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Old 09-17-2009, 05:31 PM
Argent Towers is offline
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What exactly was the mental illness which King Henry VI suffered from?

King Henry VI, the twice-deposed Lancastrian monarch who is the subject of the Shakespeare play, is reported to have suffered from some kind of mental breakdown which caused him to lose all ability to rule for more than a year. I have seen it variously described as generic "insanity," a catatonic state, and a deep depression. On Christmas Day of 1454 he is said to have "regained his senses" and thereafter he was able to rule normally for a few years, although he eventually returned to this state of mental instability.

Does anyone know exactly what it was that he was afflicted with? Primary sources from that time, unsurprisingly, tended to classify a lot of different things under the umbrella of "madness," but I'm curious as to what, specifically, led to this? Was it an extremely serious form of what we would now call clinical depression? Or was it something more along the lines of schizophrenia? Have there been any modern studies into this topic?
Old 09-17-2009, 05:38 PM
Markxxx is offline
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Isn't a lot of these "royal insanity" cases related to late stage syphillis?
Old 09-17-2009, 09:46 PM
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Telperion is offline
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Originally Posted by Markxxx View Post
Isn't a lot of these "royal insanity" cases related to late stage syphillis?
1450 seems a bit too early for that though, the occurence of syphilis in Europe before the 1490's is disputed and some theories hold that it spread with the voyages of Columbus. Also, I don't believe syphilis sufferers generally improved once the disease had progressed far enough to affect their personality.
Old 09-17-2009, 10:30 PM
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I would venture it was some form of depression.

It's difficult to diagnose since it's was so long ago, people didn't look for the signs we recognize now, and descriptions were based on the assumptions of the time.
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Old 09-17-2009, 11:05 PM
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More likely some form of hereditary mental disorder. Henry VI's grandfather, Charles VI of France, suffered from a similar mental illness.
Old 09-18-2009, 08:43 AM
Serenata67 is offline
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It's hard to say. It could have been anything from lead poisoning in the pottery to something hereditary to something as simple as general malaise. Sometimes it's hard to put our modern knowledge on a time without it.
Old 09-18-2009, 02:50 PM
Mississippienne is offline
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The most likely diagnosis are, IMHO, either porphyria or schizophrenia. As has been mentioned, Henry VI's grandfather Charles VI of France was also a screaming loony, and insanity ran in Charles VI's immediate family. The Mad Monarchs series gives some good information about the manifestations and possible causes of their mental illnesses.
Old 09-18-2009, 03:29 PM
Claire Beauchamp is offline
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But Henry VI wasn't a "screaming loony" ... IANAPsychiatrist, but it seems to me his symptoms seem to point to something like depression or maybe bipolar disorder. As noted about syphilis, people don't get better spontaneously from schizophrenia, and he DID have a period of normalcy inbetween his noted periods of breakdown.
Old 02-18-2013, 10:21 PM
gwenrose is offline
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I've been trying to compare the accounts to Kleine-Levin Syndrome (also called "Sleeping Beauty" Syndrome), I think it's a possible match and it's familial so that would explain why his grandfather had it as well. Just speculating though!


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