Ludwig II, Duke of Württemberg

1439-1457

During his life, Duke Ludwig of Württemberg was by no means a prominent figure, and he probably would have remained an obscure historical character had he not had epilepsy.

When Ludwig I of Württemberg died in 1450, he left two sons who had not come of age: Ludwig and Eberhard. The elder Ludwig was prevented from inheriting the dukedom because of a 'serious infirmity', and his younger brother Eberhard (who became known as 'Duke Eberhard with the Beard') took over the ducal governmental duties - under a guardian at first until he reached his majority. Eberhard's elder brother, Duke Ludwig II, had been mentally retarded since early childhood and clearly suffered from the falling sickness.

At the end of the Middle Ages, epilepsy was regarded as a 'demonic illness' caused by evil spirits or the devil. Patients and their families therefore did not go to physicians for advice and treatment (they did not have any effective cure for it anyway), but sought help from the church, from God and the saints. The vow which Ludwig II made is important in medical and cultural history. He and his parents hoped that though prayer, fasting and making offerings, he would be cured the terrible disease. In this vow, St Valentin is mentioned several times. Of the well over 40 saints who were regarded as being able to ward off epilepsy, St Valentin was the most important. Rufach, in Upper Alsace, where the miraculous relic of the head of Valentin of Terni was kept, was the most famous place of pilgrimage for people with the falling sickness.

Ludwig died in November 1457, just turned 18. It is not possible to find out the cause of his illness. The fact that two of his cousins on his father's side were also mentally ill suggests that there was a hereditary element to his illness (possibly a neurometabolic disease?).

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