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Illegitimacy in Eighteenth-Century Wales

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Census returns and the Reports of the Commission of Enquiry into the State of Education in Wales (1847) reveal that in comparison with England certain parts of Wales experienced a significantly higher level of illegitimacy in the nineteenth century. This article seeks to demonstrate that increased illegitimacy existed in some parts of Wales at least a century and a half prior to the 'Blue Books' and that this was the result of courtship customs and marital traditions that were unique to Wales. Evidence of paternity in parish baptism registers allows for a distinction to be made between illegitimacy that resulted from permissible sexual relationships and illicit sexual encounters. Behaviour leading to illegitimacy can be categorized into four different types of sexual behaviour, of varying degrees of acceptability and stigmatization, based on the ways in which fathers are listed. When this typology is applied to the baptism registers of the parishes of St Peter's in Carmarthenshire and Hawarden in Flintshire it becomes clear that higher rates of illegitimacy in Wales were probably the result of socially acceptable relationships that may not have been condoned by ecclesiastical authorities, rather than illicit sexuality that was not generally condoned by communities or the authorities.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2013

More about this publication?
  • Published by the University of Wales Press since its inception in 1960, The Welsh History Review / Cylchgrawn Hanes Cymru is the most authoritative journal in its field. This twice-yearly journal is committed to publishing research on Welsh history, from medieval to modern. The internationally-renowned editorial board includes scholars from universities in Wales, the UK, Europe and the United States, whose collective breadth of knowledge contributes to a diverse range of cultural, social, political and economic history.

    Cyhoeddwyd The Welsh History Review / Cylchgrawn Hanes Cymru gan Wasg Prifysgol Cymru ers sefydlu'r cyfnodolyn yn 1960. Hwn yw'r cyfnodolyn mwyaf awdurdodol yn ei faes, a'i brif hanfod yw arddangos amrywiaeth eang o feysydd ymchwil ym maes hanes Cymru, o'r canoloesol hyd at y modern. Ar y bwrdd golygyddol, ceir ysgolheigion o brifysgolion Cymru, y Deyrnas Unedig, Ewrop a'r Unol Daleithiau. Adlewyrchir arbenigeddau'r bwrdd yng nghynnwys y cyfnodolyn, sydd yn ymdrin â hanes diwylliannol, cymdeithasol, gwleidyddol ac economaidd.

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