Article Written by Andrea Cefalo
Charles VI of France
Charles’ inherited the throne from his father at the age of eleven. Too young to rule,
his unlces Philip of Burgundy, John of Berry, Louis of Anjou and Louis of Bourbon served as regents until Charles was twenty-one. Feeling ill-advised and tired of watching his uncles squabble and squander the nation’s fortunes, Charles no longer sought the advice of his uncles. Instead, he looked to his father’s former advisers to help him rule, a move which resulted in greater prosperity for France. This earned Charles his first epithet, the well-beloved.
In 1392, Charles experienced his first psychotic episode shortly after the attempted murder of his friend, Olivier de Clisson. Charles grew increasingly impatient as his troops traveled to Brittany in order to bring the attempted murderer to justice. A leper grabbed the king’s horse and warned that he was being betrayed by his men. When a page accidentally dropped his lance, creating a commotion, Charles went into a rage. The king killed one of his knights and a few more of his men. Once subdued, Charles slipped into a coma.
Charles suffered psychotic episodes off and on for the rest of his life. In 1393, Charles could not remember his name, his wife, or that he was king. He sometimes ran wildly through the hallways of his home, Hotel Saint-Pol, so that the entries had to be boarded to keep him from running like a madman through the streets of Paris. During certain points in his life, Charles believed himself to be made of glass and went to great lengths to make sure that he would not shatter. Though Charles had periods of lucidity, his illness kept him from being an effective ruler and his relatives fought fiercely for power leading to a civil war between the Burgundians and Armagnacs.
Not surprisingly, Charles illness caused him to earn his second epithet, Charles the Mad. Mental illness seemed to run strongly in the family. Charles’ mother suffered a breakdown while he was young and Charles’ grandson, King Henry VI of England, suffered an episode very similar to Charles’ first bout. While Henry VI was not violent, he did slip into a coma. However, Henry’s coma lasted an unbelievable eighteen months.
Article written by Andrea Cefalo, author of The Fairytale Keeper: a novel of corruption, devotion, and the origins of Grimm’s fairytales
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