In the hit movie Mean Girls, there’s a scene where the dumb Plastic, Karen Smith, expresses a desire to kiss a guy named Seth. “He’s your cousin,” Gretchen points out, and Karen argues that he’s her first cousin. “There’s your cousins, and then your first cousins, and then your second cousins… that’s not right, is it?” “That is so not right,” Gretchen sighs–but this doesn’t stop Karen from chasing after Seth anyway.
Though we’ve all heard the term “kissing cousins,” most of us probably don’t know many people who actually, you know, kissed their cousin. That’s because, thankfully, most countries have some kind of legislation either banning or requiring special permission to marry someone to whom you’re related. As early as the nineteenth century, scientists and early sociologists began to see a connection between inbreeding and genetic defects. Of course, that doesn’t mean that people always listened to the advice of these scientists and sociologists or that people listen to them today. In several states of the U.S., for example, it’s still legal to marry your first cousin. (But, uh, we don’t recommend doing it unless you want children with gills. Also, that’s just gross.)
In fact, many famous couples were related to each other–and some of these celebrity pairings are more recent than you might think. Politicians, artists, and yes, even scientists, have married their cousins. Here are just a few examples of people you know and love.
15. Albert Einstein and Elsa
Believe it or not, one of the smartest men in the world married his relative, who was a second cousin on his father’s side and a first cousin on his mother’s side. They spent their childhood summers in Munich together, but in their teens, Albert’s family moved to Milan. Shortly after, Elsa Einstein married a textile trader named Max Lowenthal, and together they had three children, two of whom survived infancy. Eventually, Elsa and Max divorced, and she and her daughters moved to Berlin to live near her parents. Around this time, she was reintroduced to her cousin Albert, who was married at the time to his first wife, Mileva Maric. Albert and Elsa fell in love with one another, and Albert divorced Mileva; he and Elsa married three months later.
14. Rudy Giuliani and Regina Peruggi
While many of the couples listed in this article were born before the 1900s, when people started to realize that maybe there was something a little weird about marrying your cousin, one of these couples is surprisingly recent. As in, both of them are still living today. Their names are Regina Peruggi and Rudy Giuliani. That’s right, folks: Rudy Giuliani married his cousin. Technically, Regina’s his second cousin, though Rudy has tried claiming she’s his third cousin to make the situation a little more palatable. It doesn’t really matter now since they divorced in 1980–interestingly enough, the Catholic Church granted them an annulment because they had never received papal dispensation for marrying a second cousin in the first place. Giuliani, as you know, went on to become Mayor of New York City; Peruggi became the first woman president of Kingsborough Community College. Giuliani remarried twice; Peruggi never did.
13. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip
The royal family has an unfortunate tradition of intermarrying to preserve the blue blood–modern royalty is no exception. Did you know that our beloved Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Phillip, are cousins? And not just once, but twice over; they’re second cousins once removed through Christian IX of Denmark and third cousins through Queen Victoria. The couple first met in 1934, when Elizabeth was eight and Philip was thirteen. They met again in 1939, and at the encouragement of those around him who saw the advantages to their marriage, they began corresponding regularly. Yeah, as if marrying your cousin wasn’t weird enough, their entire family urged an eighteen-year-old boy to write love letters to his thirteen-year-old cousin. Apparently, it worked because the couple married in 1947 as part of King George’s stipulations for the wedding–that it would wait until Elizabeth was twenty-one years old.
12. Thomas and Martha Jefferson
We all know Thomas Jefferson is a creep who raped his fourteen-year-old slave and sired numerous children on her. What you may not know is that his creepy behavior ran in the family.
To give you some background, Thomas’s wife, Martha (who was also his third cousin), was the daughter of Thomas Wayles. When Thomas Wayles’s wife died, he took a slave named Betty Hemings as his concubine; for the twelve years he kept Betty, they had six children (she had had four from a previous marriage). One of these children was named “Sally.” When Thomas Wayles died, he left his slaves (including Betty and her ten children) to his daughter Martha. Of course, when Martha died, her possessions (including the slaves) went to her husband. So, not only did Thomas Jefferson marry his cousin, but he also raped her half-sister–who, let’s be real here, was probably also related to him, if distantly.
11. Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon
Believe it or not, the infamous Henry VIII was related to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in more ways than one. Not only were they third cousins once removed, but they were also brother- and sister-in-laws! Catherine had been married to Henry’s older brother, Arthur; Arthur died of tuberculosis as a teenager, and many (including Catherine) claimed that the marriage had never been consummated. When Henry and Catherine were unable to produce a male heir, he began to fear that God was punishing him for marrying his brother’s wife.
Catherine wasn’t the only wife to share a blood relation to Henry VIII. Catherine Parr, Henry’s sixth and final wife, was also his third cousin once removed. Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves were both fifth cousins, and Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard (who were first cousins) were both Henry’s fifth cousins once removed. No wonder Henry had trouble having kids!
10. Martin Van Buren and Hannah Hoes
Not very much is known about Martin Van Buren’s wife, Hannah Hoes, in large part because she died before he was in office. Van Buren never spoke of his wife, not even to their children, and he didn’t mention her beyond necessity in his autobiography–something many scholars have found unusual but chalked up to his grief over her passing.
One of the few things we do know about Hannah Van Buren is that she and Martin were first cousins once removed. Only a year apart, the cousins were born and raised together in the Dutch-settled town of Kinderhook, New York. At some point during their youth, they became childhood sweethearts. They married in their early twenties, and in the twelve years they were married, they had five children. Hannah died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-five. Martin never remarried, making him one of the only presidents to be unmarried while in office.
9. Victoria and Albert
Of all the English and British monarchs and their spouses, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had one of the most loving marriages. One of the United Kingdom’s only reigning queens, Victoria was crowned less than a month after turning eighteen. During her teenage years, her father and mother’s family were intent on marrying Victoria to her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Though this was largely an attempt by Victoria and Albert’s uncle Leopold to control Victoria, and by so doing, to control the United Kingdom, Victoria ignored Leopold. She did, however, honor her family’s arrangement by marrying Albert, of whom she was very fond. Though the couple had a few disputes early in their marriage, they overwhelmingly loved one another. They were married for twenty-one years, during which time they had nine children. Albert died at the relatively young age of forty-two; Victoria wore black mourning gowns for the rest of her life, and every day, she laid out clothes for Albert to honor his memory.
8. John and Abigail Adams
John and Abigail Adams had one of the most loving marriages in recorded history. Despite being nine years apart and their differences in education (John attended Harvard while Abigail was homeschooled, being too sick to attend regular school) theirs was a marriage of equals, and John often called Abigail his dearest friend. The two were also third cousins. They had known each other when Abigail was a child; when she was seventeen, John accompanied his friend to visit her home because his friend was engaged to Abigail’s older sister. John took notice of Abigail in a way he never had before, and the two of them quickly fell in love with one another. They had an unusual relationship–John once wrote Abigail a list of her flaws, and in retaliation, Abigail wrote him a list of his own. They were married for over fifty years.
7. Edgar Allan Poe and Virginia Clemm
One of the most famous writers of his and our age, Edgar Allan Poe is known for his gothic writing and his penniless, tragic death. What not many people know about him is that the wife on whom he doted was none other than his first cousin, Virginia Clemm.
Theirs is an unusual story and sounds like something out of one of Mr. Poe’s stories. They married when she was 13 and he was 27, though the marriage certificate listed her age as 21. It’s been speculated that since Virginia was destitute for much of her childhood, her cousin married her to keep her and her remaining relatives from poverty. Her family did live with her and Edgar at different points during their marriage. Whatever their reasons for marrying her, they eventually became utterly devoted to one another. When Virginia became ill with tuberculosis, she told Edgar not to fret because she’d become his guardian angel in the afterlife. Her death is the inspiration for much of his writing, including Annabel Lee and Lenore.
6. H.G. Wells and Isabel Mary Wells
H.G. Wells is most well known for his incredible and prolific writing, but what not many people know about him is what an absolute sleaze bag he was to women. When Wells was 25, he married his first cousin, Isabel. Very little is known about Isabel; she was born in either 1865 or 1866, making her 15 or 16 when they married–gross. Thankfully, the couple had no children and were only married for three years before they divorced so that H.G. could marry one of his students. Yeah.
H.G. and his second wife had two sons together and, apparently, a very progressive relationship: she gave her husband permission to have multiple affairs. She and H.G. never appeared to have marital problems, but he did claim to love several of the women with whom he had affairs, and he even fathered (at least) two illegitimate children.
5. Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgewood
Do you want to hear something really ironic? Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, married his first cousin. One year apart, Charles and his cousin Emma Wedgwood were close in their younger years; Emma supported his desire to travel on the Beagle when her father initially forbade it, and when Emma began courting a family friend who had been tied up in a scandal, Charles rushed home to put an end to the relationship.
Emma refused several offers of marriage, preferring to stay home and care for her bedridden mother and sister. When she was thirty, she and a twenty-nine-year-old Charles were married–ironically, the Reverend officiating the ceremony was their cousin. Together, Charles and Emma had ten children, three of whom died in childhood. True, many children died in the mid-1800s, but we can’t help wondering if the close blood relationship of their parents was a contributing factor.
4. Jesse James and Zerelda Mimms
Freudian psychologists believe that all men are inherently attracted to their mothers and end up marrying women who remind them of their mothers. While this definitely isn’t true of everyone, Jesse James offers extraordinary support to this theory–not only was his wife his first cousin, but she was named after his own mother. Jesse was born to a Zeralda James, and when he married his cousin Zerelda, she also became a Zerelda James. Weird, right?
When Jesse first started his life of crime, he became the first of the James-Younger gang to marry. He and Zerelda had four children, two of whom survived infancy. Zerelda outlived her husband by eighteen years, dying alone and in poverty in Kansas City, Missouri. Over a year after she was buried, Jesse James was removed from his resting spot at the James family farm and was buried beside her. Their bodies now rest at the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Missouri.
3. Jerry Lee Lewis and Myra Gale Brown
Jerry Lee Lewis is most well known for three things: his rock-and-roll, his skill on the piano, and his marriage to Myra Gale Brown. The marriage was enormously controversial and nearly ended Lewis’s career. Why? Well, not only was Myra Jerry Lee’s first cousin once removed, but she was only thirteen years old. The news was revealed while Jerry Lee Lewis on tour in the UK. It was Jerry Lee’s third marriage–he was twenty-two. Lewis and his manager insisted that Myra was fifteen, not thirteen, but the truth couldn’t be hidden from the public. With papers branding him a cradle-snatcher and inferring that police had gone to check in on his child-bride, Lewis’s tour was canceled after only three concerts. A famous TV interview with both Jerry Lee and Myra shows them denying rumors that they had met with a negative reception, as well as refusing to acknowledge when they had gotten married and why they were returning so suddenly to the US.
2. Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI
Royal families are usually very interrelated, and while the English are the most frequent offenders of consanguinity, the French and Austrians weren’t above marrying cousins. One such example is Marie-Antoinette and her husband, Louis XVI. Most famous for being the king and queen during the French Revolution, Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI were related in more ways than one. The pair were second cousins once removed, fourth cousins, fourth cousins once removed, fifth cousins, fifth cousins twice removed, sixth cousins, sixth cousins once removed, and thirteenth cousins. Talk about keeping it in the family! Wedding a Habsburg princess to the Dauphin was meant to ensure an end to the tensions between their countries as well as make both countries forge an unstoppable alliance–unfortunately, that didn’t work out so well when the French people overthrew the monarchy and formed their own government, sans kings or queens.
1. Christine and Louis Boutin
Unless you’re really into French politics (and really, why would you be?), you probably haven’t heard of Christine Boutin. She’s the head of the Parti Chrétien-démocrate (Christian Democratic Party), a socially conservative offshoot of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement). As a “devout” Catholic, Christine advocates for strict adherence to canon law and for banning gay marriage–so the irony has not been lost on her critics that someone fighting to protect the “sanctity” of marriage married her first cousin. In Christine’s opinion, gays shouldn’t get married, but marrying your cousin? Totally fine. First cousin marriages have also been outlawed by the Catholic church, which makes her constant touting of canon law ironic in more ways than one. Sadly for all of us, Christine Boutin and her cousin-husband have three children–as if we really needed more inbred homophobic pieces of trash in the world.
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