Royal Sibling Feuds Through History

Royal Sibling Feuds Through History

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When family members are also co-workers, things can get messy. This is never truer than in royal families, where the interplay of private passions and public displays of affection or dissatisfaction are broadcast on an international stage. While some royal feuds remain minor, others in history have become so dysfunctional, they’ve led to major wars.

Cleopatra's Family Feuds

By the time the legendary Cleopatra VII was born into the ruling Ptolemy dynasty of Egypt around 69 B.C., the family already had an incestuous, murderous history. For generations, sisters had killed brothers, mothers had gone to war with their children, and sons had murdered their parents.

“After a while the butchery came to seem almost preordained,” writes Stacy Schiff in Cleopatra: A Life. “Cleopatra’s uncle murdered his wife, thereby eliminating his step-mother (and half-sister) as well.”

The last of their line, Cleopatra and her three siblings continued this bloody family tradition. On the death of their father around 51 B.C., Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy XIII, were married and assumed the Egyptian throne as co-rulers. This forced partnership quickly fell apart, and by 48 B.C., Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra were engaged in a brutal civil war against each other. In the midst of the madness, their younger sister, Arsinoe IV, also claimed the throne for herself.

Cleopatra did not take her sister’s betrayal lightly. “It is unlikely that she underestimated her 17-year-old sister,” writes Schiff. “Arsinoe burned with ambition; she was not the kind of girl who inspired complacency.”

Arsinoe soon banded together with Ptolemy XIII and together the siblings launched the Siege of Alexandria against Cleopatra in the winter of 48 B.C. But Cleopatra then gained a secret weapon—the all-powerful Roman leader Caesar, with whom she began a personal and professional relationship. Together, they routed her siblings at the Battle of the Nile, in 47 B.C.

Ptolemy XIII drowned in the Nile shortly after his defeat. Arsinoe was captured and paraded through Alexandria in golden shackles, before being exiled to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

Her triumphant sister, Cleopatra, now in control of Egypt and Caesar’s heart, soon married her younger brother Ptolemy XIV. Ptolemy XIV then died in 44 B.C., likely poisoned by Cleopatra, and the queen made her infant son co-ruler with her as Ptolemy XV Caesar.

But there was still the problem of Arsinoe. According to Schiff, Cleopatra’s younger sister rallied enough support in Ephesus to have herself proclaimed queen of Egypt. “Her feat speaks both to her tenacity and to the fragility of Cleopatra’s position outside her country,” Schiff writes, “certainly the two sisters despised each other.”

This prolonged family feud finally ended in 41 B.C., when Cleopatra’s great love Mark Antony ordered Arsinoe killed on the steps of the Temple of Artemis. “Now,” wrote one chronicler, “Cleopatra had put to death all her kindred, till no one near her in blood remained alive.”

William the Conqueror's sons

There is only one civil war in history that can trace roots to a chamber pot.

When William the Conqueror, the first Norman King of England, died in 1087, he left Britain to his middle son William Rufus instead of his eldest son Robert. William had long been in conflict with the charming, combative and dissipated Robert (known as Robert Curthose, perhaps for his short legs).

According to an account by Orderic Vitalis, a Benedictine monk who wrote chronicles of 11th and 12th centuries, Robert had been at odds with his father since 1077, when William Rufus and their younger brother Henry had dumped a full chamber pot over his head. A brawl ensued, and their father broke it up, but refused to punish William Rufus and Henry. Robert was furious and staged a failed attack on the castle of Rouen in retaliation.

This family feud lasted for years, with Robert fleeing to Flanders, fighting his own father in combat. They were finally reconciled in 1080, but not surprisingly, their relationship was strained, and Robert spent most of his time abroad. When his father died, Robert was left the lesser prize of Normandy. He gathered a rebellion against his brother, now King William II, but it failed when Robert failed to appear in England.

Instead, he went off to crusade in the Holy Land. On his way back in 1100, he was informed that King William II had died—and that his young brother Henry I had claimed the crown.

From Normandy, Robert raised an army and headed across the channel in July 1101. “Robert headed towards London and was intercepted by Henry at Alton in Hampshire,” writes historian Richard Cavendish. “Henry persuaded Robert to renounce his claim to England in return for a pension of 3,000 marks a year and the abandonment of any claim on Henry’s part to Normandy. It was agreed that no action would be taken against the Duke’s supporters.”

But Robert had been deceived. His brother stopped sending the pension and invaded Normandy, restless after years of Robert’s mismanagement. In 1106, Henry beat his brother at the Battle of Tinchebray. Robert was imprisoned for the next 28 years. “Woe to him that is not old enough to die,” he wrote during this long captivity.

Robert finally died in 1134, in Cardiff Castle, at the ripe old age of 80. Henry I died the following year, victorious over his brother even in death.

Elizabeth I and Mary I

When Mary I finally inherited the throne of England in 1553, she had endured a lifetime of disappointments, heartbreaks and slights. The only child of King Henry VIII and the Catholic, saintly Catherine of Aragon, she had been the beloved heir to her father’s throne for much of her childhood.

But after Henry’s passionate affair and subsequent marriage to the Protestant-leaning Anne Boleyn, her world was destroyed. She was ripped away from her mother, stripped of her royal title and forced to curtsey to her new half-sister, a small redheaded baby—Princess Elizabeth.

Her new stepmother was particularly cruel to young Mary, and the impressionable teenager stored away these insults for the rest of her life. After Anne Boleyn’s execution in 1536, Mary’s status was restored, and she appeared to become fond of her now motherless half-sister Elizabeth.

But their tortured familial history was only part of what would make this ceasefire temporary. “Relations between elder and younger sisters are often difficult—particularly when there is an age gap of seventeen years, as there was to be between Mary and her half-sister Elizabeth,” writes David Starkey in Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne. “But fate also cast them as opposites in appearance and character and opponents in religion and politics.”

With the vehemently Catholic Mary’s accession in 1553, all her old bitterness rose to the surface. Though Elizabeth had ridden into the city of London with Mary for her coronation, their relationship quickly soured. Elizabeth was now the “second person” in the kingdom—young, charismatic, confident and Protestant.

READ MORE: What Inspired Queen 'Bloody' Mary's Gruesome Nickname?

In 1554, the Wyatt Rebellion was launched in reaction to Mary’s unpopular plan to marry the Catholic King Philip of Spain. Leaders of the rebellion planned to put Elizabeth on the throne, and Mary believed that her sister had been part of the plot. Elizabeth was arrested and sent to the ominous Tower of London, the same place her mother had been executed decades before. “Oh Lorde!” she cried. “I never thought to have come in here as prisoner!”

Once in the tower, Elizabeth wrote her sister a frantic, rambling letter, her usual composure lost to fear:

I pray to God the like evil persuasions persuade not one sister against the other, and all for that they have heard false report, and the truth not known. Therefore, once again, kneeling with humbleness of heart, because I am not suffered to bow the knees of my body, I humbly crave to speak with your Highness, which I would not be so bold as to desire if I knew not myself most clear, as I know myself most true.

The letter did not have its intended effect. Mary was further enraged by this letter, feeling that it lacked the respect she deserved. However, she did let her sister out of the Tower after three weeks, and Elizabeth was sent to Woodstock under house arrest. Here, she etched a short poem into the window of her prison with a diamond:

Much suspected by me,

Nothing proved can be,

Quoth Elizabeth prisoner

Elizabeth was finally pardoned a year later, and the sisters resumed a strained but cordial public relationship. Only four years later, in 1558, Mary died during an influenza epidemic, and Elizabeth started her glorious reign.

Viciousness at Versailles

From childhood, the clumsy, well-meaning Louis XVI of France was often overshadowed and outmaneuvered by his malicious younger brothers. Stagnant and bored at the court of Versailles, Comte de Provence and Comte d’Artois spent much of their time stirring up gossip about their hapless older brother.

Left to their own devices, the brothers often engaged in petty arguments, occasionally in view of the whole court. Soon after Louis’s marriage to the young Marie Antoinette in 1770, the former Austrian archduchess—from a large family of brothers and sisters—found herself frequently breaking up embarrassing fracases between the brothers.

“With her experience of family life,” Antonia Fraser writes in Marie Antoinette: The Journey, “Marie Antoinette began to act as peace-maker between the sparring royal brothers, Louis Auguste and Provence. On one occasion when the clumsy Louis Auguste broke a piece of porcelain belonging to Provence and the younger brother flew at him, Marie Antoinette actually interrupted the fight...”

With their accession to the throne in 1774, Louis and Marie Antoinette’s inability to produce an heir became fodder for his brothers’ taunts. After his own marriage, Provence was also unable to consummate his union. “None of this,” writes Fraser, “stopped the wily Provence from dropping hints about his wife’s condition whenever he could most conveniently bait his brother and his Austrian wife with their own failure.”

The brothers also encouraged the rumor that the graceful, fun-loving Marie Antoinette was having an affair with the equally high-spirited Artois, a complete fabrication. This assault on their brother’s fertility reached a breaking point in 1778, with the birth of Princess Marie-Therese. According to Fraser, at the child's baptism, the Comte de Provence argued that the "name and quality" of the parents had not been formally given.

"Under the mask of concern about correct procedure, the Comte was making an impertinent allusion to the allegations about the baby’s paternity," Fraser writes.

As tensions rose in France, his brothers’ increasingly conservative, reactionary politics caused constant problems for the moderate, placating Louis XVI. Both Provence and Artois escaped France with their families during the revolution. After their brother’s death, both men eventually got what they had perhaps always longed for—the chance to be king. After the fall of Napoleon, Provence reigned as Louis XVIII from 1814 to 1824. Artois followed as Charles X from 1824 to 1830, before he was deposed.

Napoleon's Relations

"My relations," Napoleon once said, "have done me more harm than I have done them good."

The fallen Emperor had reason to be bitter. In Napoleon’s eyes, he had raised his large Corsican brood, consisting of Joseph, Lucien, Elisa, Louis, Pauline, Caroline and Jerome, to the status of royalty. He had given them titles, put them on the thrones of kingdoms, and made them rich. In return, Napoleon had expected blind loyalty from his siblings. He should have known better.

From the start, not all of Napoleon’s brothers and sisters held him in high regard. His younger brother Lucien hated him from childhood, believing that he was a bully and a megalomaniac. Writing to his older brother Joseph in the early 1790s, he listed all Napoleons faults, noting, "He seems to me to have a strong liking for tyrannical methods; if he were king, he would be a tyrant, and his name, for posterity and in the ears of sensitive patriots, would be a name of horror."

Once Napoleon took power in France, Lucien was banished to Italy for marrying a woman whom his brother did not approve. The rest of the Bonapartes continued to bicker—united in little but their hatred of Napoleon’s wife, Josephine. In response, Napoleon taunted them with the honors he bestowed on Josephine and her children. One night at dinner, he continually addressed his stepdaughter Hortense as Princess, just to anger his sisters. According to Theo Aronson, author of The Golden Bees: The Story of the Bonapartes, "Caroline burst into tears. Elisa, who had a better grip on her emotions, resorted to shafts of biting sarcasm and long haughty silences."

The dysfunction reached a fever pitch in 1804, when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor. His sisters and sisters-in-law were appalled that they would have to carry the hated Josephine’s train in the ceremony at Notre Dame. Joseph said he would move to Germany if his wife was so dishonored. Eventually, the women begrudgingly agreed—only if their trains were also carried.

The siblings were also jealous of each other. Napoleon made Joseph King of Italy and Sicily, Jerome King of Westphalia, and Louis King of Holland. Upon learning that Elisa had been given the principality of Piombino, Caroline quipped, "So Elisa is a sovereign Princess, with an army of four privates and a corporal."

After his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon turned against much of his family. "I love no one, no, not even my brothers," he once said. "Joseph, perhaps a little; and if I do love him, it is from habit, and because he is my elder."

Stewing in exile on Saint Helena he realized he had made a mistake by putting his siblings in positions of power. "If I made one [of my brothers] a king,” he muttered, according to Aronson's account, “he imagined that he was king by the grace of God. He was no longer my lieutenant; he was one enemy more for me to watch."

Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso and Mikkel Borg Bjergso started a brewery together before their relationship soured.

Mikkel Borg Bjergso and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso have been making beer for years, and while they started out brewing together, they have since ventured out on their own.

The identical twins each own their own beer outfit — Mikkel is the mastermind behind the brewery Mikkeller in Copenhagen while Jeppe runs the now-Queens-based Evil Twin Brewing — but the two have hardly spoken since 2010. The rivalry is clear after all, each brother runs a business in the same industry, but the Bjergsos say they don't look at one another as competition — or at least, Mikkel doesn't. "I don't see Jeppe as a rival," he told The New York Times' Jonah Weiner in a 2014 article about the brothers' ongoing love of beer and animosity toward each other.

Weiner makes it clear that, rivalry or not, there's definitely a feud between the two that the brothers even tried to resolve with some couples-type counseling, but to no avail.

Most shocking royal family feuds in the history of British Monarchy

When it comes to the British royal family, they&rsquore not only known for their glory and grandeur, but are also infamous for all the drama and longstanding family feuds and disagreements that have deeply affected their prominence in the public eye. Besides having maintained an elegant semblance for over centuries, the British monarchy has had its own share of trials and tribulations. From rifts between royal spouses to sibling rivalry, the royal family has seen it all and while there is no denying it, here are some of the most shocking royal family feuds in the history of British royalty.

02 /9 Mathilde vs. the People

The history of royal family feud dates back to the year 1126, when King Henry I appointed his daughter, Matilda, the heir to the throne of England and Normandy. The idea of a woman ruler &ndash as alien as it was to the people during that time - not only disturbed the subjects, but also lead them to declare a civil war after the King&rsquos death, which lasted for about 19 years. However, the matter was resolved in the end with the help of a peace treaty.

03 /9 Queen Elizabeth I vs. Mary, Queen of Scots

Known as two of the most legendary rivals in the history of British Monarchy, Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots were cousins, who never got around reconciling with each other. While Queen Mary inherited Scotland&rsquos throne after the death of her father, she lead a very tumultuous life thereafter. Although the two had never met in person, their decade&rsquos long rivalry ended with Mary&rsquos beheading, an order issued by Queen Elizabeth I herself.

04 /9 King George VI vs. King Edward VIII

The complicated relationship between the two brothers, King George VI and King Edward VIII began with the abdication of the throne of the latter and continued due to his ties with the Nazi regime. Having fallen in love and married with a two times American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, caused quite the stir in the British royal family, which not only changed the entire line of the British succession, but also left King George VI feeling bitter and without a choice.

05 /9 Prince Charles vs. Princess Diana

One of the greatest feuds of all time in the British royalty is that between Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Having married at a young age of 20, many had already speculated the troubled relationship between the two &ndash which somehow turned out to be true. After their separation, she openly admits in an interview how she was already aware of her husband&rsquos affair with Camilla Parker Bowles and that she suffered through many mental health issues.

06 /9 Charles Spencer vs. The Royal Family

Following Diana&rsquos death, her brother, Charles Spencer was not quite happy with the turn of events. On Diana&rsquos funeral, Charles, in his eulogy, talked about how the paparazzi harassed his sister and also expressed his dissatisfaction towards the royal family, causing a great dent between the two families for years.

07 /9 Charles Spencer vs. The Royal Family

Following Diana&rsquos death, her brother, Charles Spencer was not quite happy with the turn of events. On Diana&rsquos funeral, Charles, in his eulogy, talked about how the paparazzi harassed his sister and also expressed his dissatisfaction towards the royal family, causing a great dent between the two families for years.

08 /9 Camilla Parker Bowles vs. Kate Middleton

The author of the book &ldquoGame of Crowns&rdquo had revealed that Camilla Parker Bowles, Prince William&rsquos stepmother wanted Will and Kate to break up. Allegedly, the Duchess of Cornwall wanted her husband Prince Charles to convince Prince William to break it off with Kate because she did not like the way people loved Kate and not her.

09 /9 Prince William vs. Prince Harry

There is no doubt that the sibling duo &ndash Prince William and Prince Harry &ndash have had a difficult upbringing, especially due to their parent&rsquos separation and mother&rsquos death. However, it never stopped the two brothers from supporting each other. But following Prince Harry&rsquos and Meghan Markle&rsquos stepping back from their royal duties may have strained their relationship in various ways. According to the historian and author of the new book, "Battle of Brothers: The Inside Story of a Family in Tumult", Robert Lacey describes their relationship by saying, &ldquoFundamental to the whole saga is the clash of love versus duty.&rdquo

Royal sibling rivalry: Henry VIII, Richard III and other monarchs whose fate was determined by their brothers and sisters

Through history, the role of the second or third royal sibling has not always been easy. Here, historian Sarah Gristwood explores 10 of the most famous – and dysfunctional – royal sibling relationships.

This competition is now closed

Published: October 21, 2019 at 3:45 pm

In the bad old days of high infant mortality, any royal family needed an heir and several ‘spares’ – north of the border, James V and his daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, are just two of the many British monarchs with elder brothers who died in infancy. William the Conqueror left England to his second son, another William, while the eldest son, Robert, inherited Normandy.

Since then, the history of these islands has been littered with famous second – or third, or fourth – royal siblings (or, more specifically, royal sons, since gender continued to trump age right into the 21st century), who for better or for worse have done much to shape the monarchy that we know today. Here are 10 of the most famous…

Richard I (1157–99)

It wasn’t Richard ‘the Lionheart’, but his elder brother, Henry, who was crowned ‘the Young King’ of England, unusually during their father’s lifetime. In the event Henry predeceased his father, but perhaps the fact Richard hadn’t been raised for the job explains why the crusader showed so little real enthusiasm for hands-on rule of England, spending only a few months in the country during his 10-year reign.

Richard was himself succeeded by his younger brother, John. Fairly or unfairly, King John has gone down in popular history as a disastrous monarch whose reign was epitomised by his losing the crown jewels in the Wash – but he did inadvertently help to give us Magna Carta.

John of Gaunt (1340–99)

By contrast to John I, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster – fourth son of the prolific Edward III – has traditionally been accorded a good measure of respect for the steering hand he kept on the country during the minority of his nephew, Richard II.

His harsh fiscal policies, however, made him a particular target of the Peasants’ Revolt – while almost as soon as John himself died, Richard II was deposed by John’s exiled son, the Bolingbroke of Shakespeare’s plays, who took the throne as Henry IV. These were the family divisions that, half a century later, would produce the Wars of the Roses.

Richard III (1452–85)

The best-known casualty of those wars was of course Richard III, whose death at Bosworth ushered in the Tudor dynasty. Richard was only the fourth son of the York family, but by the time he seized the throne the first, second and third sons were all dead – Edmund killed by the Lancastrians, and George, Duke of Clarence (after plotting against Edward) drowned in the famous butt of malmsey.

The grounds upon which Richard took the throne in 1483 – chiefly the supposed invalidity of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville – are still debated today. So too, of course, is the fate of Edward IV’s sons, the princes in the Tower, and Richard’s role in their possible murder. Either way, Richard – his brother Edward’s most loyal supporter during his lifetime – provides the most dramatic prism through which to examine both the royal sibling bond, and the question of sibling rivalry.

Henry VIII (1491–1547)

It wasn’t Henry but his elder brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales, who was expected to lead the Tudor dynasty through the 16th century. But Arthur died in 1502 – and if anyone ever forgot that in the glorious early days of Henry VIII’s reign, they had ample cause to remember two decades later, when Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was endlessly debated, and ultimately declared invalid, on the grounds that she had been his brother Arthur’s widow.

Indeed, there has been speculation that Henry’s position as a mere second son – reared with his mother and sisters, while Arthur was sent away to Ludlow – affected his later attitudes, and his infamous marital history.

Elizabeth I (1533–1603)

Elizabeth was Henry’s second surviving legitimate child her sister, ‘Bloody’ Mary, Henry’s eldest. But both women accepted that first place in the succession went to their younger brother, Edward VI.

After Edward’s premature death in 1553, however, differences between the sisters led to Elizabeth being imprisoned in the Tower, in danger of her life. This was no simple case of sibling rivalry, of course, since religious differences led to real dispute as to whether the Catholic Mary or the Protestant Elizabeth had best claim to the throne. All the same, no one looking for the model of a happy family is ever going to pick the Tudors!

Charles I (1600–49)

When James VI and I’s eldest son, Prince Henry, died in 1612 of what was probably typhoid, shock waves went through the country. At 18, the vibrant Henry was already the great hope of the Stuart dynasty. His brother Charles, by contrast, was a sickly 11-year-old considered unlikely to survive. Perhaps early insecurities left the adult Charles, as a monarch, particularly susceptible both to the influence of his favourite Buckingham [George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham] and his Catholic wife, Henrietta Maria, and to an inflated conception of the monarchy.

Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596–1662)

It may seem like cheating to list two siblings as separately important, but it’s the descendants of Elizabeth of Bohemia, not of her brother, Charles I, who sit on the British throne today. When Charles I’s eldest surviving son, Charles II, was succeeded by his own younger brother James, the latter’s unpopularity and Catholicism led to his deposition in 1688.

The ‘Glorious Revolution’ of that year brought in, instead, James’s Protestant daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange, while the Catholic descendants of James’s second marriage dwindled to the status of pretenders.

Anne (1665–1714)

When William and Mary died without children, the crown passed to another younger sibling. Mary’s sister, Anne, came to the throne under the Act of Settlement of 1701, which effectively secured the throne to the Protestant Hanoverian dynasty, since it was already apparent that Anne too was unlikely to bear a surviving child, despite 18 pregnancies.

Upon Queen Anne’s death the throne was offered to the Elector of Hanover, a grandson of Elizabeth of Bohemia, who became Britain’s George I. He and his Hanoverian descendants would reign, however, on very different terms from those earlier rulers had enjoyed. The stage was set for a modern, ‘constitutional’, monarchy (a position confirmed more than a century later when George’s great-great grandson William IV – succeeding his elder brother George IV – ceded yet further royal powers).

George V (1865–1936)

You might think that in the modern age the importance of the royal second sibling is outdated – we are, after all, past the days of high infant mortality.

George V was born the second son of the future Edward VII, but his elder brother, Albert Victor, known as Prince Eddy, died of pneumonia in his twenties, while his grandmother, Queen Victoria, was still on the throne. By that time Eddy had been linked to the Cleveland Street scandal, which involved a homosexual brothel, amid wider concerns over his character and abilities. (He has, however unconvincingly, even been identified as Jack the Ripper). His brother George, by contrast, was a formidable figure who, besides taking on Eddy’s engagement to Princess Mary of Teck in 1917, changed the name of the royal family from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor.

George VI (1895–1952)

The first half of the 20th century saw two second sons accede to the throne – both important in shaping the form of the present monarchy. George V was of course succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII, the future Duke of Windsor, but Edward’s reign lasted less than a year, and he was never crowned. When he abdicated in order to marry the divorced Wallis Simpson, his younger brother was forced to step up to the plate.

Diffident and reluctant – we’d come a long way from the power-hungry days of the medieval monarchy – George VI nonetheless saw the country through the dark days of Second World War. That example of dutiful service is still an ideal for his daughter, Elizabeth, today.

Sarah Gristwood is a best-selling Tudor biographer, novelist, broadcaster and commentator on royal affairs. To find out more, visit or follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahgristwood.

This article was first published by History Extra in April 2018

Troublesome royal in-laws through history

Ever since Meghan Markle's engagement to Prince Harry was announced in November 2017, reports of troubles within her family have dominated gossip websites and magazine headlines alike. But, says historian Tracy Borman, compared to some historical royal in-laws, Prince Harry has got off lightly…

This competition is now closed

Published: December 3, 2018 at 12:30 pm

Here she explores troublesome royal in-laws through history – from the murderous Woodvilles to the meddling mother-in-law Queen Victoria…

Prince Harry’s bride, the American actress Meghan Markle, earlier this year married into one of the world’s most famous families. Yet it is her family – namely her father, Thomas – who has been the subject of intense press interest. First there were the paparazzi shots of him getting fitted for a suit for the wedding, then his absence from the big day due to poor health a few ill-advised comments about his new son-in-law’s thoughts on Donald Trump and now rumours that he is about to launch a new clothing line. All potentially embarrassing for the newlyweds. But Prince Harry can take comfort from other royal in-laws through history…

Take William the Conqueror, for example. When he married Matilda, daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders, in around 1050, he must have thought he had won the lottery. Flanders was one of the richest and most strategically important duchies in Europe, and therefore a powerful ally to his native Normandy. But while Matilda proved an excellent wife, bearing him at least nine children to bolster his dynasty, her father left something to be desired. When William began preparing to invade England in 1066, confident that he could rely upon Count Baldwin’s considerable military might, his father-in-law proved so slow to assist that he – literally – missed the boat.

The Woodvilles

Fast-forward 400 years and we have another embarrassing set of in-laws: the Woodvilles. Prince Harry resembles the popular Yorkist king, Edward IV, in more ways than one. Tall, athletic and with a restless energy, Edward was gregarious and charismatic. And, like Harry, he chose a commoner as his bride and married her after a whirlwind romance. But he soon found that the beautiful Elizabeth Woodville came with a set of not inconsiderable baggage in the form of her ambitious parents and siblings, as well as her sons from her first marriage. Before long, Edward’s entire court was staffed with Woodvilles. Her sisters, meanwhile, were married into the most notable families in England. Although Edward himself, besotted with his new wife, was content to promote her relatives in this way, it sparked a great deal of jealousy and resentment among his other courtiers, especially Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (the so-called ‘Kingmaker’), who soon began plotting to oust them.

Elizabeth Woodville had some cause for complaint about her in-laws, too. Her brother-in-law George, Duke of Clarence, conspired with Warwick to have her mother accused of witchcraft. Then, when her husband the king died, leaving his throne to their 12-year-old son Edward [Edward V], her other brother-in-law, Richard of Gloucester [the future Richard III], seized it for himself and took both Edward and his younger brother Richard to the Tower [of London]. The boys – aka the ‘princes in the Tower’ – disappeared soon afterwards. Richard also had Elizabeth’s son Richard Grey and brother Anthony arrested and executed on charges of treason.

Troublesome Tudors

Elizabeth’s eldest daughter and namesake went on to marry Henry VII, the first Tudor to rule England. This Elizabeth also had in-law trouble, in the shape of her husband’s indomitable mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. Intensely pious and fiercely ambitious, Margaret had spent many years conspiring to put her cherished only son on the throne. When her dream was finally realised and Henry was proclaimed king after triumphing at the battle of Bosworth in August 1485, she was transported with joy.

But it soon became clear that Margaret’s efforts on her son’s behalf had not been entirely selfless and that she intended to take a generous slice of power for herself. She made sure that everyone referred to her as ‘My Lady the King’s Mother’ and she changed her signature to ‘Margaret R.’ – the ‘R’ may have stood for Regina (Queen). When her son married Elizabeth of York [in 1486], Margaret had no intention of ceding authority or precedence to the new queen consort. She wore robes that were the same quality as her daughter-in-law and walked only half a pace behind her in courtly processions. Elizabeth could not look to her husband for support: he was utterly in thrall to his mother and consulted her on all matters. Being queen of England had come at a high price: the mother-in-law from hell.

Another rapacious set of in-laws came to prominence during the reign of Henry and Elizabeth’s son, Henry VIII. When the king’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, failed to give him a son, he began to look elsewhere – and his lustful gaze soon alighted upon Anne Boleyn. He already knew her father, Thomas, an ambitious courtier who was gradually working his way through the ranks. Noticing the king’s interest in his daughter, Thomas began conspiring to put her on the throne. He was supported by Anne’s brother, George, who also had an eye to personal gain. Beguiled by Anne’s charms and manipulated by her ambitious relatives, Henry VIII resolved to marry her at any cost.

This cost proved high indeed. When the pope would not sanction an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine, the king broke from Rome and sparked one of the most turbulent periods in our history, the Reformation.

Henry’s in-laws had done very well out of it all, though. Even before he married Anne, the king had made his future father-in-law Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond her brother George, meanwhile, was created Viscount Rochford. Soon it seemed that the entire court was in thrall to the Boleyns. But when Anne, like her predecessor, failed to bear Henry a son, the writing was on the wall. She was eventually convicted on trumped-up charges of adultery with five men, including her own brother George, who was executed in May 1536 two days before his sister. Although Henry spared the life of his father-in-law, Thomas was stripped of most of his titles and privileges and retired to a life of relative obscurity.

The Hanoverians

Two centuries later, the Hanoverians produced a fair few troublesome in-laws themselves, as Princess Augusta found to her cost when she married into this most dysfunctional of families in 1736.

Her groom was Prince Frederick, eldest son and heir of King George II. To say that Frederick did not get on with his parents would be an understatement. They had left him behind in Hanover when travelling to England with George II’s father, George I, to claim the throne in 1714 and had been less than welcoming when he had finally joined them 14 years later. His arrival was greeted with none of the ceremony that would be expected for a royal prince, and instead he was obliged to enter St James’s Palace by the back stairs. His father the king proceeded to ignore him at court gatherings, passing by him as if he were a “ghost”. His mother Caroline, meanwhile, once remarked that her son made her want to vomit.

Things hardly improved after Frederick’s marriage to Augusta. She fell pregnant a few months after the wedding [which took place on 27 April 1736], but her husband only informed his parents in June 1737. He also lied about the due date, telling them it was October, when it was fact much earlier.

Augusta went into labour in July 1737 while she and the prince were staying at Hampton Court. Determined that his parents should not be present for the birth, Frederick bundled his labouring wife into a carriage and raced over to St James’s Palace. Poor Augusta was forced to endure the 13-mile journey while being jolted all the way and suffering labour pains. But by the time they reached St James’s, her mother-in-law had heard the news and set off in hot pursuit. Upon arriving at St James’s, she noted with barely concealed glee that her daughter-in-law had given birth to a “poor, ugly little she-mouse” rather than a “large, fat, healthy boy”.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria was hardly a more supportive mother-in-law. Although she had engineered the match between her eldest son, Albert (‘Bertie’, the future Edward VII) and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, she had second thoughts before the wedding took place in 1863. This was on account of the fact that most of her relations were German, and Denmark was then at loggerheads with Germany over some disputed territories.

But the marriage went ahead on 10 March 1863 in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, now famous for being the venue for Harry and Meghan’s wedding. The queen attended the ceremony in full mourning dress (her husband, Albert, had died some 15 months earlier, in December 1861) and she refused to set aside her widow’s garb even for the day. Although Bertie and Alexandra were happy, Victoria still had misgivings about the match and was particularly disapproving of the couple’s socialite lifestyle. She proceeded to dictate to them on various matters, even down to the names that they should give their children.

The Queen was no less meddlesome with her other eight children. When her beloved daughter Louise married John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, in March 1871, the couple escaped Victoria’s clutches for a four-day honeymoon at Claremont in Surrey. But even then, the groom’s new mother-in-law couldn’t leave them alone. She paid them a surprise visit, giving the excuse that she was curious to hear her daughter’s views on married life. The couple had been happy at first, but they gradually grew apart – thanks in no small part to Victoria’s continued interference.

Compared to historical in-laws such as these, Thomas Markle’s new clothing range and the odd throwaway remark about President Trump perhaps doesn’t seem quite so bad after all…

Tracy Borman is a royal historian and author specialising in the Tudor period. Her new book, Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him, will be published by Hodder & Stoughton in November.

This article was first published by History Extra in September 2018

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Prince William, left, works as a Search and Rescue pilot while Harry, right, is a co-pilot gunner in Helmand

Prince Harry, who has just finished his second deployment in Afghanistan, where he was a co-pilot gunner in Apache helicopters, said: 'I think there is a bit of jealousy, not just the fact that I get to fly this, but obviously he'd love to be out here.

'And to be honest with you, I don't see why he couldn't.

'His job out here would be flying the IRT [Immediate Response Team], or whatever, doing Chinook missions. Just the same as us - no-one knows who's in the cockpit.


Unlike medieval royalty, the Romans were more concerned with continuity of family name than with bloodline. [2] If a man recognized a child as his, this was accepted by law, and the issue of who the biological father was did not arise. [2] If a child was not recognized, he or she could be exposed or brought up as a slave. For example, Emperor Claudius initially accepted a girl as his daughter, but later rejected her and had her exposed. [2] Emperors often adopted their successors. There are no recorded examples of aristocrats in classical times accusing other aristocrats of being illegitimate, as was common in later periods. [2]

Caesarion was possibly the illegitimate son of Julius Caesar by Cleopatra, which would also make him Caesar's only known child besides Julia.

A book published in February 2011 claimed that Albert II of Belgium has an illegitimate half-sister named Ingeborg Verdun, the daughter of King Leopold III and Austrian-Belgian ice skater Liselotte Landbeck. [3]

In October 2020, the bastard daughter of Albert II of Belgium was legally acknowledged after DNA testing to be titled Princess Delphine of Belgium by the Belgian Court of Appeal. Ms Delphine Boël intends to change her surname to her father's Saxe-Coburg. [4]

Flanders and Brabant Edit

Older illegitimate children founded important family branches, as reported in the Trophées de Brabant: tome 1 [5] ( [6] ):

  • House of Witthem, legitimised son of John II, Duke of Brabant.
  • House of Brant, legitimised son of John III, Duke of Brabant.
  • House of Glymes, legitimised son of John II, Duke of Brabant.
  • House of Nassau-Corroy, legitimised son of Henry III of Nassau-Breda
  • House of Dongelberghe, legitimised son of John I, Duke of Brabant.
  • House of Mechelen, legitimised son of John I, Duke of Brabant.

English kings Edit

Papal legates decree in 786 Edit

In the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy then Kingdom, descendants of kings were called aethelings, whether legitimate or not. When a kingship became vacant, a Witan would meet to name an aetheling as king. Papal legates visited the great hall of Offa of Mercia in 786 and decreed that an English king "must not be begotten in adultery or incest" and that "he who was not born of a legitimate marriage" could not succeed to the throne. [7] It is likely no rule of succession had set as to bastardy before this decree. [7]

Edward the Elder Edit

Athelstan, his acknowledged illegitimate son, succeeded as king in 924.

Duke of Normandy Edit

William the Conqueror was an acknowledged illegitimate son of a line of three Norman dukes noted for many truces he was of Scandinavian, Breton, Anglo-Saxon and North French royal and noble descent.

Stephen Edit

Gervase de Blois (written variously, often in latest books Gervais of Blois), a bastard of Stephen I, was Abbot of Westminster from 1138 to c. 1157. [8]

Henry I Edit

Henry I had 21 to 25 illegitimate children, including Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester, Sybilla of Normandy (wife of King Alexander I of Scotland) Maud FitzRoy (wife of Conan III, Duke of Brittany), Constance or Maud FitzRoy, Mabel FitzRoy, Alice FitzRoy, Gilbert FitzRoy, and Emma. [9] "It might be permissible to wonder how it was that Henry I managed to keep track of all his illegitimate children, but there is no doubt that he did so," wrote historian Given-Wilson. [8]

Henry II Edit

Henry II had several bastards, most notably Geoffrey, Archbishop of York and William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury (who inherited his earldom from his wife's father, William of Salisbury). William's mother was Ida de Tosny, while Geoffrey's may have been called Ykenai.

Richard I Edit

Richard the Lionheart had at least one illegitimate child: Philip of Cognac, who died young (possibly in battle). He features as Philip the Bastard in Shakespeare's King John.

John Edit

John had at least five children with mistresses during his first marriage to Isabelle of Gloucester, and two of which are known to have been noblewomen. He had eight or more others including Jeanne/Joan, Lady of Wales (wife of Llywelyn the Great) and Richard FitzRoy.

Edward IV of England Edit

Edward IV had at least five illegitimate children, including Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle (later Lord Deputy of Calais) by his mistress Elizabeth Lucy.

Perkin Warbeck closely resembled Edward IV and claimed to be his son Richard of Shrewsbury it has been theorised that Perkin was one of Edward's illegitimate children.

Richard III justified his accession to the throne by claiming that the children of Edward IV were the product of an invalid marriage.

Richard III Edit

Richard III had at least two illegitimate children: John of Gloucester (Captain of Calais for a time) and Katherine, first wife of William Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke.

Henry VII Edit

Sir Roland de Velville was, in one account, the illegitimate son of Henry VII and "a Breton lady."

Henry VIII Edit

Henry VIII had one acknowledged illegitimate child, Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset. As he had many mistresses, historians put forward six other likely instances including the mercenary Thomas Stukley, the poet Richard Edwardes and two of Mary Boleyn's children.

His daughter Elizabeth was in then Catholic canon law illegitimate, as Henry had married her mother, Anne Boleyn having divorced Queen Catherine it was lawful under his new Anglican legal system.

Scottish kings Edit

Máel Coluim mac Alaxandair (fl. 1124–1134) was an illegitimate son of Alexander I of Scotland (r. 1107–1124) who unsuccessfully claimed his throne.

William the Lion (r. 1165–1214) had at least 6 illegitimate children, including Isabella Mac William.

Alexander II's (r. 1214–1249) illegitimate daughter Marjorie married Alan Durward.

Robert the Bruce (r. 1306–1329) had possibly six illegitimate children, including Robert Bruce, Lord of Liddesdale.

Robert II (r. 1371–1390) had 13+ illegitimate children, including Thomas Stewart, later Bishop of St Andrews.

Robert III (r. 1390–1406) at least two illegitimate children, including John, ancestor of the Shaw Stewart baronets.

James II (r. 1437–1460) had an illegitimate son, John Stewart, Lord of Sticks (d. 1523).

James IV (r. 1488–1513) had at least 5 illegitimate children with his mistresses, including Alexander Stewart, Archbishop of St Andrews, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray and Lady Janet Stewart, la Belle Écossaise.

Charles II Edit

Charles II fathered at least 20 illegitimate children, of whom he acknowledged 14. [10] The most famous of these was James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, his son by Lucy Walter. After Charles' death, Monmouth led a rebellion against his uncle James II. Charles had no legitimate children who survived childhood.

When Nell Gwynn brought her first child to Charles, she told it, 'Come hither you little Bastard and speak to your father!'. [11]

"Nay, Nellie, do not call the child such a name", said the king. "Your Majesty has given me no other name by which I may call him."

Charles then named the child "Beauclerk" and bestowed the title "Earl of Burford".

Illegitimate children of Charles II Edit

    (1657–1680), known as "Don Carlo", created Earl of Plymouth (1675)
  1. Catherine FitzCharles (born 1658 she either died young or became a nun at Dunkirk) [12]
    (1661–1722). She may have been the daughter of Roger Palmer, but Charles accepted her. [13] (1662–1730). (1663–1690). Ancestor of the Dukes of Grafton. (1664–1717). (1665–1716). (1672–1737). She was probably the child of the Duke of Marlborough. [14] She was never acknowledged by Charles. [15]

By Moll Davis, courtesan and actress of repute [16]

James II and VII Edit

James II and VII had 13 illegitimate children. [17]

George I Edit

William IV Edit

William IV had 11 illegitimate children. [18] They used the surname "FitzClarence", because he was duke of Clarence. [18]

Queen Victoria Edit

When Victoria became queen, she banned royal bastards from court as "ghosts best forgotten." [18] Since then, the issue has been shrouded in secrecy and any subsequent illegitimate children have gone unacknowledged. [18]

Edward VII Edit

Edward VII was claimed to be the natural father of the model Olga de Meyer. [19]

Anthony, bastard of Burgundy was the illegitimate son of Philip the Good of Burgundy. He was known as le grand bâtard (the great bastard). He was legitimized by King Charles VIII in 1485.

Henri IV Edit

Henri IV had many mistresses and illegitimate children. The children of Gabrielle d'Estrées are notable because the King may have signed a wedding agreement with their mother before her unexpected death in 1599.

  • By Gabrielle d'Estrées
      , legitimized , legitimized
  • Alexandre, Chevalier de Vendôme, legitimized
    • , legitimized
    • Gabrielle Angélique, mademoiselle de Verneuil, legitimized
    • Antoine, Count of Moret, legitimized
    • Jeanne Baptiste, legitimized
    • Marie Henriette, legitimized

    Louis XIV Edit

    Louis XIV had many mistresses and illegitimate children. Madame de Maintenon was their governess. [20]

    "The bastards", as they were called, were compared to mules, unnatural hybrids who should not reproduce. "No issue should come of such species," the king once said. [21] Louis, nonetheless, found appropriate spouses for his illegitimate children. [21]

    As illegitimate children were considered impure, their mothers might attempt to purify them through pious behavior. [21] Louise de La Vallière had six children by Louis XIV, including Marie Anne de Bourbon (1666–1739) and Louis de Bourbon (1667–1683). She repented by joining a Carmelite convent. There she wore a belt of iron spikes that cut into her flesh. [21]

    Church leaders denounced Madame de Montespan, Louis' best-known mistress, who had seven children by him. In 1675, Father Lécuyer refused to give her absolution. [22] "Is this the Madame that scandalises all France?" he asked. "Go abandon your shocking life and then come throw yourself at the feet of the ministers of Jesus Christ."

    The king's efforts to legitimize his illegitimate children showed his, "Olympian disdain for public opinion," according to one modern author. [20] The edict of Marly, issued in July 1714, granted two of Louis' sons by Montespan the right to succeed to the French throne. [23] This hugely unpopular decision led to a political crisis called the "bastard distortion" in 1714–1715. [23] It was reversed by the Parliament of Paris in July 1717, after Louis had died. [23]

    • By Mademoiselle de La Vallière , legitimized and married in the royal family , legitimized
      , legitimized and made dynast (1714-1715). , legitimized , legitimized and married in the royal family , legitimized , legitimized and married in the royal family , legitimized and made dynast (1714-1715)

    Louis XV Edit

    Like his great-grandfather, Louis XV had many mistresses and illegitimate children, but contrary to him, he never legitimized any of them.

    • By Pauline Félicité de Mailly
      • Charles Emmanuel Marie Magdelon de Vintimille du Luc
      • Amélie Florimond de Norville
      • Agathe Louise de Saint-Antoine de Saint-André [24]
      • Marguerite Victoire Le Normant de Flaghac. [25]
      • Philippe Louis Marie Innocent Christophe Juste de Narbonne-Lara
      • Agnès Louise de Montreuil
      • Anne Louise de La Réale
      • Agnès Lucie Auguste
      • Aphrodite Lucie Auguste
      • Louis Aimé de Bourbon, called the Abbot of Bourbon he was the only one of the illegitimate children of Louis XV who was officially recognized. [26]
      • Benoît Louis Le Duc [27]

      King Carlos I of Portugal allegedly had an illegitimate daughter who became one of the most famous and controversial royal bastards in the history of European royalty: Maria Pia of Saxe-Coburg and Braganza. [28] [29] [30] [31]

      In 2003, Leandro Ruiz Moragas, an illegitimate son of King Alfonso XIII's, gained the right to call himself a prince. [32]

      The Dangers Of Royal Inbreeding

      He endured violent convulsions and hallucinations, and his pronounced underbite and engorged tongue meant he was unable to close his teeth together. The malformed jaw made eating and talking nearly impossible, and he suffered uncontrollable
      spells of diarrhoea and vomiting.

      It was rumoured that he was bewitched his painful and disfigured body the result of witchcraft, a curse, or the ritual consummation of the brains of criminals that he had devoured in hot chocolate drinks. But the truth was just as unsavoury and much closer to home. Charles II of Spain’s birth defects were the result of the accumulation of over two centuries of inbreeding.

      Charles was unable to speak at all until he was four, and it wouldn’t be until the age of eight that he would take his first steps. He was born to Philip IV of Spain (1605-1655) and Mariana of Austria (1634-1665) a matrimony of uncle and niece, which made young Charles not only their son but also their great-nephew and first cousin respectively. Unfortunately their consanguineous marriage was not a solitary ill-fated pairing. Instead it had become a habit in the Habsburg family, especially the Spanish line. Incestuous relationships had been so common in his dynasty and for so long that by the time Charles II was born he was more inbred than a child whose parents were brother and sister.

      In Europe, royal inbreeding to one degree or another was most prevalent from the Medieval era until the outbreak of the First World War. Unable to marry commoners and faced with a dwindling dating pool of royals of equivalent social status – especially as Reformation and revolution diminished the available stock increasingly rapidly from the 16th century onwards – the only viable option was to marry a relative.

      Those expected to succeed to the throne were unable to make morganatic matches – unions between royals and those of lesser rank. But even when the bride or groom-to-be held the title of prince or princess, unequal unions were discouraged. It was a surprisingly nuanced affair and could make or break a regime’s legitimacy. Queen Victoria’s (1819-1901) marriage to her first cousin Prince Albert (1819-1861) in 1840 was controversial, not because of their close kinship but because while she was the descendant of a king (George III of Great Britain), and was born a royal princess (Her Royal Highness), he was the son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saarfield, one of myriad minuscule German principalities. While still a prince Albert was a prince of a very different – lesser – magnitude and styled as His Serene Highness instead.

      The worst this union caused Victoria and Albert was social awkwardness, but for more fragile regimes in more tempestuous political climates the need to marry royal princes to royal princesses of the correct denomination of Christianity, saw them look along their own family lines for unattached blue bloods of appropriate pedigree.

      While the practice of marrying blood relatives served a dynastic purpose to preserve privilege and power within family lines (particularly useful in an era where noblewomen wielded little direct influence, save as matchmakers or regents for their underage offspring), the Habsburgs indulged the custom with particularly reckless abandon. This led to the eventual extinction of an entire branch of the family.

      The Spanish Habsburg dynasty was effectively founded by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), who through various canny marital hookups found himself heir to three families: his own which dominated central Europe, the House of Valois-Burgundy, which dominated the low countries, and the House of Trastámara which ruled Spain and its overseas empire in America and Asia. This concentration of power proved too much for one man and he was succeeded by his young brother Ferdinand I (1503-1564) as Archduke of Austria and King of Hungary, and on his older brother’s death Holy Roman Emperor. The title of King of Spain and the lands associated with it, be they in the Netherlands, South America or Sicily, continued down Charles V’s line.

      Each branch ran in parallel, and there was always someone to marry from the other side of the family. Over the next 200 years a total of 11 marriages were contracted by the Spanish Habsburg kings. Most of these marriages were consanguineous unions, with nine occurring in a degree of third cousins or closer.

      The Habsburgs’ territorial acquisition via marriage became so established that the dynasty gained a motto attributed to their tactics, “Bella gerant alii, tu, felix Austria, nube!” (“Let others wage war. You, happy Austria, marry!”).

      A typical story of what became a very tangled family tree can be seen with Charles V and his wife Isabella of Portugal (1503-1529). They had two children – Philip II of Spain (1527-1598), and a daughter Maria of Austria (1528-1603). The dynasty feared that if Philip died before he had a male heir, Spain would be lost. So the decision was made to marry Maria to her first cousin Maximilian II (1527-1576). As the eldest son to Ferdinand I, Maximilian II had inherited their central European titles and lands after his father’s death, and so the Holy Roman Emperor married his own eldest daughter, Anna of Austria (1527-1576), back to the other side of the family to her uncle, Philip II of Spain (1527-1498). This acted as insurance after Philip II’s third wife, Elisabeth, died in childbirth, leaving him widowed with two daughters.

      These intermarriages crossing from one side of the family to the other repeat over the generations, either between uncles/aunts and nephews/nieces or between cousins. But, unbeknownst to the royal family, they had started to pass down more than crowns, crests and other baubles to their descendants. In the 16th century, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had once ruled much of what is now Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, southern Italy, western Poland, and emerging colonies in America and Asia. His was the first empire upon which “the sun never set”. But a century later, the genetic line had deteriorated so severely that the final male heir was physically incapable of producing children. Subsequently bringing an end to Spanish Habsburg rule and the family branch became extinct.

      When a child is born they contain a shuffled mix of combined genetic material their two parents. But when the gene pools in two people are very similar there is a higher chance that the child will inherit something dangerous. Either arising as a spontaneous mutation or lurking dormant for generations, aggressive inherited diseases are usually ‘recessive’ and require both parents to be carriers of the genetic condition for it to be passed along to their offspring. As carriers do not have symptoms of the disease the parents are often oblivious to the deadly combination of code they will pass onto their offspring.

      While these diseases are usually rare, when two individuals are related the chances are higher that they will have the same dangerous genes. The closer the genetic relationship, the higher the genetic similarity. While third cousin matches might be safe the risk is significantly ramped up when the blood relatives are even closer, such as siblings. It starts to become an even bigger problem when not only your father is your uncle, but your grandmother is also your aunt as in the case of Charles II of Spain.

      When a family has a history of generations of inbreeding these recessive mutations start appearing more frequently until a child is born that is battling myriad diseases.

      Children unlucky enough to be born as a result of incestuous pairings are substantially more likely to suffer from congenital birth defects and will be at a higher risk of infant loss, cancer, and reduced fertility. In the Spanish Habsburgs the most distinctive effect of inbreeding was the ‘Habsburg jaw’. Medically known as mandibular prognathism, the defect is commonly associated with inbreeding, and like many other rare diseases, is a trait associated with recessive genes.

      In the case of Charles II of Spain, there are two genetic diseases that are believed to have contributed to his demise: combined pituitary hormone deficiency, which causes infertility, impotence, weak muscles, and digestive problems, and distal renal tubular acidosis, which causes bloody urine, rickets, and a large head relative to one’s body size.

      It was not just the Habsburgs that were plagued with diseases and deformities at the hands of inbreeding. Queen Victoria likely developed a spontaneous mutation in her genes that caused her to carry the genetic disease haemophilia. The rare bleeding disorder that prevents the blood from clotting effectively causing its victims to bleed out, and the most trivial of bumps to produce internal haemorrhaging. Queen Victoria married her first cousin who was also a carrier of the fatal disease. When the two sets of genes combined in their children the disease fired into action and the pair subsequently spread the condition throughout European royalty, to Spain, Germany and Russia. One of Victoria’s own children died from complications due to haemophilia, while a further five grandchildren succumbed in the following decades.

      George III is thought to have been affected by another recessive disease – porphyria – which is caused by the inheritance of two recessive genes and characterised by blue urine and insanity. Porphyria was common in the highly inbred House of Hanover. Victoria is also believed to have bequeathed porphyria to some of her descendants, most dramatically the German House of Hohenzollern (already descended from George I of Great Britain) where it may have contributed to Kaiser Wilhelm II’s erratic behaviour in the years leading up to the First World War. In November 1908, Reginald Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher – courtier and confidant of Britain’s Edward VII – speculated as much, writing in his diary, “I am sure that the taint of George III is in his blood.”

      Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, also showed the same tell-tale symptoms of porphyria. She had been married off to Frederick III, the first German Kaiser, their union resulted in the unpredictable Wilhelm II and sickly Princess Charlotte. The princess spent her life suffering from abdominal pains, blisters around her face, and dark red urine.

      The undiagnosed ailment was passed onto her daughter Princess Feodora of Saxe-Meiningen, who committed suicide in 1945, and a 1998 analysis of her remains proved inconclusive.

      For the Spanish Habsburgs though, their story ended on 1 November 1700. While Charles II was married twice, in 1679 to Marie Louise of Orléans (1662-1689) and after her death to Maria Anna of Neuburg (1667-1740), he had never conceived a child and was in all likelihood unable to do so. He had spent most of his reign powerless, with others acting as regent. He retired young, unable to cope with the demands of being a ruler, with a frail and feeble body that had started to crumble. He had come to resemble an elderly man and was almost completely immobile due to the oedema swelling in his legs, abdomen, and face. He died bald, senile, and impotent, aged just 38.

      For Charles II, his life was difficult and tragically short. The true extent of his conditions were not revealed until a grisly autopsy that stated his body “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 full of water”.

      When Prince Harry and Chelsy Davy broke up, many thought he'd tragically let true love get away

      What really happened between Prince Harry and Chelsy Davy? The pair dated from around 2004 until 2009, as noted by Harry: Life, Loss, and Love. So it's no surprise that many fans were convinced that Chelsy Davy was destined to join the royal family. However, like many of us, it seems that Prince Harry let his first true love get away.

      Even though Prince Harry is now married to Meghan Markle, it's still pretty tragic that he lost his first love. As one royal fan pointed out in InStyle, Davy seemed like the perfect fit for the royal family. She even helped him write his best man speech for his brother's wedding.

      However, for as happy as the couple often looked, it would seem that the pressures of a royal life were too much for Davy. As she told The Times, life with Prince Harry was "crazy and scary and uncomfortable" — so much so that she decided to part ways with the royal and find refuge back home in Zimbabwe.

      Royal Sibling Feuds Through History - HISTORY

      Taboos are rarely black and white. While one person or group may consider a certain act socially unacceptable or downright immoral, another may see it simply as a part of life. Incest, for one, has long remained one of the world’s most unmentionable taboos.

      Nevertheless, some especially interesting cases of famous incest—from the royal families of Ancient Egypt to celebrities of the 20th century—demonstrate that there always have been and always will be people willing to climb the family tree to reach forbidden fruit.

      Watch the video: 20 Sibling Rivalry That Wrecked an Empire, and Other Self-Destructive Royal Family Episodes (July 2022).


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