so, we’ve seen that, starting in the early medieval period, the church and tptb put the brakes on inbreeding in europe. by the eleventh century, you weren’t allowed to marry even your sixth cousin (although this was knocked back to fourth cousin in the following century). most of this happened in the heart of europe, starting in frankish territory and spreading outwards through what is today france, germany, england, northern italy and northern spain, plus at least parts of scandinavia.

but what about the more peripheral regions of europe? what happened in places like the iberian peninsula and sicily and the balkans? russia and slavic countries east of the hajnal line? ireland and scotland? things didn’t play out in those regions like in the core of europe. let’s start with what happened in … (*hbd chick throws dart at map*) … ireland.

in pre-christian ireland [pg. 289]:

“Although … as in the rest of early Europe, there were no hard and fast rules governing the choice of marriage partner (other than a taboo on primary incest), there was a preference for marriage between close kin (in-marriage), and for matches between children of fathers of equal rank (isogamy).”

not a big surprise there. the christian church, as per usual, tried to put a stop to in-marriage in ireland like they did elsewhere, but without much success [pg. 291]:

“Connected to the practice of dowering women was the preference for marriage with close kin; this tended to conserve property within the fine [paternal kin], or between pairs of fine branches that repeatedly intermarried. Clerical complaints offer indirect testimony to the Irish preference for canonically ‘incestuous’ marriage. The seventh-century source, the ‘Second Synod of St. Patrick’, records that the Romani — a faction of the Irish clergy advocating greater conformity to Roman Catholic practices — attempted to insist upon ‘what is observed among us, that they be separated by four degrees’, i.e. that men should not marry their first cousins (the fourth degree kinswoman). The nativists protested that they had ‘never seen nor read’ such a rule.

Again, in the eleventh century, churchmen singled out tolerance of ‘incest’ (marriage of kin) as a major fault of the Irish church. Such laxity was a scandal to Canterbury in the later middle ages, not only in cases involving famous families, but apparently amongst the general population. So weak were the sanctions against in-marriage, that incidents are recorded in which men were sexually involved with aunts and nieces — not in covert relationships, but marriages for which the parties tried to gain sanction and blessing. Even in the law tracts there survives a hint that Roman Catholic complaints were not without foundation, for Corus Bescna [one of the brehon law tracts] asks:

“‘What is the corus fheini? (laws of the farmers) Joint-plowing, marriage, giving in charge, lending … (Commentary) marriage — the daughter of each to the other, i.e., to such as one as is not cursed by the patron saint of the land.’

“A curse from the local saint could be incurred on a large number of grounds, such as associating with the various categories of society tainted with paganism, not paying one’s tithes, or simply belonging to a hostile group. The point is that a neighbor, even a close kinsman, was preferred as a husband because his exact social position was well-known — a sentiment shared by the Welsh and expressed in the proverb, ‘marry in the kin and fight the feud afar.‘”

so, even by the eleventh century, close-relative marriage was still the way to go in ireland — and not just cousin marriage, but even closer (genetically speaking) uncle-niece and aunt-nephew marriages. that’s very different from what was happening on the continent at the same time.

the normans tried to put a stop to the inbreeding practices in ireland; but they actually went native after a century or two and adopted a lot of the local irish laws and practices, so i’m not sure how successful they were at eliminating close-relative marriage in ireland. i don’t think they can have had much luck (o’ the irish), because as goody points out [pg. 16]:

“In the period of the classical civilisations, forms of clan organisation apper to have existed right round the Mediterranean, as it still does among the pastoral peoples of North Africa and some hill tribes of the Balkans, and in very residual forms in Ireland and Scotland.”

very residual forms of clans still exist in ireland (and scotland) because in-marriage practices must’ve existed until quite recently.

mitterauer discusses at some length how the medieval irish also did not adopt the new agrarian practices that peoples on mainland europe did, but rather stuck mostly to cattle herding [pg. 10]:

“There were also strong contrasts in the extreme northwest of the continent, in the British Isles. Whereas in England, parallels with agrarian developments in France could be found early on, particularly in its fertile southeast, the situations in Ireland and Scotland were vastly different. In England, wheat and barley had predominated in Roman times, but rye and oats had also been introduced, possibly to supply the army. These two grains subsequently brought about the expansion of agriculture onto poorer soils, thus making an important contribution to the process of cerealization. In Ireland there was no such development, even in the High Middle Ages; an animal-based economy was clearly predominant. This is reflected in the variations in social prestige among different population groups depending on whether they raised animals or farmed. Oats took pride of place in grain growing, followed by barley, wheat, and rye, with rye, the new grain for making bread, coming last.”

in addition, since the irish remained tribal or clannish (as a result of the inbreeding practices), the manorial system of mainland europe did not take hold, either.

inbreeding = tribalism/clannishness ≠ corporate structures in society [pgs. 42-3]:

“The situation in early medieval Ireland can shed light on the inter-connections between the predominance of cattle breeding and lordship over the land and its people. Structures analogous to the Frankish manorial system did not emerge there, but manorial forms certainly did. Irish lords distributed arable land to unfree, homeless people, the so-called fuidri….

“These patron-client relations did not generate a familia as they did on Frankish estates; social structuring was still maintained through kinship. It seems that mills and kilns were typically owned by kinship groups in common, and it was only at monasteries that these buildings were the key facilities on a manorial estate. Given that a livestock economy was dominant, these facilities were much less significant in Ireland than even the rather anemic Irish crop production. In this respect, too, there were no institutions that would enable the bipartite estate to gain a toehold. Because of these agrarian contexts and the aligning of its social structures with kinship, the organization of power developed very differently in early medieval Ireland that in the Frankish Empire. ‘Cattle lords’ and lower-level kings dominated the scene.

for “lower-level kings” read: the heads of clans or tribes.

when a society’s marriage practices are based on inbreeding, you get a nepotistic society (think daley-dynasty machine-style politics or tammany hall) because, due to inclusive fitness related drives, people favor their own more than strangers. in medieval irish society, they didn’t even manage to adopt feudalism because who on earth would swear fealty to some lord that you weren’t related to?! the whole concept prolly just didn’t make any sense to the medieval irish — because the church hadn’t managed to persuade the population to quit inbreeding.

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

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