english individualism iii

from sam worby’s Law and Kinship in Thirteenth-Century England [pgs. 1-2 – link and emphases added by me]:

Charles Donahue Jr’s magisterial comparative study of marriage in England, France and Belgium has confirmed a remarkable pattern of family interaction for England. His thorough and statistical analysis of the surviving records of cases before the archbishop of York’s consistory court in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and Ely consistory court between 1374 and 1381, incidentally seems to confirm that there was no clan or corporate kinship system operating in the areas covered, and, by inference, in England more widely (given the consistency of results between the two evidence sets). There was, he shows, even relatively low levels of parental involvement in marriage choice. Given the importance of marriage as a social institution and the potential consequences flowing from choice of partner — in property, alliance and social standing for example — it seems remarkable that an average of only 37 per cent of York cases showed evidence of parental involvement. While there was evidence for arranged marriages in the records of both courts, many couples appear to have acted independently. Whether this is qualified as ‘astonishingly’ or ‘unusually’ individualistic, the fact remains that many couples operated with relative freedom within the scope of the canon law marriage rules.

This individualistic pattern confirms a picture of family interaction for England found elsewhere, through evidence of marriage patterns, but also more broadly. From the Anglo-Norman nobility to later medieval peasants, the picture is of a limited family (although this book will not in fact focus on peasant kinship, but rather on kinship insofar as it was a general structure, transcending class and status). The extended kindred did not live together; the typical co-resident family appears to have been nuclear. There is evidence of kin interaction, particularly suggestive of closeness between siblings. There is a broad consensus about the narrowness of the operative kin group in England. It was rarely much larger than the immediate family, mostly the co-resident nuclear family, with some obligations and traceable contact extending out to cousins, and some closeness to siblings and occasionally to uncles and aunts. This pattern is unusual in comparison to other areas of Europe. It is suggestive to note that Franco-Belgian courts showed evidence for a higher level of family involvement in marriage arrangements. It is also striking to contrast the pattern of relatively informal clans able to act together in some European countries, such as Italy.

previously: english individualism and english individualism ii and invention of the modern world

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  1. Wow… just a few centuries after they had been struggling so to implement the Lombardian laws. This sounds like almost totally modern structure, back in the 1300’s, contrasted with perfectly clannish structures a few centuries back.

    I guess that blood and language ties made it much easier to spread the nuclear family custom, once firmly established in England, to the other Christianized Germanic areas. Perhaps a profitable question is, whether there were any Germanic groups that never quite got into spirit of the decree? Gah, I wish we had a Germanic control group that had converted to Judaism. ^_^ To the Tardis, miss Chick!


  2. @redzengenoist – “This sounds like almost totally modern structure, back in the 1300′s, contrasted with perfectly clannish structures a few centuries back.”

    yup. sounds like in the 800s anglo-saxons were still marrying their cousins, but then there was a secular crack down in the 900s-1000s on cousin marriage.

    so, while the anglo-saxon close mating patterns were loosened starting as early as the 600s, it sounds like the real push for change happened in the 900s-1000s. and by the 1300s, we find no more clans in england. so, ittiaac**, that’s a span of 300-400 years — or just 12-16 (+a bit) generations (gen=25 years) of outbreeding to work its magic. remarkable if it’s right.

    **ittiaac = if the theory is at all correct. (~_^)

    @redzengenoist – “To the Tardis, miss Chick!”

    i LUV the tardis!! (^_^) (and the sonic screwdriver. (~_^) ) and by tardis i mean this tardis, not any of those cheap imitations. (~_^)


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