The Great Famine in England with Philip Slavin

This episode is an interview with a friend of mine who also studies famines, although he specializes in England.  The Great Famine hit most of Northern Europe – from England to Poland, Central France and parts of Northern Italy to Sweden – in 1315.  The bad harvests lasted for at least two years and included such heavy rain and wet weather that salt made meat, fish, and milk preservation more difficult at the same time.  A few years later, a major cattle epidemic hit, wiping out large numbers of animals across the same region.  The result was either acute food shortage or general malnutrition for years.  We detail some specifics of how a single family would deal with a major food shortage like the great famine, while thinking about what that one experience tells us about the wider implications of this famine for England.

It seems odd to suggest a food accompaniment for a famine podcast, but I was talking to someone the other day about supposedly “bad” British food.  When I lived in Spain a few years ago, it was quite noticable to me when we visited England how many of my favorite pastries and especially breakfast foods came from England.  So here’s to really excellent British food as represented by a meal somewhat misleadingly (to Americans) referred to as “Tea.”  I recommend starting with a scone and clotted cream and then having a few finger sandwiches of cheese and watercress perhaps with a pickle on the side, and, of course, a good cup of tea (I myself really like what is called “Afternoon” tea).  If we were talking about famines in India, this would feel hopelessly imperialist to suggest such a snack, but this is still a famine in England itself.  Does that make it better?  Not sure.

Photo Credit


William Chester Jordan, The Great Famine: Northern Europe Northern Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century (Princeton UP, 1996).

John Aberth, From the Brink of the Apocalypse: Confronting Famine, Plague, War and Death In the Later Middle Ages (Taylor and Francis, 2000).

Philip Slavin, “Market Failure during the Great Famine in England and Wales,” Past and Present (2013), online.


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