12 Cases Of Alleged Historical Inbreeding That Were So Scandalous People Were Executed
Photo: Edmund Leighton / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

12 Cases Of Alleged Historical Inbreeding That Were So Scandalous People Were Executed

Incest was considered a capital crime in many societies during the Renaissance and early modern period. That certainly didn't stop some historical figures from allegedly breeding with their relatives. History is littered with examples of genetic mutations caused by incest and bitter revenge plots that ended in murder.

Among the incestuous were Scottish witches and warlocks, and even some royalty. But while some denied their twisted romance ever happened, others had no shame in admitting just how close their family was.

  • Henry VIII Accused Anne Boleyn Of Incest Because She Didn't Give Him A Male Heir
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    By 1536, King Henry VIII's second wife, Queen Anne Boleyn, had not yet delivered the son he ardently wanted. Henry had two daughters at the time - Mary, by his first wife, and Elizabeth, whom he shared with Anne.

    That year, Anne suffered a miscarriage, which was believed to be Henry's long-awaited son. For Henry, the miscarriage was the final straw in his relationship with Anne. At the time, he was infatuated with the young Jane Seymour. He filed a number of charges against Anne, including adultery and incest, so that he could be free to marry Jane instead.

    At the trial, Anne was accused of sleeping with her close confidant, George, who also happened to be her brother. The evidence was largely hearsay, leading most historians to believe she was innocent of the charges against her.

    But were the accusations true? Probably not, though some scholars claim they were confirmed by one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting. Apparently, she confessed that Anne and George did the deed in an effort to produce a royal heir. Either way, Anne was executed on May 19, 1536.

  • George Boleyn Denied Having A Relationship With His Sister But Was Beheaded Anyway 
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    George Boleyn allegedly had relations with his sister, Anne Boleyn, for which he was executed on May 17, 1536. Rumor has it that George's wife, Jane Parker, snitched on the siblings along with Anne's husband, King Henry VIII. Jane's testimony provided the damning evidence the court needed to pass George and Anne's death sentences.

    George maintained his innocence until the end. In his final moments, he gave a speech that began as follows: 

    Christian men, I am born under the law, and judged under the law, and die under the law, and the law hath condemned me. Masters all, I am not come hither for to preach, but for to die, for I have deserved to die if I had twenty lives, more shamefully than can be devised, for I am a wretched sinner, and I have sinned shamefully.

  • Thomas Weir And His Sister Confessed To Both Their Affair And Witchcraft
    Photo: Alexander A. Ritchie / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Seventeenth-century witches usually practiced their rituals in secret, at least until they were caught in the act and outed by churchmen. But in a strange turn of events, one witch came forward and proudly confessed.

    Major Thomas Weir wasn't your average Edinburgh witch. He dressed in all black and was a practicing Presbyterian. So it came to everyone's surprise when, one day, Thomas abruptly confessed to being in league with the devil. No one wanted to prosecute him - that is, until Weir also confessed to having an affair with his sister, who corroborated his account.

    The authorities wasted no time convicting the siblings, who were executed together in 1670. No one knows why the duo confessed. Weir's house is still considered haunted to this day.

  • David Myles Had A Thing For His Sister And Wasn't Afraid To Admit It 

    Like Thomas Weir half a century earlier, David Myles got the death penalty for having a relationship with his sister, Margaret. His execution notice told historians plenty about Myles's moral convictions and less about the veracity of the claims made against him. It appears that Myles repented, but his sister did not.

    As reported in the notice, he said at the scaffold:

    Good People, give ear a while, I now confess before you all, That I was a very bad Liver, and a great Sabbath breaker, and not only a Sabbath breaker, but also a Swearer and Blasphemer of the Holy Name of GOD; and Guilty both of Incest and Fornication.

  • Niccolo III Accused His Wife And Son Of An Affair To Get Rid Of Them
    Photo: Gieuseppe Bertini / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Niccolo III Accused His Wife And Son Of An Affair To Get Rid Of Them

    Around the year 1812, Lord Byron penned a poem titled Parisina. The 586-line narrative told the story of Niccolo III, who found out that his wife, Parisina Malatesta, had an incestuous affair with his eldest son Ugo d'Este. Whether or not the affair actually happened remains unclear.

    Technically, Ugo and Parasina weren't biologically related, as Ugo was the bastard child of Niccolo and his previous lover, Stella de'Tolomei. Nonethless, the affair was seen as incest in the eyes of the court, and both Parisina and Ugo were beheaded in 1425 as a result.

    If you're wondering what happened to Niccolo III after the execution, he went on to marry Ricciarda of Saluzzo in 1429. The pair had two children and lived out their days together until Niccolo was poisoned on Boxing Day in 1441.

  • Thomas Rood Inspired The State Of Connecticut To Outlaw Incest 

    In 1672, the British colony that would become Connecticut had neither outlawed incest nor set the precedent for how it should be punished. So when Thomas Rood got his daughter Sarah pregnant, the colonists were forced to create an appropriate law from scratch.

    The governor consulted with a group of ministers who agreed that incest was, in fact, a capital offense. Thus, justice rained down on Thomas Rood when he became the first and only man to be executed in the United States for sleeping with his daughter.

    Sarah got her justice too; the following year, she was exonerated when authorities recognized that her father had assaulted her.