The third horseman Climate change and the Great Famine of the 14th century

William Rosen, 1955-

Book - 2014

"How a seven-year cycle of rain, cold, disease, and warfare created the worst famine in European history ... In May 1315, it started to rain. It didn't stop anywhere in north Europe until August. Next came the four coldest winters in a millennium. Two separate animal epidemics killed nearly 80 percent of northern Europe's livestock. Wars between Scotland and England, France and Flanders, and two rival claimants to the Holy Roman Empire destroyed all remaining farmland. After seven years, the combination of lost harvests, warfare, and pestilence would claim six million lives--one eighth of Europe's total population. William Rosen draws on a wide array of disciplines, from military history to feudal law to agricultural eco...nomics and climatology, to trace the succession of traumas that caused the Great Famine. With dramatic appearances by Scotland's William Wallace, and the luckless Edward II and his treacherous Queen Isabella, history's best documented episode of catastrophic climate change comes alive, with powerful implications for future calamities"--

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New York : Viking 2014.
Main Author
William Rosen, 1955- (author)
Physical Description
302 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 281-289) and index.
  • List of Maps
  • Prologue: Eight Crowns in Boulogne 1308
  • Chapter 1. "The Fury of the Northmen" 793-1066
  • Chapter 2. "Henceforth Be Earls" 1066-1298
  • Chapter 3. "Penalty for Their Betters" 1298-1307
  • Chapter 4. "Douglas's Larder" 1307-1312
  • Chapter 5. "Scots, Wha Hae" 1313-1315
  • Chapter 6. "The Floodgates of the Heavens" 1315-1316
  • Chapter 7. "A Dearness of Wheat" 1316-1317
  • Chapter 8. "She-Wolf of France" 1313-1320
  • Chapter 9. The Dearest Beef I've Ever Seen" 1320-1322
  • Chapter 10. "The Mouse Tower of Bingen" 800-1323
  • Chapter 11. "Long Years of Havoc" 1323-1328
  • Epilogue: The Delicate Balance
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • List of Maps
  • Map 1. The Conveyer Belts of the World's Climate 14-15
  • Map 2. Viking Conquests and Trading Posts
  • Map 3. England, Scotland, and France during the Medieval Warm Period
  • Map 4. The Battle of Bannockburn, 1314
  • Map 5. A Manorial Village
  • Map 6. Holy Roman Empire in the Fourteenth Century
Review by Choice Review

Using secondary sources, former editor/publisher Rosen, author of The Most Powerful Idea in the World (CH, Apr'11, 48-4443), links the great famine of 1315-22 in northern Europe and the British Isles to the sudden end of the Medieval Warm Period climate anomaly. He explains in great detail the population explosion, the cropping of marginal lands, and the politics that led to pillaging and destruction of the agricultural base. The book starts with the arrival of the Vikings. The author characterizes this part of the world as one with rigid class systems, and he tags manorialism and feudalism as complicit in the events that killed millions. Rosen gives fairly light treatment to weather and climate; instead, he concentrates on politics, royal intrigue, trade, economic relationships, and the sheer gore of executions, warfare, and human suffering. The heavy use of sarcasm and the presence of contemporary pop-culture references (e.g., the television program Game of Thrones and the movie Braveheart) show the target audience to be general readers. Summing Up: Recommended. Public library collections. --Louise S. Zipp, State University of New York College at Geneseo

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review

Looked at in one way, this is the history of seven consecutive years of famine (1315-22) and their effect on the people of Britain and elsewhere in northern Europe. Viewed in another, it retells the history of England's most feckless king, Edward II, and his losing battle against the Scots and eventually even his wife, Queen Isabella. It's not one or the other but both: high history (the annals of kings and wars) against a background of the long record of climate change, land usage, and dietary habits. Rosen (The Most Powerful Idea in the World) argues persuasively that natural disasters are most catastrophic when humankind's actions give them a push. The depredations committed in battle by Englishmen and Scots were augmented by years of bad weather: the result was that people died in droves. The interactions Rosen describes have been studied but are seldom incorporated into popular history, and the author never overreaches in his conclusions, providing a well-grounded chronicle. -VERDICT This book will appeal foremost to history lovers, but it should also interest anyone who enjoys a well-documented story.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Erudite rendering of the cataclysmic climate changes wrought at the start of the 14th century.Rosen (The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention, 2010, etc.) delights in the minutiae of history, down to the most fascinating footnotes. Here, the author delivers engrossing disquisitions on climate patterns and dynastic entanglements between England and Scotland (among others), and he posits that the decisive advent of cooler, wetter weather in the early 14th century signaled the beginning of the end of the medieval good times. Indeed, the preceding four centuries of the Medieval Warm Period, caused by all kinds of controversial factors such as the North Atlantic oscillation, produced temperatures several degrees warmer than average, which translated into a host of significant ramifications. A longer growing season and the ability to grow cereals (and wine) for the first time in higher altitudes in northern Europe meant more food for more mouths, encouraging a huge population explosion and need for the bursting of borders. While the years between 800 and 1200 had embedded the medieval institutions of manorialism and feudalism, which firmly "bound the laborer to the land, and the landlord to the laborer," the warmer era had also encouraged the marauding Vikings to take advantage of melted polar ice caps to populate Greenland and move on to America and William the Conqueror to defeat the English at Hastings. By 1300, a crisis had been reached as new currents of nationalism percolated, especially in Scotland and in Flanders. Rosen navigates through the wars for Scottish independence, culminating in Robert Bruce's great victory at Bannockburn in 1314, at just the moment that floods began and winter weather set in. Two years of rain wrecked harvests, causing famine, lawlessness, and the cattle plague and gradually plunged the continent into a century of war.A work that glows from the author's relish for his subject. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.