from jack goody’s The development of the family and marriage in Europe [pgs. 186-87 — links added by me]:

“Throughout its [the church’s] history reformers pointed to the ease with which the congregation continued to fall into earlier ways. At the domestic level the Church’s prohibitions and injunctions were frequently avoided, even disobeyed (Turlan 1957: 480). The actual extent of this disobedience is not known. Except for the registers of dispensations, which may themselves represent only the tip of the iceberg, the evidence for the practice of close marriage among the rural population is unlikely to achieve statistical reliability. But some accounts give a glimpse of the persistence of such forms of marriage. After the end of the eighteenth century the small isolated village of Pinon in the Auvergne gained fame as an example of ‘communal’ exploitation of the soil, with the different branches of one ‘family’ marrying among themselves. In 1787 the commune consisted of four such branches totalling 19 persons in all who married amongst themselves. Indeed, according to one source, the Pope had granted them a permanent dispensation against ‘cousinage’ (Dupin 1929: 47; Champeaux 1933: 248). They feared that out-marriage would ‘enfeeble their customary ways’, although one commentator, voicing an anxiety that runs as a continuing thread in Western European belief from the Dark Ages down to today, expressed the alternative view that the recent loss of population which they had experienced had been caused by this very practice of marrying kin.”

the amount of close marriages in pinon in the eighteenth century is not out of character for mountainous regions in europe, or elsewhere for that matter. (the unusual thing is when mountain folks outbreed a lot.) pinon is unlikely to be representative for france as a whole, however, although it could very well be representative for alpine and other mountainous regions of france.

continuing from goody:

“More substantial evidence of close marriage is provided by Karnoouh’s study of French peasants in Lorraine in the last two centuries, a part of the country that had a very strong Catholic tradition. Nevertheless, claims the author, ‘they have always transgressed in very significant proportions, with or without the agreement of their bishops, the rules on the prohibited degrees of marriage laid down by the Church.’ Between 1810 and 1910 as many as 50 per cent of marriages went against those rules. Many were between first cousins, while others were between uncle and niece. The majority were between individuals born and resident in the same village (1971: 41). The last point is critical, for it suggests that the parties and their families had overlapping interests in matters other than marriage itself.”

a 50% consanguinity rate for lorraine between 1810 and 1910 sounds high, but may very well be correct. parts of southern italy, another devoutly roman catholic nation, had such rates in 1910-1914, so it’s certainly not completely out of character for europeans. however, the consanguineous marriage rate for catholics in alsace-lorraine in the 1870s was 0.997%. that’s quite a remarkable difference. i haven’t seen the original karnoouh article so i don’t know exactly where in lorraine he conducted his research. was it in the eastern mountainous region? i don’t know.


The importance of cousin marriages in the recent past of the French village of Minot in Burgundy is noted by Verdier. ‘Before’, declared one mother, ‘of course people used to marry cousins, the marriages would be arranged when people gathered in the evenings, they used to talk about them.’ She hastened to add that today she would prefer her son to marry anyone other than a cousin and even a Black or Japanese for her daughter, but Verdier remarks that ‘the proportion of in-marriage and out-marriage remains remarkably stable’ (1979: 287-8).”

again, i haven’t seen the original work (by verdier) so i don’t know what the in- and out-marriage rates were for minot, nor exactly what time we’re talking about.

In a general survey of rural France in the nineteenth century, Segalen claims that in-marriage, both within the community and between relatives, actually increased over that period (1980: 19). But unlike the figures from Lorraine, the recorded rates are not exceptionally high; the records consist of dispensations registered with the Church, which represent only a proportion of the actual total of such unions. In Loir-et-Cher [in central france], such marriages formed about 3.5 per cent of the total, rising at times to 5 and 6 per cent; in Finistere [in brittany], the percentage was higher even at the beginning of the twentieth century.

a 3.5 percent consanguineous marriage rate on average is more in line with what i would expect for central france in the nineteenth century. those numbers fit better with the alsace-lorraine data referenced above, not to mention the figures for france’s neighbors, england and spain, in the same time period. it also fits better with early twentieth century figures for france [h/t m.g.!] which max out at 3.5+ percent for roman catholics in certain regions of the country (click on map for LARGER view):

also, segalen’s findings that consanguinity rates increased in france in the nineteenth century fit with a general pattern that has been found for europe — or western europe at any rate — as a whole.


“Rates of in-marriage varied with the size of the village, the area in which it was located, and the freedom with which the dispensations were granted. Flandrin claims that in some mountain areas of France in the eighteenth century, the frequency was very high and ‘almost all marriages had to take place with dispensations from the impediments on the grounds of kinship’ (1979: 34). Such unions were often between cousins, some of whom had been brought up together because of the death of parents, a situation of which the registers of dispensations of marriage provide ‘innumerable examples’.”

again, mountain folks. typically rather high consanguinity rates.

references from goody:

– Champeaux, E. 1933. Jus sanguinis. ‘I’rois fagons de calculer la parenté au Moyen Age. “Revue Historique de Droit Fiungais et Etmnger,” 4e série, 12: 241-90.

– Dupin, C.-R. 1929. Une communaute familiale en Auvergne, “L’Auvergne Litteraire, Artistique et Historique” 48: 41-52.

– Flandrin, J.-L. 1979. Families in Former Times, Cambridge.

– Karnoouh, C. 1971. L’oncle et le cousin, Études rurales No. 42, Recherches sur la parenté paysanne (Apr.-Jun., 1971), pp. 7-51.

– Segalen, M. 1980. Mari et femme dans la societe paysanne, Paris.

– Turlan, Julliette M. 1957. Recherches sur le mariage dans la pratique coutumière, XIIe-XVIe siècles, “Revue historique de droit français et étranger” 4th sér., 35: 477-528.

– Verdier, Y. 1979. Façons de dire, façons de faire, Paris.

previously: inbreeding in nineteenth century alsace-lorraine (including jews) and what about the franks?

(note: comments do not require an email. balance skillz.)