Traditionally, analyses of births out of wedlock in eighteenth-century Scotland have used Kirk Session registers as their principal source since they best document the everyday behaviour of the lower social orders who, otherwise, seldom appear in written records.1 Consisting of the minister and elected elders – a respected group of male members of their community – the Kirk Session was the lowest court of the Presbyterian Kirk, the established Church of Scotland. It was responsible for the spiritual oversight of the congregation, controlling the moral demeanour of the parish, and handling cases of what Scottish society considered immoral conduct. The Scottish Church disliked sexual irregularities, in particular, and one reason for the existence of comprehensive Kirk Session records was the Church’s obsession with ‘any show of physical intimacy between the sexes outside marriage’.2 ‘Scandalous carriage’, or inappropriate flirting and physical contact, was heavily penalized and, when appropriate, treated as the graver offence of fornication.3 Thus, such records recreate a portrait of sexual offenders as viewed through the eyes of the authorities of the day, and shaped by the moral requirements of the period. It has been harder to uncover how the Kirk elders’ attitude towards fornicators compared with broader public opinion on births outside marriage and how unwed mothers felt about conception and birth outside wedlock. To answer these questions, this chapter uses oral culture, particularly the ballads collected by the folklorist Francis J. Child, to help restore women’s voices on this issue. Widely indicative of the values of their era, the illegitimacy ballads in Child’s collection complement the history of bastardy in eighteenth-century Scotland, revealing

women’s attitudes towards births outside wedlock, and thus contributing to the reconstruction of an intimate l’histoire des mentalities of their age.4