6

Wikipedia has an example Bill of Mortality from 1665, listing the causes of death for the London area. Many of the terms in it are unfamiliar, though, eg. "Kings Evill", "Rupture", "Livergrown". In modern terms, what are these people recorded as dying of?

enter image description here

  • 1
    And as you probably know, 1665 was the year of the Great Plague in London, really the very last major stirring of the Black Death in Britain. The above bill of mortality shows 68,596 deaths 'Of the Plague', more than all other causes of death put together. I understand that modern DNA evidence indicates that this was a now (luckily for us) dormant form or forms of Bubonic Plague more virulent and able spread far more rapidly than the more modern forms of Bubonic Plague of which there have been relatively recent more local outbreaks in India and elsewhere. – Timothy Nov 18 '17 at 17:57
  • 1
    It is also important to note that in many cases the cause of death, in a plague year, was often forged to avoid quarantine. It is likely that many listed non-plague deaths actually *were from plague. – Pieter Geerkens Nov 18 '17 at 19:06
  • Interesting point. So to estimate a more accurate total number of plague deaths one would have to compare the total for the plague year with earlier years to see how much the total number of deaths increased. If the increase was significantly more than the official number of plague deaths, one would then have to consider if there was any other likely cause for an increase that year apart from misdescribed deaths that were really due to plague. – Timothy Nov 20 '17 at 17:50
9
  • King's evil was an archaic term for scrofula, or Tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis
  • Rupture was usually a hernia, but could also be a burst blood vessel.
  • Livergrowne was just an enlarged liver.

There is a really handy website for understanding Archaic Medical Terms, Diseases and Causes of Death. I often recommend it to genealogists who are confused by these terms on old records.

Also, an interesting paper on causes of death in Bills of Mortality is John Graunt on Causes of Death in the City of London

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.