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BastardsPolitics, Family, and Law in Early Modern France$
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Matthew Gerber

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199755370

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199755370.001.0001

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Illegitimacy and Legal Change in the French Enlightenment

Illegitimacy and Legal Change in the French Enlightenment

(p.153) 6 Illegitimacy and Legal Change in the French Enlightenment

Matthew Gerber

Oxford University Press

In the eighteenth century, the jurisprudence of the sovereign courts trended in a direction that was more sympathetic toward extramarital offspring, at least toward those not born of adultery. While affirming the capacity of royal letters-patent of legitimation to convey inheritance rights, the courts also tended to uphold substantial gifts and legacies made to children born out of wedlock by their natural parents. These developments were due less to the egalitarian impulses of modern natural law theory than to growing pragmatic concern over child abandonment. By the eve of the French Revolution, when the Royal Academy of Metz asked its correspondents to consider “the means for better preserving bastards and making them more useful to the state without compromising public morals,” French jurists and academics had generally come to conclude that the true interest of the public and the state rested in the destigmatization of extramarital offspring as “natural children.”

Keywords:   modern natural law, enlightenment, Royal Academy of Metz, academic competition, legitimation by royal rescript, gifts, legacies

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