In the Europe between the 15th and 17th centuries there was some “Glass Men”, and the king Charles VI of France was probably the most crazy representant.
King Charles VI, was ruler of France from 1380 to 1422 and held a strange conviction: he believed he was made of glass. To protect his body, and terrified that he would shatter at touch of the other people, he forbade his courtiers to come near him and he dressed only with special reinforced clothing.
But the King was mad even before this conviction, for example, in 1392, while he led his army through the forest of Le Mans, a man, probably an inhabitant of the place, reached the king and seized the bridle of his horse, shouting:
“Don’t go any further, noble king! Come back! You have been betrayed”.
The man was walked away from the sovereign and severely beaten, but Charles was impressed by the episode. Continuing on the way, a royal pageboy inadvertently let the king’s spear fall over a helmet, and Carlo went mad, shouting:
“Let’s go against the traitors! They want to hand me over to the enemy!”
Struck with a fit of anger and paranoia, he slaughtered four of his knights, and the rest of his life was haunted by the memories of this terrible act. Despite the king fell into a coma for four days, this incident was a pretext for a conflict between the dukes of Burgundy and the sovereigns of France, which lasted for 85 years and led to disastrous consequences, also the prolongation of the Hundred Years War.
The next year, tragedy struck again.
On January 28th, 1393, for the 3rd marriage of Catherine de Fastaverin, the lady-in-waiting of Isabella of Bavaria, wife of Charles VI, the King and five companions dressed as “wild men,” half-human and half-beast, in flying rags and bedraggled fur. During the dance, an errant spark started by Louis I Duke of Orléans, brother of Charles, set ablaze one costume and soon all six were on fire, and four of them perished burned alive. Charles VI was saved by the providential intervention of the Duchess of Berry, who protected King Charles with his skirt. This event went down in history with the name of “Bal des Ardents,” in english “the Dance of Burning Men”. In this image, the Dance of Burning Men in a miniature of the fifteenth century, from the Chronicles of Jehan Froissart and created by Philippe de Mazerolles. Charles is protected by the Duchess of Berry on the lower left, while the dancers try in vain to save their clothes into flames. One of them manages to throw himself into a tub of water, probably it is Ogier de Nantouillet, the noble knight who was saved together with Charles VI.
After this two terrible events, the King suffered from wild, destructive angers for the rest of his life, and the conviction that he was made of glass was just one of his many (not good) particularities. Then was twenty-five years old, and the Dance of the Burning men threw an horrible discredit on the royal family and the court, and the King and his brother were forced to publicly apologize for causing the death of four innocents. Often he did not recognize his children and his wife, or he attacked his servants without any reason or abandoned himself to inconsolable crying. The king, who ruled (often replaced by regents) for than 42 years on France, probably suffered paranoid schizophrenia, and alternated periods of sheer madness to others in which he had a practically normal behavior. The madness of Charles VI worsened with the years and, following the defeat in the Battle of Azincourt, the sovereign signed the treaty of Troyes, which disinherited his son Charles VII and recognized the right to the throne to Henry V of England, husband of the daughter of Carlo. Henry was an ally of the dukes of Burgundy (in conflict with the French crown from the first episode of madness of Charles), and took possession of several French territories until the decisive intervention of Joan of Arc, in 1429, who freed France and gave the reign to Charles VII of Valois, son of Charles VI who reigned until 1462.
King Charles was not alone in his glass belief, but he was surely one of the most exalted (surely the most famous) representative of people that had this problem. The stories of people that had glass bones, glass heads, glass arms, and glass hearts are lots in the medical and literary texts of the time.
For example, one unfortunate man was convinced his buttocks was made of glass, and that sitting down would smash it into a million pieces. Another was afraid to leave the house, bacause a glazier could tried to melt him down for make a glass creation!
There was also a “Glass Man” travelled to Murano, an Italian island near Venice, just about famous for its beautiful glass, hoping to enter himself into a furnace and be transformed into a goblet. When he threw himself inside, obviously dying burned.
Another case tells of a scholar who believed that the world was made of glass, and beneath there was a tangle of serpents. He did not dare to leave his bed, for fear that he would smash the glass and fall in among the snakes.
According to the medical, this people were afflicted by a form of “melancholia,” a disease particularly common in the conception of medieval understanding of the human body, really different of today. On the other hand, there was a magical side of the making of glass, seen as a kind of alchemy: the transformation of sand into crystal, for example. And its curious property of cracking if touched by poison, a power “above gold or silver or any other mineral.” In fact, a human body, like a glass goblet, is a vessel that breaks when filled with poison. The historian Gill Speak quotes a report on Venetian glassmaking written in this years that expresses the mystical nature of glass. As the writer look inside a glass furnace, he reflects “if this small furnace-fire hath virtue to convert such a small lump of dark dust and sand into such a precious clear body as crystal, surely that grand universal fire which shall happen at the day of judgement, may by its violent ardour vitrify and turn to one lump of crystal the whole body of the earth.” From this vision, Gill Speak said that the Glass Men saw themselves as the product of a similar trauma, destroyed and remade by “purifying fire.” This paranoia was crazy, but much more common than you might think.
And from this opinion, King Charles was reshaped by the flames of the Dance of the Burning men, that transformed him into a glass man? 🙂
The illness of Charles VI, which declined in various psychotic syndromes, including the belief that it was made of glass, was probably inherited by the nephew Henry VI of England, and became one of the causes that facilitated the origin of the dynastic conflict called the “War of the Two Roses”. But this is another story 😀