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Environment and History

The Evidence for Early Seventeenth-Century Climate from Scottish Ecclesiastical Records

Alan R. Macdonald and John McCallum

Environment and History 19 (2013): 487-509. doi: 10.3197/096734013X13769033133747

This article argues that the records kept by Scottish church courts in the early modern period provide a rich and untapped source of information on historical weather patterns. This is primarily because severe weather events caused disruption to court meetings, and the nature of the records means that fluctuations in weather can potentially be traced across a wide geographical range and for long periods of time. Based on a sample of records from 1615-25, a period which included a known severe weather event, the flooding of Perth in 1621, the article provides quantitative and qualitative analysis of weather trends, drawing particular attention to an extended period of severe weather from 1619-22, of which the flooding of Perth was a part. It also identifies periods that witnessed much less severe weather and identifies important regional variations in weather patterns which emerge from the study of church court records, in contrast to more traditional sources such as diaries and chronicles. The article thus demonstrates the value of this new methodology for climate history and points the way forward to future studies.

KEYWORDS: Historical weather, church records, Scotland, climate impact

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