Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Speaking relatively: a history of incest and the family in eighteenth-century England

By Seth J. Denbo


Incest was not prohibited in eighteenth-century English society, or so the examination of statute law would lead one to think. This was not due to a lack of interest. In literary texts as varied as Moll Flanders, Horace Walpole's The Mysterious Mother and Henry Neville's The Isle of Pines, incest played crucial roles. Nevertheless, historians have either overlooked its significance its significance, or have assumed the universality of its prohibition. In fact, the eighteenth century had no concept of universal taboo, and the law did not specifically prohibit sexual relations within the nuclear family.\ud \ud All of these factors: the lack of an idea of universal taboo, the complexity of the law, and its importance in literature are focuses of this thesis. This investigation of a hidden phenomenon has utilised a wide range of texts: imaginative productions; church and temporal court records; newspaper accounts; biblical commentary; and legal tracts. Unlike socially oriented studies of the family, all of these sources are read as produced texts in which incest provides a unique lens for viewing attitudes towards relationships between individual and collective identities. The mother who slept with her son, the father who raped his daughter, the brother and sister overcome by desire all contributed to the contemporary understanding of family life. The ability of incest to reveal underlying fault lines in ideas about authority, sexual relations and kinship ties makes it a promising topic.\ud \ud The exploration of legal conceptions of incest examines contemporary prohibitions and their origin in biblical law. Intertwined with the legal discourse on the family were conceptions of natural law. The operation of the church law in the consistory courts and the temporal law in London's Old Bailey provides insight into the relationship between legal understandings and social practice

Topics: HQ, DA
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (1600). 258 A Most Straunge, and True Discourse, of the Wonderfull ludgement of God Of a Monstrous Deformed Infant between the Brothers Sonne and the Sisters Daughter, Being Both Unmarried Persons
  2. (1742). 260 Select Trials in the Sessions-House in the Old-Bailey, for Murder, Robberies., Rapes Sodomy ...
  3. (1746). A BriefAccoynt of the Life and Family ofMiss Jenny Cameron, The Reputed Mistress of the Pretender's Eldest Son
  4. (1966). A Collection ofArticles ofReligion, Canons, and
  5. (1697). A Commentary upon the Third Book ofMoses, Called Leviticus
  6. (1724). A Critical Essay concerning Marriage
  7. A Full True, and Most Authentic Account of the Trial Condemnation, and Execution of the Unfortunate Queen ofFrance (1793).
  8. (1737). A Good Helpfor Weak Memories: or, the Contents of every Chapter in the Bible
  9. A Help to Discourse: or, doi
  10. (1996). A History of the Family Volume One Distant Worlds, Ancient Worlds, doi
  11. (1999). A House doi
  12. (1682). A Letter ofResolution to a Friend Concerning the Marriage of Cousin Germans
  13. (1790). A Literal Translation ofEuripides's Hippolytus and Iphigenia
  14. (1793). A Mythological, Etymological, and Historical Dictionary; extracted ftom the Analysis ofAncient Mythology
  15. (1802). A New and Complete Collection of the Most Remarkable Trialsfor Adultery
  16. (1770). A New and Complete Family Bible: containing The Old and New Testament at Large
  17. A New Family-Book; or, the True Interest ofFamilies, 2 nd edn (1693).
  18. A New History in Four Parts. Being an Account of a Monarch of Greece (Newcastle,
  19. (1704). A New Institute of the Imperial or Civil Law
  20. A New Law-Dictionary (1729). doi
  21. A Paraphrase with doi
  22. (1703). A Serious Inquiry Into that Weighty Case of Conscience, Whether a Man may Lawfully Marry his Deceased Wife's Sister
  23. A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy, doi
  24. (1991). Adam, the Father of All Flesh. " Porno-Political Rhetoric in and after the English Civil War', doi
  25. (1976). Age and Authority in Early Modem England',
  26. An Actfor Suppressing the Detestable Sins ofIncest, Adultery and Fornication (1650).
  27. An Essa on the Government of Children, under Three General Heads: Oz. y Health, Manners and Educati.
  28. (1750). An Essay on Collateral Consanguinity, its Limits, Extent, and Duration
  29. (1794). An Essay on the Happiness and Advantages of a Well-Ordered Family
  30. An Essay on the Mosaic Account of the Creation and Fall ofMan (1753).
  31. (1724). An Helpfor the More Easy and Clear Understanding of the Holy Scriptures
  32. An Inquiry into the Original of our doi
  33. (1988). An Ordered Society Gender and Class in Early Modern doi
  34. Anecdotes and Biography, including Many Modern Characters in the Circles ofFashionable ana Official Life, 2d edn (1799).
  35. Annotations upon the Holy Bible,
  36. (1982). Biblical Criticism, Literature, and the Eighteenth-Century Reader'
  37. Biography: or Celebrated Trials
  38. (1997). Blaming the Audience, Blaming the Gods: Unwitting Incest in Three Eighteenth-Century English Novels'
  39. (1992). Britons: Forking thq Nation:
  40. Censura Literaria. - Containing Titles Abstracts,
  41. (1984). Child-Rearing and Social Expectations in Eighteenth-Century England: The Case of the Colliers of Hastings',
  42. (1979). Church Courts and the People During the English Reformation, doi
  43. (1500). Clandestine Marriages in England, doi
  44. (1991). Colonizing the Breast: Sexuality and Maternity in Eighteenth-Century England'
  45. Commentaries on the Laws ofEngland, 4 vols, 5 th edn
  46. (1983). Conjugal Settlements: Resort of Clandestine and Common Law Marriage in England and Wales, 1650-1850'
  47. (1600). Consanguinity, and a Monstrous Birth in Rural England, doi
  48. (1986). Crime and the Courts in England, doi
  49. (1996). Defoe as an Innovator of Fictional Form' doi
  50. (1987). Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel
  51. (1996). Disruption in the Well-Ordered Household: Age, Authority and Possessed Young People'.
  52. Ductor Dubitantium, or The Rule of Conscience,
  53. (1969). Elementar Structures of Kinship,
  54. (1989). Engendering the State: Family Formation and State Building in Early Modem France'. doi
  55. Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (1772). doi
  56. (1988). Examples of the Interposition ofProvidence in the Detection and Punishment ofMurder (1752), reprinted
  57. (1704). Family Instruction: or, Priniciples ofReligion Necessary to be Known by Family Governors, and Needful to be Taught their Children and Servants
  58. Family Lectures; or, Domestic Divinity, being a Copious Collection ofSermons (1791).
  59. (1987). Forbidden Partners: The Incest Taboo doi
  60. (1982). Fornication and Bastardy in Mid-Seventeenth Century Devon: How the Act of 1650 was Enforced'
  61. Genuine Memoirs of the Celebrated Miss Maria Brown. Exhibiting the Life of a Courtezan, in the most Fashionable Scenes ofDissipation,
  62. (1997). Gold in the Dungheap: Incest Stories and Family Values in the Middle Ages', doi
  63. (1979). Homer's Original Genius: Eighteenth-Century Notions of the Early Greek Epic (1688-1798) doi
  64. (1987). Horace Walpole: The Critical Heritage (London, doi
  65. (1970). Horace Walpole's The Mysterious Alother: A Critical Edition',
  66. (1982). Incest and Human Origins: The Primal Horde Revisited',
  67. (1991). Incest or. Survival Strategy? Plebeian Marriage within the Prohibited Degrees in Somerset, 1730-1835',
  68. King of Thebes, A Tragedy, doi
  69. King of Thebes: A Tragedy, doi
  70. (1998). Kinship in Neckarhausen, doi
  71. Lettersftom a Father to his Son, on Various Topics, Relative to Literature and the Conduct ofLife (1793). :1 Alleyne, J., The Legal Degrees ofMarriage Stated and Considered, in a Series of Letters to a Friend; I" edn (1774).
  72. (1987). Lone Parent Families andthe Welfare State: Past and Present', doi
  73. (1694). Love-Letters between a Noble-man and His Sister doi
  74. (1660). Manliness, Effeminacy and the French: Gender and the Construction of National Character in Eighteenth-Century England'
  75. (1994). Marriage and the English Reformation doi
  76. (1996). Marriage and the Law in the Eighteenth Century: Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 175 3', doi
  77. (1875). Marriages between First Cousins in England and their Effects', doi
  78. (1984). Masculinity and Control: The Prosecution of Sex Offenses in Eighteenth-Century London',
  79. (1986). Masquerade and Civilization: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Literature doi
  80. (1978). Medieval Marriage: Two Modelsftom Twelfth-Century France, trans. doi
  81. Meditations of a Divine Soul: or, the Christian's Guide amidst the Farious Opinions of a Vain World (1705). Priest, H., The Young Ladies'Pocket Companion, being a Short Dictionary ofArts, Sciences, Geography, Heathen Mythology,
  82. (1992). Monarchy and Incest in Renaissance England: Literature, Culture, Kinship, and Kingship doi
  83. (1982). Money for Honor: Damage for Criminal Conversation',
  84. (1996). Myths ofModern Individualism Faust, Don Quixote, doi
  85. (1996). Nature's Ban: Women's Incest Literature (Boston,
  86. (1994). Oedipus and The Devil: Witchcraft, Sexuality and Religion in Early Modern Europe doi
  87. Oedipus: A Tragedy. As it is Acted at His Royal Highness the Duke's Theatre (1679). Eleanora; or a Tragical but True Case ofIncest in
  88. (1991). or on Education doi
  89. (1991). Patriarcha and Other Writings, doi
  90. (1709). Phaedra and Hippolitus. A Tragedy
  91. Poems and Miscellaneous Pieces, with a Free Translation of the Oedipus Tyrannus ofSophocles (1774). Modern Amours: or a Secret History of the Adventures ofSome
  92. Primitive Historyftom the Creation to Cadmus (Chichester, 1789). 261 The Whole Duty of a Woman: or, an Infallible Guide to the Fair
  93. (1982). Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution against Patriarchal Authority, doi
  94. (1996). Provincial Servants' Reading the Eighteenth-Century' in doi
  95. (1999). Publishing Drama in Early Modern Europe doi
  96. (1978). Puritans and Revolutionaries: doi
  97. (1772). Rambler's Magazine; or, the Annals of Gallantry, Glee, Pleasure, and the Bon Ton St. James's Chronicle or, the British Evening-Post Spectator. Volume the Ninth Statutes at Large 250 The Times The Whole
  98. Remarks on the Utility of Classical Learning'
  99. (1998). Rereading Rape and Sexual Violence in Early Modem England', doi
  100. (1996). Resentment or Resignation?: Dividing the Spoils Among Daughters and Younger Sons'
  101. (1654). Resolutions and Decisions ofDivers Practicall Cases of Conscience
  102. Sacred History Selectedftom the Scriptures, with Annotations and Reflections, suited to the Comprehension of Young Minds,
  103. (1705). Sacred History: or, The Historical Part of the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament
  104. (1995). Scandalous Femininity: Prostitution and Eighteenth-Century Narrative'
  105. (1984). Science, Natural Law, and Unwitting Sibling Incest in EighteenthCentury Literature',
  106. (1980). Sex and Sensibility Romantic Love ftom Milton to Mozart doi
  107. (1998). Sex and the Gender Revolution Volume One Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London doi
  108. (1978). Sex and the Single Room: Incest among the Victorian Working Classes'
  109. (1995). Sex, and Subordination doi
  110. (1994). Sexual Knowledge in England, 1500-1750'
  111. (1992). Shakespeare, the Individual, and the Text', in doi
  112. (1989). Some Speculations on the History of Sexual Intercourse during the Long Eighteenth Century in England',
  113. (1982). The "Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister Bill" Controversy: Incest, Anxiety 4nd the Defense of Fapiily Purity, in Victorian England', doi
  114. (1806). The Affectionate Parent: An Addressftom a Father to his Child
  115. (1797). The American Spectator, or Matrimonial Preceptor
  116. (1750). The Angel-Makers. - A Study
  117. (1988). The Authoritarian Family and Political Attitudes doi
  118. (1756). The Case ofMarriages between Near Kindred Particularly Considered
  119. (1767). The Christian's Complete Family Bible
  120. (1987). The Computer Simulation of Kin Sets and Kin Counts'
  121. (1996). The Concept of thý Household-Family in Eighteenth-Century England', Past and Present, doi
  122. (1990). The Construction and Experience of Maternity in Seventeenth-Century England'
  123. The Cuckold's Chronicle; Being Select Trialsfor Adultery,
  124. (1789). The Death ofAmnon
  125. (1674). The Degrees of Consanguinity, and Affinity. Described and Delineated
  126. (1983). The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe (Cambridge, doi
  127. The Diary and Letters ofMadame DArblay, 7 vols (1842).
  128. (1989). The Double Staaclard'
  129. (1999). The Double Standard Revisited: Plebian Women and Male Sexual Reputation in Early Modem England', doi
  130. (1988). The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits, 2 vols (Indianapolis, doi
  131. (1743). The Fair Adultress. - or, the Treacherous Brother
  132. The Family Bible, or an Illustration of the Scriptures (Aberdeen, 1769). A Family Index to the Bible
  133. (1992). The Family Romance of the French Revolution (Berkeley, doi
  134. (1500). The Family, Sex and Marriage in doi
  135. The Fatal Discovery; or, Love in Ruines. A Tragedy (1698). 254 Fawkes, F., The Complete Family Bible. Containing the Sacred Text of the Old and New Testarqent at Large.
  136. (1785). The Footstep to Mrs. Trimmer's Sacred Histor for the Instruction and Amusement of y Little Children
  137. (1989). The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders
  138. The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, abridged edn (1750).
  139. (1654). The General History of Women, Containing the Lives of the Most Holy and Prophane, the most Famous and Infamous in all Ages, Exactly Described not onlyftom Poeticall Fictions, butfrom the most Ancient, Modern and Admired Historians, to our Times
  140. (1783). The Gentleman and Lady's Key to Polite Literature; or a Compendious Dictionary of Fabulous History
  141. (1759). The Greek Theatre ofFather Brumoy,
  142. The Heathen Mythology, doi
  143. The History of the Bible: Briefly Collected by Way of Question and Answer (1682).
  144. The History ofSawney Bean. and his Family, Robbers and Murderers!
  145. (1978). The History ofSexuality Volume I An Introduction,
  146. The Holy Bible A bridged. - or the History of the Old and New Testament. Illustrated with Notes,
  147. The Holy Bible Translatedftom the Latin Vulgat
  148. (1728). The Illegal Lovers; A True Secret History Being an Amour Between A Person of Condition and his Sister
  149. (1992). The Incest Motif in Literature and Legend: Fundamentals of a Psychology ofLiterary Creation,
  150. (1972). The Incest Theme in Folksong', doi
  151. (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures doi
  152. (1962). The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible doi
  153. (1668). The Isle of Pines: or A late Discovery of a Fourth Island in Terra Australis Incognita
  154. (1703). the Law Relating to Bastardy doi
  155. (1777). The Laws Respecting Women, as They Regard Their Natural Rights, or their Connections and Conduct
  156. The Leeds Tragedy: '. or, doi
  157. The Legal Degrees ofMarriage Stated and Considered, in a Series of Letters to a Friend, 2 nd edn (1775).
  158. The Lives and Actions of the Most Fqmous Highwaymen (Birmingham, 1734). Love in all Shapes: or, the Campaigns of Cupid An A tlantick History
  159. The Lusýful Father; or,
  160. (1976). The Matrimonial Trials ofHenry VIII (Stanford, doi
  161. (1739). The Muses ofResistance. - Laboring-Class Women's Poetry in Britain, doi
  162. The Mythology and Fables of the Ancients,
  163. (1773). The Newest and Most Complete Whole Duty of Man, or Every Christian's Family Companion
  164. The Ordinary of Newgate and His Account'
  165. (1978). The Origins ofEnglish Individualism: The Family, Property and Social Transition doi
  166. (1993). The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts 1300-1990s doi
  167. (1698). The Path- Way to Perfection: Shewing the Duty of Children to their Parents
  168. (1980). The Policing ofFamilies, trans.
  169. (1981). The Population History of England 1541-1871. -A Reconstruction doi
  170. (1685). The Practice of the Spiritual or Ecclesiastical Courts
  171. (1765). The Prostitutes of Quality or Adultery d-la-mode. Being Authentic and Genuine Memoirs of Several Persons of the Highest Quality (1757) Purver, A., A New and Literal Translation ofAll the books of the Old and New Testament
  172. (1979). The Punishment of Incest Act 1908: A Case Study of Law Creation', Criminal Law Review
  173. The Puritans and Adultery: The Act of 1650 Reconsidered'
  174. (1982). The Rapes ofLucretia. - A Myth and its Transformations doi
  175. (1980). The Red Lamp ofIncest
  176. (1978). The Rise of the Egalitarian Family Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century doi
  177. (1997). The Scottish Cannibal', doi
  178. (1995). The Sense of the People: Politics, Culture and Imperialism in England, doi
  179. The Seýf-Interpreting Bible
  180. (1995). The Social Evil, The Solitary Vice, and Pouring Tea'
  181. The Spirit ofLaws, trans.
  182. The Stage Defended From Scripture, Reason, Experience, and the Common Sense of Mankindfor Two Thousand Years. Occasioned by Mr. Law's Late Pamphlet Against the Stage-Entertainments (1726),
  183. (1953). The Standard Edition of the
  184. The Tragedies ofSophocles, 2 vols (1729). Advice of a Father or, Counsel to a Child (168 8). Advice to a Young Lord, Written by his Father
  185. (1716). The Trial ofFord Lord Grey of Werk
  186. The Unhappy Family (1800). Defoe,
  187. (1700). The Whole Duty of a Woman .- or a Guide to the Female Sex. From the Age ofSixteen to Sixty
  188. (1999). This Theatre of Monstrous Guilt": Horace Walpole and the Drama of Incest', doi
  189. To a Thing they callPrince o Wales(1718). )f The Trial at Large of
  190. (1992). Toward a Genealogy ofIndividualism
  191. Translated by Several Hands,
  192. (1753). Translation: A Poem
  193. (1986). Treadwell (eds)
  194. Treastise ofLaws. - or, a General Introduction to the Common, Civil,
  195. (1982). Trial Reports as a Genre of Eighteenth-Century Erotica', doi
  196. (1963). Violation of Taboo: Incest
  197. (1983). Walpole's Correspondence doi
  198. (1979). Wanton Wenches and Wayward Wives: Peasants and Illicit Sex in Early Seventeenth-Century doi
  199. (1995). Where the Stranger Begins: The Question of Siblings in Historical Analysis'
  200. (1786). Wodhull
  201. (1713). ýA Dissertation on Reading the Classics, and Forming a Just Style

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.