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Bills of Mortality, London, 1665

© 2021 Royal Pharmaceutical Society


‘London’s Dreadful Visitation Or, A Collection of All the Bills of Mortality for this Present Year; Beginning the 27th of December 1664, and ending the 19th of December following…’ So proclaims this paper bill of mortality produced during the Great Plague of 1665-1666.
The bill is decorated around the border with images of death, including skeletons, skull and cross-bones, and shovels. The imposing skull at the top of the sheet is crowned with a winged hour-glass and wrapped in a banner stating ‘Memento Mori’. This is a Latin phrase which translates as “Remember your mortality”, “Remember you must die” or “Remember you will die”.


The Great Plague of London, lasting from 1665-1666, was the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague or Black Death to occur in the Kingdom of England (modern day England and Wales). During the great outbreak, special bills of mortality were issued that listed causes of death. The increasing numbers of deaths were reported on handbills that were stuck up in public places to warn people that the plague was spreading. The Great Plague killed an estimated 100,000 people, which was about 20% of London’s population.