The House Of Habsburg, The Most Inbred European Noble Family

By | August 17, 2022

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Charles I of Spain. (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest/Wikimedia Commons)

The House of Habsburg is known for being two things: one of the most powerful ruling families in all of human history and one of the most inbred. The rise of the Habsburg family dates all the way back to the 1200s, when Rudolph IV was elected king of Germany after an era of political upheaval following the death of the previous ruler. Over the next centuries, strategic marriage practices allowed the Habsburgs to enter roughly half of the monarchies of Europe. Upon Philip I of Castile's rise to power, the family got the bright idea to consolidate their influence further by marrying within it, so he was wed to his third cousin, Joanna.

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Charles II of Spain. (John Closterman/Wikimedia Commons)

Of course, marrying one's cousin wasn't so far outside the norm for royal families, who refused to marry below their station and thus were often left with few potential mates, but the Habsburgs took this incestuous indiscretion much further than usual. Generation after generation, the Habsburg men married almost exclusively other Habsburgs, sometimes with such close relations as uncles and nieces, which created some rather interesting-looking offspring. Provided the child survived (and almost half of them didn't due to genetic defects and illness), they could often be spotted as a member of this noble family without introduction thanks to their rather enormous chins as a result of a condition known as prognathism. Over time, this oddity became known as the "Habsburg jaw" due to its ubiquitous nature within the family tree.

By the mid 1600s, though, it seemed they were scraping the bottom of the gene pool, as the last male Habsburg in Spain, Charles II, suffered severe physical abnormalities. His "Habsburg jaw" was so massive that he had difficulty eating, and he was unable to speak as a young child due to his large tongue. He also seemed extremely susceptible to illness, having caught rubella, the measles, chickenpox, and smallpox all before the age of six. He also had a bad case of rickets, which prevented him from walking until he was four years old, and lived with kidney problems and hormonal deficiencies. In short, he was not the healthiest of men.