So, He’s Related to Him, and Her, So That Means . . . Arrrrrgh!

Or: Why Environmental History is SOOOOOOO much easier than European history.

Due to a complicated series of events, and research for the next Merchant book, I found myself wading into the politics of the Guelphs and Gibilines, or the Welf and Staufer and Salier families (for those north of the Alps). I’ve been known to joke that the Spanish Habsburg family tree is a stick, because of a number of too-close-for-their-own-good marriages. The alliances, marriages, separations, and relationships between the major and many minor nobles of the Holy Roman Empire, and to a lesser degree (but not too much lesser) Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland look like a thorn-thicket stretching from Wales to Kiev.

Which does tend to explain a few cases of “Why didn’t [Emperor] just slap down [problem person] ten years earlier?” And “Why did he think trying to intervene in [Poland/Hungary/Bohemia]’s civil war was a good idea?” Because he, whoever he was at the time, had a dog or at least an in-law in the fight. Sometimes. Sometimes? Eh, pure power politics, and once or twice I suspect sheer boredom back home.

One reason for all the complicated crosses and out-crosses is that in the 900s-1200s, give or take, the Church did not allow marriages between relatives to the 7th degree. Even second or third cousin was out, unacceptable without a lot of paperwork and penances and really good reasons. So you have Salian princes from the Rhineland looking at duchesses in Anjou, France, but since they have a common great-grandfather, the betrothal is challenged by the Church. It also means that the two family heads on opposite sides of “who gets the imperial crown” fight may also be cousins (probable), uncle and nephew (possible), and step-father and step-son (at least twice and wasn’t that a mess). And the occasional “I’m marrying from way the heck outside the region, in part for dowry, in part because I need neutral help, and in part because I give up trying to shop local.”

OK, perhaps I exaggerate on the last one, but it’s easy to imagine someone looking at the list of possible spouses and having a priest scratch off ten of the eleven candidates, and that last one is only eight years old, and you are twenty. Thus the occasional Byzantine, Rus, Anglo, or Scandinavian popping up in Germanic pedigrees. Trade, diplomacy, and other things played larger roles, but consanguinity was a major legal concern.

So, what I was trying to sort out was: if Frederick Barbarossa’s election as Holy Roman Emperor was a sort of compromise between the (Guelphs) Welfs and Babenburgs (Bavaria, Austria) and (Ghibellines) Saliens and Staufers (Rhineland, central German lands), why did Barbarossa not deal more firmly with Henry of Bavaria and Saxony earlier? Well, in part, the three most powerful dukes—regional rulers—in the central Empire were Barbarossa’s uncles, including Henry of Saxony. Among other things, but the family connection played a role.

However, when we think of Guelphs and Ghibellines, we usually think of Italy. After Barbarossa’s election, the Italians seem to have looked north, shrugged a little, kept the names of the two sides, and continued going after each other for other reasons. Ah, Italian Renaissance politics.


14 thoughts on “So, He’s Related to Him, and Her, So That Means . . . Arrrrrgh!

  1. I can see how that would make for a headache, yes! Especially if you pretty much had to marry some flavor of noble. Marrying a local noble would, of course, be messy as well….

    Which was the point of the whole “nope, marry out!” thing, but I can definitely see how it’d be messy.

  2. I sort of wonder if “accidents happened” to clergy who annoyed powerful nobles. Especially if the nobles thought that the clergy was “out for bribes”.

    • Ask St. Thomas a Becket. 😦

      The answer is, it depends on what could be dispensed and how, as well as the gifts involved. Second or minor sons of nobility kept being sent into the Church because there was no patrimony or lands, or because there wasn’t enough money to equip another knight. Then you have additional uncles, cousins, and sons involved in dispensations and inheritances for ‘their’ family branch as well. And let’s *not* discuss the Borgias, please.

        • St. John Nepomuk (or Nepomucene, in the older books). And a ton of others, some less famous and some more. All the way back to the prophets and St. John the Baptist.

          1. Annoy local ruler.

          2. Point out that local ruler is breaking law, either civil or church.

          3. Tell local ruler that concubines are Right Out, and he should marry one of those girls.

          4. Tell local ruler that male concubines are Right Out, especially if they’re little kids. (That would be St. Charles Lwanga and companions, some of them Anglicans.

          5. Refuse to let local ruler know what the queen was saying at Confession.

          6. Point out that if you want land, you need to buy it and not just grab it.

          7. Annoy the king’s mom, mother-in-law, sister, etc.

          8. Refuse to marry/fornicate with the king’s female or male relative, because oaths of celibacy are not a suggestion.

          And many, many more. Early European marriage law was written in the blood of martyrs, a lot of them in France and Belgium.

  3. St. Thomas Aquinas’ family, the D’Aquinos, were related to EVERYBODY. Which was why his decision to join the Dominicans and become a wandering friar was a Big Controversial Deal.

    He didn’t actually care too much, but it meant that after him walking down the road somewhere in the vicinity, the French king would suddenly have to invite his some-kinda-cousin to dinner, and Aquinas would have to come.

    • has a lot of aristocratic genealogy. You may have to go to aristocracy websites in different European languages to find out all the gen.

      Aquinas’ paternal grandma was Francoise von Hohenstaufen, daughter of Frederick II, duke of Swabia, and a half sister of Frederick Barbarossa. So… yeah. You can see how the fancy relations would spread out from there.

      The funny bit is that his mentor, St. Albert the Great, was also from Swabia, albeit from a very minor knight’s family that also did merchanting.

      • He had a namesake, maybe godfather, uncle, Thomas of Aquino, Count of Acerra, who worked for Frederick II of Sicily as both muscle and diplomat. The guy ended up becoming besties with the sultan, and thus helped Frederick II get Jerusalem turned over to the Christians. And fought the popes a lot and made friends with them a lot. And a lot of other stuff happened.

        And yet it’s all just peripheral to Thomas’ life, because he was doing totally different important things! 🙂

  4. In more modern times, the things Victoria’s grandchildren, various cousins, in-laws, etc. got up to after she left the earth.

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