18th Century

Keeping it in the family

I’ve blogged about the royal family of Portugal before, and while researching that post, I came across one of the common problems with European nobility.  The thing is, there just weren’t enough of them on speaking terms in each generation, so the ones that were on speaking terms tended to marry each other, leading to a lot of inbreeding.

So back to the Portugese royal family.  Joseph I of Portugal (6 June 1714 –  24 February 1777) had four daughters, two of whom, Maria I of Portugal (December 17, 1734 — March 20, 1816)  and Benedita, Princess of Brazil(25 July 1746 — 18 August 1829), married.

Maria I by Jose Leandro de Carvalho (1770—1834), 1800-1810

Maria, then Crown Princess, married her uncle, Pedro III of Portugal (5 July 1717 — 25 May 1786) on 1760, when she was 25 and he was 43.


Maria and Pedro, uncle and niece, husband and wife

It gets worse though.

Seventeen years later, Maria’s youngest sister Benedita, then thirty,  married her fifteen year old cousin, who was also her nephew, as he was the child of Maria and Pedro.


Benedita, Princess of Brazil, circa 1765

Portrait of Jose, Prince of Beira and Brazil, by Miguel António do Amaral (1710-1780), 1773

Sadly, but mercifully, and certainly not surprisingly, Benedita and Jose were unable to have children.


  1. Imagine having to marry your creepy older uncle. It’s really no wonder so many royals had lovers.

    • Apparently, she was OK with it, and they had a happy marriage. The mind boggles.

      Imagine having to marry your creepy older aunt, who is also your cousin!

  2. Paul Miller says

    You go from ‘bored, tired, only capable of cute Felicity posts’ to ‘torture them with the debauchery of the royals’ on a dime, don’t you? I have to agree: imagine the first conception night between auntie and husband. *shudders*

    • LOL – I actually wrote the royal incest and debauchery post a few weeks ago and had it scheduled in advance! But yes, my tired phase passed quickly!

  3. Oh, thanks for making me feel like throwing up! LOL

    The second one was just horribly gross. Benedita was so closely related to her husband in so many ways…. ew.

  4. Madame Ornata says

    I have studied human genetics to post-grad level and I KNOW just how potentially dodgy this is. Social taboos often protected folk before ‘knowledge’ could.
    Having said that, if you ignore the creepy social taboos and look at it from a purely scientific point of view; once past the first few generations of consanguineous marriage and you can still reproduce successfully then there may not be any really bad recessive genes that will affect future offspring (ok so this was not such a good strategy for the European Royal families as they are riddled with genetic ‘issues’). But it has worked for many domestic animals in selective breeding programs. Not so many models in humans but I remember reading that all of the Cleopatra’s married their brothers for many many generations withno problems.
    Interestingly, recent research has shown that all of us humans are extremely inbred as a result of successive bottle necks in the human evolutionary tree, all of our ancestors have got down to an incredibly limited gene pool on a number of occasions. In fact as a species we are lucky to have survived. We are al pretty much cvousins anyway as we have much less genetic diversity than most other species. I remember one of my genetics lecturers saying how boringly homogeneous human genes are…creepy but true

    • The Ptolemys did marry siblings all the time, as far as I have read, they weren’t without problems by a long-shot. For one thing, a great deal of the sibling marriages didn’t result in children, limiting the inbreeding somewhat.

      For another, the Ptolemys killed each other all the time. If you read their history it goes “Ptolemy I/III/VII came to the throne and arranged to have 3 uncles, 2 of his brothers, his mother/aunt and a couple of cousins killed to avoid their plots and attempts at power” This meant that they did, frequently, have to pick 3rd cousins and illegitimate sons to be the next king. Finally, aren’t Cleopatra’s suicide and all that killing of one another rather indicative of potential madness in the family?

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