By P. Froggatt
Medical History, Vol.6:4 (1962)
Introduction: Historical personages are often alleged to have suffered from certain diseases or disabilities. Sometimes there is good evidence for this, but sometimes when the evidence is examined one wonders how the belief originated. At least three historical characters, and one biblical one, are frequently referred to as albinos. Two of them, Edward the Confessor and Timur, were real people, one being a King of England and the other the most powerful of the medieval Tartar rulers; the third is a figure in Persian legend, Zal. The albinism of the fourth, Noah, is examined elsewhere.
Generalized albinism is a rare condition inherited as a Mendelian recessive. Although some variation in expression in the genotype occurs the phenotypical extremes share certain basic clinical characteristics. These are: (i) hair which is always white at birth but may become fair or straw coloured in adult life, (2) white skin which may redden but does not tan, (3) the characteristic eye findings of nystagmus, pale blue irides which give a marked red reflex, photophobia, often marked lacrimation, and some degree of defective vision usually quite severe.
For an individual to be confidently diagnosed as an albino from written descriptions, both the first and third of these must be mentioned. In the three cases under review careful clinical descriptions are not available and consequently some inferences are drawn. These are confined to the eyesight because albinism has no direct detrimental effect on the general physical and mental health, physique or expectation of life. The possibility of parental consanguinity is considered because, albinism being inherited as a rare Mendelian recessive, the incidence of kinship marriage amongst the parents of albinos is many times greater than that amongst the population as a whole.