mating patterns in baltic populations

from james brundage’s “E Pluribus Unum” in Regional Variations in Matrimonial Law and Custom in Europe, 1150-1600 we find out that peoples in the baltic regions were marrying close relatives (prolly close cousins) up until at least the 1200s. new converts on the “livonian frontier” were allowed to keep marrying their close relatives, just as the newly converted anglo-saxons had been, only the exemptions in the baltic case happened about six hundred years later [pgs. 37-39 – links and emphases added by me]:

“In practice, too, even substantive issues in matrimonial law could also be affected by local customs. Marriage impediments, especially those grounded on consanguinity or affinity, constituted one area of matrimonial law where custom sometimes influenced practice in a major way. Local customs in some places sought to mitigate some of the serious problems that arose from the long-standing canonical ban on marriages between persons related within seven degrees of consanguinity. Conscientious Christians who wished to marry might find it exceedingly difficult, if not utterly impossible, to do so legally under the seven-degree rule that prevailed prior to 1215. As Jean-Louis Flandrin showed, strict application of the law could literally rule out thousands of persons as potential marriage partners for a given individual. Someone living in a tiny village whose population consisted solely of the members of a dozen interrelated families literally might not know anyone at all whom he or she could legally marry. In real life, it was not unknown for couples to ignore the rules and knowingly to marry persons to whom they were related far more closely than the law allowed. When such a marriage was questioned those who could afford to do so could apply for a dispensation. Alexander III had permitted local bishops to grant these, but by the time of Innocent III (r. 1198-1216) this power was reserved to the pope, which made it more difficult, time-consuming, and costly to take advantage of this possiblity.

“Theologians and writers on pastoral concerns were keenly aware of these difficulties and on occasion complained vociferously about them. The twelfth-century Parisian theologian, Peter the Chanter (d. 1197) devoted a whole chapter of his widely-circulated ‘Verbum abbreviatum’ to a scathing criticism of the law on this matter. ‘The Lord,’ wrote Peter, ‘laid down certain immutable laws concerning marriage, according to which only twelve parties were excluded as marriage partners. To these we have added the fifth, sixth, and seventh degrees, in which we join some together and separate others who were joined together, just as we please.’

“At the beginning of his pontificate Innocent III rejected the view that customary usage could abridge the canonical rule that prohibited marriage within seven degrees of consanguinity. In 1199 he held that custom had no power to alter the existing consanguinity rules. Further experience with the difficulties that this policy created soon led him to modify his views. In 1201 Innocent received Theodric of Treiden (d. 1219), as envoy from Bishop Albert von Buxhoeveden of Riga (r. 1199-1229). Theodric presented the pope with a series of questions concerning problems that missionaries on the Livonian frontier were encountering. Two of these concerned marriage customs. One custom allowed marriage between persons related within the canonically prohibited degrees of blood relationship, while the other involved the practice of levirate marriage, whereby men were obliged to marry the widow of a brother who had died childless. In response to this query Innocent chose to follow the example of ‘Blessed Pope Gregory of holy memory’ by permitting prospective or recent converts to Christianity to observe both customs. By 1205, however, church authorities, including Innocent himself, were becoming acutely aware that the consanguinity rules frequently created intolerable problems for others than recent converts. A decade later he finally took the radical step of reducing the number of prohibited degrees from seven to four in the constitution ‘Non debet reprehensibile’ of the Fourth Lateran Council. Although this did not eliminate the problems that consanguineous marriage presented, it at least made them considerably less daunting and less common than they had previously been.”

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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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meanwhile, in ireland…

while anglo-saxon (and prolly other germanic groups’) mating patterns were shaken up starting as early the 600s, but definitely by the 800-900s, the irish carried on marrying their close relatives (close cousins and even uncle-nieces) until sometime well after the arrival of the normans in the twelfth century [pgs. 44-45 – links added by me]:

“But as far as the family and marriage were concerned, the wishes of the Church did not always prevail and resistance was often prolonged. The difference between ‘local custom’ and ecclesiastical law is nowhere stronger than in Ireland, even as late as the Norman period. It was then, during the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, that English (or Norman) influence came to play a dominant role in reshaping the Irish Church. The archbishops of Canterbury, Lanfranc and Anselm, both protested against the Irish customs of marriage and divorce. From the seventh century Irish Church legislators had recognised only four degrees of kinship within which marriage was prohibited (and the law tracts fewer), whereas the papacy acknowledged seven…. ‘Native law’, comments Hughes (1966: 260), ‘triumphed over the stricter provisions of the church, to the disgust of the Anglo-Norman prelates, who were used to very different customs.’

“In theory, this state of affairs was altered by the first of the reforming synods, held at Cashel in 1101. However this conclave did not introduce the full requirements of the Roman Church, and, although it did forbid a man to marry his step-mother (or step-grandmother), or his sister or daughter, his brother’s wife, or any woman of similarly near kinship, it said nothing of the ‘Irish practices of concubinage and divorce.’ Even so, the legislation seems to have had little effect on social life, for some time later Pope Alexander III [pope from 1159 to 1181] was told that the Irish ‘marry their step-mothers and are not ashamed to have children by them; that a man may live with his brother’s wife while the brother is still alive; and that one many may live in concubinage with two sisters; and that many of them, putting away the mother, will marry the daughters’ (Sheehy 1962: I,21; Hughes 1966: 265).”

from the synod of whitby in 664 onwards, the anglo-saxons generally followed christian practices as they emanated from rome. the irish continued on with their own particular form of insular christianity until some 500 years later (same goes for some of the welsh, btw), and this affected their mating practices.

see also: The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe by jack goody.

previously: inbreeding in europe’s periphery and anglo-saxon mating patterns and more on anglo-saxon mating patterns

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more on anglo-saxon mating patterns

it seems like the anglo-saxons were still marrying close relatives (prolly close cousins) in the 800s, at least in some areas of england. here from jack goody [pgs. 161-62 – links added by me]:

“In England, as in Ireland, popular resistance to the marriage rules had been felt as early as Anglo-Saxon times. Lancaster comments that the frequency of defections from ecclesiastical rulings on marriage with near kin was a constant cause of complaint during this period. In 874 Pope John VIII wrote to the King of Mercia saying that fornication was rife and that men ‘presume to marry women of their own kindred’. Some sixteen years later the Archibishop of Rheims wrote to King Alfred [king of wessex] in the same vein. Sermon and legislation continued to condemn and prohibit the widespread ‘incest’ (Lancaster 1958: 240).”

perhaps this is why in the 900s-1000s there were such strict secular laws prohibiting cousin marriage in at least some of the anglo-saxon kingdoms?

previously: anglo-saxon mating patterns

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