The escape from famine in the Northern Netherlands
A reconsideration using the 1690s harvest failures and a broader Northwest European perspective
A long historiography has concluded that the Northern Netherlands was famine free by the seventeenth century. However, this view has been established on limited grain price data and an unclear chronology, lacking a broader comparative perspective, and relying heavily on the explanation that Amsterdam was the centre point of the international grain trade. Using newly compiled burials data for the Northern and Southern Netherlands and Northern France, and integrating these with rye prices, we confirm empirically that price spikes had reduced mortality effects in the Northern Netherlands compared to the Southern Netherlands and Northern France, though the escape was greater in the cities than the countryside. The only time in the period 1551–1699 that a strong and generalized association between price spikes and mortality occurred across wide areas of the Northern Netherlands was in the famine of 1556/7. However, the international grain trade cannot explain everything. Markets in the Northern Netherlands were no more effective at smoothing out food crises than in the Southern Netherlands or Northern France. We offer alternative explanations: the reduced role of famine-related diseases spread by warfare, and the interaction (especially in the cities) between wages and poor relief.