When did 1st cousin marriage die out in Europe?

+2 votes
150 views
Both the Arabs and the Jews practiced parallel first cousin marriage. A man would marry his father's brother's daughter,etc.  It was a way of binding the family closer together, but it also led to a great deal of pedigree collapse.  the early Christians carried this practice into Europe, but by the time of Henry VIII of England, the Book of Common Prayer lists it as "incest."  I don't know when the practice actually died out and was wondering if anyone else did.
in The Tree House by David Hughey G2G6 Pilot (765k points)
The Roman Church ran a racket.  They made it illegal to marry anybody related in 7 steps or less, ie closer than 3rd cousins.  But you could get a dispensation to make it legal, for a fee.

They extended it to include "affinity", ie anybody within 7 steps of a previous spouse.  Or mistress.

At one period, in the Norman era, they decided it should be 6th cousins, ie 7 steps in each leg.  But that wasn't sustainable.

The reformers condemned all this along with all the other rackets.  After the break with Rome, the C of E just had a fixed list of people you couldn't marry, and there were no dispensations.

There were several issues of the Prayer Book.  If 1st cousins were ever banned, they lifted it later.  They weren't banned in the classic 1662 edition.
Cousin marriage was legalised in England in 1540 by an act of Parliament that allowed Henry viii to marry Catherine Howard, the cousin of Anne Bolyn.

The table of Affinity in the 1662  book of common prayer was devised in 1563. It had to be hung up in  churches before it ended up being printed in the 1662 version .(there was a shortlived version in 1560 that included being able to marry deceased  brothers and sisters wives but that was rejected in the official version and in spite of controversy these marriages were forbidden until the 20th Century)

4 Answers

+2 votes
Hasn't died out in Britain. Still perfectly legal but uncommon. Don't know about the Continent.
by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (211k points)
It's legal in most American states, too, but completely taboo. It's seen as the next thing to marrying your brother or sister. Would it really not be taboo to marry your cousin in the UK? Practically, if one wished to marry a cousin (let's not be silly and imagine we're a member of the royal family or anything), it wouldn't upset the family and make people look at you funny in the UK?
Don't think so. Family might actually like it. I never fancied my cousin but he was the brother I never had. I'm pretty ancient but never thought it was a bad thing until I noticed very recently that Americans really get concerned about it.
Seems perfectly OK in England. Just unusual as you might expect.
Thanks C yes definitely Legal in UK,  at some point special dispensation was needed to be able to marry, and also quite common in isolated communities further back in my Quaker line I have a lot - I never had a problem with it either C, and it was common in British nobility too.
I was going to marry my first cousin.  My aunt and my mother thought it was 'sweet' to see me tagging after him, carrying bricks so he could build a fort.

We were both six years old. (We never married. LOL)

Lovely image. smiley

Several of my family married first cousins in the past in UK the most recent one was in 1934 but I have known it in other families in England more recently.

I have a memory of reading a prayer book (it may have been C of E before they became Anglicans cheeky  (so long ago I don't remember the affiliation)) and it banned 2nd cousins from marrying, but not first cousins.  When I asked my mother about it she said it was because "everyone knew first cousins having babies was a bad thing because of (reason)".  (I don't recall the terminology used, but it was related to mental and physical retardation (and we have so many different and more accurate terms now).)  Which is kind of really "funny" given just how many cousins marrying cousins there are in so many families.  (We have lots of two brothers marrying two sisters, but only one first-cousinship marriage that I've found . and they had no children.)

My most recent 1st cousin marriage was in an Anglican Church and I remember my father saying they had to get a dispensation, but it was easily granted, only they were told their children would not be allowed to marry first cousins.  They had one still born child followed by three fit ones, all intelligent and still alive!
+3 votes

I would read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cousin_marriage 

In some countries it is a criminal offence, in others it is legal. Queen Victoria married her fist cousin Albert in 1840. It is still a common in some parts of the world.

by Anonymous Anonymous G2G6 Mach 3 (31.8k points)

I’ve got a couple of these in two direct lines. surprise

I also have ancestors that had first cousin marriages.
+3 votes

For centuries, cousin marriage went back and forth between being acceptable, even preferred, to being banned. It depends on the time period and the place. But it seems as the 19th century ended, the tide was turning firmly against it -- in 1886, Louisa May Alcott could have a character being sweet on his cousin in her book Jo's Boys and it was fine, but by 1896, when Jude the Obscure was published, Jude and Sue's relationship is frowned on because "it is not well for cousins to fall in love." In 1921, when a set of cousins marry in the Forsyte Saga, the author lets us know that the pair had decided to have no children together on account on them being first cousins.

That's really pretty fast, if you think about it. Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, in 1814, has as it's triumphant happy ending that Fanny marries her cousin Edmund. Less than a hundred years later, cousin marriage is now something that, if the pair insists on marrying, they ought not to have children. There's probably a few factors at work. Eugenics and early theories of hereditary were coming into vogue, and the same people who'd inbred their horses and dogs to get an animal of the type they wanted may now have been having second thoughts of doing such things with humans. Economically, things were changing in the Western world and there may have been less pressure to marry cousins to preserve family businesses and family fortunes.

I also sort of wonder if genteel and middle-and-upper class women were becoming more liberated, and seeing more men outside the immediate family circle. Lower class women had been working in fields, fetching water from wells, tending to shops, etc. for centuries. But women from "good" families, who were more guarded and protected, had fewer opportunities to make the acquaintance of men. Of course, one's own cousin was acceptable to be around -- and who else did one have to fall in love with, other than one's cousin? But if you're starting to go about unchaperoned, perhaps even seeking higher education, you're going to meet more men who are not blood relatives that you can go falling in love with.

by Jessica Key G2G6 Pilot (135k points)
edited by Jessica Key
In the late 19th century they were starting to recognize the causes of disease, where they never had before.  They knew about infections and malnutrition and were able to isolate which diseases might be hereditary.  And they were starting to understand recessive traits, and how a disease might appear in a child after being carried invisibly by the parents.  They probably exaggerated the risk.

Even in Alcott there's some resistance to cousin marriage; in Rose in Bloom (1876), Dr. Alec doesn't approve of cousin marriages, though most of the rest of Rose's family wants her to marry one of her cousins to keep the money in the family.

+3 votes
I can't relate the specific cases but I remember seeing marriage license
applications in the United States that stated that the appliers were not related closer than second cousins.
by Beulah Cramer G2G6 Pilot (204k points)
I've seen that on some older marriage licenses as "not related within the Levitical degrees".

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