This book provides an account of the University of Manchester's struggle to meet the government's demands for the rapid expansion of higher education in the 1950s and the 1960s. It looks at the University's ambitious building programme: the controversial attempts to reform its constitution and improve its communications amid demands for greater democracy in the workplace, the struggle to retain its old pre-eminence in a competitive world where new ‘green field’ universities were rivalling older civic institutions. The book tells the story, not just from the point of view of administrators and academics, but also from those of students and support staff (such as secretaries, technicians and engineers). It not only uses official records, but also student newspapers, political pamphlets and reminiscences collected through interviews.
In the Age of Enlightenment
In comparison to many other European countries, eighteenth-century Sweden had a society that was highly homogeneous from economic, social, and religious points of view. This older authoritarian and patriarchal social order was to a great extent founded on various collectively held ideas about responsibilities and obligations. Towards the end of the century, however, the old order was challenged by new ideological impulses. Protestant orthodoxy encountered competition from religious movements such as pietistic and Moravian revivalist movements, where the individual was given greater responsibility for his or her religiosity and moral positions. At the same time, the image of God conveyed by the clergy and the authorities changed. In earlier times, God had usually been portrayed in an intimidating manner. His commandments had to be obeyed so that people were not struck by his wrath and vengeance. Now God's loving and forgiving traits were increasingly emphasised. Various forms of liberalism were also challenging forces in society. From an economic perspective, free-market competition was promoted above the prevailing system which consisted of guilds, privileges, and decisions made by authorities – decisions which limited an individual's freedom of choice. Simultaneously, demands for greater personal freedom and equal rights were voiced at all levels in society. 1
The tendencies towards increased individualisation were supported by, among other things, the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment being disseminated on the Continent. As in earlier times, social order and balance were perceived as necessary factors for the welfare of the country; but the threat to this order had shifted. The dichotomy of God vs. Satan had been toned down to the advantage of the oppositional binary enlightenment–superstition. In other words, threats to society mainly consisted of things that were perceived as superstition, ignorance, or falsehood. Especially among educated social groups, reason and enlightenment were valorised while magic and superstition were described as remnants of a Catholic world-view, whose false and dishonest ideology lived on among common folk. 2
The development of jurisprudence
European jurisprudence was also influenced by philosophical currents bearing Enlightenment ideas. The justice system was criticised for being arbitrary and for abusing individuals, for instance by using corporal punishment, which was considered both brutal and degrading. Demands were made for increased justice and more humane and predictable punishments. In addition, the punishments were to rest on secular rather than religious foundations. Critics demanded completely new ranges of punishment that were reasonably proportionate to the offences, and they insisted that all criminals should be sentenced in the same way for the same crimes. At the same time, fewer voices were raised in defence of the principle of retaliation (punishment with the aim of exerting revenge against the offender). As before, it was believed that the most important purpose of punishment was to deter people from committing crimes; but it was now claimed that this purpose could be equally successfully achieved by means of long prison sentences as by brief corporal punishments. 3
Several of the liberalising and humanising tendencies can be derived from a novel interpretation of natural law and from changing attitudes to religion. In the past, the construction of society had been regarded as an expression of the divine order. In consequence, several crimes were defined as crimes against God himself; therefore, they had to be atoned for in accordance with the principle of retaliation. The new theories of natural law were based on a more rational conception of the construction of the state, which inspired a new view on punishment. It was no longer believed to be God's retribution enforced by the authorities, but rather the authorities’ means for preserving the social order. The purpose of punishment was hence conceived of in terms of its social usefulness. A person's duties to society and to his or her fellow human beings – duties exalted by, among others, the philosopher Samuel Pufendorf a hundred years earlier – increasingly developed into demands for human rights and individual freedoms. In theory, the new ideas had been discussed since the end of the seventeenth century; but the practical consequences in the administration of justice were not implemented until the second half of the eighteenth century and may be seen as a consequence of the impact of the Enlightenment. 4
In Sweden, Enlightenment ideas were not particularly influential at first, even though the Swedish King Gustav III, who had come into contact with the philosophical ideas of the French Enlightenment in his youth, made a few attempts at reform in the 1770s. Among other things, he forbade torture in connection with interrogations and attempted to abolish the death penalty for incest crimes. However, this proposal met with fierce resistance from the estates of the realm with the justification that the crime was in opposition to God's law. 5 Thus, the death penalty remained in force until 1864 for the closest relationships in both consanguinity and affinity degrees. In practice, though, most people were reprieved from the death penalty. 6 Exactly when this milder practice was introduced is uncertain; but it is likely that Swedish case law followed – with a delay of a few decades – developments in Denmark and Norway, which would mean that the number of death sentences was reduced from the middle of the century onwards. 7 Although the legislation remained unchanged, the number of death sentences carried out hence declined towards the end of the century, which suggests that Swedish lawyers had been influenced by the European legal debate.
Except for the fact that incest criminals who had been sentenced to death were often reprieved towards the end of the eighteenth century, Swedish jurisprudence had hardly changed at all since the Civil Code of 1734. In contrast, more happened after the turn of the century in 1800. New ideas, primarily from German jurisprudence, gained a foothold in the Swedish debate as well. Conservative positions, which promoted the idea of retaliation, were confronted by fresh notions about punishment functioning as a means for achieving something else. There were discussions over whether the primary purpose of the punishment was to deter from or prevent crime. At the same time, new goals to do with trying to improve criminals and reintegrate them into society instead of punishing them were articulated; but these theories did not prevail in the Swedish debate until the later part of the nineteenth century. 8
The decades around the turn of the century in 1800 were thus characterised by gradually changing attitudes to crime and punishment and by step-by-step reforms within the Swedish judicial system. This was also a period when legislation concerning the prohibited degrees began to be questioned to an ever greater extent, in everyday practice as well as in official debates. That is the topic of this chapter.
Applications for dispensation
An increase in the number of applications for marriage
During the whole of the eighteenth century, there were applications for dispensation from individuals who wished to marry in spite of being related to one another within the prohibited degrees; but towards the end of the century there was a dramatic increase in the number of applications received by the Judiciary Inspection. From a handful of cases per year at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the number rose to 200–300 applications per year around 1800. 9 See Graph 1.
Graph 1. Applications for dispensation directed to the Judiciary Inspection, 1730–1815. Source: The diaries of the Judiciary Inspection for the years in question.
Judging by the names and titles of the applicants, there were representatives from all social strata among them. Even so, the higher or middling social groups were overrepresented, considering that they only made up a small fraction (less than 5%) of the total population. 10 Some of the titles mentioned are captain, preacher, lieutenant, major, knight, county sheriff, sergeant, parish constable, shipmaster, count, merchant, and public prosecutor. The female parties were in these cases given titles such as miss, maid, or baroness. Male applicants from the lower social strata were called servant or farmhand. In addition, there are titles such as labourer, manservant, innkeeper, perpetual curate, and journeyman shoemaker in the material. In such cases the female parties were usually entitled maidservant or possibly, in relevant cases, widow or wife (meaning ‘former wife, now widow’). Applications were thus received from all social groups, and consequently the material may to some extent be said to reflect society at large.
As was mentioned earlier, the number of applications for dispensation rose during the whole of the eighteenth century – at first on a modest scale and then at an increasing rate – and it continued to rise during the nineteenth century. In 1845, the prohibition against cousin marriages was abolished, and in 1872 several of the affinity relationships were liberalised. The number of applications then decreased again as a natural consequence of the legal changes. Information about these relationships thus disappears from judgement books and application documents; but other research shows that the existence of, among other things, cousin marriages continued to increase even after the prohibition had been abolished. 11 During the same period, the relationship categories involved in applications for marriage shifted from the second and more distant degrees (e.g., wife's cousin) to the first collateral degree (e.g., wife's sister). Applications where the parties stood in a directly vertical relationship to each other (e.g., stepdaughter) were rare, however. 12
How is this striking change to be understood? What prompted people to seek out these marriage alliances to a greater extent than before? During the greater part of the century, the increase occurred without any change in the law being implemented or even discussed; this indicates that the pressure for a liberalisation of the rules came from below, from the people. The change can be interpreted in several ways. There are, for instance, demographic explanatory models that foreground the connection between the significant population increase during the second half of the nineteenth century and the increasing number of marriages between individuals who were related. Families became larger when child mortality decreased, whereupon the number of presumptive marriage partners within the family increased. When birth numbers declined in the early twentieth century, the market for these marriages also slumped. 13 But the increase in the number of applications for dispensation began even before the commencement of the significant population increase, and there are no proportional connections between this and the number of applications for dispensation, which suggests that the development had other driving forces as well. 14 For instance, ideas surrounding kin and family and the difference between vertical and horizontal relationships appear to have had a decisive influence on developments. These ideas in their turn interacted with economic and cultural changes in society that occurred in Sweden and also in Europe.
Economic and cultural transformations in society
As was pointed out above, it is difficult to draw any reliable conclusions about the cause of the substantial increase in the number of applications for dispensation, and it is likely that the process was influenced by several factors. It must, however, be noted that the development in Sweden was not an isolated occurrence but a part of a general trend across the whole of Europe. There was an increase in the number of marriages between persons related by blood and by marriage in several places. The anthology Kinship in Europe demonstrates – with examples drawn from among other countries France, Germany, Switzerland, and Hungary – that the function of the extended family changed during the period in question. Before the eighteenth century, vertical family relationships were foundational, because it was possible to claim a right to land or an office by dint of one's origins and ancestry; but from the mid-eighteenth century onwards, there was growing emphasis on horizontal networks and contacts. The economic conditions changed, and it was not as easy as before to claim the right to an estate or an office on the basis of one's lineage. Landed property and the titles of one's parents mattered less at a time when the privileges of the nobility were challenged by a new bourgeoisie with significant spending power. As capital became more mobile in society, professional competence and social contacts became more important than formal descent in the competition for economic and political positions. This can be traced in many ways: the choice of godparents and baptismal names; the persons an individual did business with or allied him- or herself with in a political context; but perhaps above all the person whom an individual would choose to marry. Historian David Warren Sabean, who has made his own detailed studies of the development of kinship patterns in a German province between 1700 and 1870, has also collected material from several other European studies. The result is persuasive. Regardless of whether one follows kinship patterns between biological relatives (cousins, second cousins, third cousins) or relatives through marriage (wife's cousin, wife's sister, two siblings marrying two other siblings, etc.), a common developmental trend becomes visible. From the middle of the eighteenth century onwards, the number of matrimonial unions within people's own kinship groups steadily increased in all social groups. Between the final decades of the nineteenth century and the First World War the trend reached its peak, and after 1920 the numbers decreased again. 15 From the mid-eighteenth century onwards, more and more people thus chose their marriage partners from among their own immediate peers (endogamous marriage pattern). 16
The new marriage pattern coincides with a change in the concept of love. After all, it was during the late eighteenth century that love matches began to be idealised. From this period, emotions and personal taste were assigned greater importance for marriage, and love was increasingly often described as a heartfelt friendship. The emotional bonds and familial nearness emphasised within the biological family, and especially among siblings, were simultaneously extended to include, for instance, school friends, business partners, and relatives by marriage. It became common for two business partners or childhood friends to call each other brother, and for brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law to call each other brother and sister. The difference between siblings and spouses decreased. 17 This general upgrading of sibling love can also be observed in the literature of the time. 18 The change primarily took place in the propertied groups in society and seems to have been analogous in both Catholic and Protestant regions all over Europe. 19 Passionate love, which had previously been perceived as a dangerous disease or the call of the Devil, was still encumbered with unfavourable connotations. The sudden flare of emotion could not be trusted in the long run. Instead, the image of a deep and mutual friendship between spouses was idealised. 20
In research, it is emphasised that women played a central role in the new horizontal networks. It was often women who, through their correspondence, visits, parties, and discussion groups, established and maintained valuable contacts in a family's social network. Swiss historian Elisabeth Joris also describes how women's right of inheritance and capital could become a pawn in men's political and economic activities. Mothers, wives, sisters, aunts, and sisters-in-law were expected to support male relatives by investing their capital in the men's businesses, often without any official partial ownership or written documentation regarding the right to potential profits. 21
Developments in Sweden appear to have adhered to the processes seen in Europe to a considerable degree. Conditions for the transfer of property changed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Birthright, which regulated the rights of relatives to purchase land before strangers were allowed an opportunity to do so, decreased in importance as the number of relatives who had the right of priority was reduced. Instead, the right of ownership and the right of inheritance were strengthened, and it became easier to buy and sell land. In 1809, the aristocracy's monopoly on land was abolished completely, and one upshot was that it became possible to sell land previously owned by the aristocracy to commoners. Taxes were fixed; but there was at the same time a certain degree of inflation, and that gave farmers a surplus from production which could be invested. 22 As the mobility of capital increased in this way, people's attitude to women's resources changed as well.
Historian Maria Sjöberg, who has studied circumstances regarding property in relation to regulations concerning marriage and inheritance in a Swedish context, emphasises how economic, cultural, and social conditions interacted, gender roles being a factor that periodically had a decisive significance for circumstances regarding property. A woman's property was under the control of her male relatives; it was thus her father, brother, or husband who had the mandate to manage her property. In the earlier agrarian society, the influence of biological relatives over a woman's property was comparatively great in comparison to that of her husband; but when the capital market became more flexible, the balance shifted in a way that benefited the husband. When women were given equal rights of inheritance in 1845, it was primarily their husbands who profited from the reform, because it was husbands who were in control of women's property. Through the reform, it became easier for men in the peasant and burgher estates to acquire lands previously belonging to the aristocracy via strategic marriages; and in research it has been suggested that the entire reform may in fact be seen as a result of men's competition among themselves over resources, rather than a morally inspired striving for social equality. The competition among men may partly have played out between the classes; but, as Sjöberg points out, kinship has been of great significance, too. The fathers, brothers, and husbands of the women in one and the same social group had different interests with respect to women's property, and the right of disposal of this property increasingly favoured the interests of husbands, as did the legislation. 23
A father's power over his daughter decreased, while a husband's influence over his wife remained the same. To be sure, unmarried women became free to invest their capital wherever they wanted; but they were expected to support their male relatives, especially when living in their households. In other words, the capital-owning woman's opportunities were limited, and her capacity for supporting herself was mediated through her male relatives. 24 In this context, it was not uncommon for a man to be in control of the resources of both his wife and her unmarried sister. Nor was this development, according to Joris, restricted to the higher social groups or to economic circumstances. Unmarried women were also expected to support their families by doing household work, caring for elderly relatives, looking after children, or doing needlework in the household where they had board and lodging. At all levels, women's unpaid labour made up a kind of social safety net for the rest of the family. 25
In summary, we may speak of a cultural change where a woman's loyalty was shifted from her biological family to the family she married into; where the father's structural influence decreased while the husband's was maintained or strengthened; where knowledge, contacts, and social networks became more important for a man's career than lineage; and where sibling love and sibling loyalty flourished both as an idea and in terms of concrete action. It would also be possible to describe this change as a shift in emphasis from vertical family connections to horizontal ones. The increase in applications for marriage in the prohibited degrees that took place towards the end of the eighteenth century, primarily involving horizontal or diagonal kinship connections, may, according to this line of reasoning, be at least partially linked to a change in the economic conditions in society – conditions that either led to or were affected by new cultural patterns. In this context it is difficult to say which came first, the egg or the chicken. There is likely to have been an interaction of cultural and economic factors.
What attitudes did people in power in Sweden have to these issues, and how did they react to the pressures that were brought to bear? It had long been comparatively easy for cousins to have their application for dispensation approved; but around the turn of the century in 1800 increasing numbers of applications were submitted concerning other relationship categories as well, for instance from men who wanted to marry a niece, a wife's sister, a brother's widow, or an uncle's widow. How did decision-makers respond to these new tendencies which indirectly challenged the boundaries drawn up between permitted and prohibited marriage relationships?
The applicants’ arguments
Pure and Christian love
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, applications for dispensation had been relatively brief and to the point. Around the turn of the century in 1800, they became longer and more detailed. An increasing number of arguments were invoked in order to have an application approved, practical as well as emotional ones. In all cases, it was in one way or another emphasised that the relationship in question was based on a pure or Christian love and that the applicants were of good repute and virtuous conduct. In order to draw attention to each other's praiseworthy characteristics, the man and the woman sometimes each wrote a portion of the application. In this way they were able to stress each other's positive qualities, such as industriousness or piety, estimable behaviour or loyalty, and tender feelings towards the children in the family. In addition, the couple's good conduct was usually certified in a separate testimonial from a vicar.
One farmer who applied for dispensation was described as ‘honest and obliging’ with a ‘good conduct in life’ and ‘free from all other connections’. 26 Another was attested to ‘have good knowledge of Scripture’, lead ‘a Christian life’, and desire his cousin, who was to be his wife, ‘without any carnal commixtion, in a Christian manner’. 27 The Honourable Emanuel Stråhle and his cousin, Miss Elisabeth Stråhle, insisted that they felt an ‘innocent declared love and affection’ for each other and that they wished to enter into ‘a sacred married connection’. In addition, they were both said always to have led a ‘Christian’, ‘decent’, and ‘virtuous’ life, as befitted their ‘exalted lineage’. 28 One cousin couple wrote in their application that they had for several years enjoyed each other's company with ‘a decent intimacy’, which had grown in strength over time until it had been transformed into a ‘pure and sincere love’. 29 Hans Knutsson and Pernilla Bengtsdotter wanted to have their application approved because they felt a ‘pure and decent love’ for each other. 30 Johannes Larsson and his cousin, maidservant Greta Johansdotter, asserted that their prospective marriage was ‘founded in chastity’ and had ‘the purest, the most honest, yea the most justifiable intentions’. 31
Many more examples could be provided. Irrespective of whether the applicants themselves felt that these were important circumstances, or if the argumentation was merely tactically employed in order to have the application approved, the argument of a pure and Christian love was frequently used in attempts to have relationships legalised. This indicates that virtue – just as in earlier periods – was an important factor for the relationship to be perceived as acceptable. Even so, the connection between virtue and love was much stronger at this time than during the early eighteenth century. The emotional bond between the applicants was highlighted again and again; but at the same time, it was emphasised that theirs was a virtuous love, not a passionate, heedless infatuation.
Individual happiness and bliss
Applications for dispensation often pointed out that the prospective marriage would lead to the applicants’ individual happiness and bliss. In his official letter, Johan Adolf Hedberg stressed that his and his prospective wife's application was not at all made ‘with the intention of satisfying fickle desires, but with a firm intention to seek […] mutual bliss’. 32 Peter Brunström, too, associated the potential approval of his application with ‘mutual bliss’ for himself and his prospective wife. 33 Nils Berg Andersson called his application ‘a plea for [his] happiness’. He expected that his and his fiancée's ‘much longed-for happiness’ would be great following the gracious approval of His Majesty the King. 34 One couple felt that their ‘earthly bliss’ would be ‘made perfect’ if they were allowed to marry, while another couple described how they, if their application was rejected, would be forced to ‘wear sad faces and have lamentation in our hearts’. 35
Individual happiness and mutual love were thus emphasised in a completely different way than previously. Margaret Darrow, who has studied applications for dispensation in southwestern France, notes a similar increase in emotional arguments from the applicants after 1770. She especially draws attention to the fact that the increased emphasis on mutual emotions between the applicants occurred both among peasants and the elite, and in the countryside as well as in towns and cities. 36 In applications for dispensation in the border region between Austria, Switzerland, and Italy the importance of mutuality, nearness, and familiarity between the presumptive spouses was similarly stressed. 37 This is also in line with research that describes the late eighteenth century as a period when emotions and love were valued. After the turn of the century in 1800, earthly happiness was valorised in a way it had not been before. Love, tenderness, and compassion were increasingly often described as Christian virtues, and happiness was something a person could hope to enjoy already during his or her earthly existence. 38 This cultural shift is clearly reflected in the material in that applicant couples argued in terms of love and happiness when attempting to have their relationships legitimised.
Practical advantages for household or family
In several cases, the applications for dispensation drew attention to a more practical perspective as well. While the applicants described their mutual friendship, affection, and respect, they also emphasised that the relationship was a mutual agreement and that they had the consent of their families. If the parties were approximately the same age, or if the solution was practical in terms of their economic situation, their household, or the composition of their family, that fact was highlighted.
The previously mentioned Peter Brunström's application may be used as an example of this practical perspective. In his letter he described how his and his prospective wife's situation would change if their marriage was to take place. Then she would ‘from poor and impecunious circumstances be placed in what anybody would regard as a better and happier situation’. As for Peter himself, he would simultaneously acquire ‘secure support’ in his housekeeping and help with raising his two daughters. The vicar also certified in two separate testimonials that the marriage between Peter and his prospective wife, Anna Holmström, would be especially advantageous because it would solve practical problems for both him and her. Because of his work, Peter was obliged to be away at sea for a week at a time, and during his absences he lacked help in his home. Anna had, for her part, been plunged into deep economic debt after the demise of her late husband. The social and economic problems of both would thus be alleviated if they were allowed to marry, although Peter had previously been married to Anna's now deceased sister. 39
Another man claimed that his prospective marriage to his deceased wife's niece would not only satisfy his own wishes but also those of his mother- and father-in-law. They preferred to be looked after and cared for in their old age by their own grandchild because they then expected ‘more tender treatment […] than from a person unrelated to them’. 40 County sheriff Hanberg, who was forced to be ‘continually absent’ from his home because of his work, wanted to marry his wife's sister after his wife's death because she would, according to his estimation, be the person best suited to taking care of his son's upbringing. 41 Similar arguments were proposed by Olof Ersson and Emanuel Schagerström, who also wanted to marry their deceased wives’ sisters. 42 The practical and economic advantages of a future marriage were also stressed by Olof Andersson, who wanted to marry his uncle's widow, a woman three years his senior. In connection with Olof's uncle's marriage, he had been given a homestead by his family. His widow was now unable to run the homestead on her own; and if she married an outsider, the right of ownership of the homestead might be called into question. 43
All these applications embodied an implicit challenge to the officially prevailing norm. True, the existence of the prohibitions was recognised by asking for the king's permission to marry; but at the same time that action constituted a challenge to the legislative framework and to the system of norms on which it rested. The applicants obviously did not define their relationships as deviant or immoral, and they therefore tried to circumvent the legislation in order to legitimise the relationship. To strengthen their own positions, some of them referred to previous decisions where a permission to marry had been granted in opposition to the legal provisions currently in force. 44 From the perspective of the applicants, it was also considered completely reasonable to marry for practical reasons alongside the emotional ones. American historian Denise Z. Davidson, who has studied French collections of letters from the same period, claims that economic perspectives were directly interwoven with emotional ones – that is to say, a happy marriage could not be achieved if the economy was not secured. 45 Judging from the application material, Swedish couples reasoned along similar lines. A successful marriage was built on mutual respect and love as well as on a solid financial situation.
The argumentation of the applicants thus raised notions concerning the right of the individual to love and happiness in a general sense while confirming and reinforcing the idea of pure and virtuous love as a moral basis for marriage. In addition, practical and economic circumstances were highlighted in attempts to impart legitimacy to what was, at bottom, a prohibited relationship. The following section analyses the reaction of the authorities to the challenges represented by the applications.
The authorities’ response
In connection with the examination of applications for dispensation, it was repeatedly noted whether the applicants were of ‘good repute’ and exhibited ‘virtuous conduct’; but, as in earlier periods, a couple who had had sexual intercourse could nevertheless be given permission to marry. However, practically all the couples who applied for a dispensation to marry despite having violated the norm of moral behaviour were cousins. For example, Jon Jönsson and his cousin were given permission to marry in spite of their ‘premature carnality’, and this happened to several other cousin couples as well. 46 Immoral conduct hence did not prevent cousins from obtaining permission to marry.
Only one application mentions premarital sexuality between applicants who were not cousins, but here the immoral conduct became decisive for the outcome. The case involved Lars Jönsson, who wanted to marry his deceased wife's niece, Bengta Nilsdotter. In July 1801, the Judiciary Inspection received the couple's application for marriage, where their good conduct was certified by their vicar. But in a new formal letter dated in December of the same year, the vicar distanced himself from his previous testimonial because he had discovered that Bengta was pregnant and that Lars had admitted to being the father. The couple was denied permission to marry, and the royal decision stated that the later information from the vicar regarding the couple's improper conduct had been conclusive for the decision. 47 Apparently, the combination of a challenging family relationship and unsatisfactory conduct was unacceptable.
Even though immoral conduct did not affect the authorities’ decision when cousins applied for permission to marry, the failure of Lars and Bengta's application could be seen as an indication that more importance was attached to the norms of morality in cases involving relationship categories which formed greater challenges to the boundaries that prevailed at the time.
Family position before age relationship
In addition to information about virtue and conduct, the argumentation in the applications for dispensation indicates that efforts to attain individual happiness were increasingly important. Applicants often invoked other practical circumstances as well, but none of these arguments seem to have had a significant effect on the outcome.
Instead, the crucial factor in the decision-making process of the authorities was the family position of the applicants relative to each other. If the applicants’ respective family positions entailed the crossing of a generational boundary – that is to say, if the deference between parent and child could be jeopardised – the relationship was considered dangerous to the social order. For this reason, no dispensation was given for marriages between persons whose family positions originated in two different generations (wife's niece, uncle's widow, wife's stepmother, etc.).
Clearly, then, great importance continued to be attributed to filial deference, or the hierarchical relationship between parents and children. The same principle had been mentioned as early as the end of the seventeenth century by Johan Stiernhöök in connection with legislative work. The principle was clearly indicated in the Lutheran Table of Duties, and it had significant consequences for the practical handling and assessment of dispensational cases throughout the eighteenth century. Several documents testify to this. In a royal letter from 1768, an application from a man who wanted to marry his son-in-law's daughter was rejected. The letter justified the rejection by stating that the woman would then ‘become her stepmother's stepmother and her father's stepmother-in-law’, which meant that the ‘reciprocal duties incumbent on each individual would be confused, and the deference between parents and children lost’. 48 Similar arguments were used when a man was denied marriage to his wife's stepdaughter (1738), his wife's half-brother's daughter (1738), his stepson's stepdaughter (1744), and his step-grandfather's widow (1752). 49
11 The ‘Haustafel’ was a section in Luther's Small Catechism, where the duties of the individual towards his or her fellow human beings were clarified on the basis of the person's position in society.
The relationship between generations originated in the fourth commandment in the Bible: ‘Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.’ But the hierarchical order went further than that. In addition to a person's own parents and the secular authorities, any step-parents and parents-in-law should be honoured, along with the master and mistress of a household. 50 The entire social order rested on ideas surrounding high and low, super- and subordination. An individual's position in society was based on a number of different circumstances, such as occupation, sex, age, and civil status. Depending on the combination of these power-creating factors, expectations were formed concerning particular behaviour, both with respect to the individual in question and to the people surrounding him or her. Respecting older people, or those who held the position of a parent, had long been a well-established norm in society. 51
The principle of filial deference was directly reflected in the matrimonial legislation. In accordance with the Civil Code of 1734, a father and his son were allowed to marry a mother and her daughter, on condition that it was the father who married the mother and the son the daughter. 52 The father could also marry the daughter or the son the mother, but not at the same time. If the father married the daughter while his son married the mother, the interpersonal relationships became more complicated, because individuals acquired conflicting duties vis-à-vis members of their family. This was seen as the son becoming the stepfather of his own father. From this followed that he was expected to show respect and obedience to his biological father while at the same time being expected to discipline and govern his stepson, who were one and the same person. His duties quite simply became incompatible, which is why these marriage constellations were expressly forbidden.
The same section of the law established that marriage between two brothers from one family and two sisters from another was entirely acceptable. But nothing was said about whether a father and a son from one family could marry two sisters from another. At the end of the eighteenth century, a few marriage applications of this kind were submitted to the Skara Cathedral Chapter; and although there was no formal prohibition against such relationships, the members of the cathedral chapter attempted to prevent these marriages. In answer to an application for permission to marry from a man and his stepmother's sister, the cathedral chapter wrote that the applicants should ‘in all earnestness be dissuaded’ from such a decision. When the couple stood firm, the consistory wanted to know which of the sisters was the eldest. It was considered interesting to know whether it was the younger or the elder sister who was marrying the stepson. If it had been the elder sister, the relationship would have been perceived as more problematic; but it so happened that it was the younger sister, and the couple were given permission to marry. But in reality the cathedral chapter did not have the authority to prevent this marriage regardless of which sister was the intended bride, a fact which the members recognised. 53 Even though there was no formal bar to these relationships, it is clear that they were perceived as improper and unsuitable by the members of the cathedral chapter, precisely because they challenged the principle of filial deference.
Johannes Håkansson (thirty-one years old) and his uncle's widow, Brita Christina Jakobsdotter (thirty-eight years old), were also eager to marry. They wrote in their application that they were convinced that the ‘pure regard’ that they felt for each other would lead to a ‘happy marriage’, that they felt a ‘continuously increasing […] love’ for each other, and that their will to live would vanish completely if their application was rejected. In an appended letter, the local clergyman testified to their good conduct. According to his statement, the couple ‘tearfully’ protested their ‘inextinguishable inclination towards each other’. The clergyman added that the ‘small difference in age’ between the applicants was far outweighed by the man's maturity. 54 In 1790, another man by the name of Olof Andersson (twenty-four years old) similarly applied for permission to marry his uncle's widow Britta Eriksdotter (twenty-seven years old). 55
In one of these cases there were seven years between the man and the woman, in the other only three; but what determined these cases were the applicants’ respective positions within their families. They came from different generations, a circumstance which was further complicated by the fact that it was the woman who came from the older generation. Although the age difference was quite small, and though the good conduct and scriptural knowledge of all parties were certified by their respective vicars, both applications were rejected. 56 It was quite simply felt that each man was in the position of a child with respect to his intended bride, which was not considered compatible with his role as a husband.
It is thus clear that respect between generations was a powerful norm which the authorities were anxious to uphold. Before 1790, virtually no information was provided about the applicants’ ages, and any notes on the emotional, economic, or practical advantages that a potential marriage might bring were not commented on by the authorities. This indicates that information of that kind was not thought to be relevant. Here the hierarchical relationship between parent and child, and the deference that followed from it, appears to be an unshakeable principle which was considered important to uphold, regardless of whether the actual circumstances constituted a threat to it or not. One might say that the governing elite defended the idea of parental authority rather than taking a position with respect to social realities. In other words, the kinship in itself was less crucial to the assessment of the relationship than the family position.
Filial deference, parental authority, or respect between the generations is thus the principle and social norm that can account for the fact that biological cousins found it relatively easy to acquire dispensation for marriage during the whole of the eighteenth century while a man was not allowed to marry, for instance, his uncle's widow – a relationship completely without biological ties. Of course the assessment was also influenced by the fact that the Bible explicitly forbade marriages between a man and his uncle's widow, while the prohibition against cousin marriages was thought to be based on secular rules. 57 However, I would argue that parental authority had a stronger practical influence on the decisions, because this was the principle to which the Swedish decision-makers actively referred. In addition, incest in certain diagonal degrees (niece, wife's niece), like incest in the second affinity degree (stepfather's widow, wife's stepdaughter), was also secularly based; but these applications were nevertheless consistently rejected during the greater part of the eighteenth century, with the specific justification that the relationship was in opposition to filial deference. If the explicit prohibition in the Bible had played a decisive role in the making of the relevant decisions, these relationships should have been approved, in the same routine manner as the applications from two cousins.
Challenges to the generational order
During the greater part of the eighteenth century, the decisions of the authorities followed the pattern described above, the family position of applicants determining the outcome of applications for dispensation; but towards the end of the century, the assessments of several relationship categories changed even though no changes to the law had been implemented or even discussed.
Approval in spite of a challenging kinship position
In 1774, a journeyman chamois-maker and his step-grandfather's widow applied for permission to marry, first to the cathedral chapter and then to the Crown. The application pointed out that exceptions to the rules had been made on other occasions, and therefore the applicants hoped that their application could be approved as well. The couple presented both practical and emotional reasons for having their application approved. It seems that the man had for several years worked in the workshop which the woman had taken over when her husband died. Now she wanted to reward him by presenting him with ‘[her]self, [her] love, and [her] workshop’. However, both the cathedral chapter and the Crown felt that this relationship challenged the respect between parent and child and rejected the application. 58
Six years later, another journeyman chamois-maker by the name of Magnus Norling (twenty-six years old) and his stepfather's widow Catharina Söderström (twenty-eight years old) applied for permission to marry. 59 Magnus was the son of a chamois-maker who had died when Magnus was nine years old. Magnus's mother had remarried a man named Hans Ekman, but she herself died shortly thereafter. When Magnus was nineteen years old, Hans Ekman, who was thus Magnus's stepfather, in his turn married Catharina, whereupon he, too, died after a few years. Left in the household were Magnus and Catharina, who after a few years applied for permission to marry. In their application they pointed out that they had already lived together for some time, and that Magnus was the one who managed the workshop. They expressed their concern that their mutual household might be disrupted, and the chamois-making business severely damaged, if they were not allowed to marry. They also pointed out that several people related by blood had been allowed to marry, whereas they themselves were ‘only’ related in the second affinity degree. 60
In both of these cases the man had taken over the workshop when his step(grand)father had died. Both couples referred to previous exceptions in the dispensation procedure when attempting to have their applications approved. In the first case the ages of the applicants were not mentioned, but Magnus and Catharina were much the same age, she twenty-eight and he twenty-six years old. This closeness in age was specifically emphasised by the couple as an argument for filial deference not being challenged because of their marriage. That may have been decisive for the outcome. The Crown ‘graciously’ approved Magnus's and Catharina's application for marriage because of the ‘existing special circumstances’. 61
At approximately the same time, a similar change occurred in the decisions regarding relationships in diagonal affinity degrees. An application for marriage from a man and his wife's half-niece was rejected in August 1770. 62 Five years later, when a similar application was to be decided, the state councillors were in disagreement. The application was sent on to the Crown to be settled and was approved. 63 These are the first applications that I have found in the archives where marriage was permitted between people whose family positions were in different generations. In 1780, another two couples in the same relationship degrees (wife's half-niece) were given permission to marry. 64 Ten years later, couples where the family relationship was full (wife's niece) were also given permission to marry. 65 At the beginning of the nineteenth century, at least three applications for marriage were approved from couples who were related in the second lineal affinity degree (stepfather's widow, wife's stepdaughter, stepson's stepdaughter). 66
From the 1780s onwards, applicants in certain affinity relationships were thus given permission to marry despite the fact that their family positions transcended generational boundaries. In the second affinity degree, that is to say when two marriages separated the applicants, permission to marry was granted in the direct lineal degree (wife's stepdaughter, stepfather's widow). When only one marriage separated the applicants, permission was given for people in diagonal affinity degrees (wife's niece). However, when the relationship was in the diagonal degree it was crucial for the man's family position to originate in the older generation. While marriages between a man and his wife's niece were approved, applications from a man and his uncle's widow were rejected, though the kinship was equally close. 67 This shows that gender-based ideas had an effect on decisions. The authority of the husband was equated with that of the father; the social order was hence not challenged to the same degree when the woman's family position was in the younger generation as when it was in the older one. In these cases, morality also affected the outcome. Although a new liberal practice had been established at the end of the eighteenth century regarding, for example, a wife's niece, the previously mentioned Lars and Bengta had their application rejected when it transpired that he had made her pregnant.
In 1785, too, the first application for dispensation between a man and his deceased wife's sister was approved. The man in question was Lieutenant-Colonel Jan Gustaf Hägerflykt, who wanted to marry his deceased wife's sister, and the application was approved by the Crown without any detailed justification. 68 The decision was officially proclaimed on the same day, and it became precedential for future applications. 69
The principles that had applied for the handling of dispensational cases during the entire eighteenth century thus gave way at roughly the same time as the number of applications for dispensation began to rise in earnest. The pressure of applications forced decision-makers to reflect on the boundaries that were valid at the time, and that resulted in a changed practice. In the renegotiation of boundaries that took place, it is clear that the principle of filial deference and notions regarding the relationship between two generations were central factors around which the renegotiations revolved. The fact that all relationships were no longer treated completely gender-neutrally also indicates that gender-related ideas were activated in the process of negotiation.
There is much to indicate that this change may also be connected to a new interest in the ages of the applicants. Before 1790, ages were rarely stated at all; but after this date notes in pencil begin to appear on the applications, asking for or specifying the ages of the applicants. 70 After 1800, it became increasingly common for the ages of the applicants to be specified already in the application. 71
Information on the ages of the applicants thus became more common in the dispensational material from 1790 onwards, and in some cases the age-related information seems to have had an effect on the decisions. There were only two years between Magnus and his stepfather's widow Catharina, who were among the very first couples to be given permission to marry despite the lineal kinship tie. In their argumentation, the couple expressly referred to their ages when pointing out that filial deference would not be challenged by their potential union. Even though social circumstances may also have affected the outcome in this case, it is likely that the closeness in age between the applicants made a positive outcome possible.
Furthermore, it may be noted that applications for marriage from a man and his uncle's widow were usually rejected; but I have found two exceptions that can also be connected to the ages of the applicants. In 1790, Johan Lang applied for permission to marry his half-uncle's widow, Magdalena Jönsdotter. On the front page of the application, there is a note that urges the county sheriff to find out what the ages of the applicants were. It turned out that Johan was forty-four years old and Magdalena thirty-three. There were hence eleven years between Johan and Magdalena; but she was the younger party, and the couple were given permission to marry. 72 Similarly, Håkan Jönsson (twenty-eight years old) and his half-uncle's widow, Maja Nilsdotter (twenty-seven years old) were allowed to marry. 73 In the same year, two other couples with a similar kinship tie were denied permission. In one of these cases the man was twenty-four years old and the woman twenty-seven; in the second case he was twenty-nine and she thirty-six. 74 In other words, it made no difference if the man and the woman were nearly the same age. As long as she was older than he, the application for permission to marry resulted in a rejection. The fact that the kinship tie was only half between Johan and Magdalena, as well as between Håkan and Maja, is unlikely to have been decisive for their cases being an exception to common practice, since other couples with half kinship ties were denied permission to marry. 75
Here, then, a clear reformulation of both the gender-based and the generational order becomes visible. Previously, the prevailing view on the relationships of relatives had been governed by social factors. In other words, it was the family position that determined how the relationship between the people in question was perceived. From the turn of the century in 1800 onwards, though, family position was weighed against the age and sex of the applicants in a way that had not happened before.
In the Danish incest debate at this time, the age relationship between the man and the woman was specifically discussed. The attitudes in this debate reflected Swedish practice and were justified by the argument that there was an increased risk that the woman would not respect her husband to the desired extent if he was younger than she, and for this reason the authorities were loath to grant dispensations in such cases. 76 Unlike the situation in Sweden, the boundaries of incest prohibitions were repeatedly discussed by Danish politicians, and in 1770–1800 several Danish regulations were adopted where the rules were changed back and forth. The practical handling and assessment of dispensational cases in Denmark was, however, very similar to the treatment of these matters in Sweden during the same period, and the fact that applications regarding a wife's niece and an uncle's widow were treated differently probably reflects similar gender-related ideas in both countries. 77
In spite of the newly-awakened interest in information about age, and in spite of individual dispensational cases where the decisions appear to have been affected by information about the applicants’ ages, Swedish authorities still primarily acted on the basis of the family position in question. When a person had been given dispensation for marriage within a specific relationship category, the outcome often became precedential for later applications, regardless of the circumstances or of the ages specified. Even so, some deviations from this principle occurred during the decades around 1800, when the practical handling of the dispensation applications changed. 78 When the case involved a man and his uncle's widow, the social order was challenged to a particularly high degree by the fact that she came from the older generation. But although such applications for dispensation were rejected even when the man and the woman were very close in age, we have seen that the authorities deviated from this practice when the woman was in fact younger than the man. The most likely explanation for these deviations is that the decision-makers allowed themselves to be influenced by the ages of the applicants. By the middle of the nineteenth century this inconsistency had disappeared, and applications from a man and his uncle's widow were approved according to the liberal practice that had been established for other relationships in the diagonal affinity degree, without any particular regard for the ages of the applicants. 79 In other words, the handling of applications for dispensation had been made uniform once more.
There may be several reasons why the importance of family position for the assessment of dispensational cases decreased or was renegotiated around the turn of the century in 1800. Previous research shows that the late eighteenth century was a period when the relationship between adult children and their parents changed in Sweden. David Gaunt observes that respect for the older generation was at its strongest in 1500–1750, and that it diminished steadily thereafter. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, conflict between generations increased, and unconditional respect for older people began to be questioned. 80 Similar results can be found in the research of Birgitta Odén. The number of conflicts between generations that ended up before a court increased significantly from 1780 to 1830. 81 Both Gaunt and Odén connect the changing attitudes towards older people to economic changes in society. In the older society, children were often given permission to take over a farm in return for allowing their parents to continue living there, albeit in a more modest dwelling (a so-called undantag). This meant that parents received room and board for the rest of their lives. When agriculture was commercialised and mobility in the labour market increased, this system became ever more burdensome for the younger generation, who began to question whether they were actually obliged to take care of their parents. 82 Resistance against absolute filial deference has also been noted from the late eighteenth century in, for instance, French and English research. 83 Concurrently with the principle of filial deference being challenged, the importance of family position for the assessment of applications for dispensation thus decreased while interest in the ages of applicants increased.
The growing importance of age for the assessment of dispensational cases can also be viewed in relation to the new love-match ideal that was established at the same time. So-called widow conservation (änkekonservering), a form of ‘widow inheritance’ where a recently appointed younger clergyman married his predecessor's widow in order to secure her support, was relatively common. There was a similar system within different groups of artisans, too. In these cases, marriages primarily functioned as economic and practical transactions to arrange for the support of widows, and little attention was paid to the ages of the people involved. However, research has shown that these marriages became less popular towards the end of the eighteenth century; and both Solveig Widén, who has studied widow conservation within the clerical estate, and Kirsi Vainio-Korhonon, who has studied widow conservation within different groups of artisans, link the change to the new view on marriage. Tolerance for marriages of convenience, where a younger man married an older widow, decreased but did not disappear completely. Conservation within artisanal groups remained in existence well into the nineteenth century. 84
The increasing interest in the age relationship between couples applying for dispensation thus partly coincided with a dwindling respect in society towards the older generation, partly with a new view on marriage in which mutual love and cordial companionship between spouses were foregrounded as ideals. Consequently, acceptance of marriages of convenience diminished. Because the new practices – that is to say, the increased number of applications from the general public and the changed assessment by the authorities of dispensational cases – coincided with a change in general social norms, it becomes logical to assume that these phenomena affected and possibly reinforced one another. The next section will focus on incest crimes in order to see if a similar process of change can be identified in the handling of criminal cases.
12 The county sheriff announces a royal proclamation.
Fewer criminal cases and milder punishments
Compared to the situation at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the number of incest cases in Swedish courts had more than halved by the turn of the following century. See Table 9. However, consanguinity relationships remained at a constant level, so the decrease is accounted for by affinity relationships.
|Family relationship and closeness||Relationship, a man and (his) …||1694–1716 (22)||1783–1800, 1810 (19)|
|Consanguinity, first lineal degree||mother||–||3|
|Consanguinity, first collateral degree||sister||4 (1)||4|
|Consanguinity, diagonal degree||niece||6 (3)||4 (2)|
|Consanguinity, ≥ second degree||cousin, other||5 (1)||–|
|Consanguinity per year||0.8||0.8|
|Affinity, first lineal degree||stepmother, mother-in-law, a mother and her daughter, father and son with the same woman||10||2|
|Affinity, first collateral degree||wife's sister, two sisters,
brother's widow, two brothers with the same woman
|42 (2)||13 (1)|
|Affinity, diagonal degree||wife's aunt
|8 (5)||3 (1)|
|wife's niece||22 (5)||6|
|Affinity, second degree||wife's cousin, two cousins, other||10||–|
|Affinity per year||5.1||1.9|
|Number of cases, total||18+113=131||15+36=51|
Source: GHA, series BIIA.
Note: Within parenthesis = of which half-relatives
It is difficult to draw any firm conclusions regarding the reasons for the significant decrease in the number of affinity crimes. The prohibitions for a wife's cousin and a wife's brother's widow were abolished following a royal regulation in 1727; but even with these relationships removed from the statistics, affinity relationships had more than halved in the other categories. With respect to collateral and diagonal affinity relationships, the new dispensational procedure may have contributed to a reduction in the number of criminal cases, since it was possible to obtain permission to marry for these relationship categories from the 1780s onwards. However, this still does not explain why there was also a reduction in the number of lineal affinity crimes from one turn of the century to the next. This development is likely to have been influenced by a weakening of the connection between incest crimes and religion, which would mean that the crime in question was no longer felt to be quite so serious. Instead, incest crimes came to be associated with – and adhere to the development of – other sexual crimes; I will return to this discussion.
Except for the above-mentioned liberalisations, no changes to penal law had been made. Consequently, incest crimes were still regulated in accordance with the legislation of 1734, with the death penalty for the closest relationship categories. See Table 10.
|Family relationship||Closeness||Relationship, a man and his …||Punishment|
|Consanguinity||First/second lineal degree||mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter||Death by beheading
Possibly breaking on the wheel or burning after death
|First collateral degree||sister||Death by beheading
If adulterous, his body was to be broken on the wheel and her body to be burnt after death
|Diagonally||aunt, niece, grandniece||Death by beheading|
|Second degree||cousin||Fine 40 thalers|
|Affinity||First/second lineal degree||stepmother, mother-in-law, stepdaughter, grandfather's widow||Death by beheading
If adulterous, his body was to be broken on the wheel and her body was to be burnt after death
|First collateral degree +adultery||wife's sister, brother's wife, two sisters||Man: flogging 40 pairs/gaol 1 month
Woman: birching 30 pairs/gaol 1 month
|First collateral degree –adultery||wife's sister, brother's widow, two sisters||Man: flogging 32 pairs/gaol 24 days
Woman: birching 24 pairs/gaol 24 days
|Diagonally||uncle's widow, wife's niece, nephew's widow, grandmother's brother's widow||Man: fine 80 thalers/flogging 23 pairs/gaol 20 days
Woman: fine 80 thalers/birching 18 pairs/gaol 20 days
|Second degree||wife's stepmother, wife's stepdaughter, stepson's widow, stepfather's widow||Fine: affinity 80 thalers + fornication (married 80 thalers, unmarried 40 thalers)|
Even though the legislation was all but unchanged at the end of the eighteenth century, a new, milder case law had been introduced, which meant that most of the people sentenced to death for incest crimes subsequently had their sentences reduced to corporal punishment or imprisonment. 85 Usually, these reductions were justified ‘by benevolence and mercy’ without invoking any specific circumstances. 86 Even if individual circumstances might have affected the assessment of some cases, the changes in the legal procedure should primarily be seen in relation to the contemporary jurisprudential debate on the death penalty and its purpose. 87
The new, more lenient case law had a somewhat paradoxical consequence for the handling of crimes. Regardless of whether the statute book prescribed the death penalty or a gaol sentence for an incest crime, the practical punishment became the same, i.e., imprisonment for twenty-eight days on bread and water. While the statute book differentiated between more or less aggravated offences, in practice all crimes had the same penal consequences. 88
Compared to the turn of the century in 1700, the number of criminal cases had thus been significantly reduced; but the number of convictions had also decreased significantly from around 80 to 40%. 89 Previously, most decisions had been based on a confession by the accused, but now it was required that the confession should be verified by testimony for a conviction to be announced. An effect of this requirement was that prosecuted individuals were acquitted ‘for want of evidence’, even when they themselves confessed to the crime. 90
In his research, Jonas Liliequist has shown how false confessions could be made tactically by people who were depressed or tired of life for the purpose of being executed. Because suicide was defined as a sin, the death penalty for these people could be seen as an opportunity to end their lives prematurely without risking the salvation of their souls. The death penalty adhered to a fixed ritual of preparations where the convicted person was comforted and guided by a clergyman. The person concerned was given the opportunity of confessing and receiving absolution before the execution was carried out. The risk of false self-denunciations was, according to Liliequist, one of the reasons why the evidentiary requirements were strengthened during the eighteenth century. 91 While some people were acquitted against their own confessions, others chose to deny the accusation to the very last, even if there were comparatively compromising circumstances.
Fisherman Olof Nyström (thirty-nine years old) and his stepdaughter Rebecka Nilsdotter (twenty-five years old) were accused of sexual congress on a number of occasions. The first accusation of unchaste behaviour was registered in the minutes of a parish meeting in March 1783. On this occasion Olof and Rebecka were not accused of ‘actual commixtion’; but their behaviour had aroused ‘a good deal of attention and offence in the parish’, and they were ordered to live separately in future on pain of a fine of 3 2/3 riksdaler in silver if they did not obey the decision of the parish meeting. 92 Later, during the spring and summer, the case was taken up by the hundred court as well, because there had been no change in the living arrangements or conduct of Olof and Rebecka. Witnesses who were summoned said that they had seen the couple lie undressed together in a bed, that they had accompanied each other at work ‘like married folk’, that they had slept together ‘not once or twice, but they always live like married folk’, that they had ‘offered food to each other’, that Olof had sat and held Rebecka ‘tenderly’, and that they had displayed ‘much love for each other’. 93
Olof and Rebecka flatly denied all accusations. They claimed that they had to spend a lot of time together because of their work. Because Rebecka's mother was old and infirm, Rebecka was needed at home to care for her and for the household. For purely practical reasons, they often shared a bed; but Olof claimed that he was incapable of conjugal congress because of a physical defect. As evidence he presented a written testimonial, signed by barber-surgeon Gottfried Göhle from the town of Linköping. 94 Even if sexual intercourse could not be proven, the hundred court found, after the hearing concluded, that Olof and Rebecka had acted in an unchaste manner by
always lying together in a bed, and always accompanying each other when they are out at work and on visits and when travelling, seeking out each other's company and bedfellowship whether there has been occasion for it or not and they had been offered the opportunity to lie separately, which, as is well known in the entire parish, has continued during all of the past year […] and when in company with each other using unchaste gestures with kissing, stroking, and suchlike, which has caused general offence and outrage in the parish. 95
Although the couple had been warned and threatened with a fine if they did not move apart, they had ‘persisted in as indecent a life as before’; and even though they could not be accused of consummated incest, their behaviour was ‘imprudent and loose, very much in breach of the rules of virtuous conduct and causing great offence’, especially as they were stepfather and stepdaughter. Olof and Rebecka were sentenced to pay the fine imposed for their unchaste behaviour. In addition they had to sit in the stocks on a Sunday outside the church, whereupon Rebecka would have to move ‘out of the house and out of the parish’, if she did not wish to be put in the spinning-house ‘until she improves her way of life’. 96
Three years later, Olof and Rebecka turn up in the sources again. In the autumn after the couple had served their punishment in the stocks, they had moved to the district where Olof grew up, which was two hundreds away from where they had lived before. Here they had settled and still lived as a family together with Olof's wife/Rebecka's mother, who was now even more advanced in years and in poor health. Olof had taken up what used to be his father's profession as a tailor and travelled around in the parish doing various kinds of sewing work. He brought his stepdaughter with him and they often shared a bed; but they had, according to their own testimony, never ‘committed carnal commixtion’, which Olof proved by once again producing the testimonial from the barber-surgeon in Linköping. However, Rebecka had borne a bastard child, and even though she claimed to have been raped by an ‘unknown man’ there was a rumour afoot in the district that her stepfather might be the father of the child, which was why new court proceedings were initiated.
Once more, testimony was presented to the effect that Olof and Rebecka sought each other's company and that they chose to sleep together when they were travelling, in spite of being offered separate sleeping accommodation. At this hearing the accusations against the couple were more serious, because Rebecka had borne a child of whom Olof was suspected of being the father. This was no longer a matter of ‘unchaste behaviour’ but of incest in the first affinity degree, with the death penalty as a consequence upon conviction. The investigation was delayed for two years from one court session to another while the prosecutor collected evidence. The prosecutor requested a copy of the earlier judgement-book records and made enquiries regarding the authenticity of the testimonial that Olof used to confirm his innocence, in parallel with summoning and questioning additional witnesses. 97
Seven years after the first official accusation about unchaste behaviour and after numerous court hearings, Olof and Rebecka were finally acquitted of the crime of incest. They had been questioned countless times over the years and prevailed upon to make a ‘truthful confession’ by lawyers and clergy. Threatened with flogging and imprisonment, they had been fined and sentenced to sitting in the stocks. The circumstantial evidence against the couple was convincing, but in light of their ‘stubborn denial’ they could not be convicted of consummated incest. 98 Olof and Rebecka thus consistently denied all accusations of sexual intercourse. It is of course possible that they were innocent of the crime of which they were accused, but considering the circumstantial evidence and all the testimony, that seems unlikely.
Similarly, a number of witnesses provided incriminating testimony at the court hearing of shoemaker Lars Sundberg and his sister Britta Sundberg. This couple was said to have shown each other friendship and affection and to have been found in bed together in compromising situations on repeated occasions. As they stubbornly denied the accusations, however, they were eventually acquitted of incest, but were ordered to move apart. 99 When another man, named Jonas Eliasson, was accused of incest with his mute sister, the crime was verified by ‘conclusive circumstances’; but because Jonas ‘stubbornly denied’ the act he, too, was acquitted. 100
As these examples show, there were cases – especially when conviction could led to execution – where the prosecuted individuals were acquitted because they refused to confess that they had committed any type of crime, although there was strong circumstantial evidence against them. 101 The courts continuously worked in close cooperation with the clergy. The opinions of clergymen were actively requested by the court, and the clergy described – often in written reports – the scriptural knowledge, conduct, and general spiritual state of the accused. In addition, the clergymen stated how they exhorted the prosecuted individuals to confess to their crimes, and indeed several confessions were made precisely after such exhortations from clergymen or from members of the court. 102 As in earlier periods, the prosecuted individuals were thus subjected to serious admonitions towards the end of the eighteenth century, but there is nothing to suggest the use of physical force. At the turn of the century in 1700, there were occasions when ‘harsh’ and ‘hard’ prison was used; but there are no such references in the criminal-court material after 1783.
If it was the case that more people denied their crimes in spite of being guilty, there are several possible reasons for this. A more humane treatment of suspects may be one explanation. The more stringent evidentiary requirements may be another. In addition, the altered image of the deity may have contributed to new behaviour. Previously, God had above all been delineated as a stern avenger whose wrath struck those who did not obey his commandments. Around 1800, the image of this avenging God had been toned down in favour of a mild and forgiving paternal figure. This makes it likely that the fear of God had become less important in comparison to what was the case in earlier periods. Finally, I would submit that the view of the crime of incest in itself had changed, from being primarily conceived of as a religious crime to being perceived as a moral crime to the detriment of general societal morality. In this way the seriousness of the crime had been reduced from something of a mortal sin to an immoral and depraved act, which may have diminished the prosecuted individuals’ feelings of fear and guilt. I will return to this line of reasoning below.
In conclusion, it may be noted that higher evidentiary requirements in combination with fewer confessions led to fewer criminal trials ending in convictions around the turn of the century in 1800 in comparison to what was the case at the previous turn of the century.
13 A romantic encounter.
Love: a mitigating circumstance
Previous research has identified the decades around the year 1800 as a peak period for the emotions. Motifs of love and happiness flourished in chapbooks and fictional literature, and the ideal marriage should, in addition to its practical goals, preferably also lead to personal happiness and bliss for the prospective spouses. 103 The changed discourse of love in society was reflected in the dispensational material in that the mutual emotions of applicants were often foregrounded as a reason why an application for marriage should be approved. This section analyses the question of whether this cultural change in society influenced the handling of criminal cases as well.
Some criminal-court records convey a distinct impression of the prosecuted individuals having warm feelings for each other; the case referred to above involving Olof and Rebecka is an example. Several witnesses testified to the couple seeking out each other's company and treating each other tenderly and lovingly. Their behaviour was disapproved of because of all the ‘kissing, stroking, and suchlike’. In connection with the first parish meeting when the couple was accused of indecent behaviour, Rebecka is said to have become ‘somewhat agitated’ and threatened to take her own life if she could not be together with Olof. On another occasion, she had said that the fine of 3 2/3 riksdaler in silver was not enough to prevent her from wanting to sleep together with Olof. 104 In other words, it is clear that the relationship was reciprocal and that they were very fond of each other, even though they never used such expressions as love.
At around the same time, twenty-three-year-old Mårten Persson was prosecuted for having committed incest with his stepdaughter, Ingjär Pehrsdotter, who was seventeen years old. This relationship also appears to have been affectionate and reciprocal. According to a witness, Mårten had initially wanted to marry Ingjär; but because they had no farm of their own and thus could not support themselves, he had instead married her mother. 105 A month or two after the wedding the mother fell ill, and by the time the trial began in the following year she was dead. Witnesses said that Mårten and Ingjär behaved uncommonly kindly towards each other, that they accompanied each other to and from different tasks, and that they frequently held hands. On repeated occasions they had shared a bed, and they used to hug and kiss in the presence of other people. Most of this testimony, however, ended in assurances that the witnesses had never seen any truly ‘indecent’ or ‘illicit’ intercourse between Mårten and Ingjär. But there was one exception. 106
One servant maid testified that she, when peeking through a bush, had seen Mårten and Ingjär lie together on the ground early in the morning of Midsummer Day. On that occasion, Ingjär was said to have lain beneath Mårten with her skirts drawn up so that her thighs were exposed. Mårten's ‘trouser flap’ was also said to have been open. The servant maid had not been alone on this occasion, but had been accompanied by the housewife Botill Carlsdotter, who also testified that she had seen Mårten and Ingjär. But Botill was not certain that Ingjär's clothes had been pulled up, nor that Mårten's ‘trouser flap’ had been open. Botill, who was a close neighbour of Mårten and Ingjär, had on several occasions seen the couple hug and kiss and share sleeping places when out at work, but she had not seen them do anything ‘indecent’. The circumstantial evidence was grave, however, and after additional interrogations and exhortations, both Mårten and Ingjär admitted that they had had illicit intercourse on two occasions. 107
It is obvious that Mårten and Ingjär had acted affectionately towards each other in public contexts, which had started a general rumour in the neighbourhood. Their conduct challenged both official and unofficial norms, which caused people around them to react. But although there were many witnesses who testified to seeing kisses and hugs, only one, a servant maid, believed that she had seen something truly ‘indecent’. Not even Botill Carlsdotter wanted to testify that something really indecent had taken place. In her testimony, Botill claimed that she had had a branch in front of her, which had impeded her vision; she also said that she was ashamed of Mårten's and Ingjär's relationship and for this reason had not wanted to look. 108 Her actions must be seen as passive, because she could easily have moved the branch aside or moved herself so that she could see more clearly. Half of the twenty-odd witnesses who were heard by the court claimed not to know anything at all of the matter, even though Mårten and Ingjär, judging from the other testimony, had acted very affectionately towards each other in public places for several months. The clergyman who interrogated the imprisoned couple noted in a formal letter that the crime could not, in his opinion, be accounted for by any ‘hardness or evil in the hearts’ of the accused. On the contrary, both Ingjär and Mårten had, once they had confessed, displayed great ‘concern’, ‘regret’, and ‘sadness’. Mårten in particular had feared that all the blame would be imputed to him ‘as a father’. The clergyman emphasised that their crime had not so much arisen from ‘evil and obduracy in sin’ as from the fact that Mårten's wife had been much older and, in addition, infirm. These circumstances had led to such a temptation for the two accused that they had not, in the ‘heedlessness of youth’, been able to resist it. 109 By emphasising mitigating circumstances, the clergyman signalled that he would like to see Mårten and Ingjär's crimes judged as leniently as possible. He did not question the seriousness of the crime but underscored that the couple's intent had been without malice.
Because Mårten's and Ingjär's confessions were supported by the servant maid's testimony all evidentiary requirements were fulfilled, and the couple was sentenced to death by beheading, according to the law. The sentence was upheld in the court of appeal; but in the highest instance the couple, according to the new practice of the time, had their sentences reduced to imprisonment on bread and water. Although the maximum gaol sentence was twenty-eight days, Mårten and Ingjär were sentenced to ‘only’ sixteen and twelve days, respectively. 110
The local community and the clergy, as well as the authorities, showed leniency and tolerance towards Mårten and Ingjär. The youth of the couple was emphasised by the clergyman as an explanation for their inability to resist the temptation to be together. Youthful indiscretion had been used as a mitigating circumstance before in similar incest cases, but never when the criminal act had been repeated. By emphasising that the couple's intent had not been malicious, the clergyman also placed a new focus on the intent rather than on the criminal act itself, which had not been the case around the previous turn of the century. In addition, love seems to have gained new legitimacy as a mitigating circumstance. The fact that the information provided by the witnesses concerning the nature of the relationship was written down shows that the authorities paid more attention to such aspects than they had done in the past. Similar sentence reductions were also given to other couples where mutual feelings appear to have been the only mitigating factor. Olof Mattsson and his niece Brita Svensdotter claimed to have begun to feel ‘extreme affection and friendship’ for each other, an affection which had eventually blossomed into ‘illicit love’. Ideally, they wished to marry; but that could not be countenanced because of their close family relationship. However, the county sheriff recommended that their crime should be judged in the ‘most lenient way’ possible. The Crown reprieved them from the death penalty and sentenced them to twenty days in prison. 111 In another case, Ingeborg Persdotter, who had first committed single adultery with Erik Jonasson and then conceived a child under a promise of marriage with Erik's brother Jon Jonasson (since deceased), was sentenced to twenty-four days in prison instead of the official twenty-eight. 112
In the above cases, the prosecuted individuals were punished more leniently than what both the law and practice actually prescribed, and I think it likely that the nature of the relationships contributed to the more lenient decisions. Because the justifications for the final judgements were expressed in vague turns of phrase, such as ‘owing to special circumstances’ and ‘by benevolence and mercy’, the authorities’ justifications for these more lenient punishments cannot be determined with certainty. Nor was the tendency to treat affectionate relationships more leniently entirely uniform. Knut Ringsten (sixty years old) and his daughter-in-law, the widow Märta Nilsdotter (over thirty years old), described their crime as the result of there being an ‘ardent friendship and love’ between them. They were reprieved from the death penalty but were sentenced to the maximum gaol sentence of twenty-eight days each. 113 It is possible that the relatively severe gaol sentence could be connected to the increased interest in age that is manifested in the dispensational material. Unlike, for instance, Mårten and Ingjär, who were of the same age, this relationship violated the prevailing norms for sexual relations both because of the significant age difference between the man and the woman and because of the lineal family relationship.
In some cases, for example when the relationship was described as affectionate and reciprocal, the sentences of the accused were thus reduced to shorter prison terms than what was, strictly speaking, normally the case. This reduction of the punishment could be implemented regardless of whether the case involved lineal, diagonal, or horizontal relationships. The nature of a relationship hence emerges as a circumstance that affected the outcome of a case more than previously. But irrespective of whether the nature of the relationship actually affected the judicial decisions or not, it is in any case clear that emotions between the accused were described in a more detailed manner than before, which in itself suggests an increased interest in these circumstances.
Violence and coercion
Pronounced violence or coercion was rare among the criminal cases from the late eighteenth century. In a total of four out of fifty-one cases, the woman claimed that she had been forced or enticed into committing the act. One of these cases concerned a father who had tried to force himself on his thirteen-year-old daughter, but because the act had not been consummated both were acquitted of the accusation of incest. However, the father was sentenced to corporal punishment and hard labour for attempting to rape his daughter. 114
In the three cases (one daughter/two stepdaughters) where the crime was considered to have been proven, the man and the woman were sentenced to equivalent punishments. In other words, no allowance was made for her claim of having suffered an assault. In all these cases, the woman was an adult when the crime was discovered (between twenty and twenty-seven years of age); and even though she in one case claimed that the sexual relationship had been going on since she was a child, this could not be proven. The incestuous act had also been repeated several times in all three cases. 115
The point of departure for the assessment of the court was thus the same as a hundred years earlier. It was the act that had to be proven, and it was assumed that both parties had participated voluntarily. However, unlike the situation at the previous turn of the century, no woman received a reduction of her sentence after claiming that she had been subjected to violence and coercion. Nevertheless, the number of cases from the later period is low, and they cannot form a basis for drawing general conclusions. Besides, the accused woman was an adult in all three cases, and the act had been repeated on more than one occasion, which would have been considered aggravating during earlier periods as well. In addition, a potential incentive for the earlier sentence reductions had disappeared. At the turn of the century in 1700, a woman's life could be saved if the members of the court chose to accept her version of the course of events. The crime would then have been defined as rape, which justified a reduction of her sentence. But because all death sentences were routinely reduced to gaol sentences at the end of the eighteenth century, the definition of the crime was no longer a matter of life and death for anyone.
Previous research has shown that attitudes to men's and women's sexuality have varied over time. Up until the turn of the century in 1800, responsibility with respect to social morality was laid primarily on the man who, in his position as master, should discipline both his wife and the other members of his household into becoming virtuous and honourable individuals. The man was perceived to be active and in charge, while the woman was regarded as being more passive. Women were described as emotional and less reliable because they were more apt to allow themselves to be misled by the Devil into committing sinful acts. A man's role as a rational leader was therefore considered both natural and necessary. After the turn of the century in 1800, a man's sexual desires were increasingly often described as stronger than a woman's, which increased the risk of his being taken in by her seductive wiles. Because a woman's sexuality was now considered weaker than a man's, responsibility for married life and social morality was gradually transferred to her. By creating a harmonious and loving home where a man could find rest and peace, a woman was believed to indirectly create stability and balance throughout society. 116
The altered view of male and female sexuality led to an increased interest in women's behaviour in connection with sexual offences. When a woman claimed that she had been subjected to violence or coercion, it became more important to investigate whether she had acted provocatively – and thus contributed to the course of events – than to establish how much violence the man had used. Consequently, the woman's credibility was reduced, and her position in legal contexts was weakened. 117 This circumstance may also contribute to explaining why the proportion of cases where violence and coercion are mentioned decreased. If people were aware of the fact that women rarely gained a hearing for their stories about coercion and threats, the reason for mentioning these things decreased. The punishment would be the same, no matter how the crime had occurred.
Women's position in German courts was also relatively weak. True, the courts investigated claims of violence and coercion in connection with German incest cases; but because a man had the right to physically punish both his family and his servants for the purpose of disciplining them, the courts focused on assessing the nature of the violence. The question was thus not whether the man had used violence, but whether he had used excessive force, thereby abusing his authority as a father or master. In this assessment, the number of offences became decisive. If the sexual act had been repeated more than once, the members of the court regarded that as proof that the parties had been in agreement. In consequence, both were thought to be equally guilty. 118
Clearly, then, neither Swedish nor German courts took account of the inequality in power positions that existed between a child – even if that child had reached adulthood – and his or her (step)parent. Although the number of incest cases that included violence is low in the Swedish material, it may be noted that alleged violence was more or less ignored by the members of the court. Quite simply, the members of the court do not appear to have reflected at all on the vulnerability and position of dependency of the younger party when these crimes were assessed.
The idea that the crime of incest was a prohibited act committed by two offenders thus persisted in Swedish society. By contrast, the religious interpretation of the crime had decreased in importance. That decrease forms the subject of the following section.
Incest: a moral crime
Around the turn of the century in 1700, incest had been treated as a religious crime. Even though exceptions had been made in individual cases when several mitigating circumstances existed, the majority of the judgements had adhered to the established laws, which were primarily based on religious ideas. Crimes that according to the Bible should be punishable by death led to a death sentence being carried out in 70 to 75% of the cases. At the turn of the following century, milder case law had been introduced, and the death penalty was only implemented in exceptional cases. Death sentences were now reduced to imprisonment on bread and water for up to a month's time. In other words, the religious message was not followed to the letter as it had been before.
The religious rhetoric had also been toned down, and incestuous acts were instead described as crimes against morality and social morals. In the case against Olof and Rebecka, it was noted that the conduct of the couple was ‘to the highest degree incompatible with good manners’, which aroused ‘offence’ in the entire community. 119 Another court record defined their ‘cohabitation’ as ‘highly indecent and punishable’ because it violated ‘good manners’. 120 The couple did not behave in a way that befitted a ‘child and father’, but their behaviour was ‘unchaste’ rather than sinful. 121 In another case, Karin Larsdotter and her stepfather were accused of harbouring a ‘lewd inclination’ for each other, which led to ‘highly indecent and shameless’ conduct. 122 In addition, the use of the concept ‘illicit sexual behaviour’ (otukt) to refer to incestuous relationships became more common around the turn of the century in 1800. 123 As time went by, these descriptions of the crime of incest as indecent and immoral came to overshadow descriptions of a religious sin. 124
In most of the criminal cases where ‘indecent conduct’ could be established, references were made to the ‘offence’ that this aroused in the local community; and irrespective of whether the crime could be proven or not, several hearings ended with an exhortation to the accused to move apart. In order to ensure that this admonition was respected, it was made under threat of a conditional penalty (vite), that is to say a fine, a gaol term, or a sentence of corporal punishment, if the order was not obeyed. Bengt Säf and his daughter were acquitted of the suspicion of having committed a crime; but in order to avoid public ‘offence’, they were told not to ‘reside together in the same hundred or location’ in future on pain of six pairs of rods for him and five pairs of birch rods for her. 125 Widower Mattias Johansson and his stepdaughter Brita Bengtsdotter were informed that they would be sentenced to a penalty of seven pairs of rods for him and five pairs of birch rods for her if they were to reside in the same location in future. 126 The penalty for farmer Per Olofsson and his half-niece, widow Margareta Hansdotter, was similar: eight pairs of rods and four pairs of birch rods, respectively, if they in future resided in the same location. 127 In the same way, a penalty of flogging and birching was conditionally imposed on Giöthar Dahl and his stepdaughter Annika Svensdotter and on Olof Jönsson Häll and his niece Brita Maria Larsdotter. 128 Still other persons were warned in more general terms or threatened with different sums in fines, or with a gaol sentence, if they did not stay away from each other in future. 129
In the above-mentioned cases, the prosecuted individuals had violated established social norms regarding how family members should behave towards each other. The fact that several couples seem to have been unwilling to change their behaviour can be seen as a challenge to the prevailing norms for sexual relationships, but it was always an indirect challenge. Olof and Rebecka had clearly challenged the prevailing norms for the behaviour of family members by displaying greater intimacy and friendship towards each other than what was considered appropriate for a stepfather and stepdaughter. A potential sexual relationship between them would have violated the social norms in several ways: first, by being a relationship outside marriage; second, by being a relationship between different generations; and third, by being a relationship between two family members. Olof and Rebecka never actively questioned these norms. Instead they defended their behaviour by referring to ideas about the loyalty of family members towards each other. In this context they claimed that their relations were perfectly natural. They belonged to the same family, worked close to each other, and helped each other as relatives should. The challenges were thus subtle and indirect, and nobody questioned either the legislation or social morality. Nevertheless, the criminal cases amounted to a strain on the system of norms.
The main reason for the conditional penalties will have been a wish on the part of the authorities to prevent what was considered to be indecent conduct. By way of these penalties, general ‘offence’ in the local community could be avoided. Even couples who were acquitted of the accusation of incest might be threatened with a penalty, as in the case of Olof and Rebecka. A conditional penalty can thus be seen as an attempt on the part of the authorities to inculcate correct behaviour in the accused and reintegrate them into the current norms as to how family relationships were supposed to function. This creates the impression that the authorities were more interested in preventing future indecencies than in punishing old transgressions. From a perspective of social morality, it was hence more important to penalise behaviour that was considered indecent than to establish whether an incest prohibition had actually been violated.
The transition from religious ideals to a more morally based ethics of virtue around the turn of the century in 1800 has been observed by other researchers as well, and it is completely in line with other social transformations. 130 With respect to France, Germany, and Denmark, a similar decrease in religious arguments in the assessment of incest cases has been shown to occur towards the end of the eighteenth century. In France, all incest prohibitions were completely abolished in 1791 in connection with a desire to eliminate religious hypocrisy; 131 and in Germany, incest prohibitions were primarily linked to a policy for family health. Because stable family relationships without jealousy or abuse were perceived to be foundational for the whole of society, the court hearings came to focus on questions of morality and excessive violence. When voluntary relationships (usually brother-in-law/sister-in-law or stepmother/stepson) were to be assessed, the decisive factor became whether the relationship had been initiated before or after the husband/wife had died. When a person claimed that violence had been used, it became the task of the courts to determine whether the violence should be defined as legitimate, i.e. as occurring within the framework of disciplinary physical chastisement, or illegitimate. Jarzebowski maintains that the bourgeois family ideal eventually replaced the religious arguments that had previously been used to justify incest prohibitions. The crime of incest was no longer punished because it was seen as a sinful act, but because it was regarded as a threat against family solidarity at a time when the value of the family was rising. 132
According to Danish historian Nina Koefoed, a radical change also occurred in the climate of Danish debate during the last decades of the eighteenth century. Around 1770, God's law was still used as an immutable baseline value for incest crimes, and the absolute power of the king to judge or reprieve criminals was not questioned. Thirty years later, by contrast, questions of religion, morals, and decency were settled with recourse to rational arguments. The church was no longer accepted as a guardian of social morality on behalf of the state. Instead, citizens themselves were expected to take responsibility for their own morals, and the task of the state could be described as that of defending civil rights. 133 However, another Danish historian, Tyge Krogh, shows that the change was not quite that radical. Whether incest prohibitions should be held to constitute a divine and thus immutable law had been debated off and on ever since Andreas Hojer raised the issue shortly after the turn of the century in 1700. 134
No matter how rapid the process of change had been, it is clear that the legitimacy of religious arguments for incest had decreased towards the end of the century and that new arguments were brought forth as replacements. In Swedish case law, social morality and decency were given the largest space in the renegotiation of the actual purpose of incest prohibitions. The focus was on re-establishing correct behaviour in the prosecuted individuals rather than on punishing them for the crimes they had committed in the past. Both parties were assumed to have participated voluntarily, and incest cases were primarily treated as moral crimes.
14 A discussion in the Council of the State.
Incest prohibitions in public hearings
Up until now, this study has shown that the number of applications for dispensation increased significantly in Sweden towards the end of the eighteenth century. It did not take long for this increase to bring about an altered and more liberal assessment of certain relationship categories. At the turn of the century in 1800, a man and his wife's sister, wife's niece, and stepfather's widow could acquire royal permission to marry without much difficulty, unless there were other impediments to the marriage aside from the family relationship. At the same time, case law had changed in that fewer suspects were convicted of incest crimes, and those who were often received more lenient punishments than the ones prescribed by law. Clearly, then, the enforcement of incest prohibitions had been weakened in the practical handling of incest cases. However, no major changes to the law, or even discussions regarding legislative changes, had taken place. This would change in the nineteenth century.
On 9 June 1809, a bill was brought before the Swedish Parliament (the Riksdag) which initiated decades of discussion about the regulation of the forbidden degrees. The initiator of the bill was Henning Adolf von Strokirch, an associate judge of the court of appeal with twenty-five years of experience of working in the courts and a member of the Riksdag for the estate of the nobility. 135 Von Strokirch claimed that the law fell short when it came to the regulation of marriage prohibitions. The Swedish application of incest prohibitions, he said, had been pushed far beyond the limits of reason and beyond the assessments made in other nations. The text of the law was too strictly regulated and left no scope for a judge to take account of special circumstances that arose in real life, which resulted in a conflict between the ‘flinty application of the law’ on the one hand and ‘the moral assessment’ on the other. Von Strokirch thus described a discrepancy between the legislation and the general sense of justice. In order to remedy these problems, he proposed the abolition of several incest prohibitions. 136
The proposal occasioned a detailed examination of the prohibitions. The original purposes of the prohibitions were discussed, as was the effect they were assumed to have on society as well as what was believed to be public opinion about the issue. After heated debate, Strokirch's bill resulted in a royal regulation in 1810 which meant that people who were related in different affinity degrees (among others wife's sister, brother's widow, wife's niece, stepfather's widow) became free to apply for a dispensation for marriage. 137 Consequently, the law was adapted in accordance with the practice that had developed over the past thirty years.
But that was not the end of the matter. On several occasions during the ensuing decades, new debates were initiated in the Riksdag regarding further liberalisation of the incest prohibitions; and the 1815 proposal for a new marriage legislation suggested that a number of incest prohibitions should be abolished completely. Opinions were divided, though. 138 Between 1823 and 1871, the issue was raised in eleven different sessions of the Riksdag. The incest relationships regulated in Chapter 2, Sections 3, 5, and 6 of the Marriage Code were subjected to particularly intense discussion. These sections regulated cousin relationships (Section 3); collateral and diagonal affinity relationships, for instance wife's sister, brother's widow, wife's niece, or uncle's widow (Section 5); and affinity relationships in the second degree, for instance wife's stepmother, stepfather's widow, and son-in-law's widow (Section 6). The purpose of incest prohibitions, and the issue of how boundaries should be drawn, was also discussed in a thesis from 1813 written by future lawyer Carl Johan Schlyter. 139 This thesis was commented on anonymously in the law journal Juridiskt Arkif twenty years later. 140
There is thus a wealth of preserved source material where the incest prohibitions were debated by lawyers, theologians, and politicians, material which provides a clear picture of the opinions articulated by these men during the first half of the nineteenth century. Some wanted to abolish the prohibitions while others wished to retain them; but at bottom everybody agreed that the relationships mentioned in Chapter 2, Sections 3, 5, and 6 of the Marriage Code were not harmful from a moral or a religious perspective. 141 In spite of this shared fundamental persuasion, people nevertheless chose different standpoints on the issue. The ensuing section analyses the arguments in the debates in order to bring out the norms and ideas that formed the basis for the views of the politicians. While the burgher and peasant estates were, in general, in favour of further liberalisation, the proposals caused much debate among the nobility and the clergy, where opinions were more mixed and decisions more often settled by way of a vote.
For protection against immorality
It is clear that the previously unchallenged explanatory basis for the drafting of the incest prohibitions, that of religion, had lost some of its credibility. Those who promoted a liberalisation of the legislation questioned the actual purpose and origin of the prohibitions. Some claimed that the incest prohibitions had been drawn up by and for the Jewish people in the political and cultural climate at the time of Moses; but since society had changed since then, it was reasonable for these laws to be adapted in accordance with social developments. 142 Others felt that the prohibitions were remnants of the heresies of Catholic priests. 143 These arguments are strongly reminiscent of those used by Andreas Hojer a hundred years earlier in Denmark. But these arguments, which had created such a stir during the early eighteenth century, were now accepted without any major challenges in the Swedish parliamentary debates.
Even though individual debaters maintained that the prohibitions were of divine origin, it was more common for the religious arguments to be reformulated in accordance with the contemporary demand for arguments based on reason. For example, the anonymous author of the previously mentioned article in the law journal Juridiskt Arkif claimed that there was no contradiction between attitudes based on religion and on natural law as regards incest prohibitions, because they both arose from ‘the special commandments of conscience’ that existed within a human being. Both reason and religion proceeded from a ‘common traditional source’ or an ‘inherited conviction’. This common origin guaranteed the legitimacy of the prohibitions; and according to the article's author, it justified the idea that the Swedish legislation should be respected in its current form. 144
The basic idea, i.e., that the laws were not divine or immutable, was thus to a great extent accepted by both the promoters and the opponents of the liberalisation of the incest prohibitions. Instead of allowing themselves to be governed by religious principles, they attempted to find a basis in natural law building on lines of reasoning regarding human nature. 145 In line with this approach, people spoke about incestuous relationships being circumscribed by ‘a natural revulsion’ or that there was a ‘natural rein’ that should be supported in law so that it was not weakened. 146
But what was thought to be the true purpose of the incest prohibitions?
In his thesis from 1813, Schlyter wrote that the incest prohibitions in the closest degrees promoted social virtue and that they had a beneficial influence on individual citizens as well as on the nation as a whole. The lineal consanguinity prohibition was, according to him, the most important prohibition:
[F]rom the beginning [, this prohibition] was occasioned by revulsion against these connections, a revulsion which, albeit not an immediate instinct, should nevertheless be considered natural. Certain legislators have realised the good effect of such ways of thinking on upbringing, on customs, and on the vigour of the nation. Through these prohibitions, along with the penal laws against incest, they hence sought to prevent the natural revulsion from being weakened. 147
Here the idea of the natural origin of the prohibitions recurs. The purpose of the prohibitions was to strengthen a sense of morality in young people, who in the long run provided the basis for a strong and healthy nation. In connection with the parliamentary session of 1809, it was similarly claimed that the purpose of the prohibitions was to promote ‘social order, [and] the advancement of general and individual welfare’. 148 Another speaker felt that the incest prohibitions entailed moral benefits for the community and that their primary purpose was to ‘retain the purity of customs’. 149
The collateral affinity relationships (wife's sister, brother's widow) and the cousin relationships were not deemed to be criminal or immoral in themselves, which explains why these particular relationship categories were the subject of the majority of the proposals for liberalisation. 150 People agreed that crimes against these commandments were often committed because of ‘thoughtlessness, without the intention to cause any evil, and [without] proper insight into the evil consequences of the act’. 151 In spite of this, several debaters argued that the crimes had to be assessed with reference to their social consequences rather than the actual intentions of the agent. 152 The purpose of the law was to retain the ‘purity of customs’ and the ‘social virtues’. 153 It was believed to counteract general immorality while having a favourable effect on young people's sense of morality and on their upbringing. One bishop felt that the relationships in fact ‘had to be considered permissible by God himself’, but that the prohibitions were nevertheless reasonable on account of what was ‘best for society’. 154 Without the protection of the prohibitions people would more easily fall victim to the allure of desire, with – it was feared – unfavourable consequences for both households and society. 155 The removal of the prohibitions would therefore give ‘occasion for seduction, for crimes against modesty and fidelity, and various disorders’. 156 Quite simply, the prohibitions promoted ‘the necessary care for the preservation of decency’. 157
Furthermore, the more conservative speakers claimed that the prohibitions functioned as a wall, a boundary, or what we might call a buffer zone between what was allowed and what was forbidden. A representative of the clerical estate described the prohibition of cousin marriages as ‘beneficial and based in nature, like a kind of entrenchment or outworks for the sanctity of the [sibling prohibition]’. 158 Another member of the same estate felt that it was ‘highly dangerous to disturb the barrier which, through the conditional prohibition in the law for the marriages of siblings’ children [i.e., cousins], had been constructed to secure the sanctity of closer consanguinity degrees’. 159 A third voice pointed out that the prohibition, in spite of the possibilities of obtaining a dispensation, was ‘a reminder that the boundary of the sacred, the inviolable, was […] close’. 160 Without the boundaries formed by the prohibitions, the ‘thoughtless crowd’ in particular risked having diminished respect for the sacred. 161 As one speaker expressed it, the ‘most hallowed bond of nature’ might be torn asunder and trodden underfoot ‘until the closest lineal blood relatives, former and future, considered themselves exempted by human laws from the commandments of divine law, and eventually entitled to descend from humans and Christians to animals’. 162
According to their supporters, the prohibitions were to function as a warning bell for the people, and they were believed to be necessary in order to safeguard public decency. Politicians of a conservative bent thus feared the consequences that would follow any liberalisation of the marriage prohibitions. Even if the relationships in themselves were not perceived to be immoral, the prohibitions drew a line between what was forbidden and what was permitted. Without this distinct boundary, it was feared that people – especially those with little education – would initiate sexual relations in closer kinship degrees as well. By contrast, those who argued for a change in the law effectively questioned the connection between the statutory incest prohibitions and general morality in society. 163
In support of healthy family relationships
During the nineteenth century, the general structure of the family changed. Previously the household – including any servant maids, farmhands, and other servants – had made up a collective work unit that lived in relative openness vis-à-vis the local community. Later, the idea of a private nuclear family emerged, one whose closeness was based more on love and care than on mutual economic dependency. The new family ideal developed first within the emergent bourgeoisie, but soon spread to other social groups as well. 164 These cultural changes had not become generally accepted in Swedish society at the turn of the century in 1800, but ideas about the nuclear family as the mainstay of society are clearly manifested in the parliamentary material. A large proportion of the nineteenth-century incest debate revolved around issues regarding the nuclear family and the drawing of boundaries between the innermost family circle and the rest of society. The debate also raised questions as to how various family members were expected to behave towards one another. One thing that all prohibitions had in common was that their purpose was linked to contemporary ideas about kinship and family constellations. Discussions about the prohibitions were hence essentially concerned with what family relationships looked like in society, and how the prohibitions were assumed to affect everyday family relationships.
Preventing premature sensuality in children
The sibling and cousin prohibitions were considered to have the same original purpose; that is, to prevent ‘premature sensuality’ in children growing up close to one another. Schlyter wrote that ‘the legislator wanted to fulfil the parents’ wishes to prevent, by removing all thoughts of any future legal connection, a premature sensuality in children, who as a rule are always brought up in the same house’. 165
It was considered important to make sure that children who grew up in physical proximity did not develop any form of sexual relationship. This was true of siblings as well as of cousins, who were sometimes raised together ‘like siblings’. But even cousins who did not grow up in the same household might have a sibling-like relationship because their parents were siblings and they were therefore presumed to have close and everyday dealings with each other. 166 There was quite simply a danger in frequent and intense social intercourse during childhood and adolescence. The natural sibling-love and intimacy among cousins, which in itself was an asset for the individual and for all of society, then risked being transmuted into a harmful sexual relationship. For this reason, the prohibitions served as a constant reminder that such relationships were unnatural and improper. 167
Nevertheless, during the first half of the nineteenth century many members of the Riksdag agreed that the cousin prohibition was obsolete because families did not associate with each other in the same way as before. On several occasions, it was emphasised that ‘in older times’ the family had made up ‘a whole’ in which cousins associated with each other ‘as much as did siblings’, but this was no longer the case. 168 Similarly, in 1809 the parliamentary committee on legislation pointed out that the justification for the cousin prohibition had ‘ceased to be valid since families had begun to be more dispersed’. 169 In the parliamentary session of 1823, one speaker claimed that ‘cousins have a relationship with each other that is no different from that between people who are completely unrelated’. 170 Several members of the Riksdag thus felt that everyday relations between cousins had changed and that the prohibition had consequently lost its function. Similar arguments about a reduced family intimacy were also voiced with regard to relationships in the second affinity degree (wife's stepmother, stepson's widow). 171
Preventing jealousy and discord within the family
As was pointed out above, relationships between a woman and her brother-in-law, and between a man and his sister-in-law, were not regarded as immoral in themselves if the spouse in question was no longer alive. It was even recognised that there were advantages to a relationship of this kind. For example, a member of the clerical estate argued that a man could hardly find ‘a more tender stepmother for his children than the sister of their deceased mother’. 172 In spite of this, people with a more conservative outlook felt that it was important to keep the prohibitions ‘so that, while the wife lives, the idea of a connection with her sister is removed’. 173
Everyday relations between a woman and her brother-in-law and a man and his sister-in-law left room for ‘more intimate social intercourse’ than other relationships, which might lead people astray under the wrong circumstances. 174 The relationship between brother-in-law and sister-in-law was considered to have its foundation in ‘a natural affection’ that arose from their spending more time with each other than with other people. However, these close relations entailed the possibility that ‘the sacred rights of intimacy and friendship […] might […] be abused’. 175 It was necessary to thwart the possibility of sexual relations between these people. Any infidelity between a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law was, in addition, held to lead to especially serious consequences for the family because such a betrayal was perceived to be ‘more dreadful’ and ‘corrosive’ for family members than if the betrayal was perpetrated with a stranger. 176
The prohibitions hence aimed to promote a well-functioning family relationship by preventing affectionate relations between brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law from assuming a sexual character. Without prohibitions, there was risk that the frequency of infidelity would increase, which threatened to destroy a domestic and affectionate coexistence.
Promoting filial deference
The prohibitions against lineal relationships in both consanguinity and affinity degrees had a completely different, if equally important, purpose: to support and strengthen children's respect for their parents. In a report from 18 August 1809, the parliamentary committee on legislation discussed why filial deference was so important. It was pointed out that even though everyone was born with a capacity for rational thinking, sensuality was extra powerful during the years of youth and therefore had to be ‘bent under the reason of others and be habituated to obedience’ until the individual had matured and was ‘able to listen to his or her own reason’. In order to maintain and protect the natural deference and respect felt by the younger generation for the older, it was therefore important to avert all thoughts of intimate relations between them. Parents were thought to be the people who were by nature primarily responsible for their children's upbringing, but if the parents died before their children reached their majority, their siblings or spouses were expected to take over this responsibility. 177 The idea was to ensure that ‘by removing all thoughts of a lawful connection between these possible rearers and the reared, the authority of the former can be preserved and promoted’. 178 One speaker made it clear that the prohibitions were necessary because nothing could ‘undermine and vitiate’ deference as much as the ‘mere thought’ of a sensual union between ‘a rearer and the reared’. 179
Here the debaters directly or indirectly alluded to the Lutheran Table of Duties, which had previously formed the obvious foundation of society and which retained its normative function far into the nineteenth century. Family relationships were characterised by deference and respect between the generations, and the importance of upholding these hierarchies could not be emphasised strongly enough. The subservient position of the child, which was regarded as necessary and healthy, was hence imperilled if the mere thought of a sexual relationship between the rearer and the child took hold. The relationship between the generations was nevertheless seen as reciprocal, with rights and obligations in both directions. The younger party should show respect and obedience vis-à-vis his or her rearer but was also entitled to expect protection and help from the older generation. 180 Consequently, prohibitions had the dual purpose of maintaining the deference between the generations while preventing a rearer from abusing his or her position of authority by exploiting the person who was under his or her protection.
Promoting closeness among family members
Regardless of which type of family relationship was involved, it was assumed that there was a special friendship and closeness between the persons in question, and the incest prohibitions contributed to protecting that. August von Hartmansdorff of the noble estate pointed out that the law protected cousins so that they could live close to and support each other without any suspicion of immorality. 181 Another nobleman feared that many needy people would be deprived of the support of their relatives if the prohibition against cousin marriages was abolished, because they could no longer ‘without blame […] seek refuge’ with a cousin if they needed to do so. 182 Similarly, hundred-court judge Arvid Ribbing claimed that repealing the current legislation would damage family solidarity and put obstacles in the way of charitable support between relatives in need. 183 If the incest prohibitions were to be abolished, people would be forced to change their behaviour towards each other in order to avoid suspicion of indecency, said yet another representative of the nobility. Friendship and intimacy within the closest family would have to be sacrificed, and family members would become as ‘strangers to each other’. 184
Incest prohibitions were also believed to be a prerequisite for people being able to receive economic support from their nearest kin without feeling disgraced. Relatives had a duty to help one another, and for this reason it was not humiliating to accept help from them in the way it would have been if the helper had been a stranger. 185
The arguments thus aimed to show that the incest prohibitions made close social intercourse among family members possible. Indeed, the prohibitions were viewed as a prerequisite for affectionate relations. A single man or woman could move in with his or her married sibling without risking rumours of indecency, and cousins could live in the same household without the people around them becoming suspicious about their leading an immoral life. Kinship entailed rights as well as obligations. It functioned as a social and economic safety net on which everyone depended, not least the impecunious social categories. The incest prohibitions hence contributed to family members being able to live close to, and receive assistance from, one another without arousing suspicions of impropriety among the people around them.
Economic concerns and demands for justice
The drawing of boundaries with regard to incest prohibitions was also discussed on the basis of the economic and practical consequences that a liberalisation might entail. One nobleman claimed that the prohibitions were politically useful because they prevented estates from accumulating ‘in the hands of one man’, which was not in the interest of the state. 186 Several debaters said they thought that economic motives were the main reason behind most cousin marriages, and they feared that rich families would increasingly marry within their own group if the prohibitions were abolished. Abolition would thus lead to estates accumulating within individual families, whereas it was in society's interest that they should be distributed among all citizens. The forming of alliances between different groups and families, a process which the prohibitions encouraged, was also believed to be good for the nation. 187
By contrast, the more liberal speakers maintained that the dispensational procedure involved an unnecessary workload for the state's civil servants while the procedure was expensive and time-consuming for individual citizens. 188 In addition, the system was said to be unfair because not everyone had the same opportunity to pay the stamp charge which the application involved. 189 Among those who rejected this argument were a couple of representatives from the clerical estate who said that poor people rarely wished to enter into such marriages, and if they really wanted to do so it was also because of economic advantages, and then they were perfectly able to pay the fee. 190
In 1829, the attention to and understanding of the situation of the poor that was nevertheless demonstrated by many people resulted in a royal proclamation which made the application procedure for cousin marriages free of cost. 191 However, the fees for applications for marriage in other relationship categories seem to have been retained. 192
The dispensational procedure was perceived to be unfair from another perspective as well. The fact that the sole purpose of some prohibitions was that of serving as a warning against other, more forbidden relationships, while the expressly forbidden relations were not in fact thought to be immoral in themselves, amounted to sacrificing the individual for the good of the collective. This view was criticised by the proponents of liberalisation, who argued that neither the king nor the state had the right to interfere in the private affairs of individual citizens. In other words, single individuals should not have to forego a desired marriage in order to promote the common social morality. In addition, retaining a law that was in conflict with the people's sense of justice risked undermining confidence in the law and the judicial system. Consequently, the entire dispensational procedure as such was warped. That the same act was forbidden and criminal in one case and permitted in another was simply not logical. The question that arose from this was whether the system was at all morally defensible. 193
There was a certain amount of disagreement about how public opinion regarded the incest prohibitions. Some people claimed that all relationships which were the subject of the liberalisation debate were accepted and well-liked by the people, whereas others wished to retain the prohibitions out of respect for those who viewed the prohibited acts as immoral. 194 As a golden mean, it was suggested that the dispensational procedure should be used in order to slowly accustom the people to the drawing of new boundaries. 195 When comparisons to the legislation of other countries were made, the Swedish legislation was found to be stricter than Norwegian, Danish, and Prussian law, a finding that was also used as an argument in favour of making the legislative framework more lenient. 196
Finally, some members of the Riksdag expressed concern that close kinship connections might have an adverse effect on the health of offspring. One of the representatives of the estate of the nobility had heard rumours that such relationships might entail ‘injury to the mental faculties of descendants’. 197 Another had heard that ‘certain noble as well as princely families who marry much among themselves become ever more stupid and maladroit’. 198 During this period, the subject was never debated widely and in earnest; but interest in hereditary consequences would increase over time, as will be seen below.
In summary, there was agreement on certain foundational ideological principles, such as the importance to society of social morality and the family. The function and value of the family were highly regarded by everyone. No one opposed the idea that there was a higher degree of intimacy within the family, and that this should be safeguarded; that there was a hierarchical division between generations, where the parental generation was entitled to demand the respect and obedience of younger generations; or that a family and their closest kin functioned both as economic and as social support among themselves. Everyone also agreed that sexual relationships might jeopardise these principles.
Instead, a large proportion of the debate had to do with establishing where the boundary of the innermost family circle should be drawn. Those who promoted the liberalisation of the prohibitions claimed that relations within the family had changed and that the boundaries between family, kin, and society had to be adjusted. There was no longer any obvious difference between cousins and neighbours, or between remote relatives by marriage and other friends. Other debaters felt that the relationships of family and kin were essentially unchanged, that relatives still lived in closer proximity to one another, and that the prohibitions were needed as a protection for their intimate relations. The definition of the family, and conceptions as to the nature of different familial relationships, thus played a prominent role in the debate concerning the liberalisation of the incest prohibitions.
Partial summary and overview, 1740–1840
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, European society was increasingly characterised by revolutionary political, social, and cultural changes which led to the questioning of the incest regulations in force at the time as well as the norms on which the older legislation was based. Firstly, the position of religion in society changed, whereupon the incest prohibitions could no longer be justified by way of theological arguments alone. Secondly, the judicial system and penal legislation were criticised by proponents of the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment, prompting demands for increased equality before the law and more lenient case law. Thirdly, the acceptance of marriage alliances between related people increased as a consequence of economic and cultural changes.
In Sweden, the negotiation process surrounding the configuration of incest prohibitions was brought to the fore during the decades before the turn of the century in 1800, which eventually resulted in a change of practice with regard to applications for dispensation and crimes of incest. Increasing numbers of people applied for permission to marry, and their applications were increasingly often approved with regard to a greater number of relationship categories. At the same time, fewer and fewer people were convicted of crimes against the incest prohibitions, and those who were convicted were often given more lenient punishments than those prescribed by law. In this way, a discrepancy between theoretical and practical positions was created, giving rise to official discussions among lawyers, theologians, and politicians during the first half of the nineteenth century.
In the official debate, various theories on the origin, purpose, and usefulness of the prohibitions were presented, as well as different opinions as to where boundaries should be drawn and which legal rules were felt to be reasonable. These debates emphasised the connection between incest prohibitions and moral norms, but ideas about the family and about relationships between family members were also brought into play. Among other things, there was an adjustment of the importance of filial deference for the assessment of incestuous relationships. Previously, relationships had only been assessed on the basis of people's positions in the family relative to each other, and horizontal relationships were treated more leniently than vertical ones, regardless of the age or biological closeness of those involved. After the turn of the century in 1800, information about the protagonists’ respective age was taken into account in a way that had not been done before. Previous research has shown that respect towards the older generation decreased in society at the same time, and the new practice may be seen as an expression of the relationship between generations being renegotiated in society as a whole.
The material also reflects a change of mentality with respect to the view on emotions. Earlier, reason had been idealised above feeling; but now emotions acquired more favourable connotations, and the love match was increasingly valorised. This change was observed by previous researchers and seems to have occurred in Europe as a whole at slightly different times. In the Swedish dispensational material from the relevant period, this change can be seen in the fact that couples applying for dispensation to marry often emphasised that they loved each other, and that their marriage could therefore be expected to be a happy one. Another difference in comparison to earlier periods is that sentences were increasingly often reduced for prosecuted couples whose relationships were described as reciprocal and affectionate.
If one assumes that interactions among people and groups in society indirectly affect norms and values, this development becomes logical. Seen from this perspective, it was thus political pressure and questionings from the population at large that led to changed practices; and these changes, in their turn, became the driving force behind an official renegotiation of the drawing of boundaries with regard to incest prohibitions. In this discursive process of negotiation, older notions pertaining to religion and family hierarchies were contrasted with new ideas on social morality, kinship, and the right of the individual to freedom and happiness. The outcome was a change of attitude regarding the purpose and origin of incest prohibitions, and an adjustment of the drawing of boundaries between legal and illegal relationships.
Challenges to the prevailing, religiously justified, norms happened in parallel in places all over Europe. The penalties imposed for several crimes were reduced towards the end of the eighteenth century, while the number of marriages between related persons increased. 199 Legal, theological, and political debates regarding the configuration of the prohibitions were continually taking place in, among other countries, Britain, Germany, Austria, and France. There were debates outside the borders of Sweden even before the turn of the century in 1800; but the arguments that were presented were often similar. 200 In Prussia, incest prohibitions were renegotiated into laws against secularised crimes whose judicial assessment rested on ideas about the family and ‘the common good’. Unlike the situation in Sweden, incestuous desires were now described as natural in Prussia, but the acts were nevertheless prohibited because they were thought to harm the family and society. 201 In Denmark, one new regulation followed upon another in the period between 1770 and 1800. 202 Nowhere, however, was the change as radical as in France. Here all incest prohibitions were abolished in connection with the French Revolution as being religious prohibitions that had unjustly been imposed on the people. Henceforth, incest was discussed wholly on the basis of ideas about sound family relationships and social morality. Exploitation and violence against underage relatives could still be prosecuted under other crime headings, but incestuous acts were primarily regarded as a private family matter. 203
Although punishments were generally speaking reduced in all of Europe towards the end of the eighteenth century, Sweden still stood out with harsher punishments and a lower degree of tolerance. In Britain, the worst that could happen to non-biological relatives who married in opposition to religious law was that their marriages might be declared invalid (if they were reported), whereas Swedish couples who violated the incest prohibitions risked being put in jail on bread and water for up to twenty-eight days. 204 In Prussia, relationships between brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law were liberalised as early as 1740. 205 In Sweden, by contrast, the first dispensation was granted in 1785, and the prohibition remained in force until 1872. In Austria, relationships between in-laws were certainly forbidden; but they were fairly widely accepted in society. From the late eighteenth century onwards, people frequently applied for dispensation for marriage both in the horizontal (wife's sister) and vertical affinity degrees (stepmother, stepdaughter). 206 Applications from couples who were related in a vertical degree were extremely rare during the entire nineteenth century in the Swedish material, and none were given permission to marry.
One common factor of all the countries mentioned here was that the renegotiation of the drawing of boundaries with respect to incest prohibitions was interwoven with new definitions of the family, with ideas regarding morals and decency, and with cultural challenges to paternal authority.