Narrative Ambiguity, Bodily Uncertainty, and Community Involvement: Infanticide in Seventeenth-Century Scotland

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Seale, Persephone
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University of Guelph

This thesis uses seventeenth-century infanticide cases to examine the experience of pregnancy and childbirth in early modern Scotland. Through these cases, it is revealed that the condition of pregnancy and women’s experiences of their bodies during this time were uncertain and reflected the liminality of the early modern age. Additionally, this thesis examines familial and community involvement in cases of infanticide, and argues against the commonly held notion that infanticide was a crime most often committed by women acting alone. The role of the family and the community also ties into the liminal aspects of the experience of pregnancy, as the roles played by the community in illegitimate births, infanticide, and infanticide investigations reflect the inverse of the role of the community/family in traditional, legitimate pregnancies and births. Through my examination of the seventeenth-century infanticide cases, it is revealed that there is far more nuance surrounding the act of infanticide, and the ways in which it is related to the legitimate culture of pregnancy and birth, than has previously been acknowledged in the Scottish context.

scotland, early modern Scotland, early modern, seventeenth century, infanticide, pregnancy, childbirth, 1600s