Famine in Scotland: The 'Ill Years' of the 1690s

Famine in Scotland: The 'Ill Years' of the 1690s

Famine in Scotland: The 'Ill Years' of the 1690s

Famine in Scotland: The 'Ill Years' of the 1690s

Synopsis

This book is the first full study of the climatic and economic origins of the last national famine to occur in Scotland, one of the four disasters of the 1690s that contributed to the economic arguments in favor of the 1707 Union of the Parliaments. The book also considers the extent of the subsequent crisis and what demographic, economic, and social impact the famine had on the Scottish population. Despite the critical importance of this crisis, the topic has been largely neglected by historians-even underplayed. This analysis uniquely examines the causes, course, characteristics, and consequences of the famine, offering new perspective on the agricultural, climatic, economic, social, and demographic aspects of the event. With detailed statistical and qualitative analyses, the study identifies the regional factors that defined the famine, its impact on the population, and the interconnected causes of this traumatic event.

Excerpt

The famine of the 1690s was the last national famine to occur in Scotland. It was the final time that the majority of the Scottish population faced the threat of starvation as a result of severe food shortage. In the nadir of the Little Ice Age, colder, wetter, unseasonable and erratic weather conditions wrought havoc on the underdeveloped Scottish agricultural sector. Beginning at a national level following the deficient harvest of 1695, the country experienced multiple harvest failures, high grain prices, a reduction in pastoral flocks and herds, increased mortality, economic difficulties and social dislocation. Widespread suffering was evident across the country in the five years following this, but localised famines, dearths, grain scarcity and cattle murrains were reported in the late 1680s and throughout the early 1690s, indicating deteriorating returns for subsistence farming throughout parts of the country in the years prior to 1695. Nationally, famine was evident from the harvest of 1695 to that of 1700, as across the country diminishing crop yields and grain shortage, as well as reduced cattle stocks and meat supplies sent food prices spiralling. The grain harvest, vital to the survival of the majority of Scots, failed nationally in 1695, 1696 and again most devastatingly in 1698, forcing a reliance on imports of emergency grain supplies to feed the population. Simultaneous famines, which occurred in many countries throughout northern and western Europe between 1693 and 1700, contributed to the severity of the crisis in Scotland and further increased competition for those dwindling grain supplies. Food prices were driven up and the poor suffered dramatic falls in living standards to the extent that a significant number starved to death.

Local and national authorities from kirk sessions to the privy council were overwhelmed by the social, economic and demographic problems that resulted from the crisis. The poorest and weakest members of society were hardest hit, but the famine’s effects were felt by different ranks of society well into the early 1700s. Contemporary commentators, including the political pamphlet author Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, and the geographer and physician Sir Robert Sibbald, reported with alarm the pitiful condition of the poor roaming across the countryside, desperately seeking food and charity; those who failed succumbed to starvation and epidemic disease, expiring where they fell, unburied bodies littering roads and fields. As crop

Sir R. Sibbald, Provision for the Poor in Time of Dearth and Scarcity (Edinburgh, 1709); ‘The Second Discourse concerning the Affairs of Scotland written in the year 1698’, in D.

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