The Madness of King Henry VI (and also of his grandfather): what was it?

I’ve been reading a long novel about the Wars of the Roses in which King Henry VI is a supporting character. I’ve read of him before- he was the son of King Henry V (who was sane) and of Katherine de Valois (who was evidently sane, but was the daughter of King Charles VI of France who was not and whose illness was much like his grandson’s).

I’ve taken psychology classes and worked with the mentally ill for years but Henry’s illness is one I don’t recognize. He had periods of lucidity, sometimes for years at a time, but when he went into his bouts of madness he did not recognize anybody or anything around him including his wife or his mother or even his surroundings. He was almost incommunicative. Per legend anyway his wife (Margeurite de Anjou, one of England’s most famous warrior queens) conceived their only child by him shortly before he entered one of his periods of insanity- one that lasted about 18 months- and when he emerged- not gradually but very quickly- into lucidity the sight of his young son, who he had absolutely no memory of being born even though he’d lived in the same castle with him since his birth- was a major shock.

So anyway: his illness doesn’t sound like bipolar illness. He doesn’t sound like he was manic when he was insane, just almost amnesiac- when insane he actually usually spent most of his time in prayer and was described as childlike and very sweet but just completely disoriented by all around him, the descriptions not being indicative of mania or depression. (Also bipolar cycles don’t usually last 18 months or anywhere near.) Neither does he sound schizophrenic exactly- he didn’t seem delusional so much as just completely disoriented, and again schizophrenic episodes rarely last 18 months and then end with a restoration to sanity for several months- they’re usually more “constant” than that. People with brain tumors can enter periods of extreme disorientation, but after years of it their health declines as well and it becomes degenerative: Henry’s wasn’t degenerative evidently as he was perfectly healthy, living to his fiftieth year (much of it in captivity) and then probably being murdered rather than dying of natural causes.

Any notion what might have caused this? It sounds more like head injury than brain-chemistry based mental illness, but the fact his grandfather had it would imply it was hereditary.
His grandfather Charles VI had a similar illness: long periods (months and sometimes years) of lucidity alternated with long periods of insanity. Henry VI’s half-brothers the Tudors do not seem to have suffered from this though they were also Charles’ grandsons.

here’s a thread that might help -

I always hear it was porphyria.

When people say that Henry may have had schizophrenia, they’re suggesting he had catatonic schizophrenia, which doesn’t manifest itself primarily with delusions, but with catatonia. Also, schizophrenia can go into remission and remanifest itself in times of stress.

Charles VI, on the other hand, did have delusions as well as catatonia. At one point, he believed he was made of glass.

Which is a surprisingly- I won’t say common, but not unique to him- delusion. I forget the name, but one of the Cypriot generals in the Greco-Turkish war went mad and insisted his legs were made of glass (wouldn’t get out of bed as a result, even though his army was under attack), as did an in-law of Chang & Eng Bunker (the Siamese twins who married sisters from North Carolina). Weird the commonality of three extremely disparate people.

ETA: The general was named Georgios Hadjianestis.

Hmm. There’s also a Jewish folktale about a man who believed his legs were made of glass. Confederate General Braxton Bragg didn’t go quite that mad but he believed his bones were extremely brittle and was terrified of breaking them even though there’s absolutely nothing to suggest they were (he didn’t seem to break any more bones in the course of his lifetime than most people- never had a really serious fall or accident that resulted in anything not healing). Apparently “glass bones” or very breakable bodies is a not uncommon delusion.

This is why some people go so slow over speedbumps.

And yet another: Captain John Morgan Stanwood of Dogtown, Massachusetts (late 18th-early 19th century) believed his legs were made of glass. (Cite.) How odd; you could probably do a doctoral dissertation on possible similarities in these cases.

From a website cited in the thread above, it sounds like being king then was a hugely stressful job and one that he was not suited to.

The madness of George III is believed to have been porphyria but had different symptoms. He was extremely paranoid and delusional when “out of it”, plus of course his treatment would have driven anybody insane. (The movie Madness of King George is available on Netflix Instant, btw.)

Apologies for not having found the previous Henry 6 thread- since I thought it was a fairly obscure topic I didn’t even think to look for a previous one. I should have know though:D.

I am not a doctor, but it does sound a bit like a seizure disorder described in this book I’ve been reading about neuropsychology.

The body carries on, more or less, but the mind isn’t really “there,” somewhat like sleepwalking – one women had no recollection of attending her daughter’s wedding, except for the fact that she was in the pictures (dressed appropriately, acting appropriately, etc).

Maybe not the exact same thing but perhaps its was some sort of seizure disorder that resulted in periods of fugue state.

Just out of curiosity, which novel are reading?

It’s not a novel. It’s called “Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology” by Paul Broks.

It isn’t really a set of case studies (as per Oliver Sacks, “An Anthropologist on Mars” etc) its actually a bit of a discourse on the problem of consciousness, but he discusses some patients along the way.

I assume the question was which novel Sampiro is reading.

ETA: thanks for your answer anyway, it seems interesting.

The Sunne in Splendourby Sharon Kay Penman

The main characters are the Yorks (Edward IV and Richard III) but Henry’s madness and its effects on the wars are a major part.

Great book BTW:)

Porphyria? I haven’t read them yet, but there are two new parody novels out about historical figures: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and “Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter.” I wonder if we’ll see porphyria feature in something like “Henry VI: Vampire King.” :slight_smile:

It wasn’t just Charles VI and his grandson Henry VI. The Bourbon line of Charles VI’s mother had a history of nervous disorders and mental breakdowns, a trait that seems to have been first noted in his great-grandfather Louis I, duc de Bourbon. Louis’ son Pierre (Charles’ grandfather) and Pierre’s son Louis II (Charles’ uncle) and daughter Jeanne (Charles’ mother) also displayed signs of mental instability and suspectability to fugue states. Jeanne was said to have “lost her good sense and memory.”

Here’s some of Charles VI’s symptoms:
– Losing consciousness
– Complaing of severe pains “like a sword piercing his heart”
– Inability to recognize family or friends
– Paranoia and sudden attacks of violence
– Delusions; believing he was made of glass, insisting his name was Georges, etc.
– Wailing, screaming, barking like a dog
– Racing around the palace until he was physically exhausted
– Refusing to be bathed, shaved, urinating in his clothing
– Appeared to sense the onset of an attack, would order swords and daggers removed from him lest he use them to kill himself or others

Based on these, catatonic schizophrenia would be my guess. But IANAMD.

I wonder if food poisoning or allergies (ergotism, lead drinking vessels, etc.) may have triggered or agitated any of the episodes. Constant cousin marriages almost certainly helped the genes get frequently passed along.

For Henry, I’m pretty sure they were triggered by stress. He had his first mental breakdown in 1453, when he heard about the loss of Castillon, the death of the the Earl of Shrewsbury, and the loss of Gascony, then again in 1455, after the Duke of York rebelled and wounded and captured him at the first battle of St. Albans, and finally in 1460, after he was captured by the duke of Warwick at Northampton.

I’ll vote for something somehow genetic, based on the Bourbon “princess” (I mean, she was the real thing, for certain very low-grade values of princess - Europe’s stiff with them) I knew in my youth. She was fairly normal almost all the time, apart from her “episodes”. I remember for instance when we were about twelve, one day she caused a terrible scene by, suddenly and with no provocation or encouragement, starting to behave precisely like a dog. We all tried to snap her out of it: no go. She didn’t respond to her name or anything else except by growling, and when one brave soul approached her, the reward was a sound nip on the leg. After a while, she seemed to sort of “come to”, and wouldn’t believe us. And she wasn’t clever enough to fake her reaction afterwards, before you ask.