Some of the most vivid accounts we have from the Middle Ages are those that detail calamities and natural disasters. Such was the case when a massive winter storm struck northwestern Europe on January 15, 1362. In England this event would be called ‘The Great Wind’.
Among those who would record this event was the Chronicle of Anonymous of Canterbury. The person who wrote it lived in the later part of the 14th century and was likely a monk at Canterbury Cathedral. While he was reporting on the news that a joust would be held in London on January 17th, the chronicler switches his focus to explain what then happened on Saturday, January 15th:
around the hour of vespers on that day, dreadful storms and whirlwinds such as never been seen or heard before occurred in England, causing houses and buildings for the most part to come crashing to the ground, while some others, having had their roofs blown off by the force of the winds, were left in the ruined state; and fruit trees in gardens and other places, along with other trees standing in the woods and elsewhere, were wrenched from the earth by their roots with a great crash, as if the Day of Judgement were at hand, and fear and trembling gripped the people of England to such an extent that no one knew where he could safely hide, for church towers, windmills, and many dwelling-houses collapsed to the ground, although without much bodily injury.
The chronicler notes that there were many incredible stories from that day, and goes on to describe one:
Among them, an incident is said to have occurred in London, when a certain Brother John de Sutton of the London convent of the order of hermits, a strong man, went to close their doors there, and a powerful and violent gust of wind picked him up off the ground and hurled him through the middle of one of the windows into their garden, where – through the agency of an evil spirit, so it is believed – he was eventually left, without having been injured.
The Anonymous of Canterbury blamed the storm on the upcoming joust – “the harbringers of future evils” he called them – and also noted that because of a lack of workmen (it had been less than a generation since the Black Death devastated the population) many buildings went unrepaired. Several administrative accounts from 1362 show that money was being on spent on fixing buildings damaged in storm. For example, King Edward III hired 51 carpenters that summer to make repairs to the fence surrounding his hunting park in Clarendon.
While the Great Wind of 1362 damaged buildings and terrified inhabitants in England, the storm had a much more deadly impact on The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. This day was called Grote Mandrenke, which means the “Great Drowning of Men”. Along the coasts of these countries, storm surges sent flood waters that washed away towns and villages, leaving tens of thousands dead. You can learn more about Grote Mandrenke from Medieval Histories.