The Economic History Review

The impact of drought in early fourteenth‐century England

Volume 67 Issue 2
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Pages: 435-462Authors: David Stone
Published online: December 23, 2013DOI: 10.1111/1468-0289.12035

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Climatic change is currently viewed as one of the main causes of the so-called crisis of the early fourteenth century. It is well established that England saw increased storminess and heavy rainfall in this period, but this article suggests that the impact of drought–which became a common feature of the English climate during the 1320s and early 1330s–has been overlooked. Based primarily on a detailed analysis of account rolls for over 60 of the best-documented manors in this period, the article establishes that drought brought devastating harvest failure and caused severe outbreaks of a number of diseases, plausibly including enteric infections, malaria, and winter and spring fevers. As a result, mortality surged and population levels fell in communities in affected regions, which were mainly confined to the southern and eastern counties of England. The article concludes that such regional variation significantly affects our understanding of demographic, agricultural, and even fiscal trends in this period. Although we should not disregard the human factors influencing the impact of environmental shocks, England was plainly struck with indubitable force by extreme weather in this pivotal phase of the medieval economy.