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Keeping up Dynasticity: The Clergy

The clergy was, by and large, the first significant representative of the learned. In contrast to government administration, ecclesiastical posts were from very early on occupied by clerics who had been to university.

By the end of the Middle Ages, an academic degree carried great weight in the competition for appointment to ecclesiastical posts (Ruegg 1994, 22). For example, from the thirteenth century onwards most popes had attended university, and they increasingly surrounded themselves with learned cardinals (Ruegg 1994, 16). Moreover, in fifteenth-century England, 91 per cent of bishops had attended Oxford or Cambridge universities (Moraw 1994, 259). Another sample from England shows that the overwhelming majority of students between 1451 and 1500 joined the ranks of the parish clergy or other clerical posts (Moraw 1994, 269). The situation was similar in the Nordic countries in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: nearly all the Nordic bishops and about half of the canons of the cathedral and collegiate chapters, including those in Finland, had studied at university (Moraw 1994, 263; Suolahti 1919, 5-14). Since then a university degree has been a necessary qualification for entry into the priesthood.

Even though professions could not be handed down to offspring, European history is replete with clerical families where priesthood was passed down in the same family from generation to generation. This was possible in Protestant countries where priests had permission to marry. In Catholic countries this was and still is out of the question because of an obligatory vow of celibacy, but in the past dynasticity was often effectively maintained by bishops and cardinals, not to say popes who nominated their nephews and sometimes their illegitimate sons to ecclesiastical offices (Collins 2010). I start my analysis with a middle-ranking clerical family, the Wegelius from Finland, who kept up dynasticity for six generations—a more or less average period of time if the first priest in the family was ordained in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. It is impossible to give accurate long-term estimates, but the figures indicating that 60 per cent of priests in 1790 and 43 per cent in 1870 were priests’ sons (Wirilander 1974, 447) clearly attest to a high propensity to dynasticity. In the late nineteenth century the proportion was roughly the same as in England, 40 per cent (Nelson 2007, 88). The Wegelius family is a good representative of highly dynastic clerical families and therefore an appropriate case for exploring the dynamics of the making of dynasticity in the clergy. However, to gain a slightly broader view of dynasticity, I include in the analysis an additional sample of five other Finnish clerical families.

The genealogical story of the Wegelius family (Wegelius 2001; Arjava 2010) begins from Tomas Uppa (1635-95), who was a peasant in Bothnia, a coastal province in Central Finland. He took the radical decision to school two of his younger sons, Johannes (1660-1725) and Henrik (1672-1719), in order to secure their admission into university. After their studies, which normally took a mere two or three years at the time, they would be qualified for the priesthood. The history of the Wegelius family (Arjava 2010) offers no explanation for their father’s exceptional choice, but based on other sources one reason was apparent—patronage. A patron, perhaps a priest or a teacher, showed goodwill to Tomas by encouraging him to send two of his sons—those of them who showed enthusiasm and talent for learning—to the newly established Academy of Turku. Tomas was no doubt well aware that entry into the clergy would entail social upgrading for his sons and bring pride to himself. The eldest son in the family inherited the estate, while the younger sons would be the founders of two clerical lines. This was not unlike the beginning of noble dynasties: someone was the first in line, the man who broke away from the industry to which his family had been bound, in this case farming. To mark this promotion, they changed the family name to Wegelius, following the tradition of family naming among priests at the time in Sweden and hence in Finland, too. The Latin ending of the surname ‘ius’ bracketed the Wegelius family with other clerical families. This was also common practice in the nobility: elevation was marked by adopting a new family name. Henrik and Johannes’s eldest brother Matts (1658-1717), who inherited the family estate, kept the family’s original surname, Uppa.

Entry into the clergy brought automatic promotion from the peasantry, from the Fourth Estate to the Second Estate, from one status hierarchy to another, which as a whole was higher up than the status hierarchy to which they originally belonged. When Johannes and Henrik enrolled at university in the late seventeenth century, they were among a tiny minority. Only 10 per cent of the students who matriculated at university between 1640 and 1700 were of peasant origin, and most of them came from the surrounding regions of the University of Turku, the only university in Finland at the time (Jutikkala 1958, 393-4; Suolahti 1919, 5-14). In England the situation was similar: nearly half of the students from smallholder families lived on college land (Moraw 1994, 26). The Uppa peasants lived far away from the small southwestern university town, in a province where on average just one man of peasant origin was sent to university each year (Jutikkala 1958, 393-4).

As clergymen, Johannes and Henrik did what was customary in the clergy at the time: they schooled their sons to the priesthood. Between 1640 and 1700 most students came from clerical families (Heikel 1940, 37), and even in the eighteenth century they still accounted for around 40 per cent (Heikel 1940, 128; Wirilander 1974, 460). It is difficult to estimate the total number of priests that all branches of the Wegelius family produced, but in Henrik’s line where dynasticity was kept up most intensively in six successive generations, 72 per cent of male family members were priests. The overwhelming majority of the sons who were not clerics were local civil servants—sheriffs, surveyors, scribes, bailiffs, clerks, sextons and cantors, all of lower rank than vicars. In the nobility, entry into lower civil service is said to be typical of those who were socially declined (Tandefelt and Vainio-Kurtakko 2013, 191). But locally they were high- ups, and many of them worked for the church. There were also two peasants, but they put their families on a path of social decline; more on this in the next section.

Identical status equivalence was also common in the marriage market of this clerical branch, where 80 per cent followed the imperative by marrying priests’ daughters. These figures are higher than in the clergy as a whole: in 1730 and still in 1800, half of all priests chose priests’ daughters as their wives, edging down to 36 per cent in 1870 (Wirilander 1974, 246). When the figures are counted for all six clerical families in my data set, the percentages are slightly lower than for the Wegelius family: just under 60 per cent of the sons were vicars and exactly the same proportion of them married vicars’ daughters from the second generation to the fifth generation. As in councillor dynasties, the daughters of Wegelius priests adhered less rigorously than their brothers to identical status equivalence: 46 per cent of ever-married daughters married priests. The situation was different in the five other clerical families. All told, 55 per cent of vicars’ daughters married vicars. Clergymen who did not marry clerics’ daughters had better success in their marriage market than they did in securing occupations outside the clergy. Many vicars married daughters of merchants, judges, officers and learned professionals. All officers’ daughters were from lower noble families and, with just one exception, all marriages were contracted in the nineteenth century when increasing numbers of lower noblewomen in particular began to marry priests, as we saw in Chap. 3. But let us take a closer look at these marriages in the Wegelius family.

Vicar Jakob Wegelius, the protagonist of the family history book, and his elder brother Henrik (1772-1825) married daughters of Captain Gustaf Johan von Essen, who lived in the same region as the Wegelius family. In these particular cases, the actual impetus for marriage was Pietism, a revivalist evangelical movement that thrived in the 1820s and 1830s in the Bothnia region (Arjava 2010, 101). Both families were active in this movement, as were some other clerical families, bringing them close to one another spiritually, an apparent reason for marriages between them. In the von Essen family, marriages into clerical families were particularly frequent, apparently due to their intense religious devotion. But there might also have been other reasons for marriages between noble and clerical families. For example, Abraham von Becker (Carpelan 1954), whom we met in Chap. 3 when discussing the bastardy-prone social enclave around the Savolax Regiment with many noble Jarnefelts, married a Jarnefelt. Three of their five surviving daughters married local priests, and their only son married a vicar’s daughter. Although the von Beckers did not experience radical social decline in the same way as the Jarnefelts, it is possible that their reputation as a once member of the Savolax enclave—Abraham Becker’s sister bore an out-of-wedlock child by a Jarnefelt—undermined their status just enough for local rural clerics.

The tendency towards identical status equivalence increased the occurrence of cousin marriages, in the same way as in royal, noble and to some extent entrepreneurial dynasties. In the Wegelius clerical family the number of cousin marriages peaked from the fourth to the sixth generation, that is, from the early nineteenth century to the late nineteenth century. In Henrik’s line altogether ten marriages were contracted between cousins (including second cousins and in-laws). With just one exception, all the husbands were priests. If we consider only those clerical families where the father and at least one son were priests, 25 per cent of the total of 40 marriages were contracted between relations, even though this was against the law and the ordinance of the Church. But dispensations were easily granted to priests, as the occurrence of cousin marriages indicates. Cousin marriages in the Wegelius family were mainly sporadic cases, but sometimes they were clustered around three generations. For example, in 1806 Vicar Esaias Wegelius married his cousin, who was a vicar’s daughter; in 1841, their daughter Maria Wegelius married her cousin, who was a vicar; and in 1872, two of their children married their cousins, one a priest’s daughter, the other a sea captain whose father was a priest. In these clusters infant mortality and singlehood were slightly higher than in clerical families on average. There were cousin marriages in other clerical families, too, but not as many—a faint hint that a very high frequency of clerics in the family in successive generations increased the probability of cousin marriages.

Findings on the occurrence of singlehood are also relevant to the workings of status equivalence at the time. In the clergy as a whole, the never- married proportion was around 5 per cent in 1721-1810, rising to 8 per cent by the late nineteenth century (Wirilander 1974, 253). In Henrik Wegelius’s clerical branch, all priests married, but their non-clerical siblings were remarkably different in this respect: around one-third of their sisters and non-clerical brothers remained unmarried. The results are similar in all six clerical families: 26 per cent of the sons and 30 per cent of the daughters remained unmarried. Apart from one chaplain, none of the unmarried sons were clerics. As we saw in Chap. 3, the situation was similar in councillor families, where almost all councillors married, whereas 20 per cent of their sisters and non-councillor brothers remained unmarried.

These findings lead us to think that the marriage market worked differently for those who kept to the family’s occupational tradition than it did for those who had broken away from this tradition. In families with large numbers of priests, priests inevitably were key figures and influential in shaping the family atmosphere and in creating a tightly knit social enclave. This was largely a network of colleagues, many of whom were relations. Daughters and sons got to know one another within this network at their homes and during visits to other vicarages. Fathers’ colleagues were central in this network, whose scope was further extended by sons’ fellow students from the faculty of theology and by the father-vicar’s adjuncts. Non-clerical brothers and sisters who did not find a spouse from among priests’ daughters or priests perhaps felt estranged from this socially coherent enclave. However, just as noblewomen began to enter the labour market at the turn of the twentieth century, so more and more daughters of clerical families went into employment, mainly as clerks, teachers and schoolmasters. They remained unmarried, as was customary at the time (Jallinoja 1983, 79-99).

The Wegelius family rose from the peasantry to the clergy in the late seventeenth century and reached their heyday in the fourth generation. The number of priests was also highest around the fourth generation. Likewise, most cousin marriages as well as marriages to nobles were contracted at that time. These cumulative tendencies not only resulted from the family’s heyday, but also created it. It is in such a situation, if ever, that the family’s distinctiveness as a dynastic-like family becomes apparent, even if the family does not rank among the highest-status ones. This kind of trajectory was common in all other clerical families in my data set. Their heyday, as it was created in the thickened clerical atmosphere, turned towards its end, in most cases, in the late nineteenth century as a result of the sons abandoning the priesthood and moving into academic professions and high-ranking civil service positions.

 
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