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14th Century Crises

The Little Ice Age

Keith Tankard
The Time Traveller
Updated: 14 December 2009
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The 14th Century was a time of great tragedy. Everything seemed to go wrong at the same time, almost as if Europe was suffering from a hangover from the heady days of the High Middle Ages.

The climate changed dramatically, ushering in a couple of centuries of colder and wetter weather. Then came the Black Death, a bubonic plague pandemic. As if all this was not enough, the papacy seemed to lose its head and, in doing so, the Catholic Church lost the support of the hearts and minds of its congregation.

The High Middle Ages had seen Europe basking in generally warm climatic conditions. Prosperous times, however, had led to a population explosion and, to feed the extra mouths, peasant farmers had cultivated the land to the extreme.

Unfertile soil was therefore being brought under the plough, and what lands were generally fertile quickly lost that advantage through over-production.

And then, at about the beginning of the 14th century (about 1300), things suddenly began to change. Temperatures across Europe plummeted by 4 to 6 degrees. The result was wetter summers and colder winters: the onset of what has become known as the "Little Ice Age".

Harvests were therefore depleted and people soon began to starve. They were easy pickings for any pestilence which might come their way. And it came their way with a vengeance: the eruption of the worst plague pandemic the world has ever known - the Black Death.

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