Early academic histories of non-marital motherhood often focused on the minority of mothers who had several illegitimate children. Peter Laslett coined the phrase ‘the bastardy prone sub-society’ to describe them. More recent qualitative research has questioned the gendered perspectives underlying this label, and emphasised the complex, highly personal processes behind illegitimacy. By locating the social experience of illegitimacy, particularly multiple illegitimacy, within a broader genealogical and parochial context, this study tries to set the behaviour of particular individuals within a ‘community’ context in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It places illegitimacy alongside pre-nuptial pregnancy within the sample parish, but also focuses on the majority of illegitimate births that fell under the administration of the parish and became ‘bastardy’ cases. It examines the parish’s administrative responses, particularly its vigour in identifying and recovering money from putative fathers, and discusses the social circumstances of these fathers and mothers. It then goes on to reconstruct the inter-generational genealogy of a dense family network that linked several mothers and fathers of multiple illegitimate children. It highlights some significant and recurrent disparities of age and status within these family concentrations which lay beyond the limits of the courtship-centred model of illegitimacy.
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