The Great Famine: Northern Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century

Princeton University Press
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The horrors of the Great Famine (1315-1322), one of the severest catastrophes ever to strike northern Europe, lived on for centuries in the minds of Europeans who recalled tales of widespread hunger, class warfare, epidemic disease, frighteningly high mortality, and unspeakable crimes. Until now, no one has offered a perspective of what daily life was actually like throughout the entire region devastated by this crisis, nor has anyone probed far into its causes. Here, the distinguished historian William Jordan provides the first comprehensive inquiry into the Famine from Ireland to western Poland, from Scandinavia to central France and western Germany. He produces a rich cultural history of medieval community life, drawing his evidence from such sources as meteorological and agricultural records, accounts kept by monasteries providing for the needy, and documentation of military campaigns. Whereas there has been a tendency to describe the food shortages as a result of simply bad weather or else poor economic planning, Jordan sets the stage so that we see the complex interplay of social and environmental factors that caused this particular disaster and allowed it to continue for so long.

Jordan begins with a description of medieval northern Europe at its demographic peak around 1300, by which time the region had achieved a sophisticated level of economic integration. He then looks at problems that, when combined with years of inundating rains and brutal winters, gnawed away at economic stability. From animal diseases and harvest failures to volatile prices, class antagonism, and distribution breakdowns brought on by constant war, northern Europeans felt helplessly besieged by acts of an angry God--although a cessation of war and a more equitable distribution of resources might have lessened the severity of the food shortages.

Throughout Jordan interweaves vivid historical detail with a sharp analysis of why certain responses to the famine failed. He ultimately shows that while the northern European economy did recover quickly, the Great Famine ushered in a period of social instability that had serious repercussions for generations to come.

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About the author

William Chester Jordan is Professor of History and Director of the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University. Among his books are Louis IX and the Challenge of the Crusade: A Study in Rulership (Princeton), Women and Credit in Pre-Industrial and Develpoing Societies, and The French Monarchy and the Jews from Philip Augustus to the Last Capetians. He is the editor-in-chief of The Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia for Students.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Dec 15, 1997
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Pages
328
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ISBN
9781400822133
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / Medieval
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Praise for the first edition:

"Aberth wears his very considerable and up-to-date scholarship lightly and his study of a series of complex and somber calamites is made remarkably vivid." -- Barrie Dobson, Honorary Professor of History, University of York

The later Middle Ages was a period of unparalleled chaos and misery -in the form of war, famine, plague, and death. At times it must have seemed like the end of the world was truly at hand. And yet, as John Aberth reveals in this lively work, late medieval Europeans' cultural assumptions uniquely equipped them to face up postively to the huge problems that they faced.

Relying on rich literary, historical and material sources, the book brings this period and its beliefs and attitudes vividly to life. Taking his themes from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, John Aberth describes how the lives of ordinary people were transformed by a series of crises, including the Great Famine, the Black Death and the Hundred Years War. Yet he also shows how prayers, chronicles, poetry, and especially commemorative art reveal an optimistic people, whose belief in the apocalypse somehow gave them the ability to transcend the woes they faced on this earth.

This second edition is brought fully up to date with recent scholarship, and the scope of the book is broadened to include many more examples from mainland Europe. The new edition features fully revised sections on famine, war, and plague, as well as a new epitaph. The book draws some bold new conclusions and raises important questions, which will be fascinating reading for all students and general readers with an interest in medieval history.

Barbara W. Tuchman—the acclaimed author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning classic The Guns of August—once again marshals her gift for character, history, and sparkling prose to compose an astonishing portrait of medieval Europe.
 
The fourteenth century reflects two contradictory images: on the one hand, a glittering age of crusades, cathedrals, and chivalry; on the other, a world plunged into chaos and spiritual agony. In this revelatory work, Barbara W. Tuchman examines not only the great rhythms of history but the grain and texture of domestic life: what childhood was like; what marriage meant; how money, taxes, and war dominated the lives of serf, noble, and clergy alike. Granting her subjects their loyalties, treacheries, and guilty passions, Tuchman re-creates the lives of proud cardinals, university scholars, grocers and clerks, saints and mystics, lawyers and mercenaries, and, dominating all, the knight—in all his valor and “furious follies,” a “terrible worm in an iron cocoon.”
 
Praise for A Distant Mirror
 
“Beautifully written, careful and thorough in its scholarship . . . What Ms. Tuchman does superbly is to tell how it was. . . . No one has ever done this better.”—The New York Review of Books
 
“A beautiful, extraordinary book . . . Tuchman at the top of her powers . . . She has done nothing finer.”—The Wall Street Journal
 
“Wise, witty, and wonderful . . . a great book, in a great historical tradition.”—Commentary

NOTE: This edition does not include color images.
The Middle Ages were for many years generally viewed as a period when faith and order supported a rigid society. By painstaking archival research, historians such as Joseph R. Strayer and the contributors to this volume have gradually replaced this view with a regard for the period as a time of great intellectual diversity.

These essays, divided into five groups, probe the themes of order and innovation as they appear in medieval government; finance; trade and urban life; social arrangements; and aspects of the personality and goals of the individual. The contributors focus on England, France, and the Mediterranean from about the eleventh to about the sixteenth century.

Contributors: Frederic Kreisler, Charles Radding, Giles Constable, William Bowsky, John Freed, Phillippe Wolff, Thomas Bisson, Richard Kaeuper, John Benton, Archibald Lewis, William Jordan, Rhiman Rotz, Robert Baker, Robert Lopez, Teofilo Ruiz, Raphael DeSoignie, Bennett Hill, Frederic Cheyette, Jan Rogozinski, Bruce McNab, Lester Little, Robert Lerner, Elizabeth Brown, Charles Wood, and Gaines Post.

Originally published in 1976.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

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