Offbeat A royal facial deformity is linked to inbreeding
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A facial deformity prominent among the Habsburg dynasty of Spanish and Austrian kings and their wives can be attributed to inbreeding, researchers have confirmed.
The 'Habsburg jaw' caused the lower jaw to protrude significantly above the upper jaw, resulting in a distinct chin clearly visible in historical portraits of the family's members.
This new study, published in the Annals of Human Biology, proves the long-suspected condition was linked to inbreeding as a result of generations of intermarriage.
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It asked 10 maxillofacial surgeons (specialised in surgery of the face, mouth and jaw) to diagnose facial deformity in 66 portraits of 15 members of the Habsburg dynasty, examining 11 features of mandibular prognathism (protrusion of the lower jaw) and seven maxillary deficiency (upper jaw area) features - including a prominent lower lip and overhanging nasal tip.
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The House of Habsburg held the throne of the Holy Roman Empire from 1438 until 1740, when the final male monarch King Charles II of Spain died after failing to produce a male heir.
The surgeons determined that Mary of Burgundy, who married into the family in 1477, showed the least degree of both traits, while Philip IV, King of Spain and Portugal from 1621 to 1640, displayed the greatest amount of mandibular prognathism.
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Correlation between the conditions
Maximilian I (regent from 1493), his daughter Margaret of Austria, his nephew Charles I of Spain, Charles' great-grandson Philip IV and Charles II were found to have the greatest degree of maxillary deficiency.
The researchers detected a correlation between the two conditions, suggesting they share a common genetic trait basis. They also identified a strong relationship between the degree of inbreeding and the degree of mandibular prognathism.
While the relationship to maxillary deficiency was also positive, it was only statistically significant in two of the seven features diagnosed.
"The Habsburg dynasty was one of the most influential in Europe, but became renowned for inbreeding, which was its eventual downfall. We show for the first time that there is a clear positive relationship between inbreeding and appearance of the Habsburg jaw," said lead researcher Professor Roman Vilas from the University of Santiago de Compostela.
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