A Perilous Period for Personal Safety Part 2/3
by Leslie Zeder
#5 Childbirth & Life Expectancy –
Safety during childbirth was very perilous during the Medieval Period. What we would now class as risky or unsafe birthing, in medieval times people simply didn’t know and a difficult labour could last several days. Some expectant mothers eventually succumbed to exhaustion, dying during the ordeal. Attempting to birth a baby in breech position often proved fatal to both the infant and mother-to-be.
When a new mother did survive labour, she still risked a distinct chance of dying from various postnatal infections and complications.
Infant mortality rates were very high as the immune system was still becoming accustomed to the threats of its disease-riddled environment. About 20% of would-be mothers and 5% of babies died during childbirth, with an additional 10% to 12% dying during the first month according to statistics information on Medieval Period mother and infant mortality rates.
By the 2nd half of the 14th century, peasants were living 5 to 7 years longer than in the 50 years previous. However, average life expectancy for English ducal families between 1330 and 1479 was usually just 33 years of age for women and 24 for men. Laypeople in late 1420s Florence, Italy, could expect to make it to just 29.5 years (women) and 28.5 years (men)!
However, if a 13th-Century person made it to 30 they had a good chance of making it into their 50s and even 60s.
#6 Violence – and lack of safety
Daily life incurred the omnipresent danger of violence no matter whether you were high born or low born. Staying safe was a big challenge for both rich and poor alike.
Violence abounded in many forms – from the not uncommon street and tavern brawls, assault, murder, accidental homicide, through to blood feuds, domestic violence, local and regional land disputes, urban unrest, revolts against lords by their vassals, and citizenry uprisings (such as England’s 1381 Peasants’ Revolt), amongst other violent incidents (not to mention warfare violence and larger-scale crusades).
Even trials were not free from violence with combat ordeals often thrust upon the accused to reach a verdict of guilt or innocence.
Heaven forbid you disagreed with the Christian Church! Those who held theological or religious opinions/beliefs which didn’t fit the Christian narrative were considered unorthodox – posing a threat to the Christian Church’s stranglehold and a danger to the established status-quo. Any perceived threat to Christendom was ruthlessly dealt with for to deny Christianity was to blaspheme it, and blasphemy was a crime against God.
Heretics/dissenters (Muslims, Jews, Cathar’s, and freethinkers, amongst others) were persecuted and killed, or silenced through threat of death. It was not until the flourishing of humanism during the Renaissance which brought about more temperate conditions in which these voices could begin to be heard.
#8 Safety while hunting
Hunting was a favoured pastime amongst the aristocracy and royalty of the period, but it came with great risks to personal safety. Accidents such as falls from horseback, friendly fire from arrows, mauling and bear attacks could easily be fatal.
Interested to read more about Safety in Medieval Times? Stay Tuned for Part 3.
Thanks to ERMS Group for their support of the Abbey Medieval Festival 2017.