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Orphan Records, Early Modern France


Much of early modern Europe saw increasing numbers of abandoned children, and new institutions designed to care for them. Published notarial documents, such as the two excerpted here, allow a glimpse into the fortunes of individual orphaned children in early modern Europe.

These documents are excerpted from Ages of Woman, Ages of Man: Sources in European Social History, 1400-1750 edited by Monica Chojnacka and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks.


Adoption of an orphan, France 1540
Guillaume Percheron, day laborer living on the rue de Copeaulx in the dwelling of the Carmelites [an order of friars] of Paris, and Jehanne Goret, his wife, she authorized in this matter, affirm that, for the great love and attachment that they have and declare for Batiste Bernard, aged three years or so, they have taken and retained him and by this contract take him in their custody, to raise him.

[Batiste Bernard is] the minor son of the late Symon Bernard, who while living was poor and a day laborer living in the said street, and [the late] Catherine Corbillon, his wife, the two previously the father and mother of the boy, who were natives of Saint Martin d'Étampes, and who died, it is said, at the [poor relief hospital of] Hôtel Dieu of Paris after Saint Jehan Baptiste past.

[Percheron and Goret] have promised and promise to supply and deliver what he needs in terms of drink, food, fire, bed, lodging, and light, as much in health as in sickness; to instruct him in good morals; and to maintain him in all his clothing and other necessities whatsoever, all well and duly as appropriate and as if he were their own child.

And [they also promise] to provide for him in marriage or otherwise as appropriate to his standing and according to the ability and property of the said Percheron and his wife.

And in consideration of the things said here, they give him all and each of their possessions that they may have at the time of their passing on, to take as if he were their own child and rightful heir.

Present for this [was] Estienne Papillon, plowman of vines, living at Bonyeres les Cellees, near the said Étampes, uncle of the said minor through Martine Bernard, his wife, who was the sister of the deceased [father] of the said minor; and Audrye Papillon, wife of Jehan Gaillard, living at Saint Michel in Paris, rue du Puys de Fer, cousin of the said minor, who have given and give the said minor to the said Percheron and his wife as is stated; and they affirm clearly that this is for the benefit and welfare of the said minor, who has no possessions or kin who are able to provide for him.

Promising, etc., obligating, etc., each in his own right, etc., renouncing. Done in duplicate and passed, that is by the said Percheron and Estienne Papillon and Audrye Papillon on Thursday the 11th day of November, the year 1540, and for the said Jehanne Goret, wife of the said Percheron, on the day of [blank], 15 [blank].

Apprenticeship of orphans, France 1542
Jacqueline Parisot, hosier [maker of stockings] and wife of Anthoyne Gougneulx, day laborer, the said Jacqueline living in the rue Anemairet in the building whose sign is the seal of France, in Paris, affirms that the Commissioners appointed on the matter of the poor of this city of Paris have given her, as apprentice, from today for two years, Marguerite Massarpe, impoverished child aged 8 or 9 years, orphan without mother or father.

Jacqueline has taken [Massarpe] as her apprentice, to whom she has promised to show and teach her the profession and trade of hosier well and duly; and during the said time will well and honorably provide her with what she needs in terms of drink, food, fire, bed, lodging, light, clothing, footwear of linen, body linen, and similarly all her other necessities whatsoever; however, she will be paid by the said Commissioners 100 sous tournois for each of the said two years.

To do this is present the said Marguerite, apprentice, who has promised, promises, and guarantees to serve the said Jacqueline in the said profession and learn well and duly the said trade, obey all [Jacqueline's] lawful and honorable commands, work to her benefit, avoid losses to her; without fleeing or serving elsewhere during the said time.

Promising, etc., obligating, etc., event he said Marguerite renouncing body and possessions, etc., Done and passed in duplicate in the year 1542, Tuesday, the 25th day of July.


Chojnacka, Monica and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, eds. Ages of Woman, Ages of Man: Sources in European Social History, 1400–1750. London: Longman, 2002, 31–2, 35.

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"Orphan Records, Early Modern France ," in World History Commons, [accessed June 13, 2024]