In the years 1694 to early 1697, cold winters and cool and wet springs and autumns led to extreme famine in northern Europe, particularly in Finland, Estonia, and Livonia. It is estimated that in Finland about 25–33% of the population perished (Jutikkala, 1955; Muroma, 1972), and in Estonia-Livonia about 20% (Liiv, 1938). As far as is known the population disasters associated with the famines of the 1690s in France, Italy, and Scotland; 1816–17 in western Europe; 1845–46 in Ireland; and 1867–68, again in Finland; were all notably smaller than those of Finland, Estonia, and Livonia in 1695–97. A reconstruction is attempted of the coarse features of weather conditions in northern Europe in the years preceding the famine. This is based on previous work by other investigators (especially Jutikkala), and on contemporary documents and literature examined by the present authors.

Records indicate that in the absence of an appropriate diet, the population consumed unwholesome and partly or fully indigestible ‘foods’ which led to widespread diseases and epidemics (diarrhea of sorts, including lientery, dysentery, etc.). There were even some cases of cannibalism, The greatest rise in mortality took place in spring and early summer of 1697, when weather conditions were already in the process of improving. Somewhat paradoxically, city residents suffered less than the utterly poor landless peasants and small peasants. Many of the farms were abandoned during the crisis, either through the death of either all or some members of the family concerned, or through migration (where migration included begging). The number of people who turned to begging was massive. The abandoned farms were reoccupied, shortly after the crisis, by landless peasants and by others.

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Footnotes

1Part 1, “The Mongol Invasions of Japan,” was published in the November 1975 Bulletin (56, 1167–1171); Part 2, “The Year Leading to the Revolution of 1789 in France,” was published in the February 1977 Bulletin (58, 163–168); Part 3, “The Cold Winter 1657–58, The Swedish Army Crosses Denmark's Frozen Sea Areas,” was published in the November 1978 Bulletin (59, 1432–1437).