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 Read more…

Life Expectancy in the Middle Ages

How long did people live in the Middle Ages? That, of course, varied according to diet, climate, location, relative wealth, etc., but the answer is surely 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 Read more…

Daily Living in the Middle Ages

The tapestry to the right is The Triumph of Death, or The 3 Fates, a Flemish tapestry (probably Brussels, ca. 1510-1520), located now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Depicted are the three fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who spin, draw out and cut the thread of Life, represent Death in this tapestry, as they triumph over the fallen body of Chastity. This is the third subject in Petrarch’s poem The Triumphs. First, Love triumphs; then Love is overcome by Chastity, Chastity by Death, Death by Fame, Fame by Time and Time by Eternity. Pretty gloomy, eh? From a modern perspective, life in the Middle Ages appears not to have a lot to recommend it.  For example, for the majority of women, their lives consisted of unceasing labor, hand-to-mouth existence, a total lack of political representation (although that was not much Read more…

Medieval Life Expectancy: Muslim World verses Christian World

It is taken as given in this day and age that people living in Europe in the Middle Ages didn’t bathe much, if at all, had no real knowledge of science or medicine, and their high mortality rates were a consequence of this general ignorance.  Neither of the these assertions are, in fact, true, but the average human life span in the Middle Ages was significantly lower than the modern one nonetheless.   I have discussed this in several places on this blog. Here:  http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/life-expectancy-in-the-middle-ages/ I discuss the life span of the royal house of Wales and the Marche.  Eliminating individuals who died before adulthood completely from the equation, 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.  That I elminiated those who died in childhood changes the Read more…