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Bastards

Matthew Gerber

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199755370
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932603 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199755370.001.0001
Bastards

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Commonly stigmatized as “bastards” in early modern France, children born out of wedlock were said to have neither kin nor kind, neither family nor nation. In practice, however, many natural parents voluntarily recognized their extramarital offspring and raised them within their households. Because early modern France lacked a uniform code of civil law, the rights and legal disabilities of these children were matters of perennial litigation and debate. The stigmatization of extramarital offspring intensified in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as the sovereign courts curbed the rights that such children had traditionally enjoyed. This bolstered the collective power of the elite lineages at the expense of individual passions. These families were the primary architects and beneficiaries of the development of absolute monarchy in France. However, in the eighteenth century, the growing problem of child abandonment prompted many jurists to reconsider whether the stigmatization of extramarital offspring was truly in the interest of the public and the state. At the same time, natural parents continued to exploit persistent variations in French law to provide favors and advantages to their extramarital offspring. Even as French legal culture increasingly shifted from an adjudicatory toward a more legislative model amid the deepening crisis of the Bourbon monarchy, children born out of wedlock were increasingly destigmatized as “natural children.”

Keywords: bastard; foundling; natural child; law; state building; monarchy; litigation; stigma

Book.  288 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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