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How the Little Ice Age Devastated Early Modern Europe

How the Little Ice Age Devastated Early Modern Europe

A line graph showing global average temperature change over the last 2,000 years.

Just as the UK was regaining its strength from storms Eunice Franklin, scientists of UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a landmark report warning of a future with spiraling weather extremes, fiercer storms, flash flooding, and wildfires.

This isn’t the first time that Britain has experienced drastic climate change, however. In the 16th and 17th centuries northern Europe had reached its medieval warm period and was now languishing under what is sometimes called “the little ice age”.

The average temperature in the British Isles has been increasing since the beginning of the 14th century. cooled by 2°CSimilar All across Europe, anomalies discovered. Much colder winters ensued. Rivers and coastal oceans frozen, which halted trade and communications. Crops and livestock were ruined by downpours that spoiled harvests, causing widespread hunger and hardship.

A line graph showing global average temperature change over the last 2,000 years.
It is believed that the little ice age lasted for nearly 400 years. Ed Hawkins/RCraig09 CC BY – SA

The climate crisis of early modern times was as political explosive as the one we are currently experiencing. There were rebellions and revolutions, plague, and wars. The witches who were suspected of causing the weather were also made to pay.

The Recent IPCC ReportFuture impacts on society are predicted to be dire Climate ChangeParticularly for the 3.6 billion people who live in the predominantly Poorer countriesThese are extremely vulnerable to climate change. Studying the impacts of the last climate crisis has on people can reveal a lot about how we will all end up.

Fires on Ice

Researchers offer a variety of explanations for the Little Ice Age. Volcanic eruptionsTo the European destruction of indigenous societiesThe result was that forests grew on land that had been abandoned in the Americas. Others have suggested that Minimum MaunderDuring the 1650-1715 period when sunspots were suddenly rare.

No matter what the cause, there are plenty of historical records that document the little-known ice age. London’s River Thames froze numerous times between 1400-1815. The frequency and severity of freezes increased from the early 17th through the early 18th centuries. People seized the opportunity to hold fairs on the river’s icy surface. The first fair was held on the river’s icy surface in 1608, but there were more. Notable frost fairs1621, 1677 and 1684

During the “Great Frost” of 1608, people played football, wrestled, danced, and skated on the Thames. A pamphlet was printed concerning the “Cold doings in London.” Just over a dozen years later, during The frost of 1621Ice was so thick that teenagers could burn a gallon worth of wine on the Thames. Meanwhile, a woman asked her husband for permission to get her pregnant on the frozen river.

The poet John Taylor wrote of that winter’s frost fair:

Spiced cakes, roasted pigs, beer, ale, tobacco and apples can all be seen.

Unexpectedly, the frost fairs saw a mixture of social classes. Between January and mid-February 1684, thousands of people from King Charles II and the royal family to the lowliest pauper ventured out to “Freezeland,” as one pamphleteer had christened it. The fair stretched for three miles from London Bridge up to Vauxhall. A number of market stalls were created in order to make money, and there was no rent to pay.

Many stalls sold delicious food and drink, including beer, wine and coffee, as well as beef, pies and oysters. Entertainment included skating and sledging as well as horse racing, bear baiting, and cock-throwing. There were puppet shows and peep shows with tame monkeys. There was also fire-eating, knife swallowing and a lotto.

This whimsical scene was actually a sign of upheaval: an early modern crisis in the cost of living. Taylor, a waterman who ran a river-taxi service across the Thames, saw his livelihoods go. Many of the frost fair stallholders were out-of work watermen. Fuel prices (predominantly) FirewoodAs heating demand soared, so did the ) And in Taylor’s “gnashing age of snow and ice,” the shivering poor begged the rich for charity.

Life for London’s poor and newly unemployed was increasingly desperate, with many lacking money to eat and keep warm. The situation was similar in Europe. As Philip IV of Spain toured Catalonia’s barren fields, an associate observed that “Hunger is the greatest enemy.”

Contemporaries were concerned about the social consequences. The “cryes and teares of the poore, who professe they are almost ready to famish”, wrote John Wildman, 1648, prompted fears that “a sudden confusion would follow.” In 1684, King Charles II of England authorized the bishop of London to collect money for the poor in the city and its suburbs and also donated a sum from the royal treasury.

Local parish relief (a tax that is imposed on the wealthier residents of each parish to support their poorer neighbours) helped reduce starvation and reduced deaths in England. France is the most popular. Many died in the terrible winter 1684. Because it was too difficult to dig, burials were halted. Trees split apart and some preachers interpreted the events as God’s punishment, for which the people must repent.

See Also
Schematic diagram of the climate-social system model.

History’s Lessons

A global body of scientists, like the IPCC, did not recognize climate change as a problem 400 years ago. Natural philosophers, the scientists of the day did, however. Exchange ideasThe shifting climate forced them to consider economic and social shocks caused by temperature changes that were beyond their control.

People used superstitions to lash out at their neighbors, such as women of low socioeconomic status who were accused in witchcraft when their crops failed.

Some lost their jobs, but made a virtue of it by finding new ways to make ends meet. There are others who Adapted, notably Dutch navigators who exploited changing wind and weather patterns to establish new international trading routes in their “frigid golden age.”

Most were Less fortunate. As one historian Notes, the little ice age was experienced as “a sharp deterioration in the overall quality of life.”

Climate change can have devastating consequences for civilization and can last for centuries, as demonstrated by history. Solidarity is the best defense against the unknowable, just as it is now.

This article has been republished from The Conversation Under a Creative Commons License Please read the Original article.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Pieter Bruegel, the Elder

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