could be as high as 7:1, while during bad years as low as 2:1 – that is, for every seed planted, two seeds were harvested, one for next year’s seed, and one for food. By comparison, modern farming has ratios of 30:1 or more.

The onset of the Great Famine coincided with the end of the Medieval Warm Period. Between 1310 and 1330 northern Europe saw some of the worst and most sustained periods of bad weather in the entire Middle Ages, characterized by severe winters and rainy and cold summers.

In the spring of 1315, unusually heavy rain began in much of Europe. Throughout the spring and summer, it continued to rain and the temperature remained cool. These conditions caused widespread crop failures. The straw and hay for the animals could not be cured and there was no fodder for the livestock. The price of food began to rise. Food prices in England doubled between spring and midsummer. Salt, the only way to cure and preserve meat, was difficult to obtain because it could not be evaporated in the wet weather; it went from 30 shillings to 40 shillings.

Because of the general poverty, even lower-than-average harvests meant some people would go hungry. In Lorraine, wheat prices increased by 320% and peasants could no longer afford bread. Stores of grain for long-term emergencies were limited to the lords and nobles. People began to harvest wild edible roots, plants, grasses, nuts, and bark in the forests.

In the spring of 1316, it continued to rain on a European population deprived of energy and reserves to sustain itself. All segments of society from nobles to peasants were affected, but especially the peasants who represented 95% of the population and who had no reserve food supplies. To provide some measure of relief, draft animals were butchered, seed grain was consumed, children were abandoned to fend for themselves (see "Hansel and Gretel"), and some elderly people voluntarily refused food in order to provide nourishment needed for the younger generation to survive. The chroniclers of the time wrote of many incidents of cannibalism.

The height of the famine was reached in 1317 as the wet weather continued. Finally, in the summer the weather returned to its normal patterns. By now, however, people were so weakened by diseases such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and tuberculosis, and so much of the seed stock had been eaten, that it was not until 1325 that the food supply returned to relatively normal conditions and the population began to increase again. Historians debate the toll but it is estimated that 10–25% of the population of many cities and towns died. While the Black Death (1338–1375) would kill more people, it often swept through an area in a matter of months whereas the Great Famine lingered for years, drawing out the suffering of the populace.

Nobody knew at the time, but these were the early stages of the descent into Little Ice Age, which would last another 500 years.

Nowadays Julia Slingo thinks wet summers are a sign of global warming. So science progresses!

  1. mitigatedsceptic permalink
    January 27, 2013 8:38 pm

    And to continue the tale go to
    This has some of the dirty finger marks of the little boys with their computer toys, but the message is clear – cooling is far more dangerous than warming and its a lot more about starvation and freezing to death than about walking across the Rhine! Already this winter, people are raiding forests in Europe for fuel, so expensive are conventional fuels.
    I have been alert to the probability of another LIA from history not climatology and I fear we are walking into that crisis backwards.

  2. Zekryuem permalink
    February 1, 2015 9:09 pm

    Wikipedia isn’t so resourceful if you think about it because people may edit it…


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