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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 November 2019


This article uses a combination of court and Kirk (Church of Scotland) session records, and several sets of letters written by the mothers of illegitimate children to explore how such children were loved and cared for in eighteenth-century Scotland. It argues that legitimacy, as well as class and gender, mattered in the love and care that children received. Illegitimacy also had an impact on who mothered, fracturing the bond between the biological mother and child, for a mothering given by other mothers, including wet-nurses, grandparents and, later, employers. Its conclusion is that how a child was mothered, the love and care they received, were products of a child's positioning – gender, class, legitimacy, parentage – in the world. Love was a social product, framed and shaped by and through the social, economic and legal networks in which the child was positioned. Whilst the legitimate child, both in law and social practice, might have expected its care to be framed primarily through the nuclear family, the bastard child belonged, as the law suggested, to the community, requiring its mothering to be dispersed.

Research Article
Copyright © Royal Historical Society 2019 

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David Berry Prize Winner

I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments and Jean McBain for her research assistance on this project. This research was funded by the Australian Research Council DE140100111.


1 This case study is developed from a series of letters between the children's mothers and other caregivers and George Innes of Stowe, as well as his accounts of their expenditure. They are found at National Records of Scotland (hereafter NRS), Papers of George Innes, c.1742–1762, GD113/4/165/999-1094.

2 The birth of an Elizabeth Graham, the daughter of William Graham and Margaret Savage, was registered in Mid-Calder (five miles from Ratho) in 1715. They also had a son, John, born in 1720. However these are common names so this identification is not confirmed. Twenty-eight was a fairly typical age for a servant to have their first illegitimate child: Reid, Alice, Davies, Ros, Garrett, Eilidh and Blaikie, Andrew, ‘Vulnerability among Illegitimate Children in Nineteenth-Century Scotland’, Annales de Démographie Historique, 1.189 (2006), 89113CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 This appears to be David Fordyce (1711–1751), moral philosopher, and brother of James, the advice book writer.

4 Elizabeth Graham to George Innes, 11 August 1743, NRS, GD113/4/165/1087.

5 Elizabeth Graham to George Innes, 15 August 1743, NRS, GD113/4/165/1086.

6 Note by George Innes re death of George Innes Hamilton, 28 April 1752, NRS, GD113/4/165/1000.

7 Deborah Simonton, ‘Milliners and Marchandes de Modes: Gender, Creativity and Skill in the Workplace’, in Luxury and Gender in the European Town, 1700–1914, ed. Deborah Simonton, Marjo Kaartinen and Anne Montenach (2015), 19–38; Glover, Katherine, Elite Women and Polite Society in Eighteenth-Century Scotland (Woodbridge, 2011)Google Scholar.

8 For example Sir Robert Montgomerie of Skelmorlie to John Todd, his gardener, 25 June 1665, NRS, GD3/5/646; for discussion Barclay, Katie, ‘Emotional Lineages: Blood, Property, Family and Affection in Early Modern Scotland’, in A History of Heritage: Emotions in Blood, Stone and Land, ed. Marchant, Alicia (2019), 8498Google Scholar.

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11 This is a huge literature: Reddy, William, The Making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia, and Japan, 900–1200 CE (Chicago, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of Humanity (1998); Jarzebowski, Claudia, ‘The Meaning of Love: Emotion and Kinship in Sixteenth-Century Incest Discourses’, in Mixed Marriages: Transgressive Unions in Germany from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, ed. Luebke, David and Lindemann, Mary (Oxford, 2014), 166–83Google Scholar; Langhamer, Clare, ‘Love, Selfhood and Authenticity in Post-War Britain’, Cultural and Social History, 9 (2012), 277–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Barclay, Katie, Love, Intimacy and Power: Marriage and Patriarchy in Scotland, 1650–1850 (Manchester, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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20 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage.

21 Margaret Brannan Lewis, Infanticide and Illegitimacy in Early Modern Germany (2016); Kilday, Anne-Marie, A History of Infanticide in Britain, c. 1600 to the Present (Basingstoke, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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27 These records are predominantly found in the NRS, although some sheriff and Kirk session records are held in local archives. Their abbreviations are Justiciary Court – JC; Sheriff Court – SC; Kirk Sessions – CH2. The letters have mainly survived as part of collections associated with elite families, again many in the NRS.

28 For more on Dorothy Salisbury and Alexander Inglis, see Barclay, Katie, ‘Gossip, Intimacy and the Early Modern Scottish Household’, in Fama and Her Sisters: Gossip in Early Modern Europe, ed. Walker, Claire and Kerr, Heather (Turnhout, 2015), 187207CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The Innes family have several sets of illegitimate children associated with them: see Barclay, Katie, ‘Marginal Households and their Emotions: The “Kept Mistress” in Enlightenment Edinburgh’, in Spaces for Feeling: Emotions and Sociabilities in Britain, 1650–1850, ed. Broomhall, Sue (2015), 95111Google Scholar; Barclay, Katie, ‘Illicit Intimacies: The Many Families of Gilbert Innes of Stow (1751–1832)’, Gender & History, 27 (2015), 576–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29 Mitchison, Rosalind and Leneman, Leah, Girls in Trouble: Sexuality and Social Control in Rural Scotland (Edinburgh, 1998), 74–8Google Scholar; Blaikie, Andrew, Illegitimacy, Sex and Society: North-East Scotland, 1750–1900 (Oxford, 1993)Google Scholar.

30 Blaikie, Illegitimacy, Sex and Society; Peter Laslett, ‘Introduction’, in Bastardy and its Comparative History, ed. Peter Laslett, Karla Oosterveen and R. M. Smith (1980), 1–68.

31 Marshall, ‘Illegitimacy in Medieval Scotland’; Gerber, Bastards.

32 Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1638–1842 (Edinburgh, 1843).

33 Michael Neill, ‘“In Everything Illegitimate”: Imagining the Bastard in Renaissance Drama’, The Yearbook of English Studies, 23 (1993), 270–92.

34 Katie Pritchard, ‘Legitimacy, Illegitimacy and Sovereignty in Shakespeare's British Plays’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Manchester, 2011); Gibson, ‘Experiences of Illegitimacy in England’; Katie Barclay, ‘Illegitimacy’, in Early Modern Childhood: An Introduction, ed. Anne French (2020), 217–34; Zunshine, Lisa, Bastards and Foundlings: Illegitimacy in Eighteenth-Century England (Columbus, OH, 2005)Google Scholar. For a discussion of ‘independence’ McCormack, Matthew, The Independent Man: Citizenship and Gender Politics in Georgian England (Manchester, 2012)Google Scholar; and in relation to illegitimate children: Katie Barclay, ‘Family, Mobility and Emotion in Eighteenth-Century Scotland’, in Keeping Family in an Age of Long Distance Trade, Discovery and Settlement, 1450–1850, ed. Heather Dalton (Amsterdam, forthcoming).

35 Symonds, Deborah, Weep Not for Me: Women, Ballads and Infanticide in Early Modern Scotland (University Park, PA, 1997)Google Scholar; Baloutzova, Svetla, ‘When a Lass Goes “So Round”, with Her “Tua Sides High”: Oral Culture and Women's Views on Illegitimacy’, in Women in Eighteenth-Century Scotland: Intimate, Intellectual and Public Lives, ed. Barclay, Katie and Simonton, Deborah (Farnham, 2013), 5574Google Scholar.

36 Symonds, Weep Not for Me.

37 Barclay with Reynolds, ‘Small Graves’.

38 Blaikie, Illegitimacy, Sex and Society.

39 Kilday, A History of Infanticide, 30.

40 Ibid., 27–31; see also Farrell, Elaine, ‘A most diabolical deed’: Infanticide and Irish Society, 1850–1900 (Manchester, 2013)Google Scholar.


41 Dalrymple, James, Viscount of Stair, The Institutions of the Law of Scotland (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1693), I, 3741Google Scholar; for an extended discussion see Barclay, ‘Natural Affection, Children’.

42 Dalrymple, The Institutions, I, 424–8; MacDowall, Andrew, Bankton, Lord, An Institute of the Laws of Scotland in Civil Rights (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1751), I, 280Google Scholar.

43 Barclay, ‘Natural Affection, Children’; Barclay, ‘Natural Affection, the Patriarchal Family’.

44 Dalrymple, The Institutions, I, 431.

45 Ibid., I, 24; Johnson, Samuel, A Dictionary of the English Language … (Dublin, 1768)Google Scholar, s.v. jealousy.


46 Marshall, ‘“Dutiful Love and Natural Affection”’; it can be fruitfully compared here to the parent–child reciprocity and filial piety found in England: Begiato, Parenting; Ben-Amos, Illana Krausman, ‘Reciprocal Bonding: Parents and Their Offspring in Early Modern England’, Journal of Family History, 25 (2000), 291312CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

47 Katie Barclay, ‘The Emotions of Household Economics’, in The Routledge Companion to Emotions in Europe: 1100–1700, ed. Susan Broomhall and Andrew Lynch (2019), 185–99; Barclay, Love, Intimacy and Power.

48 Siblings are prioritised before parents not because sibling love was greater than a child's love for a parent, but because it was thought the siblings’ shared parents would prefer this distribution to receiving the property. This is likely an example of trying to make old law fit new natural law theory.

49 Barclay, ‘Natural Affection, Children’.

50 Several cases affirm this decision, e.g. Finnie against Oliphant (1631); Children of the Earl of Buchan against Lady Buchan (1666); Simon Ramsay against Rigg (1687); Hay against his grandfather and mother (1729); The younger children of Bissett of Leffendrum against their brother (1748). See Morrison, William, The Decisions of the Court of Session … (Edinburgh, 1811), vol. 2Google Scholar.

51 The lawyer dates this decision to the 1 March 1755, but I cannot identify such a case, Aberdeen Sheriff Court, Ann Hay against William Allardyce (1761), NRS, SC1/11/30.

52 Scott against Oliver (1778): see Morrison, William, The Decisions of the Court of Session … (Edinburgh, 1811), vol. 5Google Scholar.

53 Dumfries Sheriff Court Goodfellow against Elliot (1800), NRS, SC15/10/233.

54 For example, NRS SC15/10/233; Dumfries Sheriff Court Burnet v Johnston (1801), NRS, SC15/10/233.

55 Gibson, A. J. S. and Smout, T. C., Prices, Food and Wages in Scotland, 1550–1780 (Cambridge, 1995)Google Scholar.

56 Aberdeen Sheriff Court Wallace against Wilson (1811), NRS, SC1/11/318.

57 Murray against Galation (1829), NRS, Aberdeen Sheriff Court, SC1/11/476; see also Crosbie against Raddick (1801), NRS, Dumfries Sheriff Court, SC15/10/233; Moffat against Stephens (1808), NRS, Edinburgh, SC39/17/539.

58 Durrand against Fry (1763), NRS, Aberdeen Sheriff Court, SC1/11/30.

59 Elite wet-nurses were typically being paid around £10 sterling per annum in the second half of the eighteenth century. See Barclay, ‘Gossip, Intimacy’. One example of a nurse to an ordinary family still saw a claim around £1 per quarter plus food and clothing, a number higher than alimony. Farras against Elmslie and Gray (1752), NRS, SC1/11/5.

60 Graham against Kay (1740); Short against Donald (1765). See William Morrison, The Decisions of the Court of Session, vol. 2.

61 For example: Hay against Allardyce (1761), NRS, Aberdeen Sheriff Court, SC1/11/30; Gordon against Cruickshank (1802), NRS, Aberdeen Sheriff Court, SC1/11/252; Burnet against Johnston (1801), NRS, Dumfries Sheriff Court, SC15/10/233.

62 See Hay against Allardyce (1761), NRS, Aberdeen Sheriff Court, SC1/11/30; Young against Anachie (1761), NRS, Aberdeen Sheriff Court, SC1/11/30; but see also Smith & Williamson against Fordyce (1811), NRS, Aberdeen Sheriff Court, SC1/11/318.

63 Short against Donald (1765), William Morrison, The Decisions of the Court of Session, vol. 2.

64 Keith against Sellar (1821), NRS, Aberdeen Sheriff Court, SC1/11/406.

65 Halcrow denied paternity as the child was born eight days early, Halcrow against Halcrow (1781), Shetland Museum and Archives (hereafter SMA), Shetland Sheriff Court, SC12/6/1781/11; Goodfellow against Elliot (1800), NRS, Dumfries Sheriff Court, SC15/10/233.

66 Young against Anachie (1761), NRS, Aberdeen Sheriff Court, SC1/11/30.

67 Crosbie against Raddick (1801), NRS, Dumfries Sheriff Court, SC15/10/233.

68 Smith & Williamson against Fordyce (1811), NRS, Aberdeen Sheriff Court, SC1/11/318.

69 Wallace against Wilson (1811), NRS, Aberdeen Sheriff Court, SC1/11/318.

70 Blaikie, Illegitimacy, Sex and Society; Begiato, Parenting.

71 McNeveson against Thomas Kirkpatrick (1801), NRS, Dumfries Sheriff Court, SC15/10/233.

72 Thomas Hastings and Ann Anderson for plagium, 1813, NRS, AD14/13/64; Katie Barclay, ‘Family, Mobility’.

73 Social parenting can be observed for other categories of poor children too: Doolittle, ‘Fatherhood and Family Shame’; Begiato, Parenting; Harrington, The Unwanted Child.

74 Barclay, ‘Gossip, Intimacy’.

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