Sarah Albee: Chin Up
Diego Velazquez, Philip XIV of Spain 1656
I was starting to wonder why so many of the people in royal portraits from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries resembled Jay Leno, and I learned that the medical term for their condition is called mandibular prognathism, where the lower jaw juts out. The condition became known as the “Hapsburg chin” (sometimes spelled “Habsburg”), because it was a characteristic of the royal house of Habsburg, which ruled Spain (oh and also Austria, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the German empire) from 1516 to 1700. The Hapsburg chin was the result of a lot of interbreeding, following the fashion of marrying relatives in order to preserve the royal dynasty. In short, it was the result of a seriously shallow gene pool.
Artists most likely did their best to lessen the effects in their portraits, but you can definitely see it in many of these.
Louis XIV’s wife, Marie-Therese had it. Marie Antoinette had it. King Philip of Spain had it, and then he married his fourteen year old niece and produced Charles II, who very much had it. In fact, poor Charles was born severely disabled, both mentally and physically. He didn’t walk until he was eight, his overly large tongue meant he could barely speak or chew, and he was given to strange outbursts, convulsions, and hallucinations. (You can see his picture if you scroll down.) When Marie-Louise d’Orleans, Louis XIV’s niece, was told she had to marry Charles, she purportedly wept and begged her uncle, the king, to spare her that fate, but the marriage proceeded anyway. She died at 26.
Here’s a picture of Marie Therese, queen of France and wife of Louis XIV:
And above is a portrait of seven-year-old Marie Antoinette, 1762.
According to an article in the Telegraph, a study published in the journal Public Library of Science One, found that nine out of 11 Hapsburg marriages over the two hundred years studied were either between first cousins, or between creepy old uncles and their young nieces. (I editorialized a bit there.) Only half of the babies born to the dynasty during the period studied lived to see their first birthday, compared with about 80 per cent of children in Spanish villages at the time.
Charles was the last of the Spanish Hapsburgs. He died in 1700 at the age of 39. The poor guy could barely speak, let alone produce an heir.