Family Values

Family Values

With gay marriage and ‘reconstituted families[1] people often assume[2] that family life in the past was more straightforward[3]. The evidence does not support[4] this assumption. Take the case of King Ethelbald of England (died 860); he married his 16-year-old stepmother[5], Judith in 858. Don’t ask…

Of course, there were more legal restrictions on who you could marry – unless you were royalty – in the past. In the late 17th Century a tailor[6] in Currie[7] was condemned to be beheaded[8] for marrying his first wife’s half-brother’s daughter.

However, the last word in dysfunctional families has to go to poor old Edwin Wakeman, who killed himself in Manchester in 1927, leaving the following suicide note:

“I married a widow[9] with a grown[10] daughter. My father fell in love with my stepdaughter[11] and married her – thus[12] becoming my son-in-law[13]. My stepdaughter became my stepmother5 because she was my father’s wife. My wife gave birth to a son, who was, of course, my father’s brother-in-law[14], and also my uncle, for[15] he was the brother of my stepmother. My father’s wife became the mother of a son, who was, of course, my brother, and also my grandchild[16], for15 he was the son of my stepdaughter11. Accordingly, my wife was my grandmother, because she was my stepmother’s mother. I was my wife’s husband and grandchild16 at the same time. And, as the husband of a person’s grandmother is his grandfather, I am my own grandfather.”

[1] reconstituted familyblended family, family composed of two adults plus their children from previous relationships

[2] to assume – (false friend) suppose

[3] straightforwardsimple, uncomplicated

[4] to support – (in this case) confirm

[5] stepmother – a woman who is married to your father but is not your biological mother

[6] tailor – sb. who adapts clothes

[7] a suburb of Edinburgh in Scotland

[8] to behead – decapitate

[9] widowwoman whose husband has died

[10] grown (adj.) – (in this case) adult

[11] stepdaughter – the daughter of your spouse who is not your biological daughter

[12] thus – in this way

[13] son-in-law – the husband of your daughter

[14] brother-in-law – the brother of your spouse or the spouse of your sister or sister-in-law

[15] for – (in this case) because, given that

[16] grandchildgrandson (or granddaughter)


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