Posts tagged with context
“London might be said to be all in tears; the mourners did not go about the streets indeed, for nobody put on black or made a formal dress of mourning for their nearests friends; but the voice of mourners was truly heard in the Streets” (Defoe, 19). Although Daniel Defoe’s description of London during the outbreak of 1665-1666 jogs our memories during the early days of the Sars-CoV- 2 virus—where the sick passed away separated from their loved ones, and families were forced to say goodbye apart from their kin—the culture of grief has indeed changed.
Found Dead? Unknown Causes of Death in the Bills of Mortality
The greatest purpose of the Bills of Mortality is to enumerate death, first due to plague then expanding over the years to include other causes. However, there are some gray areas where Searchers lacked the necessary information to provide a label. In these instances, the records reflect the phrase “found dead.” This label carried a wide range of ages and deaths and was listed with a basic description of the deceased person and how they were found.
The Facts of Mortality: the use of the London Bills in Daniel Dafoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Bills of Mortality have informed more than three centuries of writing about the plague. Although the Death by Numbers project stands out as the first systematic effort to digitize and process the totality of the bills, a whole bunch of writers, historians, and social scientists have kneaded the numbers collected in the Bills, looking for the historical gist of plague outbreaks in England and Continental Europe.
Why is There Bread in the Bills?
We have talked on the blog about some of the datasets we are transcribing from the Bills of Mortality - the counts of death by parish, causes of death, and christening and burial numbers. Some of the bills have even more information on them: the price of bread (and eventually other foodstuffs). But why would state-mandated bread prices be included in the Bills of Mortality? To find out, we need to look more closely at the role of bread in early modern England.
God's Terrible Voice in the City: New England Connections to the Bills of Mortality
God’s Terrible Voice in the City by Thomas Vincent describes the disastrous judgments of plague and fire that devastated London in 1665-1666. Today, two different editions of this work appear in the collections of Early English Books Online and Evans Early American Imprint Collection, the former published in London in 1667 and the latter published in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1668. The American publication of a book on a London disaster shows how a religious culture of providentialism- the belief that God cast down supernatural favor and punishment on the world- stretched across the Atlantic in the early modern English world (See Kierner, Inventing Disaster for more).
The Parish Clerks' memento mori: Iconography of Death and trademark in The London Bills of Mortality, 1727-1752
In the fourth week of 1727 the habitual readers of the Bills of Mortality noticed something different in the most recent bill. The bill printed on Thursday January 9th showcased a border of skulls and crossed-bones framing the death counts in both the verso and the recto.1 The artwork of the skull was fairly simple: a bike-seat-like cranium slightly bent to the right, with triangular nostrils, three ovals as eyes and mouth, and two crossed-bones at the bottom.
Strangled himself (being distracted): Messy Data and Suicides in the Bills of Mortality
**Content Warning** This post contains subject matter that some may find sensitive or disturbing, be advised. If uncomfortable with this topic, you may support Death By Numbers in other posts. This blog post will be a bit different than a few of our previous posts. Now that we have discussed our project workflow, we are going to begin to discuss the content of the Bills themselves. One thing that we immediately noticed on beginning this project is that suicides are reported on the Bills in a variety of ways that lead to more questions than answers regarding the weekly suicide rate in London.
A Parish By Any Other Name
The Bill of Mortality from Christmas week in 1664 reports that three people died in the parish of St Foster. But fifty years later, there were happily no Christmas deaths in the parish of St Vedast—or rather, the parish of “St Vedast alias Foster.” Because the parish of St Vedast is the parish of St Foster. Welcome to the complex world of early modern parish names. Given that our sources were published over the course of centuries, it’s hardly surprising that the names of some of the parishes in the bills changed over time.
"Within the Bills": EEBO and the Early Modern London Metropolis
One of the more helpful digital databases for the study of early modern history is Early English Books Online (EEBO), which contains images of most of the surviving books printed in England between 1473 and 1700. It builds upon the cataloging work of 19th-century bibliographers and began its life as a collection of microfilm in the late 1930s and 1940s before being digitized at the turn of the twenty-first century.1 Because its focus is on books rather than broadsides or bills, EEBO only contains a small fraction of the early modern Bills of Mortality but a keyword search for the bills still turns up almost 500 results.
Parishes and Extra-Parochial Places
The main organizational unit behind the London Bills of Mortality is the parish: a religious administrative unit usually consisting of one or more churches, their associated staff, and all Christians living within the geographical bounds of the parish. The parish clergy christened, married, and buried their parishioners and—starting in the sixteenth century—the parish clerk kept a register of those events. The burial numbers would eventually form the basis of the bills, with christenings added later.
Confusion of Calendars
One of the first things a Bill of Mortality tells the reader is the date. The bill (partially) pictured below covers mortality data for the city of London, in the 3rd week of the current bills’ year, which ran from the 31st of December to the 7th of January in the year 1700 AD (from the Latin, Anno Domini, which was often translated into English as the Year of the Lord).
The London Bills of Mortality
Plague epidemics were a recurring threat in late medieval and early modern Europe. While plague could and did strike anywhere, the most well-documented epidemics were often in cities. Responses varied across time and space, as city leaders and other political authorities attempted to avoid contagion, contain the sick, and understand the scope of the threat plague currently posed to their lives and their livelihoods. These responses included the creation of lists: lists of people sick with plague, lists of cities infected with plague, and–starting in the sixteenth century–lists of the number of people who had died of plague.