random notes: 03/06/15

oooooooohhhhhhhh! from Reimagining Europe: Kievan Rus’ in the Medieval World, 988-1146 [pgs. 58-60]:

“The medieval period pre-1215 was an especially interesting time in the history of consanguinity legislation because during this era the church stretched consanguinity to seven degrees, an increase from the four that was common in the late Roman world, and the degrees were calculated in a new manner. Instead of siblings being related in two degrees, as was held previously, the new method of calculation made siblings related in the first degree. This may at first appear to be a small change, but in fact it was enormous. The original method, and the one returned to after the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, was to count connections between people; thus, for siblings, one degree up to the shared parent, and one degree down to the sibling, for a total of two degrees. For first cousins, a more likely target for marriage than siblngs, it was one degree up to your parent, another degree up to your grandparent, a degree down to your uncle/aunt, and a degree down to your cousins, resulting in a relationship of four degrees.

“The new method of calculating consanguinity was based on degrees to a common ancestor, which resulted in a one-degree relationship for siblings (a common ancestor is one generation back) and two degrees for a cousin (a common ancestor is two generations back). When this concept was applied to seven generations of ancestors, it expanded the pool of consanguineous relations to anyone with whom one shared a great-great-great-great-great-grandparent….

“The Orthodox Church, like the church in Rome, also maintained a policy against consanguineous marriages. Marriages were also forbidden in the seventh degree, but the Orthodox Church never changed its method of calculating degrees, which created a much smaller pool of consanguineous relations.”

oooooooohhhhhhhh! why didn’t they say so in the first place?! =P

so, what this means is, all those cousin marriage regulations out to the “seventh degree” which we hear about from eastern europe (re. orthodox populations)…they’re just referring to SECOND cousins, not SIXTH the way that western european experienced it for a couple hundred years in the medieval period (from about 1000 to 1215). that’s not to say that most medieval western europeans somehow managed to obey the bans out to sixth cousins, but just that there’s apparently never been the same extreme push against close kin marriage in eastern europe. interesting.

from “Marriage Causes in Late Medieval Sweden: The Evidence of Bishop Hans Brask’s Register (1522-27)” in Regional Variations in Matrimonial Law and Custom in Europe, 1150-1600 [pg. 240], on consanguineous marriage in sweden in the sixteenth century:

“Considering the number and type of cases, the Swedish may have been somewhere in between the ‘incestuous’ late-medieval Netherlands, discussed by Vleeschouwers-Van Melkebeek, the carefree Poles described by Brozyna and the English and Parisians who, according to the of Helmholz and Donaghue, had internalized the rules of incest better and did avoid matrimony with relatives. Perhaps ordinary Swedish peasants in the see of Linköping had easier access to dispensations. Possibly the control of the impediment of consanguinity before the voluntary ecclesiastical solemnization also managed to unearth the ties of kinship between fiances. Moreover, the children’s later loss of inheritance rights may have been a risk some couples were unwilling to take if they were discovered to have known about the impediement prior to their marriage. Swedish synodal statues stressed that children born to couples whose marriage was later discovered to be incestuous would only be considered legitimate if their parents had solemnized *in facie ecclesiae* and the banns had been read without opposition.”

most of this picture fits what i’ve been saying: that (some of) the french and english were the earliest adopters of outbreeding in europe (i posted about donahue’s studies here), the scandinavians came to the party a bit later, and eastern europeans (the example in the excerpt above, the poles) much later. i don’t know who these “‘incestuous’ late-medieval” netherlanders were — i’ve been under the impression that the dutch (minus the frisians) are some of the long-term outbreeders along with the french and english. the source for this is: “Incestuous Marriages: Formal Rules and Social Practice in the Southern Burgundian Netherlands” by monique vleeschouwers-van melkebeek in Love, Marriage, and Family Ties in the Later Middle Ages, which is not available on google books at the moment. (dr*t!) what’s not clear to me is whether vleeschouwers-van melkebeek looked at netherlanders in general or just the aristocracy (which these studies often do). i shall have to find out!

from The Jews of Eastern Europe, 1772-1881 [pg. 48]:

The spread of Hasidim stopped only when it reached the invisible border that separated German Jewry from Eastern European Jewry — the boundary between the western central part of the Ashkenazi diaspora and its eastern part. With the exception of one quasi-Hasidic community established in Frankfurt, the Hasidic *tzaddikim* did not succeed in gaining a foothold in Germany as the movement spread.”

previously: historic mating patterns of ashkenazi jews

from Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism, 1942-1948 [pg. 23]:

“Antagonism between the established, well-to-do German Jews and the new, working-class East European immigrants was unavoidable. To the East Europeans, the German Jews, whom they called *Yahudim*, were not authentic Jews; their Reform Judaism was a sham. They seemed to lack a feeling of closeness to fellow Jews. The native German Jews, on the other hand, frightened by the ‘Russian invasion,’ tended to regard the new immigrants as primitive, ‘medieval,’ clannish, Asiatic, unrefined, and radical. German Jews even coined the word *kikes* for the Eastern Europeans.”

from The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb [pgs. 95-96]:

“The German Jews…embarked on an extensive program of financing and running a number of educational, health, and social-service institutions, mostly in the Maxwell Street areas. These proved very helpful to the poorer Eastern European immigrants. Socially, the German Jews kept apart from the newer immigrants, living separately and maintaining their own clubs, synagogues, fraternal organizations, and community centers, at which the Eastern European Jews were not welcomed. Later, as the Eastern European Jews progressed, they built a parallel set of their own institutions, such as a hospital, old peoples’ homes, charities, and orphanages. Although the distinction between the two groups was gradually blurred, for decades the social distance between the groups remained great. The German Jews, for example,

“‘did not wish to have these Jews to close to them. These Russians were all right — of that they were quite certain — but, like the southern Negro, they had to keep their place. All sorts of philanthropic enterprises were undertaken in their behalf, but in the management of these enterprises the beneficiaries were given no voice. Charity balls by the debutantes of the German-Jewish elite in behalf of the wretched West Side Jews were held at the splendid clubs of the German Jews, which by this time had increased to four, and charitably inclined young Jewish men and ladies-bountiful spent their leisure hours in alleviating the hardships of the Jewish slum dwellers.

‘But the Russians did not take altogether willingly to the American ways of dispensing *zdoko* (charity). They were accustomed to assisting one another in the Old Country in much more informal style. The Jewish communities they had known in Russia were self-sufficient large families. These German Jews of the ‘societies’ asked all sorts of embarassing questions before they dispensed their financial and other aid. They made investigations and kept records. Most of all, they did not understand — they did not know — their own people; in fact, they were only halfway Jews; they did not even understand *mama loshon* (the mother-tongue), or Yiddish.'”

(note: comments do not require an email. judische auswanderer.)


mating patterns in medieval norway

at the beginning of this year i said that, since there are so many scandinavian readers of the blog (skål!), i would post about the historic mating patterns of scandinavians/nordic folks … aaaaaaand now it’s december and it never happened. (*^_^*) (did i mention that i come from a population that doesn’t have terrific future time orientation? as han solo said: “it’s not my fault!” (~_^) ) sorry!

i did have good intentions! i swear! back in april i picked up this article: “Norwegians and Europe: The Theme of Marriage and Consanguinity in Early Norwegian Law” from Scandinavia and Europe 800-1350: Contact, Conflict, and Coexistence. so now, in order to assuage my guilt, and so that i might sleep well at night once again, i am finally going to take a look at that article! (^_^)

there were four legal areas in medieval norway (indicated on map below) — the borgartingslag (B), the eidsivatingslag (E), the frostatingslag (F), and the gulatingslag (G):


each of these regions had its own set of secular laws up until the 1270s when magnus the law-mender issued a common law for all of norway. they also each had their own set of ecclesiastical laws which, of course, included regulations on marriage. although there are a couple of differences between these law codes wrt marriage, the upshot is that marriage between sixth cousins or closer was banned in all four regions as well as marriage between affinal family members (i.e. in-laws) related to one another within five degrees (e.g. fourth cousins-in-law or closer). the regulations on blood relations are in line with canon law issued from rome at the time (the ones on in-laws are not) and appear to have been included in norwegian canonical legislation sometime after 1152 (when nicholas breakespear, papal legate in scandinavia and later pope adrian iv, introduced the sixth cousin bans to norway/scandinavia). the penalties in these four norwegian law codes ranged from fines and having to do penance to the splitting up of the couple and even to banishment (“outlawry”).

in the 1270s, when magnus was “mending” all the laws in the country, the cousin marriage bans in norway were scaled back to the fourth degree (i.e. third cousins). this was a bit later than the rest of western europe where the cousin marriage bans were changed in 1215. for this reason, the author of the article suggests that the ban out to sixth cousins probably wasn’t ever strongly enforced in norway, since the authorities didn’t bother to update this regulation right away — like it was a sleeping law or something. that certainly might’ve been the case, and i tend to favor this idea actually. the sixth cousin ban was difficult to enforce right across europe — who knew who their sixth cousins were?! — which is why it was dropped after only a couple of hundred years or so (although thomas aquinas offered other theoretical reasons for scaling back the bans as well) — and i can’t imagine why the situation should’ve been any different in rather remote norway/scandinavia. on the other hand, perhaps the norwegian authorities just decided to hang on to these stringent bans for longer for whatever reasons. that certainly happened in neighboring sweden at the time of the reformation — unlike many of the other newly minted protestant/lutheran churches (as in the german lands, for instance) which did away with cousin marriage bans altogether, the swedish authorities made it difficult for most people to marry cousins right up until 1844.

whatever the case, marriages to closer than third cousins were banned in norway after the 1270s. how well these bans were enforced is, of course, another question. in all likelihood, like elsewhere in europe, enforcement probably became more rigorous and consistent over the course of the medieval period as christianity and the church and its norms permeated norwegian society. remember the example of the franks in the early medieval period: cousin marriage was banned by the frankish kings in the mid-700s, but it wasn’t until sometime in the 800s that the people began thinking that marrying a cousin was unseemly — and that someone ought to tell the bishop if the neighbor had! presumably there was a similar delay with cousin marriage bans gaining traction in norway (and everywhere else, for that matter).

all of this is assuming that the pre-christian norwegians married their cousins to some degree or another in the first place. i don’t know for sure or not if that was the case — Further Research is RequiredTM — but it seems likely that the scandis would’ve behaved similarly to other germanic peoples who certainly did marry their cousins before conversion (see “mating patterns in europe series” below, esp. the posts on the germans and the anglo-saxons) — and they all shared similar kindred structures and feuding practices which seem to go along with cousin marriage, so….

there’s some evidence for a few norwegian christians here and there in the 900s, but the real push for conversion came with olaf ii who was king of norway in the early 1000s, so it’s more than likely that cousin marriage was present in norway right up until this point, although who knows what the frequency was.

one of the earliest — if not the earliest — introductions to norway of the crazy idea to ban cousin marriage at all probably happened in 1022 when the moster assembly (which looks to me to be in the gulatingslag) passed some ecclesiastical cousin marriage bans suggested by bishop grimketel (grimkell), english bishop of selsey. these were based on king æthelred‘s laws from the early eleventh century in which marriage to fourth cousins or closer was banned (this is news to me, btw!).

the arrival of christianity and cousin marriage bans, then, obviously occurred quite a bit later in norway than in the populations closer to the center of “core europe” — i.e. the franks (belgians and dutch) and the southeastern english — whose outbreeding projects were well underway by sometime in the 800s. the norwegians probably lagged behind in outbreeing by three or four hundred years, but, again, no idea exactly how much they’d been marrying their cousins beforehand. (similar case with the swedes.)

a couple of other notes from the article not directly related to norway:

– sometime between 1161 and 1172, pope alexander iii gave dispensation to a certain group of people who were a part of the archbishopric of niðarós and who were having difficulties obeying the canon law banning sixth or closer cousin marriage. these people lived on an island “twelve days’ journey from Norway” and are believed by historians today to have been the residents of greenland! they were granted permission to marry their fourth, fifth, and sixth cousins. whew!

– the author of the article notes that the cousin marriage bans in iceland were probably never higher than the fourth degree (i.e. third cousins). in other words, icelanders never experienced the crazy bans out to the sixth cousins.

previously: inbreeding in sweden and inbreeding in 18th and 19th century sweden

(note: comments do not require an email. erroneous norwegian claim re. the paper clip!)