Friday, September 17, 2010

Question from Jo - Life expectancy in early 16th century

What was the life expectancy during Henry VIII's reign?


Laura said...

Average life expectancy in the 16th century was roughly late 30's early 40's. However, this number is skewed by the extremely high rate of child and infant immortality. Many people lived to be quite old, into their 80's. Life expectancy would have been longer for men rather than women due to the high number of deaths in childbirth.

If, however one managed to survive a precarious birth, infancy and childhood, and did not succumb to accidental death or death in childbirth, one could expect to reach his 50's or 60's.

Scarlet said...

I'm happy to see that caveat in your response, Laura. So many people erroneously think most people lived very short lives until recently, & don't understand how a high infant mortality rate skews the numbers drastically.

I mean, John of Gaunt lived to be 60 in 1399, & his father, Edward III, died at 65 in 1377. That was a goodly lifespan then & they certainly did better than most of the Tudors; only Margaret Beaufort, Margaret Pole, & Elizabeth lived longer than that. Elizabeth of course never flirted with childbirth at all, MB got lucky, but MP had several children & may have hit 70 if that axe hadn't gotten in her way. So some women made it up there, too.

The Wars of the Roses rather thinned the noble stock immediately preceding the reign of the Tudors. The male Beaufort line (John of Gaunt's descendents by Catherine Swynford) was decimated. I always found it ironic that Henry IV changed Richard IIs patent of legitimacy to exclude succession to the throne when the Beaufort men gave their lives for the Lancastrian cause & Henry VI was the only viable Lancastrian sprig left standing at the end of it all.

The US also currently has the highest infant mortality rate of "developed" countries, so our life expectancy of 78 is off a bit even now.