4 History and Climate: The Crisis of the 1590s Reconsidered

in Climate Change and Cultural Transition in Europe
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In 1985, a book entitled The European Crisis of the 1590s: Essays in Comparative History, edited by Peter Clark, examined the experience of ten individual regions of Western Europe, eight of them ruled either by Philip II or by his principal enemies: Elizabeth Tudor, Henry IV of France, and the Dutch. Although the individual authors noted specific disasters, most concluded that the 1590s were merely one of the cyclical crises that afflicted premodern societies. Since then, the publication of data on the global climate reveals that the 1590s saw some of the worst weather ever recorded in the northern hemisphere, a severe episode in the “Little Ice Age”—an era of major volcanic eruptions, reduced solar activity, and multiple El Niño events—linked with an increased frequency of extreme climatic events, plague, famine, and war.

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