Hemophilia in the Royal Family

hemophilia in the royal family
Queen Victoria and her hemophilia legacy

You can pass down photographs, stories, belongings, land or titles to your descendants to create a lasting legacy of your life. Unfortunately, there are a few other things that can also be passed down through families. And that would be illness. Many diseases are transmitted from mother to offspring, leading to an interesting aspect to one’s family tree.

One of the best known cases of where genealogy and disease can mix is the strain of hemophilia that wound its way through the European royal families from the 1800s to the 1900s.

If you are not familiar with the condition, hemophilia is a blood disease that causes any injury to bleed almost indefinitely because they cannot form proper clots. In the past, most people who suffered from this condition would die in childhood.

The genetics of it is important to understand, to see how it effects generations of families. The recessive condition is carried on the X chromosome. Since males only have 1 X chromosome (they are XY), they will show symptoms if they inherit it from their mother. But since females have 2 Xs (they are XX), they only have hemophilia symptoms if both Xs have it. Having one healthy X is enough to keep a woman from showing the disease, though she will pass it along to her offspring anyway.

This royal story starts with Queen Victoria, who was an unknown carrier for the condition. Her descendants married through several other royal houses in Europe, leaving many royal family members dead as it took its toll through the generations. The line went like this:

Victoria herself gave the hemophilia X gene to 3 of her 9 children. Of course, they didn’t know it at the time, but these details were figured out years later as other descendants developed the condition. Daughters Alice and Beatrice were carriers, and Leopold had symptoms of the disease. Due to his royal status and exceptional care, he actually survived longer than most hemophiliacs and had children of his own.

Alice was married to Price Louis of Hesse, and together they had 6 children. Their son Fred had the disease and died without issue, and 2 more daughters (Alix and Irene) were unknown carriers. The condition made its way to the German royal family then when Irene married Prince Henry of Prussia. They had 3 sons, and 2 of them (Waldemar and Henry) both died from the disease without having children of their own. Alix married into the Russian royal house with husband Tsar Nikolas II. They had 5 children, and it is only known that their one son had hemophilia. The daughters were all killed in the Russian Revolution, so it was not known if they were carriers or not.

For the line of Beatrice, it starts when she married Prince Henry of Battenberg. Three of their four children ended up with hemophilia. Leopold and Maurice both died, and Eugenie was a carrier for it. She then went on to marry Spanish royalty, Alfonso XIII of Spain. They had 2 sons that died from the condition, and it seems that their 2 daughters were not carriers because the line of hemophilia stopped with that generation.

Leopold married Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmount and had 2 children. Alice was a carrier but his son Charles did not have the disease. Alice had a son with hemophilia, who died as a child.

Overall, the disease continued through the family for 3 generations after Victoria and thankfully is no longer a worry in any of the royal families today.