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

hrough more than 3,000 people, going back 16 generations. They aimed to figure out how inbreeding -- cousins marrying cousins, for example, and uncles marrying nieces -- may have affected the family's health.

The team found that the final Habsburg ruler, Charles II, had a high chance of developing genetic abnormalities due to inbreeding. Indeed, he was physically stunted and suffered from a variety of intestinal and blood ailments, so much so that his subjects dubbed him "El Hechizado," or "The Hexed."

The study also suggests that interbreeding weakened the family's health so much that it contributed to an extraordinarily high death rate among children. From 1527-1661, 10 of 34 children in the Spanish Habsburg family died before the age of 1, and another seven died before they were 10. The researchers note that the death rate was much higher than would even be expected for children born in that era.

Overall, the Habsburgs' habit of inbreeding led to family members sharing up to 20 percent of identical genomic material, the researchers said.

The conclusion that inbreeding may have hurt the Habsburg family's health is a reasonable one because the odds of genetic disease rise when people marry their relatives, according to Andrew J. Bohonak, an associate professor of biology at San Diego State University.

Possibly as a result, "there are social taboos against inbreeding in most human societies," he said. "One of the few places you see these taboos avoided is in some of the royal families of old."

What would have happened if the Habsburgs hadn't married each other? Sked, the historian, said "there would have been changes in alliances, boundaries and policies. Most of all, the Habsburgs would have produced more capable and intelligent rulers."

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