Mind your language

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the shifting meaning of ‘illegitimate’

‘Illegitimate’ and ‘legitimate’ have done service in English these six centuries

16 April 2016

9:00 AM

16 April 2016

9:00 AM

‘The Archbishop of Canterbury has discovered he is the illegitimate son of Sir Winston Churchill’s last private secretary,’ Charles Moore told us last weekend. As a bonus in this Trollopean tale we learnt that, by Church of England canon law, ‘men born illegitimately were for centuries barred from becoming archbishops’, or indeed bishops.

The affair also reminded me of Daisy Ashford’s The Young Visiters, in which Bernard Clark writes to the Earl of Clincham on behalf of Mr Salteena: ‘The bearer of this letter is an old friend of mine not quite the right side of the blanket as they say in fact he is the son of a first-rate butcher but his mother was a decent family called Hyssopps of the Glen so you see he is not so bad and is desireus of being the correct article.’

Daisy did not say illegitimate, but it, and legitimate, have done service in English these six centuries, and before that in their Latin forms. The subject was of great interest to kings, not to mention prelates, and gets a good going over in clever old Du Cange’s dictionary of medieval Latin (1678). David Hume in his once popular History of England noted that, in Henry III’s reign, ‘The common law had deemed all those bastards who were born before wedlock: By the canon law they were legitimate.’ I think he means that canon law legitimated children born to a couple if they married.

Shakespeare had pondered whether illegitimate children behaved more basely, not only in Lear, but also in Troilus, where Thersites says to Margarelon, who introduces himself as the bastard son of Priam: ‘I am a bastard too; I love bastards: I am a bastard begot, bastard instructed, bastard in mind, bastard in valour, in every thing illegitimate. One bear will not bite another, and wherefore should one bastard?’

‘Bastard’ is the earliest sense of illegitimate. By the 19th century illegitimate theatre was all spectacle and no poetry. Before the formation of the Grand National Hunt Committee in the 1860s, racing over the sticks was illegitimate too, the very Thersites of the turf. But the Archbishop of Canterbury has reminded us by his dignified behaviour that to be illegitimate is perfectly legitimate.

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  • Jackthesmilingblack


    • pobjoy

      There was never too much of that with any established religion. When the CoE was ‘the Conservative Party at prayer’, the usual meaning of ‘illegitimate’ therein was ‘born of a scion of the upper classes with a chamber maid’. So this was a bar on embarrassing admixtures of different social classes.

    • cmflynn

      This law dated back to Catholic times. The idea was to prevent Bishops favouring and promoting any illegitimate sons they might have.

  • SimonToo

    Except that his mother was married at the time of his birth and her husband acknowledged him as his son. He was born in wedlock, so was not (and is not) illegitimate.

  • Terence Hale

    The pillars of British society {Monty Pythons Flying Circus} once said “every sperm must count” as a small- or mid-sized macropod normally found in Australia and New Guinea British the boss of believe has identity problems. This open basic questions, was the Virgin Mary a prostitute and had Josef erectile dysfunction. Should believers ask legitimate questions?

  • There is one thing that isn’t considered illegitimate by the Church of England (nor any other Christian denomination) and that is silly Marxism, as proven by the fact that not one Christian denominations has alerted its flock to the hilariously fake ‘collapses’ operations of the USSR and East Bloc nations, as proven by the following facts the Marxist co-opted media didn’t direct your attention too…

    The following are two discoveries (discovered in April 2015) regarding the Yugoslav ‘civil wars’ and ‘collapse’ of the USSR, and what they prove regarding the Marxist co-option of the West’s political establishments*…

    (I) Communist control of Yugoslavia ‘civil wars’…

    Secessionist Yugoslav Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim factions waged dirty wars against each other, neglecting to first wipe out the 9% of the population that attempted to do away with religion in Yugoslavia, proving the wars were orchestrated and controlled by the communist faction. That 9% constitutes members of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia…


    …the Marxist party that subjugated Yugoslavia from 1945 until the party’s dissolution in January 1990. Before any religious sectarian strife, first there would have been massive reprisals against the reviled Communists who implemented policies to wipe out religion in Yugoslavia. The fact that no such reprisals took place proves that the breakup of Yugoslavia, during the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001), was manufactured and controlled by the Communists; and

    (II) Not one celebration throughout the USSR when the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union…


    …dissolved the USSR on December 26, 1991…

    When Soviet citizens were liberated from up to 74 years of horrific Marxist-atheist oppression on December 26, 1991, the day the USSR officially ended, there were zero celebrations throughout the USSR, proving (1) the ‘collapse’ of the USSR is a strategic ruse; and (2) the political parties of the West were already co-opted by Marxists, otherwise the USSR (and East Bloc nations) couldn’t have gotten away with the ruse.

    Zero celebrations, as the The Atlantic article inadvertently informs us…


    Notice, however, the Kremlin staged anti-government demonstrations that took place in Russia (and other Soviet republics) in the years immediately preceding the ‘dissolving’ of the USSR, yet zero celebrations after the USSR was ‘dissolved’. Also notice that there’s not one picture in The Atlantic retrospective of the celebrations that took place when individual Soviet republics broke away from the USSR throughout 1991, declaring their independence from the USSR. That’s because such inclusions would make one wonder where’s the celebrations for the ‘dissolving’ of the USSR.

    For more on these discoveries, see my blog…


    The above means that the so-called ‘War on Terror’ is an operation being carried out by the Marxist co-opted governments of the West in alliance with the USSR and other Communist nations, the purpose being to (1) destroy the prominence of the West in the eyes of the world, where the West is seen (i) invading nations without cause; (ii) causing chaos around the globe; and (iii) killing over one-million civilians and boasting of torture; (2) close off non-Russian supplies of oil for export, thereby increasing the price of oil, the higher price allowing oil exporting Russia to maintain economic stability while she modernizes and increases her military forces; (3) destroy the United States Armed Forces via the never-ending ‘War on Terror’; the ultimate purpose of the aforementioned to (4) bring about the demise of the United States in the world, opening up a political void to be filled by a new pan-national entity composed of Europe and Russia (replacing the European Union), a union ‘From the Atlantic to Vladivostok’;** which will (5) see the end of NATO.

    The fraudulent ‘collapse’ of the USSR (and East Bloc) couldn’t have been pulled off until both political parties in the United States (and political parties elsewhere in the West) were co-opted by Marxists, which explains why verification of the ‘collapse’ was never undertaken by the West, such verification being (1) a natural administrative procedure (since the USSR wasn’t occupied by Western military forces); and (2) necessary for the survival of the West. Recall President Reagan’s favorite phrase, “Trust, but verify”.

    It gets worse–the ‘freed’ Soviets and West also never (1) de-Communized the Soviet Armed Forces of its Communist Party officer corps, which was 90% officered by Communist Party members; and (2) arrested/de-mobilized the five million vigilantes that assisted the Soviet Union’s Ministry of the Interior and police control the populations of the cities during the period of ‘Perestroika’ (1986-1991)!

    There can be no collapse of the USSR (or East Bloc nations) without…

    Verification, De-Communization and De-mobilization.

    The West never verified the collapse of the USSR because no collapse occurred, since if a real collapse had occurred the West would have verified it, since the survival of the West depends on verification. Conversely, this proves that the political parties of the West were co-opted by Marxists long before the fraudulent collapse of the USSR, since the survival of the West depends on verification.


    The West will form new political parties where candidates are vetted for Marxist ideology, the use of the polygraph to be an important tool for such vetting. Then the West can finally liberate the globe of vanguard Communism.


    * The failed socialist inspired and controlled pan-European revolutions that swept the continent in 1848(1) taught Marxists and socialists a powerful lesson, that lesson being they couldn’t win overtly,(2) so they adopted the tactic of infiltration of the West’s political parties/institutions. In the case of the United States…(continue reading at DNotice)…


    ** ‘Russia is an inalienable and organic part of Greater Europe and European civilization. Our citizens think of themselves as Europeans. We are by no means indifferent to developments in united Europe.

    That is why Russia proposes moving toward the creation of a common economic and human space from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean – a community referred by Russian experts to as “the Union of Europe,” which will strengthen Russia’s potential and position in its economic pivot toward the “new Asia.”’ – Vladimir Putin (2012).