What does it mean when a couple gets royal permission to marry because they are related in the third degree?

+8 votes
I don't know if culture and/or time period matter in relation to this question, but this is a phrase I've encountered several times in Danish records of the 1600's and early 1700's.  It comes from royal decrees that the couple has obtained royal permission to marry because they are related (to each other?) in the third degree.  What does this mean legally (what was the law that they got permission to violate) and genealogically?  Are they second cousins?

in The Tree House by Gilbert Nelson G2G6 (7.4k points)

5 Answers

+9 votes
Best answer

It means they share about 12.5% of their genes. In this case, they would be 1st cousins.

First, Second and Third Degree Relative

A first-degree relative is defined as a close blood relative which includes the individual's parents, full siblings, or children

A second-degree relative is defined as a blood relative which includes the individual's grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces or half-siblings

A third-degree relative is defined as a blood relative which includes the individual’s first-cousins, great-grandparents or great grandchildren

by Deb Durham G2G Astronaut (1.0m points)
selected by Robert Hvitfeldt
Rubén counts differently.

Has the counting mode changed over history?

Deb is talking about the genetic definition as he explains in his comment to my answer.

For permission purpouses siblings (Full or half siblings) are considered a first degree of consanguinity relationship because both individuals share at least one of the parents. Fisrt-cousins are considered a second degree relationship because both individuals are the children of two siblings, no matter if those siblings are full or half-siblings.

Genetics defines the degrees differently.
Yes thanks. Seen that.

They weren't as advanced in genetics in the olden days.
+6 votes
I've usually come across this in Relation to Papal dispensations to marry within 4 degrees or less of relationship.  This was a church law, and I'm presuming that once various countries broke away from the Catholic Church and/or the state took over these laws, it was the King or Queen who issued the decree as in the cases you have come across?

How many degrees were forbidden and how they were counted, changed over time or perhaps cultures, but it is likely that the people concerned in your case were second or perhaps third cousins.

Dispensations can be invaluable to work out genealogy because you know the two people had to be related.
by John Atkinson G2G6 Pilot (437k points)
As far as I understand, from Sweden, it was the king or queen only in name. The case was revieweb by a regional court that also issued the dispensation.
+8 votes

Certain communities (From a country, religious communities, etc.) stablish their own laws or rules. E. g., in Ireland:


Generally speaking there are two kind of prohibited degrees: By blood relationship between the parties (Consanguinity) or by a relationship consequence of a previous marriage (Affinity).

If the permission was related to a third degree of consanguinity, the parties were second cousins (First degree = Siblings, Second degree = First cousins, Third degree = Second cousins), just as you say.
by Rubén Hernández G2G6 Pilot (662k points)
I would have counted the degrees as you do, Rubén. Deb counts differently (more DNA-related?) It would be nice to have this resolved.
What I am describing is the genetic definition. If we are talking degrees of consanguinity it gets more complicated.

CONSANGUINITY. The relation subsisting among all the different persons descending from the same stock, or common ancestor. Vaughan, 322, 329; 2 Bl. Com. 202 Toull. Dr. Civ.. Fr. liv. 3, t. 1, ch. n 115 2 Bouv. Inst. n. 1955, et seq.
     2. Some portion of the blood of the common ancestor flows through the veins of all his descendants, and though mixed with the blood flowing from many other families, yet it constitutes the kindred or alliance by blood between any two of the individuals. This relation by blood is of two kinds, lineal and collateral.
     3. Lineal consanguinity is that relation which exists among persons, where one is descended from the other, as between the son and the father, or the grandfather, and so upwards in a direct ascending line; and between the father and the son, or the grandson, and so downwards in a direct descending line. Every generation in this direct course males a degree, computing either in the ascending or descending line. This being the natural mode of computing the degrees of lineal consanguinity, it has been adopted by the civil, the canon, and the common law.
     4. Collateral consanguinity is the relation subsisting among persons who descend from the same common ancestor, but not from each other. It is essential to constitute this relation, that they spring from the same common root or stock, but in different branches. The mode of computing the degrees is to discover the common ancestor, to begin with him to reckon downwards, and the degree the two persons, or the more remote of them, is distant from the ancestor, is the degree of kindred subsisting between them. For instance, two brothers are related to each other in the first degree, because from the father to each of them is one degree. An uncle and a nephew are related to each other in the second degree, because the nephew is two degrees distant from the common ancestor, and the rule of computation is extended to the remotest degrees of collateral relationship. This is the mode of computation by the common and canon law. The method of computing by the civil law, is to begin at either of the persons in question and count up to the common ancestor, and then downwards to the other person, calling it a degree for each person, both ascending and descending, and the degrees they stand from each other is the degree in which they stand related. Thus, from a nephew to his father, is one degree; to the grandfather, two degrees and then to the uncle, three; which points out the relationship.
Thanks. Very useful.

I should think that the cases in the original question are third degree collateral as by canonic law; so it's a marriages of second cousins.

Or am I getting dizzy again...
Yes, I believe my first response was incorrect for the circumstances and Rubén's response of second cousins is correct.
Nevertheless, I think it was a good thing to get all of this information together in one thread.
I totally agree with Eva.
+4 votes

Here is a link to an article discussing the many ways of counting the degrees of relationship, when they changed, and who applied which rule.


When I was in law school in the mid 1980's in Louisiana, we learned to count 2 ways - one for marriage prohibitions and a different way for inheritance rules.  This was one of the first instances where we learned the importance of don't rely on your memory, but instead always look it up and make sure you are applying the correct rule for the circumstances. Its a pretty good guideline for figuring out what a dispensation means in genealogy too.

by Mary Jensen G2G6 Mach 9 (92.8k points)
0 votes
In 1683, King Frederik V made Danske Lov (the Danish Code), which defined who could be married and who could not. Section 3-16-9-3 states that:

"Those who are related in the second and third degree, are first cousins and second cousins."

I do not think that the Danish Code has been translated, but you can read about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danish_Code
by Lene Kottal G2G Crew (680 points)

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