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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 62/February 1903/Mental and Moral Heredity in Royalty VII



Evidence from the House of Nassau.

A. Elder Branch of Orange.

THIS branch of Nassau for five generations from William the Elder (1487-1559) to William, Prince of Orange, who became king of England (1650-1702), includes in the direct line 30 names. Completing the pedigree on the maternal side for each fraternity brings in 83 additional persons, and raises the entire group to 113.

The thirty in the direct line show remarkable characteristics and probably average, among the direct lines already discussed, more genius than all the rest of the countries put together, excepting that little region about Frederick the Great which we believe to have been formed from this. These illustrious names are William the Silent (10), Maurice (9), Frederick Henry (8), William II., Prince of Orange (18), William III., of England (9). These are father, two sons, grandson and great-grandson. If due to heredity, why was it perpetuated through four generations without reverting to the mean? This was largely due, as far as the second generation was concerned, to the fact that the stock was remarkably well maintained on the maternal side. Maurice had, for his mother's father, Maurice, the celebrated Elector of Saxony (9) and for a great-grandfather Philip Landgrave Hesse (7).

Frederick Henry was a grandson of Gaspard de Coligny, the great admiral of France (9), himself of distinguished stock, and the most remarkable member of the Montmorency-Coligny combination. Frederick Henry married Amelia of Sohns, a woman of fine character and high mental endowments; so it is not surprising that his son, William II., who died young, should have been a prince of exceedingly high promise.

In the next generation William II. married Mary, a daughter of Charles I. of England, so that the relatively poor blood of the Stuarts was introduced. He had but one child, William III., one of the greatest of England's kings. That the last of the line took from the paternal rather than the maternal side must be considered good luck, to say the least. Thus besides the remarkable unions we see also a selection inasmuch as the most highly gifted were sons, many of the daughters showing the reversion to mediocrity and balancing up matters in the outside families into which they married, most of whom, if they left descendants at all, left only such as never rose above obscurity.

There were, however, among the other twenty-two grandchildren of William the Silent, three who were distinguished, one of whom, Turenne (10), ranks among the highest. The origin of the genius of William the Silent is not quite clear, since none of his ancestry in several degrees of remoteness were worthy of being called great, although they were of the sterling sort and above mediocrity. So William the Silent himself can not be taken as an instance of heredity, though all his descendants can. The moral tone was very high throughout, and corresponds either with the education or with the blood, since no bad characters were introduced, except Anne, second wife of William the Silent. She was violent, dissolute and finally insane. The later descendants are not from her. She had but two children and no legitimate grandchildren. Except that her daughter Amelia was extremely headstrong, her children appear to have escaped any influence from her.

Thus we see that the branch of Nassau is entirely confirmatory of the theory of heredity, and this should be taken into consideration in studying the causes of the rise of the Dutch Republic, since whatever was due to the personalities of these men finds its inner reason in the pedigrees which lie behind them.

The following is a list of all the grandchildren of William the Silent. This list analyzes the branch of Nassau in another way.

Those who are in (8), (9) or (10) are marked with an asterisk. To be in ranks (9) and (10) the persons must receive high praise in Lippincott's. Those in (8) may not always appear in Lippincott, but must at least receive very high adjectives in other authorities.

a. Children by Anne, daughter of Maximilian, Count of Buren: *12. Frederick Henry (8), celebrated stadtholder.
1. Philip William. Grandchildren.
2. Mary. a. Children of Maurice of Nassau (illegitimate):
b. Children by Anne, daughter of Maurice, Elector of Saxony: 1. William Lord of Lecke, Vice-Admiral of Holland,
*3. Maurice of Nassau (9), 'one of the greatest captains of modern times.' 2. Lewis Lord of Lecke, Beverweed and Odyck, a general.
4. Anne. b. Children of Amelia of Portugal:
5. Amelia Emanuel of Portugal. 3. Mary Belgica.
c. Children of Charlotte, daughter of Lewis, Duke of Montpensier; 4. Emanuel Felix of Portugal.
6. Louisa Juliana Palatine. 5. Amelia.
7. Isabella de Bouillon. 6. Anne.
8. Catherine Hanau. 7. Juliana Catherine.
9. Flandria, a nun. 8. Mauritia Eleonora.
10. Charlotte de la Tremoille. 9. Lewis of Portugal.
11. Amelia Palatine Deux-Ponts.
c. Children of Louisa Juliana: 22. Catherine Juliana.
10. Frederick V., Elector Palatine. 23. Henry Lewis.
11. Elizabeth Brandenburg. 24. James John.
12. Louisa Juliana Palatine-Deux-Ponts. f. Children of Charlotte de la Tremoille:
13. Louis Philip Palatine-Simmern. 25. Henry Duke Thonan Count Laval.
d. Children of Isabella, Duchess de Bouillon: *26. Charlotte Countess Derby (9), a skilful commander and was 'the last person in the three kingdoms who submitted to the parliament.'
14. Frederick Maurice, Lord of Sedan. g. Children of Amelia Palatine Deux-Ponts:
*15. Turenne (9), celebrated general. 27. Frederick Louis, Count Palatine Landsberg.
16. Mary Henry, Duke Tuars. h. Children of Frederick Henry:
17. Juliana Catherine Francis Count Roye. 28. Henrietta.
18. Elizabeth Marq. Duras. 29. Mary.
19. Henrica Catherine Goyau de la Moussaye. 30. Louisa.
e. Children of Catherine of Hanau: 31. Albertina.
*20. Amalia Elizabeth (9) Hesse Cassel. *32. William II., Prince of Orange (8), a youth, of great promise.
21. Philip Maurice, Count of Hanau.

Among the twelve children there were two distinguished. There were four distinguished grandchildren, but only four out of thirty-two, so we see a greater proportionate amount near to William the Silent himself; the greatest of the grandchildren, Turenne, occurs where he would most probably fall. He had a brilliant backing on both sides since his father was also 'a distinguished general.'


B. Younger Branch of Nassau Dietz.

This other branch of the House of Nassau from which the present ruling family of Holland is descended may be well compared with that of Orange since for a number of years they lived and fought side by side in their struggles for liberty, and subsequent to their divergence took their blood largely from the same general sources that produced the geniuses already discussed. Although we find the brilliant branch of the family very largely represented in the pedigree as more remote ancestors, there was no such selection as would require heredity to place genius on the heads of any of the direct descendants.

This, together with the fact that none of the princes had large families of children, seems to sufficiently account for the observation that no great genius subsequently appeared in this branch.

The following is a list of the descendants in the direct line, their maternal pedigree having been looked up in each case, complete to all great-grandparents, and the distinguished ancestors are noted:

Children of John Sr. of Orange (no distinguished maternal ancestors):
1. William Louis, Stadtholder of Friesland 1620.
2. John Count of Siegen—1623.
3. Elizabeth—1611 Nassau-Saarbruck.
4. Mary—1625 John Louis Nassau Weisbaden.
5. Machtild—1625 William Count Mansfeld.
6. George, Count Nassau Dillenburg 1623.
7. Louis Gunther—1604.
8. Ernst Casimir—1558-1632.
Children of Ernst Casimir (no distinguished maternal ancestors):
9. Henry Casimir of Nassau Dietz—1640.
10. William Frederic, Count of Nassau Dietz—1664.
Children of William Frederick (had Henry Frederick (8) as grandparent and William The Silent (10) as great-grandparent):
11. Henry Casimir, Prince of Nassau Dietz—1657-1696.
12. Amelia.
Children of Henry Casimir (had Henry Frederick (8) as a great-grandparent):
13. John William Frizp—1687-1711.
14. Sophia Hedwig.
15. Isabella Charlotte.
Children of John William Frizp (had three distinguished great-grandparents, Henry Frederick (8) twice and Amelia of Hesse (9):
16. William, Prince of Nassau Dietz—1711-1757.
17. Anne Charlotte Baden Durlach.
Children of William IV (had Caroline, Queen of England (8) as grandmother):
18. William V., Prince of Nassau—1748-1806.
19. Wilhelmina Carolina Nassau-Wielburg.
Children of William V. (had Frederick the Great as great-uncle):
20. William I., King of the Netherlands.
21. William George Frederick—1774-1799.
22. Frederica Louisa Brunswick.
Children of William I.:
23. William II., King of the Netherlands.
24. Frederick William Charles, Prince of the Netherlands—1792-1881.
Children of William II. (had Catherine II. as great-grandmother):
25. William III., King of the Netherlands.
26. Henry Prince of the Netherlands—1820.
27. Sophia Saxe-Weimar.

Among the twenty-seven only three deserve the adjective brilliant. These are William I., king of the Netherlands, 'a captain, a hero, a legislator and a great man,'[1] and his younger brother, William George Frederick, who lived to be only twenty-five, but won considerable distinction and appears in the 'Biographie Universelle,' 'a rare model of all talents, virtues and precious qualities. 'The third is the second son of William I., Frederick William Charles, who 'took a prominent part in the war of the Belgian revolution in 1830.'[2] These came together, and we suppose their talents came from the high wave about Frederick the Great.

Reviewing the list:

In the first two generations we get what we might well expect, since John Sr. of Orange, a brother of William the Silent, was, although an able man, in no way a genius.

In the third generation, we might not be surprised to see it reappearing, and heredity would demand it in a large number of children, but as there are only two, these may have taken after their parents who were obscure. The second generation after this is similar, so it seems to me there is nothing in the history of this house to speak against heredity, except that among the three children of William V., we find in two brothers a too large proportion of mental endowment, since there was no eminent relation nearer than great uncles and aunts. Thus about twenty-six of the twenty-seven give us the expected. This is another example of a royal house that did not degenerate through assumption of rank and power.

The moral tone remained good throughout and, although probably explicable on grounds of environment, is also in line with heredity.


Evidence from the House of Brunswick.

This family may be conveniently taken up next, since it is much like Saxe-Coburg in character, has intermarried with it and taken its tap-roots from much the same sources.

From Henry of Brunswick Danneburg (1546-1598) to William Duke of Brunswick Oels (1806-) we have eight generations with thirty-nine members of the direct house who are available for study. Of these thirty-nine all but Henry, above mentioned, and August (1579-1666) are given a full pedigree to the great-grandparent generation and studied with uncles and aunts as additional material. This brings into the group ninety-five more persons, or 144 in all. Among the thirty-nine we find one in grade (9), Amelia of Saxe Weimar, the distinguished patron of men of learning, and three in grade (8), William Adolphus, an author, and Charles William Frederick, the celebrated general in the Seven Years' War, and Juliana, the very ambitious and unprincipled queen of Frederick V., of Denmark. The gifted ones, Amelia of Saxe-Weimar, Charles William Ferdinand and William Adolphus, are niece and nephews of Frederick the Great and also of Juliana. The generation to which Juliana belongs also contains Ferdinand, a celebrated general, but his fraternity does not average quite as high as the next, which was formed by a union with the Hohenzollerns at the height of their greatness.

The first five generations of the House of Brunswick contain eight as high as grade (7), but none of these were distinguished sufficiently to be mentioned in Lippincott's. Only two, Ferdinand and his father, Ferdinand Albert II., were noted as generals.

The literary activity was very great, there being among the thirty-nine no less than ten who were authors. This authorship ran through five of the eight generations and should have appeared as it did, even setting aside the influence of education and example, since we find a remarkable breeding in of literary qualities somewhat comparable to what was found in the family of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

August (1579-1666), the second generation, married an authoress, Sophia Elizabeth; they had four children who were authors, among them Ferdinand Albert I. Ferdinand had several children, but no authors. One of these, Ferdinand Albert II., married Charlotte, not literary, whose father, uncle, aunt and grandfather were all authors. Among their nine children one, Elizabeth, published a number of translations and another, Ernst Ludwig, had literary taste and became the tutor of William of Orange.

The next generation is formed by the union with the literary Hohenzollerns and shows a fair proportion of authors, three in nine. After this none appeared. If these five generations of authors had accrued without any rejuvenation of blood, it would speak strongly for the effects of education. As it is, it could be used for an argument on either side. All that one can say is that heredity is satisfied. On the purely intellectual side there seems to be two rather serious deviations from Galton's law. The generation which contains the nieces and nephews of Frederick the Great is even more brilliant than would be expected. This may have been, as in the case of Frederick's own fraternity, either prepotency or superior opportunities of distinction, one can not tell which.

The next generation gives one of the worst results from the standpoint of heredity found anywhere, and we have quite the unexpected happening.

Two of the children, George William and Charles George, were mentally unfit to rule and consequently disinherited. In this connection it may be stated that a study of Denmark, Hesse Cassel and England has brought the author to the belief that this mental disease in the House of Brunswick was but a cropping out of the old Palatine insanity at the time of James I., of England. Christian VII, of Denmark, who was an uncontrolable imbecile and finally became mad, was a first cousin of George III., of England, who was insane during his later life, and Christian was also a first cousin once removed of the two little imbecile sons above mentioned, of Augusta, princess of Brunswick. Another more convincing bit of evidence in this connection is to be found in the neighboring House of Hesse Cassel. Here we find another who became insane and died in early manhood, and was a first cousin, once removed, of Christian VII. of Denmark. All these are related and only through the same source, the Palatine House, and since this Christian, of Hesse Cassel, is doubly descended from this suspected strain (Palatine House) it seems more than probable that we are dealing with an inherited insanity in all these cases. We may also mention Frederick William I., of Prussia, about whom Macaulay said: 'His eccentricities were such as had never been seen out of a mad house.' Frederick William was a first cousin of George II., of England, and stands as near the actual Palatine insanity as a nephew.

These six cases would, if occurring in families of ordinary social grade, never make their way into asylum records as exhibiting a congenital tendency, since their close relations were not insane, but here, where we have the family tree and can look up the ancestry, curiously enough we find them all related and through the same source, "Palatine, and this moreover the only one of their many lines of descent in which there was insanity. This is to be thought of when regarding the percentage which runs from twenty to 90 for heredity among the insane, according to the observer, and it should make us think that the higher rather than the lower figures are more likely to be correct.

This condition which caused the extinction of the House of Brunswick in the male line is often considered a common one in aristocracy, that is, a degeneration due to the assumption of rank and power, and consequent tendency to ease, dissipation and decline.

Jacobi has tried to show that the majority of royal and powerful families tend to end in degeneration and sterility. Degeneration without a corresponding pollution of blood, a contamination sufficient in itself to explain the condition I believe to be exceedingly rare, and I may say that there are no instances of such a degeneration among all the royal families that I have studied.

Among the 144 included in this group by reason of close relationship, there are two in (10), three in (9) and seven in (8). These are all centered about within two degrees of relationship of Charles William Ferdinand who was probably the most celebrated of any bearing the name of Brunswick. By making him the center of a group of forty-one, including only those more closely related to him, we find two in (10), three in (9), five in (8), eight in (7), that is of genius and of high talent. This is practically the same group of geniuses that centered about Frederick the Great in Prussia. It seems very probable on the grounds of heredity and entirely unlikely on any other.


  1. Alphonce Rablee in 'Biographie des Contemporaires.'
  2. Lippincott's.