What was the typical life expectancy in the Middle Ages?
Life expectancy varied according to diet, climate, location, relative wealth, etc., but the answer is definitive: not as long as we do now. For starters, infants and children died at a horrific rate (some say up to 1/3 of all died before the age of 5) and a significant percentage of women died in association with childbirth: 5% perhaps from the birth itself, often dying with the child, and a further 15% from childbed fever–the infections that followed a poorly managed delivery (by our standards).
Following that, if a person made it out of childhood, they could be expected to live into their middle forties, provided they maintained good health and weren’t killed in war. Both those, of course, are big ‘ifs’.
Below is the recorded birth and death date for the adult royal family of Wales and associated Marcher relations, beginning with Joanna (the daughter of King John of England) and Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great, the Prince of Wales). Eliminating individuals who died before adulthood completely, from the dates recorded below, the mean life expectancy for women was 43.6 years, with a median of 42/43; for men, it was a mean of 48.7 and a median of 48/49.
Please be aware that these people are of the highest class of society at the time, granting them (possibly) an easier life and longer life spans. I have indicated in parentheses the cause of death when it wasn’t old age or disease.
Joanna: 1190-1237 (daughter of King John of England; wife of Llywelyn Fawr) (47)
Llywelyn Fawr: 1173-1240 (Prince of Wales) (67)
Tangwystl: 1168-1206 (mistress of Llywelyn Fawr) (38)
Gwladys: 1206-1251 (princess of Wales) (45)
Ralph Mortimer 1198-1246 (husband of Gladwys) (48)
Gruffydd: 1196-1244 (Prince of Wales) (fell from a rope while escaping the Tower of London) (48)
Roger Mortimer: 1231-1282 (51)
Maud de Braose: 1224-1300 (76)
William de Braose: 1198-1230 (hung by Llywelyn Fawr for sleeping with his wife, Joanna) (32)
Eve Marshall: 1203-1246 (43)
Dafydd ap Llywelyn: 1208-1246 (Prince of Wales) (42)
Isabella de Braose: 1222-1248 (wife of Dafydd) (26)
Eleanor de Braose: 1226-1251 (25) (childbirth)
Humphrey de Bohun: 1225-1265 (40) (war)
Edmund Mortimer: 1251-1304 (53)
Margaret de Fiennes: 1269-1333 (64)
Humphrey de Bohun: 1249-1298 (49)
Maud de Fiennes: 1254-1296 (42)
Llywelyn ap Gruffydd: 1228-1282 (54) (war)
Elinor de Montfort: 1252-1282 (30) (childbirth)
Archaeological evidence indicates that Anglo-Saxons back in the Early Middle Ages (400 to 1000 A.D.) lived short lives. Field workers unearthed 65 burials (400 to 1000 A.D.) from Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in England and found none who lived past 45. This site and this site has similar statistics.
Kings did better. The mean life expectancy of kings of Scotland and England, reigning from 1000 A.D. to 1600 A.D. were 51 and 48 years, respectively. Their monks did not fare as well. In the Carmelite Abbey, only five percent survived past 45. This site says wealthier people would have a life expectancy of more than forty years.
Several sources on the internet have argued that if a person could get through childhood and early adulthood, he could expect to live into the 60’s or even 70’s. This is not substantiated by the data. (For multiple charts and a discussion, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_expectancy)
It isn’t that medieval people somehow were biologically different, but the structure of their lives, their resources, and their healthcare were dramatically different, ensuring that far fewer people lived as long as the average person does now.
To see the life expectancy of the family of King Edward I: https://sarahwoodbury.com/sick-kids/
To see the family tree of the Royal House of Wales see: https://sarahwoodbury.com/family-tree-of-the-royal-house-of-wales/