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Great Historical Events That Were Significantly Affected by the Weather: 6, Inundations and the Mild Winter 1672–73 Help Protect Amsterdam from French Conquest

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  • 1 Institute of History, University of Helsinki Helsinki, Finland
  • | 2 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
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In the 17th century, the small Dutch Republic, the union of seven provinces of the northern part of the Low Countries, was the most important country in the world in matters of finance, commerce, and shipping (as well as in the arts, especially painting). Within the Republic, Amsterdam wielded most of the economic power. Louis XIV, King of France, whose rule was characterized by expansionist tendencies, began a war against the Republic in June 1672 (war actually was declared in April of that year). France and her allies, eastern neighbors of the Republic, sent an invading army of about 150 000, as against a hastily collected and poorly trained defense force of 50 000–60 000 Dutch led by Prince William of Orange, who became William III of Holland in July 1672 and King William III of England in 1689.

The spring of 1672 was dry and, as a result, the water level in the rivers was low, a fact that facilitated the crossing of water courses by the hostile forces. Within less than a month, most of the eastern sector of the Republic was captured by the invaders. In order to prevent the penetration of the French into the province of Holland, in which Amsterdam was situated, the Dutch resorted to inundating much of their low-lying lands, creating a kind of moat, roughly 20 km wide, about Amsterdam. The French, who were not equipped for crossing wide water areas, decided to wait until the winter when, so they hoped, the cold would freeze the flooded areas and make it possible for them to reach Amsterdam. However, the winter of 1672–73 turned out to be mild on the whole. On 13 December, a frost set in that does not appear to have been excessive. On 27 December, the French began their advance across the ice, but on the 28th the winds turned from east to west and the milder air and rains caused the ice to thaw. The French returned to their former positions, but with difficulty, losing many men in the process. January was mild altogether. As a result of the mild winter, Amsterdam was saved from French conquest.

Our estimates of air temperatures for the two critical months are: December 1672, 3.3°C; and January 1673, 3.4°C. The observed averages for 1735–1834 at Utrecht-DeBilt, however, were 2.4°C and 0.5°C, respectively. Thus, both of the two months of concern appear to have been relatively warm, especially January.

1 Part 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, 163–169); 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); Part 4, “The Great Famines in Finland and Estonia, 1695–97,” was published in the July 1979 Bulletin (60, 774–787); Part 5, “Some Meteorological Events of the Crimean War and Their Consequences,” was published in the December 1980 Bulletin (61, 1570–1583).

In the 17th century, the small Dutch Republic, the union of seven provinces of the northern part of the Low Countries, was the most important country in the world in matters of finance, commerce, and shipping (as well as in the arts, especially painting). Within the Republic, Amsterdam wielded most of the economic power. Louis XIV, King of France, whose rule was characterized by expansionist tendencies, began a war against the Republic in June 1672 (war actually was declared in April of that year). France and her allies, eastern neighbors of the Republic, sent an invading army of about 150 000, as against a hastily collected and poorly trained defense force of 50 000–60 000 Dutch led by Prince William of Orange, who became William III of Holland in July 1672 and King William III of England in 1689.

The spring of 1672 was dry and, as a result, the water level in the rivers was low, a fact that facilitated the crossing of water courses by the hostile forces. Within less than a month, most of the eastern sector of the Republic was captured by the invaders. In order to prevent the penetration of the French into the province of Holland, in which Amsterdam was situated, the Dutch resorted to inundating much of their low-lying lands, creating a kind of moat, roughly 20 km wide, about Amsterdam. The French, who were not equipped for crossing wide water areas, decided to wait until the winter when, so they hoped, the cold would freeze the flooded areas and make it possible for them to reach Amsterdam. However, the winter of 1672–73 turned out to be mild on the whole. On 13 December, a frost set in that does not appear to have been excessive. On 27 December, the French began their advance across the ice, but on the 28th the winds turned from east to west and the milder air and rains caused the ice to thaw. The French returned to their former positions, but with difficulty, losing many men in the process. January was mild altogether. As a result of the mild winter, Amsterdam was saved from French conquest.

Our estimates of air temperatures for the two critical months are: December 1672, 3.3°C; and January 1673, 3.4°C. The observed averages for 1735–1834 at Utrecht-DeBilt, however, were 2.4°C and 0.5°C, respectively. Thus, both of the two months of concern appear to have been relatively warm, especially January.

1 Part 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, 163–169); 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); Part 4, “The Great Famines in Finland and Estonia, 1695–97,” was published in the July 1979 Bulletin (60, 774–787); Part 5, “Some Meteorological Events of the Crimean War and Their Consequences,” was published in the December 1980 Bulletin (61, 1570–1583).

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