The Economic History Review

Evaluating early modern lockdowns: Household quarantine in Bristol, 1565–1604

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Authors: Charles Udale
Published online: July 14, 2022DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13176

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We know the policy of quarantining plague victims and their families together within their households entailed considerable costs and controversy in early modern Europe. Less clear is the extent to which the authorities implemented the policy in the face of this. This paper presents a novel approach to the measurement of enforcement which relies on linking deceased individuals listed in parish registers into household groups and then measuring changes in within-household mortality between parishes and epidemics. This provides a more complete assessment of the scale of implementation than would be possible using documentary sources alone. Measuring within-household mortality allows us to understand patterns of quarantine enforcement in settlements across early modern Europe. Here the focus is restricted to three epidemics that occurred in Bristol – one of England’s most populous and prosperous cities. The analysis reveals household quarantine was enforced in 1603–4 with unprecedented vigour. The effects of quarantine are particularly pronounced in the affluent parishes where elite residence was highest. Greater evidence for enforcement is explained by greater elite oversight and control, as well as their desire to protect their own households. The scale of the impact is shocking. Household quarantine could double within household mortality.