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?