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Facing illegitimate motherhood in eighteenth-century Antwerp: how changing contexts influenced the experiences of single mothers

  • Griet Vermeesch (a1)

Abstract

This article assesses the wide range of experiences of illegitimacy in eighteenth-century Antwerp. It exposes many instances of pauper agency, yet also cautions against simply assuming that all single mothers were similarly forceful in their dealings with illegitimacy. Four key factors affected the options a single mother had at her disposal in dealing with illegitimate pregnancy: the way poor relief was organised, the relative accessibility of judicial processes, the administrative settings, and the prevailing ideas about illegitimacy and morality among the general community. The article shows how these factors changed in the final quarter of the eighteenth century, impacting on the strategies that single mothers could adopt.

L'auteur évalue un large éventail d'expériences vécues à Anvers, face à l'illégitimité, au XVIIIe siècle. De nombreux exemples d'actions venant des pauvres sont présentés, mais il faut se garder de supposer que les mères célibataires auraient toutes la même capacité d’énergie à affronter l'illégitimité. Quatre facteurs clés modifiaient les options dont une mère célibataire disposait pour faire face à une grossesse illégitime: la manière dont les aides aux pauvres étaient organisées, l'accessibilité relative des procédures judiciaires, le cadre administratif et les idées qui dominaient concernant l'illégitimité et la moralité au sein de la communauté. Il est montré comment ces facteurs se sont modifiés au cours du dernier quart du XVIIIe siècle, influençant les stratégies que pouvaient adopter les mères célibataires.

Dieser Beitrag untersucht die große Bandbreite in der Erfahrung mit Unehelichkeit in Antwerpen im 18. Jahrhundert. Er beleuchtet viele Formen der Handlungsmacht armer Leute, mahnt aber zugleich zur Vorsicht – wir dürfen nicht einfach annehmen, alle alleinstehenden Mütter seien im Umgang mit Unehelichkeit gleichermaßen energisch gewesen. Die Optionen, über die eine alleinstehende Mutter im Umgang mit einer unehelichen Schwangerschaft verfügte, waren durch vier Faktoren beeinflusst: der Organisationsform der Armenpflege, den jeweiligen Zugang zu gerichtlichen Verfahren, den administrativen Rahmenbedingungen und den vorherrschenden Auffassungen über Unehelichkeit und die allgemeinen Moralvorstellungen in der Gesellschaft. Der Beitrag zeigt, wie sich diese Faktoren im letzten Viertel des 18. Jahrhunderts veränderten und welchen Einfluss dies auf die Strategien hatte, die alleinstehende Mütter verfolgen konnten.

Copyright

Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email: Griet.Vermeesch@vub.be

References

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Notes

1 Unless otherwise mentioned, archival sources referred to in the notes are preserved in the OCMW archives (local poor relief administration) in the Antwerp city archives. 1781#128, Stukken betreffende rechtszaken en casus positiën.

2 860#7349, Besteedboek weeskinderen, verlaten kinderen en vondelingen, 1728–1767 (Boek CBD), fos. 74, 441, 448; 860#7359, Kamer van de Huisarmen, Bejaarden, 1779–1792, fo. 24.

3 1781#128, Aalmoezeniers, stukken, casefile De Laet–Clement.

4 As has, for instance, been claimed for England, by Hindle, Steve, The state and social change in early modern England, 1550–1640 (Basingstoke, 2002), 8990.

5 Hayhoe, Jeremy, ‘Illegitimacy, inter-generational conflict and legal practice in eighteenth-century northern Burgundy’, Journal of Social History 38, 3 (2005), 673–84.

6 Walker, Garthine, Crime, gender and social order in early modern England (Cambridge, 2003), 227–37.

7 Evans, Tanya, Unfortunate objects: lone mothers in eighteenth-century London (Basingstoke, 2005), 15.

8 Kamp, Jeannette and Schmidt, Ariadne, ‘Getting justice: a comparative perspective on illegitimacy and the use of justice in Holland and Germany, 1600–1800’, Journal of Social History 51, 4 (2018), 672–92.

9 Lottin, A., ‘Naissances illégitimes et filles-mères à Lille au XVIIIe siècle’, Revue d'Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine 17, 2 (1970), 278322.

10 Tilly, Louise A., Scott, Joan W. and Cohen, Miriam, ‘Women's work and European fertility patterns’, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 6, 3 (1976), 447–76; Fairchilds, Cissie, ‘Female sexual attitudes and the rise of illegitimacy: a case study’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 8, 4 (1978), 627–68.

11 Fuchs, Rachel G. and Moch, Leslie Page, ‘Pregnant, single and far from home: migrant women in nineteenth-century Paris’, American Historical Review 95, 4 (1990), 1007–31.

12 On pauper agency: Hitchcock, Tim, King, Peter and Sharpe, Pamela, Chronicling poverty: the voices and strategies of the English poor, 1640–1840 (London and New York, 1997).

13 Verstrepen, Christian, Parochieregisters van Niel O.-L.-Vrouw, 1609–1797 (Rumst, 1999), 82.

14 860#7349, Besteedboek, fo. 441.

15 Lis, Catharina, Social change and the labouring poor: Antwerp, 1770–1860 (New Haven and London, 1986), 144.

16 860#7325-7, Proces-verbaelboeken onwettige kinderen (blauw boek). Similar registers were kept for the births of legitimate pauper babies.

17 Kertzer, David I., ‘Gender ideology and infant abandonment in nineteenth-century Italy’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 22, 1 (1991), 125, here 13.

18 Bonenfant, Paul, Le problème du pauperisme en Belgique à la fin de l'ancien régime (Brussels, 1934), 130–1.

19 GA#4514, Regulations on medical professions, eighteenth century.

20 860#7559, Memorie voor de siecke grootgaende vrouwen, 1719; Bonenfant, Le problème, 183.

21 Baptismal registers of the parishes Sint-Andries, Sint Jacob, Sint Joris, OLV North and South, Sint Walburgis, for the year 1787, to be consulted at www.felixarchief.be [accessed 10 December 2018].

22 860#7319, Procesverbaalboeken wettige kinderen, fo. 1.

23 860#1773, 25 May 1742, 25 June 1742.

24 860#7325, 14 March 1732, 21 April 1732.

25 See, for instance, 860#7325, 27 July 1737.

26 Privilegekamer (hereafter Pk) 926, 26 August 1777, art. 9.

27 Winter, Anne, Migrants and urban change: newcomers to Antwerp, 1760–1860 (London, 2009).

28 Lottin, ‘Naissances illégitimes’, 310; Depauw, ‘Illicit sexual activity’, 165; Haks, Donald, Huwelijk en gezin in Holland in de 17de en 18de eeuw (Utrecht 1985), 76–7; Winter, Migrants.

29 Or 121 of the 190 fathers until 1780, after which the Masters of the Poor stopped registering information on fathers, see below.

30 See, for instance, 860#7325, 22 December 1740, 21 March 1743, 23 March 1743, 18 May 1748.

31 860#7325, 19 October 1743.

32 860#7325, 1 June 1737.

33 Calculations based on 860#7349, Besteedboek weeskinderen, verlaten kinderen en vondelingen, 1728–1767.

34 860#7325, 11 August 1758; 860#4618, Proces verbaelboek betreffende uitbestede kinderen, 12 September 1758.

35 860#4618, 12 August 1757.

36 860#7325, 3 November 1725.

37 860#7326, 12 July 1760, added note dated 7 October 1762.

38 860#7325, 5 April 1733.

39 860#1773, 19 March 1731.

40 860#7325, 16 December 1743; 860#5911, Dobbelten Sint-Joris, K43, K73 and K75; 860#5916, ibid.; 860#5921, ibid.

41 Thomas Nutt, ‘Illegitimacy, paternal financial responsibility, and the 1834 Poor Law Commission Report: the myth of the old poor law and the myth of the new’, Economic History Review 63, 2 (2010), 335–61.

42 Hardwick, Julie, ‘Policing paternity: historicizing masculinity and sexuality in early-modern France’, European Review of History 22, 4 (2015), 643–57.

43 Hayhoe, ‘Illegitimacy, inter-generational conflict’, 675.

44 See, for example, 860#7325, 7 April 1733, 28 June 1733, 18 June 1742; 860#7326, 23 June 1774.

45 860#7326, 23 June 1774.

46 860#7325, 9 September 1750.

47 860#7326, 25 April 1772.

48 860#4618, 2 August 1754.

49 860#7326, 20 January 1774.

50 Lis, Social change, 145.

51 860#7326, 3 July 1776; 860#7353, fo. 266.

52 See, for instance, 860#7325, 21 November 1742; Episcopal Archives Antwerp (hereafter EAA), Antwerp church court, inv. no. 76, petition 1748, fos. 267–7.

53 See, for instance, 860#7326, 18 January 1759 and 30 September 1762.

54 860# 7325, 21 November 1742, 860#7326, 25 September 1772.

55 860#7326, 27 April 1766.

56 Lis, Social change, 146. See also Berlanstein, Lenard R., ‘Illegitimacy, concubinage, and proletarianization in a French town, 1760–1914’, Journal of Family History 5, 4 (1980), 360–74; Gillis, John R., ‘Peasant, plebeian, and proletarian marriage in Britain, 1600–1900’, in Levine, David ed., Proletarianization and family history (Orlando et al., 1984), 129–62.

57 Haks, Huwelijk en gezin, 70–104, here 87; Vermeesch, Griet, ‘The legal agency of single mothers: lawsuits over illegitimate children and the uses of legal aid to the poor in the Dutch town of Leiden (1750–1810)’, Journal of Social History 50, 1 (2016), 5173, here 61–2.

58 Based on baptismal registers, Sint-Andries parish.

59 Brouwer, Jozef De, De kerkelijke rechtspraak en haar evolutie in de bisdommen Antwerpen, Gent en Mechelen tussen 1570 en 1795, vol. 1 (Tielt, 1971–2), 10.

60 Vermeesch, Griet, ‘Access to justice: legal aid to the poor at civil law courts in the eighteenth-century Low Countries’, Law and History Review 32, 3 (2014), 683714.

61 Vermeesch, ‘The legal agency’, 51–73.

62 See, for instance, 860#7325, 28 August 1755, 2 October 1758; 860#7326, 1 October 1764, 10 October 1764, 26 December 1766, 9 March 1769, 26 March 1769, 22 February 1770, 10 May 1772, 9 August 1772, 12 April 1774.

63 860#4618, 1 July 1757.

64 860#7325, 4 August 1742.

65 860#7325, 29 October 1746.

66 860#4618, 15 September 1751.

67 860#4618, 10 April 1753.

68 Lis, Social change, 144–5; Tilly, Louise A., Fuchs, Rachel G., Kertzer, David I. and Ransel, David L., ‘Child abandonment in European history: a symposium’, Journal of Family History 17, 1 (1992), 123.

69 860#4618, fo. 304.

70 860#4618, fo. 304.

71 860#4618, fo. 440.

72 Pk 925, 28 August 1725.

73 Pk 925, 31 July 1727; Pk 926, 13 August 1739.

74 Pk 925, 6 December 1700.

75 860#7325, 8 April 1758.

76 Vierschaar#92, Vierschaar, getuigenverhoringen.

77 860#1773, 23 December 1732; 860#7325, 19 December 1732.

78 Bonenfant, Le problème du pauperisme, 131; Blom-Verlinden, , ‘Vondelingen en bestede kinderen te Gent en te Antwerpen, 1750–1815’, Annalen van de Belgische Vereniging voor Hospitaalgeschiedenis 10 (1972), 79129, here 122.

79 860#4618, 4 July 1751.

80 Vierschaar#282, Correctie- en werkhuis, testimony Cosemans of 28 June 1781; 860#4618, 15 September; 860#4618, Besteedboeken, 1 December 1780; 860#7353, fo. 292.

81 Vierschaar#282, Correctie- en werkhuis, testimony Maria Feyers of 30 April 1779.

82 860#7356, Besteedboeken, 24 July 1778, 27 April 1780, 5 May 1780.

83 Bonenfant, Le problème, 132.

84 Vierschaar#283, Correctie- en tuchthuis, 12 December 1783.

85 860#4618, 21 August 1755; 860#7353, fo. 172.

86 860#4618, 20 March 1757; 860#7353, fo. 177.

87 860#7325, 12 February 1742.

88 860#7325, 9 February 1752.

89 860#7326, 2 May 1766.

90 Sint-Andries parish, baptismal register, 5 May 1755; 2 January 1759.

91 Vierschaar#160, fos. 100, 103; Pk 925, 4 September 1710, 23 June 1712, 18 September 1713; Pk 926, 6 November 1732, 2 April 1734, 29 January 1751; Pk 927, 2 September 1773, 25 May 1774, 4 August 1778.

92 Vierschaar#160, fos 100, 103.

93 Vierschaar#163, 182, 186, 188, 204, 207; Pk 927, 25 May 1774.

94 Vierschaar#162, 310, 314.

95 De Brouwer, De kerkelijke rechtspraak, 129.

96 EAA, Antwerp church court, inv. nos. A 73–A 75.

97 Haks, Huwelijk en gezin, 70–104.

98 Ibid., 91.

99 860#7325, 28 August 1755.

100 EAA, Antwerp church court, inv. no. 73A, fos 29, 31, 42.

101 EAA, Antwerp church court, inv. no. 76A, fos 81–4.

102 EAA, Antwerp church court, inv. no. 76A, fos 85–6.

103 ‘Edit de l'Impératrice Reine, concernant les registres de baptêmes, de mariages et de sépultures, 6 August 1778’, in Recueil des Ordonnances des Pays-Bas Autrichiens, 3ième série, tome 9 (Brussels 1905).

104 National Archives Belgium, Privy Council (T460), inv. no. 1296, Registres de baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 1754–1787.

105 Hitchcock, Tim, English sexualities, 1700–1800 (New York, 1997), 2.

106 Clark, Anna, The struggle for the breeches: gender in the making of the British working class (London, 1995), especially ch. 4: ‘Plebeian Sexual Morality, 1780–1820’.

107 Geudens, E., Le compte moral de l'An XIII des Hospices civils d'Anvers (Antwerp, 1898).

108 Bonenfant, Le problème, 433–4.

109 Nutt, ‘Illegitimacy, paternal financial responsibility’.

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