Northern Europe suffered from more than just the plague and incessant warfare in the 1300s. In fact, it came at the tale end of the Medieval Warm Period; Europe experienced a period of drastic climate change that ruined crops and caused an awful famine from 1315 to 1322. The hunger got so bad that it allegedly inspired the classic Grimms' fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel!
Just a reminder: Hansel and Gretel starts out with a woodcutter and his wife who are super-poor. As the Brothers Grimm told it, "When a great famine came to the land, he could no longer provide even their daily bread." On the advice of his wife, the woodcutter dumped Hansel and Gretel in the woods because he couldn't feed them anymore; eventually, after dealing with a witch, they made their way back home, and their stepmom kicked the bucket.
Starting around 800 and lasting until 1250, the Medieval Warm Period was a time of mild weather that allowed lots of crops to be grown. The MWP marked a resultant population high, but it ended in the early fourteenth century. Lots of people wound up dying when the temperatures went down and frosts and floods started again.
A timeline of the temperature changes in Europe in the second millennium C.E. Image via Science Skeptical Blog.
The drastic climate change for Germany and nearby lands was truly epic. Buckets of rain kept coming down for weeks at a time, rotting the crops three years in a row. Scapegoats abounded; the people of Paris once blamed a bunch of bakers for the hunger, claiming they were putting literal crap in bread. Even fish suffered, since salt was lacking, and no one had enough to preserve their seafood. As the years went by, continual rains washed away any seeds hopeful farmers planted each season, preventing future harvests from flowering.
The weather ravaged the northern European population, exaggerating already existing tensions. The bishop of Bingen didn't allow the local population access to his personal granaries, but made them fill it for him instead. Eventually, he locked them in the granaries, which he lit on fire; mice, their fur on fire, came fleeing out from the burning buildings, making the bishop catch on fire and suffocate to death. London's Great Chronicle recorded that the poor were forced to eat dogs and cats, while others resorted to cannibalizing children.
It got so bad that people thought the Apocalypse was upon them. It sort of was: The famine may have made people more susceptible to the plague decades later. The devastation of these few years caused never received their just due as a tragedy, some have said, because of the epic plague that followed two decades later. The people of Europe were traumatized again and again - adding in war, rebellion, and more - in this century, to be sure.
Feature image via JustPost.