Year 1400-1499 AD

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1404: First St. Elizabeth flood in northwest Europe

On 19 November 1404, large areas in northwest Europe were flooded, including Flanders, Zeeland, and Holland. The storm tide responsible became known as the First Saint Elizabeth’s flood. The area of Zeeland-Flanders had already been flooded several times, and severely in 1362. By this the Zuiderzee was formed. Around the Zuiderzee, lowlying, but still dry areas were diked to prevent more floodings. Within these so-called polders, new parishes arose. Unfortunately, by the storm in 1404, everything was destroyed again by a severe flood. Even a number of areas which had survived previous floodings were now engulfed and destroyed. Many of the barrier islands along the coast of Flanders were washed away.

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1421: Second St. Elizabeth flood in northwest Europe

During the night between 18 and 19 November 1421, excactly 17 years after the First St. Elizabeth flood, the notorious Second Saint Elizabeth’s flood caused death and destruction in what is today known as the Netherlands. It is believed that the flood was caused by a storm with very strong northwesterly winds on its rear side, followed by a high storm tide. Pre-existing gaps in the coastal line created by previous floods presumably contributed to the severity of the flood. As a result, the flood reached a large sea arm between South-Holland and Zeeland , destroying a land area known as the Grote Waard, which would never return to its original shape and form again. A total of thirty villages and 2,000 lives were lost during this flood.

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1494: The Treaty of Tordesillas, start of European interest in the Arctic

By the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 the pope divided the world into a Spanish and a Portuguese half, the Spanish having the western and the Portuguese the eastern hemisphere. This arrangement was made at a time when the Portuguese and the Spaniards, aided and inspired by Genoese navigational skills, were inaugurating Europes conquest of the rest of the world; the Spanish in America from 1496 on, the Portuguese in Africa and in the East.

The aspiring and vigorous would-be maritime nations north of the Iberian Peninsula, the French, English, Dutch, and Danes, excluded in this way from exploring and trading expeditions to the south, directed their attempts to win a share of this new-found wealth in overseas empires towards the east, west and north. The initial aim was to obtain access to the fabled wealth of the Far East, of Cathay or China and Cipango or Japan, by finding a route there outside the control of the Spanish or Portuguese. Such a route, it was hoped, might be found to the north of Asia or, after its existence became clear, to the north of the American continent. Either way, the explores were confronted with the Arctic, forming an icy barrier across their routes. The first attempts to penetrate through the ice along the North-East or North-West Passage were to begin. There were even ideas of penetrating directly northwards over the Pole towards Japan and China.

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