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A Medieval Weather Report

What was England’s weather like 746 years ago? A document possibly written by Roger Bacon, one of the most important scientists of the Middle Ages, gives us the weather report.

medieval weather - photo by AvidlyAbide / Flickr

The manuscript Royal 7 F viii at the British Library contains some of the works of Roger Bacon, a Franciscan friar and scholar from the 13th century. He studied and wrote about a wide variety of topics, including optics, nature and even how rainbows were created.

Twelve pages from the manuscript offer a calendar from March 1269 to February 1270 (during this time March was considered the beginning of the year) that tracks the phases of the moon and planets. Starting in August, there are notes in Latin written down along the left-hand margin that offer observations of the weather. The first entry states “From the 3rd of August to the 10th there was continuous cold and often rain.”

Although this calendar does not state who its author was, it could have very likely been written by Roger Bacon, who at that time was teaching at the University of Oxford. It seems to have been written from memory, perhaps around the end of February. Here are some translated excerpts from these weather reports:

September

On the 4th there was brief rain at midday, with a south-westerly wind, and the same in the evening, but then the cold and gloom lasted till night and for another day, and it was like this with the moon in opposition for two days.

From the 27th there was rainy weather till the evening of the 5th of October, when there was fine rain at dusk, except that on the 28th there was hail, water and rain at the ninth hour, and the following night there was hoar-frost.

Beginning with November, the weather reports start to become more detailed and include most days.

Fine (on the 5th).

(On the 6th) rain, a strong wind all night and the next day dry and fine till the 15th, when there was no rain but it was misty and dull; the next day there was very clear weather.

(On the 18th) rain after midday, but before it was dull though dry. On the 19th it was cloudy and cold all day. On the 20th it began to rain gently at dusk and in the night, but afterwards it was dry though cloudy and cold, so that the stars did no appear either by day or by night until the night of the 27th, when the major stars appeared.

(On the 30th) rain in the daytime and rain the following night.

In December the reports note the days when frost appeared, the time the weather was freezing, and when it improved. As winter set in, the author notes the arrival of snow in January.

Cloudy and cold on the 5th, with a slight frost. But the following night there was a lot of snow and a great frost, and the same the next day, though about the eighth hour it rained a little and became a little less cold. It rained the following night and the next day till the frost began to melt and the snow had all melted. After this it was sometimes rainy and sometimes cloudy, but more often cloudy than clear, both by day and by night, and very unsettled weather  till the 11th (inclusive), and similarly afterwards until the 21st (exclusive) it was sometimes clear, sometimes cloudy and sometimes rainy, very unsettled but pleasant and mild like spring weather.

The final month covered is February, and it is the most detailed:

From the beginning of he month the weather was rainy by pleasant until the 4th (inclusive). On the 4th, at third hour, there was snow with rain and great cold and nasty, rotten weather for 2 or 3 hours. In the night there was a little frost. On the 5th the frost was stronger and it was a clear day, and on the night of the 6th it was very frosty and cold, but that day, the 6th, there was a strong southerly wind in the morning and the frost melted; yet, it was colder that dat than before, and very cloudy, though it did not rain. On the 7th it was pleasant and clear, and on the 8th until the seventh hour it really rained. On the 9th the weather was unsettled, but on the 10th it was clear. The following night, though, there was a little snow and slight frost. It was clear enough for the greater part of the 11th and on the 12th the weather was fine and pleasant,  and the same on the 13th, 14th and 15th, but on the night before the 15th and on the 15th itself there was a frost. On the 16th the frost weakened in the night and it became pleasant but cloudy all night and all day and pleasant and dry for nearly eight days, except on the 22nd it was a bit rainy and cold. On the 23rd it rained at vespers, and it was rainy that night and on the 24th. On the night of the 24th there was a little snow and it got colder. On the 25th it was cold and cloudy and damp from the preceding rain and snow. The following night there was quite a frost, but the next day it melted by itself, without rain. On the 26th and the following night there was a great wind but much snow, and on the 27th it kept snowing till vespers. The next day at about the third hour it again began to snow heavily, lasting until … But there was no frost those days – the snow melted; nor was it very cold.

You can read the entire translation in the article “The Oldest European Weather Diary?” by C. Long, which appeared in the journal Weather, Vol.29:6 (1974) pages 233-237. 

Learn more about Roger Bacon in Adelard of Bath and Roger Bacon: early English natural philosophers and scientists 

See also: Explaining Extreme Weather in the Middle Ages

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