Cohabitation and Non-Marital Births in England and Wales, by R. Probert

By R. Probert

At the present time, cohabiting relationships account for many births outdoors marriage. yet what was once the placement in prior centuries? Bringing jointly prime historians, demographers and legal professionals, this interdisciplinary assortment attracts on quite a lot of resources to ascertain the altering context of non-marital child-bearing in England and Wales because 1600.

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No doubt they included a share of the infants who were found, alive or dead, stillborn or otherwise, in the fields and ditches fringing Clerkenwell and St Andrew Holborn; while some of the unmarried mothers described by the parish clerk of St Botolph Aldgate as ‘strumpet’ or, more especially, ‘common strumpet’ may well have been involved in the sex trade. But how far this dimension of metropolitan bastardy is properly represented in parish records, or even in the pages of Bridewell and church court registers, is anyone’s guess.

67 One in three claimed the status of yeoman, probably denoting householders of reasonable substance. The remaining 45 per cent were a wide range of craftsmen and tradesmen; of these, only tailors stood out as being slightly more numerous than the rest. These findings may be compared with the labels that the parish clerk of St Botolph Aldgate attached to the fathers of the 50 or so bastard children baptized in that parish in the period 1615–24. 68 Whether in Westminster or St Botolph’s, the moral status or reputation of the begetters of bastards no doubt varied.

The remaining 45 per cent were a wide range of craftsmen and tradesmen; of these, only tailors stood out as being slightly more numerous than the rest. These findings may be compared with the labels that the parish clerk of St Botolph Aldgate attached to the fathers of the 50 or so bastard children baptized in that parish in the period 1615–24. 68 Whether in Westminster or St Botolph’s, the moral status or reputation of the begetters of bastards no doubt varied. The Aldgate parish clerk took a dim view of some of the characters he described.

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