I decided to call my paper for Leeds IMC “Killed by Evil-Doers and Bitten by Pigs: The Hazardous Experiences of Medieval Childhood as Shown through Coroners’ Rolls”. I duly submitted this last year and (if I’m being totally honest here….) promptly forgot about it and moved on to another area of study. However when I began to write this paper I was really quite shocked by my own title – did children really suffer such fates? And, of course the answer is yes.
The medieval coroner had a number of responsibilities which included investigating deaths which occurred suddenly, unnaturally or in suspicious circumstances, as well as any deaths which occurred in prison. The circumstances of each death was recorded and so by noting how a person died they inadvertently note how that person was living at the time, thus providing wonderful snippets of everyday life in England in the Late Middle Ages.
My paper will explain the origins of the coroner and the joys and challenges of using coroners’ rolls as a primary source. I really want to highlight the rich material that the rolls contain and so will include several anecdotal cases of children whose deaths were recorded in the rolls of London, Bedfordshire and Warwickshire from 1265 – 1392. These occurred in a variety of ways – children suffered accidents whilst playing, fell in to wells, got struck by lightning as well as being bitten by pigs. In addition the rolls highlight other aspects of childhood such as exposure to violence and poverty.
I also want to take a more analytical approach to the rolls which will form the final part of my paper. My research to date has shown that there are very definite differences between patterns of child death in urban and rural environments, as well as gender differences which I want to explore. Analysis of the rolls also indicates other trends, for example deaths which occurred whilst playing stop at 8 years of age but are replaced instead by work-related accidents.
Writing this paper has not only served to highlight just how much rich material is contained in the rolls but also how patterns of child deaths varied according to location and gender. A much broader study of this subject is required which is fine – I hadn’t got much planned for the next few years!