What was the meaning of illicit pregnancy in late medieval France? How did Christian communities, whose devotional lives had at their core the veneration of the Virgin Mary, whose extramarital pregnancy was an article of faith, respond when the women in their lives became pregnant with a child whose paternity could not comfortably be presumed to be that of the woman’s husband, if she had one? Drawing upon a wide range of sources including court records, law codes, hospital records, stories, and images, this study investigates what was done to, for, and by women who became pregnant with illegitimate children. This talk will offer a new account of the experience of illicit pregnancy found in medieval sources, and offer as well a new understanding of the place of women in this complex medieval Christian world, a world whose ideas and practices still have such importance in contemporary debates over how to respond to female sexuality and to pregnancy.
Sara McDougall is Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York (CUNY)