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Author Topic:   Medieval orphans
Senior Member
posted 12-14-2000 02:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for deborahknowles   Click Here to Email deborahknowles     Edit/Delete Message
Could anybody tell me, for the novel I am writing, how a baby would have survived if its mother died, as was a common occurrance in those days.I know rich lords and ladies hired "wet nurses" to feed their offspring but does anybody know anything more?


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posted 12-16-2000 06:26 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glaive203     Edit/Delete Message
because the common people lived either in blood related kinds and kinreds or in manorial fellowships-in either case in towns and hamlets with under 500 people all of whom knew each other all their lives and even the poor kept nanny goats,ewes and cows there would have been no shortage of milk.Even if no one wanted to care for an infant it could always be dumped off at the almshouse of a convent whether of canons,monks or nuns and if all else failed there was a thriving slave trade which exported english lads to scotland ireland and elsewhere into the 12th century.Serfdom as literal slavery continued in places like the holy roman empire throughout the MA and their would have always been a market for babies.Mainly relations would have been glad to care for a baby which would work for them for nothing more than its keep from about the age of 5.

Senior Member
posted 12-22-2000 01:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glaive203     Edit/Delete Message
hi,which country and time period are you setting it in? Who's the main character and his plot-I'm assuming it will be the classic horatio alger "rise to the top"for her/him;but are you also combining it with a subplot? Ah,and a "kind is a family group with a common descent from a great grandfather in the father's line and a "kinred" is a larger "clan"made up a kinds theoretically tracing descent from the great grandfather of that great grandfather.Most of those living in kinds and kindreds would also live in hamlets located in woodland areas[=small lands held by a kind and surrounded by a ditch,embankment and hedge giving "woodland"areas a wooded appearance],while most of those living in towns would use a support system like a gild/guild based upon fellowship rather than kinship and would live in larger settlements[aka towns or in modern british english "villages"] and these settlements would be surrounded by open fields whether in the two or three field system.

Senior Member
posted 12-23-2000 03:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for deborahknowles   Click Here to Email deborahknowles     Edit/Delete Message
Dear Glaive 203, this is for my third novel, set in a fictional country (more room to manoevre!)but could be any country in Europe in the early middle-ages. The child in question is the son of one of the main (male)characters, conceived out of wedlock and given to the father at six weeks old to give the mother a chance of a good marriage to an unsuspecting husband. I am particularly interested in how he would have been fed.


Senior Member
posted 12-23-2000 11:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glaive203     Edit/Delete Message
if not on a human breast,than out of a leather bottle.If you mean by the early middle ages the dark ages you should know that monogamy did not become a popular custom until the 12th cen. and bastardry had no especial stygma attached to itself in the dark ages or 11th century.The Anglekyn[old english aka "anglo-saxons" seemed to have had marriage customs like the chinese with one chief wife and a number of lesser wives.The church,however,was much more prudish and did stymatise bastardry.If you bumped the time period up to the 12th you could generate conflict between your characters some holding to older values and some adopting the newer values.Are you going to use a fantasy setting or just a realistic alternative history setting? Equally,if you're setting it in the dark ages it was the monks who had the greatest esteem,education and reputation for holiness.Bishops almost always came fromtheir ranks rather than from the ranks of priests,who were generally married,were very much still paganised by the secular world they lived in and as often as not barely able to read latin-imagine the fluency of a second year American french or german student as a likely level of learning!

Senior Member
posted 12-26-2000 02:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for deborahknowles   Click Here to Email deborahknowles     Edit/Delete Message
Hi, that answered ny question beautifully. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, by the way! It is probably about the 11th Century but before plate armour, when knights still wore a chainmail hauberk with a surcoat and a helm. As for my baby, he would have been born into the time when king's bastard sons
were treated on an equal par with legit sons.Pl.visit www.thebargainbookstore.co.uk. " the Sword of Zennon" & tell me what you think!(v cheap)


Senior Member
posted 12-27-2000 03:24 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glaive203     Edit/Delete Message
lol! I'm not a great novel reader only reading about five a year and get more than I read as gifts! I enjoy short stories more than novels.I'll try to read something of yours;but probably not soon. Back to your novel,if you're going to have your book set in an age where helms,hauberks and surcoats were worn it will have to be later than the 11th cen.-they were not all worn together until the angevin period-surcoats were not worn as a military dress until the last couple decades of the 12th cen.and only came into fashion as a civilian dress during the reign of king John.If you just want a period free of plate armor(switch came into fashion circa 1360) any time before 1330 is completely safe.The period you've described is roughly the late 12th to mid 13th century,later then that combination armors were worn and the word hauberk did not describe a mail coat.There's an excellent book you can use for research"england under the norman and angevin kings" by Robert Barlett,clarendon press.oxford published in the year 2000A.D. Go to oxford university press at www.oup.com to get it.Its very well written aka readable even if you know nothing about the MA,its also short(692 pages sans index) and cntains enough detail to brief any fiction writer.

Senior Member
posted 12-27-2000 03:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glaive203     Edit/Delete Message
PS thanks for the seasons greetings and may all your books be popular! You might want to make your main character not a bastard,during this period and later the customs of free bench and courtesy were normal.Free bench was the custom of a widow keeping any lands that she was endowed with when first married,if she remarried her husband could keep this land for his life too(the custom called courtesy);but then it when back to the estate of the first husband leaving any of his children as poor as any bastard.The children of any morganatic wife would also be in the poor;but nobly born group.I also promise to spell your name Deborah from now on!

Senior Member
posted 12-27-2000 02:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for deborahknowles   Click Here to Email deborahknowles     Edit/Delete Message
Hi, thanks for your continuing help etc. If anybody else reads this and would like to spot all the historical errors I have made, be my guest! Rest assured my main characters were all born within wedlock. The bastard in question is the son of the king's champion and dad is more than capable of defending his baby boy!He is very much the hero of the people, "pin-up" of the time etc. Have a good New Year!


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