Welcome to the Bills of Mortality …

Posted in AccidentBills of MortalityMurderSuicide on 19/12/2011 by Craig Spence

We are all interested in sudden violent death … whether we like to admit it or not. The daily news is full of it in every form; print, broadcast or internet. The hard truth is we want to know about human disaster and tragedy if only to reaffirm our own humanity. It is in some ways reassuring to note that it has been so from the very beginnings of printed news media – during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Alongside the diplomatic and commercial information, the early news-sheets recounted murders, executions, and accidents (usually fatal) regularly. One of the earliest (if not the earliest) printed serial publication to make use of such material was the London weekly Bills of Mortality; although not exactly a newspaper in the traditional sense it was certainly purchased, shared and read as if it were.

The Bills were formulated initially to track disease (principally plague) and enumerate burials and christenings but from the mid 17th century they also listed causes of death including murders, suicides, and accidental or unexplained violent deaths. It is these reports that provide an insight into the form and frequency of sudden violent death throughout the period of the early modern metropolis.

My research has focused mainly on the content of the weekly Bills from 1654 to 1735 (the period of their greatest accuracy); as a result, I have collated information for 868 murders, 2,267 suicides, and an astounding 12,394 accidental violent deaths. Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll take a closer look at some of these events – in the main accidents and disasters. I will also, at various times, consider wider aspects of early modern sudden violent death, risk, blame and response. I also intend to indulge in occasional posts of the ‘on this day’ variety.

2 Responses to “Welcome”

  1. […] Visit their Images page and search “bills of mortality” to see. And historian Craig Spence runs a blog exploring violent deaths in the bills of mortality, which is a great […]

  2. […] finally, if you haven’t had enough mortality today, historian Craig Spence writes a blog exploring violent deaths in the bills of […]

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