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April 29, 2011


What happened to the haemophilia that afflicted the family?
The British royal family had some problems with inbreeding in the past but to a lesser degree than e.g. the Habsburgers (who also tended to be quite ugly).
Mabye they were lucky because every few generations there was some kind of major change sweeping 'outsiders' to the top (the Stuarts*, the Oranges**, the Hannoverians***).

*not in the Karolingian/Merowingian sene
**no fruit
***no horses

almost all are gorgeous

I don't think that at all. My first observation on watching Game of Thrones was that they'd done a very good job of making the characters as rough-hewn as their lives surely were.

Sean Bean was nearly unrecognizably grizzled, and his wife definitely looked as if she had some years behind her. Their children looked unkempt, and their clothing was rustic. There were only a few characters that I'd call attractive. But in this at least as much as in other things: YMMV.

I have to confess that the whole royalty thing puzzles me. My reaction to most persons royal is "get a real job".

Once Upon A Time, of course, they were actually expected to govern, for good or ill. And go to war. These days, they seem like the ultimate trust fund legatees.

I was discussing this with my wife last night (she rose before dawn to watch the nuptials) and she made the very good point that "figurehead" actually does involve some responsibilities, or at a minimum some expectations and obligations.

Kind of like being a super-ambassador or something.

It's not a gig I would want, those folks lives are not their own.

But long story short, I'm not sure I could put up with royalty. I have a hard enough time with our own homegrown version.

But there is nonetheless a cultural obsession with royalty, as witnessed by the nonstop media coverage they get.

Me, I just turn it off. I don't have anything personal against them, but neither am I really all that interested in their lives. Why anyone wants to be them or live like them or even live vicariously through them is an utter mystery to me. We each have our own lives, and if we're so intent on escaping our own lives to fixate on the fantasy lives of others, we're doing it wrong.

The mileage of many, many other people evidently varies.

When I think about people born into royalty in the past or in fiction, it's hard for me to get away from the habit, the mental rut, of thinking of them as naturally exceptional people -- when all they really were was well-nourished.

Well, there are plenty of historical examples of people being born to a particular station in life and who, by dint of their inherited position, rose to an occasion they would not have otherwise had to. Elizabeth I would be an example. Robert the Bruce another. This is not unique to royalty. Family traditions of military or public service, while not the norm, are fairly well known.


The current British royal line happened not to inherit the hemophilia gene.

What nuptials?

Well, there are plenty of historical examples of people being born to a particular station in life and who, by dint of their inherited position, rose to an occasion they would not have otherwise had to.

I appreciate this comment. The guy I would think of in that context would be George VI, who did not expect to be king, and who inherited a bounty of crapstorms upon having the office thrust upon him. And he stepped up.

But to be honest, I find that I'm even more impressed by the many, many people I either know or am aware of, who keep the wheels on through their personal great effort and faithfulness in dealing with whatever life has handed them, good or ill.

Anonymously, with no fanfare or spotlight, with no TV movie made out of their life, for no reason or reward other than it's the right thing to do. We all know folks like that.

It's what makes the world go round.

I guess I'm just not into the great man (or woman) concept. There are people who are, for various reasons, at the focal point of events, but it's very rarely if ever the case that how things turn out rests solely on their shoulders.

That's my take on it.

Thank you, Doctor Science for that info.

Wilhelm, who would later become German emperor, 'did get a real job' (soldier*) and was not pleased at all that he had to first become the regent after his brother Friedrich Wilhelm IV became mentally incapable of doing his job as king and then even had to become king himself. He had to be stopped from abdicating at the last minute by Bismarck when he and parliament couldn't agree on the reform of the armed forces. Even on the day before the coronation to become German emperor he was willing to call the whole thing off (and again Bismarck had to intervene).
He was a rather rare case of a 'royal' fully aware of his capabilities and esp. his own limits. Btw, his son married one of Queen Victoria's daughters leading to the birth of Wilhelm II who clearly lacked his grandfather's insight into his own limitations.

*he played a very important part in the Prussian adoption of the needle gun against strong opposition in the military leadership.

I guess I'm just not into the great man (or woman) concept. There are people who are, for various reasons, at the focal point of events, but it's very rarely if ever the case that how things turn out rests solely on their shoulders.

It may be rare, but not unheard of. Julius Caesar was a pivotal historical character. So were William the Conqueror, Hitler and Genghis Khan. Possibly Abraham Lincoln. And, many others although spread very thinly over the course of time and history.

There were pivotal events as well as persons that markedly affected the course of history: the Greco-Persian wars, the Norman Conquest, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the Revolutionary War, Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor etc.

I would even dispute Caesar. The transition from oligarchic republic to military monarchy was more or less a given. And it was Octavian who won from by no means the strongest starting position. It could have been someone else and it could have happened a few years later but the Roman empire would very likely have developed similarly, even if Caesar had not been born or died young.
A right wing takeover of Germany in the 30ies was also the likeliest option but Hitler's version was indeed unique (and be it just because no other candidate would have started the Holocaust).

I'm inclined to think that having a commoner mother helped him there

Wait, what? I can think of a lot of ways one can describe Diana, but "commoner" isn't on the list. She was descended from the aristocracy through both parents; perhaps not the most illuminated and esteemed branch of the aristocracy, but her dad was a viscount and her mother's father a baron.

She was definitely a practical person, but... yeah, not a commoner.

I would even dispute Caesar.

Conquest of Gaul and Egypt. Assumed imperial status against enormous odds. No Caesar, no Octavius. No contemporary or subsequent Roman emperor matched his military genius. His campaigns in Gaul were uniquely successful militarily and civilly, laying the essential foundation for a Romanized Europe. Not duplicated since on such a scale by anyone.

"get a real job"
. . .
It's not a gig I would want

At the top, if not further down, it is a real job. At least, if you have any sense of responsibility -- as in you know wha the job of Head of State entails, and want to do it properly.

And it is definitely not one that I would want any part of. But that may be because I'm shy enough that getting up in front of people (which the Queen has to do all the time) is my idea of a bad time. The money just wouldn't be worth it -- at least for me.

Even worse, if you are born wrong, it is a job that you don't get to choose -- you're stuck with it (unless you abdicate, which has its own down-side). Yes, there are families with a tradition of particular careers. But having someone, even the first born, opt for something totally different is not generally a trauma for the family, let alone the world outside them.

"Commoner", mightygodking, does not mean "non-aristocrat", it means "non-royal". Diana was a marginal commoner, of royal descent; but not a royal. It is a silly distinction given the massive gulf between the Spencers and the Middletons, but it's not technically wrong.

The part of the post I'd query is

William himself is better-educated than any previous heir to the British throne, and quite possibly more intelligent, too.

Charles is the better-educated (I'm not saying that because he went to Cambridge}, and almost certainly brighter. (I don't know enough about previous heirs to comment on them.)

Not that it matters much. The royals are indeed very ordinary people, elevated by the hereditary principle alone.

Conquest of Gaul and Egypt.

All by himself? That Julius was one busy dude.

At the top, if not further down, it is a real job.

Hence my comment about "figurehead".

I'm a small-d democrat. I'm glad I live in a country without royalty, I think I would find it really annoying to live in a country that had them.

It wouldn't ruin my day, I would simply find them generally annoying.


"The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not have even a cook with him?

Philip of Spain wept when his armada
Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Year's War. Who
Else won it?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man?
Who paid the bill?"

from Brecht's Questions from a worker who reads

What happened to the haemophilia that afflicted the family?

Hemophilia is an X-linked trait, meaning it is inherited by half of a woman's children of either gender and by a man's daughters but not his sons. Women who inherit it will generally be asymptomatic carriers while men will be symptomatic sufferers. So any of Victoria's sons who were asymptomatic would not have inherited the hemophilia and wouldn't pass it on to their children. Even her sons who inherited the disease wouldn't pass it on to their sons, so it would tend to get cleared out of the monarchy relatively quickly because of the preference for male line inheritance.

So the spread of hemophilia in European royalty isn't, per se a sign of inbreeding, since it's not a trait that's reinforced by inbreeding the way a recessive trait is. What it shows is that there was a lot of intermarriage between royal families so that the disease spread from England to the rest of Europe.

Diana was a Spencer, quite an old English family. Not a commoner at all.


FYI: Diana was NOT a commoner. She was the daughter of the 8th Earl of Spencer, a ancient, proud, and VERY aristocratic upper-class family.

Hmmm. Commoner, just to re-start that whole conversation:

In British law, a commoner is someone who is neither the Sovereign nor a peer. Therefore, any member of the Royal Family who is not a peer, such as Prince Harry of Wales or Anne, Princess Royal, is a commoner, as is any member of a peer's family, including someone who holds only a courtesy title, such as the Earl of Arundel and Surrey (eldest son of the Duke of Norfolk) or Lady Victoria Hervey (a daughter of the 6th Marquess of Bristol).

This debate over the defintion of “commoner” reminds me of reading Middlemarch as a young and unsophisticated American and trying to understand all the nuances of social rank. I just googled “county family” and the first thing I came up with is a book called The county families of the United Kingdom; or, Royal manual of the titled and untitled aristocracy of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland .. (1860) -- in the catalog of a library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, of all places.

There are any number of definitions online to support the variety of assertions being made here about what a “commoner” is. Diana wasn’t what I would think of as a “commoner” -- but Doctor Science mentioned the term in a paragraph about in-breeding, and Diana was plenty distant enough from Charles genetically to make the observation relevant.

Of all the aspects of the wedding/royalty I would have liked to comment on today, this wasn’t in the top 100. But the OCD tendencies will out themselves when people write as if there’s a one precise definition of a fluid and fuzzy concept.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master--that’s all.”

I just learned something about making links here. I was told long ago by an ObWi regular that I had to put quotation marks around a url in an href = etc. link. That has never worked for me, so I have always omitted the quotation marks and my links seem to have worked fine most of the time.

This time I composed the previous comment in Word, then copied and pasted it here. I used quotation marks, the link didn't work, I changed from smart quotes to plain quotes, and it worked.

Learn something new every day.

JanieM--could you type out how you captured a link exactly the way it works for you. I am totally unable to insert a link. Thanks much.

McKinneyT --

See below this paragraph, except that the brackets (there are two sets) should be the < > kind and not the [ ] kind. The demo has to use the [ ] kind because if it uses the correct kind, the browser will treat the text as a link and you won't be able to see the gory details.

[a href="url here"]text you want shown in the comment[/a]

Here's the one from my other comment again. My text is going to be "This is the text you want the reader to see."

This is the text you want the reader to see.

This was, replacing the "real" brackets with the demo ones (again, a pair of brackets, you have to scan the text carefully to see where they go):

[a href="http://www.archive.org/details/countyfamiliesof591919walf"]This is the link.[/a]

MKT -- all that gobbledygood that makes a link can be part of a running text -- just stick the whole thing in where you would be putting the text you want the user to see and click on. Or you can also just place it separately if that makes it easier to figure out how to do it.

In Internet Explorer, you can also do View->Source and see the html for the whole page, but I didn't want to suggest that up front because it might be more confusing than it's worth, given that links we enter in our comments are embellished by the blog software.....

JanieM--thanks much. I will give this a try as soon as I have a useful link to post. I've copied yours to my ObWi file.

Whatever definition of "commoner" one wants to use, there can be no real argument that the bride is one. And, even if one argues that Diana was, on some definition, a commoner, her family were surely aristocrats compared to the Middletons.

But the OCD tendencies will out themselves when people write as if there’s a one precise definition of a fluid and fuzzy concept.

I think this is worst when a group of specialists starts using an ordinary word in a specific technical sense and then criticizes non-specialists for using it in the original, non-technical sense. Scientists are especially bad about this, but I think other kinds of specialists can get very annoying, too. Before her marriage, Diana Spencer might have been a commoner in the sense that she was eligible to run for the House of Commons, but she was certainly an aristocrat.

To me, the worst problem is that that ordinariness also applies to their BRAINZ. If you took a random sample from, say, public school, and chose to put them on the throne, only some would really be up to the job - probably a tad under half. And that's the way it is for monarchs, too, since they don't have to be up to even the standard of being elected.

A horrifying number simply aren't up to their job, and leave their country a total horror if allowed to have power. There was Ethelred the Unready, whom wasn't up to dealing with Viking raiders. There was the long War of the Roses triggered by the loserdom of Henry 6. There was, as all know, also one Georgie 3.

We have our unready Presidents, but not nearly as often; the last Bush-lame, IMHO, was just before the Civil War and triggered that fine event.

That's why I think the way Kings should serve their countries is as yummy BBQ ;-).

Egypt was high on the Roman target list. Rome depended on Egyptian grain like the West today on Middle Eastern oil after the Sicilian breadbasket had either reached its limits or even already started the decline that would hit North Africa later in the Imperial age. Gaul might have taken longer* and Britain might have never been reached (Caesar himself did not get a permanent foothold there). Personally I think Caesar was a good general but not a genius. He made good use of the 'new model army' his uncle had created but he would have lost against one of the really greats. Even among Romans I would put him below Scipio the Younger. Pompeius was always more show than real and also had to deal with the armchair senate brigade, so Caesar's victory in the Civil War is to me a bit less impressive than is commonly assumed.
And I believe that there would have been an emperor (=military dictator with good PR) in Rome even if none of the famous guys from the history books had been around. I am not a great fan of the theory of historical inevitability but I think in this case it fits. For comparision, there was nothing inevitable about a Greek (don't strangle me for including Macedonians) conquering the Persian empire and spreading the cultural influence far through continental Asia.

*I think without Caesar it would have been conquered after Egypt but Rome depended on expansion and this was the obvious next direction to go, esp. because it was so close and not an organized empire like faraway Parthia. Not to forget that the foot was already in the door with the province of Gallia Transalpina.

Jon, since at least Aristotle there was a heated dispute about whether hereditary or elected rule was better/worse. One side feared incompetent heirs the other ruthless upstarts (to oversimplify the at time far more complex arguments). Orginally 'tyrannis' was a more or less neutral term for non-inherited rule* and only later got the indelible taint of tyranny, i.e. unjust absolute rule.

*cf. 'Oidipous Tyrannos', the original title of the Oedipus tragedy. Btw, 'despot' went the same way.

Diana wasn’t what I would think of as a “commoner”

If "commoner"'s used in this context, I prefer the inclusive usage, so Diana, Kate, and the Queen Mother are all commoners, to distance it from "common" as an (English) insult, and snipes at Kate Middleton's mother. But I see the Torygraph's using "untitled" for Kate, and that makes a lot of sense.

I've been listening to Pulp's Common People as an antidote to the Royal Wedding stuff still infesting TV channels here in the UK.

The Spencers have the 1st Duke of Malborough and Churchill in their lineage, so they are hardly marginal.

If, novakant, "commoner" is defined as "not peer of the realm or monarch"*, Diana was a commoner. But it's been argued she was "marginal (not-commoner)" because of her royal blood.

If "commoner" is "not an aristocrat (or royal)" Diana wasn't a commoner. Nothing marginal about it. Marlborough and Churchill, irrelevant. Lady Diana = aristocrat.

*as this thread has taught me, in English law/usage, it does.

Google diana commoner.

but my real objection, in this instance, is to dr science's being attacked for calling diana a commoner -- see mightygodking's comment -- as though that were self-evidently wrong.

Technically speaking even William was a commoner until he was granted his peerages a couple of hours before the wedding.

If you want to use a less restrictive definition, you will have to grant that the Spencer family is as aristocratic as it gets.

Technically speaking even William was a commoner until he was granted his peerages a couple of hours before the wedding.

so I read the Wikipedia entry, yes

If you want to use a less restrictive definition, you will have to grant that the Spencer family is as aristocratic as it gets.

if you read my comments, and particularly, perhaps, the one immediately following your last comment, and so, the one to which you presumably reply, you will see that I cannot be held as disputing this. I say, simply, that if commoner=non-aristocrat, aristocrat=non-commoner, then Diana is not a commoner. Not a commoner. An aristocrat. I said. So the extent to which she is aristocratic is, I would have said, 100 per cent. The Marlborough/Churchill connection is irrelevant to this issue. I don't quite understand why you can't see this.

I don't really want to type out "is an aristocrat" yet again, so I will leave the matter there.

Ptl, fine, but the technical definition of commoner results in almost everybody being a commoner, including the children of peers and even royalty. I have no statistics at hand, but the number of people in their 20s who are actual peers and must be minuscule, so using this definition in the context doesn't make much sense to me. The UK system is quite unusual in this regard.

I agree. The Oxford English Dictionary definition is anyway, I find, "...ordinary or common people, not aristocracy or royalty". I don't know why the technical definition has been used for royal spouses for so long.

In England, class was historically hereditary, where in the United States, it was historically financial.

In England, apparently even the aristocracy count as commoners-- save for the sovereign and the peers.

In America, all but the wealthiest fraction of a percent consider themselves members of the middle class.

Dr. S: Cool chart.

Noe the one place that it breaks the usual laws, which is Queen Victoria being a carrier even though neither parent carried the gene. I've seen speculation that she was illegitimate, but that implies that her father was an adult male hemophiliac -- not likely in the 1830s. Apparently it was a spontaneous mutation.

According to A.E.Moorat Vicky was half-demon*, so normal genetics may not apply ;-)

*don't ask about Henry VIII

Some of you may remember Martin Sheen's SNL skit, during the Iran-Contra scandal, when Reagan was or pretended to be out of touch, in which Sheen plays an aggressive, stupendously informed, multilingual combination of Bismarck, Disraeli, Talleyrand, and Genghis Khan. I've often wondered about a comparable skit based on the idea that Queen Elizabeth (who, in reality, does her figurehead job very nicely) was actively engaged in governing, administration, and policy-making, awing Prime Ministers with her political sagacity, Chancellors of the Exchequer with her economic insight, and foreign secretaries with her diplomatic skills. Then I thought, what if she actually is all that, and is sitting around frustrated, knowing she could do a far better job of governing than the politicians?

I am pretty sure that was Phil Hartman. Does he have a photo op with a Girl Scout in the skit you're thinking of?

Having checked, I think you're right. It probably was Phil Hartman, though the clip doesn't show some of the stuff I remember best, like "Reagan" chewing out the Chinese premier on the phone in Chinese. Or maybe it was Germans and in German. I'm getting to an age where memory can't be accepted as evidence of anything.

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