Child Mortality in the Middle Ages

One of the hardest things to read about is the infant/child mortality rates that were prevalent up until the invention of antibiotics–and certainly in the Dark and Middle Ages. It may be that it was much worse in Victorian England, when cities grew large, but looking at King Edward I’s progeny, your heart just bleeds for him and his wife (even if he was a tyrant to the Welsh!).

Edward and his first wife, Isabella, produced 16 children. Of those, five were sons. Of those, John lived five years; Henry, six. Alphonso lived until he was eleven, and only Edward, their last child, born in 1284, lived to adulthood and inherited the kingdom.

Of their 11 daughters, five lived to adulthood and six died before the age of three. As a mother of four, to think about losing a child is awful and the mind shies away at the very thought. It is the one thing I cannot even begin to contemplate. As a human being, how do you survive losing half your children to disease? Or more than half?

On top of which, out of his 19 total children (3 by his second wife, Marguerite), 8 lived to grow up. However, only two lived what we would consider longish lives.   The mean for the adult women is 41.8 with a median of 35; the mean for adult men is 36.6 with a median of 38.  Combined, the mean is 39.8 and the median is 35/38.  That is much worse than the Welsh/Marcher nobility documented here:  http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/life-expectancy-in-the-middle-ages/

Children of Edward I:

Daughter:  1255 (stillborn)

Katherine:  1261-1264 (age 3)

Joan:  1265-1265 (infant)

John:  1266-1271 (age 5)

Henry:  1268-1274 (age 6)

Eleanor:  1269-1298 (age 29)

Daughter: 1271 (infant)

Joan:  1272-1307  (age 35)

It does not seem that either Eleanor or Joan died in childbirth, or if they did, the child died with them and there is no record of their births.

Alphonso:  1273-1284 (age 11)

Margaret:  1275-1333 (age 58)

Berengaria:  1276-1278 (2)

Daughter: 1278 (infant)

Mary:  1279-1332  (53)

Son:  1281 (infant)

Elizabeth:  1282-1316 (aged 34)  She was married to Humphrey de Bohun (4th Earl of Hereford) and died in childbirth, having attempted to give birth to her 11th child in 13 years.

Edward:  1284-1327 (age 43)

Thomas:  1300-1338 (age 38)

Edmund:  1301-1330 (age 29)

Eleanor:  1306-1310 (4)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_I_of_England

To include all children in the mortality rate brings the mean down to 18.4 and the median to a hideous 6.

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One thought on “Child Mortality in the Middle Ages

  1. The same ferocious mortality rate lasted right up through the beginning of the 20C. Charles Darwin and his wife had ten children, and lost three of them in childhood. The 19C conductor and composer Gustav Mahler had 13 siblings, 8 of whom did not survive their childhoods: he said later that the loss of his younger brother Ernst was the worst pain he had ever felt. In 1901-04 Mahler set to music the Kindertotenlieder, literally ‘poems on the death of children’, which had been written by the poet Friedrich Rückert in 1833-34 after the deaths of two of his children. Some four years later Mahler lost his second child. So human beings survived these losses because until a hundred years ago they had never known anything else.

    The five poems that Mahler set can be found, with English translations, on Wikipedia. I find them very moving.

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