in the law of England and Wales
England and Wales is a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. It consists of England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom...
is a person whose parents, at the time of his/her birth, were not married to each other.
Unlike in many other systems of law, there was previously no possibility of post factum
legitimisation of a bastard. This situation was changed in 1926.
The word bastard is from the Old French "bastard," which in turn was from medieval Latin "bastardus." According to some sources, "bastardus" may have come from the word "bastum," which means packsaddle, the connection possibly being the idea that a bastard might be the child of a passing traveller (who would have a packsaddle). In support of this is the Old French phrase "fils de bast" loosely meaning "child of the saddle," which had a similar meaning.
Common law origin
Bastardy was not a status, like villeinage, but the fact of being a bastard had a number of legal effects on an individual.
One exception to the general principle that a bastard could not inherit occurred when the eldest son (who would otherwise be heir) was born a bastard but the second son was born after the parents were married.
The Provisions of Merton
The Statute of Merton or Provisions of Merton , sometimes also known as the Ancient Statute of Merton, is considered to be the first English statute, and is printed as the first statute in The Statutes of the Realm.The statute's terms were agreed at Merton between Henry III and the barons of...
1235 (20 Hen. 3 c. IX), otherwise known as the Special Bastardy Act 1235, provided that except in the case of real actions the fact of bastardy could be proved by trial by jury, rather than necessitating a bishop's certificate.
Post-hoc legitimisation was introduced under the Legitimacy Act 1926
The Legitimacy Act 1926 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.-Act:The Act allowed children to be legitimised by the subsequent marriage of their parents, provided that neither parent had been married to a third party at the time of the birth...
(16 & 17 Geo. 5 c. 60) and the Family Law Reform Act 1969 (c. 46) allowed a bastard to inherit on the intestacy
Intestacy is the condition of the estate of a person who dies owning property greater than the sum of their enforceable debts and funeral expenses without having made a valid will or other binding declaration; alternatively where such a will or declaration has been made, but only applies to part of...
of his parents.
In Medieval Wales
In Medieval Wales, prior to its conquest by and incorporation in England, a "bastard" was defined solely as a child not acknowledged by his father. All children acknowledged by a father, whether born in or out of wedlock, had equal legal rights including the right to share in the father's inheritance. This legal difference between Wales and England is often referred to in the well-known "Brother Cadfael" series of Medieval detective
A detective is an investigator, either a member of a police agency or a private person. The latter may be known as private investigators or "private eyes"...
mysteries, and provides the solution to the mystery in one of them.