Opinions on the moral and legal boundaries of marrying cousins differs throughout the world and has changed over time. When humans first began to populate the earth some inbreeding must have been inevitable, and in tribes and even monarchies, it was intended that people should ‘keep it in the family’ to avoid unwanted ‘mixing’. However, it is also illegal in many countries and there are arguments that cousin coupling can result in genetic defects in children. It is a subject that shocks and unsettles us. So let’s have a look at those in the limelight that went in for this family taboo and the consequences of their radical choices.
The popular and beautiful actress, Greta Scacchi started an illicit relationship with her first cousin, Carlo Mantegazza in 1997. When she fell pregnant, they were forced to speak openly about their relationship. The story shocked their family and her fans worldwide. In particular, Scacchi’s Italian side of the family found the relationship unacceptable and against the Catholic Church. Although the couple never married, they are still together and have a son together.
Jerry Lee Lewis
The disturbing coupling of Jerry Lee Lewis and his 13 (thirteen!) year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown had a devastating effect on the star’s career. In 1958, after releasing ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’, Lewis was poised for international stardom. However, on touching down in the UK for the start of his first worldwide tour, the press were more interested in the child bride on his arm. When the news broke of his wedding, fans were shocked and disgusted. The tour was almost immediately cancelled and Lewis returned to America.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The longest serving US President of the United States married his cousin, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905. She was the daughter of Franklin’s mother’s brother. They had six children together.
Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, scientist and author married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood in 1839. The marriage was officiated by their cousin, the Reverend John Allen Wedgwood. They went on to have ten children together.
Johann Sebastian Bach
The German composer and musician married his second cousin, Maria Barbara Bach in 1707. They were believed to have enjoyed a contented marriage until her sudden death in 1720.
Albert Einstein started a relationship with his 36-year-old, Elsa when he was still married to his first wife. Elsa’s and Albert’s mothers were sisters, which made Elsa and Albert first parallel cousins. Although they never had children together, they were a close-knit family and Albert raised Elsa’s daughters from a previous marriage as his own.
Sir Vivian Fuchs
Sir Vivian Ernest Fuchs was an English explorer whose expeditionary team completed the first overland crossing of Antarctica in 1958. In 1933, Fuchs married his cousin, Joyce Connell. A world traveller in her own right, Joyce accompanied Vivian on his expedition to Lake Rudolf (now Lake Turkana) in 1934.
Carlo Gambino was an Italian-born American gangster. He entered the US in 1921 and joined his cousins, the Castellanos, in New York. Gambino married his first cousin, Catherine Castellano, on December 5, 1926. They had four children together and are interred in Saint John’s Cemetery, Queens, NY. Gambino led the Gambino crime family for over 20 years but was never imprisoned.
French novelist and Nobel Prize winner, André Gide grew up closely with his cousin, Madeleine and devoted much of his early life to protecting and caring for her. Although Madeleine initially refused André’s proposal (she believed their sibling affection was not a basis for marriage) they eventually married in 1895. The marriage was never consummated, although André’s sexual deviance outside the marriage has been heavily speculated.
Look back at the history of the English Monarchy and the magnitude of inbreeding deserves its own article. Such royal intermarriages have been common, as it has generally been deemed inappropriate for royals to marry commoners.
As an example, all of Henry VIII’s six wives were his cousins!
Ronald “Carl” Giles OBE, often referred to simply as Giles, was a cartoonist best known for his work for the British newspaper the Daily Express. He married his first cousin, Joan Giles in 1942.
Author of ‘Island of Dr. Moreau and ‘The War of the Worlds’, Wells married his first cousin, Isobel Mary Wells in 1891. The marriage only lasted four years before Wells ran off with one of his students and went on to marry her. He was linked to many prolific women even during his second marriage, including the birth-control activist, Margaret Sanger.
Notorious outlaw, Jesse James married his first cousin, Zerelda ‘Zee’ Mimms in 1874. Zee was originally intended as the wife of Jesse’s father. The couple had two surviving children, Jesse Edward and Mary Susan. According to legend, Zee and her children were in the house when Jesse was fatally shot by fellow outlaw, Bob Ford in 1882.
Christopher Robin Milne
Christopher Robin Milne, the son of author A.A. Milne and muse for the Winnie the Pooh stories, grew up in the shadow of his fictional character. He came to resent his parents for the success they garnered from “my infant shoulders”. The rift between Christopher and his parents deepened when he met and married his first cousin, Lesley. Lesley’s father and sister (Christopher’s mother) had not spoken for 30 years.
The fifth president of Iraq took part in an arranged marriage to his first cousin Sajida Talfah in 1963. They had five children together. Hussein went on to marry his second wife in 1986 whilst still married to Sajida. According to reports, his first wife was deeply enraged by this act and had her eldest son beat to death the man who arranged their first meetings.
Edgar Allen Poe
American writer and editor, Edgar Allen Poe, most famous for his short stories and poetry themed on the macabre, met his first cousin and bride-to-be, Virginia Clemm, when she was 7 years old.
The couple were wed in secret in 1835 when Poe was 21 and Virginia was 13, although this was followed by a public marriage in 1836.
The couple had no children and it has been speculated that the couple may have lived more as brother and sister than husband and wife.
Samuel F.B. Morse was a sculptor, painter, professor and, most famously, the inventor of the telegraph. Morse used the invention of the electromagnet in 1825 to develop a way to communicate virtually instantly over long distances.
Morse became extremely wealthy from his invention and after his first wife died, married his young, impoverished cousin, Sarah Griswold (who was also hearing impaired and mute) in 1848 when he was 57.
Former Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan married his first cousin, Nobuko in 1970. The alliance was vehemently opposed by the parents on both sides, however they married and had two children together.
The brilliant British film producer, famous for epics including, ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ married his cousin, Isabel Jean in 1930. She gave him his only son, Peter. Lean was a serial womaniser and soon decided that family domesticity was not for him. They separated six years later and Lean went on to marry five more times.
Madeleine Milhaud was a French actress and librettist who was both cousin and wife of composer, Darius Milhaud. They were married in 1925 and had one son together.