I’m most grateful to The Times newspaper’s Weather Eye (not for the first time, it’s a wonderful source of historical snippets about weather-related events – do check it out if you can) for reminding me that this Saturday, the 15th of January, is the 660th anniversary of a particularly violent storm that seriously affected England, as well as Ireland and all the North Sea coastlines of Europe.
I’m glad of the reminder because this storm featured significantly at the very end of my fourth Meonbridge Chronicle, Children’s Fate. It was the 16th century chronicler Raphael Holinshed who described the storm as “this outrageous wind”, and he said it continued for six or seven days.
As Weather Eye’s article describes, the storm was notable for its violence, with huge winds that uprooted trees and orchards, destroyed homes, and toppled towers and church spires, including the spire of Norwich Cathedral, and causing great damage to Salisbury Cathedral.
When the storm reached the North Sea, it caused a storm surge that flooded much of the east coast, and some places, like Ravenser Odd, a port on the Humber Estuary, vanished altogether.
In Europe, towns and villages in The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany were swamped by flood water and, apparently, the Zuider Zee, an inland sea in The Netherlands, was initially carved out by the surge. The Dutch called the tempest the Grote Mandrenke, the Great Drowning of Men, and it may have killed more than 25,000 people in Europe.
In England, the damage was so extensive, and required such vast reparations, that the king, Edward III, legislated to punish labourers and merchants who attempted to exploit the situation.
In Children’s Fate, the storm played a significant part in the final outcomes of the story’s main character and lesser ones. This excerpt gives some insight into how terrifying such a “weather event” might be (especially if you feared the security of your relationship with God…)…
“The following Saturday, Eudo was humming as he made preparations as usual for the office of Vespers. It was already fairly dark but, chancing to look up at the great window behind the altar, he thought it looked beyond the glass more like midnight than late afternoon, albeit it was the middle of January.
It was then he noticed too that the brisk breeze of earlier seemed to be blowing harder. He could hear the wind quite clearly from the chancel, whereas normally the thick walls of the church stifled any sounds of weather. It was a while yet before the office had to begin, and he hurried to the porch door to look outside.
Unthinking, he lifted the door’s great latch, and was almost knocked off his feet, as the door, heavy as it was, blew open. The edge caught him in the chest and, for a few moments, he was unable to catch his breath. Holding fast to the door, he eased it open sufficiently for him to step out into the porch, then closed it carefully behind him, ensuring the latch had dropped. He moved towards the porch’s front, his feet shuffling through all manner of debris presumably whisked in by the wind.
It was indeed as black as midnight out beyond the building. Yet, as his eyes accustomed to the dark, he realised the churchyard yews were swaying wildly, and small branches of other trees, and objects he could not identify, were being tossed about, spinning through the air. He clapped his hands over his ears to muffle the din of it.
He had surely never heard or witnessed such a wind before.
Eudo turned and hurried back into the church. He had to lean hard upon the door to close it, and he again made sure the latch had fallen, and hoped the iron fastener was strong enough to hold.
He had no intention of trying to get home to the parsonage whilst this storm was raging. He suspected there would be no Vespers congregation now, for surely no one would venture forth in this? Nonetheless, he returned to the chancel to complete his preparations. He would of course recite the office regardless of the absence of any worshippers.
But, as he waited to see if any of his congregation did come, the wind outside seemed to gather force, and it fairly roared around the walls of the chancel. He recoiled as flung debris struck the glass of the great window, just feet away from where he stood at the altar, and his heart raced with anxiety.
When it was clear no one was coming, Eudo did wonder for a moment if he might give Vespers a miss. The wind was so loud, it was likely he would not even be able to hear himself. Yet, God would surely know if he did not perform his duty and, anyway, he really did not want to leave the safety of the church.
So he began. ‘…Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina… Lord, make haste to help me…’ Eudo intoned, raising his voice above the noise. ‘Gloria patri et filio et spiritui sancto…’
Yet he made little progress with the office as the roaring swelled, and his heart thudded within his breast. His throat went dry and he could no longer speak the words, even if he could remember them. And his memory was now distracted by a new persistent noise, the clattering of what were surely tiles being torn from the church roof and thrown down onto the ground. Unable to concentrate, Eudo looked up towards the rafters, but the chancel candles cast too dim a light for him to see so high above him. Despite the raw cold inside the church, his face grew hot. What if all the tiles were stripped away? Would the wind then strip away the rafters too and invade the church? Of course he had no way of knowing.
What was next? A hymn? A psalm? But his throat was unfit for singing. Perhaps he could manage a passage from the Bible… One he knew by heart… Not that there were many… Yet the repeated rattlings and clatterings on the window drove all Bible readings from his mind, and he leaned against the altar and closed his eyes, trying to steady his spent nerves.
But his efforts were undone when some object, much larger than the debris flung at it already, crashed into the great window, the only glazing in the church, and the glass exploded, showering Eudo with sharp and stinging fragments.
Eudo screamed and threw himself prostrate upon the floor before the altar, wrapping his arms over his head. ‘Mea culpa, mea culpa,’ he cried out, weeping. ‘Oh God, forgive me, for I have sinned…’
For surely it was God who had sent this terrible wind…
Perhaps the pestilence had not been chastisement enough. God saw mankind had not learned its lesson, but had simply returned to their old ways… Such a wind as this could wreak destruction across the land, topple great oaks, rip up fields, fling beasts into the air, demolish houses and even bring down mighty churches. God had the power to destroy the Earth, if mankind no longer merited it…
Yet maybe it was not mankind…? Was God chastising only him? For continuing to sin, week in, week out… For promising to fulfil the penance, whilst knowing he would not do so…
Another roar around the chancel walls brought a swirl of flying debris through the shattered glass, small branches, twigs, dead leaves, shingle, and fragments of every substance, all scooped up from the ground and now tumbling down upon his back.
Eudo fell to sobbing, drumming his feet against the cold stone floor.
The Day of Judgement most surely was at hand. But was it for mankind, or for Eudo Oxenbrigge alone?”
I do hope you enjoyed that and, if you haven’t already explored Children’s Fate, or indeed the first three Meonbridge Chronicles, why not give them a try!
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