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Inbreeding behind facial deformity in one of history’s largest royal dynasties, study says

Inbreeding behind facial deformity in one of history’s largest royal dynasties, study says
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But while the fantasy show also includes fire-breathing dragons and the frozen undead, inbreeding in royal families is far from fiction. In fact, a new study reveals it played a part in creating one of history’s ugliest rulers.

(The researchers define inbreeding as having children with anyone  closer than a second cousin.)

King Charles II of Spain was the last descendant of the Habsburg dynasty and a bloodline full of incest. Wikimedia Commons

The team looked at historical portraits of royal families, focusing on the Habsburg dynasty. King Charles II of Spain was the bloodline’s final descendant and “one of the most afflicted.” The study says his distinct feature and inability to produce an heir show how inbreeding and incest impact genetics.

Researchers recruited 10 maxillofacial surgeons to look at portraits of the family and rate them on the severity of 18 dysmorphic features.

Each family member received a score for the prominence of their features. Then, using those scores and genetic analysis, the research team calculated an “inbreeding coefficient,” to determine the role incest played in creating the facial features.

The scores were also adjusted by sex since men of the Habsburg family were more severely affected by the Habsburg jaw than women.

“Don’t get married with your sister or your mother,” says Francisco Ceballos, one of the study’s authors in a phone interview with the National Post. “Huge amounts of inbreeding is going to be bad and you’re going to be ugly as f-ck like Charles the II.”

Don’t get married with your sister or your mother

Incest was a common tactic among royal families to retain power.

For the Habsburgs, intermarriage and “a huge amount of inbreeding” protected the family’s influence as successive generations occupied the throne of the Holy Roman Empire between the 1400s and 1700s.

The study found that more than 6,000 individuals belonged to only about 20 sets of parents.

Just found out about Charles II of Spain and that family tree is a damn circle pic.twitter.com/Equ05vUX1V

While inbreeding and incest don’t always lead to deformities, it exposes offspring to more recessive genes instead of dominant ones.

To inherit a recessive trait, such as the Habsburg jaw, the child would need two of that gene, instead of just one dominant gene.

“We know height, weight, fertility and survival are affected by inbreeding,” Ceballos says. “Families with higher inbreeding have less children and the children die sooner.”

Emperor Maximilian I (L) with his son Philip the Fair, his wife Mary of Burgundy (standing R), his grandsons Ferdinand I (bottom L) and Charles V, and Louis II of Hungary. The family was riddled with incest. Wikimedia Commons

Ceballos points out for each one per cent increase in inbreeding, offspring risk losing about five millimetres in height. It’s no surprise then that Charles II was described as a shorter man and gained his own moniker: “El Hechizado,” which translates to “The Bewitched.”

Other ugly family members, according to the surgeons, include Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, his daughter Margaret of Austria, his nephew Charles I of Spain and Charles’ great-grandson Philip IV.

The researchers hope by studying royal families “like rodents” they can understand more about genetics. Ceballos goes a step further, calling inbreeding the “holy grail of genetics.”

“Inbreeding is a door to study the genetic architecture of traits, of any trait,” he says. “When a trait has a dominant component, it can be affected by inbreeding and we’ve started seeing traits like height have a deep dominant component.”

King Charles II was the end of the Habsburg era, being unable to produce an heir and dying with distinct features that may have been connected to widespread inbreeding in his family. Wikimedia Commons

However, the authors note the study had a small sample size, which means the Habsburg jaw could have been random, although the scenario is unlikely.

Researchers have also looked at other dynasties, including Britain’s royal family. For example, Egypt’s King Tutankhamen is another ruler who was born — and plagued — by incest.

The team is set to publish those findings soon.

But after reading about the Habsburgs and the feeble Pharoah, don’t be too confident walking into your own family reunion.

Ceballos says at least one in 10 people are “inbreds.”

“And we believe there are more than that. We’re really underestimating,” he says.

Egypt’s King Tut died of malaria and grew up with a number of disabilities researchers say were linked to incest. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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