Deviant Maternity: Illegitimacy in Eighteenth-Century Wales
Muir, Angela Joy
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
As agreed by supervisor, a five-year embargo has been requested to allow the for publication.
This thesis is a study of the prevalence, context, and experience of illegitimacy in Wales during the long eighteenth century, between approximately 1680 and 1800. It explores levels of illegitimacy across the Welsh counties of Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire, and investigates many of the underlying causes of childbirth outside of wedlock throughout eighteenth-century Wales. It is argued that Welsh illegitimacy was influenced by a combination of courtship-led marriage customs, a decline in traditional forms of social control, and worsening economic circumstances. In addition to exploring broader demographic trends, this study also examines the diverse individual identities, relationships and socioeconomic backgrounds of the mothers and fathers of illegitimate children in Wales, and the lived experience of conception, pregnancy and childbirth for unmarried mothers. The sexual encounters which resulted in the birth of an illegitimate child ranged from consensual sex which took place within the context of courtship, to sexual exploitation and rape. It is argued that these broad range of experiences are central to our understanding of illegitimacy. This thesis also examines infant and maternal survival chances, both in terms of overall risk of mortality in the days, weeks, and months after birth, and in terms of the ways in which fatal violence against illegitimate children and their mothers was contextualised in court records. These narratives reveal how the bodies of illegitimate infants and unmarried mothers often represented deviance, and served as the locus of anxieties surrounding unregulated reproduction. Finally, this study also analyses the provision of care for married and unmarried pauper women immediately before, during and after parturition. The skills, reputation, and availability of midwifery services in Wales are also explored. This thesis unites many disparate historical fields, including social and cultural history, historical demography, and the histories of crime, gender, sex, reproduction, and medicine, and analyses evidence from previously unstudied regions of Wales. It demonstrates that illegitimacy in eighteenth-century Wales was a deeply complex phenomenon governed by diverse regionally-specific social, cultural and economic influences.
Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada
'Courtship, Sex and Poverty: Illegitimacy in Eighteenth-Century Wales' Social History, 43 (2018), 56-80
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