The Great Famine in the county of Flanders (1315–17): the complex interaction between weather, warfare, and property rights

Sam Geens
Published Online:
27 Dec 2017
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 71 Issue 4

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Abstract The exceptional weather conditions and associated harvest failures of 1315–17 marked the beginning of the worst subsistence crisis in European history. Until now, historians have mainly viewed the Great Famine, and medieval famines in general, through theoretical models of the larger fourteenth‐century crisis. However, this article suggests that this approach is flawed and instead applies recent theories on contemporary famines to the crisis of 1315–17 in the county of Flanders. This new perspective not only leads to a re‐examination of existing explanations, such as the role of warfare, but also reveals the importance of property rights in entitlement to food: the power of elites, the relative number of large‐scale landowners, and the structure of household income all influenced peasants’ degree of vulnerability.

© Economic History Society

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