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famine


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May be defined as the occurrence of serious food shortages resulting in significant rises in the death rate. Mortality during famines was rarely caused solely by starvation but from related diseases like dysentery, typhoid, and typhus.

What has been described as the worst famine in England in the last millennium occurred in 1315–18, after a century of population growth. After the arrival of plague in 1348, however, England's agrarian economy was able to feed its much reduced population, and famine mortality disappeared until population growth accelerated again in the 16th cent.

England's Celtic neighbours experienced more severe famines for far longer. Scotland suffered spectacularly in 1623–4 when death rates in some areas increased eightfold. Greater specialization on pastoral agriculture in the 18th cent. seems to have increased vulnerability. Scotland suffered severe famine mortality in the 1690s which may have killed 15 per cent of its population, Lowland areas were hit in 1740–1, and parts of the Highlands suffered famine late into that century. Famines were experienced in Ireland in the 1620s, 1640s, and 1650s. As the diet of its poor increasingly became dominated by the potato, Ireland became more rather than less famine‐prone. Serious mortality occurred in 1727–9 and the 1740–1 scourge killed some quarter of a million people. Famines occurred again in 1744–6, 1800–1, and 1817–19 but these were dwarfed by the last Great Famine in Ireland, caused by potato blight which ravaged the staple potato, 1845–8. Recent estimates put the number of deaths attributable to this disaster at one million.

Subjects: History.


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