A Happy New Year to you all, and I hope you had a great festive season. I certainly did, having eaten approximately three times my own body weight in chocolate and mince pies and drunk enough sherry and mulled wine to sink the Titanic.
The very cold weather in Britain and Germany lately - it's minus 15 C, or 5 F, here at the moment - got me thinking about the weather in Edward II's era. Cold winters seem to have been the norm back then. The London annalist vividly describes the Great Frost of 1309/10: "There was such cold and such masses and piles of ice on the Thames and everywhere else that the poor were overcome by excessive cold." He adds that the Thames froze over so solidly, bonfires could be lit on it. The winters of 1308/09, 1310/11, 1312/13 and 1313/14 were also bitterly cold, as was the winter of 1321/22, when Edward II went on campaign against the Marcher lords who had destroyed the lands of his favourite Hugh Despenser the previous spring. The Rochester chronicler says that snow lay on the ground for most of the first three months of 1322, and when the earl of Lancaster was led out to his execution on 22 March, a jeering crowd threw snowballs at him, according to the Brut. The Bridlington chronicler says that Hugh Despenser had prostated himself in the snow before Edward a few days before Lancaster's execution, arms outstretched, begging the king not to unfurl his banners against their baronial enemies.
The Rochester chronicler also says that the icy, snowy roads impeded Edward's progress during the campaign. Evidently, there was a temporary thaw during the second week of March 1322, when the Sempringham chronicler writes that Edward lost many supplies "through a great flood of water." The thaw is confirmed in a letter by Edward himself, who announced that he had been unable to cross the Trent because of the flooding, the melted snow having presumably raised the level of the river.
The Sempringham chronicler often described climactic conditions, and thus we learn that on 1 December 1319 "there was a general earthquake in England, with great sound and much noise," on 26 January 1320 "in the morning, there was a wonderful eclipse of the moon of many various colours," and on 17 April that year, "about midnight, there were frightful thunders heard, with lightning, and immoderately high wind."
Although people must have suffered during the terrible cold - and let me say here that, soft modern person that I am, I am exceedingly grateful to live in a world with central heating - it was the exceptionally wet years of 1314 and 1315 which caused the worst suffering. The endless rain rotted crops and led to the Great Famine of 1315 to 1317, the subject of the next post.
Swans navigating the ice, New Year's Day: