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Experiences of Illegitimacy in England, 1660-1834

Gibson, Kate (2018) Experiences of Illegitimacy in England, 1660-1834. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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This thesis examines attitudes towards individuals who were born illegitimate in England between the Restoration in 1660 and the New Poor Law of 1834. It explores the impact of illegitimacy on individuals' experiences of family and social life, marriage and occupational opportunities, and sense of identity. This thesis demonstrates that illegitimacy did have a negative impact, but that this was not absolute. The stigma of illegitimacy operated along a spectrum, varying according to the type of parental relationship, the child's gender and, most importantly, the family's socio-economic status. Socio-economic status became more significant as an arbiter of attitudes towards the end of the period. This project uses a range of qualitative evidence - correspondence, life-writing, poor law records, novels, legal and religious tracts, and newspapers - to examine the impact of illegitimacy across the entire life-cycle, moving away from previous historiographical emphasis on unmarried parenthood, birth and infancy. This approach adds nuance to a field dominated by poor law and Foundling Hospital evidence, and prioritises material written by illegitimate individuals themselves. This thesis also has resonance for historical understanding of wider aspects of long-eighteenth-century society, such as the nature of parenthood, family, gender, or emotion, and the operation of systems of classification and 'othering'. This thesis demonstrates that definitions of parenthood and family were flexible enough to include illegitimate relationships. The effect of illegitimacy on marital and occupational opportunities indicates how systems of patronage and familial alliance operated in this period, as well as the importance of inheritance, birth or familial connection as measures of social status. Finally, it questions the assumption that condemnation of illicit sex led to community exclusion of the illegitimate child, and calls for more nuanced understandings of how historians measure and define shame and stigma.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > History (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Kate Gibson
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2018 08:29
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2018 14:17
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/21476

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