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The Legitimacy of Bastards (Hardback)

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
ISBN: 9781526716552
Published: 25th April 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.

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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