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C. Schulz, Von Bastarden und natürlichen Kindern (Regine Maritz)

Francia-Recensio 2017/1 Frühe Neuzeit – Revolution – Empire (1500–1815)

Corinna Schulz, Von Bastarden und natürlichen Kindern. Der illegitime Nachwuchs der mecklenburgischen Herzöge 1600–1830, Köln, Weimar, Wien (Böhlau) 2015, 332 S. (Quellen und Studien aus den Landesarchiven Mecklenburg-Vorpommerns, 17), ISBN 978-3-412-22425-7, EUR 45,00.

rezensiert von/compte rendu rédigé par

Regine Maritz, Paris

This is a solid study of the illegitimate offspring of the dukes of the territory of Mecklenburg in northern Germany. The author is specifically interested in showing in how far the category of illegitimacy affected an individual’s ability to use the specific social capital normally available to persons of nobility. Her other main interest lies in the reconstruction of the emotional quality of the relationship between ducal fathers and their illegitimate offspring. The enquiry is based on extensive archival material, almost all of which is located in the archive in Schwerin.

Following the introductory chapter stands an overview of the meanings of illegitimacy in the early modern period. Here it is stressed particularly that the nobility and the lower classes had different ways of negotiating extramarital births. Whereas, the stain of illegitimate birth affected people of the lower classes distinctly, barring them from entering guilds and other important institutions of social and cultural life, noble illegitimate offspring could to an extent transcend the blemish of their extramarital birth through impeccable behaviour and deeds on behalf of the noble part of their families. This was facilitated by their legal standing which gave them no rights of inheritance on their father’s side, which meant that they did not stand in competition to the rest of the noble family in inheritance matters. Beyond this, there was also a perception that children born from a liaison out of wedlock could have particularly fascinating assets, such as extraordinary beauty and bravery, which stemmed from the passion felt by their parents. All these assets combined could make for beneficial additions to any aristocratic families, if their lives were well-managed and lived in loyalty to their noble parentage.

On this basis, the author proceeds towards assessing the position of illegitimate children within noble families, and it coherently follows that the not insignificant number of ducal bastards in Mecklenburg (five out of the nine reigning dukes in the chosen timeframe had a total number of thirty-nine documented natural children) were largely well-integrated into the ducal family and treated with good will. Schulz finds that the dukes accepted the responsibility of fatherhood graciously and made sure that financially their illegitimate children did not lack in anything. This was often achieved through large payments made to their mothers. Beyond this, Schulz shows that the sibling relations both among the illegitimate children, as well as with their legitimate half-siblings were often warm and supportive. Once again, this was facilitated by the fact that the natural children stood outside the inheritance hierarchy. Schulz states interestingly that these hierarchically determined relationships between the ducal family and the natural children suggest to her similarities with other courtly patron-client relationships. Somewhat unfortunately she does not pursue this interesting thought.

In the fourth chapter Schulz turns to the experience of childhood and adolescence of the illegitimate ducal children, in order to further unpack their complex standing between nobility and the base origins of their births. A major difference between these children and the duke’s legitimate offspring was that their birth did not decide their status. The natural children were most often born discreetly and often at considerable distance to the court. Only if their father afterwards began to confer favour to them in the form of prestigious godparents and financial attentions, could they hope to approach the noble lifestyle of their relatives. Accepted natural sons usually enjoyed an education that was less costly than that of their legitimate counterparts, but that nevertheless allowed them to become so accustomed to the noble habitus that they could pass easily as noblemen when they reached adulthood (p. 144). For the illegitimate daughters Schulz finds less evidence as to how they were educated, but suggests that since their primary functions were to become good wives to someone that their education did not vary significantly over the time span of more than two-hundred years she considers in her study.

In the following chapter Schulz brings into view how the different life trajectories of the natural children of the dukes of Mecklenburg developed. She begins with a deeper investigation into their economic capital, whereby she once more finds only negligible potential for conflict between the natural children and the ducal family. The first part of this chapter contains some repetition, as once again the author emphasises that the acknowledgement of the illegitimate children functioned over the awarding of financial attentions to these children, which immediately after the birth usually took the form of significant payments to their mothers. Thus, the author’s subsequent claim that in Mecklenburg the dukes were more focused in their attentions on the well-being of their natural children than on that of the mothers, which she bases on a reading of the ducal wills, is not entirely coherent (p 169). Whilst this is a minor issue, it points perhaps to a wider discrepancy in a book that is explicitly concerned with the emotional quality of father-child relations, but has little source material that could be read as »ego-documents«to draw on. Nevertheless, in other instances the author finds elegant ways of addressing this problem, as further on in the chapter where she is concerned with the careers of the natural children. She finds that many of the sons served in the military before going into land-owning, and their careers tended to develop much faster than those of soldiers of non-noble descent, which, as Schulz shows, was down to the support they received from their ducal fathers (p. 182f.). Traces of open conflict with the ducal fathers are only found at times where the dukes found themselves in precarious political positions, as did duke Carl Leopold who was deposed from formal power by the emperor in 1728. His three natural daughters turned to the emperor and his proxy in Mecklenburg in the years following this event to request that the provision payments which had been promised to them be effected. Whilst their father never forgave them what he viewed as ultimate treachery, the emperor quickly agreed to their demands, and, at least for the time being, the sisters were well provided for. The discovery of this implication of natural children in high politics is highly stimulating and the reader might wish for more reflection on these entanglements.

Schulz’s final chapter considers the societal standing of the illegitimate children fathered by dukes of Mecklenburg. She shows that the local nobility remained largely permeable for natural children. Daughters could marry into it and sons had good chances to be treated as nobility on the basis of their military careers. By the time of Duke Friedrich Franz I. (1756–1837), however, his numerous natural children were no longer considered to be nobility as a matter of course, which was coherent with their professional careers which took place in more bourgeois milieus such as forestry, than in the traditional noble pursuits of military and land-owning. This mirrored the wider change in the perception and standing of the nobility at this time and that illegitimate noble offspring should experience this development alongside their legitimate relatives once more brings home the fact that they were well-integrated into their ducal families.

Schulz’s study leaves us thus with a variety of interesting findings on the lives of the illegitimate children of the dukes of Mecklenburg. Some opportunities for further development may be left open, but opening up questions alongside results is surely a mark of quality in any historical enquiry. Readers interested in the regional history of Mecklenburg in particular and in the category of illegitimacy more broadly will be served well by this contribution.

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PSJ Metadata
Regine Maritz
Von Bastarden und natürlichen Kindern
Der illegitime Nachwuchs der mecklenburgischen Herzöge 1600–1830
en
CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0
Frühe Neuzeit (1500-1789), Neuzeit / Neuere Geschichte (1789-1918)
Deutschland / Mitteleuropa allgemein
Sozial- und Kulturgeschichte
Neuzeit bis 1900
1600-1830
Mecklenburg (4038197-3), Großherzog (4561764-8), Nichteheliches Kind (4042062-0), Familienbeziehung (4133734-7)
PDF document schulz_maritz.doc.pdf — PDF document, 259 KB
C. Schulz, Von Bastarden und natürlichen Kindern (Regine Maritz)
In: Francia-Recensio 2017/1 | Frühe Neuzeit – Revolution – Empire (1500-1815) | ISSN: 2425-3510
URL: https://prae.perspectivia.net/publikationen/francia/francia-recensio/2017-1/fn/schulz_maritz
Veröffentlicht am: 16.03.2017 12:08
Zugriff vom: 17.01.2020 19:42
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