1600s Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (Dutch artist, 1621-1674) Children in a Park garden with animals & fountains
A 2014 posting on History Extra featured the research of Steven Gunn of Merton College, Oxford & Tomasz Gromelski of Wolfson College, Oxford studying 9,000 coroner’s inquest reports from the 16C for a project on accidental death & everyday life in 16th-century England. Often children died at play outside in the summer with toys & games & pets. Of the 1,031 deaths registered between 1551 & 1560, at least 170 were children. Using their research, we can take a glimpse at some of the pets & toys these children played with during the 16-17C.
Alonso Sanchez Coello (c. 1532-1588) Portrait of Don Diego, Son of Philip II of Spain with his hobby horse & spear
Seven-year-old George Lord Dacre died on 17 May 1569. It has long been known that George met his death in an unusual way, “slain casually at Thetford by the fall of a vaulting Hors upon him,” as the contemporary biography of his brother-in-law, Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, put it.
1609 Circle of Jan Claesz (Enkhuizen painter, b 1570- a 1618) A boy with his horse & dog
The coroner’s inquest report into the boy's death adds remarkable detail. It was about 2 in the afternoon when George, having eaten with other gentlemen & gentlewomen in “a dynyng chamber” in the duke’s house in Thetford, went off by himself for some recreation.
In a gallery in the upper part of the house stood the wooden “vawtynge horse,” 4 & a half feet high, more than 6 feet 3 inches long, & set on 4 wooden feet. It was too high for George to jump onto its back, so he tried to adjust it by extracting “a pynne of iron” supporting one of the back legs. The horse collapsed on top of him, crushing his head & killing him instantly.
1600s Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp (Dutch artist, 1594-1650) Child with Goat
Christiana Jelyan age 3 of Wrangle in Lincolnshire was engaged in the classic toddler’s pastime of “making out of mud...called cakes” when she fell backwards into a ditch. Girls, & sometimes boys, drowned picking flowers near water. One little girl, said the inquest jurors, was looking at her reflection in the water when she fell. Seven-year-old Jane Nune fell into Loughton Brook in Buckinghamshire while reaching out for a goose feather in the water. Toddlers could come to grief even in vats full of water, brewing vessels, or buckets left out for soaking linen, bran, or salt fish. Catherine Else fell asleep under Marlow Bridge & was swamped by a wave when several boats came through the lock.
1600s Frans Hals (Dutch artist, 1581-1666) A Group of Children with a goat & a sometimes deadly cart
Nicholas Braunche age 9 played with a knife he had picked up from a table. He tripped over the cradle of a younger sibling, fell & stabbed himself in the throat.
1600 Bartolomé González y Serrano, (Spanish artist, 1564-1627) The Infants Don Alfonso Caro and Doaa Ana Margarita with an infant rolling chair
Adults often kept very small children out of harm’s way by strapping them into chairs, but they could injure themselves or even fall into the fire, if the chair toppled over.
Mother with child holding onto 3-wheeled walker Book of Hours France, Angers or Nantes ca. 1440 The Morgan Library & Museum
1627 Cornelis de Vos (Flemish painter, c 1584-1651) Portrait of Susanna de Vos in her infant chair
1600 Maria Apollonia di Savoia in an infant rolling chair or loopstoel
Other children picked dangerous places to play. Joan Middleton & Richard Sone were playing by Chichester’s city wall, when a November gale blew down a 60-foot section & buried them. Robert Alcocke was playing with other children in his father’s smithy when a scythe & a large hammer fell on his head killing him.
1609 Circle of Jan Claesz (Enkhuizen painte, b 1570- a 1618) A boy with his horse & dog
Several boys & girls died playing in carts that tipped up on top of them or ran over them, when they fell off. Children playing on roads were trampled by horses, run over by carts. or squashed between traffic & roadside posts. Older children sometimes died when they fell asleep on the edge of ponds or under hedges in fields traversed by carts. George Nycolson slept by a lime kiln in Newcastle’s Sandgate & was suffocated by smoke.
1630 Frans Hals (1623-1625) Fisher Girl
Watching adults or siblings at work was interesting but dangerous. William Gregorys’ father was repairing a cart in his barn, when one wheel fell off & hit William on the head. William Russhe followed his sister & other children, when they drove some cattle to water, but tripped & fell on a knife.
1646 Portrait of a Child with a Toy Goat by an unknown Dutch artist
Animals were all around & children often played with them. One 2-year-old girl was playing with a 2-month-old foal, when it kicked her in the forehead. A boy even younger followed a gosling into a pond in the back yard of his house & drowned. Exploring near animals could be dangerous for older children too. John Watson age 7 slipped into a barn one morning to see a mare & a colt. The colt kicked him in the side & he died 5 hours later. Robert Cranefold, the same age, got more than he bargained for, when he hit a grey horse with a small twig, while it was tied to a post. The boy died.
1652 Jan Albertsz Rotius (Dutch artist, 1624-1666) Four-Year-Old Boy with Goat
As children grew, they began to be exposed to the hazards of work. Of 61 aged 6 or under who died in accidents in the 1550s, only one was working – herding pigs. Of the 79 aged between 7 & 13, about one in 4 was working, when they met their fate. Girls fetched water or washed linen, boys drove carts, forked hay or herded animals. Perhaps Thomas Hubbard age 10 was too keen to enter the world of grown men’s work. He was sent out to the fields in Brundish, Suffolk with food & drink for the ploughmen. He tried his hand at ploughing but tripped on a stone or clod of earth & accidentally hit a passing colt with the whip with which he was controlling the plough-horse. The horse kicked him in the back of the head & he died 4 hours later. Thomas Cokerell age 9 was driving a cart in the fields of Reymerston, Norfolk under his father’s guidance. Then, rashly & without consulting his father, as the report put it, he ran & jumped into the cart as it was moving. The startled horses bolted, turning the cart over & he was hit on the head.
1655 Anthonie Palamedesz. (Stevaerts, Stevens) (Dutch artist, 1601-1673) Boy and Goat
Watching adults play was dangerous too. In 1552, spectators aged 8 & 10 were killed at an archery practice in Louth, Lincolnshire, & at a hammer-throwing contest in Corfe, Dorset. Adolescence brought participation, but that was no safer. John Tyler & Thomas Wylson, aged 15 & 16, died playing football, one falling heavily after tripping on a mole hill, the other accidentally stabbed in the thigh by the knife in the belt of a player he tackled.