top of page

The Habsburgs — One Too Many Gene

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

Author: Scarlett Chu

Editors: Anand Soma and Cynthia Zhang

Artists: Tiffany Chen

The Habsburg family is known for their practice of inbreeding to ensure a pure family bloodline and concentrate their power within the family. In the past, monarchs frequently married close relatives in such a way that uncle-niece, first cousins, and other consanguineous unions were prevalent. However, inbreeding produces families or lines with increasing degrees of genetic homozygosity—the inheritance of the same allele of a gene, one from each parent—in successive generations. In highly homozygous families such as the Habsburgs, recessive genes are more likely to be expressed and to produce undesirable traits, including loss of general vigor and fertility. As generations passed, this ultimately weakened and limited the gene pool, and, arguably, the Habsburg family’s intense belief of keeping the family bloodline pure caused their demise due to their monarchs’ many physical and mental defects.

Their most prominent symbol of incestuous practice is the “Habsburg Jaw”—known as mandibular prognathism in modern medical terms. It is a facial deformity that includes an everted lower lip, also known as the “Habsburg lip,” noses with a dorsal hump and overhanging nasal tip, also known as the “Habsburg nose” and sometimes an abnormally large tongue. Many monarchs of this family display this and other similar “Habsburg traits.” Below are some examples.