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Love, Marriage, and Haemophilia: Queen Victoria's Bloody Legacy

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

#34 Science in History

10th February 1840

On this day in 1840, Queen Victoria married her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg-Gotha. Their descendants married into many of the royal families of Europe, leading to the widespread dissemination of a rather insidious genetic condition.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with their nine children

Haemophilia is a rare genetic bleeding disorder that affects the body's ability to form blood clots. People with haemophilia often experience excessive bleeding, even from minor injuries, and are at risk of life-threatening bleeding episodes. There are two main types of haemophilia, type A and type B, which are caused by deficiency of different clotting factors. Haemophilia B is also known as "Christmas disease", named after the first documented case of the condition in a young boy named Stephen Christmas.

The royal family has played a significant role in the history of haemophilia. Queen Victoria was a carrier of the gene for haemophilia and passed it down to her descendants. Her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on February 10th, 1840, was a love match, but it also had serious consequences for their offspring. As a result of their union, several of their children and grandchildren were affected by the disease, including Prince Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Prince Leopold was born with haemophilia and suffered from frequent bleeding episodes throughout his life. He died at the age of 30 after suffering a severe bleed.

The haemophilia gene was also present in other European royal families, including the Spanish and Russian imperial families. This is a testament to the intermarriage practices of European royalty, which were designed to maintain power and influence within the royal circles. However, this practice also had the unintended consequence of spreading genetic disorders, such as haemophilia, through the royal family tree.

The discovery of the underlying genetic causes of the condition and the development of effective treatments have improved the lives of people with haemophilia. However, haemophilia continues to be a challenging condition, and those affected by the disease still face daily struggles and the risk of life-threatening bleeding episodes.

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