Cohabitation and Non-Marital Births in England and Wales, by R. Probert

By R. Probert

This day, cohabiting relationships account for many births open air marriage. yet what used to be the location in previous centuries? Bringing jointly prime historians, demographers and legal professionals, this interdisciplinary assortment attracts on quite a lot of resources to check the altering context of non-marital child-bearing in England and Wales given that 1600.

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Extra resources for Cohabitation and Non-Marital Births in England and Wales, 1600–2012

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The register for that year records a total of over 230 sex cases, and in nearly half of them the issue was illicit pregnancy. More specifically, it was often a matter of establishing paternity or adjudicating disputed cases; routinely the putative father was bound over with sureties to ‘save harmless’ the city of London and the parish concerned – that is, to ensure that the child did not become a financial burden. Depending on his status and other circumstances, the father might also be whipped for good measure.

Of five cases reported to the consistory court, four were clearly identified in the register; the one that was not was a stillbirth. In Stepney the discrepancy was much more substantial. Twenty-three cases were reported, of which only nine can be identified in the registers. In St James Clerkenwell the gap between church court record and parish register was even greater. Here nine women were said to have been delivered of children out of wedlock or, at least, to have been illicitly pregnant. Of these only two are clearly recorded as bastard births in the registers.

A rare survival from the parish of 18 Eleanor Fox and Martin Ingram St Saviour’s Southwark consists of two extremely revealing reports of the ‘searcher of inmates’, Christopher Fawcett, for April–December 1619 and the year 1622. While his brief was to prevent any incomer from charging the parish unnecessarily, among his prime targets were illicitly pregnant women. Moreover, he was in competition with the officers of other parishes who were likewise trying to rid themselves of unwanted burdens. In a typically brutal entry he recorded how having had ‘notice thatt Margrett Younge greate w[i]th child was (as she said[)] brought from the p[ar]ishe of Saint George [Southwark] by the constables there, and sitting att Mr Paines doore att 10.

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