Starting with Illegitimate Births, I am going to post a few articles of my own research experiences for comment and opinion
Every researcher will know that it is not at all uncommon to find those "grandchildren" appearing on Census entries as you take a family history further and further back. Today's "pram face" and "single mother" phrases (often accompanied by a knowing look or rolled eyes) are leftover remnants of the Victorian reaction towards how illegitimate children were treated in the 17th and 18th centuries. Before the Victorians came along with their terror of seeing a ladies ankle, illegitimate children, bastards, were governed in a way not so much to cast moral blame on the absent father or unwed mother but to ensure that the blameless child was cared for and that someone was taking financial responsibility for them. Children were often born out of wedlock, as they are today, and their future's are then shaped by how society treats them.
One piece of research that is memorable for me, relating to this issue, centred on Aberdeenshire in the mid 1800's. The family line in question led back to a crofting family of three daughters and two sons. Apart from the son my client was descended from there was very little to find of the others except the eldest sister. Information abounded and she had had two illegitimate children before she married. One child did not have a father listed whilst the second quite openly had the fathers name and signature but nothing else is known of him and they did not marry. Later, she did marry and had two legitimate children- I always had the impression that she was a force to be reckoned with and was quite strong minded. Only an impression mind you and hopefully, further research will later reveal more details about them.
It's safe to say that laws and rules regarding marriage, births and inheritance in "civilised" times are created and dominated by the men. Average marriage age varied from early teens in Ancient Greece, 12 in Roman Society- why? Men in Greece were usually between 20 and 30 and finished Military service and an early teens girl was seen to go some way in guaranteeing a brides virginity. During the medieval era the average age of marriage in Britain is quite high (20's) but is muddied by the difference between marriage and betrothal. Young children could be betrothed as soon as their parents could manage as a means to guarantee a future and food on the table for their offspring but it didn't necessarily mean an early age of marriage. Religion wasn't a necessity either and as long as the couple could stand opposite each other with all their faculties and agree they were married, that was enough. In a way, it could be argued that marriage was a lot more equal in the Medieval period and that churches and Christianity, during the journey to the straight-laced Victorian era, tamed and standardised a lot of the beliefs and rituals surrounding marriage and birth. Even today in Ireland, a boy and a girl can be married at the age of 15 with both sets of parents consent and the age of consent in England and Wales was only raised from 13 to 16 in 1885 (prior to 1875, "of age" was 12)
There is so much else that can be discussed on this topic - so much so that this Blog post would be in danger of getting out of control! Just beware the next time a piece of Genealogy Software flashes up a warning that the mothers age was 15 and "are you sure?"- the marriage you seek may not always conform to a modern perspective.
"Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery." ~ Andy Warhol
"An object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit." ~ Pliny the Younger, Letters