View of the Rolduc seminary in Roermond.
Methodology Spotlight

Marriage dispensation for Petrus Willems

What happens when (distant) cousins fall in love and want to get married? Canon law says they need marriage dispensation. Let us take a look at an example of a couple that lived in Roermond, Limburg, in the 18th century.

Roman Catholic Church (Amstenrade, Limburg, Netherlands), baptisms, marriages and burials 1720-1772, folio 55v, marriage Willems-Pijls, 27 February 1767; “Pays-Bas: Province de Limburg, registres paroissiaux, 1542-1910,” digital images, FamilySearch ( : viewed 2 August 2020), digital film 007365029, image 161 of 398.


27 februarii habita mea Licentia Con
traxerunt matrimonium Cum dispen
satione in tertio et quarto mixto Con-
sanguinitatis gradu et in tribus ban
bis petrus willems ex Amstenraedt
et elisabeta pijls ex Amstenraedt
Coram ^patre Antonino Crous subregente
in seminario ruraemondano, testibus
petro wilhelmo grovers et petro


A loose translation of this Latin text reads as follows.

On the 27th of February – with prior license – married Petrus Willems, of Amstenrade, and Elisabeth Pijls, of Amstenrade. They obtained dispensation for consanguinity in the third and fourth mixed degree and for three bans. Present was father Antoninus, deputy rector of the seminary in Roermond, and Petrus Wilhelmus Grovers and Petrus Hoen served as witnesses.

In this article we focus on the kinship dispensation.

Marriage dispensations

In a previous article we spoke about marriage intentions. But what are marriage dispensations. And who needed them?

The Roman Catholic church did not (and does not) allow alliances between family members who were related by marriage (affinity) or blood (consanguinity), unless they asked for special approval. The official term for this approval is dispensation (in Lation: dispensatio). Since the 13th century (distantly) related couples needed dispensation for kinship up to the fourth degree. [source] It was often a bishop that could grant dispensation.

Do we know anything about the relationship between Petrus Willems and Elisabeth Pijls? Yes, documents in the episcopal archives of Roermond tell us that they were second cousins once removed. [source] The following chart demonstrates their kinship.

Relationship chart for Petrus Willems (left) and Elisabetha Pijls (right), both were descendants of Philippus Kleuters and Elisabetha Knoren.

Petrus’ great-grandparents were identical to Elisabeth’s 2x great-grandparents. This made them second cousins once removed. We use the term once removed because Elisabeth is not on the same generation level as Petrus. Her father was and he was therefore a second cousin to Petrus.

When we count the steps from Philippus Kleuters/Elisabeth Knoren to Petrus Willems, we end up with three. Similarly, we need four steps for Elisabeth. Hence, according to canon (church) law their kinship was a mix of a third degree with a fourth degree.


The system of kinship degrees in canon law differs from that in civil law. In civil law the kinship degree equals the amount of steps required to get from one person to the other. In our case: it takes three steps up from Petrus to his great-grandparents and another four down back to Elisabeth. This makes that in civil law they were relatives of the 7th degree. Keep this in mind when you are reading Roman Catholic parish registers!

2 Replies to “Marriage dispensation for Petrus Willems

  1. I have had a few of these in the Bishoprics of Roermond and in the Bishopric of Liège, I believe the Liège ones were lost. I’ve never actually seen the Roermond documents, but the dispensation was mentioned in the parish register.

    On a distantly related subject, maybe you can help me out with understanding something.

    This took place in 1899 in Limburg. My widower Great-grandfather married his first wife’s niece (his second wife would have called him uncle while his first wife was alive). I’m pretty sure you would need Royal Dispensation to marry your wife’s niece. I believe Yvette Hoitink in one of her blogs said there should be a number to look up the Royal Decree to be found in the Marriage Supplements. But there was nothing to be found in this case. Was no dispensation asked or was it asked and given but simply not refferenced in the Marriage Supplements?

    Who would tell a couple that they would need this dispensation? The Civil servant? What if he was friends with the groom-to-be, could he just ignore this requirement of law and still marry the couple or would this mean my grandfather and great-aunts were retroactively born out of wedlock?

    I think my great-grandfather would also have needed Papal Dispensation for this marriage. I would like to also do some research into this at some time.

    1. Can you send me an email with the details of this marriage from 1899? Just to check the records. My e-mail address is research (@)

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