Breaking down hemophilia
(the “royal disease”) and its influence on the downfall of the Russian Romanov dynasty
- What is hemophilia?
- Queen Victoria’s cursed descents
- The royal disease and the royal collapse
- The tragic end
Hemophilia is a recessive disease and is carried on the X chromosome. Women who are carriers of hemophilia have one of her X chromosomes with hemophilia and the other one without. Due to the recessive nature of the disease, they do not appear to have the disease but the affected chromosome can be passed on to her offspring.
In order to inherit the disease, a female must receive two affected X chromosomes, one from each parent, while a male receiving one affected X chromosome from his mother is sufficient to express the disorder. In short, males have a higher chance of suffering from hemophilia compared to females.
In the example above, there is a 50% chance that a female carrier’s son (XY) of having hemophilia, while the daughter (XX) is never going to express hemophilia. There is a 50% chance that the daughter is a carrier just like the mother.
Victoria (1819-1901) was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1837–1901) and Empress of India (1876–1901). She was believed to be a carrier of hemophilia with the affected gene from a spontaneous mutation. Of her children, one son, Leopold, had hemophilia, and two daughters, Alice and Beatrice, were carriers. The mutation was passed on to various royal families through her descendants’ marriage across the continent, such as Spain, Germany and Russia. Putting it in another, less glamorous way: they were inbreeding.
Alexei Nikolaevich, who is the only son of Russian Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (granddaughter of Queen Victoria), was born with hemophilia. Since there was very little knowledge about hemophilia at the time, no effective treatment could be done to alleviate his pain. The desperate Queen turned to Grigori Rasputin, a Russian mystic who claimed to wield healing magic.
Alexandra and Nicholas II believed in Rasputin, and so he gained unbelievable political influence. His political decisions were based on his self-interest causing Russia on a brink of collapse. The loss of respect to the royal family plays a critical part leading to the Russian revolutions afterwards. He was in essence, a fraud.
The disease did not kill the little prince Alexei. Ironically, he was murdered at age 13 in 1918 along with the rest of the Russian royal family following the Russian Revolution. But don’t fret, we can still find their genes in modern monarchies of today as a result of centuries of such marital practices.