Arch Duke Charles of Austria

born September 5, 1771 in Florence, died April 8, 1847 in Vienne

It seems like a quirk of history that the two most significant military commanders in such a belligerent age as the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century - the French emperor Napoleon and the Habsburg Arch Duke Charles of Austria - both appear to have suffered from epilepsy.

In early infancy, Charles had a weak constitution, which, however, did not prevent him from pursuing a military career with his characteristic persistence and tenacity. He began to show signs of having epilepsy when he was 8 years old: 'His limbs often twitched, while his eyes glassed over and took on a fixed stare.' Charles is also described as having epileptic seizures during his active military life, especially in 1785, the year when the Arch Duke was (temporarily) made to resign by his brother Emperor Franz II. Charles's epilepsy served as the pretext for his resignation, but in reality the brothers had argued over military and political matters.

There are also several accounts of Charles's seizures from the year 1799. The court physician Ludwig Wolff writes in a letter: 'Your Royal Highness has unfortunately not been in the best of health for several months. Your Royal Highness is often troubled by so-called nervous convulsions... As your Royal Highness had an epileptic seizure last night which so exhausted you that you have not been able to leave your bed today, my conscience forbids me to be silent on this matter any longer.'

Nevertheless, Arch Duke Charles's epilepsy does not appear to have impeded his activities much at all. It was he who inflicted the first military defeat on Napoleon in the battle of Aspern in 1809 and who in 1813 published his intelligently-written three-volume work The Basics of Strategy, a 'theory of war which is equal that later written by von Clausewitz.'

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German Epilepsymuseum Kork - Museum for epilepsy and the history of epilepsy