Unfortunate child deaths in the Middle Ages


It was tough for kids making it out of infancy, let alone childhood with untreatable disease, hunger, war and plague.  But often death occurred for the most mundane of reasons, as it still does today. Trawling through English coroner’s Rolls for the early 14th century, a number of fatalities involving children crop up. Some of them give us bizarre insights in to life in medieval England.

There was a boy called Richard, son of John le Mazon, who was only eight years old and after a meal was making his way to school, walking across London Bridge – in the year, 1301.  On a sudden impulse, he decided to grip a beam on the side of the bridge and just hang there by his finger tips. Regrettably, he couldn’t keep his grip and fell down in to the river Thames and drowned.

In 1322, on the Sunday before the feast of Saint Dunstan, a group of boys were laying on a pile of timber. One was a seven year old called Robert, son of John de Saint Botulph and they continued to mess around until a heavy piece of wood tumbled on to Robert’s leg.  His mother, Johanna, arrived and managed to release her son’s leg which was fractured. Now, breaking a leg is not the end of the world in our modern age, but in the 14th century, this was a medical disaster. The child lingered on until the Friday before the Feast of Saint Margaret, at which point he died.

This is a rather odd story – in 1324, a five year old called John, son of William de Burgh, was at the property of Richard Latthere when he got it in to his head to steal a small amount of wool and try and hide it in his cap.  Richard’s wife, Emma, saw what he did and cuffed him hard round the ear.  He clearly made quite a din as a result and bawled his eyes out.  John’s mother raised the hue and cry – that is, she alerted other townsfolk to her plight by screaming her head off – and the boy was carried away.  At around the curfew bell of the same day, John died.  Emma fled though subsequently surrendered herself to the prison at Newgate.

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