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5 Mentally Ill Monarchs

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Throughout history, kings and queens typically inherited their positions. Therefore, it's not surprising that some royals were not really up for the job. Here are five monarchs who suffered mental illnesses that affected their ability to rule.

1. Charles VI of France (1368-1422)

Charles' peculiar behavior started around 1392, after he'd suffered from a fever and seizures. Thereafter, he experienced periodic attacks of insanity lasting several months. During his bouts of madness, Charles would forget his name, the fact that he was king, and that he had a wife and children. At times he also believed he was made of glass, and that he'd shatter if someone approached him. He even ordered that iron rods be put in his clothing so he wouldn't break. He ran around the castle howling like a wolf. Charles' strange behavior exhausted his wife Isabeau of Bavaria, so she found him a mistress to keep him busy. Her name was Odette de Champdivers and she resembled Isabeau so much that Charles couldn't tell them apart even when he was sane. Meanwhile, Isabeau gallivanted with Charles' younger brother, Louis of Orleans, and probably bore at least one of his children.

It's now believed that Charles probably suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). His doctors tried to cure him by drilling small holes into his head. They accomplished this through the element of surprise "“ group of men with blackened faces hid in Charles' room and jumped out at him. Inevitably, the treatment didn't work and Charles' son-in-law was declared regent.

2. Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584)

ivan-terrible.jpgIt's uncertain if Ivan's cruel behavior was the result of a traumatic childhood, mental illness, or his way of maintaining control over Russia's rebellious factions. Both his parents died when he was young, so he was raised by two aristocratic families who used him as a political tool. Ivan was often starved, terrorized, and exposed to all types of violence, including executions. This clearly took a toll on him; even at an early age, he took delight in throwing cats and dogs over the Kremlin walls.


While Ivan's behavior was never really stable, he seemed to become completely unhinged following the death of first wife, Anastasia. He rampaged against boyars who had disagreed with him in the past. He sent the oprichniki (secret police) to wreak havoc in cities that wanted to break away from his control. Men would be rounded up into buildings that would be set on fire while women were stripped naked and used as target practice. Ivan utilized typical medieval punishments including decapitation, hanging and impaling, but he also devised new methods like roasting his "enemies" over a spit or throwing them into bear pits.

Some argue that Ivan showed signs of schizophrenia because his behavior swung from one extreme to the other. He would dress like a monk and preach to his officials about the importance of leading a moral life, but hours later take part in drunken orgies with them. He would personally torture prisoners, but then go to church where he would bang his head on the ground and beg for forgiveness.
His most egregious act was killing his own son. It happened when Ivan saw his pregnant daughter-in-law dressed too provocatively, and started to beat her. When his son came to her defense, Ivan struck him in the temple causing his death. Ivan's act changed the course of Russian history as his second son, Feodor, who became tsar was mentally deficient. Contrary to legend, however, Ivan did not blind the architect who designed St. Basil's Cathedral, the colorful, onion-domed structure located in Moscow's Red Square.

3. Joanna the Mad (1479-1555)

joanna-mad.jpgShe was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Spanish monarchs who funded Columbus' journey to the New World. Mental illness ran in Joanna's family "“ her grandmother, Isabella of Portugal, was prone to depression and hysterics. Joanna was an attractive and educated woman when she married Philip the Handsome, son of the Holy Roman Emperor. Although their marriage was arranged, Joanna fell hopelessly in love with him. Philip found her appealing enough to father six children. However, he was not ready to give up the life of a philandering monarch.


Joanna's clinginess caused much resentment. Philip flaunted his affairs shamelessly, causing Joanna to lash out at one of his Flemish mistresses by cutting off her hair. Philip realized his jealous wife was cramping his style, so he kept her under house arrest when they lived in his kingdom of the Netherlands. On a trip to Spain, her mental illness became evident when she stayed out in the cold, barely dressed, for almost two days, crying outside the castle gates. What caused her to lose it completely was when her beloved Philip died. Joanna refused to leave his body, and she opened his coffin everyday to embrace his rotting corpse. She was finally convinced to bury her husband after three years. She was confined from 1509 until her death.

4. George III of England (1738-1820)

king-george-iii.jpgGeorge was the English king who lost the American colonies. One of the most famous stories about his insanity is that while he was being driven through a park by carriage, he mistook an oak tree for Frederick the Great, the Prussian king. He got out of the carriage, and shook one of the tree's branches and began a conversation with it. (Some claim that this story was fabricated by anti-monarchists). The truth is that George really did have mental problems that manifested themselves during several periods of his life, beginning around 1765. During these times he suffered from insomnia and talked incessant nonsense for hours. It is now suspected that King George suffered from porphyria, a genetic metabolic disorder that causes depression, hallucinations, constipation, red or purple urine, and severe abdominal pain.

The attempts to cure George were more interesting than his actual illness. Besides being restrained in a chair with iron clamps for hours, he was also bled, forced to vomit, and starved. A recent study based on the examination of King George's hair shows high levels of arsenic, which was administered to him as part of the cure "“ but probably just worsened his condition. In the last ten years of his life, his son and heir, George IV, served as regent

5. Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886)

ludwig.jpgThe Mad King of Bavaria was eccentric, sensitive, escapist, flamboyant and most likely schizophrenic. As a teenager, he heard voices in his head and enjoyed dressing up as a nun. When Ludwig became king, his first order of the day was to seek out his beloved composer, Richard Wagner, who had been in hiding from his debtors. Ludwig paid off Wagner's debts, put him up in a swank apartment in Munich and awarded him a hefty salary. Bavarian ministers didn't like how Wagner manipulated the king and they forced the composer to leave.


Ludwig then focused his attention on building fantastic castles. The most famous is Neuschwanstein "“ the later inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle. He paid for the castles with his own money and soon found himself in debt, but still wanted to build more. Nobody knew that a century later, Ludwig's extravagant hobby would pay off in the form of tourism.

Over time, Ludwig became a hermit, living only with his servants, and occasionally inviting his horse to dine with him. He loved Marie Antoinette, the French queen executed during the French Revolution half a century before his birth, and set up chairs to entertain deceased members of the French royal court.
Ultimately, the Bavarian ministers and members of the Wittelsbach family realized Ludwig needed help, as he was both an embarrassment and a great expense for Bavaria. Psychiatrist Bernhard von Gudden declared him insane and Ludwig was ordered to step down. Ludwig was taken to Berg castle. That same evening, he and Dr. von Gudden went for a stroll around the gardens. Hours later, the two men were found dead, their bodies floating in the lake on the castle grounds. To this day, no one knows what really happened to them.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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