Royal Babies, Royal Blood, Royal Death

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Tue, May 28th, 2019

There has been much to do about Archie, the royal baby. But ancestors such as Princess Charlotte of Prussia show the more worrisome history of this royal blood line.

Earlier this month the royal couple Prince Harry and Meghan Markle gave birth to their first child, a baby boy. It was perhaps one of the most anticipated babies in the history of humankind—or at least in the Instagrammable history of humankind.

“I’m very excited to announce that Meghan and myself had a baby boy, early this morning, a very healthy baby boy. Mother and baby are doing very well. It’s the most amazing experience I could ever have possibly imagined,” the new father announced.

According to People, a private gathering took place at Frogmore Cottage. According to PageSix.com, Brother William said he was “absolutely thrilled” about the new arrival, and that he couldn’t wait to welcome Harry to “the sleep deprivation society.” Meanwhile, mother Meghan said: “It’s magic, it’s pretty amazing, I have the two best guys in the world so I’m really happy.” She added that her son, “has the sweetest temperament, he’s really calm. It’s been a special couple of days.”

The child’s name is Archie. Well, more precisely, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. He is seventh in line to the throne and has already received his own page on the royal family’s official website—I don’t believe he has his own Instagram account yet. Now that the social media frenzy is dying down—sort of—Digital Dying decided to take a look at some of the lesser known flaws of the royal line.

We start with the story of the great and enigmatic Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin. Born to a peasant family in Siberia in 1869, Rasputin pilgrimaged to St. Petersburg in the early 1900s where he impressed influential local church officials with his ability to heal people suffering from spiritual and physical crises. He was led through the upper echelons of St. Petersburg society and eventually introduced to the leader of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and Alexandra’s only son, Alexei. It was a fortuitous meeting as this particular royal son was suffering from hemophilia, a rare genetic disorder in which a lack of specific proteins prevents blood from clotting normally. The disease can be extraordinarily dangerous because a small scrape, bloody nose or bruised knee can all potentially lead to death.

The traditional medicine of the day did not seem to be working for young Alexei and Alexandra was eager to have the attention of the famous healer bestowed upon her son. “Desperate to find a cure for their ailing son’s hemophilia, one night they called upon Rasputin,” historian Albinko Hasic writes in Time. “After his session with the young boy, the bleeding seemed to stop for some time.”

Scholars still debate what healing powers Rasputin had, if any, and just what remedies he instilled upon Alexei. But perhaps the more important question is, just where did Alexei’s hemophilia come from? The answer is that it came from the British royal line. “Queen Victoria’s male descendants were cursed with poor health,” revealed a 2009 article in the journal Science on hemophilia in the British Royal line. “The 19th-century British monarch’s son Leopold, Duke of Albany, died from blood loss after he slipped and fell. Her grandson Friedrich bled out at age 2; her grandsons Leopold and Maurice, at ages 32 and 23, respectively. The affliction, commonly known as the ‘Royal disease,’ spread as Victoria’s heirs married into royal families across Europe, decimating the thrones of Britain, Germany, Russia, and Spain.”

But the plot thickens, there has been another rare genetic blood disorder lurking in the royal British blood: porphyria. “Symptoms vary greatly,” reads an entry on English Monarchs, a website dedicated to the history of English kings and queens, “and can include abdominal pain, nervous system problems, mental health problems, and skin problems.” King George III who ruled in the late 18th century and was known for bouts of mania was thought to have suffered from porphyria. A 1966 paper published in the British Medical Journal entitled “The Insanity of King George III: A Classic Case of Porphyria” pretty much closed the case, citing the tell-tale symptom of purple urine as proof. George, according to English Monarchs, “was subjected to the appalling medical treatment of the day, bound and gagged and strapped into a chair for hours.”

Historians have theorized that George III inherited the disease from Mary, Queen of Scots, who ruled during the 16th century. Her symptoms included gastric ulcers, rheumatism, and hysteria.

Mary’s son James I and VI are also believed to have suffered from the enigmatic condition. Porphyria apparently worked its way through the royal line. Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, the only child of George IV, was believed to have suffered from the condition. On November 3, 1817, she went into strenuous labor that lasted fifty hours, and finally on November 6th gave birth to a stillborn son. “Though Charlotte seemed at first to be recovering well from her horrendous ordeal, she complained that evening of severe stomach pains and began to vomit…before going into convulsions,” and passing away, according to English Monarchs. “It has been suggested that Charlotte may have died as a result of porphyria.”

Princess Victoria, Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, and her daughter Princess Charlotte of Prussia, born in July of 1860, were also suspected of suffering from porphyria. And in the 20th century, Prince William of Gloucester was diagnosed with the condition. “He remains the most recent descendant of George III to be diagnosed with porphyria,” reads his Wikipedia entry. William died in August 1972 while competing in an amateur air race in Wolverhampton, England. He was flying a small Piper Cherokee that hit a tree, shearing the wing off. The plane crashed into an earthen embankment and burst into flames.

But enough of the dark side of the royal family line, a baby is a wonderful thing! And besides, there has been some good news of late, at least on the hemophilia front. “The last carrier of the disease in the royal family,” according to the 2009 Science article, “was Prince Waldemar of Prussia, who died in 1945.” And so the new royal baby, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, should be just fine.

In fact, on Friday various tabloids reported that baby Archie, along with mother Meghan Markle and father Prince Harry, were planning their first big family airplane trip, to Los Angeles. “For Meghan,” Us Weekly reported, “it’s just as important for Archie to learn about her family history as it is for him to learn about his royal ancestors.”

Whether there will eventually be a lesson for Archie on the rare royal diseases of his royal bloodline is unknown.

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