Man of Glass – The Strange Disorder of Charles VI of France

Man of Glass – The Strange Disorder of Charles VI of France

One of the strangest examples of a mental health disorder is the so called “glass delusion”, where sufferers believe that they are actually made of glass and are in constant danger of shattering if any impact is made with their body.

This condition appears to have been far more common in the Middle Ages, although there are also rare instances in modern times. There seems to be some association with depression and anxiety, and with a morbid fear of surroundings, as the sufferer believes that most objects in the near vicinity are potentially lethal.

It is suspected that the great 19th century Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky suffered from the condition as he was reportedly terrified that his head would fall off while conducting – unless he held his chin.

One of the most famous sufferers of the glass delusion was King Charles VI of France (1368 – 1422) who experienced periodic bouts of mental illness – occasionally severe and debilitating. Modern day experts suspect that he suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, amid reports that he sometimes forgot his own name, failed to recognise his own wife and children, and would run screaming through his castle until totally exhausted, believing that he was being pursued by unknown enemies.

Known as “Charles the Mad” in his court, he had a severe bout of insane rage in 1392 when he murdered four of his knights for no apparent reason and also attacked his brother the Duke of Orleans.

On occasion he also believed that he was made of glass, and would not permit anyone to approach him. He was also afraid of knocking into walls and furniture and was reported to have had his clothes reinforced with metal rods to prevent shattering.

Charles died in 1422 but remains one of the best-known examples of the bizarre “glass delusion”.


Image: A painting of King Charles VI by the Master of Boucicaut (1412), courtesy of Wikiemedia Commons.