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HISTORICAL PATHOLOGY: THE CASE OF
KING LOUIS XI OF FRANCE.
BY CHALFANT ROBINSON, Assistant Professor of History in Princeton University. The idea that disease has played an influential part in shaping the general course of history contains no novelty. Epidemics of all times have been the object of scientific investigation, and their political, social, and economic influence has been definitely weighed. The black death in England, malaria and the decline of Greek civilization, small-pox, cholera, and yellow fever, occur at once to the mind as examples of diseases which have been undeniable factors in history. Many of these have been studied with painstaking thoroughness. Yet, however true this may be of epidemics affecting masses of people, it is not true of individual cases. There is scant reason why it should be. The diseases of individuals, of rulers, let us say, certainly have little historical significance excepting in so far as they bear upon the mental integrity of the sufferer. As a matter of fact, only recently has very much attention been given to the historical value of mental pathology, and to the abnormal conduct of historical persons which has been so frequently the result of their bodily afflictions. This factor is, nevertheless, of definite historical importance.
It is the purpose of this paper, therefore, to raise the question, first, whether the historian should not devote to the study of historical pathology his serious attention; and, second, to attempt to show from examples, especially the example of Louis XI, the desirability of its employment in the study of medieval biography.
At the outset Bernheim's indorsement inspires confidence in the soundness of this method of investigation. He says:
A theoretical knowledge of mental troubles is quite indispensable to an understanding of the numerous phenomena of character and of numerous actions; I do not speak of the Cæsarean madness, now become a commonplace, but of the phenomena which recur so frequently in the biographies of
? Ueber den Einfluss acuter Krankheiten auf die Entstehung von Geisteskrankheiten, von Dr. Emil Kraepelin, Archiv für Psychiatrie, Vol. XI, XII.
historical persons, such as religious exaltation which passes over into hallucination and fixed ideas. . . . . Here the realms of psychology and psychiatry touch, and the historian cannot but profit by a study of the fundamental aspects of the latter. In what a different light, for example, would the actions and motives of the unfortunate Louis II of Bavaria be understood if they could be explained rather from the psychopathic conditions of his mental affliction than from the analogy of normal mentality. How readily the layman mistakes for genial caprice, or for fantastic extravagance, what the alienist recognizes as precursors, or symptoms, of mental disease.
Viewed from this angle, the writer of biography will seek in personal eccentricities a new source of evidence, and in the manifestations of mental disease an additional field for historical investigation; since in many cases he will have to determine whether certain actions call for a pathological or a political explanation.
That the whole interpretation of a reign may turn upon just such a choice is clearly shown in the case of King Edward the Second of England. While he was upon the throne the barons took away his power; his wife left him; and England was in a condition of confusion hard to explain. When, however, it was made clear from the chroniclers that King Edward was a hereditary degenerate the unexplained incidents of his reign found a ready and satisfactory solution.
?“ Eine theoretische Kenntnis der Seelenstörungen [ist] für das Verständnis zahlreicher Charaktererscheinungen und Handlungen geradezu unentbehrlich: Ich will hier nicht von dem zum Schlagwort gewordenen. Cäsarenwahnsinn reden, sondern von den so häufig in Biographieen historischer Persönlichkeiten wiederkehrenden Erscheinungen, wie die religiöse Exaltation, die sich bis zu Hallucinationen und fixen Ideen steigert, . . . . Hier berührt sich die Psychologie mit der Psychiatrie, und es kann dem Historiker nur zum Vorteil gereichen, wenn er sich mit den Grundzügen der letzteren vertraut macht. Wie anders versteht man z. b. manche Handlungen und Motive des unglücklichen Königs Ludwig II von Bayern, wenn man sie im Zusammenhange mit seiner psychischen Erkrankung aus psychopathischen Bedingungen herzuleiten vermag, als wenn man sie aus den Analogieen eines normalen Seelenlebens erklären wollte! Wie leicht hält der Unkundige für geniale Laune oder phantastische Ueberschwenglichkeit, was der Kenner der Psychiatrie als Vorboten oder Symptome von Geistesstörung interpretiert!”–Bernheim, Lehrbuch der historischen Methode und der Geschichtsphilosophie. (Leipzig, 1903, p. 604.)
* Was King Edward the Second a Degenerate? A consideration of his reign from that point of view. Chalfant Robinson, American Journal of Insanity, Vol. LXVI, No. 3.
Without any doubt the subject is difficult for the historian to approach, but too much attention cannot be directed to heredity; for the biographer must have scientific information as to the physical inheritance of his subject if his conclusions are to have any value whatever.
This statement does not overlook the obvious fact that of the two recognized dominant factors in determining character, heredity and environment, historical biography has been, in the main, concerned with the latter. Historical setting, or the political and social environment of the monarch, has generally occupied the field to the exclusion of the equally important factor of heredity. Yet in most cases of medieval royal biography, where the personality of the ruler counts for so much, the factor of heredity is of such importance that properly it may not be disregarded.
The close intermarriages in royal families will have special weight, moreover, if we bear in mind the fact that they give such force to the law of heredity as to make the ruler far more often mentally aberrant than the subject. The insanity of King Charles the Sixth of France, for example, may be traced to the fact that he was the descendant of two sons of Louis VIII, married to two sisters, and that not a single marriage for 235 years took place outside this family save one, and that the tainted inheritance converged upon Charles the Sixth."
The medieval monarch was under little necessity for restraint in his personal conduct and was encouraged by his surroundings to give rein to his impulses. Due to this very lack of inhibition, indeed, his mental symptoms were often revealed to his contemporaries with perfect frankness, because their significance was not understood, and to posterity, frequently with scientific definiteness, by the chroniclers.'
* Brachet, CXXXVII.
* Higden's Polychronicon, VIII, p. 298. This writer shows a surprising degree of scientific accuracy in cataloging several of the essential traits of the degeneracy of King Edward the Second. He says in his description of the King: "Not caring to associate with the nobles, he clave to buffoons, singers, actors, grooms, laborers, rowers, sailors, and other mechanics; indulging in drink, readily betraying secrets, striking bystanders on light occasions, following rather the advice of some one else than his own; lavish in giving, magnificent in entertaining, voluble in speech, varied in employments, unfortunate against his enemies, harsh toward his own men ...."
Though imagining that he was answerable for his actions to no law but his own will and responsible to God alone, the medieval prince really was governed by the rigid biological law of his being, determined for him by his ancestors.
Another science will thus claim the right to share in the results of the investigations of the historian. For, while the historian insists that it is his province to collect, analyze, and verify the recorded facts according to strict historical methods, the biologist observes that certain of these facts collected by the historian have for mental science a very special scientific significance. This he sets forth, and the historian cannot escape the duty of reinterpreting his history in the light of biology. Plainly, many of the problems in history lie between these two fields, or in both of them. For their proper solution the historian must avail himself of the biological sciences, such as the study of mental pathology, and the biologist, such as the alienist, must acquaint himself with the historical facts.
It is this double interpretation of history in the light of the historical records and of the laws of mental pathology which asks recognition for itself as a new science under the name of historical pathology
Brachet, the eminent pupil of Littré, editor of the works of Hippocrates and founder of the science, gives the following definition: “Historical pathology is, properly speaking, the explanation by means of biological science of the data which historical texts furnish, data organized and checked according to the rules of scientific criticism, with the double aim of serving both the medical and historical sciences."
In view of this definition and what has gone before, the difficulty of handling the material is further apparent. The historian who attempts it may be compared to a lawyer who, in an intricate case, calls in his scientific experts to aid him in constructing a reasonable hypothesis for his client's past actions which shall take everything into account, and which shall contradict none of the known facts.
° La pathologie historique est proprement l'explication, par la science biologique, des données que nous fournissent les textes historique, données réunies et contrôlées suivant les règles de la critique scientifique, dans le double but de servir, tantôt à la science medicale, tantôt à la science historique. Auguste Brachet, Pathologie Mentale des Rois de France (Paris, 1903), Introduction, XII.
The difficulties multiply as we proceed, but they are not insuperable, although it will be plain that historical pathology must demand that the investigator shall have not only a thorough knowledge of the historical facts and of the principles of historical criticism, but a knowledge, as well, of the theory and practice of medieval medicine, and that he shall be in a position to make a clinical examination of his facts before he can interpret them.
So much for its general application. What kind of problems give to it specific illustration? A few may be stated as historical examples, thus: What account have his biographers taken of the fact that when the body of Philip the Fair, of France, was examined after his death his heart was found to be “not larger," according to a contemporary, “ than that of a newborn child, or a bird," raising the question whether a man with a physiological defect of this kind could have developed the energy to accomplish the tremendous tasks with which he is credited, and perhaps confirming the estimate of his contemporary, the Bishop of Palmiers, " the King is of no account whatever ; he is not a man nor a beast, but an image, and all that he can do is to stare at people."
If Pope Boniface VIII suffered from senile dementia, as it seems probable he did, were not his extravagant claims for the Papacy in 1300 rather psychopathic than canonical?
If the separation of Ingeborge of Denmark from Philip Augustus, so long an unsolved mystery, resolves itself into a question of nervous disequilibrium on the King's part, consequent upon a severe illness in Palestine, should not his aversion for Ingeborge be treated as purely pathological, and the incident be interpreted in the light of that assumption?'
Has the fact any historical significance that Don Carlos of Spain, always neurotic, died quite insane as a result of an access of
Cor autem dicti regis, ut dicitur, adeo erat parvum sicut est cor alicujus pueri qui hodie prodiit ex utero matris sue; ymo intellexi quod illi qui viderunt comparant illud cordi alicujus avis. La mort et les funerailles de Philippe le Bel d'après un compte rendu à la cour marjorque. P. P. Ch. Baudon le mony (Bibl. de l'école des Chartes, LVIII, 1897, p. 12). Brachet, Pathologie Mentale, p. 454.
* Item quod dictus Episcopus dixit quod dominus noster Rex nihil omnino valebat-quod non erat homo, nec bestia, sed imago-quod nihil omnino sciebat nisi respicere homines. Dupuy, Hist. du différend d'entre le pape Boniface VIII et Philipe le Bel (Paris, 1665), p. 653. Brachet, p. 444.
• Brachet, Pathologie Mentale, Pp. 307-335.