Great Historical Events That Were Significantly Affected by the Weather: 2, The Year Leading to the Revolution of 1789 in France

J. Neumann Department of Atmospheric Sciences, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel

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In spring 1788 a drought struck France and lead to a poor grain harvest and subsequent famine. In July of the same year an intense hailstorm caused additional damage in parts of the country, and the relatively harsh 1788–89 winter gave rise to further hardships. The poorer classes, 95% of whose diet consisted of bread and cereals and which before the drought had to spend about 55% of their earnings on bread, were forced by the famine conditions of the first half of 1789 to spend now 85% and over of their income on this staple food. The severity of the conditions in France will be appreciated if it is borne in mind that the poorer classes constituted nearly 90% of the population. The famine, that is, the drought, aggravated the situation of the country that was in any case in the throes of a 10-year economic slump and unemployment. Moreover, the drought came at a time when the nobility and the bourgeoisie were in a state of revolt or near revolt. While the famine was not the primary cause of the revolution, it contributed to its timing and to the widespread violence that broke out even before July 1789 as well as to the violent actions marking the summer of 1789 in France.

1 Part 1, “The Mongol Invasions of Japan,” was published in the November 1975 Bulletin (56, 1167–1171).

In spring 1788 a drought struck France and lead to a poor grain harvest and subsequent famine. In July of the same year an intense hailstorm caused additional damage in parts of the country, and the relatively harsh 1788–89 winter gave rise to further hardships. The poorer classes, 95% of whose diet consisted of bread and cereals and which before the drought had to spend about 55% of their earnings on bread, were forced by the famine conditions of the first half of 1789 to spend now 85% and over of their income on this staple food. The severity of the conditions in France will be appreciated if it is borne in mind that the poorer classes constituted nearly 90% of the population. The famine, that is, the drought, aggravated the situation of the country that was in any case in the throes of a 10-year economic slump and unemployment. Moreover, the drought came at a time when the nobility and the bourgeoisie were in a state of revolt or near revolt. While the famine was not the primary cause of the revolution, it contributed to its timing and to the widespread violence that broke out even before July 1789 as well as to the violent actions marking the summer of 1789 in France.

1 Part 1, “The Mongol Invasions of Japan,” was published in the November 1975 Bulletin (56, 1167–1171).

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