Everything in moderation.
On a recent mytelegraph post I called Charles II “a nasty vindictive bastard”, adding “not literally of course but who knows”. Perhaps I should have said “a nasty vindictive bastard of a monarch’, without questioning (facetiously or not) his legitimacy. My remark was made as an allusion, by way of a reply. It would seem that the term ‘bastard’ is deemed to be offensive and subject to moderation by way of being deleted. I can see how this might be, although there are those in Australia who would disagree on this.
The British aristocracy is replete with bastards, where the term is used in what is now considered to be its archaic or derogatory sense. That is, ‘A person conceived and born out of wedlock; an illegitimate child [SOED]. In 2009 the Express published a column with the title The illegitimate royals, in which it wrote about some of the more famous descendants of royal lineage, who are heirs to a bastard. The column went on to say:
The lively lineage of one of Britain’s premier toffs gives the lie to this week’s announcement that Burke’s Peerage and Gentry, which lists the genealogy of every royal and aristocratic family in Europe and the United States, is to include illegitimate children for the first time.
“No, it’s certainly not the first time Burke’s Peerage has included bastards,” agrees the guide’s executive editor William Bortrick. “Charles II is famous for his string of children who keep British society well populated today. What we are actually doing is starting to list the families of couples who have children but choose not to get married, which is becoming much more common.” He adds: “Illegitimate ancestors are a different thing altogether. We have always listed those because they account for half the dukedoms in existence.”
That’s a mischievous exaggeration on Bortrick’s part but it’s certainly true that the British aristocracy can ill-afford to sneer at births on the wrong side of the blanket.
But some of Charles’s bastard offspring founded productive lines. The Duke of Grafton’s great-grandson the 3rd Duke became prime minister under King George III, while another of his descendants was Princess Diana. In fact she could trace her royal lineage twice over because she was also descended from the Duke of Richmond. That remarkable fact means that Prince William should in due course be the first blood descendant of Charles II to accede to the British throne
Not only is the aristocracy replete with bastards, beginning with William the Bastard, so is the English language. But maybe the SOED should be the arbiter here and the moderators should take note of context.
Shakespeare – Measure for Measure. We shall have all the world drink brown and white bastard.
T. Fuller – The Holy State Fame being a bastard or filia populi, ’tis very hard to find her father.
H. G. Wells – Babes in The Darkling Wood Serve the cocky little bastard right.
T. Rattigan Johnny, you old bastard! Are you all right?
J. Maclaren-Ross This bastard of a bump on the back of my head.
M. Shadbolt At first Ned and Nick had to milk in the open, which was a bastard when it rained.
Disraeli – The Star Chamber That bastard, but picturesque style of architecture, called the Italian Gothic.
J. Cheever – Clementina It was not Italian…it was a bastard language of a little Spanish and a little something that Clementina had never heard before.
Bacon’s Essays and Colours of Good and Evil Usurie…is the Bastard use of Money.
R I Murchison – “The Quarterly journal of the Geological Society of London” A bastard limestone charged with encrinites.
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