Hair Loss and the British Royal Family
The recent birth of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s first child is placing the couple back in the spotlight, and with it, mentions of Prince Harry’s hair loss. For a time, it looked like the younger son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana might have avoided the hair loss that affects other male members of the royal family, but photos from his 2018 wedding revealed a thinning spot in the back of his crown area.
Popular belief claims that the mother’s genes carry genetic male hair loss traits yet the history of hairlines in the British royal family seems to dispute that. Queen Victoria was the first British monarch to be photographed so tracing the history of hair loss prior to that is inconclusive because vain rulers had portraits painted that were more flattering than accurate.
Hair Loss in Victoria’s Descendants
In the early generations of Queen Victoria’s House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, which was later renamed House of Windsor, photographic evidence of hair loss varied. Photos of Queen Victoria’s son, King Edward VII, showed classic androgenetic alopecia, the medical term for male pattern hair loss, where he lost the hair on the top of his head but kept it on the sides and back.
However, his son, King George V, retained most of his hair. Though hairline receded noticeably above both temples his son, King George VI, had a full head of hair when he died at age 56. The front of his hairline might have moved up slightly but in comparison to his father, George VI’s hairline seemed normal and was substantial in comparison to his grandfather’s hair.
That part of the family seems to support the idea that the mother’s genes affect a son’s hair retention or loss. Edward VII could have gotten the hair loss tendency from his mother, Queen Victoria. His son George V’s improved hair pattern could be due to the genes of his mother, Alexandra of Denmark. George VI’s normal hair could be due to genes from his mother, Mary of Teck. The theory becomes murky after that.
Prince Philip’s Hair Loss and Beyond
George VI’s eldest daughter became the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Since her maternal grandfather, Claude Bowes-Lyon, and maternal uncles, like Patrick Bowes-Lyon, Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and Captain Michael Claude Hamilton Bowes-Lyon, seemed to have minimal receding hairlines at the worst, it would be reasonable to think that the queen’s children would have the same. Instead photos show that the men’s hair loss issues in the royal family have become consistent and prevalent after Queen Elizabeth II’s marriage to Prince Philip.
The queen’s youngest son, Prince Edward, has classic androgenetic alopecia with only wisps of hair on the top of his head. His older brothers, Prince Andrew and heir to the throne Prince Charles, have maintained more hair on the top of their heads, but it’s noticeably thin with a substantial receding hairline. Interestingly this matches their father’s family instead of their mother’s family.
The queen’s husband, Prince Philip, also suffers from androgenetic alopecia and has lost hair on the top of his head. This is a consistent trend in his family with Prince Philip’s father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, his grandfather, King George I of Greece and his great-grandfather, King Christian IX of Denmark, all showing evidence of classic androgenetic alopecia.
When Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer that should have brought in better hair genetics according to the maternal gene theory for hair loss. Princess Diana’s brother, Charles, the Earl of Spencer, has a thick head of hair with just a slight recession above one temple. Despite that, Prince William started losing his hair in his twenties and appears to be following his Uncle Edward’s hair loss pattern rather than his maternal uncle’s. Prince Harry’s hair loss began later than his brother’s but is increasing.
The truth is that while the dominant hair loss gene is carried in the X chromosome, men with a bald father are more likely to lose their hair than those with fathers who retained their hair. Based on that, the hair loss pattern from Princes William and Harry back through their father and uncles, grandfather Prince Philip and his ancestors makes perfect sense.
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