The Politics of Madness: Government in the Reigns of Charles VI and Henry VI

The Politics of Madness: Government in the Reigns of Charles VI and Henry VI

By Sarah Alger

Honours Thesis, University of Tasmania, 2001

Introduction:  Between 1380 and 1422, in the reign of the mad king Charles VI, France suffered rebellion and the civil wars of Armagnacs and Burgundians, quite apart from the disastrous depredations of the English from 1415 onwards. After 1422 England had a mad king too, Henry VI, founder of Eton College; she experienced her own civil wars, the Wars of the Roses, in the middle years of the fifteenth century.

Given Vaughan’s assessment, can it be regarded coincidental that both France and England during these turbulent periods were ruled by mentally ill kings? Although Vaughan is implying that the mental illnesses of both monarchs and the troubles evident in their reigns are causally linked, much historical literature fails to adequately address this question.

Some historians have approached the illnesses of Charles VI and Henry VI from the standpoint of modem psychology, thereby attempting a diagnosis? With regard to Charles VI, Famiglietti and Green have suggested that he was a schizophrenic. However Green does not elucidate further, whilst Famiglietti discusses Charles’s illness as complying with the criteria for a paranoid schizophrenic in the, Diagnostic Statistical Manual-III (DSM-III). Concerning Henry VI’s condition, Green has postulated that he suffered a manic depressive stupor. In a 1987 article, Rawcliffe suggested that Henry’s might have had neurasthenia, but by 1996 she had revised her diagnosis to one of schizotypy. Additionally Wolffe, in his biography of Henry VI, suggested the possibility of a depressive stupor. Although this diagnosis is similar to Green’s hypothesis, the extremities of behaviour that characterise a manic depressive stupor are largely absent in depressive stupors. Storey argues that Henry’s condition is consistent with an episode of catatonic schizophrenia’. Finally, Clarke maintains that Henry suffered from schizotypal personality disorder, a life long condition in which environmental factors are heavily implicated. Thus despite the applications of modem psychological principles, historians have failed to achieve a consensus regarding diagnoses for both kings.

This approach is further hampered by the continually changing nature of modem psychology. Due to alterations in the criteria used for diagnoses, terms and illnesses become obsolete, thus negating our previous theories. For instance, Rawcliffe’s diagnosis of neurasthenia was almost obsolete in 1987. Subsequent developments in psychology forced a reappraisal, thus accounting for her 1996 diagnosis of schizotypy. Current advances see the classifying of schizophrenic related illnesses in terms of positive and negative symptoms and may therefore render obsolete other terms such as schizotypy or paranoid and catatonic schizophrenia.

Click here to read this article from University of Tasmania


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