Saturday, December 27, 2008

Question from Elizabeth - Illegitimate children of noblemen

If a noble man had an illegitimate child, where would that child live, with the mother or the father? Would that child get some sort of title?


Anonymous said...

It depends entirely on whether or not the father publicly acknowledged paternity of the child and the extent to which that father chose to be involved in the child's life. There were no doubt hundreds of illegitimate children of male nobles born over the centuries that were never acknowledged by their biological father, and never lived in his household. Others may not have been acknowledged but because of their mother's prior association with the household (e.g., servant) the child may have lived in the father's househld without either even knowing of the existence of the other. Others were acknowledged and supported by their father ... Henry Fitzroy is one notable example.

Illegitimate children of noble fathers were not entitled in any way to titles or financial inheritances. IF the child acquired a title, it was because he was granted one in his own right by the Crown. But it was rare.

Foose said...

It's a mixed bag, as Phd historian indicates. There are a couple of lucky cases during the Tudor era ... the "Beaufort Bastard," an illegitimate son of Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, rose to become first Earl of Worcester under Henry VII and VIII -- helping to organize the Field of Cloth of Gold festivities. He had the luck to be among the few living remnants of the Beauforts when Henry VII came to the throne and was anxious to consolidate his Lancastrian affiliations.

The father-in-law of Jane Grey's sister, Catherine, was one William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. His father was the illegitimate son of another William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. I'm not quite sure what the story was behind this but the Herberts seemed to be in favor for much of Henry VIII's reign.

Usually a nobleman, if he wanted to assist his bastard son, arranged for him to acquire some minor office. The earl of Cumberland under Henry VIII had a bastard, Thomas, who was the deputy captain of Carlisle, according to an extant 1537 letter from the Duke of Norfolk.

As far as bastard daughters of noblemen, a marriage could be arranged, the size of the dowry and the status of the father offsetting the girl's irregular birth. There was a thread here a few months ago that discussed the probable bastardy of Margaret Stafford, daughter to the Duke of Buckingham executed by Henry VIII. Some historians think that there is evidence that the Duke planned to marry her as well as her legitimate sisters (an Irish peer is mentioned), but possibly his death as a traitor may have damaged her value in the market and made it difficult to supply her dowry.

On the other hand, illegitimate children of a noblewomen had a harder time of it. Katherine Parr's brother was first married to the heiress of the Earl of Essex, whom he tried to divorce for adultery. Apparently she had several children while they were married, but not by him. It's obscure what happened to these children, but they don't seem to have inherited any of their mother's property or titles.

Jane Seymour's brother Edward had a first wife who allegedly had an affair with her father-in-law and children by him. The children were repudiated as heirs by Edward Seymour, although they appear to have been supported, and I think they eventually held minor offices under Elizabeth. I read somewhere that while the line of Seymour's "legitimate" children by his second wife Anne Stanhope eventually died out, the descendants of the first wife's children are still living, and through intermarriage with the "legitimate" line, continue the family lineage today.

Unknown said...

It gets really complicated when it comes to marriages.