Maddest rulers in history

Who were the maddest rulers in history? We’ve not been short of a few in my lifetime. Though some have been insane but wily while others had become incapacitated through mental illness. Colonel Gaddafi is a good example of insane but wily. While poor old Boris Yeltsin seemed increasingly unstable in his last years.

Dynastic systems breed the maddest rulers

When you have a political system where somebody inherits the top job, you’re not always assured of the best person for the role. That’s especially the case when the new king or queen is completely insane. Yet that’s exactly what has happened many times in history when the mad have taken over.

Charles VI of France (1368 to 1422) believed he was made of glass and wore protective clothes to prevent his body being shattered. Think what happens to the Night King in Game of Thrones and you get the idea. In one incident while out hunting, Charles was convinced he was under attack and killed four of his own retainers before being restrained.

The reign of Charles VI was very long because he took power when he was very young. And there seems to be a connection between assuming the throne in infancy and coming under tremendous mental strain. Think about it. You have had no preparation for absolute power and when things go wrong, it comes as an overwhelming shock.

Maddest rulers: Henry VI and his fits of deep depression

So, child monarchs don’t tend to have happy reigns. Henry III, Richard II and Henry VI in England are good examples of this. Henry VI suffered what looks like fits of depression that made him completely unable to rule for periods of time. Stress seems to have rendered him like a rabbit in headlights – he froze while his advisers around him panicked.

FIND OUT MORE: Was Queen Victoria a drug addict?

Juana La Loca (literally Joanna the Mad) was Queen of Castille, part of modern Spain, in the early 16th century. This was when Spanish power around the world was reaching its height with colonies in the Americas, across Europe and Asia. But Juana was way too mad to be allowed to rule any of that so she was “secluded” (locked away) in a castle.

Maddest rulers from the bible and ancient Rome

The biblical monarch of Babylon Nebuchadnezzar exhibited symptoms of a disorder known as boanthropy where an individual believes they might be a cow! Now it’s hard to know if this was propaganda used against him or the truth. But the condition certainly exists.

The Roman Empire threw up an extraordinary number of mentally unstable emperors almost from the start. The second emperor, Tiberius, retreated to the island of Capri where he reportedly tortured people in some pretty horribly ways.

He was then succeeded by Caligula whose madness is disputed by some historians but accepted by most. One of his oddest acts was to announce the appointment of a new consul, which turned out to be a horse called Incitatus.

In the 6th century CE, the Byzantine Empire was ruled by Justin II. A chronicler called John of Ephesus described how he was possessed by an evil angel that made him impersonate animals!

For suddenly it destroyed his reason, and his mind was agitated and darkened, and his body given over both to secret and open tortures and cruel agonies, so that he even uttered the cries of various animals, and barked like a dog, and bleated like a goat; and then he would mew like a cat, and then again crow like a cock: and many such things were done by him, contrary to human reason, being the workings of the prince of darkness…

Ecclesiastical History – John of Ephesus – Book 3

The only way to calm Justin down was to have organ music played all day and night, which must have driven his courtiers round the bend. He also had to be pulled through the palace in what’s described as a throne but I think a baby cart would present a truer picture.

And then no blog post on mad monarchs could leave out the maddest of them all – King George III. The king of England who lost America and his mind. Experts are still debating what the nature of his disorder was and views seem to change every year.

But the poor man was completely incapacitated for periods and would do things like greeting trees and shaking their branches as if they were human. You will all be familiar with the famous stage play and movie on this life story.

Notre Dame – seizing an opportunity from a tragedy

I’ve spent a lot of time in Paris this year and made two visits to Notre Dame in February and March. It made me sick to my stomach to see the cathedral in flames yesterday. But almost immediately, having immersed myself in the history of Notre Dame, I recognised an opportunity that could arise from this tragedy.

Getting rid of 19th century “improvements”

It may be too soon to say this, but I’ll stick my neck out and take the risk. Notre Dame has been subject to some major changes in its 800 year history.  In the 17th century, classical pillars were added to the nave and stained glass replaced by plain glass. But it was the 19th century and a revival of interest in the medieval Gothic that led some to some very controversial changes to buildings like Notre Dame.

Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) was an architect who set out to tart up medieval buildings in France that had either fallen into disrepair or been damaged during the French Revolution of 1789. He came under fire from critics at the time for removing the 17th century classical elements put up under Louis XIV, re-introducing (as he saw it) loads of grotesque gargoyles and re-building the central spire – removed as unsafe in the 18th century.

Eugene_viollet_le_duc

Viollet-le-Duc

It was this spire that collapsed during the fire yesterday. Also destroyed would have been stained glass put in by Viollet-le-Duc and other “restorations”.  The question that should now be reviewed again is whether his changes were in keeping with the original cathedral or a 19th century Romantic era idea of the Middle Ages.

The English Gothic revivalist architect Augustus Pugin seems to have despised Viollet-le-Duc calling him a “monster of architectural depravity”.  He has been rehabilitated to a degree in recent decades, particularly as his intervention stopped some medieval churches from literally toppling over.

But it’s worth considering whether everything he did to Notre Dame – some of which may now have been reduced to ashes – needs to be reconstructed as before. Might this be an opportunity to take the cathedral back to its real medieval appearance – and not Viollet-le-Duc’s imagining?

My visits to Notre Dame this year

I visited Notre Dame twice this year and here are some of my photos from inside the building – sad to look at them now. More interestingly, a digital mapping of Notre Dame was conducted recently and it revealed the need for major repairs. Wired magazine has just run a timely article on this you can read HERE.