Bills of Mortality 1665-1666 …charting the Great Plague

Plague scenes Wellcome.jpgBills of Mortality , or the weekly list of deaths and their causes, were published in London during the final years of Queen Elizabeth I. Then from  1603 they were published continuously by the Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks.

2378023r_page_011There were 130 parishes in London.  The weekly list gives historians an insight into the statistics of the period not to mention some of the mechanisms of the Grim Reaper.  In the week commencing August 15 1665 8 people died from “winde,” another from “lethargy” whilst 190 were carried away by “fever and purples” which sounds downright unpleasant not to mention suspiciously like the bubonic plague. A total of 3880 souls were listed as having died from Yersinia pestis as the bacilli carried by fleas should be more correctly known.

default-2.jpg

From the Bills of Mortality it is possible to chart the progress of the disease.  The earliest outbreak was in the parish of St Giles in the Fields.  It was a poor parish so no one paid a great deal of attention.  Gradually the numbers increased and the plague moved inside the city walls.

London lost roughly 15% of its population with the numbers peaking during the hottest months of the year.  In one week in September the number of deaths from bubonic plague was listed as 7,165.

BillofMort_September16652_0.jpg

While a total of  68,596 deaths were recorded in the city, the true number was probably over 100,000.

 

Those who could left the city and took the disease with them. Charles II and his courtiers left in July for Hampton Court and then Oxford.  Court cases were also moved from Westminster to Oxford. The poor had no option but to remain, shut in to their homes by officials if they or a member of their family caught the disease; discovered by searchers when they died and buried in pits such as the one unearthed by the construction of Crossrail.

As for the Bills of Mortality it turns out that the Guildhall Library in London holds the most complete collection of the documents.  They, along with the story of the plague, can be viewed at the City of London’s online exhibition about the Great Plague which can be found by clicking on the link and opening a new window. https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/guildhall-library/events-exhibitions/Pages/great-plague-online-exhibition.aspx

Bills of Mortality may be viewed on line at https://wellcomecollection.org/

https://www.historytoday.com/great-plague-1665-case-closed

Bills of Mortality August 15 -22, 1665. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Chart of distribution of the Great Plague, 1665. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Title page to a statistical analysis of mortality during the plague epidemic in London of 1665. Etching, 18–. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Plague in London, 1665. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Battle of St Albans – round two

wars-of-rosesThe second Battle of St Albans was fought on 17 February 1461 and the result may have come as a bit of a surprise to the Earl of Warwick – he lost.  His young cousin Edward, Earl of March shortly to be King Edward IV beat the Lancastrians at Mortimer’s Cross only a short time previously with no experience in the battlefield but Warwick a battle hardened warrior lost the next confrontation between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians.

The story is as follows – Margaret of York and her allies advanced south from Wakefield.  Her forces included Scots and Northumbrians and “northerners”.  Warwick spread word in London that this group of people were akin to savages in terms of plunder, loot, pillage etc.  In short he won the smear campaign. Londoners swiftly arrived at the conclusion that only Warwick could save them from the hordes of hairy northerners heading in their direction.

Warwick duly obliged by leaving London with a large army.  Unfortunately he didn’t quite know where the hordes of aforementioned hairy bruits were so he had to deploy his force over quite a large front and when one of his scouts told him that they were at Dunstable Warwick dismissed the notion – which was unfortunate because the Lancastrians really were at Dunstable.

The next morning they arrived in St Albans. They were led by Andrew Trollope – who we’ve encountered before, son of a family of Durham dyers, hero of the Hundred Years War and possible deceiver of the Duke of York- he was the first to attack. By the end of the day he would be knighted.

Warwick and his brother John Neville, Lord Montagu (shortly to become Earl of Northumberland), and all their men, had to turn around because they were all looking in the wrong direction for the Lancastrians. Meanwhile Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset had found his way into the middle of St Albans and the Yorkist line of communications turned to to be rather dodgy.  For some reason or another Montagu’s men did a runner, Montagu got himself captured by the Lancastrians and Warwick wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

The Yorkists left in a hurry – so much of a hurry in fact that they left King Henry VI sitting under a tree guarded by only two knights – Sir Thomas Kyrill and Lord William Bonville.  They remained with Henry to protect him and might well have expected more honourable treatment than they received when the dust settled.  Both were executed for their pains – which doesn’t do the Lancastrians credit. The only reason John Neville escaped the same fate was because of the possibility of a prisoner swap.

You’d have thought at that point it was all over bar the shouting but Margaret of Anjou hadn’t counted on the Londoners refusing her entry to the capital city on account of their concerns over the hairy northerners.  So although the road to London was open and the royal Lancastrian family were all reunited Margaret of Anjou was still not victorious.

On the 22nd of February it was the Earl of Warwick and Edward, Earl of March who entered London where Edward was shortly afterwards declared king by popular acclaim.

It would take one more bloody battle before this particular game of chess saw a white rose king taking sole control of the board…for the time being at least.

 

 

The Mad Priest of Kent

John-ball-rebel-1John Ball was an English priest and one of the leaders of the Peasants Revolt of 1381. The revolt started in Essex at Brentwood.  It was only when the revolt spread to Kent that John Ball became involved but he quickly, according to folk-lore and the chroniclers of the period, became one of the revolt’s leaders.  He was certainly one of the most eloquent representatives of the Peasants Revolt.

Ball probably began his career in St Mary’s Abbey, York where he was ordained as a priest.  He next appears in Colchester in 1366 when he was arrested for heretical preaching and forbidden from preaching.  John Ball was not deterred. He attacked the wealth of the church and preached for equality between social classes. In 1376, he was arrested by the new archbishop of Canterbury, Simon of Sudbury because he preached that people need not pay their tithes to unworthy priests.  Even more inflammatory he said that all property should be shared in common among all people.

He was in prison at the outbreak of the Peasants’ Revolt in June of 1381. He wrote many letters from prison to his supporters continuing to urge them to break free from social injustice. When the revolt reached Maidstone one of the first things that Wat Tyler did was to free Ball.

Ball gave a sermon at Blackheath saying “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?”  The peasants were so inflamed by his words that they demanded the heads of King Richard II’s bad advisors— Richard returned to the Tower with the men who the commons wanted to kill and the next day the commons rampaged through London.

Ball survived the death of Wat Tyler, there is no further reference to him after the famous sermon speech at Blackheath “When Adam delved and Eve span – who then was then the gentleman?” He escaped London and went into hiding.  He got as far as Coventry where he was discovered, captured and dragged back to face the king.

He was hanged, drawn and quartered on July 15 1381 at St Albans after judgment by Richard II.  His head ended up on a spike on London Bridge.  In the city itself people began to rebuild their homes and their lives where they could.  Many Flemings and Lombards had been killed during the unrest and now the King and his council ordered Englishmen to leave London if there had not lived there for a year and a day.

It was said by chroniclers of the period that Ball was a supporter of Wycliff and the Lollards but it is thought that this was an attempt by the authorities to implicate them in the events of the revolt.