Sunday, January 25, 2009

Question from Steve - Birthrate and christening of non-biological children

In a earlier series of posts from September - October 2008 on Tudor contraception, it was stated that "...women in 16th century England had an average of 4.2 kids."; "...high rate of maternal mortality associated directly with childbirth. In other words, a significant number of women died young while giving birth, obviously ending their reproductive years early and lowering the average. Of those who survived repeatedly giving birth, their reproductive years seem to have ended earlier than they do for modern women. Menopause appears to have occurred as early as age 40 or less. (And menarche, or first period, seems also to have occurred later than it does today, perhaps as late as age 15-16 for Tudor women.)"

There was a couple in Warleggan, Cornwall, named James Parker (Gentleman) and Katherine Buller Parker (daughter of Sir Richard Buller of Shillingham). According to Warleggan & St Stephens parish registers and an account written by one of their sons in 1673, they apparently had 21 children, born between 1618 and 1644. Katherine was born 1600, and died 1686. She thus was having children almost every year from age 18 to age 44.

I came across this couple while doing genealogy research. One of their sons was a Richard, born 1630, who went to Virginia at about age 15, and worked as a surgeon, if the identification is correct. Richard's granddaughter married the son of a Quaker immigrant.

21 children strikes me as hard to believe, given the average rate of 4.2 children. It also seems odd that Katherine would be having children at age 44. Neither of those things are impossible, but it makes me wonder whether perhaps something else is going on here.

I see two possibilities:

A) There were two couples in the Warleggan area, both named James and Katherine Parker (the parish registers don't give Katherine's maiden name, as far as I am aware);

B) James and Katherine were christening children born to servants in their household, or adopting the children of poor women.

I have been hoping that a direct male descendant of Richard Parker the immigrant would do Y-DNA testing to see if there is a match with the Parkers of Browsholme in Yorkshire, whence came James Parker of Warleggan. So far, though, that doesn't seem to have happened.

I would appreciate opinions on any or all of this, specifically, on the question of whether James and Katherine could have been christening children who were not their biological offspring. Was such a practice common or even permissible in England at this period?


Anonymous said...

I cannot address the issue of christening children other than one's own, but I would like to comment on the number of children ... reportedly 21 ... had by the Parker couple. Steve seems skeptical, especially when he compares the number to the "average" of 4.2 children per woman in the Tudor period.

Steve, remember that "averages" are just that ... a mathematical average. And averages are always calculated from total numbers that include extremes. Women with no children at all and women with masses of children both figure in averages.

The current "average" in the US is 2.1 children per woman. Yet we have on US television a seeming plethora of "reality" shows about women with large numbers of children. The Duggars recently welcomed their 18th child, and mother Michelle Duggar is only 43. She had 18 children between 1988 and 2008 ... 18 in 20 years. And she is likely to have still more.

As a child, I had a school friend, Philip Bray, who was one of 16 children. His mother had had a child almost every year for 20 years also.

Even within the Tudor period, numerous women are known to have had children almost annually. Bess of Hardwick delivered eight live children during her second marriage of ten years. Six of those children survived to adulthood.

So I am a bit less skeptical than Steve regarding the Parkers. Rather than christening other people's children, I am inclined to think that the couple was simply fertile and prolific and did indeed produce one child per year for 21 years. I believe that is a third possibility that must be considered.

I am also very much inclined to trust at face value the account written by a son in 1673 claiming he had 20 siblings.

I'd be curious to know whether you have found out how many of those 21 children survived to adulthood. Do the same parish registers record any of their deaths (funerals, burials), or simply the christenings? If all 21 survived to adulthood, THAT would be shocking!

Anonymous said...

My Great-great-great grandmother had 16 children. But only 4 made it to adulthood. As PhD Historian said, its an average.

Anonymous said...

Another reason that a woman would stop bearing children is that there would be complications from childbirth that would leave her unable to bear any more children. My grandmother had three children, all single births, in less than 3 years. Her last pregnancy ended with a miscarriage and she was unable to have children after that. Since she married at 19, at the rate she was having children, she could have had 20!

kb said...

I concur in the main with phd historian. Averages require some very high numbers and some very low numbers including 0.

It is quite possible that the couple in question had 21 children. ow many lived to maturity would be interesting to find out.

It might also be possible that there was another couple with the same names.

In my research of elites, children were not christened by any one other than their god-parents. If a child was taken into a family to raise, they would not have been christened by the elite parents although they were likely christened by someone with another 3 adults acting as god-parents. Again - I am talking about the Elizabethan elite families.

I am also wondering if the previous post you referenced that stated 4.2 was from me. If so, that is the average number for one extended family that was the focus of my doctoral research. One couple is known to have had 14 births' another 12; while some couples had no children or just one. If it is my post you are thinking of, please add the context that this was one extended elite family across 4 generations.

Anonymous said...

The exact number of children Queen Anne had is open to some dispute; although 18 is thought to be the correct amount, this figure takes into account all her pregnancies no matter what the outcome. The first was born when Anne was 19 and the last when she was a few days short of 35.

1. A daughter was stillborn 12 May 1684.

2. Mary born at Whitehall 2 June 1685 but died at Windsor 8 February 1686.

3. Anne Sophia born at Windsor 12 May 1686 and also died there 2 February 1687.

4. A miscarriage in January or February 1687.

5. A son miscarried on 22 October 1687.

6. A miscarriage on 16 April 1688.

7. William, Duke of Gloucester, born at Hampton Court 24 July 1689, died at Windsor 1700.

8. Mary born at St. James's 14 October 1690 but only lived two hours.

9. George born and Died at Syon House on 17 April, 1692.

10. A daughter miscarried on 23 April 1693.

11. A miscarriage 21 January 1694.

12. A daughter miscarried on 18 February 1696, one source names the child Anne.

13. A miscarriage at seven months 20 September 1696.

14. The following day a miscarriage of a two or three month foetus.

15. A daughter miscarried on 25 March 1697.

16. A miscarriage in December 1697.

17. A son miscarried on 15 September 1698, called Charles.

18. A miscarriage recorded as a daughter on 25 January 1700.

Only five of her pregnancies survived full term and only William survived his first year, dying at the age of 11. Thus, Queen Anne was the last of the Stuarts.

Anonymous said...

PhD Historian asked "I'd be curious to know whether you have found out how many of those 21 children survived to adulthood."

13 of the 21 children survived to adulthood.

I understand your point about averages, but I was wondering if perhaps there could be an alternative explanation. Actually, the large number of offspring was not the only reason for my skepticism. This question is part of a genealogical puzzle involving one of the 21 Parker children - Richard, christened 1630, who went to Virginia. The problem is, there were three different men of that name in Virginia at the right time period. One of the three can be easily excluded, but there is enough ambiguity in the Virginia records to make it unclear which of the two other Richard Parkers is to be identified with the Richard who was christened in Cornwall.

The Parkers of Cornwall can claim Plantagenet ancestry through the Bullers, and there is a tendency among some amateur genealogists to latch onto any piece of evidence that will allow them to claim "royal" ancestry. Efforts are underway to try to identify candidates for Y-DNA testing to determine the paternal lineage of the two Richard Parkers of Virginia. Questioning the large number of children for Katherine Buller Parker was just another "angle of attack," so to speak, on the problem.

Thanks for everyone's comments!