Monday, September 07, 2009

Question from Jacque - First cousin marriage

Prior to the Reformation in Tudor England, was it okay to marry your first cousin with no generations removed? Are there any examples of this and did they require a dispensation?


PhD Historian said...

Prior to the Reformation in England, marriage was governed by the laws of the Roman Catholic Church, called canon law. And canon law is exceedingly explicit and detailed on who can marry whom and what degrees of relation stand as barriers to marriage. First cousins are well within that barrier and cannot marry, even in the modern Roman Catholic church, without papal dispensation. In fact, second and third cousins as well as second and third half-cousins are also barred from intermarriage under canon law, both then and now. But of course there are examples from the Tudor period in which such marriages did occur, usually royal or high-ranking aristocratic ones in which the needs of the state were impacted. And they sometimes happened without dispensations being obtained. Example: Henry Grey married Frances Brandon in 1533 without known dispensation, yet they had a great-grandmother in common (Elizabeth Woodville) and were thus related in the fourth degree of consanguinity (third cousins).

Diane Wilshere said...

Then there is the famous one of Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley both of whom were grandchildren of Queen Margaret Tudor. And then the creepy one, when Phillip II of Spain married as his fourth wife his niece, Anna of Austria which followed a trend leadng to the health problems of the Hapsburg monarchs. Philip also married his first cousin, once removed when he married Queen Mary I of England

Anonymous said...

But surely it was more common than that? As well as marrying his niece and first cousin once removed, Philip married his double cousin (on both sides) Maria Manuela and his sister married her brother John. His parents and theirs (the King and Queen of Portugal) were both cousins - and weren't commoners always marrying their relatives as well? I don't know about the poor, but I know the nobility were, and they weren't all important enough to apply for dispensations (were they?). Wasn't it just all considered normal?

Denise said...

Here's a good one: Louis XIII of France married Anne of Austria. Her brother also married his sister. The son of the first marriage (Louis XIV) married the daughter of the second marriage (Marie-Therese). So they were much closer than first cousins.

Tudorrose said...

It was common for someone of nobillity or royalty to become aquainted with and then go on to marry their first cousins and their distant ones.Like Mary Stuart Queen of Scots marrying her cousin Henry Stuart Lord Darnley.Mary and Darnley were first cousins.As for Marie Therese and King Louis XIV they were half brother and half sister.I think that this was to blame in a lot of cases for certain faults.When you take two people getting courted then marrying and then conceiving a child/children then no doubt there would lay underlaying issues within that familly.I think that the Tudors and Stuarts were trying to make it were everyone near enough in England if not the world related to one another.I also think that they went to great lengths to get heirs even if it meant getting an heir from one of their relatives.

kb said...

I've been thinking about this question in terms of the middling and lower sorts....
How common was it for those below the elite level to marry within the Catholic forbidden degree of consanguinity?

A great deal more research is needed on this topic. However, marriage at the royal and elite level generally had very little to do with meeting and falling in love. It had everything to do with foreign policy at the royal level, and property at the elite level.

Obtaining dispensation was a protection for the soul in canon law AND a protection against divorce which would alter foreign policy at the royal level and disruption to property ownership at the elite level.

At the lower levels, property was significantly less in substance but just as vital. If however, there was no property at risk, would there be any concern for obtaining papal dispensation for any reasons besides canon law.

After the Reformation in England, clearly the lack of a papal dispensation would have meant nothing to the majority as Catholicism was no longer official canon law.

What I don't know is if the lower sorts who remained devout Catholics and married solely for love (or propriety in cases of pregnant brides) would have sought dispensations from Rome or instead some sort of unofficial dispensation from their local, and necessarily secret, priest.

Any thoughts?

PhD Historian said...

As I've always understood it, KB, the Act in Restraint of Appeals made it a criminal offense to seek any kind of judgment from outside England, including papal dispensations. So any person in the Elizabethan period, of whatever social rank, seeking a papal dispensation to marry would have risked arrest and imprisonment.

Further, I have also always understood that dispensations to marry were granted only by the pope himself, though the pope acted after being advised by the papal curia. I would think it would be quite difficult to press a case with the pope and still keep it secret. Such cases, even among royalty, involved canon lawyers, advocates, "lobbyists," bribes, fees ... in short, it was a rather public process and an involved and expensive one. The papacy did not grant such requests for free. The money involved was, after all, one of the complaints of reformers.

And getting the actual bull of dispensation smuggled back into England would also have been difficult, though not impossible.

I could be totally wrong, but I suspect that Roman Catholics among the "lower sorts" in Elizabethan England either went forward without dispensation or did not marry within the forbidden degrees.

I might add one more item to your list of protections: a dispensation also protected any possible children of the marriage from the potential taint of illegitimacy. And since illegitimate children were barred from inheriting, from entering clerical orders, and from a whole host of other activities, this was a very important issue among those marrying within the forbidden degrees.

kb said...

Thanks PhD Historian!

I just needed to 'discuss' the issues out.

I've been wondering a great deal recently about how Roman Catholics 'observed' during Elizabeth's reign. (I specifically excluded all religious topics from the research I did for my dissertation/thesis.)

I am curious about the role local priests played in the life of English Catholics and this question (thanks Jacque) piqued my interest. I suspect that many of the lower sorts lost track of some relationships as they lost track of their ages and therefore may not have known that in some cases dispensations would have been required under canon law. Clearly I have reading to do.

PhD Historian said...

There is a large and rapidly growing body of literature out there on recusancy, KB, as I am sure you know. One of my former colleagues in grad school is writing her PhD thesis on recusancy in the later Elizabethan period, and I believe she deals extensively on how the wealthier Catholics offered moral and religious support to those Catholics of lesser means, especially through the support of priests who operated in secret.

And I have to wonder, as you do, how much of the minutiae and legal detail was overlooked, both deliberately and accidentally, as recusants struggled for just the basics of mass and confession. Who was related to whom prior to marriage may well have been a low priority when fundamental access to the core sacraments was so restricted.

Lindsey said...

One example of first cousin marriage which popped into my head when I read the question from Jacque is a non-Tudor era one: Queen Victora and Prince Albert (Victoria's mother and Albert's father were brother and sister).

I have to admit I was rather shocked when I discovered the above fact many years ago (the 19th century is another interest of mine)--shocked because we are talking here about inbreeding and, well, incest. I had thought these practices had ended by the 19th century (among royals, at least) but not so!