Tudor drownings. It happened a lot!

Astro Pen

Write now.
Jan 24, 2020
Wales UK
Grim viewing but very interesting to anyone writing period fiction.
40% of accidental deaths in Tudor times were drownings (2% today)
This video looks at the causes.
Was the case in France and Germany, at the very least. Hardly "revealed for the first time" since my prof was talking about this back in the early 1980s. But good information, nonetheless. I think it was probably a common cause of accidental death in earlier centuries, but we lack the documentary evidence.

Once you get past infant and childhood diseases, up around age ten or so, death by accident becomes the most common cause. Teenagers in all times, right? But also, around age ten is when boys and girls alike began doing serious work around the farm or the shop, making them more vulnerable to accidental death.

Thanks for the video!
Well, they didn't have cars and motorcycles and electrical sockets and anywhere near as many poisonous substances around back then. So it makes sense that drowning would account for a larger proportion of the causes of accidental death that they did have.

I suspect these figures are based on dodgy if not swampy grounds.

Whilst it's true that no one was sticking their fingers in electric sockets there must thousands that died in circumstances that were classed as murder rather than accidental.

Take for example the case of Sir Grungstock of Boltchester.

His death, typical of such popular gatherings, who, while burying his poleaxe into the skull of a revolting peasant (never cleaned his feet) was tragically unhorsed by an overhanging tree branch. Even though he was wearing the correct PPE (a stylish helmet made by the metalworkers of Rouen) he sadly fell backwards and broke his neck. Obviously, and without doubt it was accidental but his death was wrongly classified as "Death by Misadventure".

On the other side of the pond (as it were) how many of those witches that died in their "Trial by Water" were grouped in the "accidental drowning" column even though it was obviously an act of deliberate murder. Worse, imagine how frustrating it would feel, as you gulped your last mouthful, to know that your death would be put down to your inability to swim.

There are numerous such examples where tardy officials went for the easy option, rather than fully investigate the true cause of death. It was partly because of such glaring errors in the death statistics, that the Coroners court was introduced in the eighteenth century England. A momentous advance in social justice that the world always fails to accredit to these fine islands.

It's thanks to these reforms that peasants and serfs, and even, the Lords of the land, have since been correctly recorded in the system.
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I remember, when doing local history, having to read through some copies of old church ledgers, there was indeed a lot of accidental deaths.

At least three of them, over a period of, IIRC, eleven years, were youngsters who were "killed by Parson's bull"

It looks like the church owned a proper monster of a beast, but was unchallenged on safety and containment issues by the local peasants.
When you don't have many bridges, riverbanks left untended, waterways likely wider and with more debris in them, no artificial, lighting , no medics on standby and lesser standards of treatment and the fact that most people wouldn't know how to swim, you have a much greater chance of drowning. Also most people would enter the water for the purpose of crossing not for leisure as today, so would be clothed rather than in trunks. Walking across a river getting clothing caught by undercurrents, boots getting filled with silt etc leaves you at much greater hazard.

When you consider that armies would often not risk crossing a river that didn't have a safe ford/bridge - even at risk of being caught/letting an enemy escape - gives you an idea as to just how hazardous water could be.

Considering how many people worked in agriculture or in hard labour back then, it would surprise me if 4 out of 10 accidental deaths were drowning,bu it surely was a sizeable number.
What I was told doing re-enactment was that the biggest cause of death for women was childbirth, and the second biggest was getting burnt - not at the stake but while working around an open fire, cooking - their skirts or apron could catch. Death either immediately or three days or so later from infection on the burns. The invention of closed stoves saved lives.

I remember, when doing local history, having to read through some copies of old church ledgers, there was indeed a lot of accidental deaths.

At least three of them, over a period of, IIRC, eleven years, were youngsters who were "killed by Parson's bull"

It looks like the church owned a proper monster of a beast, but was unchallenged on safety and containment issues by the local peasants.

There is also the possibility that jumping in with Parson's Bull was a popular local game and three of them got it wrong. With there being no adults killed by Parson's Bull makes me wonder whether it being only youngsters.......

Though yes, bulls are dangerous and so too can be rams.

Thomas Jefferson put a flock of sheep on the Whitehouse lawn, including a very territorial ram
I must admit to struggling with this one... Except for the laziest of people, if you're repetitively performing a task at a specific spot, you then make it so it's not so difficult. You form steps, fix a railing, tie a rope to a tree to hang onto...a gazillion things that folks invent to make their labors simpler and safer, or at the very least more comfortable.

I'm in a constant battle with a some guys here who also walk our woods regularly like I do. A swamp drains across the path in one point, and a spring flows out in a gully flooding another part, each making the path for roughly ten yards soft and muddy. Even though they all wear waterproof boots, everyone else who passes by there has a habit of tossing random sticks and branches over the path to build a walkway and keep their boots dry. I and my boys (dogs), however, walk barefoot, the mud doesn't bother us, but now we have to walk around to avoid the sticks.

That's a simple example of what people have always done. So I'm finding it difficult to understand how folks who must perform a task numerous times daily in the same spot wouldn't even half-azz something.

Past that, I'd imagine infections like tetanus and those from other minor wounds would be by far the greatest killers...but on that point I'm just speculating.

There was a snippet on TV where Craig Charles was filming a shot for Red Dwarf where he had to come out of the sea. So he walked in, ducked down and then waited for the cation to roll - and found that he couldn't move because silt had poured into his boots.

I guess when it comes to work, even in cases where monotonous tasks are carried out (maybe especially in cases where monotonous tasks are carried out) people get careless, mistakes happen and that can be it. And back then when there was no health and safety one mistake could be your last.

Like K2 says you find a safe spot, and you make it safer, easier and more comfortable - and so 90% of the time you are quite safe. But we are only talking about accidental deaths here, so relatively small numbers compared to disease/illness/war.

I guess this stat includes those in fishing boats; if your boat sank even relatively close to shore I wouldn't give much for chances of survival. So maybe if you include boating accidents then the % looks more likely.

Ps if you burn/scald yourself you don't (usually) die of the accident, but you have for more chance of dying from the infection. Would dying from an infected wound caused by an accident be classed as an accidental death or illness?

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