By Rob Morgan
The weather column in The Times recently reported some research, with wargames potential, by Dr. Kathleen Pribyl of the University of East Anglia. Her team of researchers reconstructed the climate of that substantial part of England from crop harvests and other indicators between 1256 and 1431, the core of the medieval (wargames) period. There were, it seems, some rather interesting patterns. If a short run of average or cool summers was followed by a single warm, dry summer, “a plague epidemic would often follow.”
The pattern — and there were regular cycles — followed the changes in rodent population, rats possibly, but Dr. Pribyl suggests more likely the humble vole, and its fleas! A mild, or moderately cold winter would also help the plague, as the animals would survive. But a bitter winter would kill off the rodents, and so would a wet one, which flooded burrows.
The wargame potential is obvious, and arguably not just for that then-very-prosperous part of these islands. The effect of a plague outbreak on the raising of a feudal force or on its fortunes when gathered for action or in camp, a force’s reluctance to pass through areas with an outbreak, for instance; the problems of foraging or of feedstuff for men and horses when there’s been an outbreak, among other things, all have potential to disrupt the conduct of warfare. Just a simple dice throw to determine the weather over the previous years would do the trick initially.
Incidentally, I do remember a short series of articles by Don Featherstone, oh, almost 50 years ago, in John Tunstill’s “Miniature Warfare,” on the effects of weather on wargames, but I don’t recall any rules or consideration of outbreaks of plague.