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Accusations of infanticide on the Eve of the French Wars of Religion

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Luc Racaut



This is a paper in a co-edited collection of essays. It is 6,000 words long. Abstract: Infanticide is commonly thought to be the crime committed by women who find themselves burdened with an unwanted child. This understanding derives from work which has concentrated on trials on the 17th, 18th and 19th century. Infanticide in the medieval and early modern period, however, remains less well known. Although women were put on trial for the crime as in the later periods, infanticide was not exclusively linked to unwanted pregnancy and poverty. On the eve of the French Wars of Religion, for instance, infanticide was associated with heresy and the accusation was levelled against the Protestant community as a whole. The accusation of ritual murder, including neonaticide, the killing of a new-born child, had also been used against Jews since late antiquity. The long history of this accusation, which was used continuously from late antiquity to the early modern period, highlights the horror with which it was regarded in Europe. Concealment and secrecy was a predominant element of these accusations. It is precisely because nobody knew what Protestants were doing during their nightly meetings, that it was possible for Catholic propagandists to accuse them of neonaticide. This element of doubt, together with the fact that infanticide remained a ‘hidden’ crime, often difficult to prove, constitutes a disturbing element of continuity with the later period. Extract of review in History (2003): ‘Luc Racaut’s study of the use of the charge of child murder against Protestants during the French Wars of Religion holds significance for the entire collection, for its commentary on the involvement in child murder in the demonization of minorities. It resonates fascinatingly with Patricia van der Spuys’ account of the racially divided context of colonial south Africa.’

Publication metadata

Author(s): Racaut L

Editor(s): Jackson M.

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: Infanticide: Historical Perspectives on Child Murder and Concealment, 1550-2000.

Year: 2002

Pages: 18-34

Publisher: Ashgate

Place Published: Aldershot


Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9780754603184