Incest plagued the historic and ancient royal families of Europe, Africa and South America. In fact, the following ten powerhouses were all brought down by sibling rivalry, ill health and madness – all of which may have stemmed from their incestuous pasts.
10. King David of Israel
According to biblical scripture, King David ruled over ancient Israel during the 11th century BC. And while his reign lasted an impressive 40 years, it was nevertheless plagued by family tragedies. These catastrophes all began, moreover, after he had an affair with the infamous Bathsheba. The story goes that the King actually lured Bathsheba’s husband into a trap and murdered him, just so that he could have his wife all to himself.
And it is said that the troubles that befell the royal family in the years that followed were punishment for the King’s murderous lust. In particular, Amnon – King David’s eldest son and the heir to the throne – later raped his own half-sister, Tamir. And to avenge his sister, David’s other son Absalom killed Ammon two years later. Absalom himself then slept with all of his father’s concubines, leading to huge dissent among the family for many years to come.
9. Queen Victoria of Britain
Queen Victoria was notorious for orchestrating inter-family marriages; she believed that the extra-close family ties would help keep the peace throughout Europe. And it all began with her own marriage to Prince Albert, who was actually her German cousin. However, it wasn’t so much the fact that the pair were cousins that worried the members of the British Parliament at the time. Rather, they did not want a German in a position of power within the United Kingdom.
Intermarriage was also rife among Victoria’s nine children and one of her grandchildren; and ironically, that actually led to chaos among the European royal families, contributing largely to the end of the imperial age. Moreover, personal family grudges and contentions between Kaiser Wilhelm and his cousins King Edward VII and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia played a big part in World War I.
8. Cleopatra VII of Egypt
Cleopatra of the Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled from 51 BC to 30 BC, and she was married to both of her brothers. Incest was something of a family tradition for the Ptolemaics, though: no fewer than 12 of Cleopatra’s ancestors had wed a cousin or a sibling. But keeping royalty and wealth within the family meant that sibling rivalry was rife and often fatal.
Indeed, Ptolemaic royals frequently resorted to murder to keep their power. Cleopatra, for example, killed both of her brothers and her sister in trying to cling to her throne. And she eventually killed herself, too, marking the end of her family’s reign after being defeated by Rome.
7. Maria I of Portugal
Maria I made history when she came to power in the 18th century as the first female to rule Portugal. She married her uncle Pedro – later renamed Peter III – who was 43 years older than her. And then the couple’s firstborn and heir to the throne, José, went on to marry his 30-year-old aunt, Benedita, at the age of 15.
Unfortunately, the incest within this family led to a wealth of health problems. Benedita, for one, was unable to give birth to a child and had multiple miscarriages. José then died of smallpox, accelerating Maria’s mental breakdown, and she subsequently earned the nickname “Maria the Mad.” She was deemed insane, and so her second son ruled in her place until the dynasty were eventually forced out of Portugal altogether by Napoleon.
6. The House of Habsburg
The House of Habsburg was considered the most powerful dynasty in Medieval Europe, and it ruled the continent for hundreds of years from the 12th century. Indeed, the Habsburgs boasted control over Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France and Spain. Yet inbreeding was rife among the dynasty, and ultimately its reign came to an abrupt end because of it.
In fact, that inbreeding among the House of Habsburg led to stillbirths and left many relatives with major health problems. King Charles II himself, for example, was so severely deformed that he was nicknamed “The Hexed.” And when he died, none of the Habsburg family tree were able to produce another heir, which ultimately brought an end to the Habsburgs’ domination of Europe.
5. Nahienaena of Hawaii
Before Hawaii was invaded in the 1800s, interbreeding was considered a privilege among royals. Indeed, it was actively encouraged. Princess Nahienaena, for example, was sexually involved with her younger brother since they were very young. They even maintained an open affair when they were both married to others, resulting in them being shunned by the church.
But during Nahienaena’s reign, missionaries converted many of the ruling class to Christianity. And this meant that Nahienaena and her brother were also shunned by their own people, who were appalled at the overtness of their affair. She eventually became pregnant with her brother’s child – but it only lived for a few hours. Naturally, Nahienaena was distraught over her baby’s death; in fact, she never fully recovered physically or mentally before her death later that year.
4. Tutankhamen of Egypt
The product of incest between a brother and sister, Tutankhamen was born with womanly hips, a club foot and severe bone deficiencies. The infamous Egyptian boy Pharaoh ruled between 1332 and 1323 BC before dying, at the age of just 18, from what historians believe was malaria made worse by his weak bones.
During his reign, though, Tutankhamen himself married his half-sister. She miscarried twice and never bore any children who lived, putting an end to the family’s rule in Egypt. The two dead babies were mummified and buried in Tutankhamen’s tomb alongside him.
3. Alexei Nikolaevich of Russia
Like many descendants of Queen Victoria, Alexei Nikolaevich – the son of Russian royals Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna – suffered from the life-threatening bleeding disorder hemophilia. His mother also suffered from this condition. And as the carrier must inherit the faulty gene from both parents, it’s likely that Alexei’s condition was the result of inbreeding.
His mother – who was, incidentally, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria – turned to the faith healer Grigori Rasputin for a cure. Ironically, though, Rasputin’s presence actually helped bring the entire Romanov dynasty to its knees. The Russian people hated Rasputin, and the royals’ close association with him did them no favors. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, in fact, the family were exiled to Serbia and eventually slaughtered.
2. Lucrezia Borgias of Rome
Accusations of paternal and sibling incest have plagued the Borgias since Lucrezia’s first marriage at the young age of 13 in 1493. Some suspected that Pope Alexander VI himself had relations with his daughter, and it was well known that Lucrezia scandalously attended orgies at the Vatican.
Lucrezia’s first marriage, though, was annulled in 1497. A year later, then, she wed the Duke of Bisceglie, but he was later murdered by her brother Cesare. Lucrezia eventually disappeared from the public eye and in 1501 reappeared with a small child, the father of whom is unknown. Once her father died, however, she was freed from being used as a political pawn and lived out the rest of her days quietly and religiously.
1. Anne Boleyn of Pembroke
An official account of Anne Boleyn’s trial in 1536 claimed that she committed graphic incestuous acts with her brother. This left both Boleyn and her brother George accused of high treason and was used in part as justification for her beheading.
Still, history was made when King Henry VIII became involved with Anne Boleyn; their relationship sparked his divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, as well as England’s split with Rome. However, historic documents relating to Anne’s trial state that she bribed her brother to bed with jewels.