Popular Science Monthly/Volume 61/October 1902/Mental and Moral Heredity in Royalty III




Evidence from the Romanhofs in Russia Down to Peter III.

From Feodor Romanhof (1550-1633), to Peter III. (1728-62), includes six generations and twenty-one persons in the direct family. These twenty-one show the most remarkable variation in character and abilities.

The first one to be considered, Feodor, was the greatest man in Russia in his day, and it was owing to his abilities and virtues that his son, Michael, was placed on the throne. Michael was prudent, mild and virtuous, married a peasant woman of the same character and was the father of Alexis, who in his time was very much like his parents. Alexis married twice, both queens being beautiful peasant girls. The czars at this time chose their wives from a large number of their subjects. All the charming peasant girls were brought to the court for their sovereign's inspection, the most beautiful being chosen and made legal queen.

From both of these unions came epileptic children. It seems impossible to trace the origin of this famous neurosis in the Romanhof's since it probably arose in the obscure stock back of Alexis. From Alexis' first marriage were produced Feodor, imbecile; Sophia, extraordinary force of will, ambition and high abilities; and Ivan, imbecile and epileptic. From the second marriage came Peter the Great, extraordinary will and capacity, but violent and epileptic; and several other children in no way remarkable. The genius of Peter the Great and Sophia may have been a reversion to Feodor, their great-grandparent, or it may have been a manifestation of the neurosis as Lombroso would say. On account of the very same ability already in the family as well as the evident neurosis, it does not seem necessary to consider them evidences of the insanity of genius, since the genius may have struck them from one source and the insanity from another. Those who consider the tyranny of the Russian czars a result of absolutism of the rulers should remember that just prior to the appearance of the neurosis there were four sovereigns who were in every way wise, mild and virtuous. Also the 'Age of Absolutism' in Denmark produced mild and good-natured rulers.

Now from this time on we find among the remaining eighteen who appear in the next three generations, six who have extremely bad characters; three of these are children, two are grandchildren and one is a great-grandchild of Peter the Great. Thus in this arrangement we see the principle of heredity which calls for a closer resemblance among those more closely related in kin.

Of Ivan's children, Catharine was as good as the Empress Anne was inconsistent, vindictive, cruel, passionate and sentimental. Catharine married average stock, but her daughter, Anne, was passionate, indolent, capricious and weak. Anne married the excellent but mediocre Anton Ulric, of Brunswick, which family we have already seen to be full of virtue and literary tastes, so that the next generation brings one parent and three grandparents free from the taint.

We now get just what we might expect, in spite of the fact that the five children were all taken when infants and for political reasons imprisoned for thirty-six years. Ivan the eldest was almost an imbecile and showed occasional symptoms of insanity.[1] This imbecility might be attributed to the imprisonment, which was extremely severe, but the other four children help us out. The following is taken from Coxe, a very accurate historian:

Elizabeth, the youngest sister, was a woman of high spirit and elegant manners. On being released she wrote a letter of thanks to the empress so well expressed as to excite admiration how she could have obtained sufficient instruction during her long confinement.

The other children were mediocre and in no way peculiar. "They amuse themselves with reading, playing billiards and cards, riding and walking. They walk much about the town and in the environs, and drive out in carriages; the princes frequently ride and particularly Alexis, who is very fond of that exercise, and said to be an expert. They not infrequently pay visits in the country and dine with the neighboring families."[2]

Thus among five children exposed to a very unusual environment from infancy we find a result showing little influence other than should be expected from heredity. Three were mediocre representing the majority of the strain, one was an imbecile, corresponding to the combined influence of his mother and great-grandfather, Ivan, and one was spirited and cultivated in spite of it all, and rose very nearly as high as any of the immediate ancestors. Of course such remarkable circumstances must have modified the characters of the four normal ones, at least to some noteworthy extent, such as raising one of the sons above the absolute mediocrity in which we find them; but I do contend that even these deviate very little from what is to be expected from the principles of heredity as we usually expect them to act.

Alexis, Peter the Great's son by his first wife, Eudoria Lapookin, was a very poor specimen.

Never was the birth of any prince more unfortunate to himself, to his parents and to his country. All persons however join in condemning the imprudence and obstinacy of Alexis which seems to have warped his judgment and at times to have transported him to a degree of insanity. Alexis was extremely dissolute and preferred the company of the lower classes. When twenty-six, worn out by continual drunkenness, he demanded permission to retire to a convent, but changed his mind and escaped to Vienna.

He was retaken and tried. He died soon after, probably murdered by his father's orders, though some historians contend he died, as Peter claimed he did, by an apoplectic fit.

By Peter's second marriage with Catharine he had two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne. They were as different as possible. Elizabeth, the notorious empress, was very inconsistent, being indolent, dissolute, cruel and pious.[3] Anne, on the contrary, was serious-minded, cultivated and virtuous,[4] The latter married Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein, an inferior sort of man of undistinguished parentage, and the only son, Peter III., was as bad as the worst of them, being weak, dissolute, violent and headstrong. Alexis, the imbecile son of Peter the Great, married Charlotte, an 'angelic' daughter of the good House of Brunswick already referred to, and by this marriage we see two children, one good and one bad. Natalia, the daughter, was sweet tempered, remarkably bright and energetic, while Peter, the son, who became Peter II., in spite of the best education, gave up all study and political work and confined himself to hunting and shooting. He had a 'somewhat unstable mind,' but his character showed none of the cruelty and degeneracy of some of the others of the family. Peter III. married Catherine of Anhalt-Zerbst, who became the notorious empress Catherine II. As we do not know who was the father of Paul, owing to the licentiousness of Catherine, the remaining division of the so-called Romanhofs down to the present day had best be studied as another group.

The great variation in the characters of the early Romanhofs is better explained by the presence of the neurosis than by any other cause, since this has been shown to account for it.

If we consider the rudeness of the times to be the cause we can not see just why the first three of the Czars, Feodor, Michel and Alexis, were so prudent, mild and virtuous, or why the subsequent neurosis appears more frequently in those closely related to the height of its manifestation in the generation of Peter the Great. In modern Spain a condition similar from the heredity standpoint can be studied under several different environments in no way like that of early Russia, yet the variation in character in the royalty of modern Spain is quite as remarkable as that just considered. In Spain it is related to an inherited mental imbalance in just the same way as in Eussia.

Evidence from the House of Montmorency.

Since the family of Nassau Orange perpetuated itself by aid of the House of Coligny and since the Collignys, Condés and Montmorencys intermarried freely, these three families may be considered next and treated as one group under the three separate headings.

The pages of Betham's 'Genealogy of the Sovereigns of the World" (London, 1795) contain from Eberhard Montmorency contemporary with Hugh Capet to Anne, Duke of Montmorency, the great Constable of France (1493-1567), 107 names covering a period of eighteen generations. During the later sixteen of these generations, the family held exceedingly high social position and were lords of Montmorency, Laval, Montfort, etc. There were among this 107 a considerable number of persons of local influence, constables and marshals of France, but the names of two alone of this large number, the product of eighteen generations, have come down to us as distinguished historical characters.

These are Mathew I., Constable, died in 1151, and Mathew II., called 'The Great,' died 1230. They were grandfather and grandson. The next great Montmorency was Anne, Constable of France (14931567) (8). "He was a brave but ferocious warrior, was totally illiterate, and yet through his natural talent and the experience of a long life, he was an able statesman and counsellor." None of the immediate ancestry of Anne appears to have been famous, as the two Mathews are many generations back; therefore the inherited talents of Anne must be considered a new variation.

Now comes another little region of great names: Anne's second son, Henry I., Duke of Montmorency, was a distinguished legislator (8), being the only one of seven mature children to reach high fame; the general average of the fraternity shows the reversion to the mean.

Henry II., the representative of the next generation, was rather more distinguished than his father. He was the only son to reach maturity. His sister, Charlotte, who married Henry IL, Prince of Condé, and was the mother of the Great Condé, has remained famous all these years, but rather for her extreme beauty and strength of character than for purely intellectual qualities. There were two other sisters not distinguished. Henry left no children, so the male line ends here.

Not only is this house, as is well known, an instance of heredity, but its closer analysis strengthens this view even more, and the six most famous ones fall in two little groups far removed from each other; and comparing the percentages of geniuses with the sizes of the family, we see that it does not prove too much. The first eighteen generations show a perfectly natural result from the influences of heredity. The last three generations giving four big names among eighteen are also in line with the expected, since both Anne and his most distinguished son, Henry, had large families, these great ones being a select few out of many. It will be seen later that the great descendants of the Montmorencys, who bore the name of Condé, traced their lineage from the great names among the Montmorencys, not from the mediocre.


This high wave of Montmorency had probably a great deal to do with making the name of Condé so well known, since its greatest personages were the children of both families. The male line of Condé is traced through the lines of Marche and Vendome back to Robert, Count of Clermont, Lord of Burbon (died 1317) and son of Louis IX., prince of France. From Robert to Louis I. Prince of Condé (died 1569), includes in the direct line forty-four adult names, covers a period of two and a half centuries and includes nine generations. During the first of these generations not a single one, as Count of Vendome, Duke of Bourbon, or the possessor of any other high title ever distinguish himself sufficiently to be even mentioned by 'Lippincott's Dictionary.' During all this time one also notices no illustrious name on the maternal side, so this is all to be expected.

Now in the ninth generation appears Louis, the first distinguished Condé, the eighth of ten mature brothers and sisters. His oldest brother, Anthony de Bourbon, King of Navarre, is famous, but ranks far from the great. He was a weak and irresolute prince, who died in 1562 'detested by the protestants whom he had deserted and little regretted by the catholics.'[5] The second brother, Charles, was one of the chiefs of the catholic league and receives a few lines in 'Lippincott.' The other children were not heard from.

It does not appear clear where Louis's talents arose since none of his immediate ancestors were remarkable, nor was his marriage calculated to perpetuate any greatness he might have inherited, since his wife, Eleonoro, was a daughter of Charles, Count of Ponce, a family of no distinction. He had three sons, one of whom was Henry I., Prince of Condé. He was 'liberal, gracious and eloquent and promised to be as great a captain as his father.'[6] Only two of the eight other children reached maturity. These two held high titles and presumably had equal opportunities, but left no great names behind them. Now supposing Henry I. to have inherited all the talents of his father, and that he was the only one to so inherit them, the next generation would have just as much chance to receive the birthright of the Condé's as his own generation had. There were but two children, and it is not asking too much from heredity if we believe that one of these two again shows the family strength by the same cause, since a father, grandfather and great grandfather are worth about 33 per cent., and we add to this one distinguished ancestor on the maternal side, since the mother of the children of the next generation was a granddaughter of Anne, the great Constable Montmorency, referred to above as the beginning of the second celebrity of the Montmorency family. This one to follow in the footsteps of his father was Henry II. of Condé, whose record, however, was not so illustrious as that of some of those who had gone before.

We now come to one of the greatest 'fraternities' in point of average to be found in all modern royalty, at least among those fraternities that contain as many as three children. Here we find two out of three in about the highest intellectual rank. Louis II., the 'Great Condé' and his sister Anne, Duchess de Longeville, certainly belong in 10. The third was Armand, Prince of Condé, famous but not praised either for character or intellect.[7] Can we account for these strictly by heredity? If these three children had arrived without any other influence than the House of Condé, it would be evidence against heredity, since before the fourth generation reversion to the mean would be called for; but it certainly is significant to note that this most brilliant fraternity of all is also backed by about the most brilliant pedigree of all royalty since Henry II. of Condé married Charlotte, daughter of Henry I. of Montmorency. She was noted for her beauty, strength of character and fascinating qualities. Henry I. was the center of the Montmorency genius. Thus the greatest of the Condés occur where we should most expect them, just at the junction of the two great streams.

The subsequent history of Condé is one of decline. Is there any infusion of bad blood sufficient to account for it aside from the external circumstances in which they lived? Louis II., the Great Condé, married Clemence, a daughter of Urban de Maillé de Brézé and a niece of Cardinal Richelieu. Maillé de Brézé was marshal of France, so it might seem at first sight as if this would be a case where we might expect a perpetuation of genius. But in looking more carefully we get the following idea of the character of the marshal, which throws no optimistic light on the rest of the members of the family. Maillé de Brézé was made Marshal of France in 1632, and left his command in Holland in anger saying that he n'etait point bête du compagne. In 1636 he was given the government of Anjou, where he showed himself 'bizarre and tyrannical.' He gave but little proof of military talent. Lenet said that he was under the possession of a woman (la Dervois), the widow of one of his valets, ugly but of quick and forceful mind, who governed his entire fortunes up to the last breath of his life. Cardinal de Retz pictured him as extravagant, but sufficiently to the taste of the king for him to permit the marshals' tirades against the greatest personages of the court. So much for the father; the mother, Nicole, was insane, and the daughter, Clementia, was woman 'energetique vaillante et même cruelle.'[8]

The Great Condé had but one child. If he had been the father of several, we might expect some to have been very brilliant and perhaps escape the taint. This one son was Henri Jules. Eight lines are devoted to him in 'Lippincott's' and read as follows:

Condé de Henri (Jules de Bourbon), Prince, the only son of the Great Condé, was born in 1643. He distinguished himself at the siege of Tournay in 1665, and in 1674 took part in the battle of Seneffe, where he is said to have saved his father's life. Saint-Simon gives a just but most favorable view of his character. Towards the end of his life he became insane and fancied himself a dead man. Died in 1709.

Brilliancy, bad character and congenital insanity was then united with mediocrity, since the mother of the next generation was from an undistinguished branch of the Palatine House and mother's family, Nevers, is also 'obscure' at this point.

Of the four adult children of Henri Jules, Anne Louisa, Duchess of Maine, alone has left a fame that has come down to us.

She had more than an ordinary share of the pride of birth by which that branch of the Bourbons was distinguished. She was highly educated and a great patroness of literature and art. Most of her life was spent in her beautiful mansion at Sceaux, surrounded by men most eminent for genius and learning. It was she who first patronized the muse of Voltaire.[9]

The intellectual qualities being the interesting thing to trace in the family of Condé, nothing further need be said save that the remaining nine showed no marked genius. The five in the next generation exhibited two instances of extreme cruelty. These were Louis IV., Prince of Condé, and his brother Charles, Count de Charlais.

Bad as the Duke de Bourbon was his brother the Count de Charlais was infinitely worse. He excited public execration by acts of such ferocious atrocity that they seem to belong to the worst tyrants of antiquity. Like all the nobles who had been educated under the regency he had abandoned himself to the wildest and most profligate debauchery which however did not satisfy him unless it was accompanied by the most savage cruelty. He murdered one of his servants whose wife, fondly attached to her husband, refused to receive his addresses. He fired at the slaters employed on the tops of houses and when he brought down one of his human game he hastened to gratify himself by watching his last agonies.[10]
We notice that the writer refers to his having been educated like the other youths of the day in the debauching school of the regency, but does not make mention of the fact that he was a grandson of the mad Henri Jules.

The remaining generations had but one, two, and one children respectively. Since Louis IV., Prince of Condé, was of little account, and the remaining pedigrees contain Hesse, Rheinfels, Soubises and Orleans without bringing in intellectual distinction, as far as I know, there appears to be nothing against heredity in the closing chapter of the house. In fact the neurosis appears to have been eliminated through the principle of regression, and we find the last members of the house rather fine heroic types, though not like their Condé ancestors, capable of grappling with difficult conditions. The last of the line, Louis Anthony Henri, Duke d' Enghien, was executed in March, 1804, an act that is commonly regarded as one of the worst stains on the character of Napoleon.

  1. Coxe, 'Travels,' III., p. 51.
  2. Coxe, 'Travels,' V., p. 19.
  3. Lippincott and Coxe, 'Travels,' II., pp. 302-306.
  4. Bruce's 'Memoirs,' pp. 100-197.
  5. Rose, 'Biographical Dictionary.'
  6. Brantome, 'Vies des hommes illustres.'
  7. 'Encyclopaedia Britannica.'
  8. Jacobi, 'Selection chez les aristocrats,' p. 414.
  9. Taylor, 'Mémoires Orléans,' I., p. 211.
  10. Taylor, 'Mémoires Orléans,' I., p. 383.