Medieval famine

20 January 2012

Professor Phillip Schofield.
Professor Phillip Schofield.

A deadly famine that struck England during the 14th century, killing upwards of half a million people in less than three years, will be the focus of a major new study by Aberystwyth University historian Professor Phillipp Schofield.

Professor Schofield, Head of the Department of History and Welsh History, has been awarded a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship worth £140,507 which will run for three years from September 2012.

The study will culminate with the publication of a book on “The Great Famine. Dearth and society in medieval England c.1300”.

“Despite being northern Europe's most extensive famine event of the last millennium, relatively little has been written on it,” said Professor Schofield.

“This work will not only bring us closer to an understanding of an event that may, on current estimates, have killed upwards of half a million people - out of a total population in England circa 1300 of around 5 million - in less than three years but will also draw to wider attention a genuinely significant moment in northern Europe’s demographic history.”

“I would also like to think that this research will be of both immediate and broad interest and I will be seeking opportunities to engage with modern famine studies during the project”, he added.

Employing a range of sources, including chronicles, governmental, financial and administrative material, a good deal of which is hitherto unexamined for the Great Famine in England, the project will present an exploration of the famine itself as well as its context, socially, economically and politically.

Professor Schofield is a historian of late medieval English history, particularly social, economic, and demographic history.

His research has focussed upon rural society in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and he is especially interested in the ways in which the peasant economy functioned in this period.

Much of his work to date has looked at the buying and selling of land, credit and goods and, in particular, the use of law in such interaction.

Important also for his work has been the context of crisis and the ways in which rural society managed, or failed to manage, crises, notably the famines and epidemics of the high and late middle-ages, and especially, of course, the early fourteenth-century Great Famine and the Black Death and the recurrence of epidemic disease in the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Professor Schofield is co-editor of the Economic History Review, one of the world’s leading historical journals and principal investigator on a current Arts and Humanities Research Council project on ‘Seals in Medieval Wales’.

He is involved in a number of international collaborations, including research on land-markets, credit and economic crises with colleagues in a number of different European contexts.

The Department of History and Welsh History
History has been taught at Aberystwyth since the founding of the University in 1872. The research interests of the Department extend across a wide chronological and geographical range from the middle ages to contemporary political issues, and from Wales and Britain to America and Europe. Interests in comparative history, in 'history from below', and in state building in both the British Isles and France were pioneered in Aberystwyth by historians such as Richard Cobb, R.R. Davies, Gwynne Lewis, R.F. Treharne and Gwyn Alf Williams. A new generation of historians has added research interests such as media history, political culture, peasants in the medieval world, sport, women's and gender history, historiography and the application of information technology to the study of the past to the Department’s repertoire.

The Leverhulme Trust
The Leverhulme Trust was established in 1925 under the Will of the first Viscount Leverhulme. It is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing funds of some £60 million every year. For further information about the schemes that the Leverhulme Trust fund visit their website at


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Professor Phillipp Schofield
Department of History and Welsh History
Aberystwyth University
01970 622660