Opinion | King Charles Has Rewritten the Royal Script

Opinion | King Charles Has Rewritten the Royal Script

Desperate and frankly weird attempts were made to make the limb work. Wilhelm’s functioning arm was bound to his body when he was learning to walk, in an attempt to force him to use the other one: Predictably, he fell over a lot. Electric shocks were passed through it. The arm was placed inside the warm carcass of a freshly killed hare, the idea being that the heat of the dead animal would transmute itself into the child’s arm. At the age of 4, as his mother wept, he was regularly strapped into a machine to try to stretch the muscles. Nothing worked. Wilhelm grew up to be difficult, anxious and resentful, though ironically he adapted very well to having only one functioning arm.

Wilhelm’s cousin Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia, went to extreme lengths to hide the hemophilia of his son and heir, Alexei, and refused to explain the presence of the notorious faith healer Rasputin, whose exploits became a metaphor for the Russian state’s corruption.

Such suppressions almost always came at personal, emotional and political costs. The source of Alexei’s hemophilia gene is believed to be none other than Charles’s great-great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. Victoria passed the gene on to her son Leopold, who died at 30 in 1884, after suffering a brain hemorrhage after a fall, and to two of her daughters. As a result of Victoria’s energetic royal matchmaking, the gene passed into the royal family of Russia, through her granddaughter Czarina Alexandra, and some of the royal families of Germany, through her daughter Alice. After the queen’s death, it passed into the Spanish royal family, through her granddaughter Victoria Eugenie, known as Ena, who married King Alfonso XIII in 1906. Her husband’s discovery that she was a carrier helped to destroy their marriage, and her oldest and youngest sons died young of bleeding after minor car accidents.

Victoria might also have been a carrier of porphyria, the illness to which some historians have attributed George III’s madness and which produces physical symptoms such as agonizing abdominal pain, skin rashes and purple urine. The queen’s eldest daughter (also named Victoria, the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II) might have had porphyria, too; DNA testing on the exhumed body of her daughter Charlotte found a gene mutation related to the disease.

That both illnesses might have run in the British royal family were closely guarded secrets at the time, and the question has still never been publicly acknowledged by the monarchy.

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