Climate reconstructions from a multitude of natural and anthropogenic archives indicate that the 1430s were the coldest decade in north-western and central Europe in the 15th century. This decade is characterised by cold winters and average to warm summers resulting in a strong seasonal cycle in temperature. Results from comprehensive climate models indicate consistently that these conditions occurred by chance due to the partly chaotic internal variability within the climate system. External forcing like volcanic eruptions tends to reduce simulated temperature seasonality and cannot explain the reconstructions. The strong seasonal cycle in temperature reduced food production and led to increasing food prices, a subsistence crisis and a famine in parts of Europe. Societies were not prepared to cope with failing markets and interrupted trade routes. In response to the crisis, authorities implemented numerous measures of supply policy and adaptation such as the installation of grain storage capacities to be prepared for future food production shortfalls.