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Famine in Scotland - the 'Ill Years' of the 1690s

Karen J. Cullen

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This book examines the climatic and economic origins of the last national famine to occur in Scotland, the nature and extent of the crisis which ensued, and what the impact of the famine was upon the population in demographic, economic and social terms. The 'Ill Years', during the nadir of the Little Ice Age, were ones of widespread famine across Europe and economic disaster in Scotland. However, current published knowledge about the causes, extent and impact of the famine in Scotland is limited and many conclusions have been speculative in the absence of extensive research.

This is the first full study of the famine, providing a unique scholarly examination of the causes, course, characteristics and consequences of the crisis. Using detailed examination of agricultural, climatic and demographic issues, the book seeks to establish answers to the fundamental question concerning the event. How serious was it? Using detailed statistical and qualitative analysis, Karen J. Cullen discusses the regional factors that defined the famine, the impact on the population, and the interconnected causes of this traumatic event.


1. Scotland's Seven Ill Years: Contexts and Debates
2. Climate, weather and agriculture: the making of a famine
3. There arose a Dearth - the grain market in crisis
4. Providing for the Destitute
5. Famine: The Demographic Disaster
6. Fleeing the Famine - migration and emigration

About the Author

Karen J. Cullen is Lecturer in Scottish History at the Centre for History, UHI Millennium Institute, the future University of the Highlands and Islands. She is author of a number of chapters and articles on the subject of famine in Scotland in the 1690s. Her current research interests lie in seventeenth and eighteenth century Scottish social, economic and demographic history.


Cullen's major success is in filling the gaping hole in Scottish historiography relative to the 'Ill Years' of the 1690s. Histories to date have more often than not paid only minimal attention to the famine. This monograph should be seen as a welcome addition for all scholars who wish to better understand this neglected episode in Scottish history.
- John Sherry, University of Guelph, Scottish Historical Review

Cullen’s work is a long awaited and hugely valuable contribution on Scottish famine. Contemporary debates on climate change and the terrible reality of famine in the world today means Cullen’s work has a contemporary relevance as well as a particular significance for those studying the pre-Union era.

- Nicola Cowmeadow, University of Dundee, History Scotland
Cullen's book is a useful addition to the literature on early-modern famine, poverty, and indeed on Scottish history more generally.
- Jonathan Healey, St Catherine's College, Oxford, Local Population Studies

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