"The royal bloodline isn't what it used to be; too much inter-marrying, I suppose. I always say when you reduce a family tree to a family bush, you just can't hide as much beneath it!"Often, those of noble or royal birth are supposed to marry other nobles, typically in Arranged Marriages intended to secure alliances, but since there are so few of these people this frequently leads to marriages between cousins or similar relatives. Some even marry their siblings. To qualify for this trope a family doesn't necessarily have to be literal royalty, but as long as they have sufficiently high status compared to the rest of their society and practice this mostly to "keep it in the family" with either money, powers that are In the Blood or other inheritable traits or possessions it still counts. Oftentimes this is used to explain The Caligula, Royally Screwed Up, and It Runs in the Family. Might be used to justify a Single Line of Descent and Lookalike Lovers. This is Truth in Television, even with siblings (as in Ancient Egypt), primarily as a tool to keep land and other forms of inherited wealth in the same family, or to renew alliances.
— Regent Virini, Babylon 5.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- In Vampire Knight pureblooded vampires are the equivalent of royalty within their communities and commonly marry within the family to maintain their status. It turns out that Yuuki's parents Juri and Haruka were brother and sister, and Juri's other brother Rido also had his eye on her.
- Apparently not uncommon in the Juraian royal family in Tenchi Muyo!, as Prince Yosho was engaged to his half-sister Ayeka prior to going AWOL (though it's suggested they didn't actually intend to go through with it and mostly arranged it to quiet potential objectors due to Yosho being mostly human, notably apparently no-one had a problem with the incest). And as part of the Marry Them All solution to the main series' Love Dodecahedron Tenchi could also potentially end up with Ayeka and/or Sasami, who technically speaking are his great-aunts.
- Berserk: According to the king's brother Count Julius, his son is to marry the king's daughter Charlotte when both came of age.
- The Irregular at Magic High School uses this trope as sudden plot twist in the 16th volume when it becomes clear that the Tatsuya should become the future husband of her own sister, so that his unique abilities remain forever in the clan. So, as his sister is perfect Designer Babies, their siblings marriage will not be dangerous for their children and eventually give their clan even stronger offspring than if she married another person. And although the rest of the magical world as a whole averted it (as mentioned, even a marriage between cousins is considered undesirable due to possible genetic problems), we learn that Yotsuba is not the first clan that started experimenting with incest thanks for new opportunities of genetic engineering.
- This is implied in Naruto with several ninja clans. Sasuke's parents both look like they could have been Uchiha prior to marriage (though an anime filler implies that Mikoto might not be naturally an Uchiha as she and her husband have to travel to visit her parents), Hinata's mother is shown in the anime and looks like a Hyuuga (though the fact her eyes are closed means it's impossible to tell for certain if she had the Byakugan or not), and Itachi mentions that he killed his lover during the Uchiha massacre. On a less canon and Played for Laughs side, Rock Lee's Springtime of Youth exaggerates Neji's Big Brother Instinct towards Hinata to outright Kissing Cousins.
- Though there are no actual marriages between family (barring Suzaku being betrothed to his cousin as a child), Code Geass contains a lot of Incest Subtext between the Britannian royal family. As a child Lelouch was fought over by Euphemia (his half-sister) and Nunnally (his full-sister), and it wasn't presumably childish innocence as Lelouch mentions that he considered Euphemia his first love.
- In the X-Wing Series Rightfully Returning Princess Plourr Illo is surprised to see her second cousin Rial again, and dismayed by his belief that they'll go along with the old Arranged Marriage set up when they were children. Her bloodline has in-bred and been tampered with to keep it "pure", which sometimes has disastrous results.
- Preacher: It turns out the Holy Grail is indeed the receptacle of Jesus' blood... by which we mean they're the organisation who've been making the original descendants of Jesus interbreed for nearly 2,000 years to keep his bloodline pure. The results are universally retarded, deformed (the latest was born with eyes half the size of his head), anything but divine... yet somehow less physically freaky than the family of one-eyed hillbillies Jessie met and befriended.
- Defied by the Romulan noble class, according to Heis'he Ri'nanovai. Due to their low starting population (only seven of the original eighteen colony ships survived the Journey from Vulcan to colonize Romulus) and tendency to Altar Diplomacy, Romulan Blue Bloods would be vulnerable to this were it not for gene-maps kept by the clans to avoid such mishaps.
- Though as far as we know it's not the case in the original show (aside from the princess being slated to marry her cousin), Berserk Abridged cites this as the reason the Midland Royal family is as Royally Screwed Up as it is, and why Princess Charlotte turned out the way she did, with a regal bearing like a cow looking at an oncoming train.
Films — Animation
- Referenced in the early Cut Song from Frozen, "We Know Better", from when Elsa was still the Big Bad. At the end of the Dark Reprise portion, Elsa and Anna discuss men. Elsa Does Not Like Men. Presumably the lyrics was either place-holder dialogue or would have been changed prior to release, as it's unlikely Disney would allow such blunt references to incest even in a a PG-rated film:
Anna: They say a princess day will meet her prince. She must enhance her beauty—
Elsa: —And maybe try some mints
Anna: They say he'll have royal blood in every vein, with noble brow and chiseled face—
Elsa: —And microscopic brain
Anna: They say he'll come around... one day
Elsa: With royal inbred DNA...
Anna: And change your life in every way
Elsa: But you and me, we know better...
Films — Live-Action
- Gladiator: Emperor Commodus indicates that he intends to force his sister Lucilla to become his concubine and carry his child because he is obsessed with creating a "pure-blooded" dynasty. He's killed before he can put it into action, though. This is some serious Artistic License – History, since aside from giving Commodus a dose of Historical Villain Upgrade, the historical Romans also had laws against incest (hence the slander against disliked emperors such as Caligula and Nero) and looked down on contemporaneous royal families like the Ptomelys for their habits.
- In Edgar Allen Poe's short story "The Fall of The House of Usher", it's noted that the Usher family tree is a straight line. This leads many readers to suspect an incest-subtext in the relation between Madeleine and Roderick Usher.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- The Targaryen dynasty wed brother to sister (not as often as you'd think, but likely more often than you want to imagine), first cousin to first cousin (most common) or even uncle to niece (occasional) for centuries, which is often blamed in-universe for their tendency to produce the odd mad king (mainly by those very strongly of the Faith and rather biased on the whole issue). While the inbreeding depression was not as severe as some real-life examples, many Targaryen kings had to contend with higher-than-average rates of infertility and stillbirths, and plumbing the depths of Targaryen history will reveal more than a fair amount of royal children born with extra toes, webbed fingers, and scales… although that might also indicate that their claims to be "blood of the dragon" which such practices were meant to preserve were Not Hyperbole.
- Cersei and Jaime Lannister are twins who secretly have an affair. They have three kids. The good news: the younger two are sweet kids, and seemingly okay! The bad news: The eldest is Joffrey Baratheon, and who starts a three-way civil war with two secessions. Jaime and Cersei tried to justify their relationship by citing the Targaryen practice, but both felt great pangs of guilt wondering if their sin led to their thoroughly rotten eldest. Also of note is that Cersei and Jaime's mother and father were first cousins, although this is considered perfectly acceptable in Westeros.
- A few examples in the Dune universe. Though mostly intended as eugenics.
- The Bene Gesserit intended for Jessica to bear a daughter that would be mated to her cousin Feyd-Rautha as part of their Super Breeding Program, but she bore a son instead.
- Leto II symbolically married his sister Ghanima, though at that point he was physically unable to have sex so he had Prince Farad'n Corrino (who would be a very distant cousin) sire her children.
- Over the 3,500 years Leto II controlled the Bene Gesserit breeding program he mated several of Duncan Idaho's clones with his sister's descendants.
- In the second trilogy of Kushiel's Legacy Imriel de la Courcel falls in love with and eventually marries Princess Sidonie de la Courcel. Imriel is the son of Sidonie's great-uncle, making them first cousins once removed.
- Chronicles of the Kencyrath: The Knorth, the royal house of the Kencyrath, has a long tradition of inbreeding to keep the bloodlines pure in order to honor a rather vague divine mandate. Twin marriages particularly were a tradition… at least until a particularly bad couple, who were to thank to two-thirds of their people being destroyed. After that, twin marriages acquired some… messy connotations and they stopped those. But kept on with the other kinds of inbreeding.
- Babar, King of the Elephants in Jean de Bruhhoff's children's books is Happily Married to his cousin Celeste.
- Harry Potter: The wizarding world doesn't have royalty, but it does have pureblood lines. As such, many of them use intermarrying to keep the bloodline pure, and disowning anyone who marries "mudbloods". Dumbledore mentions this was the case with the Gaunt family, the last descendants of Salazar Slytherin, who had inherited their family's violent temper due to inbreeding.
- In Pyramids, the High Priest Dios suggests that newly-crowned pharaoh Teppic marry any available female relative. Of course, Teppic's kingdom is the Discworld's version of Ancient Egypt.
- Parodied in Feet of Clay, where it's mentioned that in the city of Genua, the royal lines died out "through interbreeding so intensively that the last king kept trying to breed with himself".
- In The Painter Knight, several pages are devoted to explaining how an exiled member of the royal family, over the course of about 75 years, managed to tie his bloodline back into the ruling line — by marrying his cousin, having their children marry second cousins, and having their grandchildren marry third cousins — one of whom is the current monarch. His child inherits the powers of four different septs of the dynasty in one go.
- The Ciaphas Cain series partially blames the overall incompetence of much of the Imperial aristocracy (including the majority of planetary governors we meet) on an excess of inbreeding.
- In Larry Niven's Svetz stories, the world is ruled by a hereditary Secretary-General. Centuries of inbreeding have produced a feeble-minded and childish occupant of that office.
- The Masters from The Stone Dance of the Chameleon place such a high value on blood purity that brother/sister and mother/son marriages are extremely common in the imperial family.
- In Everworld, the Pharaohs of Everworld-Egypt are so inbred that the last twelve rulers have been mentally retarded. That, combined with the gods' total apathy to anything but ritual, has led to the entire country stagnating until the dwarves and the Amazons were able to take over.
- A non-royal example in Andrey Livadny's The History of the Galaxy series. The St. Ivo family runs Galactic Cybersystems, the largest Mega Corp. in history. The founder Erlk St. Ivo marries his cousin Liza to maintain the secrecy of the corporate HQ and R&D center. Deciding to continue the tradition, they had a son and a daughter, deliberately modifying their DNA so that they weren't genetically related. Each subsequent generation continued this, until the birth of André St. Ivo, whose intelligence level was far below normal (despite the genetic modifications). Deciding to break tradition and infuse the family with "fresh" blood, André's parents did not have a second child. He ended up marrying a smart young woman named Theia Mitchell. Due to her husband's inability to run a corporation, Theia ended up doing his job. Resentful, he had an assassin shoot her and then got a bunch of Mad Scientists to turn her into his sex slave, keeping her in stasis until he "used" her the next time. Due to all this inbreeding, André and Theia's sons Aramant and John ended up looking like André and Erlik, respectively. In the first case, this proved Aramant's undoing. After he found his mother in stasis and thawed her out, she assumed he was his father and killed him. John was mortally wounded and had his consciousness copied onto an android, all of whom look like Erlik (and, therefore, John).
- Not strictly royal, but the marriage practices of the Uplands are like this in Annals of the Western Shore. The brantors (local chieftains, basically) often arrange marriages between cousins to keep from diluting the family's magic power and ensure a strongly gifted heir.
- Averted in A Brother's Price, one of the princesses says she wouldn't mind marrying her cousin, if she absolutely must marry someone, but her sister points out that he is too close in blood (while admitting he'd otherwise be a good choice).
- Discussed in the third book of The War Gods series, where one man mentions that some of the people in service to Baron Tellian (Whose domain is large enough to be considered a duchy were he any nationality but Sothoii, which has no levels of nobility between 'Baron' and 'Royal') wish that he would marry his only child (Who, being female, cannot inherit directly, instead passing her claim to her father's lands to her eventual husband) to his nephew Trinial. The man he's talking to says that this would never be permitted as they were first cousins. The first man agrees, but points out that people wishing that it could happen said a lot about Trinial's character (In the end, Leanna renounces her claim on her father's lands to get away from the politics, and Tellian makes Trinial his heir directly).
- In The Merchant Princes, the world-walking gene is recessive, so the old women of the Clan arrange marriages between cousins to keep the power in the family while preventing too-close inbreeding. The Clan also did manage to interbreed with the royal family at one point, but a genetic condition latent within the Clan ended up creating a retarded prince. The power of the "old bitches'" conspiracy and the cross with the royal family drives much of the plot of the third and later books.
- In Warrior Cats, the Clans set themselves apart from other cats, believing their social lifestyle superior and other, solitary cats to be 'rogues': untrustworthy, dishonorable and dirty creatures to be driven off their land by force. The Clans display quite a few signs of inbreeding, such as an extremely high rate of stillbirths (generally at least one in every litter larger than three), low overall fertility (litters rarely larger than four, normal would be four or more), and conditions such as 'rex' coats, limb deformities, Klinefelter syndrome, epilepsy and kinked tails. It is never directly stated, but their intolerance of outsiders and small founding population (which was itself derived from a small founding population) would naturally lead to incest and therefore inbreeding. It is telling that the modern SkyClan, who are almost all former pets and ex-rogues, display almost none of these problems. One went deaf, but that's about it.
- Game of Thrones:
- The former Targaryen dynasty usually wed their siblings or cousins.
- Cersei Lannister had earlier used the Targaryen example as a justification for her own illicit romance with her twin brother Jaime when Eddard Stark confronted her with the truth of her children's illegitimate heritage. The truth is buried for political purposes despite becoming an Open Secret, but once Cersei becomes Queen Regnant in her own right, it appears that she doesn't even feel the need to bother hiding it from her subjects anymore.
- It turns out that, unknowingly, Jon and Daenerys are doing this, as biologically, the latter is the former's aunt, with Jon's father being confirmed to be Rhaegar Targaryen, who was Daenerys' elder brother.
- In just the third episode of The Tudors Henry VII arranged a marriage between his daughter Mary and her mother's nephew the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, though the engagement was called off later. Note that Charles and his aunt were Hapsburgs (see Real Life).
- After all sorts of trouble was had in the Centuari court on Babylon 5, one of the ministers blames it on too much inbreeding.
- 30 Rock features a fictionalnote "last of the Habsburgs" prince (played by Paul Reubens) who suffers very badly from this.
- It's said that during the most decadent days of the Empire the nobles were so inbred that mutations became commonplace. The Witch Hunters seem to have solved that problem though.
- Sigvald the Magnificent, the champion of Slaanesh, is the son of a Norsca warlord and his sister (the warlord's, not Sigvald's). His "fondness for human flesh" caused his expulsion from the tribe, at which point Sigvald murdered him and went off into the Chaos Wastes.
- The Navigator Houses in Warhammer 40,000, aka the Navis Nobilite, tend to act like aristocrats and have become so inbred over the millennia that most if not all of them have mutations other than their genetically engineered third eye (which is recessive, hence the inbreeding).
- In Ironclaw grey foxes, the ruling house of Calebria, often exhibit signs of inbreeding like hemophilia or color blindness, with rumors of more extreme traits like polydactyly.
- The novel Scars elaborates further, all grey foxes in Calebria are of House Rinaldi, and if they mate with the more common red foxes their offspring are usually red. The other major houses are the same species as most of their peasants so they have the option of legitimizing their bastards and adding some diversity to their gene pools.
- The Silver Fangs of Werewolf: The Apocalypse suffered from inbreeding despite their biological requirement to outbreed. Because they refused to mate with humans who weren't royalty, many were Hapsburgs.
- In A Man for All Seasons, the king tells Thomas More that he considers having married his dead brother's wife to be incest, despite them not being relatives by blood.
- This trope drives the main plot and two subplots in Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore. Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty, boards the Pinafore to court Josephine, daughter of the ship's captain. However, seaport floozy Buttercup declares that, in her youth, she breastfed both Captain Corcoran and seaman Rackstraw, and inadvertently mixed up the two infants. Sir Joseph then declares that he cannot marry Josephine, as she is the daughter of a mere seaman, her charm and grace notwithstanding. This allows now-Captain Rackstraw to propose to Josephine, and demoted-to-seaman Corcoran to pursue Buttercup. Sir Joseph resigns himself to courting his cousin Hebe.
- Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood: Implied Brother–Sister Incest between Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. Though not literal royalty, due to their father being the Pope they might as well be, and the whole Borgia clan is certainly Royally Screwed Up enough to qualify.
- The Nanayas in Tsukihime often encourage this to preserve their innate "anything-killer" ability.
- Crusader Kings 2:
- Politely referred to as "eugenics" in the fandom, as some of the best character traits in the game are hereditary, and become more likely the more common they are in a newborn character's ancestry. The game's mechanics forbid marriage to a sibling, child or parent, but allow grandparent-to-grandchild marriages, among other icky things.
- All of this is thrown off the window with Zoroastrians, for whom incestuous marriages are holy, and increase their popularity with vassals. To help keep Zoroastrian families from descending into deformed messes, the game lets their rulers keep three concubines for non-inbred — but legitimate — children. The general "divine blood" modifier that handles making incestuous marriages holy also behind-the-scenes significantly decreases the risk of getting the (very negative) inbred trait from being inbred... while increasing the risk of getting the lunatic trait from being inbred. This mechanic is inspired by the practice of xwedodah, mentioned in the Real Life section below.
- The Messalian heresy also allows for incest, but no concubines.
- Mentioned in the "Lust" live-action trailer.
King: But the earl is my uncle, that would make her my... half-sister?
Adviser: It's the other one sir, she's your cousin.
- In Kult: Heretic Kingdoms, the Heroic Lineage of the person who killed god is not precisely "royal", but because it carries power over the magical sword he used, people have tried to control the bloodline in similar ways. Taryn Arkor, a descendant, is referred to as inbred, and his own practices (using his fellow descendants as breeding stock for sacrifices) wouldn't have left the gene pool any more diverse.
- In WildStar the Luminai, rulers of the Dominion, are Eldan/Cassian hybrids of at least 50% Eldan blood. Maintained by a law barring Luminai from breeding with Cassians. Though Highborn Cassians, the next step down in the caste system, have some Eldan blood and act just as aristocratic.
- The Yayoi clan in BlazBlue is one of the oldest members of the Duodecim, the 12 families that formed NOL. They put such an emphasis on preserving their magical abilities that when children who exhibited weaker ars magus aptitude started being born, members resorting to incest and inbreeding in the mad delusion they would get stronger, much to the disgust of the other families. It's specifically noted that Tsubaki isn't the first born child of her parents, she's merely the first to survive.
- According to Word of God, most of the more elite Orphic families in the world of Blindsprings were somewhat inbred because Orphic powers are inherited. It's implied this might have been part of the reason the Llyn family was having trouble producing the next generation by the time they were overthrown, and possibly the reason conspicuously-red-headed-in-a-family-of-brunettes protagonist Tamaura was born out of wedlock, with hints that her conception was deliberate either on the part of her mother or the spirits. As a result most Orphics are related to each other, and Imogen and the other Thorne sisters are actually Tammy's very distant relatives.
- Many Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs often married their cousins or in some cases sisters. King Tut suffered from any number of possible genetic disorders from being the offspring of a brother and sister, though his death has been most conclusively attributed to a malarial infection rather than any genetic cause. Contrary-wise the 12th Dynasty, one of the most successful in Egypt's long history, married brother to sister for seven or eight generations without noticeable ill effect. The dynasty eventually failed not because of genetic damage but a lack of male heirs.
- When the Macedonian Ptolemies took control of Egypt after the split up of the Alexandrian Empire, they revived the Egyptian practice of wedding brothers to sisters to enamor themselves to the Egyptian people, and consequently to keep the Ptolemaic dynasty relatively free of Egyptian riff-raff. They also revived the Egyptian practice of brother-sister spouses ruling jointly, meaning neither party officially had more power than the other. This led to the succession battle that eventually placed the famous Cleopatra (really Cleopatra VII) as the sole ruler of Egypt despite being a woman.
- Silla Kingdom, Ancient Korea, had a strict bone rank system that determined one's social class. And only Sacred Bone, royal dynasty, could ascend to the throne. However, to born as a Sacred Bone, one must have both Sacred Bone parents, which resulted in the royals marrying within the family. This bone rank system was so strict that when there was no more male Sacred Bone, the female Sacred Bones ascended to the throne, despite there were other males with royal blood, which was unbelievable to even think about during that period in that area. Marrying one's half-siblings was socially accepted and often happened, not only with royals, but also with nobles and possibly commoners. Also, during Goryeo Kingdom, Ancient Korea after Silla, the royal dynasty still married within the family, often marrying half-siblings, but for the reason to protect the Kingdom's wealth when marrying off princess (dowry). The Goryeo princesses were given either mother's or grandmother's last name, so to lessen the feeling of discomfort.
- The House of Habsburg, which ruled large parts of Europe for several hundred years (with branches in Spain, Austria and parts of Italy), was notorious for this: they acquired a lot of land through dynastic marriages and tried to avoid having the same thing happen to them by keeping things in house. The last of the Spanish Habsburgs, the infamous Charles II, was actually more genetically inbred than the product of Brother–Sister Incest would have been thanks to generations of cousin/cousin and uncle/niece marriages. His health problems were so severe that even the royal portrait artists — who were being paid to make him look good — couldn't hide his constantly protruding tongue.
- Turn-of-the-Century British royalty:
- Queen Victoria married her cousin Prince Albert (his father and Victoria's mother were siblings) and their children were married into so many other European royal houses that by 1914, George V of England and Tsar Nicholas of Russia (first cousins) looked so physically alike they might have been twin brothers. Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany might have made a triplet if he had worn the same type of beard.
- Queen Victoria was also a carrier for hemophilia, and the result was that most of the European royal families were hemophiliacs and carriers into the 20th century. Tsar Nicholas II's son Alexei inherited the gene for hemophilia that Victoria carried because his mother was one of her grandchildren.
- When the post-Communist Russian government wanted to verify that the human remains found in Siberia were those of the late Tsar Nicholas, they needed a close relative to match the DNA. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was tactfully approached to give DNA samples. Which proved the Romanoff DNA beyond all possible doubt.
- Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip are 2nd cousins once removed through the Danish lines (descended from King Christian IX) and 3rd cousins through the British lines (descended from Queen Victoria).
- In ancient and feudal Japan, it was common for noble and imperial families to arrange marriages between cousins and even aunts/uncles and nephews/nieces because The Patriarch of these families tended to have boatloads of children from many different women, and this was a convenient way of tidying up familial loose ends and folding branches of the family back into the main House. In particular, it was rather common for the reigning emperor to be married to a close relative of his ruling shogun. Since the latter tended to also form dynasties, this meant that the two family trees often intertwined.
- In traditional Arab society, it is customary for cousins to marry — although often more as a last resort for a woman who has been unmarried for too long than as a first choice (such women get told, "There's always your cousin"). However, among aristocratic families, the desire to keep family fortunes together influences this — under Islamic inheritance law, daughters are entitled to inherit (only half of what their brothers inherit, but still), and heirs cannot be disinherited except in extreme circumstances, so cousin marriage keeps the family fortune in the family.
- Eighth century Irish Princess and Roman Catholic saint Dymphna's mother passed away, and her father decided to marry her. She fled with a few companions, but when the charitable work in Belgium she was doing caught her father's attention, she and her friends ultimately were martyred, and the city whose mental health facility she started is one of the most envied, studied, and effective to this day.
- The practice of xwedodah, marriage of close family members to each other, in the noble families of Persia prior to the Arab invasion. Very little information of this practice has survived into the modern day (and it is not practiced by modern-day Zoroastrians), but it appears to have been a practice grounded partially in religion and partially in culture and was most likely restricted to royals and priests.
- This can often be the case with purebred dogs. Inbreeding is the result of many genetic defects in purebreds that lead to shortened lifespan, disease, and sometimes physical deformities (such as a pug's face, which is so flat purebreds often have trouble breathing). Why do people do this? Because a purebred dog is a "higher standard".