Bastard (old Fr. bastard, of uncertain derivation), a person born without lawful parentage. By the English law a child born after the marriage of its parents, whatever may be the time, is legitimate, unless non-access of the husband, who is otherwise presumed to be the father, can be proved. Birth of a child after the death of the husband, if within a possible period of gestation commencing from a time anterior to such decease, is also held to be legitimate; and this period has in some instances been allowed of an extravagant extent, but is now, in accordance with the opinion of medical writers as to the limit of any accidental variation from the accustomed course, fixed at 10 months. To avoid any question which might arise in cases of second marriage by the widow soon after the death of the husband, it was a rule of the civil law that she should be prohibited from marrying infra annum luctus (within the year of mourning), which, according to the ancient Roman calendar, was 10 months; and the same rule was adopted by the Saxons and Danes, except that the year was 12 months.
By the civil and canon law the intermarriage of the parents after the birth of a child rendered such child legitimate; and this is the law of Scotland, France, Holland, and Germany. The ecclesiastics unsuccessfully urged the parliament of Merton in the reign of Henry III. to adopt this rule of the canon law; it has never been accepted in England. A bastard, by the English common law, being held to be nullius filius, cannot take real or personal estate as the heir of either parent, nor has he even the name of the father or mother, but may assume it or any other name, and is known in law only by such assumed or reputed name. He is, however, able to take real or personal estate by will or other conveyance, and to dispose of the same in a similar manner; but only his children can inherit, and in case he dies intestate without children, his real estate escheats to the crown, and his personal estate is disposed of by administration for the benefit of the crown or its grantee.
The father at common law was not bound to provide for a bastard child, but by the statutes provision is made for compelling the father to give security for the maintenance of a child, so as to prevent its becoming a charge upon the parish. - In the United States important modifications have been made in respect to the rights of illegitimate children. In most of the states a bastard may take, by inheritance as heir or next of kin of the mother, and the mother may inherit from her illegitimate child; but, with a few exceptions, the common law rule that the intermarriage of the putative father and mother does not legitimate a child born before the marriage still obtains. The provisions of the English statutes in respect to compelling the father to give security for the maintenance of a child have been generally adopted in this country, the object being, in general, only to indemnify the town or county from the charge of the child as a pauper.