Bastards: Politics, Family, and Law in Early Modern France by Matthew GerberBastards: Politics, Family, and Law in Early Modern France by Matthew Gerber

Bastards: Politics, Family, and Law in Early Modern France

byMatthew Gerber

Hardcover | January 12, 2012

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Children born out of wedlock were commonly stigmatized as "bastards" in early modern France. Deprived of inheritance, they were said to have neither kin nor kind, neither family nor nation. Why was this the case? Gentler alternatives to "bastard" existed in early modern French discourse,and many natural parents voluntarily recognized and cared for their extramarital offspring. Drawing upon a wide array of archival and published sources, Matthew Gerber has reconstructed numerous disputes over the rights and disabilities of children born out of wedlock in order to illuminate the changing legal condition and practical treatment of extramarital offspring over a period of twoand half centuries. Gerber's study reveals that the exclusion of children born out of wedlock from the family was perpetually debated. In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France, royal law courts intensified their stigmatization of extramarital offspring even as they usurped jurisdiction overmarriage from ecclesiastic courts. Mindful of preserving elite lineages and dynastic succession of power, reform-minded jurists sought to exclude illegitimate children more thoroughly from the household. Adopting a strict moral tone, they referred to illegitimate children as "bastards" in an attemptto underscore their supposed degeneracy. Hostility toward extramarital offspring culminated in 1697 with the levying of a tax on illegitimate offspring. Contempt was never unanimous, however, and in the absence of a unified body of French law, law courts became vital sites for a highly contestedcultural construction of family. Lawyers pleading on behalf of extramarital offspring typically referred to them as "natural children." French magistrates grew more receptive to this sympathetic discourse in the eighteenth century, partly in response to soaring rates of child abandonment. As costs of "foundling" care increasinglystrained the resources of local communities and the state, some French elites began to publicly advocate a destigmatization of extramarital offspring while valorizing foundlings as "children of the state." By the time the Code Civil (1804) finally established a uniform body of French family law, theconcept of bastardy had become largely archaic.With a cast of characters ranging from royal bastards to foundlings, Bastards explores the relationship between social and political change in the early modern era, offering new insight into the changing nature of early modern French law and its evolving contribution to the historical constructionof both the family and the state.
Matthew Gerber is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Title:Bastards: Politics, Family, and Law in Early Modern FranceFormat:HardcoverDimensions:288 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 0.98 inPublished:January 12, 2012Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019975537X

ISBN - 13:9780199755370


Table of Contents

PrefaceA Note on the TextIntroduction: Illegitimacy and the Political History of the FamilyPart I: Stigmatizing the Bastard1. Bastardy in Sixteenth-Century French Legal Doctrine and Practice2. Jurisprudential Reform of Illegitimacy in Seventeenth-Century France3. Royal Bastardy and Dynastic CrisisPart II: Destigmatizing the Natural Child4. State Expansion, Social Practice, and the Quandaries of Legal Unification5. Redefining Social Interest: The Eighteenth-Century Foundling Crisis6. Illegitimacy and Legal Change in the French EnlightenmentConclusionAppendixNotesBibliographyIndex