a few more random notes from poolside … trying to do a little reading between mimosas at brunch and happy hour. (~_^)

from Incest and Influence: The Private Life of Bourgeois England (2009) [pgs. 97-98]:

“The level of cousin marriage in country districts seemed surprisingly low. George Darwin‘s cousin, Clement Wedgwood, made an inquiry on his behalf among skilled artisans in the Potteries [presumably those @ etruria in staffordshire in the west midlands]. In a sample of 149, he did not find a single case of first-cousin marriage. ‘He was further assured that such marriages never take place amongst them,’ George Darwin noted…. Except in very isolated districts, like those [in ne scotland] investiaged by Arthur Mitchell, rural people were not inclined to marry cousins. This conclusion is supported by the findings of Alan Macfarlane, who studied the marriage records of 800 people in East Colne, Essex [in se england], for the sixteenth to the eighteenth century and found only one first-cousin marriage and two marriages with more distant cousins.”

previously: more on consanguinity in england (and scotland)

from The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I (2008, orig. pub. 1898) [pg. 387] — i have to admit that i haven’t read of this before:

“The rule to which the church ultimately came was that defined by Innocent III. at the Lateran council of 1215, namely that marriages within the fourth degree of consanguinity are null. Before that decree, the received doctrine was — and it was received in England as well as elsewhere — that marriage within the seventh degree of the canonical computation was forbidden, but that kinship in the sixth or seventh degree was only *impedimentum impediens*, a cause which would render a marriage sinful, not *impedimentum dirimens*, a cause which would render a marriage null. Laxer rules had for a while been accepted; but to this result the canonists had slowly come.”

so even when the church had banned cousin marriage to a ridiculous degree (out to sixth cousins), fourth- through sixth-cousin marriages were never actually null and void. that would presumably affect things like inheritance — illegitimate children often not being allowed to inherit — and might influence people’s decisions to marry a distant cousin or not (if they could work out who they were!). the children of fourth- through sixth-cousin spouses would not have been illegitimate.

from The Oxford History of the Laws of England: The Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction from 597 to the 1640s (2004) [pgs. 46-48]:

“The Prohibited Degrees

“If one had to judge by the quantity of remaining evidence alone, one might say that the leaders of the Anglo-Saxon church cared more about the prohibited degrees of affinity and consanguinity than they did about the principle of marriage as a lifelong union…. The Laws of Wihtred (693 X 731) prohibited ‘living in unlawful intercourse’, and the legatine synods later in the eighth century prohibited all ‘unlawful and incestuous unions’, although the exact definition of the unlawful degrees of kinship was assumed rather than stated explicitly. However, the ‘Northumbrian Priests’ Law’ stated the prohibition in the terms that would later be the norm: spiritual affinity and a relationship closer than the fourth degree. It denied ‘Christian burial and God’s mercy’ to those who violated the prohibition; apparently the concept of nullity of marriage had not been fully assimilated.

the northumbrian priests’ law was written by wulfstan (d.1023), archbishop of york. interesting punishment for those who married close cousins — you wouldn’t get a christian burial. that might’ve been important to a lot of people (especially if they wanted to be buried with their family). who knows how well, or for how long, this was enforced.

continuing on…

“Most historians who have looked at the question have concluded that compliance with this aspect of the law of the church was slow to come. Strong evidence supports that view. In part, the slowness was the fruit of ignorance. St Boniface [d.754] expressed surprise when he learned that ‘spiritual kinship’ was created by lifting a child from the baptismal font and was being treated as an impediment to marriage among the Franks. But it was the law. Slowness also came from attachment to old ways. Letters from the archbiship of Reims to King Alfred (c.890) reproached him for permitting the continuation of pagan habits in contracting marriages between kin. Change in such habits was difficult to effect. The laws of King Aethelred issued in 1014 and drawn up by Archbishop Wulfstan, bemoaned the existence of so many breaches of the marriage law in England. Of course, the church itself had not always been entirely of one mind on the prohibited degree. Some of the rules against marriage between those related by blood or marriage were stated in quite vague terms. Archbishop Oda’s [of canterbury, d.958] ‘Constitutions’, as already mentioned, forbade marrying ‘cognates or other unlawful persons’. Papal letters exhorted their English recipients not to marry ‘within their own kindred’. They said nothing about how near the kinship had to be or how unlawfulness was to be defined.

“Precision would have been hard to reach. A different method of reckoning degrees of affinity and consanguinity prevailed among Germanic peoples than that which obtained in Rome, and it is not always clear in the Anglo-Saxon sources which of the two was intended. Even Theodore’s [archbishop of canterbury, d.690] Penitential set them out uncertainly. Among the Greeks, it stated, it was lawful to be joined in the third degree, among the Romans in the fifth. The laws of Aethelred [d.1016], by contrast, stated that ‘six degrees of relationship [meant] within the fourth knee’. But the easily used and detailed *Arbores consanguinitatis* and *Arbores affinitiatis* that permitted accurate and easy computation of the prohibited degrees would only appear once the law of the church was stabilized in the thirteenth century.

previously: anglo-saxon mating patterns and more on anglo-saxon mating patterns

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