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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May 15, 2009 - 6:05am
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