Medieval Incest Law—Theory and Practice

Elizabeth Archibald

in Incest and the Medieval Imagination

Published in print May 2001 | ISBN: 9780198112099
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191708497 | DOI:
Medieval Incest Law—Theory and Practice

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This chapter presents an overview of the development of medieval incest law, in relation to biblical teaching and Greco-Roman law. It raises questions about the rationale for a system of taboos that had become so complex by the early 13th century that to avoid hardship the number of prohibited degrees of relationship were drastically reduced by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Various modern hypotheses about the medieval taboo are reviewed. Fear of inbreeding and deformity is rarely mentioned. What justified the inclusion of such distant relatives, and why the ban on in-laws and ‘spiritual incest’? How seriously did medieval people take these laws? Among the aristocracy, at least, they seem often to have been honoured in the breach. The practice of selling of dispensations to marry within the prohibited degrees was condemned by Luther, among others.

Keywords: medieval incest law; taboos; inbreeding; deformity; spiritual incest; Fourth Lateran Council; dispensations; prohibited degrees; Luther

Chapter.  18735 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)

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