Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Bilhah, servant to Rachel, and Zilpah, servant to Leah, each bore the patriarch Jacob two children, and, be it observed, that they inherited like legitimate sons, as well as the eight other male children whom Jacob had by the two sisters Leah and Rachel. It is true that all their inheritance consisted in a blessing; whereas, William the Bastard inherited Normandy.

Thierri, a bastard of Clovis, inherited the best part of Gaul, invaded by his father. Several kings of Spain and Naples have been bastards. In Spain bastards have always inherited. King Henry of Transtamare was not considered as an illegitimate king, though he was an illegitimate child, and this race of bastards, founded in the house of Austria, reigned in Spain until Philip V.

The line of Aragon, who reigned in Naples in the time of Louis XII., were bastards. Count de Dunois signed himself “the bastard of Orleans,” and letters were long preserved of the duke of Normandy, king of England, which were signed “William the Bastard.”

In Germany it is otherwise; the descent must be pure; bastards never inherit fiefs, nor have any estate. In France, as has long been the case, a king’s bastard cannot be a priest without a dispensation from Rome, but he becomes a prince without any difficulty as soon as the king acknowledges him to be the offspring of his sire, even though he be the bastard of an adulterous father and mother. It is the same in Spain. The bastard of a king of England may be a duke but not a prince. Jacob’s bastards were neither princes nor dukes; they had no lands, the reason being that their father had none, but they were afterwards called patriarchs, which may be rendered arch-fathers.

It has been asked whether the bastards of the popes might be popes in turn. Pope John XI. was, it is true, a bastard of Pope Sergius III., and of the famous Marozia; but an instance is not a law.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01