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Famines of the Middle Ages (Life)

As mentioned in the food article, the medieval world was a very hungry one. Even the biggest castles and the wealthiest lords could not afford to have enough grain to withstand a famine. Malnutrition was always present, but few died. It was during famines that people often resorted to killing their horses and farm animals for food and in some towns even cannibalism was recorded. Such was the case of the famine of 1315-1317 (also known as The Great Famine).

Due to Europe's growing population, enough food for everyone was only available with the best climate conditions. A drop in temperature during the early XIV century led to a real lack of food. Dozens of thousands died due to starvation and some of the elderly refused to eat as a way to allow the younger population to survive.

The Great Famine extended from Scotland to the Pyrenees and from Russia to England. In the latter, life expectancy was of only 29 years, a drop of five years in the span of only two decades.

The Great Famine caused plenty of controversy and the church was more affected than any other institution. Mostly because no amount of prayer could reverse the deadly effects of the Great Famine. Church attendance dropped during this period and medieval thinkers thought of alternate way to solve their problems.

Oddly enough, it was the Black Death that reduced the medieval population enough to allow everyone to eat better than before.

Overall, famines were relatively common during the Middle Ages with the average person being affected by three or four during their lifetime. The famines of the XIV century in France occurred in the following years: 1304, 1305, 1310, 1315–1317, 1330–1333, 1349–1351, 1358–1360, 1371, 1374–1375 and 1390-1391.

Some medieval stories like Hansel and Gretel have a basis in reality. Famine was a constant threat even after the Black Death.

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