Seven Ill Years

The seven ill years was a period of national famine in Scotland in the 1690s. It resulted from an economic slump created by French protectionism and changes in the Scottish cattle trade, followed by four years of failed harvests (1695, 1696 and 1698–99). The result was severe famine and depopulation, particularly in the north. The famines of the 1690s were seen as particularly severe, partly because famine had become relatively rare in the second half of the seventeenth century, with only one year of dearth (in 1674). The shortages of the 1690s would be the last of their kind.

During this period, starvation probably killed 5–15 per cent of the Scottish population, but in areas like Aberdeenshire death rates reached 25 per cent. The system of the Old Scottish Poor Law was overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, although provision in the urban centres of the burghs was probably better than in the countryside. It led to migration between parishes and emigration to England, Europe, the Americas and particularly Ireland. The crisis resulted in the setting up of the Bank of Scotland and the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies. The eventual failure of the Company in the Darién scheme increased the pressure for political union with England, which occurred in 1707.

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