A bedridden Charles VI is tended to. – Photo via Wikimedia Commons
King Charles VI, ruler of France from 1380 to 1422, held a strange conviction: he believed he was made of glass. To protect his fragile body, he dressed in special reinforced clothing.
Terrified that he would shatter at their touch, he forbade his courtiers to come near him. Even before this transformation, the King’s life was marked by madness.
In 1392, struck with a fit of rage and paranoia, he slaughtered four of his knights. The rest of his life was haunted by the specter of this ghastly act.
The very next year, tragedy struck again. The King and five companions dressed for a celebration as “wild men,” half-human, half-beast, in flying rags and bedraggled fur.
An errant spark landed on one costume, and set it ablaze. Soon all six were on fire, and only the King and one other companion escaped with their lives.
The event went down in history under the name “Bal des Ardents,” or the Dance of Burning Men. This horrific event, too, scarred the King, and he suffered from wild, destructive rages for the rest of his life.
The conviction that he was made of glass was just one of his many eccentricities.
Strangely, King Charles was far from alone in his glass delusion. He was only the most exalted representative of a rash of Glass Men that appeared throughout Europe between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Tales of people afflicted with glass bones, glass heads, glass arms, and glass hearts abound in the medical and literary texts of the time. One unfortunate man was convinced his buttocks was made of glass, and that sitting down would smash it into flying shards.
He was afraid to leave the house, in case a glazier tried to melt him down into a windowpane.