We present a selective review of tree-ring variability and inferred climate changes in Europe during the 16th century. The dendroclimatological evidence is assessed within the context of the last 500 years and some interpretational problems are discussed. The tree-ring evidence is compared with various non-dendroclimatic evidence. The body of evidence shows that a large region of mid and northern Europe experienced a sharp cooling at around 1570/80 that, at least in the north, marked a shift towards a prolonged period of cool conditions. This region had its southern boundary in the Alps and there is little evidence for a major cooling in southern Europe.