Today we have the miracles that are called “ultrasound scan”, and “fetal monitoring”. The risk of a mother or her child being injured during pregnancy and childbirth is much lower these days. The advancement of medicine made this possible. However, during the middle ages, bringing a child upon this earth was incredibly perilous.
Breech presentations of the baby during labor was often fatal for both the mother and her child. The Labor could go on for several days, many of the women could die from exhaustion. While Caesarean sections were known, but they were only used only when the mother of the baby was already dead or would be soon, and yet they weren’t always a success.
Among the pregnant women, trained midwives could be found. They helped the soon mother to be during her labor and if something went wrong they were here to intervene. Most of the midwives didn’t have formal training, they relied on the experience they had over the years of experience in delivering babies.
New mothers might survive the labor, but there was always a potential that they might die from a postnatal infection and other post pregnancy complications. The equipment which they used was basic and manual intervention was common. It was a risk that everyone took. Even Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, died soon after giving birth to the future King Edward VI in 1537.
2.Infancy and Childhood
Infancy was one of the most dangerous periods of a persons life in the medieval period. The mortality rate was terribly high. Based on many surviving sources, scholars have estimated that around 20 – 30 percent of children under seven died. Even though this number isn’t completely accurate, it is possible that this is true and some estimate the percentage to be even higher.
Children under seven years were vulnerable to many diseases, malnutrition, infections, etc. They might die from smallpox, accidents, measles, tuberculosis, stomach infection and many more. The majority of those that died in the plague were children. The breast milk of the mothers didn’t have the same effects as today.
Being born into a wealthy family or into nobility didn’t guaranteed anything. In the ducal families in England between 1330 and 1479, for example, one third of children died before the age of five. It was a really hard place to be born in and nobody guaranteed you anything.
3. The Plague
The plague was one of the biggest killers in the middle ages and can easily take his place as one of the biggest killers throughout history. It had a devastating effect on the population of Europe during the XIV and XV centuries. It is also known as the Black death, the plague had arrived in Europe around the year 1348. It spread through all of Europe and it infected many countries; Italy, France, Germany, Spain and more. It didn’t affect Poland.
This bubonic plague caused very bad oozing swellings all over a persons body. The victims suffered various infections such as on their skin that would turn black and many associate the symptoms with the name of the disease. It was easily contagious and could be passed by with a mere sneeze or spit.
This plague killed some 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, according to medieval historian Philip Daileader in 2007. A death rate as high as 60% in Europe has been suggested by Norwegian historian Ole Benedictow.
Many didn’t know how to avoid catching it and couldn’t explain this disease. They though that it was God’s anger, the human sin and more. If a person caught this disease there was a huge chance 4/5 that he would die in the next week to come. As a result form this the life expectancy in the 14th century was just under 20 years of age. A large number of those were children, who were the most vulnerable to the disease.
Note that these aren’t all of ways you could have died in the medieval period. We have stored 15 more and we will make a full list of them in the next post to come.