Disorders in the Court 1/3

JoAnn Spears returns to let her nursing prowess diagnose illness among long lost monarchs. This series focuses on Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. Her popular previous series on Henry VIII’s illnesses can be found here:

1. http://jordynredwood.blogspot.com/2012/01/florence-nightingale-diagnosis-henry.html

2. http://jordynredwood.blogspot.com/2012/02/florence-nightingale-diagnosis-henry.html

3. http://jordynredwood.blogspot.com/2012/02/florence-nightingale-diagnosis-henry_03.html

Part I is today. Parts II and III will be on Wednesday.

Welcome back, JoAnn!

It’s said that good judgment comes from experience, and that experience comes from bad judgment.  England’s Elizabeth I is a fine example of this aphorism.  Early misalliances with her exploitive stepfather Tom Seymour, and the less-than-suitable Earl of Leicester, for example, cost her dearly on a number of fronts.  Nevertheless, she learned some lessons and finished the game as England’s own Gloriana, its supreme diva and arguably most successful monarch.

Mary Queen of Scots’ fund of experiences was also remarkable, even for someone of her rank and stature.  Unfortunately, the tragic Stuart queen failed consistently at making her fund pay dividends of sound judgment and good choices.  She was less challenged and far more advantaged, at the outset of their reigns, than her most famous contemporary–and relative–Elizabeth I.  Still, she made choice after choice that led to an almost unbelievably disastrous trajectory and culminated in a lengthy and ignominious imprisonment.  She died facing Elizabeth I’s executioner on what amounted to a gibbet of her own devising.  What made the difference in the way things went for these two powerful and legendary women? 

The point at which combinations of personality traits amount to health and success, or dysfunction and disaster, is not always easy to identify.  Mental Health diagnosticians use a guide called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), now in its fourth revision, to help them make this determination in a systematic way.

The DSM IV categorizes mental health conditions into different spectrums, or Axes. 

The first Axis contains the major mental disorders.  These are the ones non-professionals often associate with mental health and illness; bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, for example. 

The second axis categorizes conditions known as personality disorders.  These are characterized by enduring, pervasive patterns in the way individuals think, feel, relate to others, and control–or fail to control–their impulses.  There are three clusters of personality disorders.

People with Cluster A disorders tend to behave in ways that would be considered odd, eccentric, isolative, or even paranoid.  Certainly, neither Mary nor Elizabeth were ever dismissed as odd; both were far too flamboyant and vivid for that, and both were at their best performing to an appreciative audience. 

Cluster C disorders are associated with anxiety, inhibition, neediness, preoccupation, rigidity, and submissiveness.  ‘Bloody Mary’ Tudor, sister of Elizabeth I, comes to mind here.    Her religious zeal, which lead to the burning of numerous ‘heretics’, is what history at large remembers her for.  Tudor aficionados will also note the pathetic, neurotic quality of her relations with the world at large, and with her husband, Prince Philip of Spain, the prototype ‘Cold Fish’ of the Renaissance era.

This leaves us, obviously, with Cluster B personality disorders.  Dramatic, erratic, impulsive, tumultuous, and attention-getting, the folks in this Cluster are the ones who, in modern parlance, command the room.  Clearly, both Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I deserve a second look from a perspective that minimizes judgment of them, and demands a full and constructive exploration of their complex and fascinating personalities.


JoAnn Spears is a registered nurse with Master’s Degrees in Nursing and Public Administration. Her first novel, Six of One, JoAnn brings a nurse’s gallows sense of humor to an unlikely place: the story of the six wives of Henry VIII. Six of One was begun in JoAnn’s native New Jersey. It was wrapped up in the Smoky Mountains of Northeast Tennessee, where she is pursuing a second career as a writer. She has, however, obtained a Tennessee nursing license because a) you never stop being a nurse and b) her son Bill says “don’t quit your day job”.

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