Popular Science Monthly/Volume 61/August 1902/Mental and Moral Heredity in Royalty I




THIS inquiry into the characteristics of royalty, of which the following pages are a summary, is an attempt to solve several interesting and important questions. First, by including all modern royal families, it tries to give a fair estimate of the mental and moral status of these privileged personages as compared to the world in general. Second, it seeks to find the influences on the individual and on the breed of that environment of rank and power in which these specially elect have lived and moved. Third, by taking a great group of interrelated human beings with known pedigrees and characteristics, it seeks to throw a little light, in the nature of facts, on the old enigma—Which is the more important, environment or heredity, or do both together somewhat fail to explain all the phenomena, and must we postulate a third ultra-natural cause, working aside from biological laws, in order to account for all the varying facts of personal history and character?

It is evident that each human being has certain definite mental, moral and physical characteristics and that these are due to not more than three causes, heredity, environment and free-will. The first two are generally considered to play an important part, and the third is far from being ignored by some. It is also very evident that there is but a hundred per cent, of cause for human character, and whatever in our natures is due to one of these causes takes that much from the others. It is the chief aim of these pages, by the use of a scientific method, to get an insight, rough though it may be, into the proportionate influence played by these three factors in the make-up of mental and moral life.

The other questions touched upon are the effects of inbreeding, the relation of genius to insanity and sterility, and also the relationship between the rise of a country and the character of the blood of its kings. This last has been strikingly evident in several instances, notably Spain, Portugal and Prussia, where the prosperity of the lands have been a reflection of the ability of the rulers. Here one can trace a hidden but important cause for the condition of the country in the different combinations of ingredients of blood which have led to the individual peculiarities in the men and women who ruled over these realms and stamped their impress upon them.

The vexing question of determining in any way the proportionate average influence taken by the three possible causes in the determination of human faculties and character can probably only be solved when we possess, on the one hand, a knowledge of the circumstances in which the individuals lived, and, on the other, a complete knowledge of the characteristics of their ancestors and family to a reasonable degree of remoteness.

In many instances psychologists, historians and philosophers have observed the evident relationship between the lives and actions of men and the environment in which they lived. Even as early as Aristotle the characteristics of the Greeks were noted as midway between the Chinese and the Egyptians, and their different relations to the climate, geography, etc., were observed and reasoned upon. One of the most famous of recent names in this connection is that of Buckle, who attempted to reduce history to a science, and explain the actions of men according to natural laws. To his mind, food, climate, volcanoes and other external causes played an important part. Against Buckle stood Carlyle and many others who considered it degrading to attempt to reduce human action to mechanics; for them the great soul or 'hero' was the all-important element, and history was to be considered largely as a set of biographies of great men. Mohammed, Luther and the great kings could not be explained as a product of the times. With Carlyle must always stand the theologians who dwell upon the greatness of the human will and the divinity of the spiritual side of man, which is supposed to raise him above his trials and make him the true lord of creation.

In more recent years an attempt has been made to show that heredity is very important in producing those geniuses whose influence is so paramount in molding the lives of others. Galton and de Candolle have met with much success in this line. Thus the three factors have all had their supporters—heredity, environment and free-will—some would give preponderance to one and some to another, and no one knows which is the most important or influential.

Now, thanks to the researches of Galton, Pearson and others, the proportionate amount of hereditary influence from each parent, and from each more remote ancestor is known with considerable approximation, except as regards certain peculiar types; as when for instance the maternal and paternal stocks differ very much from each other, or for some other reason we have prepotency, as in the case of albino animals, or perhaps when new varieties make their appearance we seem to have errors from the expected.

Still the law may be considered virtually true when we deal with large averages, and thus by knowing what we ought to expect from heredity alone, we may take a large number of verified individuals with known pedigrees, and see how closely the characters of persons correspond with what we should expect were heredity the sole cause of mental and moral peculiarities—in other words, see if the results are as certain when applied to mental traits as to the more physical and tangible qualities like eye and hair, color, stature, etc. If it should be found that the human mind and moral character are subject to the law of Galton, and with an accuracy as constant as the coloration of animals, then we may conclude that the mind and character are very strongly inherited, since coloration in animals is due to what we at present at any rate consider heredity. Of course we do not expect to find the same accuracy in dealing with psychic aspects, since every one knows that moral traits, for instance, are much the result of environment—education, example, etc. Let us, by studying human characters and comparing them with their close blood relations, see how strong inheritance appears to be.

It is often impossible to say in any individual, how much is due to one and how much to another cause, but by taking a large number we may estimate in a rough way the proportionate reliance that is to be placed on each factor on the average. Galton's law, based on stature and color in animals, in human hair and eyes, etc., is this: Each child inherits one half of his make-up from his parents, one half of the remaining half from his grandparents, one half of the remaining one fourth from his great grandparents, and so on to infinity. Thus each parent contributes one fourth of the entire influence, each grandparent one fourth of one fourth, each great grandparent one eighth of one eighth, or one sixty-fourth, and so on. So we see how little is the influence to be expected from heredity from one distinguished great grandfather.

In order to get material for such a study, one might take individuals at random and then their brothers and sisters and all their ancestors to a reasonable degree of remoteness, say all the great grandparents, which would give 8712 per cent, of the entire influence. This would be extremely difficult, as it is almost impossible to verify even the names of all the great grandparents of most people, let alone their mental and moral traits. Or one might use a large number of uncles and aunts to determine the latent inheritance of the ancestry, not known in the parents. Unless one had some proper way of selecting the material he might take instances that illustrate some theory and neglect others that do not.

The method I have employed has been to take individuals merely by blood relationship, and include every person about whom anything could be found. By doing this, I have escaped any selection of cases which illustrate a theory and at the same time know the exact blood relationship of every person to every other person. Of all families applicable to this method the royal ones offer the most favorable field, owing to the maintenance of family trees and the great interest that has always been taken in their lives and characters as found in histories, biographies and memoirs. Besides, although all have the highest social rank, they have lived in different countries, in different centuries and under varying circumstances, with different educations and opportunities. Their peculiar positions make it unwise to compare them with men at large, but, having a great number, we can properly compare them with each other and judge them according to a standard of their own.

Galton in his 'Hereditary Genius' purposely avoided royalty, because, as he says, the qualities that make a great king are not the same as apply to genius in general. In this work it is no drawback, since here I have gone with more pains into the question of intellect and actual achievements, and a man is not given the same rank for being a wise and successful ruler that he is for great and brilliant creative achievements. The adjectives that are used by biographers and historians are the basis of the estimate, and by this standard William I. of Germany would not rank with Frederick the Great, since one does not find the same admiration expressed for his intellect.

By taking down every individual met in every degree of blood relationship and also everything in the nature of a characterization or adjective applied to him, I have been able to verify or check the estimates, and avoid the difficulty which one might expect to arise from a lack of uniformity of opinion. It is really very easy to get a sufficiently clear idea, in a rough way, of the mental and moral status of any historical character. The accounts may vary on some points but not much on essentials. Thus in the case of Frederick the Great none would question his high intellectual standing, though considerable difference of opinion would be found relative to his moral qualities, most putting him rather low. The same would apply to Napoleon, but in both these instances the interesting and important thing to be explained is the intellect, and of this we can form a sufficiently just estimate. In the same way the important fact regarding Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, is his high moral tone and studious tendencies, and about these we can have no question. So that in the main, two sufficiently accurate scales can be formed in which to place them all, one for the intellectual side and one for the moral side.

Grades from 1 to 10 have been used for each class of traits, intellectual and moral; and attention has also been paid to the law of 'Deviation from an average,' by which most people are made to range close to mediocrity, the geniuses and imbeciles being relatively few. This law is set forth in Galton's 'Hereditary Genius,' page 22, and is probably as true of mental stature as of physical, where it has been proved by actual measurements. This consideration is of great importance in proving the inherited nature of genius and stupidity, because if after placing most of our individuals in grades four, five, six and seven, and admitting only a very few to grades nine and ten, or to one and two, we still find them to be closely related to others, it is all the more a proof of heredity.

Besides this number I have been able (thanks to the 'Genealogy' of Lehr, which contains the full pedigree, male and female, to the twelfth generation, of all the northern ruling families) to extend the number to about 3,500 related persons as a field for study of genius alone.

This book contains the names of 3,312 distinct persons, but by intermarriages and repetition the actual number is raised to 32,768. It would of course be a very long undertaking to look up the characters of 3,312 persons, but by using the index and 'Lippincott's Biographical Dictionary' it was not hard to tell how many of the number are not mentioned at all, and consequently were not geniuses or worthy of grades nine or ten. It seems fair to assume that if a person was of noble rank (and there are practically none others in Lehr's c Genealogy') and did not distinguish himself sufficiently to gain a place in a biographical dictionary as large as Lippincott's, he could not have been very great, at least as regards outward achievements, which is the standard here employed.

The standard for grades nine and ten is very high indeed. It is made up of really great names and includes few below the standard of William the Silent, Gustavus Adolphus, Peter the Great and the Great Conde, Turenne, Maurice of Nassau, and, among the women, Isabella of Castile, Maria Theresa, Elizabeth of Palatine and the Duchess de Longueville.

Of course being in Lippincott's is no criterion of mental calibre in a king, so that many who are there must be at once thrown out, as for instance Louis XIII, XV. and XVI. of France. No one is placed in grade nine or ten for intellect, unless his or her name appears in Lippincott's and also appears there in virtue of mental endowments or distinguished achievements. There are only a few, and those are actual kings, who appear in this biographical dictionary merely on account of their birth. They are easily detected and would be excluded by any one.

Occasionally I have met with a character in the histories or large biographies who seemed to me to be worthy of rank nine or ten, whose name is not to be found in Lippincott's. Such a person was Sophia 'The Philosophical Queen,' of Prussia, and grandmother of Frederick the Great, but these have been rigorously kept out, in order to make the standard as impersonal as possible.

By starting with the present king of England and including all his ancestors to four generations, and then all the other descendants of these ancestors, all their wives and their ancestors, and stretching out in every direction by this endless chain method, taking every one about whom enough could be found to be satisfactory, I have at present obtained mental and moral descriptions of 633 interrelated individuals, including pretty completely the following countries of Europe: England (House of Hanover), France, Prussia, Brunswick, Hesse-Cassel, Holstein, Saxe-Coburg, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Savoy, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands. The period covered extends in general back to about the sixteenth century, but in the case of Spain and Portugal to the eleventh century.

Let us take up the countries separately and study the quality of the blood introduced into the royal families and its relation to the character of the subsequent breed and to the history of the land itself.

I. Evidence from House of Hanover in England.

George I. was a rather weak, dull and indifferent scion of a gifted stock. He was descended from the brilliant House of Orange, which we shall afterwards see was able to form the greatness of the Hohenzollerns in Prussia, but he himself was nothing. From his time to the present the following unions have been made with the results of introducing the following stocks:

Brunswick, stock pretty good, no genius.
George II. Brandenburg, stock good, no genius.[1]
Frederick Prince of Wales Augusta of Saxe-Coburg, stock good, no genius.
George III. Charlotte of Mecklenburg, stock 'obscure,' good, no genius.
Edward Duke of Kent Victoria Maria Louisa, of Saxe-Coburg, stock excellent, no genius, strong literary bent.
Queen Victoria Albert of Saxe-Coburg, stock excellent, no genius, strong literary bent.
Edward VII. Alexandria of Denmark, stock excellent, no genius.

Thus from George the First's time on, there has never been any genius introduced into the pedigree of the House of Hanover, and, as we all know, none has appeared in any of the descendants bearing the name. So as regards high mental attainments, we have what we might expect, dullness the characteristic, with here and there fairly good minds. There is certainly nothing higher than grade eight (that of Queen Caroline, Consort of George II.)

There have never been a large percentage deficient on the moral side, and we find the pedigree upholding this, for compared with the Bourbon-Hapsburgs and Romanofs, the families that have allied themselves to the ruling house of England have been remarkably good. Quiet, domestic and religious traits have been the characteristics of the various female lines and since the direct progenitors, George III. and Edward of Kent, have had the same, such have been the later characteristics of most of the members of the English house. These moral qualities are perfectly in line with heredity but might be also explained by environment, either home influence or public opinion changing with the centuries.

But if we adopt the environment view, we can not rightly explain the bad characters as they appear, nor the contrasts that often mark the children. There have not been any very depraved since George IV. He and his brother, the Duke of York, were silly, dissipated men without ambition or serious purpose; William IV., another brother, was not much better. Their father and mother, George III. and Charlotte, were as unlike them as could be, painfully punctilious in their daily lives, so domestic and quiet as to be a subject of satire on this account.

But George III. had eleven children who have left records. Of these, three were the only black sheep. Why was this? Because all the others represent the majority of hereditary influence and turn out well. George IV. and the Duke of York revert to their grandfather, Frederick Prince of Wales, and are just like him. William IV., in his eccentricity, subbornness, simple ways and feeble mind, resembled his father, George III. His vices, if due to heredity, came from further back. In the generation before this (brothers and sisters of George III.), there were two in six who were very immoral. These were Edward, Duke of York,[2] and Henry, Duke of Cumberland.[3]

This percentage of one third is not as high as called for by heredity, since both Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his consort, Augusta, were rather immoral, which should call for fifty per cent., and to this should be added the slight amount of influence from such characters further back.

The generation before this contains seven children of George II. and Queen Caroline: Frederick, 3, 3;[4] William, 6, 3; Anne, 4, 4; Louisa, 4, 9; Amelia, 5, 6; Mary, 4, 8, and Caroline Elizabeth, 4, 9. Both sons were below the average morally, the others range pretty close to the average, except Caroline Elizabeth, who was an exceptionally lovely character.[5] These are not out of line with heredity. The generation before this contains only George II. and his sister, who became queen of Prussia. She was a mediocrity, and George II. represented the bad side of the family inheritance.

George I. was a poor representative of an illustrious stock as his mother was the intellectual Sophia, Duchess of Brunswick, a descendant of the great House of Orange on both sides. It was left for the sister of George, who was the 'Philosophical Queen' of Frederick I., of Prussia, to transmit the genius of Orange into Prussia to the generation of Frederick the Great. It can easily be seen that after the two first Georges, each the poorest among his kind, that the ancient greatness must necessarily die out, as it was never rejuvenated in this house.

To summarize the House of Hanover: It contains 28 persons whose pedigrees have been studied. The total number brought together on a chart containing in addition the full pedigree for George IV. to five generations is 87. Of these 87 only two show high intellectual variation; these are Sophia, Duchess of Brunswick (10) and Caroline of Brandenburg (8). It was shown that these higher streaks were lost by selection. There are only five as low as grade 3 and one in grade 2. Thus the house of Hanover has never deviated much from the average, either in itself or in the nature of the blood introduced, and the characters are much as one would expect from heredity alone. It is a great mistake to consider that Queen Victoria had a bad ancestry. On the other hand, it was in general very good. The ancestry of King Edward VII. is even better and most of Victoria's children have upheld the standard.

Saxe-Coburg the Reigning House of England.

As I started with the present King of England, and since his father was a prince of Saxe-Coburg, I was at once led into that family, which will now be considered.

Albert, the lamented consort of Queen Victoria, was, as every one knows, a highly, cultivated, earnest and noble man, a devoted husband and an enthusiastic reformer in all affairs related to the public good. Well versed in science and literature, he was also an accomplished musician. Did he come by this character through inheritance? It will be seen that characters of this sort are written all over his family pedigree. As the group, just considered, Hanover was remarkable for its dullness, so this group is remarkable for its virtue and bent towards literature, science and art. It is not that the dukes in the male line have shown such tendency in a marked degree, but it is that at each step going back, the pedigree is what we should expect.

There are 118 individuals in this group, which may be considered as a region of the entire chart. It will be seen, by referring to a chart of this house, that the main tap roots of this stock have been from Ernst, the Pious, Brunswick Wölfenbruttel, Saxe-Coburg, Saxe-Sallfeld, and other branches of the Saxe houses. Ernst 'The Pious' himself, who appears many times in the pedigree, was a man of wisdom, virtue and marked religious bent; the Brunswick family was noted for its strong literary taste, as will be shown more in detail later, and all marriages with the Saxe houses can be seen to have kept alive those same qualities as the salient characteristics of the breed.

We see that after two hundred and fifty years, the same traits exist because there has never been a time when blood of another sort was introduced to contaminate or dilute it. Everywhere we notice that love of ideas and refinement of taste have been the object sought after, rather than the sway of power or the obtainance of military fame. There has not been one soldier of sufficient renown to appear in any of the smaller biographical dictionaries like Lippincott's or Pose's. One only was what may be called a successful general, but his career is described solely in the larger German dictionary.

From Ernst, the Pious (1601-1675), to Frederick IV. (17741793) the branch of Gotha contains 64 names. The branch of Coburg from John Ernst (sixteenth century) to Albert, consort of Queen Victoria (1819-1861) contains 118 names. There is considerable intermarriage, so that we find some persons repeated several times. Thus the actual number of individuals is less than this, still the value scientifically is 64 118 or 182. Although in the furthest degree of remoteness we deal with sixty-four different tap roots, owing to intermarriages there are only twenty-one family names. Among these sixty-four, we find the following families composing the stock:

Saxe (different branches) twenty-one times. That is, the breed was perpetuated to the extent of about a third from itself. We find the name of Brunswick seven times, Mecklenburg six, Anhalt five, Holstein four, Hesse three, Reuss two, Solms two, Schwartzburg two, Baden, Bentheim, Castell, Erbach, Hohenlohe, Logwenstein, Cetlinger, Sayn, Stolberg, Waldeck and Zinzendorf each one. Among all these 182 related persons, there is not a single genius or individual worthy of grade 9 or 10 for intellect. The only two in 8 are Ernst II., of Gotha (died in 1801), who was a distinguished astronomer, and Louis Dorothea of Saxe-Meiningen (8) who corresponded with Voltaire, and was called the 'German Minerva.' She was the mother of Ernst II., the astronomer. Also there is not a fool, imbecile or moral degenerate among them all as far as is known.

From Ernst, the Pious, on, selection was constantly made of men and women of his own type, so that sound judgment, high moral qualities and strong literary taste are continually reappearing and were never lost even after nine generations. There were among this group of 182 (counting a person every time he occurs) no less than eighteen who were authors or had strong literary tastes. In the most remote generation we find five in thirty-two, in the next three in sixteen, in the next one in eight, in the next two in four, in the next two in two and in the next two in two; the remaining three occur in the more recent part of the chart, and are even more closely related. Thus we see Ernst, 'The Pious,' and Augustus of Brunswick, who were both literary, perpetuated down the line in this family by the force of intermarriage and selection.

The intellectual average is everywhere near the mean or slightly above, and the moral average is everywhere near the mean or very much above it. There being not a single bad character introduced into the blood directly, the children apparently could not turn out badly. It is the cleanest and best pedigree to be found in any royalty, and its influence on European history has come to be very great, since its very merits have entitled it to several thrones. In fact it can be shown that no royal family has been able to maintain itself without degenerations, unless it has taken a good share of Saxe-Coburg blood. The good qualities, if due to heredity at all, in Austria, England, Germany, Belgium and Greece are largely due to it. It probably saved the Bourbons in Portugal.

Thus in tracing the pedigree and accounting for the virtues of Albert, Consort of Queen Victoria, we find the theory of mental and moral heredity sufficiently sustained in his case, as well as in the others. At least five of the close relations of the Consort may be considered as almost exact repetitions of his charater. These are his grandfather, Franz Frederick Anthony, his two uncles, Ferdinand and Leopold I., King of Belgium, his brother, Ernst, and cousin, Ferdinand of Portugal.

The family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha shows by its 118 members here represented that the assumption of high rank and power and the consequent opportunities for ease and luxury do not in the least tend to degeneracy of the race when the good qualities are kept up by marriages with stocks of equal value and no vicious elements are introduced into the breed. A parallel to this is found among the kings of Portugal during its days of supremacy, where for twelve generations nearly every sovereign had all the wisdom and strength required of a ruler.

(To be continued.)

  1. No genius means that no individuals worthy of grade 9 or 10 for intellect are to be found.
  2. Doran, 'Queens of Hanover' p. 406.
  3. Jesse, 'George III.' Vol. II., p. 2.
  4. 3, 3 means grade 3 for intellect, 3 for the moral side.
    6, 3 means grade 6 for intellect, 3 for the moral side.
    The mark is placed before those who may be considered 'bad' and is applied to those below grade 4.

  5. Wharton, 'Wits and Beaux,' p. 177.