Queen Victoria

The Royal Disease Defined

You probably already know that hemophilia is referred to as the “royal disease.” It’s not a royal disease, of course, but it was made famous by the royal families of Europe, some members of which had the blood disorder. Britain’s Queen Victoria is the world’s most famous carrier: she had nine children, but only son Leopold had the disorder.

Up till now, no one knew which type of hemophilia the royal line carried: A or B?

Read Nicolas and Alexandra, by Robert K. Massie, if you want a fascinating look at history that reads like a love story. This was also made into a spectacular movie. And for children, I offer my own book Alexis: The Prince Who Had Hemophilia, free of charge through my website. If you have hemophilia in your family, this is a story you must know!

The results are in; the DNA results, that is. Britain’s Queen Victoria’s family had a severe form of hemophilia B. Our own University of Massachusetts’s Dr. Evgeny Rogaev has conducted DNA tests on the remains of the Romanovs, the queen’s Russian relatives. Victoria’s granddaughter Alexis married Nicholas II, the last Russian tsar. Rogaev examined the remains of Prince Alexei, himself, who had hemophilia, and who was killed with his entire family on Lenin’s orders.

This is one of history’s most fascinating stories: how hemophilia played a part in the overthrow of the Russian dynasty and perhaps led to the Communist take-over. Communism helped to define much of world history following World War I.

History of Blood: The Striped Barber Pole

Typical London tourists, my daughters and I went to the “London Dungeon,” a popular tourist attraction, last Monday, on our last day in England. This dark and eerie theater/museum/thrill ride production walks you through medieval London and its various horrors of the time, from the Bubonic plague, to Jack the Ripper, to standard methods of imprisonment and torture. Not for the faint-hearted. Indeed, one daughter left after 5 minutes! The other gripped my hand throughout, and was amazed to learn that Jack the Ripper’s last victim was–Mary Kelly. Overall, the Dungeon was well done, theatrical, scary and even educational. And fun–I was selected from the crowd to take the stand in a medieval court, presided over by a judge in a powdered wig. Before I could be accused of anything, the moment the judge learned I was from America, he cried “Guilty!”, much to everyone’s amusement.

I took particular interest in the section on “Sweeney Todd,” the fictitious 19th century barber and serial killer, who was said to cut his victim’s throats, and even use the victims’ bodies to make meat pies. Despite this lurid account, I learned something new–in the Middle Ages, barbers also performed surgery. I looked at the barber pole. Did you ever wonder what the barber pole stood for?

The barber pole developed as a symbol of “bloodletting,” a standard treatment for just about anything. During this treatment, the barber would drain blood from the patient in the hopes that it would somehow cure the patient of whatever was making them ill. (You can see a decent portrayal of it in the 1995 movie “Sense and Sensibility”) The patient would grasp a pole to make veins stand out, the barber-surgeon would cut, and blood would pour into a basin. Afterward, blood-soaked bandages would be hung outside as advertisement. Twirled by the wind, they would form a red and white spiral pattern that was later adopted for painted poles. Later on, the bandages would be replaced by a wooden pole, with painted red and white stripes. Variations of the barber pole appeared in different countries, with some alternating a blue stripe with the red.

I guess I find anything to do with the history of blood–and hemophilia–interesting; London is certainly steeped in history of hemophilia, as mention of Queen Victoria, the most famous carrier of hemophilia and longest reigning monarch, is everywhere. And while the barber pole is recognized around the world, its days could be numbered. The William Marvy Company is the sole remaining manufacturer of barber poles in North America, and one web site notes that in recent years, the sale of spinning barber poles has dropped, because of fewer new barber shops and municipal restrictions on moving signs. You may have to visit the London Dungeon to get a glimpse of one someday!

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