The noticeable deformation of the lower part of the face, characteristic of the members of the Habsburg dynasty, is the result of inbreeding marriages that they have concluded for generations. This anomaly is unofficially called the Habsburg jaw and is seen in the portraits of members of this dynasty. The lower jaw is protruding, while the upper is less developed.
Historians have long suspected that the cause of the Habsburg jaw anomaly was that the Habsburgs married each other, and now these doubts have been confirmed by science. Spanish doctors studied several dozen portraits of dynasty members and made an extensive family tree spanning 20 generations.
The Curse Of The Habsburgs Beyond The Habsburg Jaw
Has the dynasty, which ruled in Central Europe for almost 500 years, been destroyed by a curse? Did they carry the seeds of destruction on their own - in themselves?
The Habsburgs were one of the strongest, most influential, and wealthiest families in the history of Europe. They ruled Austria, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and many other territories.
But, according to legend, their lives were not just palaces, royal jewels, and sweets, for a curse hanging over the family. Actually two, or three of them - depending on how you count.
The Curse Of The Ravens
It was written in the 13th century. One day, a gallant knight, the Count of Altenburg, went hunting in the eastern Swiss Alps. In the thrill of hunting, he soon disappeared from his entourage and found himself alone among the rocks. However, eagles nested in these rocks.
They, defending their nests, attacked the poor count. Since there was no one to come to his aid, the knight turned to God. Suddenly, a flock of crows appeared from somewhere and managed to chase away the prey. As a token of gratitude, the Count of Altenburg ordered a tower to be built at the place where the ravens had miraculously saved him from death, which he called "Habsburg," meaning "tower of prey."
He also ordered the servants to settle the ravens in the tower and take care of them. After the name of the tower, his successors are called the Habsburgs.
But after a hundred years, one of the descendants of the Count of Altenburg, already known as the Habsburg, ordered the tower be turned into a mighty castle, and the ravens were chased away. A few birds were also killed in the process.
That, however, was not too wise. From then on, legend has it, the mythical ravens, whom the Germans call Turnfalken, began to frighten the family and became a kind of harbinger of death for them over the centuries.
Mythical ravens, according to legend, appeared in every battle the Habsburgs lost, and some claim to have seen them circling and croaking over the guillotine with which they beheaded French Queen Marie Antoinette. She was of Habsburg descent as her mother was Empress Maria Theresa.
They are also said to have appeared in Mexico, where King Maximilian I (also a Habsburg) was murdered, and in Mayerling Palace, where Crown Prince Rudolf (son of Emperor Franz Joseph) and his 17-year-old mistress Marija committed suicide under unexplained circumstances (they may have been murdered). They are also said to have appeared in Sarajevo, where Archduke Franc Ferdinand and his wife were killed, which triggered the First World War shortly afterward.
The Curse Of The Hungarian Countess
When the Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph was 18, he ordered the execution of a group of Hungarians who in 1848 resisted imperial supremacy. Among those executed was the 18-year-old son of the Hungarian Countess Karoly, who, wild with grief over the emperor, sent a curse.
She shouted at a state ball in Vienna.
"May Heaven and Hell destroy your happiness. May your lineage be uprooted. May those you love the most be affected. May your children collapse and your life become a ruin, but remain alive and live alone, in eternal sorrow and trembling, when you remember Karoly's name."
She yelled as the officers dragged her off the scene:
"It's going to come true."
And in the decades that followed, the curse began to materialize with the already mentioned deaths of the Mexican King Maximilian I, Franz-Joseph's brother, his son Rudolf and his mistress. Not even his wife, the beautiful Empress Elizabeth (Sissy), who was stabbed in Switzerland by an Italian anarchist, escaped the curse.
One family member was fatally injured in a fall from a horse. Another was burned alive in a fire, and a third disappeared at sea. Even the emperor himself barely escaped death at the assassination in 1853. He lived a lonely life and also experienced the death of his successor.
He died two years before the Habsburg Empire finally collapsed.
The Curse Of Genes: Habsburgs Jaw
The real curse, however, was carried by the Habsburgs in their bodies. Because the family believed that the power and wealth they had seized over the centuries could only be maintained by marrying each other and thus also maintaining a "pure royal line," what happened to them happened by mating between close relatives. They gave birth to mutilated offspring who suffered from various health problems that often ended in death as a child.
One of the most characteristic consequences was visible externally, namely this "Habsburg jaw." Both women and men in the family often had a pronounced lower jaw and an irregular bite - known in medicine as "mandibular prognathism."
Such a deformity can result in the person not closing their mouth completely, and it can also make speech difficult. That was also the case of King Charles II of Spain, as this Habsburg could not speak until he was 4.
Women were otherwise less affected. One of the most famous Habsburgs, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, was considered a beauty in her time. However, as it turned out, her otherwise slightly more pronounced jaw caused her the least problems.
Surgeons Studied The Habsburg Jaw
Experts had at their disposal 66 portraits of 15 family members. Marriages between relatives, so that wealth remained in the family, had their consequence after all.
According to the latest findings, the strongly emphasized lower jaw, which adorned the faces of many nobles and was especially characteristic of the Habsburgs, is the result of the fact that members of the said family often married each other also had children. This is why this facial feature is called the Habsburg jaw.
Geneticists and surgeons analyzed facial deformities that are well visible in portraits of dynasty members and compared them to the family tree, ensuring that the jaw was more pronounced from generation to generation in those conceived between close relatives.
Nowadays, of course, this is something unacceptable, mainly due to the high possibility of genetic defects in the offspring, but once upon a time, marriages between close relatives, especially if they were rich and influential, were not only completely normal but also desirable. Only in this way did wealth and power remain in the family.
Many European rulers emerged from the Habsburg dynasty, including the Austrian and Spanish, who occupied the throne of the Holy Roman Empire for centuries. But in the end, only nature and King Charles II intervened. The Spanish king could not have children. He died in 1700 without a successor descended from the Habsburg family. In his will, he named 16-year-old Philip as his successor, who later became Philip V. of Spain.
Roman Vilas, head of research and geneticist at the University of Santiago de Compostela, said:
"The Habsburgs were one of the most influential families in Europe, but they became famous for having children with members of their family, which eventually buried them. Now, for the first time, we have been able to show that there is a direct link between their actions and the appearance of the Habsburg jaw."
Professor Vilas and his colleagues hired ten facial surgeons to study the range of Habsburg jaw deformity, also known as mandibular prognathism, in 15 members of the Habsburg dynasty, aided by 66 portraits. Another deformation was considered - maxillary sinusitis, characterized by a pronounced lower lip and an elongated and slightly drooping nose tip.
They found that mandibular pragmatism was most pronounced in Philip IV, who was king of Spain and Portugal between 1621 and 1640, and as many as five members of the family had a second deformity. This was least noticeable in Marie de Bourgogne, who married into the family in 1477. Researchers found a genetic link between the two deformities, and the Habsburg jaw was a combination of the two.