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The Legitimacy of Bastards (Paperback)

The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England

British History Medieval History P&S History Social History Colour Books Medieval

By Helen Matthews
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 216
Illustrations: 20
ISBN: 9781526757623
Published: 2nd October 2019


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For the nobility and gentry in later medieval England, land was a source of wealth and status. Their marriages were arranged with this in mind, and it is not surprising that so many of them had mistresses and illegitimate children. John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, married at the age of twenty to a ten-year-old granddaughter of Edward I, had at least eight bastards and a complicated love life.

In theory, bastards were at a considerable disadvantage. Regarded as ‘filius nullius’ or the son of no one, they were unable to inherit real property and barred from the priesthood. In practice, illegitimacy could be less of a stigma in late medieval England than it became between the sixteenth and late twentieth centuries. There were ways of making provision for illegitimate offspring and some bastards did extremely well: in the church; through marriage; as soldiers; a few even succeeding to the family estates.

The Legitimacy of Bastards is the first book to consider the individuals who had illegitimate children, the ways in which they provided for them and attitudes towards both the parents and the bastard children. It also highlights important differences between the views of illegitimacy taken by the Church and by the English law.

Featured in

Clwyd Family History Society

This major work has been handled carefully and with concern for historical accuracy, outlining legal responsibilities and with an overall regard for the machinations of conflict in law.

Cumbria FHS

This is a scholarly work with a very extensive bibliography and a 'Dramtis Personae' enabling the reader to keep track of the individuals who appear in different contexts throughout the book.

Bristol & Avon FHS

Featured in

Glasgow and West Scotland Family History Magazine

This is a well researched tome - the mind boggles at the number of resources consulted, and this reader in particular is glad that the leg-work has already been done. I can see this as a valuable resource in itself for those interested in medieval family and law; but also for those who dabbled in historical fiction, you may also want to add this to your reference shelf, as it will certainly aid in adding a touch of realism and authenticity to some storylines. I still have this book sitting on my desk as I type as I am not quite ready to consign it to the book shelves just yet.

Read the full review here

Melisende's Library

As featured on The Lost Cousins Newsletter

Lost Cousins

It is interesting to note that Helen Matthews studied medieval history at UCL and Royal Holloway when a chance remark in a footnote inspired her to embark on the thesis on medieval bastards, on which "The Legitimacy of Bastards" is based. Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of a one page Glossary, a fifty-nine pag Anex (Dramatis Personae), a five page Bibliography, and a five page Index, "The Legitimacy of Bastards" is certain to be an enduringly appreciated and valued addition to both community and academic library English Medieval History collections and supplemental studies lists.

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Midwest Book Review

This is not a guide for family historians wishing to trace illegitimate ancestors, but rather claims to be the first book ‘to consider the individuals who had illegitimate children, the ways in which they provided for them and attitudes towards both the parents and the bastard children’. Some might be deterred by densely packed, lengthy paragraphs and the complete absence of footnotes/endnotes, precluding the precise identification of cited sources. However, as an academic critique of a subject that has proved fascinating for historians and genealogists alike, this is a worthwhile, if not essential, read.

Alde Valley, Suffolk, Family History Group, June 2019

From the Dark Ages right up to Victorian times, royal bastards and illegitimate children of high ranking Peers of the Realm have shaped many parts of the country’s history. Helen’s book takes a close and fascinating look at these people in a way that will make you think of them in a new light. Superbly entertaining.

Read the full review here

Books Monthly

About Helen Matthews

Helen Matthews studied medieval history at UCL and Royal Holloway. A chance remark in a footnote inspired her to embark on the thesis on medieval bastards, on which this book is based.

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From Windsor to Weymouth, the shadow of scandal was never too far from the walls of the House of Hanover. Did a fearsome duke really commit murder or a royal mistress sell commissions to the highest bidders, and what was the truth behind George III's supposed secret marriage to a pretty Quaker? With everything from illegitimate children to illegal marriages, dead valets, and equerries sneaking about the palace by candlelight, these eyebrow-raising tales from the reign of George III prove that the highest of births is no guarantee of good behaviour. Prepare to meet some shocking ladies, some shameless…

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