“No Crime to Kill a Bastard–Child”: Stereotypes of Infanticide in Nineteenth-Century England and Wales

  • Daniel J. R. GreyEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


This chapter explores how infanticide cases were interpreted through an explicitly gendered lens in nineteenth-century England and Wales. It focuses in particular on three key aspects: the spectre of the death penalty, the issue of poverty and deprivation, and mental illness. Drawing on a range of sources including archival criminal justice records, newspapers, Parliamentary Papers, and medical and legal texts, Grey demonstrates how a crime which might have been understood as an especially heinous and deviant act became, instead, stereotyped as a killing committed almost exclusively by “normal” and “respectable” women who were then invariably recipients of both official and popular sympathy. It concludes that nineteenth-century attitudes and ideas still resonate strongly in the reportage and judicial treatment of infanticide in the twenty-first century.


Infanticide Illegitimacy Concealment of birth Death penalty Puerperal insanity Poverty 

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Humanities and Performing ArtsUniversity of PlymouthPlymouthUK

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