Skip to main content Accessibility help

Lifespans of the European Elite, 800–1800

  • Neil Cummins (a1)


I analyze the adult age at death of 115,650 European nobles from 800 to 1800. Longevity began increasing long before 1800 and the Industrial Revolution, with marked increases around 1400 and again around 1650. Declines in violent deaths from battle contributed to some of this increase, but the majority must reflect other changes in individual behavior. There are historic spatial contours to European elite mortality; Northwest Europe achieved greater adult lifespans than the rest of Europe even by 1000 ad.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Lifespans of the European Elite, 800–1800
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Lifespans of the European Elite, 800–1800
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Lifespans of the European Elite, 800–1800
      Available formats



Hide All

I thank Greg Clark, Morgan Kelly, Alan Fernihough, Cormac Ó Gráda, five anonymous referees, and Ann Carlos, the editor of this Journal, for valuable suggestions. This research would have been impossible without the incredible genealogical labors of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.



Hide All
Acemoglu, Daron and Simon, Johnson. “Disease and Development: The Effect of Life Expectancy on Economic Growth.Journal of Political Economy 115, no. 6 (2007): 925–85.
Alfani, Guido and Tommy, E. Murphy. “Plague and Other Lethal Epidemics of the Pre-Industrial World.Journal of Economic History 77, no. 1 (2017): 314–43.
Benedictow, Ole Jørgen. The Black Death, 1346–1353: The Complete History. Suffolk, UK and Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer, 2004.
Biraben, Jean-Noël. Les Hommes Et La Peste En France Et Dans Les Pays Européens Et Méditerranéens, Vol. 2. Mouton Paris-La Haye, 1975.
Boyd, Percival. Pedigrees with Index of London Citizens, Abt. 1600–1800. Manuscript. Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah. Salt Lake City, UT: 1954.
Broadberry, Stephen. “Accounting for the Great Divergence.Economic History Working Paper No. 54573, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History, London, UK, November 2013.
Broadberry, Stephen, Bruce, Campbell, Alexander, Klein, et al. British Economic Growth, 1270–1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Burke, Bernard. The Book of Precedence: The Peers, Baronets, and Knights, and the Companions of the Several Orders of Knighthood, Placed According to Their Relative Rank, Together with a Scale of General or Social Precedence. London: Harrison, 1881a.
Genealogical, A Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage: Together with Memoirs of the Privy Councilors and Knights. London: Harrison, 1881b.
Bush, Michael L. Noble Privilege. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1983.
Chipman, Hugh A., Edward, I. George, Robert, E. McCulloch, et al. “BART: Bayesian Additive Regression Trees.The Annals of Applied Statistics 4, no. 1 (2010): 266–98.
Clark, Gregory. “The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1209–2004.Journal of Political Economy 113, no. 6 (2005): 1307–40.
Clark, Gregory A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.
Cohn, Samuel K. The Black Death Transformed: Disease and Culture in Early Renaissance Europe. Arnold Publication (Series). Hodder Education: 2002.
Cohn, Samuel K. 4 Epidemiology of the Black Death and Successive Waves of Plague.Medical History Suppl. 27 (2008): 74100.
Cummins, Neil, Morgan, Kelly, and Cormac, ÓGráda.Living Standards and Plague in London, 1560–1665.Economic History Review 69, no. 1 (2016): 334.
David, Paul, S. Ryan, Johansson, and Andrea, Pozzi. “The Demography of an Early Mortality Transition: Life Expectancy, Survival and Mortality Rates for Britain's Royals, 15001799. ” Economics Series Working Paper Number 83, University of Oxford, Department of Economics, Oxford, UK, 2010.
De, La Croix David, and Omar, Licandro. “The Longevity of Famous People from Hammurabi to Einstein.Working Paper No. 666, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, Barcelona, Spain, October 2012.
De, Moor Tine, and Jan, Luiten Van Zanden. “Girl Power: The European Marriage Pattern and Labour Markets in the North Sea Region in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Period 1.Economic History Review 63, no. 1 (2010): 133.
De, Pleijt, Alexandra, M. and Jan, Luiten Van Zanden. “Accounting for the ‘Little Divergence’ What Drove Economic Growth in Preindustrial Europe, 13001800?” Working Papers 0046, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History, Utrecht, The Netherlands, 2013.
De, Sainte-Marie Anselme, and Ange, De Sainte-Rosali. Histoire Généalogique Et Chronologique De La Maison Royale De France, Des Pairs, Grands Officiers De La Couronne, De La Maison Du Roy Et Des Anciens Barons Du Royaume. Paris, 1728.
Dewald, Jonathan. The European Nobility, 14001800, Vol. 9. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Dewitte, Sharon N.The Effect of Sex on Risk of Mortality During the Black Death in London, AD. 13491350American Journal of Physical Anthropology 139, no. 2 (2009): 222–34.
Dewitte, Sharon N.Age Patterns of Mortality During the Black Death in London, AD 13491350Journal of Archaeological Science 37, no. 12 (2010): 3394–400.
Doyle, William. Aristocracy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Eisner, Manuel. “Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime.Crime and Justice 30 (2003): 83–142.
Elias, Norbert. The Civilizing Process, Vol. 2. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982.
Fernihough, Alan. “Simple Logit and Probit Marginal Effects in R.UCD Centre for Economic Research Working Paper Series, WP11/22. University College Dublin, School of Economics, Dublin, Ireland, 2011.
Fire, Michael and Yuval, Elovici. “Data Mining of Online Genealogy Datasets for Revealing Lifespan Patterns in Human Population.” Arxiv Preprint Arxiv:1311.4276, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY, 2013.
Fogel, Robert W.Nutrition and the Decline in Mortality Since 1700: Some Preliminary Findings.In Long-Term Factors in American Economic Growth, edited by Engerman, Stanley L. and Gallman, Robert E. 439556. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1986.
Galvani, Alison P., and John, Novembre. “The Evolutionary History of the CCR5Δ32 HIV-Resistance Mutation.Microbes and Infection 7, no. 2 (2005): 302–9.
Green, Donald P., and Holger, L. Kern. “Modeling Heterogeneous Treatment Effects in Survey Experiments with Bayesian Additive Regression Trees.Public Opinion Quarterly 76, no. 3 (2012): 491–511.
Gurr, Ted R.Historical Trends in Violent Crime: A Critical Review of the Evidence.Crime and Justice 3 (1981): 295353.
Haensch, Stephanie, Raffaella, Bianucci Michel Signoli, et al. “Distinct Clones of Yersinia Pestis Caused the Black Death.Plos Pathogens 6, no. 10 (2010): E1001134. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1001134
Hajnal, John. “European Marriage Patterns in Perspective.In Population in History: Essays in Historical Demography, edited by Eversley, D. E. and Glass, D. V., 101–43. Chicago, IL: Aldine Publishing Company, 1965.
Henry, Louis. “Fécondité Des Mariages Dans Le Quart Sud-Ouest De La France, De 1720 ‘A 1829.Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 27, no. 3 (1972): 612–40.
Henry, LouisFécondité Des Mariages Dans Le Quart Sud-Est De La France De 1670 A 1829.Population (French Edition) 33, no. 4/5 (1978): 855–83.
Henry, Louis and Jacques, Houdaille. “Fécondité Des Mariages Dans Le Quart Nord-Ouest De La France De 1670 A 1829.Population (French Edition) 28, no. 4/5 (1973): 873924.
Hollingsworth, Thomas H.A Demographic Study of the British Ducal Families.Population Studies 11, no. 1 (1957): 426.
Hollingsworth, Thomas H.The Demography of the British Peerage.London, UK: Population Investigation Committee, London School of Economics, 1964.
Hollingsworth, Thomas H.A Note on the Mediaeval Longevity of the Secular Peerage 1350–1500.Population Studies 29, no.1 (1975): 155–59.
Hollingsworth, Thomas H.Mortality in the British Peerage Families Since 1600.Population (French Edition) (1977): 323–52.
Houdaille, Jacques. “Fécondité Des Mariages Dans Le Quart Nord-Est De La France De 1670 A 1829.In Annales De Demographie Historique, 341392. Société de Démographie Historique, 1976.
Janick, Jules, Marie, Christine Daunay, and Harry, Paris. “Horticulture and Health in the Middle Ages: Images from the Tacuinum Sanitatis.Hortscience 45, no. 11 (2010): 1592–96.
Johansson, Sheila Ryan. “Medics, Monarchs and Mortality, 1600–1800: Origins of the Knowledge-Driven Health Transition in Europe.SSRN Electronic Journal 85, 2010. Available at SSRN:
Kapelner, Adam and Justin, Bleich. “Bartmachine: A Powerful Tool for Machine Learning.Arxiv Preprint Arxiv:1312.2171, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY, 2013.
Keen, Maurice. Chivalry New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984.
Kelly, Morgan, and Cormac, ÓGráda. “Living Standards and Mortality Since the Middle Ages.Economic History Review 67, no. 2 (2014): 358–81.
Koch, Hannsjoachim Wolfgang. The Rise of Modern Warfare, 1618–1815. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1981.
Levy, Claude and Louis, Henry. “Ducs Et Pairs Sous l'Ancien Régime. Caractéristiques Démographiques D'une Caste.Population (French Edition) (1960): 807–30.
McKeown, Thomas. The Modern Rise of Population, Vol. 11. London: Edward Arnold, 1976.
Nash, A. E.The Mortality Pattern of the Wiltshire Lords of the Manor, 12421377. Southern History 2 (1980): 31–44.
Paget, Gerald. An Official, Genealogical, and Heraldic Baronage of England. An Account of the Ancient Nobility of This Realm from the Time of the Norman Conquest Till the Close of the Fifteenth Century, 1957. Available at
Peller, Sigismund. “Births and Deaths Among Europe's Ruling Families Since 1500.Population in History (1965): 87100.
Pinker, Steven, The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes, Penguin UK, 2011.
Poos, Lawrence R., Jim, Oeppen and Richard, Smith. “Re-Assessing Josiah Russell's Measurement of Late Medieval Mortality Using the Inquisitions Post Mortem.In The Fifteenth-Century Inquisitions Post Mortem: A Companion, edited by Hicks, Michael, 155168. Suffolk, UK: The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2012.
Raoult, Didier, Gérard, Aboudharam, Eric, Crubézy, et al. “Molecular Identification by ‘Suicide PCR’ of Yersinia Pestis as the Agent of Medieval Black Death.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 97, no. 23 (2000): 12800–803.
Schoenberg, Larry. “Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts,”, June 2015. Accessed 11 June 2015.
Schuenemann, Verena J. Kirsten, Bos, Sharon, Dewitte, et al. “Targeted Enrichment of Ancient Pathogens Yielding the pPCP1 Plasmid of Yersinia Pestis from Victims of the Black Death.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, no. 38 (2011): E746–E752.
Schwennicke, Detlev E. Europäische Stammtafeln. Neue Folge: Europäische Stammtafeln Bd.1/1: Die Fränkischen Könige Und Die Könige Und Kaiser Stammesherzoge, Kurfürsten Markgrafen Und Herzoge Des Heiligen Römischen Reiches Deutscher Nation, Vol. 1. Vittorio Klostermann, 2005.
Sebastian, Anton, ed. Dates in Medicine: A Chronological Record of Medical Progress over Three Millennia. New York: The Parthenon Publishing Group, 2000.
Smith, Richard M.Measuring Adult Mortality in an Age of Plague: England, 13491540.In Town and Countryside in the Age of the Black Death: Essays In Honour of John Hatcher, edited by Mark, Bailey and Stephen, Rigby, 4385. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2012.
Smith, Richard M., and Jim, Oeppen. “Place and Status as Determinants of Infant Mortality In England C. 1550–1837.In Infant Mortality: A Continuing Social Problem, edited by Eilidh, Garrett, Chris, Galley, Nicola, Shelton, and Robert, Woods, 53–78. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.
Smith, Richard M. The Holy Bible King James Version, Online Version, 2014.
Vitalis, Ordericus. The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy London. London: H.G. Bohn, 1856. Available at
Voigtländer, Nico, and Hans-Joachim, Voth. “How the West ‘Invented’ Fertility Restriction.American Economic Review 103, no. 6 (2013): 2227–64.
Wrigley, Edward A., and Roger, S. Schofield. The Population History of England 1541–1871. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
Wrigley, Edward A., Ros, S. Davies, James, E. Oeppen, et al. English Population History from Family Reconstitution, 1580–1837. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Economic History
  • ISSN: 0022-0507
  • EISSN: 1471-6372
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-economic-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Cummins supplementary material

 PDF (784 KB)
784 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed