Medevil Famine

Essay by Swapper54College, Undergraduate April 1996

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Agriculture during the medieval time was a very complex system. The

weather 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 summer

harvest, resulting in a shortfall of food. Due to a surplus left over from the

previous harvest, no one went hungry. But after a couple of bad harvests, the

surplus began to run out. This happened in Europe in 1044. The Famine reared

its ugly head, in part, caused by years of unfavorable harvest and inadequate

crops, but it was also complicated by a plague that seemed to thrive on human


By 1043, northwest Europe was in disruption. Food prices which had

been high in 1042, remained high, especially in Belgium. No doubt the high

price of food was a result of the poor harvests from both the 1042 winter and

summer crops.

From Waverly in England and Angers in France, to St. Gall in

Switzerland and Gembloux in Belgium, reports of famine, disease, and death

circulated. No relief came in the summer of 1043. In France and Germany, there

were reports of a terribly wet and stormy summer. An entry from Swabia, a

province in south-central Germany, best summed up the situation: 'The entire

summer almost changed to winter by winds and rains, a great lack of grain and

wine came about.' (LeRoy 27) These rains must have been particularly harsh.

The wind and rain pounding away at the growing summer crop lowered not only

yields but quality as well. Almost all of the summer labors were adversely

effected. No doubt the rains barraged the grazing cattle as well.

If Emperor Henry III and his court had played ice hockey, December

would have been a glorious month indeed; there...