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New Open Access Book: Meteorological Disasters in Medieval Britain (AD 1000‒1500)

Meteorological Disasters in Medieval Britain (AD 1000‒1500): Archaeological, Historical and Climatological Perspectives within a Wider European Context

By Peter J. Brown

De Gruyter
ISBN: 978-3-11-071962-8

This timely book examines extreme weather events that struck Britain during the latter half of the Middle Ages. It explains what these disasters were, offering a few case studies, how medieval people reacted to them in both practical and religious responses, and how these events would be remembered by the communities that felt them.


On 15th January 1362 an extreme windstorm tracked across England, from the south west through central southern England to East Anglia, crossing the North Sea to arrive at the coasts of Denmark and northern Germany the following morning. Chroniclers’ descriptions of the damage caused by the storm in England are evocative of the fear and alarm the event must have sparked. The Brut Chronicle, for example, describes how the storm “blew down to [the] ground high houses and other strong things and all other strong works … were so shake[n] therewith that they … shall be evermore the feebler and weaker”. The historical sources, discussed in more detail below, reveal that the 1362 windstorm resulted in widespread damage across the area of effect, uprooting trees and bringing buildings crashing down. In these respects, and given the geographical coverage of the storm, it is somewhat comparable to the more recent 15th–16th October 1987 storm, known as the ‘Great Storm’ of 1987, which caused similar levels of destruction across a broadly comparable area. The peak wind-speeds recorded in 1987 were 196 km/h. While such speeds are not exceptional for the British Isles as a whole, south west of an imaginary line between Norwich and Southampton, wind speeds of this magnitude have an estimated recurrence interval of 200 years. Rowe has identified the storms of 1362, 1662, 1703 and 1987 as the events which best fit this pattern, although each event followed a slightly different track and, although instrumental readings are lacking for the three pre-modern storms, with differing wind speeds – resulting in variations in the levels of damage and areas affected across the British Isles.


Who is this book for? 

With natural disasters and extreme weather becoming more common because of climate change, there has been much interest in learning about historical environmental challenges, including from the medieval past. This book will be an essential work in this regard, so one can see a lot of medievalists wanting to have a copy, and not just those interested in environmental history. Being an open-access book, this book might be ideal for those teaching the Middle Ages in university or college classrooms.

The author:

Peter J. Brown is a landscape archaeologist working as a Post Doctoral researcher at Radboud University. His focus is on natural disasters and water management in the medieval world. Click here to view his page.


This book is available for free through Open Access. Click here to download a copy 

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