Mad Princes of Renaissance Germany

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University Press of Virginia, Jan 1, 1996 - Biography & Autobiography - 204 pages
2 Reviews
Early in 1582 his princely grace Duke Wilhelm the Younger of Braunschweig-Luneburg took to roaming the streets at night, shooting off pistols at imaginary enemies and shouting into the dark. His advisers ordered him confined, but in August of that year he attacked his devoted wife, Dorothea, with a pair of tailor's shears. What was to be done? Wilhelm was in good company. During the sixteenth century close to thirty German dukes, landgraves, margraves, and counts, plus one Holy Roman emperor, were known as mad - so mentally disordered that serious steps had to be taken to remove them from office or to obtain medical care for them. This book is the first to study these princes (along with a few princesses) as a group and in context. The result is a flood of new light on the history of Renaissance medicine and of psychiatry, on German politics in the century of the Reformation, and on the shifting Renaissance definitions of madness. With an acute ear for the nuances of sixteenth-century diagnosis, H. C. Erik Midelfort details the expansion of a learned medical vocabulary with which contemporaries could describe these demented monarchs, as we watch the rise to prominence of the "melancholy prince." He also documents the transition from the brutal deposition of mad princes during the late Middle Ages to the imposition of medical therapy by the middle of the sixteenth century, taking note of the competing claims of medicine and theology. Mad Princes of Renaissance Germany takes a new look at the issues raised in Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilization and provides an alternative framework of interpretation. A variety of professional and institutional discourses competed for dominance over Renaissance princes who were considered mad, and an amazingly broad spectrum of therapeutic options - from herbal baths to the application of dog entrails to the inducement of hemorrhoids - were open to relatives and courtiers seeking to stave off a constitutional crisis by curing the monarch of his madness. As historians of psychiatry will appreciate, Midelfort's attention to Renaissance diagnostic categories suggests how modern diagnoses inform the perception and experience of mental illness. Students of political theory will be intrigued by the implications of madness for the legitimacy of the state. And the general reader is invited to visit a lively gallery of Renaissance rulers, caught up in a variety of psychic and moral dilemmas that ultimately pushed them over the edge.

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Review: Mad Princes of Renaissance Germany

User Review  - Robert Hund - Goodreads

A story describing some bona fide crackpots, and others who just didn't want to go along with the chruch's way of doing things. Roman church wanted to keep everyone in line to keep the money coming in ... Read full review

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About the author (1996)

H. C. Erik Midelfort is C. Julian Bishko Professor of History at the University of Virginia.

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