History 14 Crazy Facts About Mad King Henry VI's Insanity  

Katie Mach
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Henry VI was a king who began his reign at a young age and inherited both the English and French crowns. He was also completely insane. Why is he called Mad Henry? His unpredictable bouts of mental illness left him completely unable to speak or move, let alone rule, while the country was deep in a war for the English crown.

Despite the best efforts of those around him, Henry managed to do some pretty crazy things during his reign, with some pretty serious consequences (like losing the crown). Henry VI's insanity was intermittent, but it was eventful. Check out this list for everything we know about his mysterious illness.

He Didn't Even Notice When His Only Son Was Born


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Photo: via Wikimedia

When Henry fell into his completely unresponsive state in 1453, his wife was pregnant with his first son. Normally, this would be a moment of great happiness, especially if you were a king who desperately needed a male heir. But when his son Edward was born, the king didn't seem to notice much at all. When his son was shown to him, he glanced at him and then just looked away. When Henry VI came out of his unresponsive state later, he needed to be reminded that he had a son.

His Mental Illness Rendered Him Immobile


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Photo: James William Edmund Doyle/via Wikimedia

Henry's illness was not just mental, it was intensely physical. When affected, he was unable to move his limbs or even hold his own head up, staying in a slouched position when unsupported. He was physically unresponsive to the world around him. This is what is now called a catatonic state, but at the time, they really had no idea what to make of it.

It Made It Impossible For Him To Be Defender Of The Realm During The War Of The Roses


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Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Unfortunately for Henry VI, his reign didn't happen during a period of English history that one might call uneventful. In fact, at the time, a massive struggle was taking place between the Houses of York and Lancaster over claims to the English throne in what's referred to as the War of the Roses. And none other than the mentally ill Henry VI found himself at the helm of the Lancastrian forces... at least for a little while. Henry's spells made it nearly impossible for him to maintain a tight grasp on his military, and during one of his spells, he was displaced by Richard, the Duke of York as Protector of the Realm. From there, things just got worse for the Lancasters, with the lack of leadership creating civil unrest and competing claims for control of the Lancastrian forces.

His Breakdown Might've Been Caused By A Shocking Military Defeat


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Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Naturally, the events that occurred right before Henry VI's breakdown are a good place to turn when searching for clues about what might've led to the monarch's rapid spiral into madness. According to the historian David Grummit, one possible catalyst could've been a shocking reversal of military fortunes in the War of the Roses that Henry learned about just a few days before his mental breakdown.

Essentially, Henry's forces, led by the Earl of Shrewsbury, launched a poorly planned assault on French gun emplacements in the town of Castillon, and Shrewsbury was killed in the process. Henry received the news of this unexpected turn of events in early August and had returned to his hunting camp at Clarendon and collapsed into his stupor by August 5th. While historians can't be sure if the shock of his man's death sent him down the road to crazytown, they are sure that the two events are closely linked on Henry VI's timeline of madness.