Mad Princes of Renaissance Germany / Edition 1

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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.

University of Virginia Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilization in 1961, the study of madness became an ever more popular lens through which to view societal norms. In his short but well-researched and entertaining book, Midelfort, a professor of history at the University of Virginia, focuses on princes because they are better documented than other folk; Germany because it had many princes; and the Renaissance because new, more centralized governments were increasingly dependent on the person of the hereditary ruler for legitimacy. At the beginning of the 16th century, a mad prince like Landgrave Wilhelm I of Hesse might simply be locked away in a castle with little or no treatment. But by the mid-16th century, treatment was becoming common--not that it seemed likely to help. Most medical practitioners treated madness by trying to balance the proportion of black bile associated with melancholy. The initial protocol was fairly benign--sleep, fresh air, sunlight, exercise, cheerful servants--but thereafter livelier measures could include applying the entrails of a freshly killed snow-white dog to the head or administering a drink of powdered pearls. Reluctantly, a follower of Paracelsus (1493-1541) might be allowed to try his hand with various chemicals, or, very rarely, an exorcist called in. In anecdote and analysis, Midelfort cunningly cooks up a heady brew of medicine, religion, psychiatry, power, sex and pathos. Illustrations. (May)
Library Journal
Midelfort ( The Great Cat Massacre , Random, 1985) writes about ``mad princes'' with the aim of answering three questions: How did courtly medicine change in the 16th century, particularly in reference to the treatment of mental illness? How did madness cause state crises? How can we document madness among German princes of the 16th century? On questions one and three he does admirably, but the answer to question two is a bit contrived, i.e., he sees madness as a cause of the Thirty Years' War. Well documented from primary sources, this work features interesting historical research, though the sampling is a bit small and generalizations a bit large. Recommended for academic libraries.-- Harry Willems, Kansas Lib. System, Iola
During the 16th century, close to 30 German dukes, landgraves, margraves, and counts, plus one Holy Roman emperor, were so mentally disordered that steps had to be taken to remove them from office or to obtain medical care for them. Midelfort (history, U. of Virginia) studies these princes (and a few princesses) as a group and in context, shedding 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. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813915012
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1996
  • Series: Studies in Early Modern German History
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 6.05 (w) x 9.09 (h) x 0.67 (d)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    Disappointing, limited

    The subject of the mad royals of Renaissance Germany deserves better analysis and discussion that this book gives. Presentation is unimaginative and dry. It reads as a text book with little insight into the crazed subjects and the trying times. Author's scope is too narrow, his treatment too methodical. Yet subject is thoroughly researched, the book informative if in a plain way.

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