Felipe V of Spain, future King, was just a young boy when he was abruptly taken from the luxurious court of Versailles and sent to Madrid to ascend the throne. This delicate child received a mix of pampering and attention, and exhibited a tendency towards melancholy. Some even claim he suffered from bipolar disorder, leading to alternating periods of intense animosity and courage, as well as frenetic sexual activity, including his marriage to María Luisa Gabriela de Savoy.
After becoming a widower, Felipe V’s bouts of melancholy intensified. He experienced depression, violent nightmares, asthenia, and hypochondria. In 1728, one of his worst melancholic episodes saw him receive ambassadors barefoot, in a nightshirt, and without pants. His obsession with the fear of being poisoned through clothing contact led him to always wear the same shirt. Later, he refused to trim his nails, resulting in a bizarre appearance: tattered clothes, unshaven, and toenails so long he could barely walk. He even suffered from hallucinations, once believing he was a frog and attempting to ride horses depicted in palace tapestries. His nocturnal wanderings became common, often convening his council in the early morning hours.
The Reluctant King
The weight of the crown likely exacerbated Felipe V’s manias. He attempted to abdicate multiple times, starting in 1724 when he passed the throne to his son, Luis I, who sadly succumbed to smallpox after just eight months as king. Since Luis I was underage, Felipe V remained involved in royal affairs. Despite his desire to abdicate once more, he had to reclaim the throne after Luis’s death, as his son Fernando was still too young to rule. Queen Isabel de Farnesio, his second wife, effectively took command from the early days of their marriage in 1714, managing many royal affairs while Felipe V grappled with his mental health.
Felipe V’s reign was marked by his mental health struggles, making it a challenging period for both him and the nation he ruled.
Source: Brief history of the Spanish Bourbons by Juan Granados, Ed. Nowtilus.