MAD PRINCES OF RENAISSANCE GERMANY by H.C. Erik Midelfort

MAD PRINCES OF RENAISSANCE GERMANY

Age Range: 1562 - 1684
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A history of insanity among German royals from about 1450 to 1630, by the author of Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany, 1562-1684 (not reviewed). During the Renaissance, madness was a catchall term that made little differentiation among melancholy, mania, furor, and all types of mental maladjustment. Nor were doctors eager to displease relatives of mad royals by defining mental illness so acutely as to upset the family. ``In an effort to use state records to shed light on the history of courtly medicine, state crises, and madness in early modern Europe,'' Midelfort analyzes documents handed down by Renaissance historians and diagnoses many demented princes--and a handful of princesses. The question of whether suicidal, despairing, sexually voracious Anna of Saxony was basically sinful or sick makes clear the split between medical and moral discourse in treating the insane. Doctors then thought madness stemmed from a blow to the head, brain fever, congenital deficiencies, humoral imbalances, even demonic possession. Their diagnoses could be quite specific in describing needed changes of diet (``abstain from the flesh of stags, wild boar, hare, swine, swamp birds, starlings, quail, and fish that [have] no scales''). Often, the afflicted royals were less likely to be treated than removed from power and put in dehumanizing confinement, thus avoiding a constitutional or dynastic crisis. Many striking figures foam over the page and inveigh against shadows, while Midelfort charts the rational human mind attempting to weigh the darkness. Even so, more academic than popular.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1994
ISBN: 0-8139-1500-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Univ. of Virginia
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1994