On both documents, the father of the child is given as Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley took financial responsibility for little Elena Adelaide even though she never lived with Percy and his wife Mary.
The birth certificate, retrieved from the Neapolitan archives in the 1930’s, is reproduced here. You can just make out the name "Elena Adelaide" at the bottom in this image with an elaborately drawn "E" and "A" and "d"
Ivan Roe, writing in 1955, said that “Godwin” has been misread as “Padurin,” “a slip resulting from unfamiliarity with the Italian script used in the certificate."
Yet subsequently, many biographers have reported that the name is given as “Marina (or Maria or Mary) Padurin.” Padurin is a Russian surname and no-one has suggested a Shelley connection to this name.
Even though it is agreed that Mary Godwin Shelley could not be the mother of Elena Adelaide and may even have been kept in the dark about Shelley claiming paternity for the child, many scholars have assumed that Shelley intended to give his wife's maiden name for the birth certificate.
Shelley spoke Italian and was standing right in front of the registrar, giving him the information. His signature appears on the birth certificate. So if he meant "Godwin," why did he say "Padurin" or allow the clerk to write "Padurin"?
And if he meant to give his wife Mary as the mother, why did he give the wrong age? Why was the mother’s age given as 27 when Mary Shelley was 21 at the time?
I have my own fanciful explanation, which I think is as plausible as claiming that Padurin is a phonetic rendering of Godwin. “Padurin” should be “Pandurin,” a combination of Pandemos and Uranus, a combination of the different types of love described by Plato, which Shelley had been studying and translating the previous year. Only one letter is missing. Shelley had a lifelong habit of bestowing nicknames on his friends and family members.
However, it must be acknowledged that there is also a baptism certificate which apparently lists the mother as "Mary Godwin." Shelley took the baby to the church in the Parish of St. Joseph where she was baptised, presumably as a Catholic. The baptism certificate says the baby was "lawfully begotten," that is, Elena Adelaide is the daughter of Percy Shelley and his wife, which we know cannot be true, at least as far as Mary is concerned. The baby was baptised on February 27th, the same day that Percy Shelley went to the registrar and registered the birth.
Elena Adelaide was listed as being fifteen months and twelve days old when she died on June 9th, 1820, which would place her birth at the end of February, and Shelley registered her birth at the end of February, but said she was born on December 27th. Did he, in addition to lying about the mother, lie about her date of birth?
James Bieri suggests that “Shelley possibly selected December 27 as the child's birth date in order to conceal association with its actual mother.” A child due in February would have been conceived in the summer, when Shelley spent some time apart from his wife. A child born in December would have been conceived the previous spring, which would have been an alibi for Shelley, because he was living with his wife at the time.
We know from their journals that a doctor came to the Shelley’s house to see Claire on December 27th and that she had been having unspecified health problems through the previous fall.
And Richard Holmes points to a reference to December 27th as an important date in Shelley’s tragic verse play, The Cenci, a date singled out with “transparent bitterness.” The evil Count gloats as he announces the death of two of his rebellious sons:
All in the self-same hour of the same night
Which shows that heaven has special care for me
I beg those friends who love me, that they mark
The day a feast upon their calendars.
It was the twenty-seventh of December.
It is as though the date has special dark significance for Shelley.
And again, the number "27" is reported as the mother’s age on the birth certificate. Neither Mary Shelley, nor her sister Claire Clairmont, nor the nursemaid Elise, who was pregnant that winter, were 27 years old. Perhaps Elena Adelaide's real mother, whoever she was, was 27 years old.
Next: What happened to Elena Adelaide? And other mysteries featured in my upcoming novel, A Different Kind of Woman
Important update: A scholar has found the burial certificate for Elena Adelaide in Naples. See what it says about Elena Adelaide's parentage.
(PS, warning, the true story of Beatrice Cenci is very tragic, so don't read about her if you don't want to feel very sad.)
Update: I have also excerpted and expanded my story about Shelley and this literary mystery in a separate novella, Shelley and the Unknown Lady. Love my cover by Dissect Designs!
Previous posts in this series:
Shelley and the Mysterious Lady
Shelley: Pursued or Pursuer?
In the Deep Wide Sea of Misery
Who was Elena Adelaide?