Introduction
in Illegitimacy in English law and society,1860–1930
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This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book discusses both men's absence and presence as crucial to the life chances of children of unwed parents. It analyses the legal and social consequences of growing up illegitimate in England and Wales between 1860 and 1930 through a broad spectrum of sources. The book deals with a study of the civil law, primarily custody suits and contested wills. It focuses on the criminal courts. Illegitimate children were overwhelmingly victims of crimes rather than perpetrators, and they rarely received the full protection of the state. The book looks at the role of gender and class in murders by non-maternal carers. In both cases, poverty, shame, and secrecy influenced a child's life chances. It also focuses on crimes by mothers, by far the most common defendants in violence crimes involving illegitimate children.

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