By Anne-Marie Kilday (auth.)
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Extra resources for A History of Infanticide in Britain c. 1600 to the Present
93 In addition to causing potential problems with legitimacy, lineage and inheritance, increased illegitimacy levels could also threaten the economic stability of a community. 95 Evidence to support this argument comes in the form of gendered legislation passed in England at the beginning of the seventeenth century and briefly mentioned in Chapter 1. 98 This must have rendered many women impoverished, especially if support from family or kin was in short supply. During the early modern period, legal authorities and social commentators alike often believed that in order to avoid both the social stigma from the moral lapse associated with illegitimacy and the economic misfortune that could result from such circumstances, women like Ann Price, whose case was cited at the outset of this chapter, resorted to infanticide.
In parts of England, for instance, the average indictment rate for new-born child murder was slightly higher than the general trend in mainland Europe. However, it was still only a little more than one prosecution per year. 4 Indictments and convictions for infanticide and concealment in Scotland, 1700–1799 Note: All female except for 13 individual male indictments in 1702, 1706, 1720, 1747, 1751, 1754, 1757, 1758, 1765, 1770, 1791, 1797, and 1798. 43 This means that on average more than four cases of new-born child murder a year were brought before these Scottish courts.
In the main, this was owing to the inadequacies of the evidence presented to court; a subject to which we will return later in this chapter. Another factor to consider when contemplating numerical data on infanticide in the early modern period is poor or inconsistent record survival. 30 Whilst, for the reasons stated above, it is virtually impossible to glean any notion of the ‘real’ incidence of infanticide in the early modern period from indictment statistics, these sources can, at least, provide an indicator of how often this crime was discovered and revealed to the authorities in a given location at a given time.