Anthropologizing Traditional Marriage in France

Part of the SpringerBriefs in Anthropology book series (BRIEFSANTHRO, volume 2)


This chapter “defamiliarizes” us with socially imposed universal monogamy by focusing on its most heinous facet: its depriving innocent out-of-wedlock children of normal birth-status rights. The context is France in the 19th century and earlier. Before the revolution of 1789, a non-marital child was a bastard who, by virtue of the law, belonged to no family and could inherit from neither of his two progenitors nor their respective relatives. Canon law prohibited any such child to enter into a church career. After 1793, the bastard became legally known as a natural or illegitimate child. He was then defined as related to his mother and father, but not to his parents’ relatives. He could inherit only from his parents (never from their relatives) and only a reduced portion. The case of an adulterine natural child was far worse. A married man was prohibited by law to make any attempt at acknowledging his child with a mistress. If we define, as British anthropologists do, a marriage as an intimate conjunction providing its resulting progeny with full birth-status rights, then, at that time, no concubinal relationship could be regarded as a marriage of any sort, common law or otherwise. In consequence, no pluri-concubinage and no wife-plus-mistress understandings could be actual forms of polygamy. The chapter ends with the question of the ethics of universal monogamy if its enforcement requires that year after year many innocent children be relegated for life to true social pariah conditions. The next chapter examines what happened when illegitimate children were granted full birth-status rights.


Civil Code Natural Child Illegitimate Child Innocent Child Polygamous Marriage 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Concordia UniversityMontrealCanada

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