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.