The 17th Century Was A Truly Terrible Time To Be A Human

The 13th century would have been a terrible period to be alive, but so would the 563 CE and the initial part of the twentieth century.

However, the horror of the 17th century is generally underestimated when considering horrific times as a human being. The globe grew more interconnected but was also plagued by conflict, political instability, inflation, and climate change catastrophe. Does this sound familiar to you?

Researchers call this period “The General Crisis,” a time marked by violence and instability across Europe and Asia from the beginning of the 17th century to the early 18th century.

The fact that the world population has decreased for the first time since the turn of the century indicates how difficult life was at the time. Many conflicts took place in the 16th century, including the English Civil War, Fronde civil battles in France (the Eighty Years’ War), the First Anglo-Dutch War, the Franco-Spanish War, the Mughal-Marathon Wars in India, and the fall of the Ming dynasty in China to mention a few.

One of Europe’s most devastating wars, the Thirty Years’ War, occurred between 1618 and 1648 and killed as many as 8 million people.

Image Credit: Max Roser

Scholars have debated the cause of the crisis for decades, as is the case with every historical event that a single element cannot explain. The Little Ice Age that happened during this period can be blamed for the upheaval.

According to NASA, from 1550 CE to 1850 CE, Europe, North America, and Asia were subjected to a record-breaking cold spell, with its initial peak happening in the mid-17th century. Volcanic activity rose during this period, which some believe was a major factor in triggering the Little Ice Age.

There was much worse weather than usual to add to this century’s misery. A common theme in European paintings from this century is snow-covered landscapes. Temperatures dropped by 2 degrees Celsius throughout much of Western Europe, which is certainly no accident.

“Frost Fairs” were organized on the Thames in London from 1608 onwards, where residents would create marketplaces, play games, and party on the river’s ice. Great Thames River freezes began to diminish in frequency in the 19th century and are extremely rare today.

Snowball fights and festivals were not the only events in the town.

Agricultural productivity was shown to have suffered greatly during the Little Ice Age, according to research published in 2011. The result was famine, economic upheaval, irate European people, and, in the end, many wars, uprisings, and other forms of conflict.

Researchers found a correlation between the General Crisis and the planet’s cooling between 1560 and 1660 by correlating climatic data with other variables, such as population size, wars, social disruptions, agricultural productivity, grain prices, and salaries.

People in the 17th century were aware of the bleakness of their day. It has been alleged that a Chinese record from 1641 says, “Among all the strange occurrences of disaster and rebellion, there had never been anything worse than this..” An explanation for the world’s impending end was provided two years later in a booklet from Spain: “This seems to be one of the epochs in which every nation is turned upside down, leading some great minds to suspect that we are approaching the end of the world.”

Climate change, infectious illnesses, pollution, and geopolitical conflicts all point to the fact that we are in the midst of the end times. Remembering that all crises eventually end is a good reminder when we contemplate our demise (and new crises will inevitably emerge).

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of The Sized delivered to your inbox daily.