Bastardy in the Elizabethan Age

The True Reporte of the Forme and Shape of a Monstrous Childe, Borne at Muche Horkesleye (London: Thomas Marshe, 1562):

In him behold by excesse from meane our breache
And midds excesse yet want of natures shape.
To shewe our misse beholde a guiltlesse babe
Reft of his limmes (for such is vertues want)
Him selfe and parentes both infamous made
With sinful byrth: and yet a worldlyng scant.
Feares midwyfes route: be wrayeng his parentes fault
In want of honestye and excesse of sinne.
Made lawfull by all lawes of man, yet halt
Of limmes by God, scapd not the shamefull marke
Of bastard sonne in bastard shape descryed.
Better farre better vngyuen were his lyfe
Than geuen so. For nature iust enuyed
Her gyft to hym: and cropd wyth mayming knyfe
His limmes, to wreake her spyte on parentes sinne·
Which, if she spare vnwares so many scapes
As wycked world to breede wil neuer sinne
Theyr liues declare theyr maims saued from their shapes
Scorchd in theyr mindes (o cruel priuye mayme
That festreth styll, o vnrecured sore)
Where thothers quiting wyth theyr bodyes shame
Theyr parentes guilt, oft linger not theyr lyues
In lothed shapes but naked flye to skyes.

Lemeke Avale, A Commemoration or Dirige of Bastarde Edmonde Boner, alias Sauage, Vsurped Bisshoppe of London (London: John Kingston, 1569):

As without all doubte Edmonde Boner, late vsurped bishop of London, was a bastarde, and also the soonne of a Bastarde: that is a Bastarde in grosse, and a Bastarde can not, neither maie not bee a bisshop. Boner was a Bastarde, ergo no bishop, and this is a true conclusion. (“The Preface”)

18 Elizabeth C. 3 (1576)

Raphael Holinshed, The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande (London: Henry Bynneman and Henry Denham, 1577):

For Richard the first of that name duke of Normandie, begot Richard the seconde, and Emme, which Emme bare Edward by hir husband Ethelred. Richarde the second also had issue Richard the thirde, and Robert, which Robert by a Concubine had issue William, surnamed the bastard, that was nowe Duke of Normandie, and after the death of hys cosin king Edwarde, made clayme (as is sayde) to the crowne of Englande. (1.282)

By the wife of this Gothlois, Vter had issue the greate Arthure, and because he had no legitimate sonne, he appoynted that Arthure shoulde succeede him in gouernment of the realme…. The Brytaynes contrarie to the lawes of all nations, proclaymed Arthure, beeing a bastarde borne, king of their Realme (1.124, 1.126)

Kyng Henry to auoyde further slaunder, placed for Byshoppe in that see of Lincolne a Bastard sonne, which he had named Geffrey, after hee had kept that Bishopricke in hys hands so long till he had almost cleerely destroyed it. And his sonne that was nowe made Bishoppe to help the matter for his parte, made hauocke in wasting and spending foorthe in riotous manner the goodes of that Churche, and in the end forsooke hys myter, and left the See agayne in the Kyngs hands to make his best of it. (2.447)

The Lorde Anthonie basterde, brother to the sayde Earle Charoloys, commonly called the basterd of Burgoigne, a man of great wit, courage, and valiantnesse, was appoynted by hys father Duke Phillip, to goe into Englande in Ambassade, about this sute, who being furnished of plate and apparell, necessarie for his estate, hauing in his companie Gentlemen, and other expert in al feates of cheualrie and martiall prowesse, to the number of foure hundred horses, tooke hys Shippe, and arriued in Englande, where he was of the King and nobles honorably receyued…. The basterde chalenged the Lorde Scales, brother to the Queene, a man both egall in hart and valiantnesse with the basterde, to fighte with hym both on horsebacke, and on foote, whyche demaunde, the Lorde Scales gladlye accepted. (2.1317)

One Thomas Neuill, basterde sonne to that valiant Captayne the Lord Thomas Fawconbridge (who had lately before bene sente to the Sea, by the Earle of Warwike, and after fallen to practise piracie) had spoyled dyuers Merchante Shyppes, Portingalles, and others, in breache of the auncient amitie that long had continued betwixte the Realmes of England and Portingale…. But notwithstanding that (as some write) the Basterde Fauconbridge, and other of hys companie that were gote to Sandwiche, had thus theyr pardons by composition at the Kyngs hande, we finde neuerthelesse, that the sayde Basterd, beeing afterwards at Sea (a rouing belyke, as hee hadde vsed before) came at length into the open hauen at Southhampton, and there, taking lande, was apprehended, and shortly after beheaded. (2.1341)

Dyuerse things they deuised. But the chiefe thing and the weightie of all that inuention, rested in this that they shoulde alledge bastardie, eyther in king Edwarde himselfe, or in his children or both. So that he should seeme disabled to inherit the crowne, by the duke of York, and the prince by him. (2.1377)

John Lyly, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wyt (London: Gabriell Cawood, 1578):

First touching their procreation, it shall séeme necessaie to entreate off, who so euer he be yt desireth to be the Sire of an happy sonne, or the father of a fortunate childe, lette him abstaine from those women which be eyther base obirth, or bare of honestie, for if ye mother be noted of incontinencie, or the father of vice, the childe will eyther during lyfe, be infected with the like crime, or the trecheries of his parents as ignomye to him will be cast in his téeth: For we commonlye call those nhappy children, which haue sprong from vnhonest parents. It is therefore a great treasure to the father and tranquilitie to the minde of the childe, to haue that lybertie, which both nature, law, and reason hath sette downe.

The guyltie conscience of a father that hath troden awry, causeth him to think and suspect that his father also went not right, wherby his owne behauiour is as it were a witnesse, of his owne basenesse. Euen as those that come of a noble progenie boast of their gentrye. Héerevppon it came that Diophantus, Themistocles his sonne woulde often and that openly saye in a great multitude, that what soeuer he shoulde séeme to request of the Athenians, he should be sure also to obtayne, for ayth hée, what soeuer I will that wil my mother, and what my mother sayth my father sootheth, and what my father desireth that the Athenians will graunt most willingly. The bolde courage of the Lacedemonians is to be praysed, which sette a fine on the heade of Archidamius their king, for yt he had married a woman of a small personage, saying he minded to begette Quéenes, not Kinges to succeede him. Lette vs not omitte that which our Auncestours were won precisely to kéepe that men shoulde either bée sober, or drincke little wine, that woulde haue sober and discrete children, for that the fact of the father woulde bée figured in the infant. Diogenes therefore séeing a younge man either ouercome with drincke or bereued of hys wits, cryed with a lowde voice, youth, youth, thou hadst a dronken Father. And thus muche for procreation, nowe howe the life shoulde bée ledde I will shewe briefly. (“That the childe shoulde be true borne, no bastarde,” 48-49)

Stephen Batmen, Batman vppon Bartholome (London: Thomas East, 1582):

The Poets fained that Mars neuer had father, because hée hated peace: for the nature of bastards, is commonly to be either very fearful, or very venturous, and most commonly delighting in those exercises, that be aunswerable to heady, trayterous, & vnséemly practises. (“Of Mars,” 130)

Robert Greene, Pandosto: The Triumph of Time (London: Thomas Orwin for Thomas Cadman, 1588):

Pandosto, whose rage and Iealousie was such, as no reason, nor equitie could appease: tolde her, that for her accusers they were of such credite, as their wordes were sufficient witnesse, and that the sodaine & secret flight of Egistus, & Franion confirmed that which they had confessed: and as for her, it was her parte to deny such a monstrus crime, and to be impudent in forswearing the fact, since shee had past all shame in committing the fault: but her stale countenaunce should stand for no coyne, for as the Bastard which she bare was serued, so she should with some cruell death be requited. (C)

Richard Jones, “Whether a Bastard May Challenge a Gentleman to Combat,” in The Booke of Honor and Armes (London: Richard Jones, 1590)

For that by lawe no Bastard can inherit the lands and honors of his supposed father, it may be reasonablie doubted, whether he be of such condition as may challenge a Gentleman to trial of Armes. Notwithstanding, for that such impediment proceedeth not from the Bastard himselfe, and that no man ought iustlie be repulsed sauing such as are condemned, or infamed for their owne viletie, me thinks that Bastardie ought not to disable a man to bee admitted vnto Combat: and S. Hierome saith, that the fault in birth of such men, is not their owne fault, but theirs that did beget them. Also Chrisostome writeth thus, we ought not to bee ashamed of the vice of our Parents, but endeuour our selues vnto vertue. Wherevpon wee conclude, that euerie Bastard hauing well and vertuouslie serued in the warre, or that for his good merite hath aspired to beare charge of reputation in the Armie, ought be receiued to fight with anie priuate Gentleman or Soldier, because men so borne, haue not onelie been oftentimes aduanced to honor, but they and their posteritie also, haue atteined and continued in high dignitie and greatest estimation.

True it is, that men so borne, cannot mainteine themselues to bee Gentlemen by birth, and therefore directlie must not claime such title, or enter the triall of Armes, and therefore in that respect may be repulsed, not as infamous, but as ignoble, which defect either by valorous indeuour in Armes, or vertuous studie in learning may be supplied.

Also all such Bastards as haue long serued loyallie in their Princes Court, & that by priuiledge of their Prince are made legitimate, or hath liued orderlie among other Gentlemen, in place of reputation, may not be repulsed. (32-33)

John Donne, “Why Have Bastards Best Fortune?” in Iuuenilia or Certaine Paradoxes and Problemes (ca. 1590-1600), 2nd ed. (London: Elizabeth Purslowe for Henry Seyle, 1633):

Because Fortune herselfe is a Whore, but such are not most indulgent to their issue; the old naturall reason (but those meetings in stolne love are most vehement, and so contribute more spirit then the easie and lawfull) might governe me, but that now I see Mistresses are become dometike and in ordinary, and they and wives waite but by turnes, and agree aswell as they had lived in the Arke. The old Morall reason (that Bastards inherit wickednesse from their Parents, and so are i a better way to preferment by having a stocke before-hand, then those that build all their fortune upon the poore and weake stocke of Originall sinne) might prevaile with me, but that since wee are fallen into such times, as now the world might spare the Divell, because she could be bad enough without him. I see men scorne to be wicked by example, or to bee beholding to others for their damnation. It seems reasonable, that since Lawes rob them of succession in civill benefits, they should have something else equivalent. As Nature (which is Lawes patterne) having denyed Women Constancy to one, hath provided them with cunning to allure many; and so Bastads de jure should have better wits and experience. But besides that by experience we see many fooles amongst them, wee should take from them one of their chiefest helpes to preferment, and we should deny them to be fools; and (that which is onely left) that Wmen chuse worthier men then their husbands, is false de facto either then it must bee that the Church having removed them from all place in the publike Service of God, they have better meanes then others to be wicked, and so fortunate: Or else because the two greatest powers in this world, the Divell and Princes concurre to their greatnesse the one giving bastardy, the other legitimation: As nature frames and conserves great bodies of contraries. Or the cause is, because they abound most at Court, which is the forge where fortunes are made, or at least the shop where thy be sold. (31-32)

William Shakespeare, King John (1594-96), in The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd ed., ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997):

  [K. John.]  Why, being younger born,
Doth he lay claim to thine inheritance?
  Bast.  I know not why, except to get the land.
But once he slander'd me with bastardy:
But whe’er I be as true begot or no,
That still I lay upon my mother's head,
But that I am as well begot, my liege
(Fair fall the bones that took the pains for me!),
Compare our faces and be judge yourself.
If old sir Robert did beget us both
And were our father and this son like him,
O old sir Robert, father, on my knee
I give heaven thanks I was not like to thee! (1.1.71-83)

Anthony Copley, “Of Bastards,” in Wits Fittes and Fancies (London: By Richard Johnes, 1595):

The Archbishop of Saragosa and an other Gent. who were both base borne walked together in a field, and meeting with a countrey-man, the Gent. pointed hornes at him with his two fingers, saying: How saist thou (friend) are they euen or odde? He answered: No ods (sir) and but euen a pair of Bastardes.

A Bastard was telling his friend that he was as much beholding to such a one as to his owne father: Why (said th'other) can you possibly be beholding to any so much as to your own father? he answered: You haue reason: Yes (repli'd th'other) you are more beholding to your mother, that chose you such a father, then to your father that chose you such a mother.

An olde and a yoong Gent. being at tearmes of enmitie, the yoong Gallant said: Bethinke thy selfe well, and thou shalt find that thou art a base groom to me, and that we are not fellowes by oddes: True (answered the old Gent.) for indeed I verie well remember, your father & I were fellowes & bedfellowes too, not passing nine moneths before you were borne. He spake it in reference that the world thought he had somtimes knowne the others mother carnallie.

A yoong bastard throwing stones among a multitude of people: one said vnto him: Ware (boy) thou hit not thy father. (96-97)

William Fulbrecke, A Direction or Preparatiue to the Study of the Lawe (London: Thomas Wight, 1600):

Illegitimi bastardes, whereof there be three sortes, Incestuosi which be begotten of kinsmen and kinswomen within the degrees prohibited: Nefarij, which are begotten of descendents, the chyldren of the same parent: Spurij, or Adulterini, which are borne in adulterie. (77)

William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida (1601-03), in The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd ed., ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997):

  Ther.  What art thou?
  Mar.  A bastard son of Priam’s.
  Ther.  I am a bastard too, I love bastards. I am bastard begot, bastard instructed, bastard in mind, bastard in valor, in everything illegitimate. One bear will not bite another, and wherefore should one bastard? Take heed, the quarrel’s most ominous to us. If the son of a whore fight for a whore, he tempts judgment. Farewell, bastard.(5.7.14-22)