Leopold: The “Bleeder Prince” and Public Knowledge about Hemophilia in Victorian Britain
- Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
- Oxford University Press
- Volume 67, Number 3, July 2012
- pp. 457-490
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Hemophilia is a rare bleeding disorder inherited by males born of unaffected female carriers of the trait. British physicians became knowledgeable about this hereditary disease early in the nineteenth century as they investigated families transmitting the character through several generations. Prince Leopold (b. 1853), the fourth son of Queen Victoria, experienced recurrent bleeding episodes and was diagnosed with hemophilia during childhood. His hemorrhagic attacks were first described in the medical journals during 1868, and subsequently in the London and provincial newspapers. The royal family carefully managed news about health matters, and many newspapers reported widespread public sympathy for the travails of the queen and her children. But the republican press argued that the disaffected working classes resented the hyperbole connecting the health of royal individuals with the political future of the entire nation. Public discussion of hemophilia transformed it from a rare medical phenomenon to a matter of national news. Practicing physicians, the royal family, and the general public all came to understand the clinical features and the hereditary nature of the problem. Members of the royal family subsequently utilized this information to guide the marriages of their own children to prevent the spread of this dreaded bleeding disorder.