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Inbreeding May Have Doomed Spain's Habsburg Dynasty
Date:5/9/2009

Enfeebled and sterile, Charles II's genes made him the last of his line, researchers say

FRIDAY, May 8 (HealthDay News) -- Members of the powerful Habsburg royal family ruled Spain for centuries until the dynasty died out at the beginning of the 18th century.

Now, a new study suggests the reason for their decline lies not in the stars but in themselves -- and their unfortunate habit of marrying their own relatives.

Ultimately, the genetic havoc caused by inbreeding appears to have doomed the Spanish Habsburgs to oblivion via infertility, scientists report in a research paper released last month.

"Inbreeding was a major cause responsible for the extinction of this dynasty" and also contributed to the deaths of many Habsburg children, said study co-author Francisco C. Ceballos, a researcher at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

The study suggests that successive inbreeding contributed to the genetic diseases that turned the last Habsburg king, Charles II, into a mental and physical cripple who was unable to have children. Charles II reigned from 1665 until his death in 1700 at the age of 38.

The findings appear in a recent issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

Today, the Habsburgs are most well known for their domination of Europe over three centuries -- Charles II ruled not only Spain but Italy and much of what is now the Netherlands -- and for their oddly protruding jaws.

In Spain, the Habsburgs ruled from 1516 until 1700, when Charles II died without offspring, despite two marriages.

The family faced a challenge because they needed to marry Catholic spouses of equal rank -- a rarity -- and because dynastic marriages were used to keep territories within the family's grasp, explained Alan Sked, a historian at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

In their study, Ceballos and colleagues examined the Habsburg family tree t
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