Jon Snow: What the hell do you know about being a bastard?
Tyrion: All dwarfs are bastards in their fathers' eyes.
Illegitimacy (or bastardy) is the status of a child born outside marriage.
Fictional characters born out of wedlock are often portrayed as conflicted about their status, for several reasons:
- The lack of inheritance and support. Historically, children born out of wedlock receive little to no inheritance (or at least far less than their legitimate siblings). The mother and child may also receive very little support from the father. note
- Societal belief that their extramarital birth affects their character. Historically and in fiction with a historical or quasi-historical setting, bastards were often assumed to be of poor character, either by virtue of being "tainted" by a sin of lust or out of jealousy of their legitimate siblings, hence the trope Bastard Bastard (the increasingly-common subversion to that trope is Heroic Bastard).
- Because of the above, they are ostracized by the community and often treated poorly (especially compared to the legitimate children, if they are shown at all). Some of this survives to the present day, as "bastard" is considered an insult to a person's character.
- If at least one of the bastard's parents are present in a work, expect a mention of how the extramarital affair resulted in a strain on their marriage. This is less common in settings where one is expected to have extramarital affairs (e.g. concubinage).
- If the illegitimate child's mother is the wife, she may grow resentful of her child due to the resident Double Standard — a man may father illegitimate children without much societal consequence, but a woman is Defiled Forever. Sadly, this is Truth in Television, as historically women have been subject to violence at the hands of their families for giving birth to bastards in the name of honor. See also Child by Rape for a darker way this can play out.
- If the illegitimate child was conceived by the husband and another woman, the wife may still resent the child as a product of her husband's infidelity.
- The illegitimate child's relationships with their legitimate siblings, if focused on, often vary; but in settings where this trope is prevalent, the trueborn offspring are expected to be somewhat distanced from them.
Because of any combination of the above, bastards in fiction often feel the need to prove — be it to society, their parents, or themselves — that the circumstances of their birth have no effect on their ability to become a valuable member of society. Out of a desire to overcome the stigma of being illegitimate, they seek to be recognized and do this by attempting to achieve fame and glory. Depending on how heroic the bastard in question is, this may or may not play into Ambition Is Evil. This is especially likely if the bastard in question is older than their legitimate siblings.
If the child's parents are royal or noble, expect an attempt to usurp the estate. This may be of their own volition or traitorous members of the court manipulating them in order to seize power for themselves. More idealistic settings with more sympathetic bastards will get them a sizable inheritance at the end, if not make them the Unexpected Successor to the whole shebang. In more modern settings, bastards usually strive for distinction in their field of interest.
If the child's illegitimacy isn't public knowledge, steps may be taken to ensure that they come off as legitimate.
The Bastard Bastard and Heroic Bastard may both experience this, as well as the Child by Rape and Son of a Whore. Compare Half-Breed Discrimination, in which a character faces much of the same prejudice and dislike on a societal level, and Half-Sibling Angst, in which a character is anguish due to being a half-sibling.
- Seta Soujirou of Rurouni Kenshin is a darker take on this trope — his entire stepfamily was abusive towards him for his illegitimacy, which caused him to snap and kill them all.
- Attack on Titan:
- Krista Lenz, aka Historia Reiss, is the illegitimate child of the most powerful nobleman in the series. Because of this, the character was sent to away and grew up isolated and lonely, with the few neighbors acting cruelly — to say nothing of the character's mother showing nothing but hatred for them, all the way until her traumatic death. After all that, said character joined the military under a false name in order to get away. Although they're kind and nice, other characters note that the character's actions seem deliberately suicidal than outright helpful, and point out that they only joined the military looking for a glorious way to die.
- Reiner Braun is the product of an illicit Secret Relationship between an Eldian woman and a Marleyan. This resulted in them being abandoned, with the mother resentful of her lower status and the child obsessed with reuniting their parents somehow. It's unknown whether being born out of wedlock to a mother that was too afraid to identify the father had any extra negative stigma or not.
- Kallen from Code Geass. Because her biological father's wife could not bear children, Kallen was adopted into her noble father's household. Her biological mother gets herself hired as a maid and eventually turns to drug use in order to relive happier days. This heavily strains Kallen's relationship with her mother but they make up by the finale.
- Tamaki from Ouran High School Host Club is the illegitimate son of a Japanese man and a French woman. His Evil Matriarch grandmother brought him to France in exchange for paying for her financial troubles and forbade him from ever having contact with her again. Despite this, his grandmother still treats Tamaki like crap, always reminding him that he's "filthy."
- Maid-Sama! has the character of Usui, who was conceived during an illicit affair between a married British woman and a Japanese man. As a result, he has a strained relationship with his biological family and avoids bringing them up as much as possible.
- One Piece: Ace is the bastard son of Pirate King Gold Roger, and as such he has a big stigma put on him (although given who his dad is, being legitimate wouldn't have made the world view him much better in any case). For his whole life, Ace always wonders whether he deserves to be born because of this.
- The Queen Of Hearts:
- Elsa finds out that most likely her parents couldn't conceive and asked another man to help. She has trouble coming to terms with the fact, especially since it makes her an illegitimate heir to Arendelle. Even after it turns out to be true, her sister Anna refuses to take over as queen.
- Hans' older brothers ostracized him for being a bastard raised as a prince. However, Hans himself is oblivious to the fact that he's the half-brother of Anna and Elsa through their mother.
- Shows up in Wilkie Collins's novels:
- The titular "dead secret" and reveal of The Dead Secret is that protagonist Rosamund is actually an illegitimate child passed off as an heiress. This causes much internal and external conflict, as her husband refuses to accept her inheritance.
- In The Woman in White, Glyde is revealed to be illegitimate. He knew about this and went to great lengths to conceal it in order to preserve his title and estate.
- A Song of Ice and Fire has several bastard-born children, but the ones who exhibit this trope the most are:
- Heroic Bastard Jon Snow, the acknowledged illegitimate son of Lord Eddard Stark. Jon grew up feeling like somewhat of an outsider among his family, though he is loved by his father, trueborn siblings,note and uncle, and Jon loves them. Jon struggles with his illegitimacy due to societal prejudice against bastard-born children, limited options for his future, and because he is resented by his father's wife Catelyn, who dislikes Jon for being Eddard's illegitimate son who Eddard brought home to raise alongside his and Catelyn's trueborn children, Jon's half-siblings.note Jon yearns to know who his mother is but his father refuses to talk about her for mysterious, unknown reasons. Partly because of angst over his illegitimacy, desire to prove his worth, and to follow his dream of becoming a First Ranger like his uncle, Jon joins the Night's Watch for the sake of honour. Nonetheless, Jon has had a far better upbringing than most in Westeros, not to mention many other noble-blooded illegitimate children (Gendry, Falia Flowers, Mya Stone): his father openly acknowledges and raises Jon himself in his castle alongside his trueborn offspring and gives Jon a highborn education and castle training alongside Jon's trueborn brother, Robb, with whom Jon is very close. Part of Jon's character arc is recognizing his privileged upbringing. Notably, Jon turns down Stannis Baratheon's offer of legitimization and the chance to inherit Winterfell out of loyalty to his father's gods and because Winterfell belongs to his sister Sansa.
- Bastard Bastard Ramsay Snow, the unacknowledged illegitimate son of Roose Bolton. Unlike Jon Snow, Ramsay is poorly treated by his father and receives nothing from him. Ramsay goes to great lengths to prove to his father that he's just as horrible as the rest of their family and deserving of the family name, including torturing, mutilating and brainwashing a family rival. It's implied he murdered his legitimate brother to become his father's only heir.
- Downplayed with Mya Stone, the unacknowledged illegitimate daughter of King Robert Baratheon. Mya is a good-natured, kind girl who knows her father is King Robert Baratheon. Though she angsts about her illegitimate birth making her unable to marry the minor lord she fell in love with, Mya is otherwise content with her life. Though Robert did not officially acknowledge Mya, he appears to have affection for her, having expressed an interest in bringing her to court, and visiting her daily before he became king.
- In War and Peace, Pierre Bezukhov is the bastard of one of the wealthiest, most powerful counts of Russia, who, upon his death, legitimizes him. He was educated in Paris, and came back with very liberal ideas that make him a big outsider in the Russian aristocratic circles.
- Pierre Tartue/Lumen in the Arcia Chronicles comes from a bastard-born bloodline of the Lumens — one of the two clans vying for the throne of Arcia from book three onwards. He does a lot of very unsavory things to cover up his illegitimacy both before and after he usurps the throne, and hates being reminded that he is still a bastard.
- A downplayed version in A Civil Campaign is when Count Rene Vorbretten is threatened with a succession suit because an ancestor was a bastard, thus clicking complicated tangles in local laws. An added public relations difficulty was that the father was a soldier in an invading army.
- Stragen from The Elenium is hypersensitive about his illegitimate birth.
- Demigods from The Camp Half-Blood Series are illegitimate children by default, and there's generally a lot of resentment towards the gods for being inattentive parents who only turn to them when they need something accomplished (this is in fact what turns some demigods against them in Percy Jackson and the Olympians). The fact that gods like Hera tend to have strained relationships with their spouse's offspring don't help matters.
- Mariam of A Thousand Splendid Suns is pawned off to a rich man by her father after her mother is Driven to Suicide. Both she and her mother are on the receiving end of stigmatization by the local community (Truth in Television in fact, since Afghan society considers it quite scandalous).
- The Long Walk: Stebbins is actually the bastard son of the Major himself, one of several unacknowledged ones as he notes. He wants his prize for winning the Long Walk to merely be his acceptance into his father's home.
- Game of Thrones: Like his counterpart in the books, Jon Snow angsts over his illegitimate status and not knowing anything about his mother. It's then revealed that he's not actually a bastard: Ned Stark is actually his uncle and his true parents are Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned's sister, Lyanna Stark, who died giving birth to him. Before dying, Lyanna made Ned promise to protect her newborn son from the wrath of Robert Baratheon, who wanted all the Targaryens killed for "kidnapping" Lyanna (in truth, she left with Rhaegar willingly because she didn't return Robert's feelings and Rhaegar annulled his marriage to his previous wife to marry Lyanna). To protect his nephew, Ned passed Jon off as his own bastard, never telling a single soul the truth, not even his wife, despite the stain it left on his otherwise honorable reputation and his wife's trust in him. Eventually, Ned's legitimate son Bran and Jon's best friend Sam discover the truth about the parentage of Jon through their own ways (Bran with his seer powers and Sam by poking around in some historical records). While it remains to be seen how this revelation will be handled in the future books, as the show has overtaken the books, the show's creators did get the go-ahead from George R. R. Martin himself to make the adaptation because they correctly guessed the identity of Jon's mother.
- Reign: Sebastian, the king's bastard, is usually caring and supportive of his legitimate siblings. But when he becomes attracted to Mary, Francis's betrothed, who plots to make him king for other reasons, he seizes the opportunity. Later, in an attempt to prove himself beyond his familial connections, he seeks to defeat the Darkness ravaging the countryside. In a moment of introspection in the series finale, he admits that he fell into this trope, telling Kenna that he continuously needed to feel like he was "enough."
- Don Draper of Mad Men experienced this, being the bastard son of a whore. When his biological father died his stepmother made life miserable for him, spurring him to take over a dead man's identity and become the Manipulative Bastard he is in the show.
- In the Ironclaw novella Scars main character Danica is the illegitimate daughter of a grey fox noble. One day she got in a fight with one of her half-brothers and accidentally scratched him, her father reacted by having her declawed (normally done to serious criminals and slaves) and threw her out on the street, where she was found and raised by a Bounty Hunter. Dani's father tuns out to have been the recently deceased High King Fidelio d'Rinaldi, and she recognizes the mad "impostor" she was hired to capture as the real Prince Fedrizzio by the scars she gave him when they were kits.
- The reason for Elphaba's terrible home life in Wicked: her father favors her younger siblings because he's pretty sure she isn't his daughter.
- Comes up often in the works of William Shakespeare.
- The Big Bad of King Lear is Edmund, whose first soliloquy expounds his frustration over his father's preferential treatment of legitimate son Edgar, and his own inability to inherit the land that he feels ought to be his. So he sets out on a plot of murder, manipulation, seduction, and political machination that ultimately sees ten cast members dead, including himself and the entire line of British succession.
- Don Jon, the apparent villain of Much Ado About Nothing, is the illegitimate half-brother of Don Pedro, prince of Aragon. He has just lost a rebellion against his brother when the story begins and spends five acts angsting about it while his lackeys do the evil stuff for him.
- The arguable protagonist of King John, the "Bastard Faulconbridge," encounters this briefly, when it is discovered in Act I that he is not truly his father's son. But he chooses to embrace his birthright as the illegitimate son of King Richard the Lionheart and uses it to better himself and his station in life.
- Even Hamlet may be an example of this. If the speed with which Hamlet's mother Gertrude and his Evil Uncle Claudius marry after the death of Hamlet's father is any indication, we can assume they have been having an affair for years. Combine this with the fact that Hamlet's father seems to have been away at war for much of his reign, and Hamlet's angst about being "too much in the son" takes on a new twist.
- Alexander Hamilton's illegitimate birth did nothing to help his family's situation in the Caribbean, and the narration of Hamilton always makes sure to bring it up to emphasize the opposition Alexander faced on his rise to the top.
- In Shining Song Starnova, Nemu Akimoto is the illegitimate child of the heir of Amaterasu Television. While her fathers wife Haruna adopted her into the Akimoto family following her birth mothers death, Nemu is convinced that Haruna resents her for being a constant reminder of her husbands infidelity and only adopted her to avoid a scandal regarding her parentage. The fact that Haruna wont let Nemu follow in her mothers footsteps by becoming an Idol Singer adds further strain to their relationship.
- In Umineko: When They Cry, Sayo Yasuda gets hit with a double dose of this, as Sayo is both illegitimate and a Child by Rape, conceived when Kinzo Ushiromiya forced himself on his own daughter Beatrice II. To say Sayo takes it badly upon finding this out is a vast understatement.
- Maria Ushiromiya gets a lesser dose of this, since comments made by her mother Rosa indicate that Maria's birth was, at best, an accident, and her biological father already had a family of his own and has refused to be part of Maria's life. Part of the reason Maria and Rosa's relationship is so troubled is that Maria thinks her mother wishes she was never born.
- Sandor from Might and Magic: Heroes VI is the eldest-but-illegitimate son of Duke Slava of the Griffin Duchy, and is overlooked to become the next duke in favour of his younger brother Anton. He decides to leave the politics of the Duchies behind him and find a new life as a Barbarian Hero among the Orc tribes of the Pao Islands.
- Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins is conflicted about his status as the bastard son of the deceased King Maric of Ferelden, since it was made clear to him from the start that he was, at best, the Hidden Backup Prince to his legitimate half-brother Cailan, and his foster-mother Isolde eventually pressured her husband and Alistair's foster-father Eamon to send him away to the Templars because of rumors that he was actually Eamon's. And when he meets his half-sister Goldanna by his mother as an adult she makes no secret of her resentment towards him since their mother suffered Death by Childbirth after Alistair was born and Goldanna was paid off and effectively forced out of where she'd been living in Redcliffe castle. The tie-in novels also reveal that story is actually a lie, and Alistair's real mother is an elven Grey Warden named Fiona, with Goldanna's removal from the castle being part of the coverup of Alistair's real maternity.
- Lucien Moreau from the Nexus Clash Laurentia arc sent his illegitimate son Jacques away to Walk the Earth in hopes that the experience would turn him into The Ace like his father. Instead, this trope wore Jacques down and made him a jaded and power-hungry mercenary ruthless enough to return after his father's death, rebrand himself as a Hidden Backup Prince, and push Lucien's legitimate children aside to inherit Lucien's legacy himself.
- Persona 5: This trope is a major component to why Goro Akechi is the way he is. After spending years being passed around through abusive foster homes and being spurned, he obtained the power to traverse the Metaverse, and he spends over two years nursing his Persona-summoning powers in order to cause the downfall of his father, Masayoshi Shido. In his daily life, he is extremely particular about his physical appearance and lifestyle, and he opted to become something of an idol among detectives in order to alleviate the loneliness he feels, all to cast aside any doubt that he was an unwanted bastard.
- Averted with Futaba. While she does have a great deal of issues, such as blaming herself for her mother's death, having a crippling social phobia and parting with her Only Friend on bad terms, being the daughter of an unmarried woman isn't one of them.
- Tamaura, who is conspicuously the only redhead in her dark-haired family from Blindsprings was secreted away in a cloister before being brought to court by her mother, the Empress of Aberwelle, to take over the position of High Priestess from her legitimate sister Aliana, who absolutely hated losing her position. Tammy had to put up with mutterings of "bastards at Court" behind her back and an enormous amount of scrutiny at or before the age of 12.
- Brothers Edwin Booth, John Wilkes Booth and Junius Brutus Booth Jr. were the result of an extramarital affair actor Junius Brutus Booth had. This spurred them to make names for themselves, becoming rival actors. Edwin became a noted Unionist, while John, well, grew up to assassinate Lincoln. In spite of his loyalties, Edwin had difficulty living this down, along with the rest of their family. Junius Jr. never achieved their fame. Edwin, ironically, had rescued Robert Lincoln from accidentally falling in front of a train fairly shortly before the assassination (though he didn't know who it was at the time).