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During the sixteenth century close to thirty German dukes, landgraves, 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 study these princes, and a few princesses, as a group in context. The result is a flood of new light on the history of Renaissance medicine and of psychiatry, on German politics and in the century of Reformation, and on the shifting Renaissance definitions of madness.
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H. C. Erik Midelfort is Professor of History at the University of Virginia.From Kirkus Reviews:
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. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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