Medevil Famine Essay, Research Paper
Medevil FamineAgriculture during the medieval time was a very complex system. Theweather played a major role in the harvest. A week of unpleasant rain in May,followed by an abnormal cold, humid summer might have thrown off the summerharvest, resulting in a shortfall of food. Due to a surplus left over from theprevious harvest, no one went hungry. But after a couple of bad harvests, thesurplus began to run out. This happened in Europe in 1044. The Famine rearedits ugly head, in part, caused by years of unfavorable harvest and inadequatecrops, but it was also complicated by a plague that seemed to thrive on humanstarvation. By 1043, northwest Europe was in disruption. Food prices which hadbeen high in 1042, remained high, especially in Belgium. No doubt the highprice of food was a result of the poor harvests from both the 1042 winter andsummer crops. From Waverly in England and Angers in France, to St. Gall inSwitzerland and Gembloux in Belgium, reports of famine, disease, and deathcirculated. No relief came in the summer of 1043. In France and Germany, therewere reports of a terribly wet and stormy summer. An entry from Swabia, aprovince in south-central Germany, best summed up the situation: “The entiresummer almost changed to winter by winds and rains, a great lack of grain andwine came about.” (LeRoy 27) These rains must have been particularly harsh.The wind and rain pounding away at the growing summer crop lowered not onlyyields but quality as well. Almost all of the summer labors were adverselyeffected. No doubt the rains barraged the grazing cattle as well. If Emperor Henry III and his court had played ice hockey, Decemberwould have been a glorious month indeed; there was ice everywhere. FromDecember in 1043, to March of 1044, the great ice froze northwestern Europe.This spelled disaster for the medieval population; it was the final disaster in aprocession of calamities. For four months, for all purposes, the ground was toofrozen to plow for the spring planting. And the winter crop, which had beenplanted in October of 1043, was devastated. Although snow insulates a cropfrom the cold, it does so only up to a certain degree. Gauging by the chroniclers’harsh and snowy entries for 1044, the winter must have been exceptionally brutalfor the people and their agricultural cycle. (Flohn 95)The plague among animals took the form of hoof-and-mouth disease; thewet summer of 1043 had made for an excellent incubating condition. Like anydisease, it would take time for foot-and-mouth to reach mentionable proportions,probably close to six months. This would place mention of the outbreak in thewinter of 1044, which is in fact the time when chroniclers mention the “plagueamong animals.”(Tierney 154) As the animals suffered, the severity of the winterfrosted over the grape buds, splitting the vines, and destroying the harvest for1044. With the destruction of the vines, there was also destruction of other fruitsof the earth. In 1044, the harvest of grains, fruits, and vegetables was a disaster. And so by the middle of 1044, as he let his horse graze off the dead,Famine, with a bottle of starvation to keep him company, settled in northwesternEurope. The successive cold and wet summer of 1043 and the harsh, snowywinter of 1044 had been the culminating events to a tragic series ofcircumstances. Because the conditions had been corrected, these two climaticevents had worked together to wreck four harvests in a row (1042 winter crop,1043 summer and winter crops, and 1044 summer crop). With little to no surplusfrom the previous years (1042 summer crop had been very poor), these excessiveand successive shortfalls in 1043 and 1044 lead to general starvation acrossnorthwestern Europe. Though it appears that the summer of 1044 wasclimatically uneventful, famine did not rest. There might have been a slightreprieve in the fall of 1044 as the peasant farmers administered the wreckedsummer crop; surely, they saved some food, perhaps a few months worth. But,like the good weather, it was only temporary. (LeRoy 75)The winter of 1045 was cold in north northwestern Europe. The coldprobably had effects similar to the great ice of 1044. The winter wheat and ryecrop were small and of poor quality; the plowing and sowing of the summer oat,barley, and vegetable crops were, at the very least, impaired. And the harvestreaped was weak. Because of the cold, mice and other mammals were hardpressed to find shelter. Surely, all the plants and animals struggled to surviveduring the winter of 1045. Reports of famine continued throughout northwestern Europe. The now-empty city of Verdun, “was almost returned to waste”(Arnold 138) by famine, andthe people who remained prayed to God for deliverance. Oddly enough, therewere no famine reports in England; but at the very least, shortages of food mostcertainly continued throughout England in 1045. (Arnold 139)A year later, however, in England Famine was eating up the headlines.The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle read: “after Candlemas [February 2], came the severewinter, with frost and snow, and with all kinds of bad weather, so thatthere was no man alive who could remember so severe a winter as that was, both
through mortality of men and murrain of cattle; both birds and fishes perishedthrough the great cold and hunger.” (Arnold 141)Just as in 1044, a brutal winter wrecked the already battered agriculturalcycle. Both the 1045 winter crop and the 1046 summer crop were devastated inEngland. Although there is no way of telling exactly how cold the winter was, thechronicler did make special mention of how birds and fish died from the cold(and hunger too). But judging from the harsh winter, the agricultural harvests of1046 must not have been good, at least not in north northwestern Europe. (LeRoy 85)By 1046, many chroniclers’ stopped using the word famine, but why. Forthree years, famine had effectively worked to cut back the number of mouths tofeed, perhaps increasing the death rate from 30 in 1,000 to 80 or even 90 in 1,000per year. Across northwestern Europe, with each year of famine, an excess offive per cent or more of the population died from the effects of starvation anddisease. Using 1044 as a base year with one-hundred per cent population, andassuming a five per cent excess population decrease per year, by the beginning of1046, the population of northwest Europe had dropped to roughly eighty-five percent of what it had been. (Once famine reaches its climax, the more it kills in oneyear, the less it kills in the next, and the quicker it runs its course.) Famine wasstill in Europe; it was just killing fewer people. There is also another reason whythe chroniclers probably didn’t use the word famine. Being relatively at the top ofthe medieval social ladder, they would have been among the first to climb out offamine’s bottle of starvation. Because they themselves were out of harm’s way,they might have felt that famine was over. For the poor, the biggest part ofsociety, famine most certainly continued; famine was climbing down the socialladder in 1046. (Boissonnade 215)1047 paralleled 1046. Across northwestern Europe, winter was terrible.Throughout Germany, France, and Belgium, as well as in England too, thechronicler’s made mention of a snow so great that it broke down trees. InEngland, the “great snow fell on the calends of January, which remained until thefeast of St. Patrick [March 17].”(Arnold 145) A chronicler in Wales wrote, that tothe south, the land was deserted by its inhabitants. This probably indicates thatpeople had fled their land due to the strength of the ongoing famine. Deaths werereported across England, and famine was even reported in Scotland. Across theEnglish Channel, the poor weather patterns remained in Europe. Shortfalls andhunger certainly continued across northwestern Europe, but widespread faminewas coming to an end. In 1048, there was no mention of terrible weather, butnor was there mention of especially good weather.(LeRoy 96) By the last few years of the decade, famine was indeed leavingnorthwestern Europe. Exactly when famine left for good, however, is unclear.Just as famine arrived to different parts of Europe spontaneously, spreading untilit had engulfed all of Europe, relief from famine spread gradually also. In 1049,the winter was icy. Like 1048, there was no explicit mention of shortage orstarvation, but neither was there mention of surplus. In 1051, the year was notedas a rainy one in Belgium. In 1052, however, there were the first reports of goodharvests at Augsburg and in Bavaria. And again in 1053, for a second straightyear, there were reports of good harvests. Widespread famine had departed. (Gottfried 103)In Germany and across northwestern Europe, the disaster of famine hadfaded away by the early 1050’s. Medieval agriculture and society, which had laidon its side for nearly a decade, had finally been corrected. But like GeneralDouglas MacArthur withdrawing from Corregidor, Famine probably uttered thesame words as he too withdrew: “I shall return.” (Devlin 19) The specter ofFamine riding off into the sunset was a vision, even though Starvation was toreappear soon enough.
Arnold, David J. Famine: Social Crisis and HistoricalChange. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988. Boissonnade, P. Life And Work in Medieval Europe: TheEvolution of Medieval Economy from the Fifth to theFifteenth Century. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1964. Devlin, Gerald M. Back To Corregidor – America Retakes the Rock. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.Flohn, Herman, and Fantechi, Roberto. The Climate ofEurope: Past, Present, and Future: Natural and Man-inducedClimatic Changes: A European Perspective. Boston: D. ReidelPub. Co., 1984. Gottfried, Robert S. The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe. New York: The Free Press, 1983Le Roy, Ladurie, Emmanuel. Times of Feast, Times of Famine:A History of Climate Since the Year 1000. Garden City, NY:Doubleday, 1971. Tierney, Brian, and Painter, Sidney. Western Europe in theMiddle Ages 300-1475. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1983. Thesis Statement: The Famine reared its ugly head, in part, caused by years ofunfavorable harvest and inadequate crops, but it was also complicated by a plaguethat seemed to thrive on human starvation. I. Introduction A. People B. Nature II. 1043 A. High food prices B. Famine spread C. Bad Weat