History : Jan-Feb 2017
18 JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2017 MILESTONES shortages caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in France alone, froze lagoons in the Mediterranean, and changed the course of a war. Shivering in England, the scholar William Derham wrote: “I believe the Frost was greater . . . than any other within the Memory of Man.” French Freeze The country most affected by the terrible cold was undoubtedly France. The year I t happened literally overnight in the first few days of 1709. On January 5, temperatures plummeted—not, per- haps, a surprise in European winter. But 1709 was no ordinary cold snap. Dawn broke the next morning on a con- tinent that had frozen over from Italy to Scandinavia and from England to Russia, and would not warm up again for the next three months. During the worst winter in 500 years, extreme cold followed by food 1709 had already started badly. French peasants had been hit by poor harvests, taxes, and conscription for the War of the Spanish Succession. The cold snaps of late 1708 were as nothing to the crash in temperatures that took place over the night of January 5 to 6. In the following two weeks, snow would fall and ther- mometers in France would drop to a low of -5°F. In the absence of weather forecasting, Winter Is Coming: The Deep Freeze of 1709 In the first months of 1709, Europe froze and stayed that way for months. People ice-skated on the canals of Venice, church bells broke when rung, and travelers could cross the Baltic Sea on horseback. This freakish winter ultimately claimed the lives of a vast number of Europeans and disrupted two major wars—but to this day, there is no conclusive theory for its cause.
March April 2017