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10 Royals Who Struggled with Mental Illnesses

by Jessica Fleming-Montoya
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Just like us plebes, the royals, too, can struggle with a case of the blues from time to time. However, some royals have had mental illnesses that are far more strange and sinister than just a gloomy day. Here are ten royals with dark mental disorders.

Related: 10 Of The Most Unflattering Nicknames Given To Royals

10 King George III

How mad was King George III?

King George III, often called “Mad King George,” is the king known for losing the American colonies. As the ruler of Great Britain from 1738 to 1820, this King saw through the American revolution and the loss of his overseas lands.

However, perhaps madness was to blame for his deficiencies as a ruler. As it happens, King George didn’t seem to be quite all there. The king regularly repeated himself, babbling in long, incoherent sentences. He also was known to talk until spit dribbled from his mouth and occasionally even suffered from convulsions.

While the theory has been put out there that the king suffered from something called porphyria, which could have caused his illness, not all historians buy it. Today, many believe that the mad king really was mad, and his symptoms were due to psychiatric illness.[1]

9 Ludwig II

The Madness of King Ludwig II

Another king often referred to as mad is Ludwig II or Mad King Ludwig. King Ludwig II ruled in Germany from 1864 until 1886, a relatively short time period. He’s the one who’s responsible for building some of Germany’s most beautiful castles, including Neuschwanstein.

Unfortunately, all his castle-building seems to have had more to do with delusion than creating a good Disney story. The king wasn’t just enjoying building castles—he couldn’t seem to stop. His lofty ideas of gorgeous castles just didn’t match the reality of his finances, and despite banks threatening him, Ludwig continued with his lavish construction projects.

On top of that, the king was quite reclusive, had delusions of grandeur, displayed violence and cruelty, and experienced hallucinations. All this led his physicians to diagnose him with paranoia, a rather general term for mentally unstable. Today, however, historians believe the young king may have struggled with schizotypal personality disorder and Pick’s disease.[2]

8 Prince Otto

If we’re going to talk about Mad King Ludwig, it’s worth mentioning Prince Otto, his younger brother, too. Prince Otto eventually came to rule Bavaria in 1886, but by then, he had already descended into madness.

According to historical records, Prince Otto began showing signs of depression as early as the age of 17. Because of his troubled youth, the royal family chose to keep him away from the court by having the poor boy hidden away in Nymphenburg Palace. Even once he became king, Otto only lasted six years on the throne before being hidden away again for the remainder of his life.

So, what illness did Prince Otto actually have? As it turns out, it seems his illness wasn’t too far off from his brother’s. The poor boy seems to have suffered from schizophrenia as early as age 20, making him aggressive, depressed, and delusional.[3]

7 Nerissa Bowes-Lyon

The Tragic Tale of the Queen’s Secret Cousins | The Bowes-Lyon Sisters

Although she’s very rarely talked about, Nerissa Bowes-Lyon is a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, making her a member of the royal court. However, despite being a royal, this poor woman went largely unheard of until Netflix’s series The Crown was launched.

The reason for this is that Nerissa Bowes-Lyon and her sister, Katherine, seemed to have been mentally ill. Both women had severe learning disabilities and acted several years their junior. In fact, neither of the Queen’s cousins ever learned to speak.

The two women went largely ignored by the royal family and were kept hidden away in a mental hospital for their lives. Because there was no medical terminology at the time of their birth to explain their serious learning disabilities, we’ll never know for certain what disease they suffered from. However, it seems that the two women had some sort of genetic disease that ran in the family and somehow managed to skip over the Queen.[4]

6 King Charles VI of France

WEIRD Things You Did Not Know about Charles VI of France

One of the wilder stories of madness in a royal family can be seen in King Charles VI, who was king of France from 1380 to 1422. From an early age, the king showed signs of delusion and violence, killing several of his knights in a paranoid fit sometime in 1392.

From there, the king’s illness only worsened, with him beginning to believe that his body was made of glass. He was so convinced in his delusion that the king became terrified of shattering his fragile glass body with a single touch. Because of this, he forbade any of the people in his royal court from coming near him!

This strange delusion, called Glass Delusion, is still around today. However, it doesn’t plague quite as many people as it did back in the Middle Ages. We can only hope that none of us suddenly develop this strange psychiatric condition.[5]

5 Eric XIV

Something about Sweden’s Mad King

We don’t too often hear about the Swedish monarchy, but when it comes to madness, King Eric XIV of Sweden can’t be left off the list. Eric XIV was known for his aggressive foreign policy and his ruthlessness in the Scandinavian Seven Years’ War. However, he was also known for bouts of madness.

Although King Eric XIV seemed to start out his life without too many issues with mental illness, as time progressed, the condition only worsened. By 1563 it became extremely obvious that the king was mentally ill, bursting into fits of violence and paranoia.

At one point, the king became so delusional that he had several courtiers killed on suspicion of high treason. He then went on to sentence anyone to death who dared whisper, laugh, or smile in his court. According to him, these were treasonous acts and indicated that the courtiers were gossiping behind his back.

By 1658, however, the Swedish people had had enough. They deposed the king and sent him into exile, where he lived for nearly ten more years before being killed with poison. Today it’s thought that the king had schizophrenia, which is what caused his sudden outbursts.[6]

4 Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg was a German princess who married into the Swedish royal family, making her queen. Unfortunately for her, her time as the queen had little to do with ruling and much to do with mental illness.

The new Queen Maria and her husband set about the important royal task of producing an heir to the throne. Finally, after numerous miscarriages and stillbirths, the royal couple was blessed with a beautiful baby. The problem was that the baby was a girl, not a boy, and thus couldn’t inherit the throne.

Plunged into a deep depression, the queen made several attempts to take her baby’s life. Eventually, things got so bad that the court had the baby moved into the care of the king’s sister.

The queen’s depression didn’t improve from there, however. Her king died while their daughter was still quite young, furthering the queen’s madness. It’s said that the queen kept the king’s body around for months after his death just so that she could touch it.

Maria lived out the rest of her days in deep depression, the victim of a severe mental illness that she could never quite get past.[7]

3 Princess Alexandra Amelie

The Glass Princess

Princess Alexandra Amelie was a Bavarian princess who, at just 23 years old, began to lose her mind. Some of the first signs of the young princess’s illness included her obsession with cleanliness and her refusal to wear any color but white.

Although Princess Alexandra had always been highly strung and fragile, the real issues began a little later. What happened is that King Ludwig I, the princess’s father, chose to favor his mistress over the mother of his children. Due to the stress of the situation, Princess Alexandra became delusional, believing that she had swallowed a glass piano in her childhood.

If just thinking she’d swallowed a glass piano wasn’t bad enough, the problem only worsened from there. Because the princess was convinced she had a piano inside her, she became paranoid about breaking the piano and having the shards of glass inside her kill her.

This delusion was another instance of poor King Charles VI’s Glass Delusion. However, some experts believe that in Princess Alexandra’s case, it was related more to OCD.[8]

2 Philip V

Philippe V Of Spain – Grandson of Louis XIV

Prince Philip V was a prince of Spain who ruled as king from 1700 to 1746. Unfortunately for him, he’s not remembered for his great leadership, however. Instead, he’s better known for his insanity.

Prince Philip V suffered from feelings of inadequacy from boyhood, which was most likely linked to depression. His condition only worsened as he grew older, too, with him struggling with manic-depressive fits that oscillated between lethargy and hyperactivity.

Philip became even stranger, refusing to take baths or get dressed, spending days on end in his room, struggling with bouts of severe insomnia, and attending to his guests in his pajamas. Things got so bad that the king even started to hold court sessions at midnight!

Although there was no concise medical explanation for the king’s behavior at the time, today, historians believe the king struggled with bipolar disorder, OCD, and Cotard’s syndrome.[9]

1 King Charles II of Spain

How King Charles II’s Health Problems Plunged Europe Into War

Another King Charles that descended into madness was King Charles II of Spain, who was the last ruler of the Habsburg lineage. Unfortunately for King Charles, it seems his Habsburg ancestors’ inbreeding led him to go mad.

The king was born disfigured and struggled with severe learning disabilities and delays throughout his childhood. In fact, he didn’t learn to speak or walk until late in his youth!

Because his psychiatric condition was so bad, physicians at the time declared that the king had been hexed. Today, we know that the king’s madness wasn’t the result of witchcraft at all but was likely due to genetic diseases. However, historians are still unsure exactly which one.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen