The End of the Habsburg Dynasty
The Habsburgs were a powerful family in Europe from the 13th century up until the 20th century. In 1516 Charles I became ruler of the Spanish Empire and in 1519 he became the Holy Roman Emperor (Charles V). Charles V’s reign was marred by almost constant war as many feared that his power would lead to a universal hegemony. He abdicated his thrones at the age of 56 to retire to a monastery. He left the Holy Roman Empire to his brother Ferdinand I and the Spanish Empire to his son Phillip II. This split the family into the Austrian Habsburgs and the Spanish Habsburgs.
The Spanish Habsburgs sought to keep their blood pure and limit rivalries within their family. They did not want any outside powers making claims to their throne. In order to protect their hold on the throne, they practiced intermarriage. From the time that they took the throne marriages were common between uncles-nieces and cousins. Over the 200-year reign of the Habsburg dynasty in Spain, nine out of 11 marriages occurred between family members, often uncles-nieces or first cousins. The limited gene pool meant that genetic disorders were far more common and dangerous recessive traits were more likely to pop up.
About half of the babies born into the Habsburg family died before reaching their first birthday. This was a huge contrast to the only 20% of babies who died before their first birthday in the Spanish villages. Deformities, genetic disorders, and other problems were also far more common among the Habsburg family. Studies have now shown the that over centuries of inbreeding the effect of inbreeding on later generations was largely increased. When Charles II was born in 1665 he had an inbreeding standard the same as if his parents had been brother and sister, even though they were uncle and niece.
Charles II suffered greatly from the years of inbreeding. He was unable to speak until the age of 4 and unable to walk until the age of 8. He was largely raised as an infant until he was ten. He had intestinal problems and was considered to be mentally disabled and infertile. He had two marriages, neither of which were able to provide an heir to the throne. His half-brothers all died and he was left as the last male of the Spanish Habsburgs. His fragile health led to his own demise at the age of 38 in 1700, with his death came the end of the Spanish Habsburgs.