The Great Frost of France

The last winter has been freezing and hard on Parisians. Between an intense cold snap and floods due to torrential rain, inhabitants of the “City of Lights” went through some difficult times.

Imagine now a time travel, going back 300 years ago. Welcome to the France of 1709, during Louis XIV’s reign. The last weeks have been oddly warm, around 10 degrees (50F). But this Sunday night, an icy wind blows on the country. In a few hours, the warm weather will give way to a frozen nightmare. And this is going to last and have tragic consequences.

The temperature drops dramatically from 10 degrees to negative temperatures, down to -17C (1.5F). Claude du Tour, a french lawyer, remembers his grandfathers surprise when he saw the Seine freeze within a few hours.

The next day, in the countryside, people are stuck at home because of the major snowfalls. Then, everything froze. First, the crops, then water, and even the animals in the stables! Some people claimed to see frozen birds fall from the sky. Even the forests freeze and the trees burst under the intense cold bite.

Illustration of France during the Great Frost in 1709

Illustration: The Great Frost, France 1709

During this period, insulation being what it was, the poor quality is inefficient against these conditions. Inside homes it is ice cold and people say that even the wine of the King’s court freezes in their golden cups. The Duke of Saint-Simon states: “Ice cubes were falling in our cups” in his memoirs.

Some accuse the Sun King of having attracted divine wrath on the country with his excesses, extravagant spending, and endless wars. This is reinforced by the fact that it all started on the 6th of January, “the day of the Kings”… To solve hunger problems and avoid invasion, he had to collect money from the most important French families.

Invasions were avoided, but unfortunately the death toll is high and it is reported there are 600,000 people that died. The “Grand Hiver” (“Great Frost”) has been the deadliest winter in the History of France.

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