Everyone, from the top to the bottom of the social ladder, uses surnatural therapies at one time or another. Bonesetters are called for Charles VI of France, to try to cure his madness. They are unsuccessful, and are executed as sorcerers.
However, the same fate is reserved for the doctor who hasn’t done his work properly. The doctor of Jean de Luxembourg (1296-1346), King of Bohemia, is unable to cure his sovereign’s blindness, and is sewn into a sack and thrown into the Oder.
Even in the XVIIIth Century, Louis XIV receives a village healer during his last illness. The courtiers laugh at his appearance. Saint-Simon recounts: “A sort of Provencal manual labourer, very coarse, learned of the King’s extremity and came this morning to Versailles, with a remedy which he says cures gangrene. The King was so ill and the doctors so at the end of their tether, that they consented with no difficulty. The King was therefore given ten drops of this elixir in Alicante wine, at eleven o’clock in the morning… ” It doesn’t work.
The warmest partisan of this magical medicine is definitely the rather frightening Louis XI. He is as devout as he is superstitious, and an adept of therapeutic practices which frighten everyone. Legend has amplified its darkness.
This King skips rather than walks. He is hunched over, and his gaze is in turn cruel or stupid. He usually wears a curious pointed hat with a long shade over his eyes.
At the age of fifty-five, he presents behavioural problems which are suddenly more serious: suspicion, arbitrary measures, isolation, paranoia even, when he prefers the company of animals to that of his contemporaries, absence of auto-critique and overblown pride…
He has several strokes. In 1480, he is unable to speak for several days. In 1481, he has another attack. Halfway through March 1482, he begins a pilgrimage to Saint-Claude, in the mountains of the Franche-Comte. He wants to pray before the altar where he has been sending offerings for many years.
Then he locks himself up in Plessis-les-Tours Castle, where no person of note is henceforth allowed to enter, and devotes himself to experimenting with anything susceptible of prolonging his life. His delirium takes sadistic forms. He has iron cages made for his prisoners, although we don’t know if they are used.
During the last year of his life, he spends several hundreds of thousands of francs in offerings, which he distributes to favourite chapels and churches in France, but also in the whole of Europe, like Notre-Dame d’Aix-la-Chapelle or Saint Jacques de Compostella.
He adds sacred objects to the medicine, astrology and religion with which he treats himself. He procures all of the relics and all of the remedies known in the West.
From the Pope, he borrows the caporal, the altar cloth on which Saint Peter is reputed to have chanted Mass. From the Reims treasury, he claims the Holy Oil which is used at coronations and which, like everyone else, he thinks has preservative virtues. Laurent the Magnificent sends him the pastoral ring of Bishop Zenobius, the patron saint of Florence, which is supposed to heal leprosy. The King is convinced that he has caught this disease.
Suffering also from epileptic fits, he uses hematotherapy, on the advice of the doctors of the time who recommend bathing in blood for epilepsy. The blood is from giant sea turtles which his best sea captain Georges Bissipal, known as Georges the Greek, goes to hunt, with three ships, as far away as the Cap-Vert Islands, at the edge of the then known world.
After the King’s death, it is frequently said that he also drank the blood of babies. Was Louis XI an ogre? It might be enough that he was depressive, hypochondriac, persecuted and, above all, seated in this state on the throne of France.
To be continued.