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Genetics vs Environment among Monarchs July 31, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback

There is a phrase that’s trotted out from time to time that monarchs are simply the descendants of those who killed lots of people and as such deserve little respect and certainly no adulation.

Of course, it is true that monarchs are the descendants of those who killed many people. But what really matters is not that they killed but who they killed. The present English monarch has, in her veins, for example, the genetic markers of those who spilt a metric tonne of Viking blood (God knows they had it coming), quite a lot of ‘Turkish’ blood, oodles of Spanish blood and most importantly enough French blood to fill ten thousand Olympic swimming pools. English identity is summed up by that kill list and the queen is a walking embodiment of what it means to be English because of her serial killing great great great great (x10) grandparents.

So far so good. The monarchy was picked out in earlier times by a Darwinian drive to kill and be ‘fitter’ than other human beings. The genetics in a royal family is presumably better than other families, hence the surprising ability of kings and queens through the ages. Only, Beach at least, cannot take genetics seriously. At least not to this extent. It is all well and good talking about the symbolism of a blood line but the reality can’t give one family that much of an edge. This is especially true when said royal family has spent the last three generations ‘debasing’ itself by marrying cross-eyed cousins from other royal lines.

Of course, if you look at the list of kings and queens from the last thousand years of European history there were a minority who should never have made it: Christian VII, Gian Gastone, Ludwig II of Bavaria… They hadn’t the skill set necessary and were bad news for their countries. However, the really incompetent monarchs are few. Most were capable and several were exceptional.

This is where Beach starts to have problems. Monarchy is in some senses a random political system: a country’s genetic pool has a lottery and spits out one man or woman to rule. G.K. Chesterton had fun with this in the Napoleon of Notting Hill. It is the equivalent of looking around your High School biology class and saying, ‘kids, we are now going to put everyone’s name in a hat and choose a supreme ruler: Brandon stop playing with that bunsen burner!’.

Do you remember those in your high school biology class? The idea of 70% of that class sitting on a jury is terrifying enough: the idea of them being surrounded by courtiers is sheer ice-cold horror. And yet… And yet… Most kings and queens rise above C+.  The only explanation that Beach can find is that their upbringing was exceptional: they were raised to duty and office. This means that paradoxically monarchy is the best argument he knows for environment over genetics.

Of course, Prince Charles may make him change his mind in a couple of years.

Beach has never found anything written along these lines and if anyone has any suggestions for reading or thinking he’d love to hear them: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


2 August 2012: First Andy: ‘What you are looking for is Lysenkoism, a “science” pushed by Trofim Lysenko in the soviet days.  He decided that ofspring would inherit acquired traits, so a plant regularly plucked of it’s leaves, would produce seedlings which were bare of leaves.  Applied to people, a son of blacksmiths would be a better blacksmith, a daughter of ballet dancers would be a better dancer, because her parents were so skilled.  There is an entertaining short story debunking it in the “Spontoon Island” archive – (based on a world of human-animal hybrids) Then Tacitus from Detritus: Regards the genetics of monarchy you must make allowances for human frailty and dalliance.  Sure, kings had liaisons all the time, but it would be naive to imagine that queens-although closely supervised-did not diversify the gene pool on occasion.  Henry VIII was not entirely paranoid.  And of course throughout history there were a smattering of monarchs who were more than willing to subcontract this sort of thing.  Yes, I am  looking at you Edward II. Long ago I posted on my blog something that has caused me pangs of regret: I mean really, folks looking for something serious on the English Civil War get nonsense like this.  Thousands of folks.  More this week due to the damn royal corgis. I suppose the modern era of tabloids and DNA testing will relegate royal hanky panky to the obsolescence that is monarchy in general in these swank times.’ Thanks Tacitus and Andy!