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Yale J Biol Med. 1992 May-Jun;65(3):201-10.

Obstetrical events that shaped Western European history.

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  • 1Bergen County Medical Examiners Office, Paramus, New Jersey.


Taking into account that marriage, the family as a social unit, and concepts of legitimacy developed to ensure the devolution of property and that, when these concepts apply in a society based on hierarchically organized monarchies, they also involve the devolution of power, this essay furnishes examples of dislocations in such devolutions, in terms of familiar incidents in western European history. That Jane Seymour died in childbirth but her son Edward VI survived long enough to ensure the stability of the Church of England is the first example. The infertility of Mary Tudor, when married to Philip II of Spain, prevented the formation of an Anglo-Spanish dynasty that would have been Roman Catholic is the second example of such a dislocation. Likewise, the infertility of Charles II's wife, Catherine of Braganza, led to the succession of James II, a practicing Roman Catholic, whose attempts to undermine the Church of England led to the Glorious Revolution of 1788 and the preservation of English Protestantism. Another example is the death in 1817 of Princess Charlotte, in childbirth, which led to the scramble of George III's aging sons to marry and beget an heir to the throne. The only success led to the birth of the future Queen Victoria, whose dynastic competence remains unquestionable, but who herself had some passing involvement with obstetrical developments. Finally, the delivery of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who sustained a brachial plexus injury that produced Erb's palsy of the left arm, is considered, and the question of intrapartum fetal hypoxia is raised as a hypothesis, in addition to the mechanical trauma and its effect on his personality.

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