1. Albirich
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    Albirich Active Member

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    Were bastards common in medieval age?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Albirich, Jun 3, 2015.

    Just how common were they? Like...how often did lords get children out of wedlock? Tried searching a bit, might be my google skills aren't as good as I hoped.
     
  2. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I imagine they were common, and the lords likely either didn't know about their bastard children, or didn't care to mention them/see them as legit part of the family and wealth. Gotta protect that reputation and all.
     
  3. aguywhotypes
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    aguywhotypes Active Member

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    I'm interested in this as well.
     
  4. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    The number of bastards that Henry VIII sired are legend, typically named Fitzroy (son of the king). Most of them ended up with some sort of recognition, albeit NOT including inheriting the title...although, in some people's eyes, Elizabeth I was illegitimate.

    Before that, Harold II (he of Hastings fame) fathered at least 6 children by his common law wife Edith Swanesha. As long as the father recognised them, they were accepted as legitimate, even down to inheriting the title. Two of them, in fact, tried to retake the kingdom from William.

    As an aside, Harold's older brother Sweyn claimed to have been fathered by King Cnut (he of the inability to rule the waves), although his mother denied it so strongly that she called witnesses to disprove it. I can't help feeling that "methinks she doth protest too much...". If Sweyn's claim was true, it shows that even the most powerful Earl in the kingdom was not immune to a right royal cuckolding. It may also explain why Godwin was able to ride so many storms on his way to fathering a king.



    Looked at logically, the droit de seigneur could be viewed as a means of improving the livestock. In the same way that you'd choose the most physically impressive specimen to impregnate your cattle, if you were the biggest, toughest man around, you'd consider that you were doing your peasants a favour by endowing them with someone of your physical power to help out with the hard graft of running the family farm. Plus, the young men from your territory would be bigger and stronger than they otherwise might be, so that you'd have a better levy marching behind you when you set out for war.
     
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  5. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Although there is no evidence that the practise of 'droit de signeur' ever took place, ever. Careful with that one; for comedy - a brilliant device but not rigorous if you were drafting 'straight.'
     
  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    How does being a noble/royalty mean you're the toughest, physically biggest man around? That makes no logical sense. However I can see why such an upper-class citizen might see it as the peasant women's privilege to sleep with someone as reputable and wealthy as he. That would make far more sense to me.

    If anything, ordinary men would likely have been bigger and stronger than a noble/royalty simply by virtue of the fact that they would not have survived to being grown men without very good health in those days and that they would've had hard physical labour, while the rich dwindled their thumbs and ordered servants around.

    Anyway, as to the OP - I think it was common for men to have mistresses back in those days, so I should imagine bastards would be very common actually, esp as contraception obviously wouldn't have been half as effective as it is now! If you're into these kinds of lifestyle details, I suggest you email the relevant lecturer/professor in any reputable university of your choice. They can likely point you to some obscure books and papers written on the subject :)
     
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  7. Nicoel
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    Nicoel Contributing Member

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    My guess is that bastards are quite common, taking into the account the lack of contraception and the portrayal of men in high powers that seems to think their willies are god's gift to women everywhere.
     
  8. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, Mckk, but back in the day, you got to be noble/royalty by being the biggest and toughest. And they took part in active sports to hone those warrior muscles and reflexes. Plus the nobility got the pick of the food; plenty of protein to build those muscles.

    "Good health" to survive to adulthood wasn't true. Peasants survived epidemics by outnumbering them.
     
  9. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    Yes - think about it; marriages among the nobility were often political and arranged by their parents. There was no requirement that the parties to it even liked one another - and knocking boots with nobility was a pretty good way to improve your own social station. As a result, there was a constant queue of potential mistresses for royalty and nobility.

    Also, prostitution was so completely normalised and institutionalised that even the catholic church ran brothels - the assumption being that if unmarried men weren't getting laid by someone on a semi-regular basis, they'd pretty much just be out raping about the town (which, yeah, basically true as far as knights were concerned, since they had absolutely no issues with raping and murdering entire villages if there wasn't a decent war to fight). Combine that with basically no contraception, and bastard children are pretty much a given (assuming the ridiculously high infant mortality rate didn't take care of it).
     
  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You're right that I totally forgot that kings, for example, were expected to lead his soldiers in war etc, so that alone would mean they probably keep relatively fit. Peasants outnumbering the rich is also another good point.

    I'd actually love to see some data on this now!
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, the FIRST in a line of noble/royals got that way by being the biggest and toughest, or by being the smartest, or the luckiest, or the most ruthless or whatever. But if the titles were handed down through the generations, as they usually were, there's no reason to believe successive generations were too impressive.

    And of course from a modern perspective we know that environmental factors (like having adequate food or getting good exercise) wouldn't mean that the nobles had superior genes. But I guess back in the day they might not have known that.
     
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  12. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    I know a bastard living in the medieval age. :D

    [​IMG]
     
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  13. Chewie
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    Chewie Member

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    You also need to think if your Duchy/Kingdom has the first night law. Then there is bound to be a few bastards hanging around from that. Also if there has been a war, scouting parties and even full armies would go through the opposing kingdoms raping as they go.
     
  14. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I thought the royals tended to be inbred, and therefore not the biggest and the toughest etc?
     
  15. Dunning Kruger
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    Dunning Kruger Active Member

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    We're making some big generalizations here. What was true in Germany in 800 was not necessarily true in Venice or England in 1250. As to nobility having their way with peasants, I expect they would have looked upon it the same way as Donald Trump looking at a woman from the rural poor of West Virginia or the ghetto of Watts. You dont have to be a Marxist to recognize that upper classes dont intermix with the lower classes that much, particularly in an era where differences were seen as ordained by god. Not to say it didnt happen but the differences between people were perceived as greater than they are today in many cases. As to contraception, there are many ways to have intimate relations that would not yield children. I expect more than a few lords would have preserved their reputation by using such means. It's worth noting the Church was a lot more powerful particularly during the early middle ages. If your local Bishop happened to be pious, living a non-Christian life probably would have had consequences, if only on the pocket book. And people of the age, generally speaking, typically were much more devout, falibilities and all.

    A couple of books I recall from undergrad that might be worth purusing are "Life in a Medieval City" and "Life in a Medieval Castle". Also, Barbara Tuchman's Distant Mirror was decent. There are a bunch others that might yield perspective and I suspect you can find them on amazon by using the "others who searched for this also searched for..."
     
  16. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I keep seeing this thread and I just need to get this out of my system so that I can continue with other forumly duties:

    I am sure that the ratio of cool guys to bastards was pretty much the same back then as today, if not more in favor of cool guys. I mean, back in the day you could clobber someone who was being a bastard to you and not worry too much about the split hairs and interpretations of jurisprudence. That would keep bastards in check and probably make a situation where guys who were "situational bastards" rather than pathological bastards would have fewer situations to trigger bastardly behavior because, you know... you didn't just have to shut up and be nice about things when someone snarked you. You could give real meaning to the term gobsmacked and you would have less bottled up stress. :whistle::agreed:

    Ok. I'm done now. Carry on. :bigtongue:
     
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  17. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    Or by being born into royalty...
     
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  18. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you're thinking about the Habsburgs, who were VERY inbred (e.g. one of the kings only had three grandparents - grandma had children by both grandfathers - and two of those were dead before he was born. The survivor doubled as his father.)

    However, that was rather the exception. William the Conqueror was, famously, a bastard, and he was notoriously tough. Most of the time the royal houses of Europe married amongst themselves, but there were plenty of royal families at the time, so not so inbred as all that.
    1/ I'm aware that Casanova was reputed to have used a condom fashioned from (I think) pig's intestines, but I'd like to see evidence of contraception being employed earlier than, say 1500. And how would a lord have "preserved his reputation"? Having one's wicked way, and fathering plenty of children, was a surefire way to enhance his reputation.

    2/ The church was not more powerful during the early middle ages, successive popes worked hard to build that power, but they were not instantly or consistently successful. Stigand, Archbishop of York, was excommunicated by Pope Leo IX for simony. Didn't stop him exercising his duties, including officiating at the coronation of William the Conqueror.

    And married priests persisted until the 14th century. How else could the practice of heritable ecclesiastic offices (another evil that the pope struggled to exorcise) have worked?
     
  19. Dunning Kruger
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    Dunning Kruger Active Member

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    I dont want to live up to my nickname but I am not sure I agree with statement #1. As to contraception, oral sex and anal sex are fairly effective at avoiding pregnancy. I've never read or heard anything to suggest these activities weren't prevalent.

    The second part of your first point relates to the 2nd point. You're looking at it from a political point of view. My statement is that god and church were much more involved in people's daily life and on a local level. That doesnt mean people were better - far from it. But that theological views mattered and at least the "perception" of honorable living often mattered. If you want to focus on the late middle ages, say the 15th century, when the Borgia's ran wild you are going to have a wholly different perspective than say Constantinople in 600 or England in 1100. But again, this relates to my initial point that different places and different times had vastly different perspectives and relationships with the Church.
     
  20. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Attempt: Googled "percentage of illegitimate births in medieval times"
    Result: Childhood in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: The Results of a Paradigm ...
    Linked: https://books.google.com/books?id=y4_cJ0sEsx4C&pg=PA303&lpg=PA303&dq=percentage+of+illegitimate+births+in+medieval+times&source=bl&ots=u0zDzTZ28l&sig=x8usvCoddzRt_9U_IKKE-GNpSRI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=u-WKVdX_C4jYoASw-6HoBA&ved=0CDkQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=percentage%20of%20illegitimate%20births%20in%20medieval%20times&f=false


    Apparently the big issue was not the number of bastards born, but the number that survived. It wasn't against the law to kill a bastard infant in England until 1624.

    But to answer your question, between 4.5% and 11% were illegitimate, depending on location and time.
     
  21. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I asked about evidence that contraception WAS practised.

    Not whether there was no evidence that it wasn't.

    As far as the church's power...like I said, married clergy were still prevalent until quite late in the medieval period, and in the early period the popes were still trying to build their power, not always successfully. It certainly wasn't the case that "people were more moral because of a powerful church." In fact, one load of parishioners castrated their priest because he wasn't moral enough for them.
     

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