| October 25, 2023

Infant Mortality In The Monarchical Bills of Mortality, 1665-1669

By Katie Kania and Jessica Otis in analysis tagged kania, otis, visualization, geography, monarchical bills

During the early modern period, the city of London produced weekly mortality reports called bills of mortality. These bills—printed from 1603 onward—detail the number of deaths per parish; plague deaths per parish; and deaths citywide by cause of death. However printed bills were actually summaries of manuscript bills produced for the monarch, which contain a parish-by-parish breakdown of every cause of death throughout the city of London for the preceding week. The monarchical bills enable us to study not just plague deaths by parish, but also every type of death that Londoners tracked in the bills of mortality.

Using transcribed bills from the 1660s, we identified causes of death that were linked to infant mortality. These were abortive, stillborn, chrisoms, infants, collick, overlaid, and starved at nurse. In addition, we thought it would be valuable to compare that against the only explicitly stated maternal cause of death recorded in the bills, childbed. We further categorized these causes by assigning them to an age group.

Prenatal: abortive

The cause ‘abortive’ occurs prenatally which is why it is designated in its own category.

0-30 days: stillborn, chrisoms

Infants who fall under the ‘stillborn’ category would be designated as 0 days old while ‘chrisoms’ were any infant who passed within the first 30 days of life.

1-12 months: infants, collick, overlaid, starved at nurse

The 1-12 months category is the most broad. While we know that ‘collick’ ‘overlaid’ ‘starved at nurse’ and ‘infant’ are all deaths attributed to infants, there is no specificity in the bills that tells us when during these first few months of life a child passed. Because of this, we have designated the 12 month mark as the end of infancy.

Maternal: childbed

While there may be other deaths recorded in the bills that occurred due to pregnancy or birthing complications, the only cause that explicitly falls under the maternal category is ‘childbed’. This was a cause of death that occurred when bacteria was introduced into the mother’s system by birthing attendants assisting in the delivery process. The ensuing infection caused fatal sepsis and fever. One of the most infamous sixteenth-century deaths due to childbed was of Lady Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife who died twelve days after giving birth to a son, Edward VI.

Using the data from the Monarch’s Bills and our categories, three interactive graphs were created with the Flourish app from Canva:

The first graph is a pie chart which displays the numerical distribution of deaths by year, cause, and parish. The second is a grouped bar chart that breaks down mortality totals by year, which geographic parish subunit they occurred in (within the London walls, outside (without) the London walls, Westminster, and Middlesex and Surrey) and what age category they fell under. From this graph three conclusions can be drawn. Infants within the first 30 days of life are the most vulnerable population across London. The greatest concentration of deaths is in parishes outside the walls of London and of Middlesex and Surrey. And, the highest mortality rate as a single category were infants 1-12 months old located outside the walls of London.

A separate bar chart was created to visualize maternal mortality. This graph displays parishes with the greatest number of deaths labeled ‘childbed,’ with different colors denoting different years. For the sake of a reasonably sized graph, only parishes with a total count for ‘childbed’ greater than two (2) were visualized. This means that only 16 parishes are displayed in the graph even though there were more childbed deaths recorded in the Monarch’s bills between the years 1665-1669.