Skip to main content
Select Source:

Bills of Mortality

BILLS OF MORTALITY

In English parishes, beginning in 1538, every burial required completion of a document that was the precursor of the modern death certificate. This made the burial legal and allowed the deceased's estate to be legally disposed of. The number of deaths were compiled on a weekly and an annual basis. These compilations were known as bills of morality. In many parishes they were rough accounts of the causes of death, and over the years this information became more precise, though it was not necessarily consistent from one parish to another. The procedure was made more formal and systematic throughout England in 1603, and continued until it was superceded by the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1836. From 1728 onward, the age of death was also recorded in the bills.

In the years following the foundation of the Royal Society in 1660, several scholars found these documents to be a fruitful source of information about the lives and deaths of the English people. The first of these was John Graunt, a London haberdasher and amateur scientist who was interested in the impact of epidemic outbreaks of plague, the impact of death and its cases on men and women, and the relative merits of living either in a city such as London or in the country. Graunt published his analyses in Natural and Political Observations on the Bills of Mortality (1662), a work that became the founding classic of the modern sciences of vital statistics and epidemiology. Graunt's contemporary Sir William Petty adopted a similar approach in his analyses, published in Political Arithmetic (1682) and other works that made Petty a founding father of economics.

John M. Last

(see also: Certification of Causes of Deaths; Graunt, John; Mortality Rates )

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bills of Mortality." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bills of Mortality." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bills-mortality

"Bills of Mortality." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bills-mortality

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

mortality, bills of

mortality, bills of. Weekly official returns of the deaths (later, also baptisms) in 109 London parishes, published by the Company of Parish-Clerks from 1592, probably prompted by the plague but limited to Anglicans in parish burial-grounds. Diseases and casualties for both sexes were distinguished by 1629, but the ignorance of the searchers, unreliable and venal ‘antient matrons’ who reported the cause of death to the parish clerks, occasioned notoriously imprecise diagnoses and distinctions. The figures nevertheless enabled John Graunt to compile the first known life table (1662). A national civil vital registration system was not established until 1837.

A. S. Hargreaves

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"mortality, bills of." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"mortality, bills of." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mortality-bills

"mortality, bills of." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mortality-bills

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.