When my great-grandparents Hendrik Woordes and Janna Geertruid Droppers wanted to get married in 1910, they were facing a problem. The law did not allow them to marry, since his first wife Hendrika Willemina Droppers had been the sister of Janna Geertruid. Hendrika Willemina had died in childbirth the year before, leaving Hendrik with a motherless infant. When he found her youngest sister willing to marry him and take care of the child, the only way to do that was to apply for a Royal Dispensation.
The civil code, article 88 number 1 stated that the marriage is forbidden:
- between brother-in-law and sister-in-law, whether legitimate or illegitimate and
- between uncle or great-uncle and niece or grand-niece, as well as between aunt or great-aunt and nephew or grand-nephew, whether legitimate or illegitimate.
To our modern eyes, the first impediment seems unreasonable since these people did not share any blood so there was no increased risk for genetic defects. However, since a marriage joins husband and wife in body as well as in spirit, any sister of the wife was also considered to be the sister of the husband. And marrying your sister is and was illegal. Marrying your sister-in-law was considered to be just as incestuous.
A marriage between brother-in-law and sister-in-law remained forbidden until 1939, when the civil code was revised. Until then, such a couple could only marry with Royal Dispensation.
Finding the royal dispensation
When I checked the marriage supplements of my great-grandparents’ marriage, I found a copy of a Royal Decree by Queen Wilhelmina giving them dispensation to marry. It listed the date and number of the Royal Decree (4 November 1910, nr. 44).
Royal Decrees are kept in the archives of the cabinet of the King or Queen at the National Archives in The Hague. In this case, the cabinet of Queen Wilhelmina, who reigned from 1898 until 1948. The archives of her cabinet are available in record group 2.02.14. Call numbers 4551 through 8603 contain the series of laws, Royal Decrees and letters by the cabinet from the period 1898-1944. Call number 5640 contained the documents for 4 – 8 November 1910. The package that arrived when I requested that call number included the original Royal Decree giving my great-grandparents permission to marry.
The information itself was a perfect match with the copy in the marriage supplements, but the original decree had the real signature of Queen Wilhelmina on it, which I think is pretty special.
Did any of your ancestors marry their in-laws? If so, did you check the marriage supplements for a royal dispensation?
- Winterswijk, Gelderland, Netherlands, Marriage supplements, 1910 nr. 86, Woordes-Droppers, 18 november 1910; “Netherlands, Civil Registration, 1792-1952,” digital images, Familysearch (http://familysearch.org : accessed 27 July 2011); path: Gelderland > Winterswijk > Huwelijksbijlagen [Marriage Supplements] nr. 27 1906-1912
- Queen Wilhelmina, Royal Decree giving dispensation for the marriage of Hendrik Woordes and Janna Geertruida Drappers [sic], 4 November 1910, nr. 44; “Verbaal: wetten, Koninklijke besluiten, kabinetsbrieven 1898-1944 [Papers: laws, Royal Decrees, letters by the cabinet 1898-1944],” call number 5640; “Kabinet der Koningin 1898-1945 [Cabinet of the Queen 1898-1945],” record group 2.02.14; National Archives, The Hague, Netherlands