in Incest in Sweden, 1680–1940

The introduction outlines the aim of the study, the source material is described, and previous research on the subject is presented. The source material consists of judgement-book material on the court-of-appeal and hundred-court levels as well as of marriage applications and political and legislative material. The author also discusses the theory of symbolic interaction, explaining what guided her choices of source materials as well as their limitations. The origins of incest taboos are discussed from the standpoint of scientific research. Furthermore, the complicated subdivisions of the different incest prohibitions are carefully presented with regard to both consanguinity and affinity relationships.

On 23 June 1702, a soldier named Jon Larsson and his wife's half-sister Karin Jönsdotter were brought before a local court in central Sweden where they tearfully confessed their sins. A few weeks before Christmas of the previous year they had engaged in sexual intercourse on one occasion, following which Karin had become pregnant. 1

Their actions were in stark violation of the norms of the time regarding sexual relationships. Not only was Jon a married man and their relationship thus regarded as adulterous, but their sexual interaction was also defined as incestuous because Karin was the half-sister of Jon's wife. During the early modern age, the concept of incest included many more kinship categories than today, and any offences involving the closest degrees of kinship, of which this was an example, were equated with infanticide, heresy, and bestiality – crimes that were all defined as crimes against the state (högmålsbrott in Swedish), which, according to the legal opinion of the day should be punishable by the death of the guilty parties.

Jon and Karin insisted before the local court that they had never before been guilty of a similar sin and humbly begged for mercy. Jon's wife and Karin's mother pleaded with the court ‘with weeping and howling’ for the lives of the couple to be spared, and the farmers of the parish sent a joint application for mercy to the king on behalf of the defendants. 2 The case was referred to the court of appeal and from there on to the Crown. The answer was implacable. As a ‘well-deserved’ punishment for their crime, Jon and Karin were to be executed by beheading. 3

In addition to illustrating the extremely severe penalties meted out to sexual offenders in Sweden during the early modern period, this example demonstrates that the actual concept of incest included completely different kinship categories from the ones it covers in our own time. Several sexual relationships which were then defined as prohibited and which would, if discovered, be punished by death are completely legal today. Social attitudes to these relationships have thus undoubtedly changed from one extreme to another. Moreover, Sweden stands out in this respect in comparison to other countries. During the early modern period, Swedish law – and case-law – was one of the strictest in Europe, whereas in modern times it has become one of the most liberal.

How does such a transformation happen? How are people's attitudes to what is right and wrong formed and changed? How does official law interact with unofficial norms? Who in a society decides which laws and regulations should exist, and what has propelled the radical changes that have occurred over time? These are some of the questions that form the point of departure for my investigation and that I attempt to answer in this book. My analysis covers a period of over 250 years: from the late seventeenth century, when the law was especially severe, up through the first decades of the twentieth century, when legislation had approached today's more liberal levels.

For many people, the word incest has a peculiarly unfavourable ring to it. The concept is associated with violence, abuse, and the exploitation of minors; but the same concept also includes voluntary sexual relationships between related adults. Up until the late nineteenth century, incest crimes in Sweden were completely dominated by voluntary relationships. For that reason, such relationships are at the centre of this investigation.

The origin of incest prohibitions

Before presenting my study in greater detail, I wish to stop for a moment to discuss the origin of the prohibitions themselves. How exactly did incest prohibitions come about? This issue has long perplexed Western researchers. The question has been posed as to whether the discomfort that most of us experience at the thought of sexual contact between certain relatives arises in biology, in the environment, or in culture. Incest prohibitions are implicitly or explicitly represented in all societies, the prohibition against sexual relations within the nuclear family appearing to be all but universal. 4 This leads to the conclusion that an aversion to incestuous interactions is likely to be something inherently human, a biological truth, if you will. Nevertheless, in most societies, laws have been developed regulating which relationships should be allowed or forbidden. The form and content of these laws have varied depending on location and culture. 5 For instance, in northern India marriage between relatives has been strictly limited because of cultural taboos, whereas marriage between cousins or an uncle and a niece has been actively encouraged in southern India. In the Middle East, marriages between cousins whose fathers were brothers have been considered especially advantageous, while marriages between cousins in China and Korea have only been permitted if the parents were not brothers (i.e., if the parents were brother and sister or two sisters). 6

If the phenomenon of incest had really been natural behaviour for humans, its limitations ought to have been the same everywhere, and there would have been no need to construct laws surrounding it. This argues against a biological explanation for incest.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was assumed in natural-science circles that incest prohibitions formed the starting-point of modern civilisation. Through socially constructed prohibitions, humans had distanced themselves from their animal origins. 7 Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud contended that humans were born with a natural longing for incestuous relationships, but that, with the aid of cultural laws, they learned to suppress their forbidden desires. Freud named the inner conflict that resulted from this the Oedipus complex. 8

A view diametrically opposed to Freud's was introduced by Finnish sociologist and philosopher Edvard Westermarck. Inspired by Darwin's theory of evolution, he claimed that natural selection in all probability brought with it a natural moral aversion to sexual relations between close relatives. According to Westermarck, the biologically conditioned aversion formed the basis of the socially constructed laws that had developed in different societies. 9 Initially, Westermarck's theories had very little impact. Most researchers viewed incest taboos as exclusively social constructions; and in order to explain why the prohibitions had emerged at all, various structural phenomena that could benefit the family and the group socially and economically were suggested, primarily by anthropologists. 10

In the 1960s, the image of incest prohibitions changed when it could be shown on the basis of empirical studies that there is a close connection between those human relations that a child experiences while growing up and a later sexual aversion against the same people when the child reaches sexual maturity. Today, this phenomenon is considered empirically proven, and it is accepted by most researchers as an environmental imprinting which is not, however, affected by biological kinship ties. 11 On the other hand, opinions differ when it comes to what conclusions can be drawn from this phenomenon. Even if the environmental imprinting can explain why most people themselves avoid sexual relations with people to whom they have been close during their childhood and adolescence, it does not explain why there is a need for making laws about the behaviour of other people. 12

In past ages, the existence of incest prohibitions was primarily legitimised by religious values. Today the prohibitions are largely explained by medical or genetic notions. According to current Swedish law, sexual relations are prohibited between members of the same nuclear family (between a parent and a child, or a grandparent and a grandchild, or between full siblings), and the prohibitions are justified by medical arguments but also by ethical reasons. 13 It is true that the risk of any children suffering serious genetic damage increases when the parents are closely related, and this may at first sight seem a logical reason for the formulation of the law; but in fact the risk is rather small. At the same time, there are other situations where there is a comparable risk of hereditary damage but where the state does not interfere. Single individuals may carry a predisposition for a hereditary disease that risks being transmitted to the next generation regardless of the partner chosen by such a person, but in such cases there are no legal restrictions to consider before choosing to have children. 14 Similarly, the risk of foetal injury rises rather dramatically when a prospective mother grows older, but no laws limit her ability to have children after a certain age. 15 Another medical inconsistency in modern Swedish law is the fact that a man and his niece are allowed to marry without restrictions while half-siblings must apply for a dispensation for marriage, although the genetic closeness, and thus the risk of foetal abnormalities, is exactly the same in both cases. 16 In other words, modern legislation is not entirely consistent, which is a sign of the topicality of the issue and at the same time of its complexity.

It is obvious that ideas surrounding incest and incest prohibitions have been affected by religious and medical values in society. It is also clear that both of these influences can be linked to specific periods of time. This book examines what other influences, in addition to religious and medical ones, have affected the changes mentioned above.

Aim of the present study

Regardless of the origin of incest prohibitions, their respective formulations have varied radically both among different cultures and within one and the same culture over time. With respect to Sweden, there was a radical and completely revolutionary shift in the sense that an act which is not even defined as illegal today was punishable by death around the turn of the century in 1700. Jon and Karin were executed for having had sexual intercourse with each other. Today, a similar relationship would not arouse any interest whatsoever from the authorities. The fact that the formulation of incest prohibitions has varied so significantly over time and space suggests that the prohibitions are, to some extent, social constructions. In other words, they are affected by values and ideas in society.

The aim of my investigation is to analyse the norms and culturally dependent values that have formed the basis of the theoretical regulation and the practical handling of incest cases in Swedish society from the late seventeenth century up until around 1940, and to situate this development in a wider European context. Consequently, I examine how ideas surrounding incest can be related to normative changes in society. The aim of the analysis is not simply to describe the radical change that took place, but also to explain how interest in incestuous relationships could be so strong and pervasive during the seventeenth century, whereas it came to be a more peripheral phenomenon later on.

Previous research has shown that sexual crimes were very severely punished in Protestant areas during the early modern period. However, many sexual crimes that in theory were to be punished by death were more leniently dealt with in practice. 17 Even so, Sweden and the Nordic countries stood out among Protestant countries when it comes to severity in connection with incest crimes. Icelandic historian Már Jónsson, who has studied criminal incest in Iceland, claims that the explanation for that severity is found in the concept of heresy. Originally, heresy meant deviation from the Christian faith; but in the Nordic countries it also came to be used synonymously with blodskam (literally ‘blood shame’), the old Swedish word for incest. 18 Heresy was equated with bestiality and other ‘sodomitic’ sins which were defined as crimes against ‘God's law’. This gave religious authorities a prominent role in the interpretation of the criminal nature of the acts. The actual legislation may thus be regarded as a consequence of both ecclesiastical and secular legal claims.

But the religious legitimisation of incest prohibitions cannot in itself explain how Jon and Karin ended up in court. The couple were defended by several people from their immediate surroundings, and the case still ended with a death sentence. This raises questions as to just how firmly anchored the strict law actually was among the general public. In order to understand how the law was enforced, social practices must be studied in some detail. Norms and attitudes do not necessarily adhere to official legislation. Rather, they may be seen as the result of an interaction between legislators and the general public. In order to understand what norms dominated a society during a specific period of time, one must investigate how the theoretical legislation was in fact implemented in that society.

On a comprehensive level, my investigation aims to shed light on how the sexuality of individuals has been restricted by different norms and values in society. By using historical examples and long timelines, I want to show what a revolutionary change the theoretical legislation, as well as the practical application of the incest prohibitions, has undergone, and how this development can be linked to prevailing norms and values throughout the entire studied period. Sometimes these norms have been specific to Sweden; but Swedish developments may often be linked to cultural ideas that have existed in parallel in various European countries. Previous research has touched on different aspects of the prohibited relationships during different times and in different countries. However, no one has studied the processes underlying the judicial involvement and its long-term changes. The question is how the extreme shifts of direction in the Swedish circumstances can be accounted for. The answer to this question will also open up new perspectives on and insights into our current norms and values in this field.

Interaction, the creation of norms, and social control

Ultimately, my study is about how norms are created in a society and how they change, and, more specifically, about defining the boundary between permitted and prohibited sexuality, with a focus on kinship ties. During most of the period investigated, the normative order of society was based on the idea that sexuality should only be practised within marriage and for the purpose of procreation. For several centuries, all extramarital sexual activity was thus defined as prohibited. Incest was only one of many forbidden sexual acts. In modern times, the definition of prohibited sexual activity has changed, as has the meaning of the concept of incest. As was pointed out above, relationships that were once utterly forbidden are regarded as entirely legal today. Conceptions as to what is right and wrong have changed, and new norms surrounding sexuality have evolved. But how are such norms created, and how do they change?

Scholars have long debated the relationship between actor and structure as a theoretical dilemma. While some researchers emphasise the significance of an actor's free will, others instead foreground social structures as limitations on the ability of an individual to think and act independently. However, few scholars imagine this issue as an either/or question, positioning themselves somewhere between the two extremes. 19 In sociology the structural restrictions that society indirectly sets up for an individual are often emphasised, which engenders a somewhat deterministic basic view of human development. The individual is born into a society with a specific social and cultural framework and taught to accept the prevailing normative order. The individual's scope for action is connected to the different positions or stereotypical roles that he or she is given in this society and to the expectations that the people around him or her have regarding that particular position (e.g., as a man, woman, student, grandmother, shoe salesman, athlete, Christian, academic, etc.). 20 According to this way of looking at things, the structural framework will ultimately shape everything, from identity and thought patterns to emotional life.

On this issue, I position myself relatively close to those researchers who emphasise the free will of actors and their opportunities for influencing the people around them. Although the structures mentioned above no doubt impose certain limitations on an actor's freedom of action, I believe that there are a number of different ways in which an individual may relate to his or her surroundings, and that this creates a potential for change in society which is anything but predictable.

My line of reasoning has, in part, been inspired by symbolic interactionism as presented by American sociologist Joel M. Charon. This theoretical perspective may be said to be a subdivision or further development of more traditional sociology. Above all, it emphasises an individual's scope for action within the structural framework. 21 Proponents of this theory distance themselves from the determinism which characterises studies that proceed from more structuralist perspectives; instead, they stress the significance of interaction for the development of an individual. In this context, the individual is described not as a passive recipient of social influences but as an actor who actively processes input data, and who interprets each specific situation and thereafter chooses to act in accordance with his or her own aims and interests. The whole thing is seen as an ongoing process where the actor continuously receives new information and is able to modify his or her goals and actions. 22

According to this theoretical perspective, all human communication is carried out through symbols, language being the most obvious example. But interpersonal interaction is also carried out with the aid of gestures, facial expressions, texts, or images, all of which have symbolic meanings. Because communication is carried out via symbols, a message is always interpreted before its recipient reacts to it. 23

Through interactions with other people, individuals define and evaluate both themselves and the people around them. The evaluation of various objects, events, or attitudes is partly based on how other people judge the same thing. However, an individual does not slavishly follow the judgement of other people, but always makes a personal interpretation. The freedom of an individual lies in the interpretation. Here is an opportunity to depart from other people's assessments of the same situation. The key point of symbolic interactionism is thus that individuals act in interaction with those around them.

Social interaction not only determines the values and actions of individual actors; it also gives rise to shared social norms. Charon defines a society as a group of people interacting and cooperating with one another. This cooperation creates shared perspectives which form the basis of the culture of the society. The culture may be said to comprise general ‘agreements’ on norms and values, on formal and informal rules and on traditions and morals. These common values are used by an individual as benchmarks in order to evaluate his/her own actions and the actions of other people. But interaction and cooperation do not mean that there is consensus within the group or society. On the contrary, Charon emphasises that a continuous negotiation and adaptation of positions takes place over the course of interpersonal meetings. Ideas are challenged, defended, and reshaped into new variants that can then be questioned anew. The definition of norms and values is negotiated and renegotiated throughout this communication, and this creates a dynamic process that never comes to an end. 24

A number of historians have chosen to view society and the social interactions of people in a similar way. One historian has described social norms as ‘a regulatory system for how social life should be led’. Norms are created through the actions and statements of individual people, but at the same time they govern the actions of those same individuals. 25 Historian Karin Hassan Jansson, who has studied rape cases in early modern Sweden, views the construction of gender in a society as a ‘contentious process’. Each prevailing norm in society was, she says, preceded by a struggle, and the same norm runs a constant risk of being challenged anew. Jansson calls this process, which leads up to the common formation of norms in a society, a ‘struggle for definitions’. 26

Prevailing social norms and ideals are defended through resistance to divergent norms and behaviour. This resistance has been referred to as social control. Social control may be divided into different levels of formal and informal control, formal control being linked to laws and regulations or ecclesiastical provisions while informal control describes the control individuals have over one another's behaviour. 27 Cultural ideas often corresponded on different levels, but they could also be in conflict with one another. Attitudes concerning right and wrong could, for instance, vary among different social groups (e.g., the nobility and the peasantry); but tensions and challenges could also emerge within one and the same group. In such situations an opportunity would arise for renegotiation and change of the content of the norm.

With the aid of these input values, it is possible to define the scope of the present investigation. My point of departure is thus that official norms and attitudes are the result of continuous negotiations at the level of individual actors. Individuals who attempted to improve their own positions in connection with various conflicts simultaneously challenged or reinforced common values in society. It was not until the rules were challenged that a phase of negotiation was initiated, where both challengers and defenders of certain values were forced to articulate their arguments in order to gain legitimacy for their respective points of view. In my view, it is in such negotiations that the underlying causes of the shifts in norms that have occurred over time become visible. By constantly focusing on the definition of boundaries, it is possible to reveal the grey area where dissimilar opinions intersected with or overlapped one another, where norms were in conflict, and where negotiations geared towards establishing new shared values became necessary.

1 Hundred-court judgement book from the eighteenth century.

Material and methodology

The aim of my study is to investigate how norms surrounding incest have changed in Sweden from the end of the seventeenth century up until 1940. I wish to do this by drawing attention to values that have been brought to the fore when the boundaries of prohibitions have been challenged in different social arenas. For this reason, I have sought out source material that variously reflects the process of negotiation that followed upon such challenges. This material falls into four separate categories: 1) laws and preparatory legislative documents; 2) parliamentary records and reports from government-initiated investigations; 3) judgement-book material on the court-of-appeal and hundred-court levels; and 4) applications for dispensation. I have endeavoured to read as much as possible within all these categories in order to develop an idea of quantitative facts, general phenomena, and recurring discussions and arguments. In order to cover as lengthy a period of time as possible, I have sampled the criminal-case material at predetermined points in time. The location of those points in time has been governed by the availability of searchable records in combination with an attempt to create regular intervals over time. Taken altogether, the material became quite extensive. I have gone through approximately 230 criminal cases, of which roughly every fourth case was followed up at the hundred level, and, in addition to this, 200 applications for dispensation. This is the equivalent of over 4500 handwritten pages from more than 300 different volumes taken from four different regional archives. To this should be added all the printed source material.

Laws and parliamentary material

The two first categories of material reproduce debates engaged in by the educated elite in society, such as theologians, lawyers, and politicians. The laws in a society can be said to make up a stylised or generalised ideal which reflects the values that have acquired the highest degree of support in the negotiation process among legal scholars at a specific point in time. But the ideals embodied in law have always been preceded by negotiations that show which competing values and points of view were put forward in the debate. In the course of the negotiations, opinions were aired which – for different reasons – never gained the approval of the majority, and which are hence not visible in the legislation. In order to understand the range of ideas that has existed in society at different points in time, preparatory legislative material and parliamentary records are thus an important source for analysis.

The Swedish book of statutes was redrafted in 1734 and 1864. In addition, the Marriage Code was revised in 1915. All changes to the laws were preceded by various preparatory legislative inquiries and by discussions that would sometimes go on for decades. In addition to laws and preparatory legislative material, I have gone through all the letters patent and royal ordinances I was able to find via registers where the Crown clarified what positions cathedral chapters and courts of appeal should assume with respect to different relationships within the prohibited degrees of kinship. For the more recent period, there are also government-initiated investigations – the Official Government Reports Series (SOU) – that may present lines of argument developed at the highest level.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, the issue of incest was the subject of animated debate in the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag. Every parliamentary debate was initiated by a proposal for a legislative amendment. The bills and the discussions that followed within the different estates 28 have been preserved in printed form, material that reveals how different opinions were justified, defended, and questioned. During the nineteenth century, the question of the formulation of incest prohibitions was raised in twelve parliaments, all of which are included in the basis for my study: 1809/10, 1823, 1828, 1834, 1840, 1844, 1847, 1859/60, 1862/63, 1868, 1870, and 1871. This material thus contains all the debates, official letters, appendices, opinions, and decisions preserved in written form from the four estates, the Committee on Legal Affairs, and the Crown.

In addition to this material I have used an academic dissertation on this topic, published in 1813, and a commentary to this dissertation, as well as two major scholarly studies of incest crimes and incest criminals in Sweden that were conducted during the interwar years. 29 I have used these last-mentioned studies as a source of statistical information regarding the prevalence of the crime of incest during the decades after 1900; at the same time, they make up a part of the source material for ideas concerning the crime of incest during the 1930s. 30

The origin and purpose of incest prohibitions were debated in all these arenas, along with proposals for changes and the consequences that such changes were expected to entail. There is thus a wealth of source material in which incest prohibitions were debated, both by legal scholars and by politicians and theologians, and, towards the end of the investigated period, also by representatives of the medical profession.

Judgement-book material

The two other categories of material, judgement books and applications for dispensation, have been used to compare the theoretical debate to the practical handling of various incest cases. This source material can also be expected to reflect attitudes at a more popular and general level, because it was primarily people from the broader social groups that were prosecuted for incest crimes: freeholders and farmers, craftsmen and soldiers, the occasional burgher, millers, saltpetre-boilers, boatswains, and innkeepers. Women were primarily referred to by their civil status: spinster, wife, or widow, sometimes by the patronising noun kvinnsperson (‘female’).

The judgement-book material is primarily taken from the Göta Court of Appeal, which was one of four courts of appeal in Sweden at the beginning of the investigated period. In broad terms, its jurisdiction covered the southern part of Sweden as defined by its current national boundaries. 31 The reviewed criminal-case material was divided into three investigative periods in accordance with Table 1.

Table 1.

Investigated criminal cases

Period 32 Number of appellate court cases Of which include records from the hundred court 33
1694–1716 131 15
1783–1800, 1810 51 21
1840–58 50 22
Total 232 58

From 1689, a royal decree prescribed that all cases regarding crimes against the prohibited degrees of kinship in the first and second degrees should be submitted and then verified by a court of appeal before the final judgement was confirmed. 34 Using the material from the courts of appeal as a basis, it is thus possible to capture all incest crimes that were tried in the hundreds of southern Sweden during the selected periods. The decision of the court of appeal relied to a large extent on the court records of the hundred courts. In case of doubt, complementary material was requested from the lower courts, and in exceptional cases the defendants were summoned for personal hearings by the court of appeal, although usually the judgements were based exclusively on the minutes submitted from the hundred courts. 35

So, what can be learned from these documents? The established model of the court-of-appeal records always included the current date, the names of the defendants, and the names of the associate judges present. The family relationship between the defendants was carefully noted, as was the previous judicial decision of the lower court.

Often certain circumstances with respect to the crime are mentioned: whether a child had been conceived, whether the defendants had confessed or denied committing the crime, how long the sexual relationship had continued, whether the crime had been committed while under the influence of alcohol, whether one of the parties (the woman) had been ‘enticed’ or ‘lured’, whether the defendants showed any remorse or contrition, whether their general conduct was good or not, whether they had the support of their families or the local community, and so on. All this information can be found in this material, but it is not consistently stated, which creates uncertainty regarding the circumstances in which the alleged crimes were committed. The information mentioned in the records must therefore be seen as an absolute minimum, and it is not possible to draw general conclusions about a course of events based on what is not mentioned. But because the main function of the records was to justify a judicial decision, it seems reasonable to assume that the circumstances documented were those that were perceived to be relevant for the judgement. 36

The local hundred trials at the beginning of the investigated period were held in public, before the family, friends, and neighbours of the defendants. These persons could also actively intervene in the proceedings by taking a stand for or against the accused. For this reason, early modern Swedish local-court sessions have been likened to the activities of a social arena for conflict resolution. 37 The records from the hundred courts are, as a general rule, comparatively detailed, with more space devoted to statements from the accused and from any witnesses in comparison to the more summary notes kept by the courts of appeal.

Whenever someone was accused of a crime against the prohibited degrees of kinship, the regulatory framework was challenged; and in the trial that followed, any alternative assessments of the crime that might have existed in society became visible. Using the terminology of Karin Hassan Jansson, one may call this a struggle for the definition of a shared norm, where the defendants, the judges, and any witnesses were negotiating with one another.

An analysis of the judgement-book material entails certain risks that must be borne in mind. The negotiations in the courtroom were not conducted among equals. During the greater part of the investigated period, the structure of society was pronouncedly hierarchical. Thus, the words of the authorities obviously carried more weight than those of the peasantry, and it was the representatives of the educated elite who conducted the trials. They were the ones who decided which questions to pose, which investigations were relevant, what was worth writing down, and how the case was to be described for the next court instance. In addition, the scope for interpretation by single individuals has also varied considerably depending on the age, sex, and social position of the person in question within the respective group. In spite of these objections, there is no doubt that this material is able to provide important information about where the regulatory framework was challenged, which kinship categories were valued differently by different groups or by different actors, and what arguments were used in order to legitimise a specific viewpoint.

Applications for dispensation

An application for dispensation was a request to enter into matrimony with a person whom the law actually forbade the applicant to marry. Kinship within the prohibited degrees was only one of several obstacles for which the Crown could grant dispensations. 38 The originals of the applications for dispensation are preserved in the Judiciary Inspection archives in the National Archives in Stockholm. Applications were drawn up according to strict rules – the tone in the applications was always extremely humble and subservient – but could in spite of this convey a surprising degree of obstinacy. 39

2 In February 1730, the two cousins Nils Arvidsson and Ingeborg Bengtsdotter applied for permission to marry.

Even though most applications for dispensation were probably written by a third party, they will have been read out to and approved by the applicants before being sent in; and if one looks beyond the genre-based expressions, these official letters often mention some circumstance explaining why it was believed that the prohibition could be circumvented. By analysing the encounter between the applicants from the general public on the one hand and the decision-making authority on the other (who and how many people applied for permission to marry, what arguments the applicants employed, the authority's assessment, etc.), it is possible to show how various incestuous relationships were defined and evaluated – by single individuals, or by whole groups in the society of the time. In this way, the applications for dispensation may be seen to convey the attitudes that existed among common folk during the period in question.

Despite the fact that it was only the Crown that had the authority to grant dispensations for marriage, the cathedral chapters also received queries regarding marriage. Usually there are no searchable registers for such documents, but the Skara Cathedral Chapter is an exception, which is why I have been able to complement my collection of materials with dispensation requests that were submitted to Skara between the years 1710–34 and 1776–1806. 40 However, these documents consist of notes in the cathedral chapter's record book rather than the actual official letters of the applicants.

The upper social orders, with titles such as Lieutenant, Colonel, Major, Knight, Hundred Court Judge, Burgher, or Merchant, are overrepresented in the applications for dispensation. In these cases, women were given the titles jungfru (Maid), fröken (Miss), or välborne fröken (Honourable Miss). However, applications from ordinary farmers and craftsmen were also common. Thus, virtually all social groups are represented in this material, albeit not in correct proportion to their respective percentages of the population. 41

In order to acquire basic quantitative knowledge about the number of applications for dispensation pertaining to various kinship categories, I have counted the number of applications for individual years in the registration diary of the archive. I then requested and read more than 200 separate cases in order to make a qualitative assessment of the arguments in the applications and in the decisions. These cases were selected on the basis of kinship category in order to obtain a sufficient number of documents for different relationships. The cases were handled in more or less standardised ways for long periods of time, and I have prioritised looking for critical junctures for new routines, i.e., cases that became precedential for future cases. This explains why I collected a particularly large number of cases from the decades around the turn of the century in 1800, a period which – as I will demonstrate – emerges as a clear turning-point for social attitudes to incest and incest prohibitions. 42

Like the judgement-book material, the applications for dispensation show where the definitions of boundaries for incest prohibitions were not fully accepted by the entire population. It can of course be said that an application for dispensation was in itself a sign of the legislation being respected by the applicants, but at the same time an application involved a strain on the regulatory framework. 43 After all, the purpose of the application was to circumvent the established rules and to obtain a legal exemption from the official prohibitions. Consequently, the applications indirectly undermined the legitimacy of the law. For this reason, the applications for dispensation may be said to have represented a threat against the prevailing definition of boundaries, and every time a person applied for a dispensation the decision-makers were obliged to take up a position with regard to how the relationship should be assessed. In this way, the applications came to initiate repeated negotiations concerning the definitions of boundaries for incest prohibitions.

Analysing the material

I have used a few quantitative operations in order to create a general picture of the framing of incest cases. This gave me an overview of how many applications for dispensation and incest cases I was dealing with, which relationships are represented in which material, and which assessments were usually employed in different incest cases. By reviewing a sizeable source material, I hence acquired a stable basic understanding of the prevalence of the phenomenon, recurring lines of argument, and expected results in different situations. With the aid of this quantitative review, it was possible to identify patterns in the material – patterns which, in the next stage of analysis, I was able to connect to specific factors such as kinship category, sex, age, or social position.

In order to explain the identified patterns, the quantitative method was complemented by qualitative analyses. The detailed, qualitative analyses draw attention to specific arguments that were presented in different contexts, making it possible to reconstruct the norms that were brought to the fore when different incest cases were debated. It is thus primarily with the aid of the qualitative analysis of norms and attitudes that I have been able to explain patterns – and deviations – in the material.

The complexity of incestuous relationships

During the early modern period, a distinction was made between relationships through blood, consanguinity (skyldskap in Swedish), and affinity in the sense of relationships through marriage (svågerskap in Swedish). Consanguinity thus referred to a biological relationship, i.e., relatives who shared the same blood ties. Affinity referred instead to the relationship established between spouses. Through marriage, new family ties were created between the husband and the wife's entire family and vice versa. However, the affinity bond did not come into existence in connection with the marriage ceremony itself, but in connection with the sexual contact between the parties. 44 If a man had a sexual relationship with two sisters, one after the other without being married to either, this, too, was defined as incest. What applied to the man applied in equal measure to the woman. 45

The difference between consanguinity and affinity relationships was not per definition a difference in the closeness of kinship ties. Closeness was instead measured in different degrees on the basis of how many generations there were between the persons in question and their most recent common ancestor. One can imagine a family tree where each step vertically or horizontally represents one degree of kinship. According to this classification, a man was related to his mother in the first lineal degree and his grandmother in the second lineal degree. Collaterally, the man's family relationship with his sister was regarded as the first collateral degree and with his cousin as the second collateral degree. The corresponding affinity relationships referred, lineally, to a man's relationship to his wife's mother or his wife's grandmother and collaterally to his wife's sister or his wife's cousin.

The second affinity degree also included kinship ties created via two marriages. For instance, a man was considered to be related to his wife's stepmother in the second affinity degree (the family tie was created through the man's marriage to his wife and through his wife's father's marriage to his wife's stepmother).

This classification could become incredibly complex, in particular when the family relationships were complicated by various diagonal kinship ties, by stepfamily relationships, or by half-biological kinship ties. However, in the absence of a better or clearer system of classification, I have decided to use the already existing basic structure with one addition. In order to reduce complexity as far as possible, I have chosen to use the man as the point of departure when calculating which family relationships different people had to one another. Between a man and his uncle's widow there is, for instance, the same family relationship as between a woman and her deceased husband's nephew, but in my view it is unnecessarily confusing to use both. Table 2 presents the most common relationships according to the principles of classification used during the early modern period, and that outline will be followed throughout this book. 46

Table 2.

Family relationships

Closeness Relationship, a man and (his) …
Consanguinity Affinity
First lineal degree mother, daughter stepmother, stepdaughter, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, a mother and her daughter
Second lineal degree grandmother, grand-daughter wife's grandmother, wife's granddaughter, grandfather's widow
First collateral degree sister stepsister, wife's sister, brother's widow, two sisters
Diagonally aunt/niece and wife's niece wife's aunt, wife's niece, uncle's widow
Second degree cousin wife's cousin, wife's stepmother, wife's brother's widow

At the beginning of the investigated period, the most common Swedish term for incest crimes of both consanguinity and affinity was blodskam (literally ‘blood-shame’, from the German Blutschande) or kätteri (heresy). The crime of incest could also be called frändsämjospjäll (lit. ‘kindred-friendship-spoiling’) in the more distant degrees. Paraphrases such as olovlig beblandelse (illegal intercourse) or köttslig beblandelse i förbjudet led (carnal intercourse in a prohibited degree) were also common ways of describing this crime in the context of court proceedings. The word incest comes originally from Latin and consists of two parts, in-castus, which means ‘un-clean’. Incest as a concept was primarily used in its original Latin form by lawyers when different degrees of closeness were to be calculated, but sometimes the word was also used synonymously with blodskam.

Research on incest

A study focusing on incest in a longer perspective cannot avoid touching on several different fields of historical research, such as jurisprudence, sexuality, religion, medicine, and family history, to mention just a few of the most obvious areas. In other words, the very breadth of this topic risks causing the investigation to lose focus. Another difficulty has to do with the fact that incest – and thus also incest prohibition – has been defined in dissimilar ways in different societies at different points in time. As pointed out by the Austrian historian Michael Mitterauer, an understanding of the incest phenomenon itself is made more difficult by the bluntness of the concept. Above all, it is problematic that several kinship categories are lumped together in different contexts, because this reduces the chance of discovering different explanatory models for different prohibitions. It also makes comparisons between different studies more difficult. 47 From a research perspective, the complexity of the topic thus entails significant challenges; but at the same time, it is perhaps this very complexity that is the topic's main attraction.

Comparatively few historical studies focus on the phenomenon of incest. In investigations dealing with crime in general or with morality, incest is often mentioned as a crime among others without distinguishing or problematising the different relationship categories, which renders comparisons more or less meaningless. 48 In other investigations, the phenomenon of incest is only partially touched upon. Some have focused on criminal cases, thereby excluding couples who applied for permission to marry in spite of being related to one another. 49 Conversely, other researchers have focused solely on marriage patterns between related individuals, an approach which excluded all criminal cases from the investigation. 50 However, a few researchers who have made the incest phenomenon their main object of investigation should be mentioned.

German historian Claudia Jarzebowski has made a detailed study of the crime of incest in eighteenth-century Germany. As religion lost its explanatory power, the meaning of the concept of incest was renegotiated in society. Jarzebowski raises the question of what significance ideas about sexuality, family, and violence had in these negotiations. 51 During the first half of the eighteenth century, the function of the prohibitions was mainly to protect the institution of marriage by defining boundaries between legal and illegal relationships. During the latter part of the eighteenth century, the focus became the incestuous act in itself. Intrafamilial sexual acts threatened the stability of the family and thus of society as a whole. The purpose of the prohibitions now became to defend society itself. When mothers and daughters at the end of the eighteenth century claimed that the husband or father had forced them to perform sexual acts, lawyers were less inclined to take them at their word than they had been at the beginning of the century. Jarzebowski believes that this change can be tied to the new bourgeois family ideals that were spreading in society. In other words, the family ideal was protected at the expense of the individual. 52

Jarzebowski points out that women's chances of receiving milder punishments decreased during the eighteenth century; but her colleague Ulinka Rublack argues that women who claimed to have been forced to commit incestuous acts did not find a sympathetic audience for their versions of events during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries either. 53 Both of these researchers have chosen to foreground cultural beliefs as influential factors in the handling and assessment of incest, which makes it interesting to compare their results to the findings of my study.

Dutch historian Florike Egmond has studied the handling of incest crimes in Holland from 1585 to 1810. In contradistinction to the German scholars, Egmond describes a relatively mild attitude toward women who had been forced to take part in an incestuous act. They were punished, to be sure; but the punishment was often mitigated. 54

Seth J. Denbo, a British historian, has studied ideas surrounding incest in England in the eighteenth century as a method for gaining a deeper understanding of the importance of family life. Using law texts, criminal cases, and contemporary popular literature, he arrives at the conclusion that incest was, above all, discussed on the basis of the expected behaviour among family members and the different hierarchical structures within the family, but also on the basis of economic incentives. 55 Although England went through a Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, the handling of incest crimes was not transferred from the ecclesiastical to the secular judicial apparatus, as was the case in most of the other Protestant countries. As a consequence, incest crimes were, in accordance with ecclesiastical traditions, treated with a significantly greater degree of leniency here than in other Protestant countries during the centuries following the Reformation. 56 Incest crimes were only heard by a secular court when the case in question involved rape.

During the whole of the eighteenth century, prohibited relationships between related individuals – sometimes even marriage – occurred without the authorities displaying any significant degree of interest in the matter. If the relationship was reported to the ecclesiastical authorities, the marriage was annulled, which meant that any children were considered illegitimate and lost their right of inheritance. 57 American historian Polly Morris's investigation of incestuous relationships in Somerset from 1730 to 1835 showed similar results. Incestuous marriages were rarely called into question, and if they ended up in court they were dealt with in the same manner as was ordinary infidelity. Only in isolated cases were the people involved excommunicated or ordered to undergo penance. 58 The attitude to incest prohibitions and the handling of incest crimes were thus very special in England, since developments there differed from the ones in both Catholic and Protestant areas.

While England was the Protestant country where incest crimes were given the most lenient treatment, similar breaches of the law were punished all the more severely in the Nordic countries. Two Norwegian historians have dealt with the crime of incest in Norway during the seventeenth century. In her study, Harriet Marie Terjesen demonstrates that the practical assessment of criminal cases often adhered to the severe legislation, with crimes involving the closest degrees of kinship carrying the death penalty. However, a majority (60%) of the convicted criminals managed to escape before the punishment could be implemented. 59 Kari Telste notes a reduction in the number of incest cases in the judgement-book material towards the end of the seventeenth century. She attributes this change to a discrepancy between popular norms and legal practice. People simply avoided reporting the crimes because the punishments were considered undeservedly harsh. 60 Finally, Torleif Hansen has also studied criminal cases regarding incest in Norway. His investigation deals with the first decades of the eighteenth century in the town of Bergen. Hansen's study includes almost forty cases where the most frequently occurring relationship categories were between a man and his stepdaughter, his niece, and his sister-in-law, which were the same relationship categories that occurred in German-speaking areas. While people in the first category were sentenced to death, people in the latter two categories were usually pardoned. 61

In addition, Tyge Krogh has studied Danish incest crimes, while Icelandic conditions have been investigated by Már Jónsson. Both present accounts of a similarly strict legislation where several incestuous relationships were punishable by death. In Denmark, the practical handling of incest crimes became somewhat more lenient after 1683, when it became more common for the king to commute death sentences to life imprisonment. A few decades later, the same development occurred in Iceland. 62

With the exception of England, the available research describes a generally strict punishment policy throughout the Protestant part of the world with respect to crimes against the prohibited degrees. In theory, crimes against the closest kinship degrees were to be punished by death. On the other hand, the practical application of the legislation could vary somewhat among countries. The Nordic countries, and Sweden in particular, stood out in this context because the strict theoretical legislation was followed up by an unusually severe application of the laws.

As in England, developments in France were somewhat atypical. During the eighteenth century, incest was defined as a crime that resulted in severe punishment; but in connection with the French Revolution, incest prohibitions were declared to be empty religious rhetoric that had been foisted on the people, whereafter the prohibitions were completely abolished in 1791. To be sure, abuse and exploitation of a relative who was a minor might be prosecuted under other criminal classifications, but the French scholar Fabienne Giuliani demonstrates that the phenomenon of incest became all but completely suppressed during the first half of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, although incest was no longer a crime against the law, incestuous acts never ceased to be considered moral crimes. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, when the medical debate had continued for a few decades, incest was increasingly often described as unnatural acts perpetrated by monsters. 63

Apart from the criminal-case studies, something should be said about research that has dealt with incest prohibitions from a completely different point of view, namely how possibilities for dispensation have been used by different social groups.

An interdisciplinary anthology containing contributions from seven countries presents a theory on the significance of kinship and marriage patterns in Europe from the Middle Ages to the modern period. The authors demonstrate that Europe has gone through two structural changes with respect to attitudes to and applications of kinship. At the transition from the late medieval to the early modern period, the emphasis on vertical kinship ties is said to have increased. To a greater extent than before, property came to be transferred in its entirety from father to eldest son while daughters and younger sons were relegated to the background. Also, privileges and political offices were transferred in accordance with vertical systems; and within the business world, various patron–client relationships dominated.

During the eighteenth century, however, this pattern was gradually exchanged for a more horizontal structure as lateral networks were established. Appointments were awarded on the basis of an individual's personal network of contacts and friendships, rather than on the basis of his lineage. Childhood friends jointly collected investment capital and became equal partners. Contacts and networks thus became more important in the struggle for offices and privileges than descent and family ancestry. In connection with these changes, marriage patterns were also affected. From the second half of the eighteenth century and for another 150 years thereafter, endogamous marriages became especially advantageous, and marriages between cousins became very popular. 64 In other words, cultural shifts in marriage patterns coincided with changes in the economic conditions in society.

Unlike most other European countries, Catholic as well as Protestant, England allowed cousin marriages from the sixteenth century. 65 Adam Kuper, who has investigated some of the most prominent bourgeois families in nineteenth-century England, believes that cousin marriages were regarded as both unproblematic and advantageous in certain social groups, especially among the middle classes. Entire networks of family alliances were created, which gave an individual's own group advantages in the general competition for capital and appointments. 66 According to Kuper, there was also a good deal of tolerance with respect to relationships between a man and the sister of his deceased wife, even though that relationship was prohibited. This might be a consequence of the theoretical incest prohibition not being as strongly upheld in practice in England as it was in other countries. Perpetrators of incest crimes who were discovered were sentenced to relatively mild punishments, which signalled that the crime was, after all, not regarded as a particularly serious one. 67

Although cousin marriages were prohibited in the rest of Europe, the nobility in several countries had, with the aid of the system of dispensations, practised similar strategies since the Middle Ages. During the nineteenth century, the same tendencies in marriage patterns became increasingly common in bourgeois groups in several European countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. 68 Swedish historian Anita Göransson has pointed to the existence of similar strategies within the Swedish bourgeoisie. 69

In summary, that scholars who have studied incest crimes have often concentrated on the period between 1550 and 1750, which was the period during which the punishment for such crimes was at its most severe in the Protestant areas of Europe. Researchers who have instead focused on voluntary incestuous relationships, conducting studies of different marriage patterns within different groups, have usually focused their investigations on the period between 1750 and 1900, when marriages between relatives were most common. My study differs from previous research, because I use both the criminal-case material and applications for dispensation. In addition, my investigation covers the age of Lutheran orthodoxy, the nineteenth century with its liberal reform activities, and a part of the twentieth century. I view the incest prohibitions and the practical handling of incest cases as expressions of different social norms, and the long period under investigation becomes necessary in order to survey and foreground the changes that occurred and to find reasonable explanations for them.


In order to elucidate and explain the changes that have occurred over time with respect to the social position and significance of incest prohibitions, the investigation has been divided into three parts which, very roughly, take their respective point of departure in the three turns of the century in 1700, 1800, and 1900. Norms and ideas are often enduring structures in society and difficult to make visible; but by locating samples a hundred years apart, differences between the periods can be made to stand out. Even so, each sample represents ideas that were articulated several decades before and after the actual turn of the century, and even though I use exact years to divide the periods in my presentation, the boundaries should be regarded as fluid.

Naturally enough, the two first samples are given somewhat more space than the final one. This is because I deal with the entire eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but only with the first half of the twentieth century. During the earlier periods, incest prohibitions were a highly contentious issue which was the subject of animated debate in society. As ideas regarding incest changed, the number of cases was reduced, as was the number of fiery contributions to the debate.

The first part of the empirical investigation is preceded by a background chapter where I describe the jurisprudential context at the beginning of the period investigated, while at the same time early modern Swedish society is put in relation to a broader European context. Brief updates of social and jurisprudential developments recur at the beginning of each subchapter. Within each empirical section, the dispensation material and the criminal-case material are presented separately, and after that the overall values which emerged in both collections of material are highlighted and compared to the European context in a partial summary. In the final part of the book, I discuss the general results of the investigation on the basis of terms relating to continuity and change from a long-term perspective.

3 The hundred-court judge led the hearing of criminal cases at the local courts.

1 Kåkind Hundred, AIa:38, 1702, 23 June.
2 Ibid.
3 GHA, BllA:22, 1702, no. 96.
4 Turner and Maryanski 2005, p. 2; Herlihy 1995, p. 97. Ancient Egypt and Persia are perhaps the best-known exceptions to this rule, because these cultures permitted marriages between members of the nuclear family. Similar customs have been identified within various royal dynasties in other parts of the world as well, and these are usually explained by the necessity for keeping the ‘royal blood’ pure in order to legitimise the rule of those in power. But in a broader perspective, these cultures appear simply to be exceptions to an almost universal phenomenon of regulation in some form. Mitterauer 1994, pp. 233–6. Strong 2005; Frandsen 2009.
5 Serrano and Gunzburger 1983; Bittles 2012, pp. 13–28.
6 Bittles 2012, pp. 22–7, 37. For historical examples of incest regulation in different cultures, see also Mitterauer 1994.
7 Wolf 2004, p. 6.
8 Erickson 2004, p. 162.
9 Arnhart 2004, p. 199. For a more detailed analysis of the early debate and the differences between sociological and psychoanalytical viewpoints, see e.g. Pulman 2012.
10 One such explanatory model (called ‘the alliance theory’) described how groups could benefit from marrying their children to people from outside groups and in this way acquire a network of loyal allies within a larger area (exogamy, as opposed to endogamy when marriages were arranged within a person's own group). Claude Lévi-Strauss and Robin Fox are examples of two well-known anthropologists who have advocated this theory. Wolf 2004; Turner and Maryanski 2005, p. 44. The theories of Lévi-Strauss have been further developed by Françoise Héritier, as described in Frandsen.
11 Wolf and Durham 2004; Mitterauer 1994, pp. 233f, 245.
12 Durham 2004, pp. 126–30. For a more detailed survey primarily of anthropological and sociological research, see Frandsen 2009, pp. 21–32.
13 BrB (Swedish Penal Code), Chapter 6, Section 7; SOU 2010:71, p. 338; Semmler 2003, p. 22. There have been proposals advocating a complete repeal of the prohibitions, made by those who do not believe that a genetic justification is a sufficiently strong foundation upon which to base a law. Report of the Committee on Justice, 1977/78:26, pp. 5f; Karlsson 2010.
14 SOU 2001:14, pp. 693f.
15 If the parents are cousins, the risk of foetal defects increases by about 3.3%. The risk of a child dying between twenty-eight weeks and ten to twelve years of age increases by about 3.7%. A forty-five-year-old woman runs a 3.3% higher risk of giving birth to a child with Down's syndrome compared to a twenty-year-old woman. If the woman is forty-nine years old, the risk increases to about 10%. Bittles 2012, pp. 226–8.
16 Tottie 1974, p. 36.
17 For instance, Hull 1996; Rublack 1999; Thunander 1993; Gunnlaugsson 1994.
18 Jónsson 1998, p. 4. Similar arguments are discussed by David Gaunt in Gaunt 1996, p. 229. In the judgement books from the turn of the century around 1700, it was common for the crime of incest to be designated ‘heresy’. See, e.g., the registers in GHA, BIIA:3; GHA, BIIA:8. See also Korpiola 2005, p. 109.
19 Giddens and Sutton 2014, pp. 64–8.
20 Charon 2007, pp. 18–20.
21 George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) is regarded as having laid the foundation for symbolic interactionism, but the expression itself was coined by Herbert Blumer in the 1930s. Giddens and Sutton 2014, p. 62; Blumer 1969, p. 1.
22 Charon 2007, pp. 25, 41.
23 Charon 2007, pp. 131–8.
24 Charon 2007, pp. 153, 159, 162f, 166f.
25 Hansen 2006, p. 27.
26 Jansson 2000, pp. 157, 162–5; quotation on pp. 164f. See a similar line of reasoning in Marklund 2000, p. 182.
27 For different interpretations of social control, see, e.g., Hansen 2006, pp. 27f; Lindstedt Cronberg 1997, pp. 16f; Liliequist 1992, pp. 19f; Österberg, Lennartsson, and Naess 2000, p. 241.
28 The four estates of the realm in pre-1866 Sweden were the nobility, the clergy, the burghers, and the peasantry.
29 Schlyter 1813. Anonymous 1831/32; Kinberg, Inghe, and Riemer 1943; SOU 1935:68.
30 Kinberg, Inghe, and Riemer 1943; SOU 1935:68.
31 The other courts of appeal were the Svea Court of Appeal (Northern Sweden), the Åbo (Turku) Court of Appeal (present-day Finland), and the Dorpat (Tartu) Court of Appeal (present-day Estonia). Inger 2011, p. 81.
32 The division into periods has been governed by the periods from which there are surviving records (1694–1716 and 1783–1858). The material from 1715 is, however, missing. The second period (1783–1800) is complemented with a year out of sequence (1810), because a new law came into force in this year, and I wanted to find out whether this left an impression on the criminal-case material.
33 Approximately 25% of the appellate court cases have been complemented with minutes from the hundred courts – somewhat fewer from the first period and somewhat more from the latter periods. The records of the hundred courts have been found by searching in several different record series (e.g., ECII AABA: renoveringar (transcripts), EVAC: handlingar för underställda brottmål (documents for referred criminal cases), microfiches and local judgement books for ordinary or extraordinary court sessions). The cases from the earlier period are sometimes damaged or missing. From the end of the eighteenth century, the supply of material becomes more reliable while at the same time the volume swells to what can be over a hundred handwritten pages for one single case. For this reason, I have prioritised looking for cases that were particularly interesting from the perspective of my research questions.
34 K.B. (letters patent) 1689, 25 April.
35 Thunander 1993, pp. 40, 48f. One example of defendants being summoned to a personal hearing is GHA, BIIA:8, 1698, no. 180.
36 The documentation from the work of the court of appeal is divided among a number of different record series which have been reviewed in order to find the series that provide relevant information. For this reason, my investigation has focused on the following series: BIIA: Brottmålsutslag (Criminal-case judgements), EIAC: Kungliga brev och resolutioner i kriminalmål (Letters patent and royal ordinances in criminal cases) and, to a certain extent, AII: Brottmålsprotokoll (‘Records from criminal cases’). Series that turned out to contain little or nothing of value to this investigation are, e.g., BIII: Öppna utslag och resolutioner (Open findings and decisions), EIAA: Kungliga brev och resolutioner (Letters patent and royal ordinances).
37 For instance, Österberg, Lennartsson, and Naess 2000.
38 For example, people applied for a dispensation for marriage in order to marry 1) in spite of not having reached the correct age for marriage; 2) in spite of the period of mourning from a previous marriage not having been completed; 3) in spite of not being able to read or having insufficient knowledge about Christianity; 4) when a spouse had been missing for a long period of time without having been declared dead (often pertaining to the wives of soldiers whose husbands had been away for several years); or 5) when a noble applied for permission to marry a commoner without losing his or her privileges.
39 During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, several special letter-writing guides were printed, where rules of etiquette for letter-writing were set down. The style recommended in one of the best-known letter-writing guides was adopted in most applications for dispensation. Biurman 1767 [1729], pp. 9–11, 60f.
40 The number of applications for dispensation that were received by the Skara Cathedral Chapter was 76 for the first period and 39 for the second. See Appendix 2. I am particularly grateful to Professor Göran Malmstedt, who made me aware of the existence of this register.
41 The percentage of nobles, priests, and high-ranking commoners (ofrälse ståndspersoner) was around 5% of the Swedish population until the mid-nineteenth century. Carlsson 1977, p. 18. In my material, where the applications for dispensation have been divided according to kinship category, the more exalted titles account for around 50%. Because references are often made only to ‘the widower’, ‘the maid-servant’, or ‘the farmhand’ in the judgement-book material, as well as in the applications for dispensation, I have chosen not to draw up exact statistics for titles and social groups.
42 The archived documents are divided into 1) application documents = utslagshandlingar (findings); 2) discussions in the Council = rådsprotokoll (Council records); and 3) decisions = koncept (transcripts). I have read 161 findings, 51 Council records, and 139 transcripts.
43 In spite of the applications being subject to a charge, the authorities regarded the processing of the applications as a burden on social resources, not as a welcome source of income. See p. 200.
44 Nehrman 1729, pp. 178, 182; Nehrman 1747, p. 14.
45 Consequently, a woman's sexual relationship with two brothers or with a father and son was also regarded as incestuous, and so on. On the great significance of sexual intercourse for marriage ties, see Marklund 2004, pp. 168f; Sandén 2005, pp. 190–2; Lennartsson 1999, p. 160.
46 In the source material there are a number of older family terms, but I have chosen to use modern terminology, except in direct quotations.
47 Mitterauer 1994, pp. 243–5. Basic problems with the definition of the concept of incest and other research dilemmas are also presented in Frandsen 2009, pp. 17–20.
48 Thunander 1993; Sundin 1992; Hull 1996; Terjesen 1994.
49 E.g., Lindstedt Cronberg 2002; Terjesen 1994.
50 Kuper 2009; Göransson 1990.
51 Jarzebowski 2006, pp. 9f, 41.
52 Jarzebowski 2006, pp. 261–5.
53 Rublack 1999, p. 239.
54 Egmond 2001, p. 24.
55 Denbo 2001, pp. 19f, 241.
56 For a brief period in the mid-seventeenth century, the death penalty was introduced for incest, but these laws were rarely respected and they were repealed after approximately a decade. Not until the beginning of the twentieth century did incest become a formal crime in accordance with secular law. Kuper 2009, pp. 52–5, 63; Denbo 2001, pp. 22f.
57 Denbo 2001, pp. 195–8, 182–7.
58 Morris 1992, pp. 143, 152–7. In 1835, a controversial law, ‘Lord Lyndhurst's Act’, was passed. This law prescribed that marriages entered into before 1835 between individuals who were related within the prohibited degrees were to be considered valid. However, the law led to protests and increased control rather than to a liberalisation of the relationships in question. Morris 1992, pp. 140f; Kuper 2002, p. 163.
59 Terjesen 1994, pp. 105, 139f, 146f, 164.
60 Telste 1993, p. 226.
61 Hansen 1993, pp. 180f.
62 Krogh 2000, pp. 158–90; Jónsson 2003; Jónsson 1998.
63 Giuliani 2009a; Giuliani, 2009b, Giuliani 2014. For ideas about incest in eighteenth-century France, see Chammas 2011.
64 Sabean, Teuscher, and Mathieu 2007a; see also Johnson and Sabean 2011; Sabean 2011a.
65 Henry VIII used incest prohibitions and possibilities for dispensation on a number of occasions in his marital affairs. In connection with his fifth marriage, he wanted to marry the cousin of his previous wife, Anne Boleyn, which is why he pushed through a legislative amendment that legalised cousin marriages. Kuper 2009, pp. 60f.
66 Kuper 2009, pp. 134, 158, 197f.
67 Kuper 2009, pp. 66–82.
68 Kuper 2009, p. 243; Johnson 2011; Sabean 2011a; Lanzinger 2015; Saurer 1997.
69 Göransson 1990.

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Incest in Sweden, 1680–1940

A history of forbidden relations


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