ARC Seminar: Sara McDougall: Bastards and their Families in Medieval Europe

FEB 23, 2017 | 4:30 PM TO 6:30 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




February 23, 2017: 4:30 PM-6:30 PM




Advanced Research Collaborative


ARC Seminar: Sara McDougall: Bastards and their Families in Medieval Europe

This paper investigates the mothers of illegitimate children in medieval Europe and their encounters with the law. Men and their illegitimate children have received some scholarly attention, but we know very little about the mothers. Fathers and their legal rights and obligations concerning their illegitimate children are likewise the subject of far more detailed discussion in medieval canon law and secular law codes. Mothers of illegitimate children, meanwhile, particularly married women, and the legal relationships of these mothers to illegitimate children, have received far less attention, both in the contemporary legal and non-legal sources, and also in modern scholarship. My presentation would address the shadowy history of the mothers of bastards in law and in practice, considering both unmarried women who lived as concubines or mistresses to higher status men and also high status women who had children out of wedlock. The presentation will consider the legal relationship of these women to children born to men they had not married and the inheritance rights of these children. The implications may well challenge many of our preconceptions about the circumstances of women in premodern Europe, particularly their relationship to Christian canon law as well as secular legal traditions in Western Europe.

Sara McDougall is Associate Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY) and appointed in French, History, and Medieval Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her first book, Bigamy and Christian Identity in late medieval Champagne (U Penn, 2012) examined the earliest known prosecutions for bigamy in medieval Europe. Her second book, Royal Bastards: The birth of illegitimacy, investigates ideas of illegitimate birth and the early history of the exclusion of those men and women deemed illegitimate from inheritance and from succession. The book will be published by Oxford University Press in December of 2016. She has also published in the Journal of the History of SexualityLaw and History Review, and Gender & History. She is currently co-editing with Sarah Pearsall Marriage's Global Past a special issue of Gender & History forthcoming in 2017, and also, with Clive Emsley, a 6-volume Cultural History of Crime for Bloomsbury Press. She was a Mellon fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 2014-2015.