Medieval Death in London

London’s official morgue death toll for a week of January 1665:

Abortive: 6
Aged: 52
Cancer: 2
Childbed: 40
Chrisomes (unbaptized): 19
Dropsie: 34
Flux: 1
Feaver: 383
Flox and Smallpox: 5
Gowt: 1
Griping in the Guts: 65
Jaundies: 4
Impostume (abscess): 13
Kingevil: 3
Meagrome (migraines): 1
Plannet: 3
Purples: 3
Quinsie: 2
Rising of the Lights: 18
Scowring: 3
Scurvy: 3
Stopping of the Stomach: 7
Suddenly: 2
Tissick (tickling faint cough): 3
Tympany (intestinal bloating): 1
Winde: 4
Wormes: 23

I don’t even know what half those things are. I’d be curious how (unbaptized) is a cause of death, though. Those zany 17th century Brits …

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8 Responses to Medieval Death in London

  1. Ooh! I know a few of these.

    “Purples” could a desease with symtoms similar to Swine Fever in pig, but it was also a nickname for when they brought in a guy that had died and was left face-down for a time. This would leave them with “bruises” on the face and chest where the blood had settled, hence, purples. Quinsie is tonsillitis. Griping of the Guts was ulcers. Kingevil was Struma, supposedly curable by the touch of royalty. An impostume is a pus-filled cavity, known today as an abscess.

  2. Woolie Wool says:

    Some more explanations:
    “Childbed” is childbed fever, which is caused when 17th-century quack doctors went straight to the delivery room from having dissected corpses and delivered babies, giving the mothers fatal infections (it somehow took them a very long time to grasp the idea that touching bleeding, torn vaginas with hands encrusted with cadaver blood and flesh can transmit diseases).

    “Chrisomes” is very early infant mortality where the baby dies before being christened.

    “Flux” is bacillary dystentery.

    “Plannet” (or “planet-struck” or “apoplexy” in later bills) is sudden death believed to be caused by the influence of the planets (no, really). Usually “planet-struck” people died from a ruptured aneurysm.

    “Scowring” is also dysentery, I’m not sure how it differs from “flux”.

    “Rising of the Lights” is severe respiratory ailments such as laryngitis, pulmonary embolus, and pneumonia.

  3. Woolie Wool says:

    Even stranger than yours is another bill of mortality from August of the same year:

    Abortive: 4
    Aged: 45
    Bleeding: 1
    Broken legge: 1
    Broke her Scull by a fall in the Street at St. Mary Wool Church: 1
    Childbed (post-partum infection): 28
    Chrisomes (early infant mortality): 9
    Comsumption (tuberculosis): 126
    Convulsion: 89
    Cough: 1
    Dropsie: 53
    Feaver: 348
    Flox and Small-Pox: 11
    Flux: 1
    Frighted (I’m guessing fright-induced heart attack or something like that): 2
    Gowt: 1
    Grief: 3
    Griping in the Guts (ulcers): 79
    Head-mould-shot (when a baby’s skull bones are pushed over each other during birth, crushing the infant’s brain): 1
    Jaundies: 7
    Imposthume: 8
    Infants (considering how many infant deaths appear under other labels, I’m guessing this is a catch-all diagnosis sort of like SIDS): 22
    Kingsevil (scrofula/struma/goiter): 4
    Lethargy: 1
    Livergrown (disease-induced hypertrophy of the liver): 1
    Meagrome (migraine): 1
    Palsie: 1
    Plague: 4237 (!)
    Purples: 2
    Quinsie (tonsilitis): 5
    Rickets: 23
    Rising of the Lights (severe respiratory disease): 23
    Rupture (of what? I’m not sure): 1
    Scurvy: 3
    Shingles: 1
    Spotted Feaver: 166
    Stillborn: 4
    Stone (kidney stones): 2
    Stopping of the Stomach (I could not find a definition for this): 17
    Strangury (extremely difficult and painful urination): 3
    Suddenly: 2
    Surfeit (choking on vomit from overindulging in food or drink, like the drummers from Spinal Tap): 74
    Teeth (teething infants putting inappropriate things in their mouths and dying from asphyxiation, poisoning, intestinal obstruction, etc.): 111
    Tissick (tickling cough associated with tuberculosis): 9
    Thrush: 6
    Ulcer: 1
    Vomiting: 10
    Winde (Catastrophic buildup of intestinal gas? Choking on farts? I don’t know): 4
    Wormes: 20

    In all–171

    In all–5568
    (yes, 76% of all of the casualties came from plague)

    Increased in the Burials this Week: 249
    Parishes clear of the Plague: 27
    Parishes Infected: 103

  4. elenchus says:

    Two major errors here:

    First, this bill is NOT a morgue report. London had no morgues in 1667. It was a parish-by-parish count of burials, collected by the parish clerks, plus a certified cause of each death as determined by a little old lady in each parish, paid by the City of London. John Graunt’s Observations on the Bills of Mortality (1662 and four more editions) not only talks about the history and uses of the bills but also derived the fundamental methods of demography, epidemiology and what became statistics from a whole series of such bills (except that he used the annual summaries).

    Second, 1666 was absolutely not the Middle Ages. It was smack in the middle of the most powerful part of the Scientific Revolution in England: Newton was writing his most famous work on physics, Boyle was doing his thing in chemistry, Hooke was making all of the experiments work in public.

    Please be more careful.

    • Tom Clayton says:


      Your corrections are great. I have always been fascinated with death in history, including the 1600’s. But such knowledge must be accurate. Death causes from too far back can only be revealed by fossils, and those are limited because unless there are changes in the bones (most of which are simply degenerative) most causes of death will not be revealed. Fossils are only occasional examples that happened to have been preserved in special circumstances. Nevertheless, it is probably true that not many humans lived beyond the age of 40, otherwise there would be more examples in the fossils of the relative few that exist.

      From where have you gotten your information and HOW can I learn more of what accurately happened as well as the life and times of earlier time periods? Thanks.

      • S.D. says:

        Just a quick correction, Quinsie isn’t just tonsillitis, it’s something called a peritonsillar abscess, which can arise as a complication of tonsilitis. It’s very nasty, excruciatingly painful, and if left untreated can compromise major blood vessels and lead to catastrophic exsanguination.

  5. Beeda bat says:

    Does anybody know if there is a website where there are definitions for all the diseases above

  6. Spindlesprite says:

    Teeth won’t refer solely or even primarily to teething children choking or poisoning themselves. Dental hygiene was poor and dentistry for most people would have consisted of having a bad tooth pulled out with pliers by a family member, friend, or possibly a barber. The only available anaesthetic at the time was alcohol, and there were no antibiotics. Many people would have left their teeth to decay in situ. Either crude treatment or untreated decay could easily lead to infection, so ‘teeth’ as a cause of death would also have applied to adults.

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