Maidservants Adrift

Eleanor Hubbard

in City Women

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199609345
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739088 | DOI:
Maidservants Adrift

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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This chapter discusses what became of pregnant maidservants. While maidservants have been described as vulnerable to sexual exploitation, in fact illegitimacy rates were low in London. This chapter stresses the importance of the way the poor law dealt with bastardy: while communities and magistrates were loath to believe women's accusations against men, they were even less willing to support other men's illegitimate children, so the legal paternity of illegitimate children was based on the mother's word. Both men and women had incentives to come to private agreements whereby the father supported the mother for a period around childbirth, and took responsibility for the child. This chapter examines the limits of the protective effect of the poor law for women who did not become pregnant following rape or abuse, who lacked social support, or who feared seeking official redress. It also questions the link between illegitimate pregnancy and entrance into prostitution.

Keywords: pregnancy; bastardy; illegitimate children; Poor Law; double standard; maidservants; prostitution; abortion; infanticide; rape

Chapter.  18162 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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