Chapter

Illegitimacy and Legal Change in the French Enlightenment

Matthew Gerber

in Bastards

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199755370
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932603 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199755370.003.0006
Illegitimacy and Legal Change in the French Enlightenment

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In the eighteenth century, the jurisprudence of the sovereign courts trended in a direction that was more sympathetic toward extramarital offspring, at least toward those not born of adultery. While affirming the capacity of royal letters-patent of legitimation to convey inheritance rights, the courts also tended to uphold substantial gifts and legacies made to children born out of wedlock by their natural parents. These developments were due less to the egalitarian impulses of modern natural law theory than to growing pragmatic concern over child abandonment. By the eve of the French Revolution, when the Royal Academy of Metz asked its correspondents to consider “the means for better preserving bastards and making them more useful to the state without compromising public morals,” French jurists and academics had generally come to conclude that the true interest of the public and the state rested in the destigmatization of extramarital offspring as “natural children.”

Keywords: modern natural law; enlightenment; Royal Academy of Metz; academic competition; legitimation by royal rescript; gifts; legacies

Chapter.  14814 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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