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BastardsPolitics, Family, and Law in Early Modern France$
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Matthew Gerber

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199755370

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199755370.001.0001

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Redefining Social Interest

Redefining Social Interest

The Eighteenth-Century Foundling Crisis

(p.124) 5 Redefining Social Interest

Matthew Gerber

Oxford University Press

Even as French jurists increasingly grounded the exclusion of extramarital offspring from the family on social interest rather than supposed personal defect, the definition of social interest was beginning to change. In 1640, Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac established the Paris foundling hospice, the Hôpital des Enfans-Trouvés, and thirty years later, in 1670, the institution was granted a royal charter. The incidence of child abandonment subsequently increased at an alarming rate, from roughly 400 per year in 1670 to over 7,000 per year by 1770. This increase was not only caused by growing poverty and increased rates of illegitimacy, it also resulted from the circumscription of rights traditionally enjoyed by unwed mothers as the state assumed appellate jurisdiction over marriage. As natural fathers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau increasingly abandoned their children, the administrators of the overstrained Enfans-Trouvés turned increasingly to the monarchy for financial and administrative support, effectively contributing to the eighteenth-century secularization of French poor relief.

Keywords:   foundlings, Enfans-Trouvés, Vincent de Paul, Rousseau, child abandonment, paternity suits, poor relief, reparative marriage, infanticide

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