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December 6, 2023 49 mins

For centuries European royals married only each other. It was believed to be the best way of consolidating power. But rampant royal inbreeding had increasingly negative consequences––including genetic abnormalities (like the protuberant “Habsburg Jaw”), the dying off of whole lines, and eventually serious geopolitical instability that culminated in World War I. Mo and Barnard College professor and bestselling author Caroline Weber discuss the practice that ended up being way more than just a family matter.

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the
nineteen eighties ABC primetime soap opera Dynasty. The series centered
on the wealthy Carrington family of Denver, Colorado, a patriarch
oil tycoon, and a cast of feuding family members. Let's

just say that I feel as I do because we
have so much in common, such as what our blood,
our teens. But that dynasty, for all its drama and dysfunction,
had nothing on the real life dynasties we're going to
talk about today, like the Habsburgs, the family that ruled

much of Europe for centuries.

Speaker 2 (00:47):
These people are so powerful, I mean power over tens
of millions of people and gazillions of acres of land.

Speaker 1 (00:55):
This royal family, however, was a little too close. The
final Habsburg, ruler of Spain, who died in seventeen hundred,
is considered to be the most inbred royal ever.

Speaker 2 (01:08):
His Habsburg jaw was so pronounced that his two sets
of teeth couldn't touch at all. He couldn't keep food
in his mouth.

Speaker 1 (01:16):
In this episode, we're going to look at the practices
of intermarriage and inbreeding among several major royal families and
how these practices built and in some cases led to
the unraveling of their respective empires.

Speaker 2 (01:32):
The strategy for survival and for enhancement of power becomes,
especially in the Habsburg case, the recipe for its undoing.

Speaker 1 (01:39):
From CBS Sunday Morning and iHeart I'm Moacca and this
is mobituaries, this moment, the Habsburg jaw and the death
of a dynasty. Royal families and inbreeding are they kind

of like peanut butter and jelly.

Speaker 2 (02:21):
There are two great tastes that went great together mo
for a really long time.

Speaker 1 (02:27):
I'm talking with my friend Caroline Weber. Carries a professor
of French and comparative literature at Barnard College and a
best selling author.

Speaker 2 (02:37):
At the moment, I'm working on a book on royalty
around the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
And one of the amazing things to underscore is that
this kind of royal intermarriage really continued for a very
long time. Even though it led to the end of
some dynasties, It's persisted among a number of especially European dynasties.

And the most recent example, I think, in kind of
contemporary collective memory is the late Queen Elizabeth I and
Prince Philip who are cousins, Who.

Speaker 1 (03:05):
Were cousins, and how close were their cousins.

Speaker 2 (03:08):
They were third cousins, so not super close by royal standards.
They shared a common great great grandmother in Queen Victoria.

Speaker 1 (03:17):
Marriage between royal relatives has many precedents. For example, scientists
believe that the parents of boy King Tutan, common in
ancient Egypt, were brother and sister. In ancient Rome, Emperor
Claudius married his niece Agrippina the Younger. But this practice
became super charged throughout Europe from the Late Middle Ages

around the year fifteen hundred all the way until the
outbreak of World War One in nineteen fourteen. Now, before
we get into it, let's define one word that's central
to this topic, consanguinity.

Speaker 2 (03:56):
Consanguinity is a word that describes blood relatedness between people
who marry. If you were a king and you wanted
your children to be recognized as a king, you would
want to marry somebody who was perceived also to be
of royal blood, and that royal blood often meant that
they were in some way, shape or form related to you.

Speaker 1 (04:18):
Wow, So consanguinity inter marriage equaled stability.

Speaker 2 (04:23):
Yeah, it did. It represented a few things. I mean,
on the one hand, consanguinity did mean concentrating family resources
and territories and keeping them as it were in the family.
So that was a big part of consanguinous marriages, this
idea that you weren't going to let hard won territories
in your kingdom potentially pass into the hands of a

rival king somewhere else. But the disadvantage, politically speaking, was
that consanguinity meant that you missed an opportunity to form
an alliance with a rival king who was not already
related to you.

Speaker 1 (04:58):
So for a good stretch of history, the incentives to
intermarry were greater than the disincentives.

Speaker 2 (05:04):
Yes, especially because the disincentives weren't very well known. I
think just the idea of genetics as an actual science
that didn't even start to come into being really until
the nineteenth century. So for hundreds of years when you intermarried,
the big incentive was this purity of your bloodline and
this kind of reinforced intrafamilial connection, which became more and

more meaningful as your family expanded its territory more and more.
And this is why the Hobsburgs are such a good
example or bad example of inbreeding.

Speaker 1 (05:40):
Who were the Hobsburgs.

Speaker 2 (05:42):
So the Hobsburgs were a royal family who traced their
origins to the early Middle Ages in Central and Eastern
Europe what we would call today Austria and Hungary.

Speaker 1 (05:54):
The Habsburgs held some of their power through their relationship
with what was known as the Holy Roman Empire, a
vast Christian political entity in Europe modeled on the original
Roman Empire.

Speaker 2 (06:07):
Since Charlemagne in the ninth century, Europe had had an
elected Holy Roman Emperor who was the defender of the
faith for all Catholics, but essentially the Habsburgs kept becoming
Holy Roman Emperor.

Speaker 1 (06:22):
Enter Maximilian the First. He was a Habsburg and put
the family on the map quite literally with his election
as Holy Roman Emperor and by his marriage to Mary
of Burgundy.

Speaker 2 (06:35):
Marie of Burgundy basically through her father had inherited much
of Burgundy in France, but also the Netherlands and some
territories kind of stretching into what we would today consider
to be Belgium. And when she married a member of
the Habsburg royal family, the Austrian Habsburgs then sort of
took over that whole swath of land as well.

Speaker 1 (06:55):
Maximilian the First and Mary of Burgundy, who were not
closely related, had one surviving son. This son would expand
the Habsburg's influence even further than his father did.

Speaker 2 (07:08):
This guy's son was known as Philip the Handsome Philippe
Leubel we called him in French. Philippe Leubel then crucially
married the last offshoot of a Spanish royal family known
as aragon and Castile. So most Americans have heard of
Ferdinand and Isabella. They sponsored Christopher Columbus's trip to the

New World. They had a daughter known as Juana the
Crazy Juana la Looca, and so some of the I
think the lunacy that the Habsburg's later evinced was actually
inherited from this woman, who was born a Castilian an
Aragonese princess. But she married a son of this Habsburg
Roman Emperor, Holy Roman Emperor called Philippe Leubel.

Speaker 1 (07:49):
To recap Philip the Handsome, the only surviving son of
the Habsburg Emperor, marries Juana the Crazy, the heir to
the Spanish throne. This meant their descent and so would
inherit both the Habsburg and Spanish territories, and Guana la
Loca would be an amazing telenovellah I Love Betty leafea

which became Ugly Betty in the United States. It was
originally a Colombian telenovela. And yeah, and one on La
Loca would be amazing. It's just a great title already.

Speaker 2 (08:18):
And she, by most accounts, really was insane.

Speaker 1 (08:23):
But Juana and Philip's son had some sense. He ruled
as Charles the First of Spain and Charles the Fifth
of the Holy Roman Empire.

Speaker 2 (08:33):
When Charles came of age, he made the very smart
decision that he wasn't going to try to be in
control of both Austria, Central Europe, Northern Europe and also Spain.
So he essentially split the Habsburgs into two branches, and
he founded the dynasty of Spanish Habsburgs as separate from

his Austrian Habsburg cousins.

Speaker 1 (08:56):
The likeness of Charles quint as he's known has been
to pay did by a number of painters. They all
show him with a distinctive mandible.

Speaker 2 (09:07):
So he did have what became known as the as
the Habsburg jaw, this very protuberant lower jaw, that kind
of jutted out. If you see there's a famous painting
of him by Titian where you can kind of see
he's got very sickly looking skin. He suffered from gout.
He may have suffered from epilepsy, which became a kind
of a hereditary habsburg condition. But the main thing is

the jaw, and the jaw kind of was often associated
with something that modern scientists call maxillary deficiency, where the
upper jaw kind of was sunken in. And the Titian
portrait of Charles Quint really shows a head that almost
looks like a cashew. It's kind of collapsed in the center,
with a bulbous forehead up top, and then this really
outwardly jutting jaw and underbite at the bottom.

Speaker 1 (09:51):
An Italian writer named Antonio de Biats, who met Charles Quint,
wrote in fifteen seventeen that he had a long, avarice
face and a lopsided mouth which drops open when he
is not on his guard. So this King Charles wasn't
exactly Prince Charming, but his decision to divide the dynasty

between Spain and Austria would guarantee that his descendants would
be even less portrait Jenic.

Speaker 2 (10:21):
His parents were not that closely interrelated. Charles quint was
not really the product of significant inbreeding, but because it
was his decision essentially to try to split the Habsburg
family into two branches of a royal family that together
ruled so much of Europe. His son became the Spanish
Habsburg King, who was really just in charge of Spain

and the Holy Roman Empire, and his younger brother, Charles
Quint's younger brother, Ferdinand I, became the head of the
Austrian branch of the family and ruling over Austria and
its associated territories. He really instituted, I think the policy
of significant innermarriage tween and among so what you then
have after Charles Quint is generations of Spanish Habsburg's marrying

Austrian habsburg to keep it, keep it all together.

Speaker 1 (11:10):
Keep it all together. Yeah, by splitting the empire, he
actually encouraged incentivized intermarriage.

Speaker 2 (11:16):
That's right, and that's why I think you find so
much more intermarriage in the Habsburg family than in other
European royal families.

Speaker 1 (11:23):
So much so that a Latin motto was coined in
connection with the Habsburgs.

Speaker 2 (11:28):
There's no evidence that they invented it themselves, but it
became one that was cited every time you saw news
of yet another Habsburg marriage. It would say, let other
nations wage war, You happy Austria conquer through marriage. Jamie
and I are more than brother and sister.

Speaker 1 (11:45):
We shed a wound, came into this world together, we
belonged together. Contrary to what the Game of Thrones extended
universe might have you believe, Incest wasn't a personal preference
as much as it was a political strategy.

Speaker 2 (11:59):
Because he really was trying to manage an empire that
was so vast. People forget that actually Mexico was part
of Charles Quint's empire. I mean, he claimed Mexico in
that obviously dubious and problematic colonialius way. He claimed the Philippines,
and so his empire really covered so much of the
globe that it didn't make sense for all of that

to be concentrated into one branch of one family. And
so by creating this kind of separate but equal branch
of the Austrian Habsburgs, he had a kind of a
constant pool of intermarriage where none of these territories would
go outside of the family.

Speaker 1 (12:32):
Wow, they had so much power, and they were trying
to maintain that power.

Speaker 2 (12:36):
That's right.

Speaker 1 (12:36):
Is there any family today that's the equivalent God the Kardashians.
I was going to say, are they as powerful as
the Kardashians.

Speaker 2 (12:43):
I think it's hard to tell, because, yeah, their brand
wasn't as beloved apparently as the Kardashians. But yeah, in
terms of ubiquity and everywhere you look, there they are.
There is a kind of a Kardashian effect that you see,
we haven't yet lived long enough and the Kardashians haven't
lived long enough for us to see what happens with
the children of Kim and Chloe and Courtney.

Speaker 1 (13:04):
Well they do.

Speaker 2 (13:04):
They have their own TV shows, those kids.

Speaker 1 (13:07):
They will by the time this airs, and they have
delightful charles. They look great.

Speaker 2 (13:11):
Oh right, yeah, well I do feel like that. Yeah,
the Kardashians have done a much better job of kind
of diversification in.

Speaker 1 (13:18):
Marriage, and that's why the Kardashian dynasty will last even
centuries longer than the Hopspurs.

Speaker 2 (13:23):
Yeah. Now, I want you guys to be able to
do this. Tell you're my age and one of your
kids takes over, that's a whole that's the Joy.

Speaker 1 (13:36):
Charles quint had a son who became Philip the Second
of Spain, who had a son called Philip the Third,
who had a son called Philip the.

Speaker 2 (13:44):
Fourth, and they all interestingly and importantly married Austrian either
nieces or cousins.

Speaker 1 (13:53):
And as the consanguinity picks up in pace, so do
its consequences.

Speaker 2 (13:58):
Because the hobsburg is what you really see is just
generation after generation, the problems that we now either know
or suspect were genetically transmitted just get more and more pronounced.

Speaker 1 (14:10):
Philip the Fourth and his niece slash wife had one
surviving son, who would be known as Charles the Second
or Charles the Bewitched due to his many infirmities.

Speaker 2 (14:23):
Well, Charles the Second is important because he really represents
the worst of what can happen with these successive consanguineous
marriages from one generation to the next. His habsburg jaw
was so pronounced that his two sets of teeth couldn't
touch at all, he couldn't keep food in his mouth.
He never really mentally developed beyond the age of about

ten years old.

Speaker 1 (14:48):
Charles was unable to speak until the age of four,
and he couldn't walk until the age of eight. He
looked elderly when he was only thirty years old, suffering
from edemas on his feet, legs, abdomen, and face in
his teeth not meeting his inability to chew. And this

is centuries before protein shakes. Like, there's right, I mean
the thunder straw has been invented probably at that point.

Speaker 2 (15:16):
Yeah, how did he eat not well? And it wasn't pretty.
This is one of the fun things about studying royalty
is if you're in a Storian like me and you're
trying to read contemporary accounts, nobody wants ever to say
anything bad about the king, so you get a lot
of euphemisms like his majesty did not eat well tonight,
and you think, okay, does that mean that he could

barely get the food in or was it just a
disgusting spectacle? And these euphemisms you can never say definitively
what they mean, but you suspect that they hide a
thousand embarrassments.

Speaker 1 (15:47):
Genetic analysis has determined that in the average Spanish Habsburg,
about ten percent of maternal and paternal genes were identical,
which means they were more closely inbread than the child
of two first cousins. By the time Charles the Bewitched
was born, the problem was even worse.

Speaker 2 (16:07):
One of the takeaways from one of these scientific reports
was that even though Charles the Second's parents were quote
primarily or only uncle and niece, they were so closely
related already by the previous generations of inbreeding that they
were as closely related as brother and sister. So Charles

the Second really was the product of so much inbreeding
that essentially it was like his parents were siblings.

Speaker 1 (16:34):
Oh my goodness. They tried to marry him off.

Speaker 2 (16:38):
They tried to marry Charles the Second off, and it
did not go well because generally, one of the functions
of slightly idealized royal portraiture was that you could send
the equivalent of a photo to a foreign court and
say this is who you'll be marrying. And there are
countless stories throughout European history, at least, of massive dissipate

ointments and temper tantrums when the person actually shows up.

Speaker 1 (17:03):
Some things never changed, some things never changed.

Speaker 2 (17:06):
Yeah, now, I mean, I guess it's like what does
your Tinder photo look like? And how much have you
tinkered with it? But in the case of Charles the
second whatever miniature portrait of him was sent to the
court of France where he got his first bride, did
not reveal the full effect. So his first wife, Marie
Luise of.

Speaker 1 (17:23):
Orleans, she swiped right.

Speaker 2 (17:25):
She swiped right, or her parents swiped right for her.
When she got to Madrid and saw who her husband was,
apparently she had a nervous breakdown. Of course it had
to be restrained, and like dragged up to the altar screaming, and.

Speaker 1 (17:37):
Did anyone say to her, honey, but his personality haha?

Speaker 2 (17:41):
Well, sadly, because he couldn't really talk, we don't know
what his personality was. He didn't even have that going for.
He couldn't even cultivate the personality ride. He couldn't make
himself understood.

Speaker 1 (17:50):
I'm suddenly reminded of Paul Rubens's bravura performance in the
sitcom Thirty Rock as the genetically compromised European Prince Gerhart Habsburg.

Speaker 3 (18:02):
Thank you, all, dear friends, fuck on it to my
bad day.

Speaker 1 (18:08):
I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. Yeah, would
he like to dance? Sadly, because my body does not
produce joint fluid, I cannot but I would enjoy watching
you dance moonbi Um, that depiction may not have been
so far off from reality. During the last years of

his life, Charles could barely stand up and suffered from
hallucinations and convulsive episodes. Charles the Bewitched died in seventeen
hundred at the age of thirty eight. According to his autopsy,
his corpse did not contain a single drop of blood.
His heart was the size of a peppercorn, his lungs corroded,

his intestines rotten and gangrenous, He had a single testicle
black as coal, and his head was water.

Speaker 2 (19:01):
So he really became a poster child for what can
go wrong with interbreeding, and the line died with him
because he couldn't conceive a child by either one of
his wives.

Speaker 1 (19:09):
And that has real repercussions. Yes, yeah, I.

Speaker 2 (19:13):
Mean it basically threw the Spanish monarchy into a succession crisis,
and yeah, and a war, the War of that's known
as the War of Spanish Succession. There were claimants from
the Austrian side who said, well, we're Hafsburgs too, and
then you had the French who had a claim on
the throne of Spain.

Speaker 1 (19:34):
The war of Spanish succession began in seventeen oh one
and went on for more than a decade, claiming more
than four hundred thousand lives in combat.

Speaker 2 (19:46):
It was almost a generation of young people just grew
up with this war where it was unclear where the
throne was going to land, and so in terms of
drawbacks to consanguineous marriage and the genetic effects of that,
this is another one. Right, the dynasty, which has drawn
its legitimacy from a bloodline, dies out.

Speaker 1 (20:04):
But while the Spanish Habsburg line died out with Charles
the Bewitched in seventeen hundred, the Austrian branch of the
Habsburgs kept going. After a short break. We'll meet one
Austrian Habsburg who could make this unsightly jaw look chic.

Speaker 2 (20:24):
Marie Antoinette was a Habsburg. Can we go to Marintoinette?

Speaker 3 (20:27):
Notte? When I went to the Queen the pot take
no bread for you know what? We fred let them
eat cake.

Speaker 1 (20:44):
That's such nonsense. I would never say that. Marie Antoinette,
portrayed here by Kirsten Dunst in Sophia Coppola's twenty oh
six film, is probably the most famous Habsburg in history,
a product of the Austrian branch of the family. In
seventeen seventy, she was married off to the air to
the French throne, the future King Louis the sixteenth.

Speaker 2 (21:08):
And he had significant Habsburg blood himself, because both Louis
the fourteenth and Louis the thirteenth had been married to
Habsburg first cousins of theirs.

Speaker 1 (21:17):
I'm back with author and professor Caroline Webber.

Speaker 2 (21:20):
So both she and her husband had this Habsburg blood line.
But she was the one who really visibly had something
of a Habsburg underbite, a kind of protuberant lower jaw
that I think people who didn't like her took to
be some kind of equivalent of resting bitch face. You
know that she always had this kind of haughty set
to her face because she also had a pendulous lower lip,

which was associated with the Habsburg jaw.

Speaker 1 (21:44):
It was the pendulous lower lip.

Speaker 2 (21:45):
The pendulous lower lip was basically just a lip that
would kind of hang low over the protuberant chin, and
she had something of that according to contemporary reports. By
most accounts, Marie Antoinette's version of these trees was not
crazily exacerbated. Her mother an Austrian princess and empress had

married a little bit outside of the bloodline into the
ducal House of Lorraine, and so Marie Antoinette got a
little bit of variety in the bloodline there. When she
came to France as an almost fifteen year old girl
in seventeen seventy, it had been a long time since
the French people had seen kind of a fresh faced, young, pretty,

fun loving teenage girl who was heir to the whole
thing by dint of being married to the future king.
And she became one of the first fashion celebrities in
eighteenth century Europe, realiant in the history of all of Europe,
and she was the first European royal whose likeness was
reproduced in kind of a primitive early version of fashion magazines,

which were these fashion illustrations. Those were generally quite idealizing
when they depicted her face. It didn't have a super
pronounced Hapsburg jaw. You'd maybe see a little hint of it,
and people who admired her and thought she was elegant
and liked the kind of crazy new way she liked
to dress wanted to look like her, So you might
see people kind of doing a poudy lip to try

to vaguely affect. Yeah, but they didn't have plastic surgery
back then, so there was no surgical method for making
your lower lip puff out a little bit. There is
a really funny story, for instance, of Marie Antoinette loved
experimental hairstyles, and we all know the kind of the
fashion plates and the portraits of her with like the
three foot high beehive headdress sometimes that had like a

fully rigged sailing ship ensconced in the in the coils
of her hair.

Speaker 1 (23:38):

Speaker 2 (23:38):
Yeah, I wrote a book about this year's ago, but
I mentioned it just to say anybody who wants to
see the pictures I did reproduce as many as I
could in Queen of Fashion. But one thing that that
I thought was so funny and really captures this kind
of contemporary aspirational celebrity culture that could have some relationship

to like the card today where the King and Queen
are the ones who everybody knows about, who have all
the money, who have all the power, who are everywhere
all the time, and this invitation frenzy Marie Antoinette with
these crazy hairstyles apparently spawned tens of thousands of copycats,
both in the upper classes where they could really afford
to have somebody spend six hours on their hair teasing

it into a cathedral shape, or little working girls in
Paris who would just try to do what they could with,
like teasing in a comb. But one woman famously at court,
some kind of rich woman saw Marie Antoinette in a
headdress that, instead of having flowers and pearls and ribbons,
like the sort of standard way would have been at
Bearsies at that time, Marie Antoinette had a cabbage and
some carrots and like maybe a cucumber some other vegetables

in it, and was called her pouf a lajardigne, a
gardener's poof. And this woman said, never again, where will
I wear anything but vegetables in my hair? It looked
so beautiful, your majesty, And this idea was people were
desperate to look like the queen. So I think even
if she had a bit of a Habsburg jaw and
a bit of a Habsburg pendulous lip, she did become
this kind of fashion icon who people wanted to resemble.

Speaker 1 (25:04):
And what do you think she saw when she looked
in the mirror.

Speaker 2 (25:07):
That's a great question, and you know Versailles was not
lacking in mirrors. Well, you know, the royal family had
to walk through that huge hall of mirrors every day
on their way to lunch. So she I don't know.
I mean, she did complain that she felt like most
portraits painted of her didn't capture her her essence, But
I don't know if that's because the paintings were too
idealized or not idealized enough. You know, we really don't know.

And because she was such a controversial figure, you know,
France and Austria hadn't been allies for a really long
time in European history, and so when she came and
married the future Louis the sixteenth, there were a number
of people at court who were just opposed to her
presence there because she represented an alliance with Austria. So
they would be the ones who would maybe go a
little bit farther in talking about how ugly she was

with this habsburg jaw, and the people who were partisans
of her and the alliance she represented would talk about
how beautiful she was with all that in her hair,
with all that rough dinner hair. Kept her young. I mean,
she died at thirty seven. But who's to say how
long she would have survived otherwise?

Speaker 1 (26:05):
Right head of Lettuce And then there's something there. Okay, no,
but you know, boy, that confidence she shows up in France.
She's Austrian and she's like, this is how I'm gonna dress,
wear my hair.

Speaker 2 (26:15):
Yeah, and that she actually sort of not only presumed
to dictate fashion to the French, but she kind of
pioneered the concept of the French being the ones who
were the people to beat when it came to fashion.

Speaker 1 (26:28):
Is that where we get it from here? Yeah?

Speaker 2 (26:29):
I mean from her and from her and her husband's
shared ancestor, Louis the fourteenth, He really kind of invented
peacocking and power dressing for men, you know, the high heels,
the red souls, the kind of early Christian lubautint, the
big wigs and the big hair and the ribbons and
the lace. And Louis the fourteenth became a walking billboard
for the French luxury industries, and he understood that France,

in order to kind of fill its coffers, needed to
have these these luxury exports that it could do better
than anyone else, like lace, like silk. But he really
kind of took the fashion plate concept to an extreme
in terms of how kings could power dress and show
you just how much money they had. But he wasn't
interested in trends per se. Marie Antoinette when she came
to France in seventeen seventy, Paris was just starting to

become a place where what we now know is fast
fashion was coming into being, where there was a whole
sub industry of women who weren't allowed by guild law
to make dresses or make hats, but they could make
the trimmings that you put on dresses and the trimmings
you put on hats, and those became the trends that
you could wear and kind of change every day to
change your look all the time. And Marie Antoinette really

became the royal god parent of that phenomenon and spawned
the French fashion industry as we still know it today.

Speaker 1 (27:44):
The queen eventually fell out of fashion with her French subjects.
Here she is portrayed in nineteen thirty eight by film
actress Norma Shearer.

Speaker 3 (27:53):
People threw stones at the carriage. They threw stones and
shall have ill sums. I'm trembling still. Those pale faces
full of hatreds shouting what's being shouted all over front
for an Austrian leech.

Speaker 1 (28:15):
I suppose you can only speculate, But do you think
that when she looked in the mirror that the hair,
the clothes, everything around it was I don't know. I
don't want to say a way of compensating for the
jah on the lip, but a way of like anyone
would like I would if I looked and I saw

I don't like that about me. Yeah, I'll do this
to balance it out, to draw attention.

Speaker 2 (28:39):
Indeed, if you wear a three foot high headdress on
your head, you are going to kind of direct the
eye away from your pendulous lower lip and you're extruding
habsbrug jaw. And it would explain why she gravitated toward
that trend. Of all possible trends, I mean, there are
all kinds of crazy things that she could do in
the name of fashion, but to choose specifically as your

signature hairstyle, this gigantic, bulbous, three foot high construction, you
do think that that must have really softened the chin.

Speaker 1 (29:11):
In the end, of course, Marie Antoinette took it on
the chin and much more when she and her husband
were beheaded On the other side of the break. Did
centuries of royal inbreeding lead to World War One? The
downfall of more defective and despotic dynasties coming up next?

Europeans throughout these centuries, did they not imagine another way
of doing things other than dynastic rule?

Speaker 2 (29:47):
I mean, I think so much of the symbolic strength
of monarchy in Europe from the Middle Ages too, maybe
even to today, but certainly from the Middle Ages until
World War One rested on this mythology that the older
and the purer your bloodline, the better.

Speaker 1 (30:02):
But as early as the nineteenth century, questions were being
raised about the wisdom of royal relatives marrying each other.
In eighteen seventy, Charles Darwin wrote that consanguineous marriages lead
to deafness, and dumbness and blindness. Darwin, for what it's worth,
married and had ten children with his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood.

In the US, concerns over so called cousin marriage were
growing rapidly. At the ninth Annual meeting of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science in eighteen fifty five,
a Boston clergyman named Charles Brooks delivered a fiery lecture
warning against the health consequences of consanguineous reproduction, and by

the end of the nineteenth century, more than a dozen
states had passed laws banning such marriages.

Speaker 2 (30:56):
And nowadays people are envisioning another way the crown, so
that the heir to the throne of England now is
married to a woman with no obvious or known royal blood.
So royals today, I think, do understand that there are
some advantages beyond just getting to marry a person you love,
to marrying outside of the gene pool.

Speaker 1 (31:14):
The tradition of European royals marrying each other also meant
that a disorder carried by one royal line was likely
to be carried over to other royal lines, since all
these lines were tangled up. Take the blood clotting disorder hemophilia,
which is often described as the royal disease.

Speaker 2 (31:35):
Because it was something that was genetically transmitted, and it's
something that really came to flourish in and among European
royal houses throughout late nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe.
Because Queen Victoria was a carrier of the gene and
so she had one son who was a hemophiliac, and
then she had several grandchildren who were carriers of the disease.

And because she had cast her net wide over Europe,
you really see heemophilia taking off in these generations of
matches that were made between and among the children and
grandchildren of Queen Victoria.

Speaker 1 (32:11):
In the case of the royal houses which were beseicked
by it in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
hemophilia wasn't just a family matter. It threatened to upend
the world order.

Speaker 2 (32:24):
The best example I can think of is Nicholas the Second,
the last Czar of Russia, the Romanov, the Romanov who
his wife, the Czarina, was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Her brother had been hemophiliac and had died young. He
fell out a window and basically died of internal bleeding.
I mean, basically, you can't be a hemophiliac and a

child and have any of the normal bumps and scrapes
that a typical child would have growing up. And so
her and Nicholas's son, Alexei, who was the Tsarevich, the
heir to the throne, was born a haemophiliac. But essentially
they spent the entirety of his life until the whole
family was murdered by the Bolsheviks, hiding him from the

public and hiding the fact that he was a hemophiliac.

Speaker 1 (33:13):
The family drama inside the last Russian monarchy was dramatized
on screen in the nineteen seventy one film Nicholas and Alexandra.

Speaker 4 (33:22):
There is no doubt of it, no doubt of any kind.
It is unquestionably hemophilia. I see, the female is the carrier.
The mother gives it to the son. Your mother got
it from her mother, Queen Victoria, and passed it on
to you.

Speaker 3 (33:36):
I see.

Speaker 2 (33:37):
A big part of why Zar Nicholas the second was
so disliked by the Russian public is because they never
saw him. He was invisible to the people of Russia.
And it was largely because he and his wife were
just consumed by dread that after years and years of
not having a son and only having daughters, and they
finally had this boy, and then they realized that he

can die at any moment from the slightest thing. So
they were constantly in seclusion with their child. Resputant was
brought in which is you know, kind of resputant is
always invoked as the kind of proof of how crazy
and out of touch these Tsars were, And they wanted
this Charlatan faith healer, mad priest, sex maniac to come

into the heart of their family and run things as
he did. But he was perceived by them as the
only thing that was standing between their son and death
from the complications of hemophilia.

Speaker 4 (34:31):
I knew you were going to send for me. I
knew the child was sick.

Speaker 3 (34:36):
I know what's the matter with him?

Speaker 4 (34:38):
You can't I see blood when I shut my eyes.

Speaker 1 (34:41):
The blood he may have seen was that of the
whole family executed by Bolshevik revolutionaries in nineteen eighteen.

Speaker 2 (34:50):
So by the time they died, with still a very
young Tsarevich and the rest of their children, their daughters,
nobody in Russia knew that the boy was a hemophiliac.

Speaker 1 (34:58):
Oh, my goodness, But the tsar and Tsarevich's in soelarty
and then the entrance of resputen. Both of these things
which are to their detriment, are connected to their son's hemophilia.

Speaker 2 (35:11):
I intimately connected my only close royal friend, His great
great great grandparents were the aunt and uncle of Zar
Nicholas the second, and his name is Dimitri of Yugoslavia,
and he's the best storyteller around. And one of the
stories that he tells about Rasputin is that one day
the Tsarevich was playing inside in one of the big

Russian palaces and he was sitting in one of these
kind of massive, ornately decorated rooms where there were gigantic
chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and Rasputin came running into
the room and pushed this little boy kind of out
of the way, and a gigantic chandelier came crashing down.
And the thought was that Rasputin really does have these
visionary qualities because he saw that this boy was about

to be crushed by a chandelier.

Speaker 1 (35:56):
Wow. While Resputen's name has gone down in history as
a byword for someone who wields deceitful influence, perhaps it
should be more celebrated. The euro disco group BONEYM seemed
to think so.

Speaker 2 (36:12):
The same.

Speaker 1 (36:20):
Okay, so you are writing a book now on another dynasty.

Speaker 2 (36:25):
I'm writing a book on a number of interrelated dynasties,
but the center of gravity is a Bavarian dynasty called
the Vittelsbach And who are they? They are an old
Bavarian family, so south of Germany, Catholic dynasty. They were
already in the nineteenth century one of the oldest royal
families in Europe. They could trace their ancestry back to

the eleventh century. They had actually intermarried with both Spanish
and Austrian Habsburgs throughout history, sporadically periodically, because they were
Catholic royals and Catholic royals tended to like to with
each other, and the same for the Protestants. And they
really came to the fore as one of the more
colorful royal families in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Speaker 1 (37:08):
And there are some particularly colorful members of this family.

Speaker 2 (37:14):
Yes, I want to call my book Glass Piano Girl
and Other Stories of Royal Dysfunction. I'm not sure that's
what it will be allowed to be. But the Vittelsbach
princess who won my heart was the daughter of a
Vittelsbach Bavarian king Ludwig the first. Her name was Alexandra
of Bavaria, and she, when she was around eighteen, became

thoroughly convinced that she had swallowed two foreign objects that
were threatening to destroy her from within. The largest and
most problematic of these objects was a glass grand piano
that she thought was lodged in her stomach. And she
also believed that there was a miniature sofa that was
wedged in her skull, like somewhere in her brain, and

she would have these fits of I think what psychoanalyst
would call hysterical blindness, where the doctors couldn't find anything
wrong with her optic nerves. There was no as far
as we know, prominent genetic Vittelsbach hereditary condition that led
to these moments of blindness, and the Vittelsbach themselves had
intermarried for generations like so many royal families. But she

believed that this little miniature sofa was pressing on her
eyes and making her blind.

Speaker 1 (38:24):
And can I ask was the sofa in the same
room as the piano? Was it like a drawing room
or a situation.

Speaker 2 (38:30):
Or I don't know how she It's funny because she
became a writer in later life, but she never really
wrote about the floor plan, the floor plan of her
body as a set of different chambers. But I mean,
definitely they were distinct scale differences. The piano was a
properly sized grand piano, whereas this little sofa was tiny
enough to somehow fit in her skulp. But her doctors

finally tricked her out of believing that she had this
tiny sofa in her head because they induced vomiting one day,
and then in the bucket that they held out to
collect her sick they fished out the surreptitiously slipped in
piece of dollhouse furniture. They took a little, tiny dollhouse
sofa and said, do you see, your highness, Thanks to
the emetic that we've prescribed, you've been purged of it now.

But because she was convinced that the piano in her
abdomen was full sized, they could never come up with
a similar trick, so she really off and on suffered
from incredible periods of almost paralyzing terror, where she was
afraid that if she moved even the least bit the
wrong way, or if she jostled up against a person
or a wall, or a door or the arm of

a chair, that the whole thing would shatter and shred
her inside. Royal photography was starting to come into vogue
in this period, and we do have at least two
photographs of her. But the photographs we had of her
are of just a woman who looks haunted and hunted
and kind of you know, just like a hollow face,

because she was afraid to eat too. I mean, eating
became a challenge. Everything was a challenge. She saw potential
day everywhere and lived a fairly long life by those standards.
I think she died when she was around sixty. And
this is Princess Alexandra of Bavaria. Then Ludwig the castle Builder,
Ludwig the castle Builder, So Ludwig the Second was Alexandra's nephew.

Ludwig the Second was the most flamboyantly eccentric of all
the Vittel's Box and probably of all royals in the
nineteenth century. He had this kind of also delusional quality
to his mental makeup, where, for instance, he believed that
he was in constant communion with the ghosts of the
royals that he most admired, who weren't even necessarily close

relations of his or related at all. In particular, he
would have these kind of spiritual conversations with Marie Antoinette
and Louis the fourteenth, and he so firmly believed that
they were around him and talking to him and advising
him that he would have these elaborate dinner parties served
where it was just himself and the bust of Louis
the fourteen, the bust of Marie Antoinette, and he would

have dish after dish brought in by valets and liveried
valets standing in attendance, and they would clear away the
plates of like mounds of pheasant, mounds of suites. He
loved sweets that Obviously, these bust statues were not consuming.

Speaker 1 (41:14):
But the favorite extravagance of the Ludwig the castle Builder
was building castles.

Speaker 2 (41:21):
And he built castles all over Bavaria. One of his castles,
Neus s Fonstein, was the one that became the basis
for the Disney World Castle. So when we think of
a cartoon version of a castle with crazy turrets, and
it almost looks like it's something out of a fairy tale,
this was born of the feverish imagination of Ludwig the Second.

Speaker 1 (41:40):
Ludwig believed he ruled by divine right, which meant no
checks or balances from his royal cabinet, which meant he
ignored all warnings about the disaster his frienzied spending was
leading towards.

Speaker 2 (41:55):
He bankrupted Bavaria single handedly by building these castles, and
was actually caught by his men ministers writing letters to
various bankers around Europe offering to sell them Bavaria so
that they would advance him the money to keep building
his castles. So he was really quite a maniac. But
the palaces that he built that were so hard on

the Bavarian treasury, in fact, are now huge tourist draws
in bavarias if people go to Bavaria, they want to
see those castles.

Speaker 1 (42:21):
Crazy rich Bavarians.

Speaker 2 (42:23):
Crazy rich Bavarians. He didn't know how to spend it
fast enough.

Speaker 1 (42:27):
How confident are you that this behavior was at least
in part due to intermarriage.

Speaker 2 (42:33):
The vittels Box intermarried a lot, not as much as
the Habsburg's, but it was really a proud tradition and
it dated back many many generations, and anecdotally, by the
nineteenth century there was a kind of what we would
call a meme about something called the Vittelsbach madness. Then
the perception really was that Ludwig had inherited this madness

from the Vittelsbach side of the family, and so it
was seen as this kind of possibly hereditary taint.

Speaker 1 (43:02):
Then Ludwig's younger brother.

Speaker 2 (43:04):
Oh Auto Ludwig Ludwig was overthrown by his cabinet in
eighteen eighty six, who were afraid that he was going
to sell the Kingdom of Bavaria. They couldn't get him
to stop spending on the castles, and they overthrew him,
knowing that his younger brother was even crazier than he was,
but thinking that at least the younger brother Otto, who
was handed the throne as Otto the first, would be

pliable in their hands. Because Otto basically went through protracted
periods where he believed that he was a dog, and
so Otto never really even tried to rain. Otto never
had the power of the purse. Otto was really run
by his one of his dog walkers.

Speaker 1 (43:42):
Yeah, and his belief that he was a dog. How
did this manifest?

Speaker 2 (43:46):
I belief that he was a dog manifested itself in lunging, snarling, biting.
He actually he was kept for most of his adult
life and most of his reign in one particular kind
of out of the way palace that not too many
people would risk a visiting. Sometimes his relatives felt bad
and went to visit him, and they were the ones
who would report that he was like leashed to a wall.
And when they would come into the room, you know,

and you'd be presented, because he was still the kings.
He'd be presented with all this pomp and like liveried servants,
and you'd do your deep curtsies if you were a woman,
or your deep ritual bows if you were a man,
but you'd see this snarling person on all fours, tethered
to the wall and like snapping at you and apparently
foaming at the mouth. There are reports also that he
would only eat out of like a dog bowl or

a bowl on the ground.

Speaker 1 (44:30):
Now, Carrie points out that as a young man, Auto
had been forced to fight in the Franco Prussian War,
where he witnessed atrocities and suffered post traumatic stress disorder.

Speaker 2 (44:41):
But the dog delusions had already kind of started with
Auto when he was a teenager, before he went off
to war, And I think more just sent him over
the edge, and.

Speaker 1 (44:47):
Just exacerbated and sent him over the edge. Can we
draw a line between there and the outbreak of World
War One?

Speaker 2 (44:55):
I think in many ways we can, because By the
time World War One broke out in nineteen fourteen, Europe
was still almost entirely ruled by people from old royal
families who had varying degrees of inbreeding and varying disadvantages
that attached to that. And so the kingdom of Bavaria,

for instance, I mean, I think it's incredible fragility is
highlighted by the fact that these two kings, Ludwig the
second and Auto the First, were kings, and yet they
couldn't govern, They were incapable of governing, and Bavaria is
one of the kingdoms that collapsed with World War One.
The Romanovs were, you know, autocrat of all. The Russia's
was actually the Bizar's title. And the idea was you

ruled by autocracy because you were chosen by God and
the people are not supposed to have a voice at all.
And when people started wanting to have a voice, Nicholas
the second didn't listen to them, partly through his retrograde
convictions in the superiority of royal birth and his divine mandate,
but partly again also because he was so distracted by
his son's chemophilia.

Speaker 1 (45:56):
And we can't forget about those Austrian Habsburgs.

Speaker 2 (46:00):
The Emperor of the Austro Hungarian Empire, Franz Joseph, was
himself the product of Habsburg and a Vittelsbach marriage. His
wife was twice over of Vittelsbach. Her parents were Vittelsbach cousins.

Speaker 1 (46:13):
Their only son, Rudolph, died by suicide after killing his
seventeen year old mistress in a hunting lodge in what
became known as the Mayrling Incident. It would have a
profound effect on European geopolitics, since Rudolph was seen by
royals as the great progressive hope.

Speaker 2 (46:33):
He was the one who had really had these kind
of ambitions to liberalize and modernize the Austro Hungarian Empire
and give the people more of a voice, adopt some
of the kind of more modern liberal notions of constitutional
rule and checks and balances. But his mother was terrified
that by dint of being doubly a Vittelsbach on her

mother's on her father's side, that she had transmitted this
Vittelsbach madness to.

Speaker 1 (46:57):
Him, and she felt guilty.

Speaker 2 (46:58):
She felt guilty, and she might not have been wrong.

Speaker 1 (47:02):
After the prince's death, the line of succession eventually passed
to Rudolph's cousin, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose name you may
remember from high school European history. His assassination led to
the outbreak of World War One.

Speaker 2 (47:20):
To draw the line between World War One and in
reading it would sound maybe specious or flip, but I
think that the reason why these questions about royal intermarriage
and what their actual effects were on the human beings
who were produced by those systems is that those were
the same human beings who governed most of the world
through nineteen eighteen.

Speaker 1 (47:41):
Bear in mind, in just the Austro Hungarian Empire you
had one forgive the expression crazy ass family deciding the
fate of more than fifty million people, and.

Speaker 2 (47:54):
The fact that World War One seesed the collapse of
the Russian Empire, the Prussian Empire, and the Austro Hungarian Empire.
It's another death of dynasties in effect, and all of
those families had really been mined by problems that seem
to correlate with in rereading, even though there were plenty
of other geopolitical factors and domestically political factors.

Speaker 1 (48:15):
Honestly, folks, this is all a reminder that democracy really
remains the best game in town. I hope you enjoyed
this Mobituary. May I ask you to please rate and
review our podcast. You can also follow Mobituaries on Facebook

and Instagram, and you can follow me on the social
media platform formerly known as Twitter at morocca. Hear all
new episodes of Mobituaries every Wednesday wherever you get your podcasts,
and check out Mobituaries Great Lives Worth Reliving, the New
York Times best selling book, available in paperback and audiobook.

This episode of Obituaries was produced by Aaron Schrank. Our
team of producers also includes Hazelbrien and me Moroka, with
engineering by Josh Han. Our theme music is written by
Daniel Hart. Our archival producer is Jamie Benson. Mobituary's production
company is Neon Hummmedia. Indispensable support from Alan pang, Any

Cronenberg and everyone at CBS News Radio. Special thanks to
Steve Razis, Rand Morrison and Alberto Robina. Executive producers for
Mobituaries include Megan Marcus, Jonathan Hirsch, and Moroka. The series
is created by Yours Truly
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