Medieval children and surrogate mothers: a study of maternal sensibility
By Clayre D. Brough
Master’s Thesis, McGill University, 1985
Abstract: Responsibility for providing child care, both physical and emotional, was frequently delegated by medieval parents to alternative people and institutions. Motivated by tradition, economic and social position, necessity, and prospecting for the future well-being of the child, parents deliberately paid and sought the services of wet-nurses, fostering families and institutions, and even took full monastic vows for the child to ensure its entrance into a monastery as an oblate. In these surrogate parental and essentially caring relationships it is clear that a distinct maternal sensibility was recognized and prized. Parents were not abandoning their child in turning their care over to these substitute figures; on the contrary they were facing medieval reality and the practical demands by providing for the survival of the child and equipping it to face the imminent future without the support of its parents.