As I said in my 'Norfolk close family marriages' history, in rural communities until the first half of the 19th century most people would travel only occasionally to other parishes and when they did it would usually be on foot, on horseback or by horse and cart. Before the shift to a more urban economy families would often only move to find work and then relatively short distances would be the norm. Closely knit extended families were a feature of rural communities with relatives living and working together in close proximity.
It is unsurprising with this rural backdrop that many village marriages will have taken place between a few tens of families and that marriages between first cousins was relatively common and, indeed, often considered more desirable than marriage to non-relatives. It was not until the end of the 19th century, when mobility had become more commonplace and public opinion had begun to change, that the levels of these marriages declined.
The rate of first cousin marriages in the generation estimated to have married during the 1920s was just 0·32% while in the previous generation more than 1% of marriages were between first cousins. An earlier study by George Darwin, in 1875, found that 4.5% of aristocratic marriages were between first cousins, 3.5% among the gentry and upper-middle classes, 2.25% in the countryside and falling to just over 1% for all marriages in London.
Queen Victoria's own happy marriage to her first cousin, Albert, may have been seen as promoting these marriages and many Victorian novels featured happy marriages between cousins (Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Bleak House by Charles Dickens and other cousin relationships occur in books or verse by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Anthony Trollope and others).
The Porter, Riley and Enever families lived in rural Essex in the mid-19th century having roots in Navestock, Doddinghurst and Kelvedon. In 1861 the census records about 450 people living in Kelvedon Hatch with 40% of those having been born in the village and 80% in the county of Essex. The percentages are similar for Doddinghurst although 90% of villagers were born in Essex while for Navestock the figures rise to more than 50% born and living in the village with again 90% born in the county.
England was full of villages in which generations of intermarriage had resulted in a community tied together by a complex network of blood relationships.
The following diagram attempts to present some of the complex blood relationships that existed within the Porter, Riley and Enever families who appear in my family history:
- Two Riley cousins (ER & RR2) married two Enever half-brothers (JE3 & TE).
- A sister (SR1) of one the Riley girls above, married William Porter and their son Jesse Porter (JP) married his second cousin, Fanny Enever (FE).
- Fanny's brother, Jonathan Enever (JE4) had three children one of whom, Laura (LE), married William John Porter who was both her first and third cousin.
- Jonathan's first son, William (WE) married Charlotte Bishop and their eldest son, Ernest William Enever (EWE), married Agnes Ellen Porter (AEP) who was both his second and fourth cousin, Agnes being a 3rd great granddaughter to both William Riley (WR) and John Enever (JE1).
- There were marriages between the three families for five consecutive generations.
- It is not known if Mary Little (ML) and Sibella Little (SL) were related, although it seems probable.