kinship in anglo-saxon society ii

in the previous post on kinship in anglo-saxon society, we saw that, between ca. 600-1000 a.d., the anglo-saxons followed what’s known as the sudanese kinship naming system. in other words, like both the arabs and chinese today, the anglo-saxons had separate, distinct names for collateral kin including uncles, aunts, and cousins. as elsewhere in northwest europe, this naming system disappeared over the course of the medieval period to the point where, today, in english we no longer distinguish between father’s or mother’s brothers and so forth. this is probably related to the fact that the practice of (some degree of) cousin marriage amongst northwest europeans also disappeared over the course of the medieval period.

in this post, i want to look at the kindred in early medieval anglo-saxon society, and the fact that anglo-saxons reckoned their kinship bilaterally. again, i’ll be mostly working from lorraine lancaster’s two articles: Kinship in Anglo-Saxon Society I and Kinship in Anglo-Saxon Society II.
_____

kindreds and bilateral kinship in anglo-saxon society

based on the two facts that 1) in old english (anglo-saxon english) there was, apparently, no way to distinguish the various degrees of cousins — i.e. a first cousin vs. a first cousin twice-removed, for instance, or even a first cousin vs. a sixth cousin — but 2) at the same time extended family relationships were very important in anglo-saxon society — for instance in the matter of wergeld and blood feuds (more about those below) — lancaster concluded that the most important kinship group amongst the anglo-saxons was not, say, the patrilineal clan (as amongst the irish and the scots — think the o’sullivans or the macdonalds) or the tribe (as amongst the arabs — think the sauds), but the kindred [I – pgs. 237-38]:

“The general characteristics of the [kin naming] system suggest three points: firstly, our belief that the *mægd* [“family,” “kinsmen,” or “kindred”] need not have been an extensive group is borne out by the restriction of specific terms to a relatively small set of kin centered on Ego; secondly, the complete lack of specificity in terms for cousins of various degrees, which would be all-important in the operation of a wide-ranging bilateral system, suggests that these kin and the distinctions between them was not regularly of major significance. Lineal ascendants could be traced back to *sixta fæder,* and in fact were traced back further in the historical and mythical genealogies of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.’ Nevertheless, the cousins who would share so remote and ancestor are not put in any particular linguistic category….”

and [II – pg. 372]:

“In Modern English society, the fact that surnames are inherited patrilineally is sometimes taken to indicate that the kinship system as a whole is a patrilineal one, although this is not so. In Anglo-Saxon society, there is no sign of what might be called patrinomial groups. Surnames did not regularly exist, although additional names could be given to a person to make his identification easier, a very reasonable thing when one considers the numbers of Ælfwines, Wulfrics, Æthelmaers, and so on that exited. Names of children appear to have been sometimes compounded from parents’ names, but there is no trace of reference to ‘the X’s’, as a named kin group.

More important, kin, named or not, were not organized into effective patrilineal descent groups, but, as we have seen, into Ego-centred bilateral kin groups….

a kin group that is focused on ego — on yourself — is known as a kindred. from my friend robin fox [pgs. 169-170 — see also]:

“[T]he stock of a kindred exists only in relation to a particular ego and it disappears when he dies. If a member of a cognatic lineage [like the macdonalds – h.chick] dies, the lineage still continues; when the focal ego of a kindred dies, then the stock are no more. The lineage then is defined relative to an ancestor who remains a fixed point of reference; the stocks of a kindred are defined relative to an ego….

The kindred can be broadly defined as ‘ego’s relatives up to a certain fixed degree’. What matters is how this ‘degree’ is defined. It need not be defined cognatically (or ‘bilaterally’ as it is usually called in the literature)….

“[T]he real distinction is between the two foci — ego and ancestor: between *descent groups* and *personal groups*.”

so, the family members that might be considered as kindred by wasps in today’s anglo world probably include something like: nuclear family members, both paternal and maternal grandparents, both paternal and maternal uncles and aunts, and all paternal and maternal cousins — and, perhaps, their kids, too (your first cousins once-removed). ymmv. (for those of us from more “clannish” groups, we also keep track of our second cousins and even our second cousins once-removed. (~_^) ) this is not the same as primarily keeping track of, say, just all your paternal relatives out to sixth cousins.

many groups of people keep track of both their kindreds and their clan or tribe members. the two things are not mutually exclusive. but, based on the historical evidence (mainly wills) lancaster and others (including phillpotts) concluded that anglo-saxon society was based upon the kindred and not patrilineal — or even matrilineal — clans or tribes.
_____

furthermore (yes, there’s more!), anglo-saxon kinship and their kindreds were reckoned bilaterally. if you were an anglo-saxon, you would’ve traced your ancestors back along both your father’s and your mother’s line. (if wikipedia is to be believed, bilateral kinship groups arise in harsh environments and are beneficial since individuals have two sets of family upon which they can rely. that does seem as though it would fit northern europe.) the members of your kindred, too, came from both the paternal and maternal sides of your family (like in the anglo world today).

for example, from lancaster [II – pg. 370]:

“Kinsmen also had a duty to stand surety for Ego, or to support him with an oath. In II Athelstan I.3, we read that the kinsmen of a thief redeemed from prison by a fine were to stand surety that he would desist from thieving for ever. When an alleged thief had been slain, according to the same laws, the man who was demanding his wergild could come forward with three others, two from the paternal and one from the maternal kin and swear that their kinsman was innocent….”

so an anglo-saxon’s kinsmen — his kindred — came from both his paternal side of the family and his maternal side. but there was a bias towards the paternal side. we saw this, too, in the last post that there was a special term for a father’s brother but not a mother’s brother [I – pg. 237]:

“It is most significant that a term existed (*suhter-(ge)fæderan*) to refer to the relationship between a man and his father’s brother. There was no special term to refer to the corresponding relationship on Ego’s mother’s side.”

giorgio ausenda has also found this to have been the case in other pre-christian germanic groups (like the visigoths) — a bias in favor of the paternal side. based upon this, and the fact that the germanics were herders (lactase persistence!), ausenda concludes that the pre-christian germanics probably favored father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage like other herders (such as the arabs).

i doubt it and think, rather, that, if they favored any particular form of cousin marriage at all, and it’s not certain that they did, the germanics probably favored maternal cousin marriage. the fact that their kinship naming system was the sudanese system is not a good indicator of fbd marriage since the chinese also use the sudanese system, and they do not approve of fbd marriage at all. quite the reverse, in fact. also, it makes no sense to have a bilateral kinship system to reckon the paternal and maternal sides of the family in an fbd marriage society since, in such a society, one’s maternal side of the family IS (often) one’s paternal side of the family! they are one and the same.

so, no, i don’t think that the anglo-saxons and other germanics favored fbd marriage. if anything, it was probably mbd or mzd marriage.
_____

so anglo-saxon society was based upon kindreds and not clans. i would still call them “clannish” though — but, perhaps, not quite as clannish as, say, their neighbors the medieval irish — or even today’s albanians. i would still call the anglo-saxons “clannish” — perhaps “mildly clannish” — since their society and its functioning was primarly based around one version of the extended family — the kindred. you as an individual would’ve had next to no identity in anglo-saxon society. your identity — including your legal identity (as seen above wrt sureties) — was based upon your kindred.

additionally, the whole wergeld system was alive and well throughout most of the anglo-saxon period — as were blood feuds (and if that’s not “clannish,” I don’t know what is!) [II – pgs. 367, 368, 370, 371]:

“A person’s position in a network of kinship relationship entails the performance of certain rights and duties as well as the carrying-out of less formal but likewise important expectations of behaviour. The rights and duties of Anglo-Saxon kinship represent that part of the system that has been most studied in the past, particularly the rights and duties connected with feud and wergild, because these are the most clearly described in the laws….

“What duties did a kin group owe to Ego? First and foremost, they owed him the duty of avenging his death, either by prosecuting a feud, or by exacting wergild payments. On the other hand, if Ego had killed or injured a man, he could expect some support from his kinsmen in helping him bear a feud or pay a wergild….

“[T]he kinsmen of a man injured or killed were entitled to compensation or wergild from the slayer and his kin or representatives….

“If compensation for deliberate harm done was not settled, a feud could be prosecuted. In feuding the legal solidarity of the kin group is demonstrated by the fact that one member of the slayer’s kin group is as good a victim for vengeance as the slayer himself. One could imagine a feud spreading among overlapping kin groups in a bilateral system. Edmund wished that a slayer should alone bear the feud (and thus stop it spreading from kin group to kin group [here you can see one reason why kings would want to get rid of clans – h.chick]) or, with the help of others, pay the wergild….”

anglo-saxons, then? still rather clannish even though they didn’t count themselves as members of (patrilineal) clans.

if i were to work up my own “hbd chick’s scale of clannishness” from one to ten, with today’s individualistic, nuclear-family-living (are they still?) english at “1” and the very fbd-marrying, paternal tribal arabs (and afghanis and pakistanis) at “10” — and let’s say the (historically) mbd-marrying, filial piety-focused chinese hovering somewhere around “5” or “6” — and the albanians at, maybe, “7” or “8” — i would put the anglo-saxons at maybe a “3” or a “4” — since only the kindreds seem to have been important and they had no clan lineages. that’s just a guesstimate on my part, though. i might decide to change the rankings depending upon what i learn about these different groups going forward. (^_^)
_____

interestingly, lancaster notes that, although they hadn’t disappeared completely, the importance of kindreds did wane towards the end of the period she looked at (up to 1066). she also notes that phillpotts noted that kindreds were less significant in england than on the continent (ah ha!) [II – pgs. 373, 375]:

“Phillpotts has effectively demonstrated the weakness of Anglo-Saxon kin groups compared with certain related systems on the continent….

“During the period they [“friends”] gained continued importance as oath-helpers. After the end of the tenth century, it was even permissible for a feud to be prosecuted or wergild claimed by a man’s associates or guild-brothers. If murder was done *within* the guild, kinsmen again played a part….”

THAT is definitely a change!

so, as i asked at the beginning of the previous post: “were they [the anglo-saxons] individualistic, civic-minded, living in nuclear family groups, not clannish or tribal, nonviolent, and liberally democratic? or, perhaps, predisposed to these things in some way?”

my answers are: no, i don’t know, no, no, no, and no. and, possibly.

i say “possibly” since, because the anglo-saxons most likely did not (i think) practice fbd marriage, they probably were not extremely inbred. that, and the facts that their society was based on bilateral kinship and kindreds, in other words not sooo strongly clannish, might’ve meant that a relatively slight amount of outbreeding would’ve pushed them out of the levels of clannishness that they did display.

that, perhaps … and the fact that the normans came along and shook everything up [see here for example]. (more on THAT anon!)
_____

previously: kinship in anglo-saxon society and english individualism and english individualism ii and english individualism iii and anglo-saxon mating patterns and more on anglo-saxon mating patterns

(note: comments do not require an email. just hangin’ around!)

Advertisements

23 Comments

  1. Here’s a link to the original journal article which prompted all the attention about the epigenetic origins of homosexuality. Fortunately it is not behind Jstor’s firewall. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/668167

    I wonder if this will fall into the most-published-research-reports-are-wrong category?

    Reply

  2. Sorry for the double post. Having read the paper I can say that it is lucid, comprehensive, and falsifiable. Really good in other words.

    Reply

  3. @luke – “forgive me hbd*chick for interrupting the discussion.”

    not a problem! all interesting and/or informative ot comments are always welcome. (^_^)

    @luke – “Having read the paper I can say that it is lucid, comprehensive, and falsifiable. Really good in other words.”

    cool!

    what i still want to know more about is the genetics behind (or underlying, i guess) epigenetics. i mean, the methylation of dna (and whatever other epigenetic processes that might be out there that i don’t know about) is, presumably, not something miraculous. epigenetics is not magic. what causes it to happen the way that it does? does it happen differently in some people than others (probably yes)? does it happen differently in some populations than others (i’d bet on it)?

    Reply

  4. I think we have to be careful about distinguishing the type of society an extended family, group of related extended families, those with tribal names in common and major regional groupings under the name of a clan exist in. The larger groups are successful machines for increasing power through success, (or losing it through collective punishment), but not necessarily inbred genetic success.

    If you look at the y chromosome data for the clans all founded by the male line of Somerled it is the most successful clans like Clan MacDonald, that have the least men descending from the founder and it’s the least successful clans that are the most inbred. One small sample found 40 percent of MacAlisters, 30 percent of MacDougalls, and 18 percent of MacDonalds had Somerled’s y chromosome.

    Their great rivals, the huge Clan Campbell, began as a staunch supporter of Robert the Bruce and expanded enormously when Bruce became Robert I of Scotland, it picked the right sides thereafter and continued to expand into the 18th century. In 1737 Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll decreed that tacks were to be let out to the highest bidder Many tacksmen emigrated to America.

    Re relevance to bilateral AS clans. AS chiefs would looking to expand and the most successful would drift away from favouring blood relatives apart from close ones. The clans would have a chief and heirs, then a few related families, so it’s true there would be strong pressure for and the resources to support inbreeding there, but success would bring outsiders through cementing alliances by marriages to other chief’s families.

    So basically the growing power of a line would maybe reduce the importance inbreeding as well as select for it. A highest bidder economy would have broken down inbreeding very fast. I don’t think it’s clear if proto commercial society came about through restrictions of inbreeding (by institutional interests like manorialism and the Church). An incipient market economy existed in England before anywhere else.

    The institutional interests trying to break up the tight knit clans may have been created by accumulation of economic power. Commerce selects for de emphasizing blood relationships and emphasising the overwhelming importance of a reputation for helping outsiders. Both of those traits are very salient in the economically successful classes.

    Reply

  5. @sean – “AS chiefs would looking to expand and the most successful would drift away from favouring blood relatives apart from close ones.”

    exactly. these are the very kings & princes that i (and giorgio ausenda) am (are) talking about. the ones who pushed for the cessation of close marriage. because they could see (like saints augustine and aquinas) that close marriages cement clans together, and clans do not lend themselves to a cooperative (or christian) society.

    Reply

  6. THE Y-CHROMOSOME OF SOMHAIRLE MOR The Genetic Structure of a Highland Clan.
    While according to Sikes’s data all clans and even the big clan MacDonald are a lot more inbred than I expected, th it was not at all case of chiefs and their relatives who acted as enforcers (‘tacksmen’) -ceasing to be armed bands lifting each others cattle and trying to get there own back, and entering commercial society as a result of powers that be halting consanguineous marriage. No, what happened was that as soon as chiefs got official title to their land that most had lacked ( though the so called regalian rights gave them power of life or death over the clan) they sold it off and moved to luxurious apartments in Edinburgh and London

    Highland clans were around long enough that we have good evidence of how and why they made the transition to civil society. Highland clans had historically been a society of contending groups each dominated by an elite which valued fearlessness and daring above all things; held wealth as cattle; used ostentatious ornamentation; and spent much time preying on each other. The also went in for drinking at feasts where bards told of the clan’s great exploits. It was a way of life that lowlanders had not known for generations and although some aspects of it survived far into the 18th century, measures such as the Statutes of Iona had obliged chieftains to spend more time in Edinburgh. Being extremely status conscious, they attempted to cut a dash by purchasing clothes in the latest French fashion, elaborate homes, imported furniture, fine wines and other trappings of gentility rather than patronizing Gaelic bards, pipers and harpists as was the traditional way to distinction for a chief. The expenditure strained their finances as the Highlands were the poorest land in Europe (tenants have been described as much poorer than Plains Indians).It was the chiefs’ attempt to increase the income from clan lands that led to them de emphasising the traditional relationship with tacksmen, (who tended to be the closest blood relations of the chief). Alteration of consanguineous marriage practices were not important in this alteration in outlook.

    Sicilian Vespers Uprising. If there was a country where rulers and the church would use a simple and effective way to break down clannish allegiance Sicily was it. Yet the intensively practised consanguineous marriage practices were left in place well into modern times. The key factors in the unrest was taxes and failure to reward local worthies with lucrative official positions. Consanguineous marriage practice is <an important factor, but not a cause in and of itself.

    Reply

  7. from Negotiating Risk: British Pakistani Experiences of Genetics [pgs. 74-75]:

    “Several studies show that cousin marriage was important in various farming districts of the Scottish Highlands in the late eighteenth century, and so may have been more widely practised across Scotland, England and Wales. Anthropologist Maureen Molloy reports for three Scottish kindreds that ‘sixty percent of all couples [married in the early nineteenth century] for whom complete data is [sic] available had at least two parents with the same surname’ (1986: 233). Marriages between the offspring of agnatic kin who held farms in joint tenure in the Scottish Highlands constituted 20.1 per cent of all marriages between 1775 and 1800, and 25.4 per cent between 1801 and 1825 (MacPherson 1968; see also Pryce 1993).”

    i haven’t looked at the original sources yet (except for macpherson), but i will do … eventually! (^_^)

    Reply

  8. more from Negotiating Risk [pgs. 80-81]:

    “The incursion of British rule and attempts by landlords to rationalise agriculture had resulted in an ‘unprecedented exodus’ of people from their traditional lands and was accompanied by increases in matrilateral first cousin and sibling-exchange marriages. It seems that the removal of clansmen from their hereditary lands decreased the impetus for clan-endogamous marriage, but increased matrilateral first cousin and sibling exchange marriages: ‘In this period of social disruption, … families drew closer together emphasizing matri-lateral and affinal links as well as patrilateral ones. It is not that new marriage patterns were invented; it is simply that they were applied in different ways, sibling exchange marriage in particular ensuring that ‘strangers’ who married in became ‘family’ with strong multiple bonds’ (Molloy 1986: 240).

    “Marriages were already largely endogamous three large kinship groups of Highland Scots who migrated to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia in the early nineteenth century and on to Waipu in New Zealand in the mid nineteenth century. Spouses were frequently first and second cousins, or cousin’s cousins, and no particular form of cousin marriage was preferred. There were also cross-generational cousin marriages and at least four widowers married their deceased wife’s cousin, reflecting the ideal that a spouse be found from among affinal kin. Sibling-exchange marriages were also common, often also involving cousins. Marriages to people outside a particular kinship group were invariably followed by marriages with their siblings or cousins, so that ‘in this sense the marriage alliances were between kin groups rather than individuals’ (ibid.: 232).”

    again, i haven’t read molloy — which is this book: No Inclination to Mix with Strangers: Marriage Patterns Among Highland Scots Migrants to Cape Breton and New Zealand, 1800-1916.

    Reply

  9. @sean – “While according to Sikes’s data all clans and even the big clan MacDonald are a lot more inbred than I expected…”

    i hate to say it, but: i told you so. (~_^)

    @sean – “…it was not at all case of chiefs and their relatives who acted as enforcers (‘tacksmen’) -ceasing to be armed bands lifting each others cattle and trying to get there own back, and entering commercial society as a result of powers that be halting consanguineous marriage.”

    i never said that it was, nor, do i think, did i ever imply so. this post, if you will note the title, is about anglo saxons, NOT scottish highlanders. it’s been my point from the start of our discussion that scottish highlanders carried on inbreeding for longer than the anglo-saxons. the reasons for why they eventually stopped doing so were likely to be different from why the anglo-saxons stopped.

    Reply

  10. @sean – “I don’t think it’s clear if proto commercial society came about through restrictions of inbreeding (by institutional interests like manorialism and the Church). An incipient market economy existed in England before anywhere else.

    and when was that? give me a century. and a reference (or two).

    Reply

  11. Cousin marriage lingered on for a long time in Scots farming communities that were not violent, but I have to admit it appears far more common than I expected. Still, Sicily was pacified without much of a change to inbred marriage: that makes me doubtful it was of decisive importance.

    Reply

  12. @sean – “Still, Sicily was pacified without much of a change to inbred marriage….”

    guess you’ve never been to siciliy. (~_^) see pinker. also what he has to say about the highland scots.

    Reply

  13. “Still, Sicily was pacified without much of a change to inbred marriage: that makes me doubtful it was of decisive importance.”

    Mafia.

    Reply

  14. Was Glengarry county Ontario, which the McDonnell clan emigrated to en mass, a very violent place thereafter. No. Inbred though they were Highlanders became relatively peaceable and submitted to the new order. The Irish peasantry and their descendants were vastly more dangerous. The degree of inbreeding is is only a very rough guide at best.

    Sicily remained extremely inbred into modern times, but that does not cause violence in and of itself. Mafia violence ended quickly when the bloodthirsty Toto Riina was captured; see here.

    The Normans wouldn’t have missed a trick to have pacified Sicily. The combination of Normans and the extremely powerful Church would have put a stop to inbreeding if was led to the formation of clans as power bases which rivalled central authority. They didn’t need to obviously.

    And by the way i have read that the aristocratic women who became nuns gifted a dowry to the Church, but were the younger daughters who their families couldn’t afford to have marry. If they wanted to maintain the social position of the family, they only let the older daughter marry. If the nun’s older sister died she , the younger one, left the nunnery and took her dead sister’s role by marrying into another family of the gentry.

    Reply

  15. @sean – “Was Glengarry county Ontario, which the McDonnell clan emigrated to en mass, a very violent place thereafter. No. Inbred though they were Highlanders became relatively peaceable and submitted to the new order.”

    three things:

    1) i don’t know if glengarry county, ontario, was ever a violent place or not because i’ve never read about it. but you apparently have. so why don’t you offer a reference or two?

    2) you’re making the same mistake that some people do when they argue, for instance, that blacks can’t possibly have a lower average iq than other groups because neil degrasse tyson doesn’t have a low iq! you’re picking out one example and not looking at the whole pattern. again, see what steven pinker had to say in Better Angels about the violence in the highlands, and the general pattern i’ve pointed out here on the blog in my various posts on violence.

    3) let’s say for the sake of argument that the mcdonnells weren’t at all violent after they migrated to canada. if so, that might’ve been because there were more resources available per capita in the new world than in the old. of course circumstances matter. people typically don’t just fight for the sake of fighting (although probably some individuals out there do just that) — people usually fight over something.

    ok … four things:

    4) perhaps the scottish clans weren’t so violent after they migrated to canada, but corruption is a big problem in nova scotia (for instance) which, again, fits the “clannishness” pattern.

    Reply

  16. @sean – “The degree of inbreeding is is only a very rough guide at best. Sicily remained extremely inbred into modern times, but that does not cause violence in and of itself.”

    you’re (still) missing the point. nobody is saying that the degree of inbreeding is an exact guide to levels of violence or corruption or clannishness. nobody is saying that inbreeding in itself causes people to be violent.

    we’re talking about evolutionary processes here. read this. carefully. if you have any questions, please ask.

    Reply

  17. @sean – “The Normans wouldn’t have missed a trick to have pacified Sicily. The combination of Normans and the extremely powerful Church would have put a stop to inbreeding if was led to the formation of clans as power bases which rivalled central authority. They didn’t need to obviously.”

    like i said to you before, many kings and princes and emperors have worked with the antagonisms between clans/tribes. used it to their own advantage. divide and conquer. see the ottoman empire for a great example. (the ottomans even went so far as to shuffle populations around within their empire for maximum effect.) there’s no reason to suppose that the normans in sicily mightn’t ‘ve preferred this strategy, too — especially with all the “multiculturalism” they were presented with in southern italy.

    Reply

  18. @sean – i said: “there’s no reason to suppose that the normans in sicily mightn’t ‘ve preferred this strategy, too — especially with all the ‘multiculturalism’ they were presented with in southern italy.”

    from wikipedia:

    “During the Norman reign, several different religious communities coexisted in the Kingdom of Sicily. They were: Latin Christians (Roman Catholics), Greek-speaking Christians (Eastern Orthodox), and Muslims…. In many cities, each religious community had its own administrative and judicial order.

    “After the establishment of Hohenstaufen authority Latin- and Greek-speaking Christians maintained their privileges, but the Muslim population was increasingly oppressed. The settlements of Italians brought from northern Italy (who wanted Muslim property for their own)….”

    divide and conquer. divide and conquer.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Sean Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s