The incidence and nature of illegitimacy in East Yorkshire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

Oliver, Margaret Sheila

August 2014

Thesis or dissertation

© 2014 Margaret Sheila Oliver. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Many historians have studied illegitimacy as a national economic and social problem. Today, in the early years of the 21st century, when many couples enjoy long and stable relationships without the formality of certified marriage, even the word itself is something of an anachronism. Many children are born and brought up in families where the parents never marry but who, nevertheless, support them in exactly the same way as their married counterparts. For these children, happily, social stigma is a thing of the past. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries things were very different and illegitimacy was officially viewed as a great social evil. There is no doubt that single motherhood was thought to have serious implications for the provision of poor relief and was even instrumental in a major change to the law in 1834.

Illegitimacy was a personal phenomenon that had a national impact on economic and social affairs. This work is directed at the nature of illegitimacy and examines its effect on the individuals concerned. It looks at the lives of the mothers, fathers and children who were touched by the incidence of illegitimacy. It draws on a variety of national and parish documents in order to gain an insight into their lives and personal circumstances. It investigates the nature of marriage, illegitimate maternity, the effect of the Poor Law, the mortality penalty of illegitimacy, and the prospects of the future lives of single mothers and their children. It will show that they were not necessarily indolent, immoral or feckless, but were affected by circumstance and often lived long and economically productive existences, and were supported by family relationships regardless of the adversity that illegitimacy brought to their young lives.

Department of History, The University of Hull
Turner, Michael E.; Walker, John
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