Weird History
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Here Are All The Cases Of Alleged Historical Inbreeding That Were So Bad People Were Actually Killed

Updated July 9, 2020 378.1k views12 items

Throughout history, people related by blood and/or marriage were super close - sometimes too close. There are tons of historical examples of genetic mutations resulting from inbreeding and even examples of incest leading to murder, but what about precedents of historical figures killed for incest?

A number of figures throughout history were executed for (allegedly) inbreeding, often a capital crime in the Renaissance and early modern periods. Who were these practitioners of historical incest? They supposedly include Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn, alleged Scottish witches and warlocks, and mother-killer Henry Learned Foote; it's a motley crew, to be sure.

  • Photo: stopherjones / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Thomas Rood, 1672

    Meet Thomas Rood, the first - and only - man executed in the United States for incest. At this time there was no US as such, though, just British colonies, and there was no precedent for punishment for incest quite yet. So Connecticut had to decide what to do when resident Rood had sex with his daughter, Sarah, and got her pregnant.

    In this case, Connecticut had to create its own laws from scratch. The governor consulted a bunch of ministers, who stated the crime as a capital one. So Thomas was hanged for his crime - just a day before his death, father-daughter and mother-son incest were made death penalty offenses. The following year, Sarah, only 23 at the time, was exonerated; authorities recognized her father had assaulted her.

  • David Myles, 1702

    Like Thomas Weir half a century earlier, Edinburgh-based David Myles got the death penalty for committing incest 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.

    What were Myles's other crimes?

    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."

  • Photo: Anders Beer Wilse / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Nils Lykke, 1535

    Best known as a fictionalized version of himself in Henrik Ibsen's play Lady Inger of Ostrat, 16th-century Norwegian Nils Lykke got killed for sleeping with his sister-in-law (bonds of marriage were as good as those of blood). Lykke's wife, Elina, died in 1532, so he moved on to the next closest thing - his wife's sister, Lucie - and attempted to get a dispensation to marry her.

    This angered his brother-in-law, an important noble, who grew even more irate when the two had a child before they received the go-ahead. When an archbishop discovered Lykke had Lutheran tendencies, he tried Lykke and sentenced him to death in 1535. Lykke was eventually "smoked to death."

  • Oluf Haraldsen, 1576

    Apparently, 16th-century Norwegian men got caught with their sisters-in-law quite often. Like Lykke, Oluf Haraldsen had an affair with his wife's sister, and she too got pregnant and had a kid.

    Oluf and his lady love received the death penalty for their crime of incest "because no law is protecting them to keep their lives."