Tangled: Prince Henrik of Denmark Podcast

This month, we are allegedly covering Prince Henrik and the Danish royal family! If you make it through all of the Prince Harry content at the beginning, you can learn about the strained marriage between Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II and Prince Henrik and how the royal family tried to blame it on a dementia diagnosis. Then Riley gets in her bag to teach us about the neurobiology of Alzheimer’s disease and give us the scoop behind the newest FDA-approved drug and a recent scandal in the Alzheimer’s research world.

Plus: Stefanie talks about Spare while Riley vehemently shakes her head. Uneasy lie the follicles on Prince Harry’s crown. Why did Disney disrespect John Rolfe so hard? Google thinks Chris Hemsworth is a royal. We take you to Tau Town.

Thanks for joining us and remember to subscribe and leave a review on your podcast platform of choice!


Charlotte’s Web

For those of you loyal readers who joined us for last month’s series on Maria I, a tale that took us from Portugal to Brazil, Charlotte’s story may seem similar on the surface: a royal family from Europe travels across the Atlantic to take up residence and a throne in South America (or North America in this case) without any prior knowledge of the land or people. For Maria, her mental difficulties began before she and her family were chased out of Portugal by the French, and she died in Brazil never having recovered. For Charlotte, her experience was much different, and she undertook her journey with the utmost excitement and hope – which made how it ended that much more devastating.

You Get a Crown and You Get a Crown…

Before our protagonist was known by the Spanish styling of her name, Carlota, she was born on June 7, 1840 as Charlotte, Princess of Belgium. She came from impressive stock as the daughter of King Leopold I of Belgium and Louise of Orleans (the daughter of France’s last king, Louis-Philippe). Belgium had only been granted its independence in 1830 with the thumbs up from Europe’s most powerful monarchs. They decided that Belgium would have a monarchy and a monarchy needed a king, but who could they trust with that power? So wait, they were just handing kingdoms out?? Leopold, who was in the market for a crown (he had previously been offered Greece but turned it down), fit the bill – he was related to England’s queen and was married to the King of France’s daughter. Not surprisingly, England and France’s opinions carried the most weight and they approved Leopold, creating Europe’s newest royal family.

Charlotte as a young Princess of Belgium and downright cherub. https://en.wikipedia.org/

Charlotte’s status seemed to take a further step up when she married Archduke Maximilian of Austria when she was 17, a member of the royal Habsburg family – you know, the ones known for their giant chins as a result of years of inbreeding. Charlotte’s marriage transformed her into an Archduchess (the title the Habsburgs started to use to display a status of not quite “emperor” but more than a “duke”). Maximilian’s older brother, Franz Joseph was the Emperor of Austria, which should have been a sweet family alliance to have in your back pocket. As we will see, their relationship turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing. For the first years of their marriage Charlotte and her husband enjoyed the status that their positions offered. Then in 1861 they were presented with the chance for a crown of their own – in Mexico. But why Mexico? Let’s get a brief rundown:

  • Mexico becomes independent from Spain in 1821, forms its own empire and crowns Emperor Iturbide
  • Iturbide is assassinated in 1824
  • Mexico experiences decades of unrest amidst lack of leadership
  • Benito Juárez gains political prominence in the 1850s as Mexico’s Republican leader
  • France wants to be paid back for the massive loans it has given Mexico, but Juárez is not interested – France is now pissed and wants him gone
  • France fights Mexico, and Mexico wins an underdog battle for the ages at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. News flash: Cinco de Mayo isn’t just a day for drinking margs. It is actually a Mexican holiday celebrating this historic win!
  • France’s solution? Kick Juárez out, create a new empire, and put a European ally on the throne
  • The allies? Charlotte and Max – a couple loyal to France, with a royal background and time on their hands
Charlotte serving absolute LEWKS. Max was a lucky guy in my opinion *sips tea*. https://en.wikipedia.org/

And speaking of France, much like last month’s story of Portugal and Brazil, our story of Mexico also involves France and Napoleon, this time Napoleon III (nephew of the OG Napoleon Bonaparte). It was ultimately up to Napoleon to approve the plan to put Charlotte and Max on the Mexican throne, which he did. Charlotte and Max knew pretty much nothing about Mexico when they were approached with the idea to form a new Empire, but the Mexican exiles in Europe who were pitching the idea were great salesmen. They essentially told Charlotte and her husband that the Mexican people were not only in favor of the new monarchy, but were dying in anticipation of their arrival. Obviously an exaggeration, but one that made the Archduke and Archduchess more determined to accept the proposal. They agreed to be the next Emperor and Empress of Mexico, but they would have to make substantial sacrifices in order to do so.

No Risk It, No Biscuit 

Shockingly, not everyone thought it was a good idea. Charlotte’s grandmother was even quoted as saying “they will be assassinated” (Michael) upon hearing the news – spoiler alert perhaps?? And remember Max’s older brother Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, who seemed handy to have in the family? Well, Franz Joseph was not as crazy about the Mexico plan as his little brother was, declaring that if Max were to accept this new position he would lose his title of Archduke of Austria, and worse, his place in line to the Austrian throne. Essentially, Max would have no place in the Austrian royal family if things in Mexico were to crash and burn and he would need to return to Europe. It was an impossible decision, not least because Max and Charlotte knew that nothing was guaranteed when it came to the future of their new empire. And to top it off, there was the United States. The U.S. was nearing the end of the Civil War, and those in favor of the Mexico plan in Europe had been hoping for a Southern victory, as the South seemed more willing to acknowledge a new European monarchy. Unfortunately for Max and Charlotte, this was not to be, and “the House of Representatives unanimously voted in favor of a bill opposing the recognition of a monarchy in Mexico” (Michael). However, the worldwide opposition to the new Mexican empire did not deter its future emperor and empress. Ultimately, Max and Charlotte were unable to change Franz’s mind, ignored the pleas of their family and friends and accepted the terms, sailing to Mexico in April of 1864.

Charlotte was 24 years old when she and her husband arrived in this foreign world that was to be their new home. There was a massive amount of work to do to set up the fledgling empire from scratch, and Charlotte, now known as Carlota to her Mexican subjects, was given the chance early on to shine as empress. Max had a habit of taking trips, official or otherwise, without his wife (just one of many habits that contributed to the rumor mill surrounding their marriage), and Charlotte found herself alone in the capital with not much direction on how to run things. Nevertheless, the empress was a natural leader and took on a pseudo-regent role in Max’s absence. In fact, there were many in Mexico and in Europe who whispered that Charlotte was really the one calling the shots. The whispers did not go unnoticed by Max, who slowly pushed his wife out of the inner circle as a result. Just another example of the fragile male ego! To make things worse, Charlotte and Max still had no children after seven years of marriage, and here at ULTC, we know how important heirs were to even the most established monarchies. How would Charlotte and Max’s dynasty survive if there were no children to step in when they were gone?

A little look-see into what was happening on the North American continent when Charlotte and Max arrived at their new home. omniatlas.com

Ice Queen

Max’s solution was not the obvious one – instead of making an effort with his wife, he opted for adoption. We saw this practice in our series on Caligula and the Roman Empire, but it is one that I was not aware of among more modern European monarchies. Max’s chosen heir was a toddler named Augustin Iturbide, a descendent of the Mexican Emperor Iturbide who had been assassinated in 1824. The boy’s family was not really given a choice in the matter and neither was Charlotte. There is no denying that Max and Charlotte loved each other, as evidenced by the hundreds of passionate letters they exchanged whenever they were separated. But for whatever reason (Max was impotent, Max was gay, he was interested in other women, you know the drill…) they slept in separate bedrooms and Charlotte was forced to welcome this child that was not truly hers. This embarrassment, as well as being pushed out of the “inner circle” and often being left behind by Max, led to many around Charlotte to notice a change in her demeanor. In his biography of the empress, Prince Michael of Greece (current author and first cousin of the late Prince Philip) claims that she “became haughty, even harsh, and particularly demanding in matters of protocol…Pain had transformed her personality, turning it to ice”. Yikes. But tbh who could blame her – she was young, beautiful, smart, and a capable leader with a lot to offer Mexico, and all of it seemed to be going to waste.

Fairweather France

Unfortunately for Charlotte and Max, lack of an heir was not their biggest problem. When the new rulers had agreed to the Mexican crown they knew that the problem of Benito Juárez and his supporters would not necessarily disappear. Napoleon III had agreed to leave their troops in Mexico to keep out the rebels and prop up the new monarchy, but France was losing interest in the Mexican project as it proved to be an expensive and messy venture. Turns out, Juárez was not going to leave Mexico without a fight. Charlotte and Max were in desperate need of support for their cause, so the empress set out on a grueling one month tour of their empire at the end of 1865. Not surprisingly, Charlotte got sick soon after her return, but what was most concerning was her own diagnosis of her condition – she had been poisoned! It would be far from the last time that Charlotte would make this claim, but at this point, her lack of evidence was a cause for head scratching. 

As has been the case with most of our subjects, bad news is often followed by more bad news. Over the next few months Charlotte’s father King Leopold and her grandmother both passed away. Meanwhile, it became more and more clear that the French intended to recall their troops from Mexico, which was essentially a death sentence for the Mexican empire since they had no formidable army of their own. It was a desperate situation that did not improve Charlotte’s loneliness and depression. But Max was the one who reacted irrationally (shocker). In the summer of 1866, Max announced he was going to abdicate and give up the throne since there was no hope without France’s support. Charlotte wasn’t having it. She convinced her husband to change his mind and declared that she would put the team on her back, return to Europe to meet with Napoleon herself, and secure France’s military. Just as she had left for Mexico with the highest of hopes, Empress Charlotte headed back to Europe with the confidence that she could fulfill her mission and return successfully to her adopted home. But Charlotte would never again see Mexico – in fact, her troubles were only just beginning. What would happen over the next several months continues to confuse and confound historians today (including this one), as Charlotte seemed to change from a capable and intelligent young woman to an unhinged and delusional girl in the blink of an eye.

Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City was Charlotte and Max’s preferred residence during their short reign. https://www.hisour.com/

Blaze of Glory

Charlotte’s triumphant return to Europe did not necessarily go to plan, and she found that Napoleon was not willing to change his mind. No doubt, the stress of the long journey across the Atlantic and the fate of her country and husband weighed heavily on her shoulders. The first inkling of danger came in September when Charlotte randomly turned on members of her entourage, accusing them of being thieves, while being uncharacteristically aggressive and frenzied. It was an episode that was over quickly, and the empress did not seem to remember that it ever happened. But tt was important at this time that Charlotte keep her wits together because they were on the way to Rome to meet with the Pope, Plan B should Napoleon refuse to come around. Upon meeting Pope Pius IX, Charlotte immediately told him that she had been poisoned. Much like when she made this claim to Max, she did not back it up with any further explanation. But this time she took things a step further – she stopped drinking or eating, sticking only to foods like nuts and oranges that were theoretically impervious to an assassin’s attempts at poison. What follows is a series of events that I honestly had to read and confirm multiple times due to the sheer absurdity of it:

  • Charlotte wakes up on the morning of September 30th and demands to be driven to the Trevi Fountain so that she can drink out of it (less chance that it’s poisoned)
  • Charlotte demands to be taken to the Vatican to see the Pope and insists on sleeping over so that she is safe (it was a HUGE no-no for women to spend the night at the Vatican)
  • Charlotte gets her way and again tells Pope Pius that she has been poisoned, this time the culprits being either Napoleon himself or his allies. She needs to eat so she has POPE PIUS IX SPOON FEED HER IN THE VATICAN
  • The next day Charlotte leaves the Vatican, returns to her hotel, and locks herself in her room for 5 days with only her maid, who has to kill and cook all of their food in front of her in their room
  • Charlotte spends those 5 days constantly talking and pacing and sleeping very little

As you can imagine, those around Charlotte were concerned and horrified. Before their eyes, the Empress of Mexico was wasting away both physically and mentally, and nothing they could say or do could convince her that she was not being poisoned. In fact, the more her faithful servants tried to intervene, the more Charlotte accused them of being her enemy. Out of desperation they turned to Charlotte’s brother Philippe (their oldest brother, King Leopold II of Belgium, could not be bothered to tend to the situation), who arrived to find his sister looking sickly but acting pretty normal compared to the reports he had been given. But this reality was shortly shattered as Philippe began to witness the nightmare his sister was living–- she refused to sleep, began again to name new suspects that were poisoning her (this time including her own husband and Philippe himself) and even escaped her lodgings without wearing a hat or gloves! The scandal!!  Europe’s elite were beside themselves as the gossip circulated describing Charlotte’s breakdown on top of her husband’s declining (and possibly dangerous) position in Mexico.

When word finally reached Max of his wife’s condition he was determined to leave Mexico and join her. He even got as far as the port where his ship would depart when he was convinced by his councillors, many of them shady characters probably working for the U.S. and/or Juárez, to stay and finish his job. It was a fateful decision and one that Emperor Maximilian of Mexico no doubt regretted as he faced a firing squad on June 19, 1867. Across the ocean, Charlotte was kept in the dark about the devastating events in Mexico. She was trapped in a prison of her own, and it would take all the influence of her royal family to set her free.


“Emperor of MEXICO EXECUTED.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 3 Mar. 2010, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/emperor-of-mexico-executed.

Haslip, Joan. The Crown of Mexico; Maximilian and His Empress Carlota. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976.

Michel. The Empress of Farewells: The Story of CHARLOTTE, Empress of Mexico. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002.

Smith, Gene. Maximilian and CARLOTA: A Tale of Romance and Tragedy. Wm. Morrow & Co., 1973.


Hear Ye, Hear Ye

While it’s technically our summer break, we’ve been doing anything but taking it easy. Big and exciting things have been going on behind the scenes at ULTC, and we are so excited to share one of them with you today: we’re starting a podcast!

Our readers have been asking us for a long time now to convert our content into an audio format. So starting next week, on the last Friday of every month, we will be breaking down one of series on the pod. Our episodes will have all of the history, science, and pop culture references that you love but with the fun of a conversation between two sisters. And don’t worry: the podcast won’t be replacing our blog posts. In fact, we are in the books right now researching a brand new series for you.

Our new chapter comes with a whole new look! Jackson Roy

We released our trailer this morning, along with our brand new artwork by Jackson Roy and amazing theme song by Jared Cunningham. Check it out and make sure to subscribe before the first episode debuts next week!


Sweet Dream or a Beautiful Nightmare

Surprise! This month we are changing things up a bit and hitting you with a double dose of history before diving into the mind and “madness” of Ludwig with Riley. Couldn’t leave you on the edge of your seat for too long after last week’s cliffhanger! 

Clash of the Titans

To understand why Ludwig II was removed from his throne and found dead within a week, we must first understand how he managed to royally piss off his government ministers and fellow noblemen. Ludwig was handed the crown during a difficult and contentious period of history in Europe. Clear leaders in terms of size and strength had emerged out of the German states by the second half of the 19th century. When Ludwig became king, Prussia and Austria were ranked one and two respectively. Ludwig’s Bavaria was in third, and inevitably this meant that if (and when) the big guns butted heads, they would be expecting Bavaria to choose a side. In 1866, this is exactly what happened. Otto von Bismarck was the prime minister of Prussia, and he had his sights set on a unified Germany with Prussia at the helm. Austria was not here for it. The fighters were entering their corners.

While Prussia was puffing its chest, ready to blow all the little pigs’ houses down, Bismarck was busy sweet-talking Ludwig into joining his team. Ludwig responded in the only reasonable manner as the sovereign of a country at the brink of being sucked into war – he ran and hid. The Bavarian king absolutely hated the idea of going to war against fellow Germans and so he did the most un-Swan Knight thing possible by avoiding his duty and leaving his government ministers to try to track him down at one of his many castles. Throughout his life Ludwig made a habit of distancing himself from Munich, the Bavarian capital, any time there was a conflict he wanted to avoid. But Ludwig’s advisors needed an answer ASAP, because Bismarck was pressing Bavaria hard to join him in the impending war against Austria. Ludwig’s disappearing act during this critical moment did not instill any confidence in him as a leader. 

Eventually the decision was made for Ludwig when Prussia declared war on Bavaria. The sides were set – Prussia, Italy (don’t ask) and some smaller German states on one side and Austria, Bavaria and additional smaller German states on the other. Although the sides may seem about even on paper, the reality is that Prussia was a military powerhouse with state-of-the-art weapons. Because of Prussia’s decisive military advantage, the war was over in seven swift weeks, hence why it is also known as the Seven Weeks War. Prussia was the winner, and as a result they stood as the undisputed German heavyweight. The war ended with the Treaty of Prague on August 23, 1866, which kicked Austria out of what had been known as the German Federation. From this moment on Austria was its own entity, which is how we have the separate country of Austria today (New World Encyclopedia). Prussia was one step closer to unifying the rest of the German states. They were lenient with Bavaria considering that Ludwig’s country had taken up arms against them, but the Bavarian king’s mishandling of the situation did not win him any admirers. 

It’s My Army I Can Cry If I Want To

Of course, once Prussia had a little taste of power, it was only a matter of time until it wanted more. Prime Minister Bismarck was highly ambitious, as was the Prussian King Wilhelm I. Although this is a story about Ludwig, in many ways, our Bavarian king was at the mercy of the history-altering decisions that Bismarck and Wilhelm made. Bavaria was not strong enough to challenge Prussia alone, and after the Seven Weeks’ War, they had signed a treaty with their German nemesis to team up for future conflicts. The future ended up not being that far off and within four years, Prussia was stepping into the ring with France. Once again, Ludwig fled. Although he eventually honored their agreement to fight alongside Prussia, he absolutely refused to participate as the head of the Bavarian army. This was an important duty of any king, if for nothing else than bolstering the troops’ morale. Again, this move did not win him any fans among his family and government ministers.

Prussia and its German allies were victorious, handing France a crushing defeat. The outcome of the Franco-Prussian War changed the landscape of Europe forever. Prussia’s King Wilhem was declared emperor (or kaiser) of Germany, and Bismarck became the “First Chancellor”. Ludwig’s power and influence as king of Bavaria was greatly diminished, and he refused to attend the celebration of Germany’s victory at Versailles in France. All around, it was not a good look.

Coup, There It Is

As Ludwig was losing prestige and the trust of his ministers as a result of his poor showing on the international stage, he was gaining one thing – massive amounts of debt as a result of his elaborate building projects. It’s true that what Ludwig did with his own money was his business, but the problem was that he didn’t keep it his business. Ludwig’s creditors began to pursue him, which threw the debacle into the public light and “the spectacle of a reigning monarch being sued in open court by his creditors exposed the royal family to scorn” (Greg King). Even worse for the Bavarian king were his rather unethical attempts to procure more money by pressuring his government ministers to magically come up with large sums, which “imperiled the continued operation of the state” (Greg King). Ludwig had managed to make enemies of his government through his lackluster performance of his royal duties, and now his embarrassing financial situation had turned his royal family members against him. The time had come to do something about their Neuschwanstein-sized problem.

Neuschwanstein under construction, one of the many massive building projects funded by Ludwig. Seriously, you are telling me people could build this in the 1875 but construction on the Beltway takes 20 years? The Atlantic.

In 1885, the 21st year of Ludwig II’s reign, his own uncle Prince Luitpold began to conspire with the Bavarian prime minister Johann von Lutz to remove the king from his throne. As Greg King explains, to remove Ludwig, Luitpold and von Lutz had to come up with an airtight explanation for their coup, or risk the king’s supporters rioting in the streets. As has often been the case in our stories, even though Ludwig had made enemies of his family and fellow nobles, he was still very popular with the common people. Peasants along the countryside were particularly fond of him, as he often visited his subjects during his midnight carriage rides through the woods. And so the men who gathered to betray Ludwig built their case around three elements: Ludwig’s risky financial habits, his horrendous record of performing his royal duties, and, critical to our story, his mental health. Yes Ludwig was strange and most definitely lived with his head in the clouds as he attempted to escape the dismal reality of the role he was born into. But mentally unstable to the point that he was unable to responsibly and coherently make decisions on behalf of his country? That was a stretch.

But this route was the one best suited to removing Ludwig permanently while avoiding pushback from his supporters. To accomplish this, Luitpold and von Lutz needed a doctor to make a diagnosis. That man was Dr. Bernhard von Gudden, a “psychiatrist” (I shudder to even attribute that word with this man) who was also the doctor of Ludwig’s troubled brother, Otto. There seems to be evidence that Otto did actually suffer from severe mental illness, which perhaps made it easier for Ludwig’s haters to attribute some of the same symptoms to the king. In today’s society of standards and protocols when diagnosing and treating mental illness (although far from perfect), it is astounding to learn how Ludwig went from king of Bavaria to prisoner in his own castle. Without EVER personally examining Ludwig, von Gudden delivered a diagnosis to Luitpold and von Lutz that “confirmed” the king was unfit to continue this royal duties. Under Bavarian law, the diagnosis made it legal to assign a regent (someone who ruled in the name of the king or queen in the event they were unable to). And who was the choice of the commission of traitors? Uncle Luitpold! What?? You mean he went through all that trouble just to put himself on the throne? Color me shocked. 

Shudder Island

But Ludwig was not going down without a fight. In his later years, the king had lost the angelic good looks that had entranced both men and women when he was a young prince. He was now overweight and far from graceful, but he was still the king and he was competent enough to realize he was being set up. When the traitors cornered him at Neuschwanstein, Ludwig’s response to the charges showed that he was a reasonable and coherent man who was as confused by von Gudden’s diagnosis as I am 130 years later. According to records of the conversation between Ludwig and the doctor on the night of the king’s arrest, Ludwig dropped the following heat:

  1. “How can you certify me insane without seeing me and examining me beforehand?” FACTS (Greg King)
  2. “Listen, as an experienced neurologist, how can you be so devoid of scruple as to make out a certificate that is decisive for a human life? You have not seen me for the last twelve years!” MORE FACTS!! (Greg King)

The evidence of mental illness that the conspirators had collected included accusations that Ludwig often hallucinated or spoke to himself, was violent with his servants and often beat them, was eccentric, and had no control over his spending. Other than the money thing, it is hard to know if the other accusations were true, as there is evidence that many of the people who made the statements were paid to do so. But unfortunately for Ludwig, none of this mattered, as he was overpowered and physically removed from his beloved Neuschwanstein and imprisoned in another one of his residences, Castle Berg. Luitpold became regent with little pushback because of the nation-wide declaration of Ludwig’s incurable illness, and Ludwig was left to live his days under the watchful eyes of von Gudden and a team of orderlies. But for Ludwig and his doctor, there weren’t many more days left…

Ludwig’s prison, Castle Berg, is the last place he was seen alive. The Atlantic.

One of the concessions that von Gudden allowed Ludwig was to have escorted walks around the Castle Berg grounds twice a day. On the evening of June 13, 1886, von Gudden and Ludwig set out on one of these walks in the midst of a storm, and never returned. Both men were found dead that night, with Ludwig floating facedown in Lake Starnberg. What happened on that deadly walk will forever remain a mystery, as the only two people who were there to witness it died at the scene. Officially, Ludwig’s death was ruled a suicide by drowing, which doesn’t make sense to anyone with a basic IQ. Reportedly, the water where Ludwig was found was only a few feet deep and his lungs did not have any water in them, making it hard to believe that drowning was the cause of death. It is true that Ludwig had expressed suicidal thoughts from the moment he learned of his betrayal, but there were no signs of self-harm during the autopsy and I find it hard to believe that Ludwig killed von Gudden (the Bavarian government actually declared it a murder-suicide) and then somehow drowned himself in shallow water. Without swallowing any water…Much like the declaration of insanity that was placed on Ludwig without any examination, so too were rumors spread by unreliable sources concerning the condition of the bodies. The sad truth is that in addition to there being no reliable witnesses, any pertinent documentation that could shed some light on this mystery has long been lost. 

One popular theory is that Ludwig’s beloved cousin and best friend Elizabeth (the sister of his former fiancée Sophie) had managed to plan for his escape and that was the reason the king insisted on taking a walk in the middle of the pouring rain. According to author Greg King, it is possible that he attempted to flee from his doctor, fighting him in the process (von Gudden has several cuts and bruises on his face), and drowned as a result of the weather, his excessive weight, and too many alcoholic beverages (Ludwig did drink an increasing amount of alcohol towards the end of his life). Other theories are that von Gudden tried to subdue Ludwig with chloroform, accidentally killed him and then had a heart attack as a result of the shock. Not buying it. Riley proposed the theory that Ludwig’s death was a hit to cover up the coup. It’s possible, but if that was the plan then it was a poor one. Ludwig’s removal from the throne and almost immediate untimely death made him a martyr in the eyes of many Bavarians, and it only increased his popularity.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

With Ludwig II’s death, his brother Otto technically became the king. Of course, there was no way he was going to rule since he had been deemed insane long before Ludwig had. And so, Uncle Luitpold remained regent until his death in 1912 at the age of 92. When he died, his son took over the regency as Ludwig III and became king when Otto died four years later in 1916. But Ludwig III was only king for a brief moment – following the German Empire’s defeat in World War I, the monarchy was abolished and the royal Wittelsbach family was royal no more. As we know, the next few decades in German history were fueled by a hunger for power and a darkness that Ludwig II would have abhorred. It was perhaps for the best that he didn’t live to see what came next.

Over a century later people still gather at Lake Starnberg on the anniversary of Ludwig’s death, to honor the memory of the Bavarian king. The Atlantic.

Ludwig II’s cousin Elizabeth perhaps said it best when she said, “The King was no madman, only an eccentric living in a world of dreams!” (Greg King). I think we can be pretty confident that Ludwig was not mentally ill to the point that he was unable to perform as king. Sure, he neglected his duties and definitely wasn’t the ideal guy for the job, but let’s face it, very few monarch were. Was he perfect? No. He made the decision to turn his back on his royal duties at the most critical times, preferring to live in a version of reality that brought him peace and comfort. How many of us can say we did not do something similar throughout the difficulties of this past year?


“Austro-Prussian War.” Austro-Prussian War – New World Encyclopedia, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Austro-Prussian_War.

Katz, Jamie. “The Brilliant, Troubled Legacy of Richard Wagner.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 23 July 2013, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-brilliant-troubled-legacy-of-richard-wagner-16686821/.

King, Greg. The Mad King: the Life and Times of Ludwig II of Bavaria. Aurum Press, 1997.

“The Revolutions of 1848–49.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., http://www.britannica.com/place/Germany/The-revolutions-of-1848-49.

Taylor, Alan. “The 125th Anniversary of the Death of King Ludwig II.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 13 June 2011, http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2011/06/the-125th-anniversary-of-the-death-of-king-ludwig-ii/100085/.

“Treaty of Frankfurt Am Main Ends Franco-Prussian War.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 5 Nov. 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/treaty-of-frankfurt-am-main-ends-franco-prussian-war.


Drama King

Get your lederhosen and your pilsners ready, because this month we are headed to my birthplace – Germany! More specifically, we are headed to Bavaria, home of the famous Oktoberfest where I was supposed to celebrate my 30th birthday until this thing called COVID-19 ruined it. Don’t worry, I’m not bitter – I still got my traditional German chocolate cake and the promise of a Bavarian pretzel someday in my future. But enough about me (for now) and more about the man of the hour – King Ludwig II. He is also known by other names: the Mad King of Bavaria, the Swan King or der Märchenkönig (the Fairy Tale King). Sadly, Ludwig’s life was anything BUT a fairy tale, and the ending to this story does not conclude with happily ever after.

Lola Is the Wurst

Believe it or not, the fun fact of my German birth three decades ago is actually relevant to this story, because the Germany we know today is only as old as I am (and that is quite youthful, thank you very much). When Ludwig was born in 1845, what we recognize today as Germany was made up of dozens of sovereign states, the largest of which were Prussia, Austria and Bavaria. On the Bavarian throne, centered in Munich, sat Ludwig’s grandfather King Ludwig I. He was a lover of the arts, a passion he passed to his grandson and namesake Ludwig II. He was also a great lover of women, in particular a woman by the name of Lola Montez, who, classically, was not his wife. Lola was a dancer and as far as royal mistresses go, Ludwig the elder could not have chosen a worse woman to shower with gifts and affection. She was universally disliked by the Bavarian people, so much so that her association with the king almost cost him the throne on several occasions. It was a pattern that his grandson would repeat several decades later. Unfortunately for Ludwig I, having an unpopular mistress and being at odds with his subjects in 1848 was not a recipe for a successful and long-lasting reign. That year a “series of republican revolts against European monarchies [broke out], beginning in Sicily and spreading to France, Germany, Italy, and the Austrian Empire” (Britannica). In March of 1848 the movement had found its way to Bavaria, but Ludwig I was not willing to capitulate to the will of the people. He abdicated the throne, making his eldest son Maximilian, and Ludwig II’s father, the new king of Bavaria.

A peek into the version of “Germany” we are dealing with here. http://www.timemaps.com.

You Can Run, You Can Hide, But You Can’t Escape His Love

Ludwig II was 3 years old at the time of his grandfather’s abdication, which made him the crown prince. Little Ludwig’s childhood consisted of many of the same elements of the heirs we have covered here at ULTC – rigorous studies and strict schedules, absent parents, and isolation from children his own age. But it seems that in this case, everything was turned up a notch. Ludwig’s days were so packed with studies and homework that he was often pushed to episodes of “nervous exhaustion” as a child, and he found no consolation from his parents who apparently found it impossible to show any semblance of love and empathy towards their children. He had no socialization with peers and as a result, formed close attachments to his governess and the tutors who raised him. And as the next in line to the Bavarian throne, Ludwig was constantly reminded throughout his youth of his exalted position and his divine right to rule. It was something that he would never forget and it would shape every facet of his life. 

Something else that held great influence in Ludwig’s life was his love of literature and the arts, in particular the theatre and stories of legendary heroes. And maybe “love” is the wrong word – obsession is probably more like it. When the young prince was not being forced to study history, languages and military strategy, he was buried in fairy tales or the operas of his favorite composer Richard Wagner. It is why Ludwig was given the nickname the “Fairy Tale King”, because more often than not he preferred to live in a world of pretend than the reality around him. His strenuous academic curriculum, coupled with his virtual isolation and inflated sense of self, seems to have succeeded in forming a young man who could be emotional and intelligent but also “high strung and over-sensitive, frequently causing him to take offense at an innocent gesture or look, condemning the often unaware culprit for years” (King). One thing that everyone could agree on was that he looked every part the prince – tall and slender with beautiful facial features, he turned heads wherever he went.

Now, obviously I am not a psychologist, but Ludwig’s absent parents and lack of confidants growing up, seems to have also shaped him into a man who was quick to form unhealthy attachments. He demanded absolute loyalty from anyone he deemed to be a friend, both male and female, and was often disappointed when his affections were not reciprocated whole-heartedly (honestly, same). And there was constant gossip surrounding the people he kept close. He was particularly fond of one of his female cousins, with whom he would share a special bond throughout his life. Inevitably, there were whispers that their friendship was more than that, but the relationship was never anything more than the close bond of family members who understood one another on a deep and personal level. The rumors that were more concerning for Ludwig were those surrounding the male companions he spent intimate and extended time with. Many of these friendships reached a level of obsession on Ludwig’s part that sadly always led to the demise of the relationship. As a young man, these emotions must have been overwhelmingly confusing for Ludwig, as he had not yet begun to disentangle the true source of his feelings for the men who were prominent in his life. For now his friendships remained intimate but never physical. 

Prince Paul of Thurn and Taxis, Ludwig II’s first major boy crush. It’s the middle part for me. en.wikipedia.org.

Unlucky In Love

In late 1863, when Ludwig was only 18 years old, his father, King Maximilian, fell seriously ill with a mystery ailment. After months of uncertainty, Maximilian passed away in March of 1864. As we have seen countless times before in our stories, the throne was immediately passed to Ludwig, and the Bavarian people, though sad over the loss of their king, were hopeful for the future. Those closer to Ludwig had mixed reactions to the new young owner of the Bavarian crown. One court secretary said “we now have an angel on the throne”, but Ludwig’s former tutor remarked that “Maximilian II’s death was the worst possible tragedy which could have befallen Bavaria” (King). Quite the spectrum of opinions we have here. So, who was right?

Most of Ludwig’s subjects saw a tall and handsome king, who looked the part and seemed to have a great interest in the running of the government and strengthening Bavaria’s standing among the German states. And that is certainly how it seems to have started out. Ludwig was not handed the best of circumstances when he inherited the throne, as alliances were beginning to form among the German states as powers like Prussia and Austria were battling for land and dominance. A certain well known man named Otto von Bismarck had burst onto the scene in Prussia and would bring Ludwig more than a little trouble over the coming years (we will get to that later). 

In the meantime, as rumors began to swirl about the company Ludwig kept, from his female cousin to his close male companions, the people wondered when their king would marry and ensure the continuation of the Wittelsbach line. Although Ludwig was entranced by the love stories of his beloved fairy tales, he did not have any interest in marrying. And so it came as a shock to many when he proposed to his cousin Sophie in 1867. Grand preparations for the wedding were made and commemorative souvenirs were adorned with the couple’s faces. But while Sophie was busy planning for the day that she had undoubtedly dreamt of her whole life, Ludwig was regretting his choices. He was looking forward to his wedding day with about as much enthusiasm as I go into my yearly gynecology appointment. Eventually, the thought of marrying Sophie became too much for the king and he first delayed the wedding, then cancelled it altogether. Needless to say Sophie was crushed (don’t worry she was married for real by the same time next year), but Ludwig never regretted his choice not to go through with the marriage. In fact he wrote in his diary that he “longed to awake from [that] terrible nightmare” (King).

Ludwig II and his fiancé Sophie. Keep it PG guys please, sheesh. pinterest.com.

It was perhaps around this time that he was really beginning to understand the nature of his sexuality and that his feelings for Sophie were always purely that of friendship. Lord knows thousands of unhappy royal marriages were made out of convenience as opposed to love, usually ending in a partnership where each merely tolerated the other for as long as they had to be in the same room. This no doubt would have been the case for Ludwig and Sophie. So although it had been a mistake to propose in the first place, props to him for setting her free to live a potentially happy life with someone else. 

Ludwig In Wonderland

Although Ludwig did not find happiness with his cousin Sophie, there was one person in his life who was his greatest source of joy (and at times his greatest source of misery). That person was the composer Richard Wagner. Today he is famous for operas like Tannhäuser, Lohengrin and Tristan und Isolde, and is still much celebrated in Europe. If you are uncultured like me, all this does is bring back traumatizing memories of the 2006 James Franco movie Tristan and Isolde (couldn’t tell you what it’s about, I just know it was enough to keep 16 year old me up at night). Ludwig had been enraptured by Wagner’s work since he was a boy, and when he became king he used his resources and influence to bring Wagner to Bavaria and began a decades-long partnership where Ludwig supplied the cash for Wagner to produce and stage his performances. Seems innocent enough, except for the fact that this “partnership” was more like obsessive admiration and devotion on Ludwig’s part. In addition to the endless amount of money the king dished out to make Wagner’s operas a reality, Ludwig also rented him a home and paid off an astounding amount of the composer’s debt. For the sensitive king, this was the world in which he felt he belonged: a world of costume and music and heroic love stories – not the sad world of King of Bavaria where he was forced to go to war with his German neighbors and attend to hours of legal documents and correspondence. 

The Swan Knight depicted from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin – no doubt Ludwig II’s Halloween costume of choice. http://www.neuschwanstein.de.

Ludwig did not make much of an effort to hide his disinterest in his position as king, and he definitely did not make any attempt to downplay his passion for the arts, often choosing meetings with Wagner and private concerts over his royal duties. And it didn’t help that Wagner was widely viewed as a money grabber who was having an affair with the wife of his fellow composer, which resulted in two illegitimate children. It was not long before Ludwig’s government ministers were calling for Ludwig to kick Wagner out of Bavaria and wipe his hands clean of his beloved friend. Just as Ludwig’s grandfather almost lost his throne over his association with Lola Montez, Ludwig’s relationship with Richard Wagner was so unpopular that it became a national issue. Eventually Ludwig did cave and sent Wagner to live in Switzerland, but he set him up in a nice house and continued to stay in touch. When word reached him of the composer’s death in 1883, Ludwig was distraught. It is widely accepted that without Ludwig’s patronage, many of Wagner’s works would never have graced the stage. 

Richard Wagner with his mistress, turned baby mama, turned wife – Cosima von Bulow. http://www.britannica.com.

If You Build It, They Will Come

In addition to the government minister’s unhappiness with Ludwig’s funding of his art projects (even though the money came out of his own allowance), they were equally unhappy with the vast amount of money he spent on building and updating his homes at the expense of the country. And by homes, I mean spectacular castles. The most famous of Ludwig’s architectural projects is Neuschwanstein Castle, a project that took so long that it was sadly not completed during Ludwig’s lifetime. But luckily for us, it was eventually finished and today is a popular tourist destination. It was also Walt Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella’s castle that appears before every beloved Disney movie. Riley and I had the fortune to visit it (since our mom accidentally recorded the floor instead of the interior when she visited back in the 1980s) and walk the several miles from the village below to the castle above and let me just tell you – it was a feat of architectural brilliance that human beings were able to build something that size on top of a mountain. 

Taken on iPhone…no really this was actually taken on an iPhone 5 during our trip to Germany. Photo Credit: Riley Bannon.

While we may love and appreciate this enchanted castle, when Ludwig was alive it was just another example to his subjects of his propensity for spending large quantities of money and just how odd he was. Many of the rooms reflected the king’s eccentricities and his quirkiness was often mistaken for signs of mental imbalance. He would often dress up and reenact his favorite Wagner works, his favorite character being the Swan Knight from Lohengrin (hence his nickname, the Swan King). At one point Ludwig also became totally nocturnal, waking up in the early evening to start his day and staying up through the entire night, often taking sleigh rides around his estates while his poor staff who were forced to keep his unusual schedule. Ludwig was definitely a strange dude. If he went to high school with you, he would probably be the theatre geek who wore a paper crown to class and didn’t have many social skills. But eccentricity does not equal insanity, so how was it that at the age of 40, King Ludwig II was deemed mentally insane and forcibly removed from the throne. And how did it come to pass that Ludwig’s lifeless body was found floating in the lake of one of his beloved estates? That’s a secret I’ll never tell. XOXO Stefanie…….

One of Ludwig II’s elaborate carriages he would take for midnight jaunts through the woods. http://www.schloss-nymphenburg.de.

Just kidding, check back NEXT week for the answer! 


Katz, Jamie. “The Brilliant, Troubled Legacy of Richard Wagner.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 23 July 2013, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-brilliant-troubled-legacy-of-richard-wagner-16686821/.

King, Greg. The Mad King: the Life and Times of Ludwig II of Bavaria. Aurum Press, 1997.

“The Revolutions of 1848–49.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., http://www.britannica.com/place/Germany/The-revolutions-of-1848-49.

Live From our Parents’ House: Carlota of Mexico Podcast

We are so excited to bring you our last episode of the year on the last day of the year. We recorded in person to tell you the wildest and most obscure story we have ever covered: a Hapsburg who ended up ruling over Mexico in the middle of the Civil War! Was her belief she was being poisoned paranoia or something more? We investigate.

Plus: Revisiting the soup discourse. Our thoughts on “Harry & Meghan”. Riley gives us a taste of Les Mis. Leave inbreeding in 2022. Thank you for taking us global in 2022!

Thanks for joining us and remember to subscribe and leave a review on your podcast platform of choice!

Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon Podcast

We wrap up our unintentional mini-series related to Queen Elizabeth II (and bring you a Halloween treat!) with an episode dedicated to her cousins, Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon. An episode from the last season of The Crown brought them out of the shadows of history and into the spotlight, but the truth about their mysterious genetic condition remains hidden.

Plus: It’s soup season. The latest NFL concussion protocol controversy. What’s your favorite kind of soup? Stefanie’s royal encounter in Europe. EVEN MORE SOUP STUFF!

Thanks for joining us and remember to subscribe and leave a review on your podcast platform of choice!

God Save the Queen: Elizabeth II Podcast

Dropping into your feed with an emergency ULTC to celebrate the life and legacy of Queen Elizabeth II. We talk about how she modernized the monarchy and embraced modern medicine and how Riley almost met her in 2007.

Thanks for joining us and remember to subscribe and leave a review on your podcast platform of choice!

The King’s Speech: George VI Podcast

We are very excited to welcome Vanessa Grass to co-host this very special episode of ULTC! Vanessa is a science communicator who founded Neuroscience Theater, a multimedia project making prominent and emerging neuroscience research fun, entertaining, and accessible to a lay-person audience by examining the neuroscience behind mainstream movies and pop culture. With a lifelong passion for the arts, storytelling, and movies, Vanessa has also followed several academic pursuits, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Rochester, a Master’s of Science in Data Science from the University of New Haven, and most recently, a Master’s of Science in Cognitive Neuroscience from the City University of New York, where she researched the effects of traumatic brain injury. She currently works as a freelance copywriter creative strategist in NYC, with a focus on medical, health, and wellness related content and storytelling.

Our fabulous guest and the brain behind Neuroscience Theater, Vanessa Grass!

After connecting on Twitter, we wanted to join forces with Vanessa to talk about the neuroscience behind the Oscar-winning film “The King’s Speech”. We discuss King George’s reign, Colin Firth’s performance, what you probably don’t know about the neurobiology of stuttering and why a king with a speech impediment was so groundbreaking.

Plus: It’s time for Prince William to get on TikTok. Are left handers serial killers? We do not need an “Avatar” sequel. Our first f bomb.

Thanks for joining us and remember to subscribe and leave a review on your podcast platform of choice!

If you would like to read more about George or the neuroscience of stuttering, check out some of our key sources for more information:

What Neuroscientists Are Discovering About Stuttering

Stuttering Stems from Problems in Brain Wiring, Not Personalities

The Real King’s Speech

King George VI: The Man Behind The King’s Speech

What is Stuttering?

The SpeechEasy device in stuttering and nonstuttering adults: fluency effects while speaking and reading

Transcranial direct current stimulation over left inferior frontal cortex improves speech fluency in adults who stutter

Reputation: Henry VIII Podcast

We’re back with an exciting episode to celebrate Riley’s 25th birthday! This month, we’re taking a look at the king whose story inspired the birth of ULTC: King Henry VIII. Stefanie gives us the rundown on the historical consequences of his lifelong pursuit of love and Riley tells us about the science of brain injury. Then, we hear two firsthand accounts of brain injury: one sustained from a car accident with a drunk driver and one sustained in the 2010 Haitian earthquake. We round out the episode considering how much our biology can excuse our behavior.

We also have a bittersweet announcement to make. Due to scheduling constraints (i.e. Riley finally has data and Stefanie finally has a boyfriend), we will be focusing on our podcast and no longer writing our monthly blog series. Thank you to all of our dedicated readers for your support, and continue to check back here for all things ULTC.

Plus: Riley forgot she got married. You can put anything on Broadway. Carolyn Keene is not a real person. Stefanie finds out Riley broke her Christmas ornament.

Thanks for joining us and remember to subscribe and leave a review on your podcast platform of choice!

Spill the Tea Party: George III Podcast

This month on the podcast, we’re talking about George III. It’s well accepted that he “went mad” but exactly when and from what remains a mystery. What can modern science and Lin Manuel Miranda tell us?

Plus: Encanto is a good movie. Victoria Justice and Ariana Grande have a contentious relationship. Is Zac Efron’s face okay?

Thanks for joining us and remember to subscribe and leave a review on your podcast platform of choice!

Tangled: Prince Henrik of Denmark Uneasy Lies the Crown

This month, we chat about the strained marriage between Denmark's Queen Margrethe II and Prince Henrik and how the royal family tried to blame it on a dementia diagnosis. Then Riley teaches us about the neurobiology of Alzheimer's disease and gives us the scoop on the newest FDA-approved drug and a recent scandal in the Alzheimer's research world. Plus: Stefanie talks about Spare while Riley vehemently shakes her head. Uneasy lie the follicles on Prince Harry's crown. Why did Disney disrespect John Rolfe so hard? Google thinks Chris Hemsworth is a royal. We take you to Tau Town.
  1. Tangled: Prince Henrik of Denmark
  2. Charlotte's Web: Carlota of Mexico
  3. The X Files: Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon
  4. God Save the Queen: Elizabeth II
  5. The King's Speech: George VI

Family Business

When last we left off, Talal of Jordan was being forced to abdicate his throne in favor of his son Hussein. Talal’s enemies may have originally intended for him to be just a glorified placeholder until Hussein took power, but the brief king made sure his name would forever be remembered in Jordan’s history. In January of 1952, Talal signed off on the Constitution of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The Constitution, considered pretty liberal in the 50s, confirmed that Jordan was an independent Arab State, ruled by a hereditary monarchy and balanced by the Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers (although the Executive powers belonged to the king). It also laid out the “rights and duties of Jordanians”, including “freedom of opinion”, the “free exercise of all forms for worship and religious rites” and freedom of the press. (Arab Law Quarterly). Interestingly (but not surprisingly), the section on equal rights protected Jordanians from discrimination on the basis of “race, language or religion”, but not sex. The issue of gender equality is one that is still being addressed today, as Talal’s Constitution continues to be amended. 

Like Father, Does Not Like Son

The government that Talal officially established in the 1952 Constitution was the same government that declared him unfit to rule in August of that same year. As I alluded to in the first post of this series, there were some who were suspicious of the circumstances of Talal’s abdication. In fact, “many Jordanians believed that there was nothing wrong with Talal and that the wily British fabricated the story about his madness in order to get him out of the way” (Shlaim), because he was notoriously anti-British. 

Talal’s stance on the British was just one point of contention between Talal and his father Abdullah. Theirs was a difficult father-son relationship that was not unnoticed by their family, least of all Talal’s son and heir Hussein. In Hussein’s own writings, he expresses pity and an almost protective tone as he reflects on his father’s treatment:

The two men were separated by different lives and different ages, and their differences were exacerbated by opportunists. Worst of all, my grandfather never really realized until the end of his life how deeply afflicted my father was. He could not conceive that a man at times gentle and sensible, but at other times very ill, was not being just awkward or difficult. My grandfather was so healthy and tough he could not appreciate what illness was. We in the family knew. We watched our father with loving care, but my grandfather, who lived partly in the heroic past, saw him from the outside. (Shlaim)

The print at the the top of the photo says: CAIRO, EGYPT: Crown Prince Talal of Jordan (L), shown here with his father, the recently assassinated King Abdullah, is reportedly resentful of developments in Jordan which made his younger brother, Prince Naif, regent upon their father’s death. Talal, in Geneva for treatment after a nervous breakdown, may make a surprise return to Jordan and seize the throne. ACME Telephoto via ebay.com.

Here we have compelling evidence that Talal did in fact suffer from some form of mental illness, as stated by his own son. Another of Talal’s sons, Hassan, believed his father was bipolar and not schizophrenic. Either way, Talal’s family seemed to agree that something plagued him. And, according to Hussein, the strain between Talal and his father Abdullah while he was alive was a source of stress that did not help Talal’s fragile mental state growing up. 

Uneasy Lies the…Head!

Whether Talal’s abdication was politically motivated or truly a result of his illness, the reality was that Talal did not have any meaningful support from the Jordanian government or army to fight back even if he wanted to. His son Hussein was named king at the age of 17, but the regency that was put in place was short, as Hussein turned 18 in May of 1953 and was then officially able to assume the throne. It is hard to think of an example of a young monarch suddenly stepping into power under a political situation that was stable, predictable and secure. Usually because a regency occurs after the sudden death of the previous monarch, there is some uncertainty and worry about the path ahead, especially if the replacement was young. Hussein was no exception as he took control of a country in the middle of a veritable hotbed of shifting alliances and violent power grabs. In need of guidance, help came from an unlikely place – Hussein’s mother, Queen Zain (yass Queen…you know I had to do it). Zain was educated and respected and to the delight of the British, recognized the upsides to maintaining the alliance. She no doubt had a part in influencing Hussein to take the same stance. 

Queen Zain with two of her sons, Hussein and Hassan. https://jordanianroyals.tumblr.com/.

Throughout his 46 year reign, Hussein’s alliance with the West continued to be a point of contention among Jordanians, particularly as the country’s demographic makeup shifted as a result of surrounding conflicts. But it was far from the only controversy during his rule. Hussein’s biggest challenge was navigating hostility between Jordan’s neighbor Israel and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians that were living in Jordan. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) used Jordan as a home base for attacks against Israel, as both Israelis and Palestinians believed the land of Israel belonged to them (a conflict that continues today with no end in sight). Hussein eventually had to take action because “by September 1970 the PLO virtually controlled a state within a state” (Britannica) in Jordan. They were a threat not only to the stability of the country but to Hussein’s rule as well. In what is known as Black September, the Jordanian Army went to war against the PLO and forced them out of Jordan. However, the latter decades of Hussein’s rule focused on trying to mend relations between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Pictured from left to right: Yasser Arafat (1st President of the Palestinian National Authority), King Hussein of Jordan, Bill Clinton, Benjamin Netanyahu (Prime Minister of Israel). Hussein helped negotiate the Wye River Memorandum between Israel and Palestine in 1998, the year before his death. http://www.britannica.com.

Hussein’s rule ended as it had begun – with a regency. But this time, it was his brother Hassan who was acting as regent for Hussein while the Jordanian king received treatment in the United States for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Unlike his father Talal, however, Hussein returned to Jordan and disbanded the regency. But it was short-lived, as Hussein fell ill and and died in February of 1999. His oldest son Abdullah II became King of Jordan and is currently on the throne today. In a wonderful coincidence (and yes it is a coincidence because I just recently became aware of this), King Hussein’s autobiography is titled Uneasy Lies the Head. And no wonder – between watching his father struggle with mental illness, witnessing his grandfather’s assassination, navigating decades of violent conflicts and fighting cancer, few were more aware of the thin thread that held his family on the throne than Hussein. 

Sign Of the Times

Robins and Post claim that Talal’s blatant sickness worked in Jordan’s favor, as there was really no question among the Jordanian government that Talal was unfit to rule. The result was a smooth transition from Talal to his son Hussein, after what could have been a dicey situation following Abudullah’s assassination. Following the abdication, Talal was sent abroad for treatment, again little about which is known. Shlaim notes that he was sent to “a sanatorium in Turkey, where he stayed in less than splendid isolation until his death in 1972”. There are also some reports that he spent time in additional countries in Europe before ultimately settling in Turkey.  Either way, as Riley wrote last week, the treatment that Talal received would have been questionable at best. And again, as we have witnessed far too often in this blog, we see the unfortunate pattern of someone suffering from mental illness being sent away and seemingly forgotten about. Out of sight and out of mind, even in the 20th century. It seems time does not heal all. 


“Balfour Declaration.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/event/Balfour-Declaration.

“The Constitution of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.” Arab Law Quarterly, vol. 7, no. 4, 1993, p. 272., https://doi.org/10.2307/3381635.

“Hussein-McMahon Correspondence.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/topic/Husayn-McMahon-correspondence.

Shlaim, Avi. Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace. Vintage Books, 2009.

Simon, Reeva S. “The Hashemite ‘Conspiracy’: Hashemite Unity Attempts, 1921–1958.” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 5, no. 3, 1974, pp. 314–327., https://doi.org/10.1017/s0020743800034966.

“Sykes-Picot Agreement.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/event/Sykes-Picot-Agreement.


Aileen Ribeiro | Published in History Today Volume 27 Issue 6 June 1977. “The King of Denmark’s Masquerade.” History Today, https://www.historytoday.com/archive/king-denmark%E2%80%99s-masquerade.

Caroline Mathilde, Queen. “The Queen of Denmark’s Account of the Late Revolution in Denmark [Electronic Resource] : Written While Her Majesty Was a Prisoner in the Castle of Cronenburgh; and Now First Published from the Original Manuscript, Sent to a Noble Earl.” In SearchWorks Catalog, http://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/8034055.

“Frederick VI.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/biography/Frederick-VI.

MUNCK, THOMAS. “Absolute Monarchy in Later Eighteenth-Century Denmark: Centralized Reform, Public Expectations, and the Copenhagen Press.” The Historical Journal, vol. 41, no. 1, 1998, pp. 201–224., https://doi.org/10.1017/s0018246x9700770x.

REDDAWAY, W. F. “King Christian VII.” The English Historical Review, XXXI, no. CXXI, 1916, pp. 59–84., https://doi.org/10.1093/ehr/xxxi.cxxi.59.

S.M. Toyne | Published in History Today Volume 1 Issue 1 January 1951. “Dr. Struensee: Dictator of Denmark.” History Today, https://www.historytoday.com/archive/dr-struensee-dictator-denmark.

Schioldann, Johan. “‘Struensée’s Memoir on the Situation of the King’ (1772): Christian VII of Denmark.” History of Psychiatry, vol. 24, no. 2, 2013, pp. 227–247., https://doi.org/10.1177/0957154×13476199.

Back to Basics

As Stefanie introduced last week, Talal is one of our more elusive subjects, and sources about his mental illness are slim. This makes it hard for us to determine if his abdication was truly the result of psychiatric illness, or just a plot by political adversaries. All of the Jordanian sources I read indicate that Talal abdicated due to “health issues”, but it seems like his struggles with mental illness have long been an open secret. In an obituary in The New York Times, Talal was described as becoming “increasingly subject to attacks of schizophrenia in which he indulged in morbid suspicions of his family and officials and sometimes violently attacked them.” This account is supported by the book When Illness Strikes the Leader: The Dilemma of the Captive King, which claims Talal “showed signs of weakness and emotional instability” as a child, later leading to “withdrawal and fits of violence”.

If you’re a day one ULTC follower, you’ll remember that this is not the first subject we’ve covered who suffered from schizophrenia. In our very first series exactly two years ago (and accompanying podcast), we talked about Charles VI of France. So it’s fitting that on our second birthday, we are circling back to the same disease. If you want to take a deeper look at the diagnosis, biology, and treatment of schizophrenia, I highly recommend going back and reading that post or listening to that episode. But just so we’re all on the same page, here’s a quick refresher. 

The hallmark symptoms of schizophrenia are delusions, hallucination, and paranoia. These are examples of “positive symptoms”, which also include disordered speech and thought. There are also “negative symptoms” like social withdrawal and depressed mood. The obituary and book I referenced earlier described Talal as experiencing both positive and negative symptoms – paranoia and social withdrawal. As we talked about in the Charles VI post, there is some association between positive symptoms and violence, but patients with schizophrenia are not inherently more violent, so keep that in mind if trying to generalize Talal’s symptoms to the larger patient population.

A quick refresher on common schizophrenia symptoms. Very Well Mind

Alpining for Change

Despite the caginess and paucity of details surrounding Talal’s mental health, the one detail that every source seems to note and agree on is that he was being treated in Switzerland at the time when his father was killed, subsequently making him king. I did a little digging to see if there was any significance to Talal going to Switzerland, and was surprised to learn that the country was actually a trailblazer in the treatment of schizophrenia.

While it isn’t known which facility Talal visited for treatment, we’ll focus on the most famous in Switzerland: Burgholzli Hospital (where psychoanalyst Carl Jung came to notoriety!). The facility was founded in Zurich in 1870 by Wilheim Griesenger, a groundbreaking psychiatrist who “strongly believed in the biological causation of mental illness” (Kallivayalli). In 1898, a doctor named Eugene Bleuler took over as Burgholzli’s director. In 1908, Bleuer was giving a talk in Berlin when he introduced the term “schizophrenia” to replace the diagnosis of “dementia-praecox” that the illness had previously been known as. Bleuler’s conceptualization of schizophrenia was revolutionary. According to Britannica, he believed “dementia praecox was not a single disease, was not invariably incurable, and did not always progress to full dementia…He described a group of diseases, the schizophrenias, the basic symptoms of which were a disordered train of mental associations and splitting or fragmentation of the personality.” 

Burgholzli today. They just don’t make asylums like they used to. Wikipedia

Bleuler’s new description of schizophrenia changed the way clinicians thought about the disease by distinguishing it from dementia. But that did not immediately solve the issues surrounding patient care. Talal became king in 1951, the same year that the first schizophrenia drug, chlorpromazine, was synthesized. Chlorpromazine was the first of a group of drugs known as neuroleptics used to treat psychiatric disorders, which eventually shifted the focus of schizophrenia treatment from institutionalization in asylums to pharmacological management of symptoms. 

Eugene Bleuler, not a Confederate general. Psychology Today

However, the first case study of successful treatment with chlorpromazine was not published until 1952 by a group in France, so Talal was likely receiving more “traditional” treatments in Switzerland or the other countries he visited for treatment throughout his youth. Early treatments for schizophrenia were heartbreakingly brutal. If you were lucky, you got sedated with a lot of barbiturates. If your symptoms couldn’t be managed that way, you might face electroconvulsive shock therapy, insulin-induced coma, or a lobotomy. Burgholzli may have been on the cutting edge of mental health treatment, but whether Talal was seen there or another hospital in Switzerland, his experience as a schizophrenic patient in the early 1950s was likely a difficult one.

The Inflame Game

Given that I work in a neuroimmunology lab, you’ve probably noticed that I focus a lot on interactions between the immune system and the brain. In our original post on schizophrenia, we focused on one mechanism that might give rise to the altered brain connectivity in the disease: abnormal synaptic pruning. As a brief summary, the developing brain uses an immune system pathway called complement to tag connections between neurons for disposal. In the second wave of so-called pruning in adolescence, it is believed that there is excessive elimination of synapses in patients with schizophrenia. When I was deciding how to take us deeper in this blog, I was excited to see some recent research that strengthens the connections between immunity and schizophrenia.

When the COVID-19 vaccine first came on the scene, public health officials did their best to prioritize groups known to be at risk for severe disease: the elderly, immunocompromised, those with heart problems, low socioeconomic status groups, etc. But epidemiological research continued to search for more populations that might be predisposed to more severe disease. Multiple studies had shown that there was an increased rate of COVID-19 infections in people with mental illnesses. Some of this association is thought to be related to socioeconomic status and access to health care, which are affected by severe mental illness. In 2021, a group of doctors from New York published a paper going one step further to ask if specific psychiatric diagnoses were associated with worse outcomes after COVID-19 infection. 

The researchers looked at over 7,000 patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms, up to 45 days after they tested positive. Their study cohort included 75 patients with a previous diagnosis of schizophrenia, 564 with mood disorders, and 360 with anxiety disorders. Factors like race, age, sex, and health conditions that could have affected patient outcomes were considered and controlled for in all of their analysis. Shockingly, they found that patients with schizophrenia were almost three times as likely to die or end up in hospice care from COVID-19 as controls, while patients with mood or anxiety disorders showed no increased risk. 

Of course, every study is limited, and a single report of an increased risk from a three-month span in one region of the United States cannot necessarily be generalized to the entire world. But the interesting thing is, this is not an isolated report. A paper from the United Kingdom saw the same pattern of increased mortality in schizophrenia patients, but to a greater degree: patients were nearly five times as likely to die. And a meta-analysis of papers from seven different countries found people with severe psychiatric disease were twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as controls, and this pattern was driven mostly by patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. 

Not only is this leading to calls for people with psychiatric disease to be prioritized for future boosters, it is also leading scientists to wonder how schizophrenia is contributing to COVID-19 severity. The authors of the New York paper I mentioned have a couple of theories. One is that genetic risk factors associated with schizophrenia may influence immune system functioning. They also point out that previous research has shown that patients with schizophrenia have altered immune cell compositions, which might contribute to severe disease. The paper the authors were referencing looked at blood samples from patients with schizophrenia and saw that compared to healthy controls, they had more B cells (the antibody-producing cells of the immune cells), fewer immunosuppressive T cells, and a higher proportion of T cells that kill other cells. T cells and B cells are the workhorses of the immune system, and increased inflammatory subsets of these cells could contribute to poor outcomes after COVID infection.

This graph compares the amount of different types of immune cells in the blood of controls (white bars) or schizophrenic patients (black bars). Pay attention to the two columns with a P over them, meaning that they are statistically different. CD3+/CD8+ is a ratio of all T cells to killer T cells, and this is reduced in the participants with schizophrenia, suggesting a shift toward more inflammatory T cells. And CD19+ is measuring the antibody-producing B cells, which are more abundant in the patients than controls. Steiner et al, 2010

And while there’s an abundance of evidence that schizophrenia could be affecting COVID-19 progression, there’s also anecdotal evidence that COVID can cause psychiatric symptoms similar to those seen in schizophrenia. Several case studies have been published describing people with no history of mental illness experiencing hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia after testing positive for COVID-19. While these symptoms are fleeting and rare, they point to an effect of coronavirus on the brain. The mechanism by which COVID-induced psychosis occurs isn’t known, but a recent paper from Yale proposes one possible (and sensational) hypothesis. The study analyzed the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the liquid that bathes the brain and spinal cord, of six patients with COVID-19 who also experienced neurological symptoms. They found that there were antibodies in the CSF of sick patients that reacted both against the coronavirus and brain tissue, suggesting that COVID could provoke an autoimmune response against the nervous system. It’s a provocative and preliminary finding, but it’s not an entirely new concept. This is a theory of molecular mimicry, where infection can elicit an immune response to something in the body that looks similar to the pathogen, and is one of the hypotheses for the development of multiple sclerosis. The brain was long thought to be “immune-privileged” or protected from immune cells that could cause inflammation and harm, but as science advances, that seems less and less true.

To figure out if antibodies from COVID patients experiencing neurological symptoms could react against brain tissue, the scientists put these antibodies on sections of mouse brain. If the antibodies reacted against brain tissue, it would bind to the sections. Then they added a green fluorescent tag to label any human antibody that did bind to the tissue. The picture on the right shows COVID patient antibody has bound to much of the mouse brain, while antibodies from healthy controls don’t show much binding on the left. Song et al 2021

Talal Order

I took a long detour there, and you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with Talal. Talal was diagnosed with schizophrenia in an era before pharmaceutical treatments were available, less than 50 years after the disease got its name. Even when medicines like chlorpromazine hit the market, doctors and scientists still did not know how these drugs were helping patients or what caused schizophrenia in the first place. And 50 years after Talal’s death, we are still grappling with the same questions. 

My hope in sharing the research about the connections between COVID and schizophrenia is that you can appreciate that the neurobiology of mental illness is still an incomplete story. Researchers are actively trying to unravel the complex genetic and environmental factors that trigger schizophrenia and understand how the disease changes the brain. From Bleuler to the teams behind recent pandemic studies, doctors are adding to the narrative. Each discovery inches us closer to a complete understanding of the disease that afflicted Talal. And as with the best of things, the answers might come when and where we least expect them.


Ban, T. (2007). Fifty years of chlorpromazine: a historical perspective. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 3(4), 495–500. 

Dembosky, A. (2022, March 25). Covid and schizophrenia: Why this deadly mix can deepen understanding of the brain. NPR. Retrieved April 5, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/03/25/1088058422/covid-and-schizophrenia 

Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Eugen Bleuler. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved April 5, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Eugen-Bleuler 

Fond, G., Nemani, K., Etchecopar-Etchart, D., Loundou, A., Goff, D. C., Lee, S. W., Lancon, C., Auquier, P., Baumstarck, K., Llorca, P.-M., Yon, D. K., & Boyer, L. (2021). Association between mental health disorders and mortality among patients with COVID-19 in 7 countries. JAMA Psychiatry, 78(11), 1208. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.2274 

Hassan, L., Peek, N., Lovell, K., Carvalho, A. F., Solmi, M., Stubbs, B., & Firth, J. (2021). Disparities in covid-19 infection, hospitalisation and death in people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder: A cohort study of the UK Biobank. Molecular Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-021-01344-2 

Kallivayalil, R. A. (2016). The Burgholzli Hospital: Its history and legacy. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 58(2), 226. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.183772 

Kluger, J. (2022, March 4). Covid-19 may be linked to spontaneous psychosis. Time. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://time.com/6153809/covid-19-psychosis-symptoms/ 

Nemani, K., Li, C., Olfson, M., Blessing, E. M., Razavian, N., Chen, J., Petkova, E., & Goff, D. C. (2021). Association of psychiatric disorders with mortality among patients with COVID-19. JAMA Psychiatry, 78(4), 380. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.4442 

The New York Times. (n.d.). Ex-King Talal of Jordan Dies; Abdicated in ’52 in Favor of Son. The New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 2022, from https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1972/07/09/91335273.html?pageNumber=51 

Post, J. M. (1995). The Mad King. In When illness strikes the leader: The dilemma of the captive king (pp. 36–38). essay, Yale Univ Press. 

Song, E., Bartley, C. M., Chow, R. D., Ngo, T. T., Jiang, R., Zamecnik, C. R., Dandekar, R., Loudermilk, R. P., Dai, Y., Liu, F., Sunshine, S., Liu, J., Wu, W., Hawes, I. A., Alvarenga, B. D., Huynh, T., McAlpine, L., Rahman, N.-T., Geng, B., … Farhadian, S. F. (2021). Divergent and self-reactive immune responses in the CNS of COVID-19 patients with neurological symptoms. Cell Reports Medicine, 2(5), 100288. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.xcrm.2021.100288 

Steiner, J., Jacobs, R., Panteli, B., Brauner, M., Schiltz, K., Bahn, S., Herberth, M., Westphal, S., Gos, T., Walter, M., Bernstein, H.-G., Myint, A. M., & Bogerts, B. (2010). Acute schizophrenia is accompanied by reduced T cell and increased B cell immunity. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 260(7), 509–518. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00406-010-0098-x 

Tueth, M. J. (1995). Schizophrenia: Emil Kraepelin, Adolph Meyer, and beyond. The Journal of Emergency Medicine, 13(6), 805–809. https://doi.org/10.1016/0736-4679(95)02022-5 

Promises, Promises

It might surprise readers of this blog to know that I did not in fact major in European history or take any classes on the British monarchy or formally study anything to do with what we have discussed so far on ULTC. Now doesn’t that instill confidence to keep reading?! In reality I was actually a Foreign Affairs/History major with a concentration in the Middle East. So, this month we are going back to my educational roots! But don’t quiz me because college was a longer time ago than I would care to admit…

It Runs In The Family

The history of the Middle East is arguably the most complex of anything we have covered to date – just the last century alone has marked significant shifts in its geographical landscape and stoked tensions thousands of years in the making. It is hard to remember a day in my lifetime when a country in the Middle East wasn’t mentioned on the front page of the news. And to best understand the impact of this month’s subject, King Talal of Jordan, it is imperative that we take a step back and understand the history of his family – the Hashemites. 

Hussein bin Ali’s sons – King Ali of the Hijaz, King Abdullah of Jordan, King Faysal of Iraq. Wikipedia.

The Hashemite family is (and I use present tense because there are still many members of the family alive today) originally from the Hijaz (the Western part of Saudi Arabia) and claims to be descended from the prophet Muhammad. Their name is taken “from Hashem, the great-grandfather of the prophet” (Shlaim). So yes, we are taking this time machine wayyy back. But our story really starts in the early 20th century, on the eve of World War I when the Ottoman Empire ruled the majority of what we now call the Middle East. The United Kingdom and its allies were eager to see this empire’s demise and the leader of the Hashemite family, Hussein bin Ali, saw an opportunity to increase his family’s influence by emerging as a leader in the Arab fight for independence against the Ottomans. The British viewed this as a chance to defeat the Ottomans and install allies in the Middle East and so the two sides became allies of sorts in 1916. As in most alliances, promises were made and promises were broken, something that would be a point of contention following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire as a result of World War I. The problem is that alliances and decisions were made by people who had no business making them, and these decisions continue to have dire consequences for this region and those that call it home today.

A timeline of the Ottoman Empire’s dominance, and eventual collapse, in North Africa and the Middle East. quora.com

Three’s A Crowd

In the wise words of one of the most iconic Housewives, Dorinda Medley, “Say it, forget it. Write it, regret it.” This is something that would have behooved the leaders of the western world to remember as they conspired to create territories in the Middle East in the beginning of the 20th century that were firmly under their control. Beginning in 1915, during World War I, the Hashemite leader Hussein exchanged a number of letters with Sir Henry McMahon, a British diplomat who was living in Egypt. The letters discussed the alliance between Arabs and the British against the Ottoman Empire, where McMahon effectively promised the creation of an independent Arab state if they revolted against the Ottoman Empire – a state that Hussein assumed he would reign over as the leader in the fight for independence. What these letters did not do was specify exactly what land this Arab nation or nations would include. To make matters worse, at the same time these letters were exchanging hands, the British and French were having secret talks of their own on how they would divide the Middle Eastern land they were soon to inherit. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 “led to the division of Turkish-held Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine into various French-and British-administered areas” (Britannica). Finally, to tie a bow on this cluster, in 1917, British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour issued a letter that declared British support for a Jewish home in Palestine. 

Wiser words have never been said.

So let’s recap – in the span of two years, land that Hussein planned to use to create an independent Arab nation was promised to 1. Hussein and his family, 2. The British and the French, and 3. The Jewish nation. You don’t need to understand the complicated and deep rooted history of those involved to understand the gigantic issues these declarations and agreements created. From the wreckage of this mess, Hussein was eventually granted the title of King of the Hijaz by the British, or what today would be western Saudi Arabia. But the Hashemites were not satisfied – in their eyes, their people were owed and entitled to much more. Hussein’s sons Faisal and Abdullah had been heavily involved in the Arab bid for independence and as members of the influential Hashemite family, they had their sights set on nations of their own. In 1921, Winston Churchill granted Faisal the Kingdom of Iraq and in 1923, Churchill bestowed the kingdom of Transjordan on Abdullah. The catch was that both kingdoms were still in reality run by the British – they had the funds and the military, and now they had rulers who were loyal to the British crown.

And That’s The (British) Tea

The stage is now set for us to turn our attention to the man of the hour. That man, Talal, was born on February 26, 1909 to Abdullah, King of Transjordan. As Abdullah’s oldest son, he was also heir to the throne. Prince Talal spent his childhood years at a military school in England and when he graduated, he returned to Jordan and served in the Jordanian Army (which was actually run by the British). The Arab people’s dependence on the British was something that Talal could never reconcile, so it was perhaps not surprising that the Jordanian heir did not have the warm and fuzzies for the leaders of the country where he had spent his formative years. Talal eventually left the Army and in 1934 he married his cousin Sharifa Zain bint Jamil. Together they had four children, including their oldest Hussein (great-grandson of Hussein bin Ali from the beginning of our story) who will feature prominently in this series. 

Talal’s father Abdullah was granted the kingdom of Transjordan, which eventually became the independent country of Jordan in 1946. Wikipedia.

In July 1951, young Hussein was with Abdullah at a state ceremony where he witnessed at close range the assassination of his grandfather by a Palestinian man. Abdullah’s sudden death was a point of concern for multiple reasons. The first was the fact that Abdullah had been a loyal ally to the British, whereas his son and heir, Talal, was notoriously anti-British. The second reason for concern was perhaps more pressing – when the prince received news of his father’s murder, he was in Switzerland and he wasn’t on a glamorous vacation. Talal had been sent to Switzerland to receive medical treatment for what was reported to be schizophrenia. So now the king was dead and his heir was out of the country and medically unable to fulfill his duties. You know what that means….it’s regency time!! 

What Time Is It?? It’s Regency Time!

It wouldn’t be Uneasy Lies the Crown without a classic regency debacle, and Prince Talal was no exception. And to add on to the drama, there was a question of who was to succeed Talal if he was unable to competently rule. The issue lay in the Jordanian Constitution:

“The “The Jordanian constitution of December 7, 1946, in its English version, unambiguously designated Talal, the first-born son of the founder of the dynasty, as successor. But an error in the Arabic translation made it possible to argue that if Talal did not succeed to the throne, his half-brother Naif would be next in line of succession” (Shlaim) 

So what was essentially a typo opened the door for debate of the future of the throne, and because Talal’s son Hussein was underage, it also created a path for his half-brother Naif to be named regent by the Jordanian government. However, it was the briefest of stints, as his regency only lasted for two months and a half-hearted attempt to take the crown permanently ended in Naif’s departure from Jordan. The Jordanians and British calling the shots in the government made the decision to bring Talal back from Switzerland and crown him king, but not because they were big Talal fans. The end game was to get his son Hussein on the throne, something that became quite evident by the fact that Talal was King of Jordan for just one year. He was crowned in July of 1951 and “abdicated” in August of 1952. I use quotes there because it is unclear how much say Talal had in the decision. Judging by the treatment he received following the abdication, it doesn’t seem like much. He was swiftly sent to live out the remainder of his life alone in Turkey, where he died in 1972 at the age of 63.

King Talal during the briefest of reigns. Wikipedia.

What exactly was wrong with Talal is something that is up for debate and that we will explore next. Unfortunately, much like my experience with researching Emperor Taishō of Japan, there is a frustrating lack of biographical information available on Talal. There may be several reasons for this, one being the fact that Talal was king for only one year. Another is the theory that Talal’s illness was made up or exaggerated so that he could be easily passed over in favor of his son, who was much more British-friendly. Was Talal actually suffering from a debilitating mental illness that warranted specialized treatment and rendered him unable to rule, or was he the victim of a political game that he couldn’t win?


“Balfour Declaration.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/event/Balfour-Declaration.

“Hussein-McMahon Correspondence.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/topic/Husayn-McMahon-correspondence.

Shlaim, Avi. Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace. Vintage Books, 2009.

Simon, Reeva S. “The Hashemite ‘Conspiracy’: Hashemite Unity Attempts, 1921–1958.” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 5, no. 3, 1974, pp. 314–327., https://doi.org/10.1017/s0020743800034966.

“Sykes-Picot Agreement.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/event/Sykes-Picot-Agreement.


Aileen Ribeiro | Published in History Today Volume 27 Issue 6 June 1977. “The King of Denmark’s Masquerade.” History Today, https://www.historytoday.com/archive/king-denmark%E2%80%99s-masquerade.

Caroline Mathilde, Queen. “The Queen of Denmark’s Account of the Late Revolution in Denmark [Electronic Resource] : Written While Her Majesty Was a Prisoner in the Castle of Cronenburgh; and Now First Published from the Original Manuscript, Sent to a Noble Earl.” In SearchWorks Catalog, http://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/8034055.

“Frederick VI.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/biography/Frederick-VI.

MUNCK, THOMAS. “Absolute Monarchy in Later Eighteenth-Century Denmark: Centralized Reform, Public Expectations, and the Copenhagen Press.” The Historical Journal, vol. 41, no. 1, 1998, pp. 201–224., https://doi.org/10.1017/s0018246x9700770x.

REDDAWAY, W. F. “King Christian VII.” The English Historical Review, XXXI, no. CXXI, 1916, pp. 59–84., https://doi.org/10.1093/ehr/xxxi.cxxi.59.

S.M. Toyne | Published in History Today Volume 1 Issue 1 January 1951. “Dr. Struensee: Dictator of Denmark.” History Today, https://www.historytoday.com/archive/dr-struensee-dictator-denmark.

Schioldann, Johan. “‘Struensée’s Memoir on the Situation of the King’ (1772): Christian VII of Denmark.” History of Psychiatry, vol. 24, no. 2, 2013, pp. 227–247., https://doi.org/10.1177/0957154×13476199.