When the future Queen Victoria was born in 1819, no one knew that she was the carrier of a blood disease that would go down in history as the “royal disease.” Haemophilia was quite misunderstood in Queen Victoria’s day, and few haemophiliacs were expected to live to adulthood. Queen Victoria’s youngest son Prince Leopold turned out to have the so-called “royal disease” and Victoria lived with continuous guilt. She once wrote, “No one knows the constant fear I am in about him.” Yet at the time, it was thought he simply had weak veins or some kind of male menstruation. In 1891, researchers finally showed that the blood of haemophiliacs took longer to clot.
In addition to Prince Leopold, two of Queen Victoria’s daughters – Princess Alice and Princess Beatrice – carried the gene for haemophilia and passed it on. When Leopold began to walk, it was noticed that he bruised easily. Queen Victoria first mentioned a “defect” in a letter to the King of the Belgians on 2 August 1859 – there had clearly been a diagnosis though it is unknown if they were aware of the hereditary aspect. Victoria wrote, “Your poor little namesake is again laid up with a bad knee from a fall – which appeared to be of no consequence. It is very sad for the poor Child – for really I fear he will never be able to enter any active service. This unfortunate defect… is often not outgrown & no remedy or medicine does it any good.” He continued to have accidents and resorted to wearing a knee-pad. Leopold married Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont in 1882. They had a daughter named Princess Alice of Albany in 1883, and she too was a carrier of the gene for haemophilia, and she passed to her son Rupert who died in a car crash at the age of 20. Leopold died after suffering a fall in 1884, leaving behind a pregnant Helena. She gave birth to a son named Leopold Charles Edward George Albert a few months later. He did not suffer from haemophilia.
Princess Alice married the future Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse in 1862 and they went on to have seven children together. Of Alice’s two sons, one suffered from haemophilia and the two-year-old Friedrich died after a fall. Of her five daughters, two were definitely carriers- Alix, the future Tsarina of Russia and Irene, who married Prince Henry of Prussia – of the gene as they passed it on to their children.
Princess Beatrice married Prince Henry of Battenberg in 1885. Of their three sons, one was a haemophiliac, while their only daughter Victoria Eugenie was a carrier of the gene.
But how did Queen Victoria end up with the haemophilia gene? Her father certainly wasn’t a haemophiliac, so it is likely to have been a spontaneous mutation of the gene. Tests on the remains of the Imperial Family of Russia (who were related to Queen Victoria through her daughter Alice) show that Victoria’s great-grandson the Tsarevich Alexei suffered from the relatively rare Haemophilia B, while his sister Anastasia was a carrier of the gene.1 However Queen Victoria came to be a carrier of the gene, it sure caused a lot of suffering.2
- Case Closed: Famous Royals Suffered from Hemophilia
- Queen Victoria’s Gene by D.M. Potts (UK & US)