When a freak hailstorm paused a long war

Proponents of anthropogenic global warming (AGW; the theory that man-made greenhouse gases are causing climate change) are quick to cite extreme weather events as signs that the climate is changing. In the 14th century, an extreme weather event was seen as a sign from God.

On April 13, 1360, some 23 years into what would later become known as the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, a freak hailstorm decimated the army of King Edward III of England as he prepared to move toward Chartres and conquer France.

As English troops camped on an open plain outside of Chartres, a storm began brewing. Lightning strikes killed several members of the army, and then a vicious hailstorm began pelting troops and horses. One of the soldiers there later wrote it was, “a foul day, full of myst and hayle, so that men dyed on horseback [sic].”

Within half an hour an estimated 1,000 soldiers of the 10,000-man army — including a couple of officers — and some 6,000 horses were killed by the storm. Tents were shredded by the fierce wind and hail, and the baggage trains were strewn around. The 1,000 dead soldiers were more than had been killed in any battle of the war at that time.

Edward III was so convinced the storm was a sign from God that he is said to have dismounted from his horse, kneeled in the direction of the Chartres Cathedral and recited a vow of peace. He then withdrew his army.

Three weeks later the Treaty of Brétigny was signed, ending the first phase of the Hundred Years’ War. Peace between England and France lasted about nine years until Charles V of France declared war on England, claiming England had not fulfilled the treaty.

By the time the war between the two countries finally ended in 1453, warfare and deaths from the bubonic plague (which raged from 1347 to 1350) had cost France half its population, Normandy three-fourths, Paris two-thirds, and England one-fifth to one-third.

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