Climatic Change

, Volume 101, Issue 1–2, pp 281–310 | Cite as

The meteorological framework and the cultural memory of three severe winter-storms in early eighteenth-century Europe

  • Christian PfisterEmail author
  • Emmanuel Garnier
  • Maria-João Alcoforado
  • Dennis Wheeler
  • Jürg Luterbacher
  • Maria Fatima Nunes
  • João Paulo Taborda


Three violent eighteenth-century storms that ravaged the North Sea area (1703), western central Europe (1739) and Portugal (1739) are investigated from the point of view of their meteorological setting, their socio-economic impact, and whether and by what means they secured an enduring place in the cultural memory. The evidence draws on individual narrative sources such as chronicles and poems, and institutional sources such as ship’s logbooks and state-organised ‘windthrow’ inventories of tree loss. Each of the three storms had socio-economic impacts that could be described as ‘war-like’ in the damage caused to buildings and the destruction of forests. The “Great Storm” of December 1703 jeopardized English naval supremacy in the War of the Spanish Succession by sinking a number of Royal Navy ships and taking the life of more than 8000 seamen. In January 1739 two similarly destructive storms swept over mainland Europe. The cultural memory of the three events here considered was however strikingly different. The sequence of storms in January 1739 though being the most protracted of the last centuries, and well-chroniceled, did not persist in the collective memories of those in France, Switzerland and elsewhere who experienced them. Likewise, the “Great Storm” was quickly forgotten on the continent, whereas its memory remained deeply rooted in England through the writings of Defoe (1704). In Portugal the 1739 storm won a lasting place in the country’s cultural memory owing to two poems that it inspired. Furthermore, it was recorded in the Kingdom’s official newspaper, in the astronomical prognoses and in written records of the Old Regime’s cultural elite.


Cyclone Timber British Isle Blow Down Collective Memory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Pfister
    • 1
    Email author
  • Emmanuel Garnier
    • 2
    • 3
  • Maria-João Alcoforado
    • 4
  • Dennis Wheeler
    • 5
  • Jürg Luterbacher
    • 6
  • Maria Fatima Nunes
    • 7
  • João Paulo Taborda
    • 8
  1. 1.Oeschger Center for Climatic Change Research/Institute of HistoryUniversity of BernBern 9Switzerland
  2. 2.Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’EnvironnementUMR CEA-CNRSGIF-sur-YVETTEFrance
  3. 3.Centre de Recherche de l’Histoire Quantitative, UMR CNRS University of CaenCaen CedexFrance
  4. 4.Centre for Geographical StudiesUniversity of LisbonLisboaPortugal
  5. 5.Faculty of Applied SciencesUniversity of SunderlandSunderlandUK
  6. 6.Department of Geography, Climatology, Climate Dynamics and Climate ChangeJustus Liebig University of GiessenGiessenGermany
  7. 7.History and Philosophy of Science Research UnitUniversity of ÉvoraÉvoraPortugal
  8. 8.Escola Secundária Gabriel PereiraÉvoraPortugal

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