by Bruce Dunlavy
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The recent death of Britain’s Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, seems to have provoked surprise in some observers. This is not because he shuffled off this mortal coil, since he had, after all, reached the truly ripe old age of 99. The consternation has been aroused in some royalty-watchers by their discovery that he and his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, were related.
It was mainly in the USA that so many were taken aback when they found this out. While it is true that Americans go ga-ga over the British royal family to a degree that makes one wonder why the American Revolution took place, most Americans have no idea what the history and function of royalty are. If they did, there would be no surprise at all about all the inbreeding.
Of course Elizabeth and Philip were related; all the royalty in Europe have been related for centuries. European royalty are a separate breed, all connected by blood and all interspersed across the continent. Most are rulers of countries not of their own origins. The British royal family have been Germans since George I became king in 1814, owing to the fact that at the death of Queen Anne, who was his second cousin, he was her closest Protestant relative. The British royals have not been English since 1066, when the French conqueror William of Normandy took the throne.
The Belgian royals are German, too, descended from Leopold of Hanover. The Swedish royal family (the House of Bernadotte) is French, and has been since the 1818 accession of Charles XIV John. He had been born Jean Bernadotte in France, and was adopted by the Swedish king Charles XIII, who had no other heir. The Spanish royal house, Borbón, is also French, a branch of the House of Bourbon that was overthrown in the French Revolution of 1789 (and later returned for a couple of brief reigns). The Borbóns, by the way, became the rulers of Spain in 1700, when Spain’s former ruling dynasty, a branch of the German House of Habsburg, died out, probably from excessive inbreeding.
Philip was a member of the deposed Greek royal family, which is not Greek but Danish, and he gave up his princedoms in those two nations upon his marriage. His surname, Mountbatten, came into being during World War I, when royal houses on the Allied side changed their Germanic names because they were at war with Germany. Battenberg became Mountbatten, and the British royal family renamed itself from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor.
So, yes, all those royals are related. Why would anyone expect otherwise? The whole basis of royalty and nobility is the belief that some people are born “better” than others. Thus until quite recently, present or future monarchs could marry only other royalty, so as not to dilute the royal blood with that of lesser humans.
Of course Elizabeth and Philip were related, and by the same heritage as almost all the rest of European royal families. Nearly every monarch is descended from one or both of two Nineteenth-Century rulers, Britain’s Queen Victoria and Denmark’s King Christian IX. Queen Victoria, known as the “Grandmother of Europe,” had nine children, and her direct descendants include the current monarchs of England, Sweden, and Spain as well as rulers from the deposed royal houses of Germany, Russia, Romania, and Greece.
Christian IX (“the Father-in-Law of Europe”) had six children who married into royal houses all over the Continent. Among his direct descendants are the current monarchs of England, Spain, Norway, Belgium, and Luxembourg. He is also a direct ancestor of other rulers who were deposed, including the monarchs of Romania and Greece. A number of his descendants are also descendants of Victoria.
Indeed, Elizabeth and Philip directly descended from both those prolific monarchs. Her great-grandfather Edward VII was Victoria’s son, and his sister Beatrice married Prince Henry of Battenberg, whose family, as noted above, became the Mountbattens. Thus the British royal couple were third cousins in that they were both great-great-grandchildren of Victoria.
Looking on the other side of the family, we find that Elizabeth is a great-granddaughter of Christian IX, while Philip was a great-great-grandson of the same man. Thus the British royal couple were also second cousins once removed.
While that may seem a bit kinky to some, the truth is that, by the standards of European royalty, Elizabeth and Philip were rather distant relatives. For starters, Christian IX himself was married to his second cousin, and Victoria was married to her first cousin. The royal families of the nations involved in World War I were so closely intertwined that it has been called “The War of the Cousins.”
Image credit: readersdigest.ca
The King of England, George V, was a grandchild of Victoria. The Emperor of Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II (who was deposed after the war), was also a grandchild of Victoria, and thus the two were first cousins. So was Alexandra, Empress of Russia, the wife of Tsar Nicholas II. Nicholas and George V were also first cousins by virtue of being grandsons of Christian IX. In addition, the Tsar and his wife were second cousins on one side and third cousins once removed on the other.
Wilhelm was also descended from the Russian royal house, the Romanovs, through his paternal grandmother, the daughter of Tsar Paul, Nicholas II’s great-great-grandfather. This made the Kaiser and the Tsar third cousins once removed. They were also second cousins once removed because the Tsar’s great-grandmother and the Kaiser’s grandfather were siblings, both children of King Frederick William III of Prussia. The three cousin-monarchs even looked alike, as the accompanying pictures show. Left to right, that’s Wilhelm, George, and Nicholas.
If you have been able to follow all of those tortuous lines of connection, you are more excited about royalty, genealogy, or both than most people. Nevertheless, the fact remains that just about all of those royals are a lot more interrelated than would naturally occur under normal circumstances. Their circumstances are abnormal because they always considered themselves a special and superior branch of humanity that should not be compelled to stoop to intermarriage with ordinary riff-raff.
I say it is long past time to get rid of the archaic, antidemocratic, and just plain creepy institution of hereditary aristocracy. Let those inbred, emotionally stunted zoo creatures drop their phony titles, take on ordinary names and productive jobs, and put an end to centuries of suckling the public teat.