Findings: Henry VI: parts one and two

October 18, 2002

The ill-fated monarch of England, Henry VI, exhibited all the symptoms of schizophrenia, according to a psychiatric researcher, writes Steve Farrar.

The nature of the affliction that blighted the king's reign and hence helped precipitate the War of the Roses has been a moot point among historians and its details are often brushed over.

It is well known that Henry, who was crowned as a child and deposed twice, suffered from bouts of insanity throughout his reign.

Nigel Bark, associate professor of psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and supervising psychiatrist at the schizophrenia research unit in the Bronx Psychiatric Center in the US, said Henry's symptoms, as revealed in the words of chroniclers of the day, fitted those of schizophrenia.

Dr Bark said that Henry had been paranoid, grandiose and indecisive in his first years on the throne, though he was active enough to have founded Eton College and King's College, Cambridge, at the age of 19.

But at 31, he had a sudden, dramatic mental illness that left him mute and unresponsive for a year and a half.

Afterwards, he was apathetic and his ability, drive, interest and self-care deteriorated. He also was prone to hallucinations and religious delusions.

"Many who were once of Henry's household say he would often raise his eyes heavenward as if he were in a trance - that's a description that fits many of the people with schizophrenia around me at the hospital rather than a holy man praying," Dr Bark said.

Furthermore, he noted that Henry's grandfather was Charles VI of France, who suffered 44 distinct episodes of psychiatric illness that again fit the symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

"Henry's story illustrates how schizophrenia can devastate individuals and families and change the course of history, and yet it raises questions about how achievement and illness are related," Dr Bark said.

The research is published in the journal Medical Hypothesis .

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