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  • Whose Child? March 4, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Modern , trackback

    baby victoria

    The machinery of human reproduction means that (save in exceptional circumstances) there may be doubt about the father, but there can be no question as to a baby’s mother. But the whole doubt about the father thing is a serious issue, particularly if you live in a society where blood lines are taken seriously. This blogger, in any case, has been wondering about men and women who very possibly were not really fathered by the man on their birth certificates. Let’s start with a simple but, if true, remarkable example: Queen Victoria. Vicky’s blood runs today in the veins of practically all of Europe’s royalty: she was the monarch of a powerful country and had lots of children and grandchildren. Her mother was the Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Her father was officially the Duke of Kent (and it was his blood that took her to the throne). However, there was talk that Victoria’s mother had a long affair with John Conroy, the man who brought Victoria up after the death of her father: and who had not read any of Dr Spock’s books about parenting. The allegation depends on early nineteenth-century gossip and is probably untrue: but it is fun to think about just because the consequences for the monarchical principle would be so explosive.

    Another intriguing mistaken parent may be there in the case of the first-century B.C. Roman Brutus.  Brutus’ mother, Servilla Caepionis, was the step sister of that grand old Roman Cato.  Her first husband was Marcus Junius Brutus father of the Et-Tu-Marcus Junius Brutus (the younger), who was born in 85 BC. She married again and eventually became Caesar’s lover and there is wonderful let’s-hope-its-true story where Ceasar is presented with a letter in the senate during the debates about the Caitline conspiracy. Cato, Caesar’s enemy, demands that the letter be made public and it turns out to be an erotic note from Servilla: how Cato must have smouldered. In any case, there are snippets of gossip from antiquity that Brutus was actually the product of Caesar’s loins. It seems unlikely though for the simple reason that Caesar was only 15 when Brutus was conceived: though if Caesar had set his sights on an older woman, who knows… He achieved most things he tried for. A lot of the theory depends on Caesar’s kind treatment of Brutus, who belonged to an enemy political faction. But actually Caesar was often merciful and this was his lover’s son.

    Victoria and Brutus then seem to fall at the first fence: any other children of unexpected fathers from the times before DNA made the whole question boringly predictable: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    13 March 2014, Seb writes ‘From French history I can give the example of Napoleon III: it’s very dubious he was the son of Louis, the brother of Napoleon. General Weygand, commander of the French army in June 1940, was probably an illegitimate son of Carlota empress of Mexico.’ Found the second really shocking. Wade, meanwhile, writes: ‘My wife has a keen interest family genealogy. In ancestry/ genealogy circles questionable fatherhood is politely called ‘conceiving away’ or, more prosaically, a ‘non-paternal event’. In one article sheremembers reading, there was one area in England where non-paternity was estimated as high as 33%. But she can’t remember now which area was cited. In looking for this older link we ran across this. In it you also get ‘paternal discrepancy’ and ‘pedigree error’. So several different terms.’ Thanks to Wade and Seb!