Feb 23 | “Bastards and their Families in Medieval Europe”

Thursday, February 23 at 4:30 PM
ARC, Room 5318

Sara McDougall Professor of History, John Jay College; French and History, CUNY Graduate Center

This talk will address illegitimate children and their families in Medieval Europe, with a focus on the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In principle, birth to anything other than legitimate marriage rendered a child illegitimate and as such unable to inherit from parents or attain high church or secular positions.

Reality seems to have been far more complex. In fact current scholarship reveals very little about illegitimate birth and its consequences, for children and families, and above all the mothers of illegitimate children remain obscure. The scholarship additionally focuses almost exclusively on fathers, largely because the few sources scholars have found are concerned with fathers and what they did or did not do for any children born outside of wedlock. This talk will therefore seek out a new understanding not just of the fate of children deemed illegitimate, but also their mothers. The implications may well challenge many of our preconceptions about the circumstances of women in premodern Europe, particularly their relationship to Christian canon law as well as secular legal traditions in Western Europe.

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