bastards-msg - 4/13/08
Period views on children of unmarried women.
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.
This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
Date: Sat, 24 Apr 1999 07:33:33 EDT
From: <Seton1355 at aol.com>
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Bastards in the Middle Ages
I got this from a friend who works at a Dutch university. Some of you may
find it interesting. I will ask her the name of the book.
For those of you who are interested:
This is a summary of a very interesting book that I just read. Excuse me
for the translation. It is a hell of a job to make look like acceptable
BASTARDS IN THE BURGUNDIC NETHERLANDS
Bastards always have been endangered species in our western society.
During the ages they were the subject of juridical and social
discrimination, from and rejection and mockery. Our enlightened and
tolerant society is convinced of the fact that the discrimination of
bastards in general is not tolerable any longer and that we behave now in a
decent way towards them. A view in the history learns that we have to be
very modest in this opinion. Because in the Middle Ages bastards were often
treated with the utmost tolerance.
Bishop David of Burgundy from Utrecht (a town in the middle of the
Netherlands) was a bastard son of Duke Fillips De Goede (Fillips The Good).
An historical study puts the position of the bastards in a surprisingly new
light. Myriam Carlier from the University of Gent (Belgium) investigated
the position of the illegal children in family and society during the 15th
century in the period that is now known as the Burgundic Netherlands
The attitude towards illegal children had everything to do with the
opinions about sexuality, love and affection. And these feelings have
always been related to time, place and social class. This goes also for
today: you just have to take in mind the contrast between the
conservative-inspired fuss about the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and the
laughing-laconic reaction "so what?" when the French found out that
President Mitterand had an illegal daughter. In the Middle Ages this
attitude was not different, in spite of the moral of the Catholic Church.
Birthcontrol and family planning were hardly possible in those days, and the
numerous sexual relations caused a lot of children, especially
extra-marital. Amorous liaisons were considered as normal for nobles, and
also the catholic clergy, who were supposed to live in celibate, did not
care about the rules and regulations from Rome. Tolerance was very high in
the ranks of the political and economical elite's. Decisive norm was the
question to what social class the person belonged and if the marriages were
not jeopardized by the liaison. One has to realize that the marriage was
the only guarantee for the protection of the family patrimonium, for the
passing of noble titles, important offices and of course the heritages.
Men were very free during and before the marriage. They were able to have a
lot of sexual relations, as long as they did not jeopardize the marriage and
the family capital. Women did not have this freedom.
These double moral had varying levels of tolerance: although during the
Middle Ages marriage and the position of children belonged to the statute
of the ecclesiastical laws, there was an enormous gap between the juridical
theories and the social practice of daily life. Of course it was not
possible to prove a man's fatherhood, but even in these days the courts
could oblige a man to pay alimentation and even appoint him as being the
legal father. This often happened when it was common knowledge that the man
had a sexual relation with the mother.
For the illegal children of nobles, important politicians and people in
high social ranks it was relatively easy to be juridical legitimated by the
Burgundic Dukes. This legislation reduced the main part of the juridical
discrimination and even stopped it. In that way it was made possible that
the bastards were incorporated in the solidarity of the family and got
their place in the politic and social networks that were so very important
during the Middle Ages. The integration of bastards in the family-network
mostly happened by employment, the bastards got jobs like estate agent,
clerk, lady-in waiting or an important servant at the (royal) household.=20
In those days the mortality for children was very high and often there were
not enough legal children for succeeding in all kind of offices and
positions. Therefore the bastards were needed to secure the continuity of
Myriam Carlier states in her book that the Burgundic Netherlands offered a
lot of possibilities for integration in the family and society and it was
even not unusual to make social promotion. In the culture of the Burgundic
courts having lot of bastards was concerned as normal and acceptable. It is
known from Duke Philips the Good that he had 26 illegal sons and daughters.
A lot of these bastardsons made carrier, not in the least in the clerical
hierarchy. In noble families it was a habit to send the bastards to a
convent and with support and intercession of the family they could reach
the office of abbot or even bishop. A typical example was - like said
before - Bishop David van Bourgondi=EB (David of Burgundy) from the diocese
of Utrecht. He died in 1496 and was one of the many bastardsons of Philips
In general the climate for bastards was very liberal during the time of the
Burgundic Netherlands. The majority of the clergy was completely
indifferent for the moral of the Roman Catholic Church. This was the reason
why at the end of the 15th century there was more and more critic at the
behavior of the clergy and the nobles. The results of the entire critic
were eventually the Reformation of the 16th century
Yet not everything was rosy for the bastards, some nuance is necessary.
The position of the bastards who could not prove their descent, or who were
not recognized, was far from enviable. By saying that somebody who had died
was in fact a bastard, the servants of the court of the Duke could
confiscate all the positions of the assumed bastard. And because of the
lack of reliable registers of birth, deaths and marriages and modern
communication it was almost impossible to prove that your deceased father
who came from the Northern part of France was no bastard.
So the bastards often lived in unsteadiness about their desent, their
heritage and their juridical position. They were dependent from the
goodwill of their father and the servants of the court. When the bastards
could not integrate in a family-network, they had to live as individuals
and that meant they were lost in the medieval society. Tolerance was high
but there were also plenty of opportunities for the birth fathers to deny
the existence of the bastards. During the dark Middle Ages life for illegal
bastards could be a disaster.
Date: Sat, 24 Apr 1999 13:11:16 EDT
From: <DUCORBEAU at aol.com>
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Bastards in the Middle Ages
There is also a book out (have to go hunting for the title) on Royal Bastards
of England. Also notably different from English law, Welsh law provided for
bastards to inherit in the same manner as legitimate children.
Date: Sun, 25 Apr 1999 04:28:58 -0400
From: Melanie Wilson <MelanieWilson at compuserve.com>
To: "INTERNET:sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu" <sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu>
Subject: Bastards in the Middle Ages
Once again we seem to be stuck in the trap of the only people who existed
in the middle ages were rich people and nobility, as many many, peasants
NEVER got married in the first place (at least not in Church, only by
declaration) may children by definition were bastards.
Agreed many noble bastards who were recognised did very well, thank you,
Perhaps the ones who didn't simply weren't the fathers children? Or were
not out of a relationship where they were recognised, ie a roll in the hay
versus and loving caring relationship.
For Early noble bastards-Look at the bastard children of Harold Godwinson,
all were brought up as Earls children & one daughter at least married into
Royalty. William the Bastard hardly did badly for himself and was brought up
at his fathers son. Both these examples were of well recognised
relationships which were 'marriages' of a type, just not church marriges,
many scholars now think for that time you often left the church marriage
for the greatest political gain.
Women were not offered such freedom? Well again in a political marriage
obviously not as the fatherhood needs to be firm in a society where male
line inherits, if the woman puts it about the child could be anyones.
However I believe there are women who had lovers after the line was secure,
& perhaps at othertimes they just didn't make it into any records (they
Genetic test done randomly on babies and parents in hospitals (now) show
high, non relation to declared father figures. Man, as a species, is not
monogamous, as a great Ape he falls between chimps (very promiscuous) and
Mountain gorillas (many wives-one male). Interstingly this is demonstrated
by cetain body traits, but that is another story :)
Wales, well they are pretty different there from the earlier push back,
Just some thoughts!
Date: Mon, 26 Apr 1999 09:17:11 -0400
From: "Bere Patterson" <crtnet6 at doc.state.nc.us>
To: <sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu>
Subject: Re: Bastards in the Middle Ages
I would also like to point out that bastard daughters of prominent
figures were frequently married off to nobility about one station down.
The future husband got a tie to a higher ranked family, the daughter got
to remain in the nobility class and be protected. The father washed his
hand of another daughter and got a new Allie <theoretically, win, win,
win for everyone.... theoretically as are all matters of interpersonal
This was of course, as you stated, all a matter of whether the daughter
was recognized by her father and was much more likely to be an issue
from a liaison of the nobility with another member of the nobility, vs a
romp with one of the servants.
From: clevin at ripco.com (Craig Levin)
Subject: Re: Period contraception
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 2004 20:32:44 +0000 (UTC)
Margaret Northwode <margaret at easaraighEXPUNGE.org> wrote:
>Without forgetting that the nurse's own state of birth as well, and
>that's since _The Republic_ was written. In period Christendom the
>general belief was that bastards lacked fundamental mores that are
>either very evident (and sometimes manifested as physical deformities),
>or kept covert, to reappear when most devastating to good, upright,
>virtuous, married Christians and their offspring.
>Functional belief might have been different (hey, I know Pierre over
>there, and he's a bastard, and he saved me from falling off the bridge
>in the middle of nowhere when he could've pushed me over), but the
>propaganda was pretty explicit. It's also the reason I don't have a lot
>of patience with reading The Republic, or, say, Francis Bacon. They
>annoy me more than they edify me, I find.
It's definitely a YMMV thing, in much of our era. Bastardy was
apparently so common a problem in the Iberian Peninsula in the
Renaissance that the bishops' chanceries that they developed
blank forms for legitimization proceedings. This may be linked to
the custom of barraganeria, that is, clergymen shacking up. The
Christian Iberian principalities were always looking for men for
war and for settling the newly conquered territory, so population
growth was a good thing.
Also, on a more universal level, the aristocracy seems to have
had less of a hassle with the acceptance of bastards. Despite
grumblings from authors on nobiliary law and their ilk, bastards
fought in tournaments, had estates willed to them from their
fathers, and did all the other things that their legitimate half-
siblings did, including bear arms, suitably differenced. For more
on that, see Fox-Davies or one of the other intro. treatises on
clevin at ripco.com
Craig Levin Librarians Rule: Oook!