Prior to 1600, the ancient Germanic tribal custom prevailed. A man was "responsible" for his children until they became a contributing member of the tribe or village (generally age 16). Privacy in small villages was rare, and all your sins were common knowledge. Bearing a child out of wedlock was considered just a fact of life. The term "bastard" wasn't considered a perjorative until around Queen Victoria's time. A man was expected to "step up" and provide for the child, but some men abandoned the mothers or shirked their duty. If a man abandoned his child(ren), the girl's family or the local church would support the child(ren). Sometimes a woman would make an arrangement with the man and keep the details private to protect both of their public character, but records of such arrangements are rare.
Around 1600 England started to formalize the process of providing for bastard and orpahaned children. One reason for baptism records was to record the parents' names, although many bastards have only the mother's name listed.
In 1834, the Poor Law Amendment Act provided that a member of the Board of Guardians could initiate a bastardy hearing at Petty Session courts. These hearings were to determine the rightful father and to impose a weekly charge on him for the infant's support until the child was employable.
In 1844, the Bastardy provisions are altered so that the mother of a bastard child could initiate a bastardy hearing at Petty Session courts. They were also supposed to supply corroborative evidence.
Many of these Petty Session events were reported in the local newspapers. After 1844, the number of cases reported declines. Presumably the women were able to make direct, private negotiations with the father for support. And, an increasing number of cases were turned away by the courts.
One should be aware that in some cases newspaper reports were quite short. "... and three bastardy cases were heard" is not uncommon, while other reports give names and amounts.
Note: An Order of Affiliation is just another term for a Bastardy Order.
Thank you, Anne Cole, for the above.
Last updated on 9-December-2011
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