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January 20, 2024

Cause of Deaths in London in 1632

During the early 17th century, several factors contributed to mortality rates in London. Many medical practitioners of the time believed that the position of planets could impact health and mental well-being. Those who fell under the influence of certain malevolent planets were believed to be “planet-stricken” and exhibited symptoms similar to aneurysms, strokes, and heart attacks.

Another significant cause of death was Consumption, known today as Tuberculosis. This bacterial infection primarily targets the lungs and had become the leading cause of death in the US by the turn of the 20th century.

Scrofula, also known as the King’s Evil, was a tubercular infection that affected the lymph glands in the throat. Despite the belief that being touched by a monarch could cure the ailment, it still resulted in approximately 30 deaths per year between 1629 and 1660.

Kidney removal, also known as ‘Cut of the Stone,’ was another cause of death recorded in London during this period.

Dental infections were also a significant health risk during the 1600s and were listed as the fifth or sixth leading cause of death in London. This issue continued to be a concern until 1908, with fatal outcomes for 10 to 40 percent of those affected.

As medical knowledge advanced and society progressed, the management and understanding of these causes of death improved, leading to a decline in their prevalence over time.

Here’s a list of some of the more odd or confusing items, for anyone interested:
  • Ague = feverish illness, often malaria
  • Apoplex = stroke (the rupture or clogging of a blood vessel in the brain), paralysis resulting from a stroke – sometimes also refers to other spontaneous causes of internal bleeding like burst aneurysms
  • Meagrom = migraine, severe headache – this obvious symptom could be deadly if it originated from things like a brain tumor, bleeding within the brain / stroke, concussion / TBI / swelling within the brain…
  • Bloody flux, scowring, flux = dysentery / bloody diarrhea or otherwise severe diarrhea, often from diseases like cholera
  • Childbed = death during or shortly after giving birth
  • Chrisomes = death of unbaptized infant / death of infant less than a month old
  • Colick, stone, and strangury = severe abdominal pain, bladder/kidney stones, rupture in abdomen (appendicitis, bladder rupture, etc)
  • Consumption = tuberculosis
  • Cut of the stone = died during/from the surgery to cut out bladder/kidney stones
  • Dropsie and swelling = edema, swelling of a body part
  • Falling sickness = epilepsy, seizures
  • Flocks and small pox = smallpox, other diseases causing pustules over the body like cowpox and chickenpox
  • French pox = syphilis
  • Jaundies = jaundice, yellowing of the skin and eyes often a symptom of liver failure
  • Jawfain = “jaw fallen” / lockjaw, often tetanus
  • Impostume = abscess, a deep infection full of pus
  • King’s Evil = scrofula, aka tuberculosis infection of the neck glands. The touch of a king was said to cure this disease.
  • Lethargie = depression?
  • Livergrown = unknown, some think it might have been another term for rickets or it could be from diseases which resulted in a swollen, enlarged liver – things like chronic alcoholism, hepatitis, or congestive heart failure.
  • Made away themselves = suicide
  • Murthered = murdered
  • Over-laid = infant that died after being unintentionally smothered / parent rolled onto them while sleeping
  • Starved at nurse = insufficient breast milk, or the child had a disease that caused them to “fail to thrive” / not gain weight and die even though being fed
  • Palsie = palsy, paralysis or other muscle difficulties
  • Piles = hemorrhoids
  • Planet = aka planet-struck, any very sudden severe illness or paralysis that was thought to result from the “influence” of a planet. Like how the moon (luna) was once thought to cause insanity (creating lunatics).
  • Pleurisie = swollen, inflamed pleura – the membranous tissue surrounding the lungs
  • Purples = bruising, especially wide-spread – many causes
  • Spotted feaver = typhus or meningitis
  • Quinsie = tonsillitis / inflamed tonsils, especially when abscessed and obstructing breathing
  • Rising of the lights = as an organ meat, lungs are often called “lights” because they are very light-weight organs. Nobody’s sure about what exactly “rising of the lights” was, but it may be related to severe coughing and the perception that during a cough the lungs would rise up in the chest. Perhaps croup, a respiratory disease causing a severe ‘barking’ cough.
  • Suddenly = unknown sudden death
  • Surfet = overeating / gluttony, vomiting from overeating. Aside from direct “death from overeating” it may have been a grouping for many types of death that often went along with being overweight – death from untreated diabetes, cushing’s disease, heart failure, etc. “Surfet” also might have been the cause-of-death given if someone over drank, passed out, and died from aspirating their own vomit.
  • Teeth = dental infection leading to death
  • Thrush = yeast overgrowth / yeast infection of mouth (or genitals)
  • Tympany = either abdominal tumor growth, or other bloating/distension of the abdomen – especially when air or gas is caught within the abdomen or intestines, causing a hollow sound when thumped
  • Tissick = cough, can also refer to the coughing and wasting away of tuberculosis


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