The King Who Slept for a Year

#HenryVI #schizophrenia #SleepingKing #psychology

Henry VI (1421 – 1471) was King of England from 1422 to 1461 and again from 1470 to 1471, and disputed King of France from 1422 to 1453. Historians generally blame him and his ineptitude for being a primary cause of the War of Roses. Scholars accuse him of being asleep while steering the great ship of state. As it turns out, such a statement is more than simple metaphor. King Henry spent a extended periods a prolonged sleep-like state that earned him the nickname “The Sleeping King.”

No one should have been surprised when Henry started showing signs of mental illness. His maternal grandfather, King Charles VI of France, experienced recurring episodes of madness with some very peculiar symptoms, including thinking he was made out of glass. He seems to have passed along a propensity toward psychological issues to Henry.

One of the stranger episodes in his life occurred in August 1453. The king fell into a stupor, where he appeared to be asleep, or at least completely unaware of what was going on around him. He did not respond to anything, including the news of the birth of his son. This condition continued for over a year. When he regained his senses, he was astonished to find out that his wife had given birth to their son just a few months after the onset of his illness.

Some historians believe he was suffering from catatonic schizophrenia, a condition characterised by symptoms including stupor, catalepsy (loss of consciousness) and mutism.

During the time of his incapacity, Richard of York ruled in a protectorate capacity. The king was restored to full power upon regaining his senses, but he might as well have remained unaware of events, considering the way the rest of his life turned out. When Edward of York proclaimed himself as king, Henry fled to Scotland and remained in exile for three years. He tried to take the throne back, only to be captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He managed to return to the throne in 1470, only to die six months later.

Read more fun facts about royalty.

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