A Loving Couple, A Genetic Curse

The newly ascendant King Henry VII of England, having won the crown by ‘right of conquest’ wed Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of King Edward IV and his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, on 18 January 1486 in Westminster Abbey.


He had pledged to marry Elizabeth of York the Christmas before his invasion of England, a union arranged by his mother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, and the widowed Elizabeth Woodville as part of their plot against King Richard III. This was a politically expedient move, and turned out to be a love match in spite of Henry Tudor’s notably chilly personality, but it may have been genetic suicide for the Tudor men.

The odds are good that it was Elizabeth of York’s grandmother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, who introduced the gene for Kell positive blood into the Woodville family. This means that while all the women who inherited the gene were as likely to be fertile as any other woman, the men who inherited it would dramatically increased the odds of miscarriage for the women they impregnated. The transmitted Kell gene from Elizabeth of York is the probably the reason the King Henry VIII had such difficulty fathering an heir, while both his sisters had a much more ‘normal’ reproductive history for the time.

On 4 December 2015 the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh (2013;43: 353-60) published an article by Australian Drs Stride and Lopes-Flores who provided additional arguments for the hypothesis that the Kell gene was brought to the English royal family via Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Although King Henry VIII’s great-grandmother was accused of witchcraft by her enemies, the article’s authors explain that a “modern understanding of medicine suggests that Jacquetta may have cursed Edward IV not by witchcraft by through genetics at the Kell locus.”

It is very sad to think that a marriage made for peace, a loving union full of such hope for the future, had inadvertently sown the seeds for the truncation of the male line within one generation.

2 thoughts on “A Loving Couple, A Genetic Curse

  1. Is there any evidence that, in addition to Henry VIII, other descendants of Jacquetta of Luxembourg were afflicted with similar problems?

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