Sunday, September 02, 2018

Question from Arthur - Historical records of what today is called PTSD

I was wondering what is there if any that men returning from battles, might of had symptoms that we would regard today as PTSD? or any evidence for trauma related issue from other incidents in a persons history. I realize its a very hard thing to find evidence for, especially since it was unlikely to have recognised in any manner we do now. But my guess is that issues happened frequently and would of been regarded as madness perhaps. Its something I have done a little research on myself, but would the opinion of others. I also cannot find question on here that covers this in a precise way. Arthur


PhD Historian said...

This is well outside my area of real expertise, but I do hate to see questions go without response, so I will offer this: What you are asking for, in effect, is some indication of the mental state of the common soldier post-conflict. But the surviving records of the era rarely address individuals other than the highest ranking commanders. When the records discuss common soldiers, they do so as a group. Only very rarely do the records mention individuals.

Equally importantly, we must recall that there were no standing armies in Tudor England. Men were called up for a specific purpose, then demobilized shortly thereafter. And unlike modern standing armies, few (if any) service records were created or maintained for those ad hoc armies. The absence of service records makes it exceedingly difficult today to correlate reports of abnormal behavior with prior military service, since it is often impossible to document such service. Additionally, persons in the Tudor era did not ordinarily themselves identify any cause-and-effect relationship between experiences of battlefield trauma and later behavior. Even the concept of “mental health” was still quite primitive in the Tudor era, with many conditions ascribed to demonic possession or an imbalance of bodily humors or, in women, a “wandering uterus.”

Lastly, we might consider the common physical brutality seen in the Tudor era relative to that of the modern world. Hanging, drawing, and quartering, severed heads displayed on pikes above the city walls, burning at the stake ... such sights were common enough in the era for the entire population. And indeed, they were often regarded as entertainments, drawing large crowds. Today, we go to the cinema or computer games for those kinds of brutal sights, secure in the knowledge that what we are seeing is not “real” (though obviously many worry that even fictional brutality has negative effects on the psyche).

PhD Historian said...

Excellent question, by the way! I do encourage you to continue with your research, since it raises some very interesting additional questions!

I have to wonder, for example, whether PTSD might be a more “modern” condition that did not exist (or was very rare) in the pre-modern world. I have no real evidence to support my theory, but might PTSD be a product of the transition from the personalized hand-to-hand combat of the pre-modern world that utilized cutting and stabbing and bludgeoning weapons to the depersonalized combat-at-distance of the modern world that employs firearms and explosives? Is seeing a comrade in arms dismembered in hand-to-hand combat by an enemy with a human face more endurable psychologically than seeing him suddenly blown to bits by a faceless enemy at a distance? At least in the former, one might be able to use the psychological defense mechanism of rationalization to convince oneself that the deceased put up a good fight against an identifiable individual enemy. But the sight of a comrade in a foxhole being blown apart by a mortar fired from hundreds of yards away by a faceless enemy seems, at least to my mind, to be much more difficult to rationalize.

Arthur said...

Thanks for your answer. You always provide such an insight into the tudor world. I do remember a long time ago reading an artical about what was termed as 'battle madness' of knights in the medieval times, I afraid I don't remember the name of article or what sources they used. I do remember it had some references to knights who didn't go home for months or years after battles and some of whom went on violent rampages in the aftermath. I also remember reading about 'knights' who became hermits after battles, i.e withdrawing from the world, but again forgive me I am not very good at remembering sources.

Both of those could be suggestions that battle did effect some people badly. But I do agree with your suggestion that having a humanized enemy might well help people deal with what they witnessed more than a distant de-humanized one. And life was more brutal then yes, so perhaps it wasn't such a shock to them. I have certainly read several accounts in which armies or section of them went on violent rampages after battles, and that seems to have been excepted, I wonder if that might of been a way for the men to let off the stresses after the battle, which indirectly may have helped them deal with it.

What you said about no standing armies and being demobilized shortly thereafter, is very interesting. It brings me on to a spur off question. Would sons of nobility be able to escape being in battles? For example if in my novel I had a character who went off and fought at Bosworth when he was 17 or 18, whose father is an Earl is possible for that character to escape fighting again for the next 20 years of so? I think what I am asking is certainly amongst the nobility were they compelled to go all the battles in the realm or just if they were specifically ordered.

PhD Historian said...

I am very flattered that you have found my past responses helpful. Thank you.

Would sons of nobility be able to escape being in battles? The short answer is, "Yes." As could anyone else. It was actually rare for a monarch to "compel" or "specifically order" members of the nobility, aristocracy, and gentry to do any particular thing. "Royal commands" are the product of historical fiction, for the most part. Instead, each member of society, from top to bottom, lived in a world of feudal oaths and fealty/loyalty. Persons swore oaths to those higher up in the chain, and those oaths were sworn before God. Deliberate violation of such an oath carried a penalty against the oath-taker's immortal soul. And if you read some of the summonses, you will see that monarchs typically couched their calls for assistance as a respectful request rather than as an outright command. "We [the “royal we”] trust that as you are a true and loyal subject you will do everything in your power to further us in our just cause, just as we have shown ourselves ready to aid you in your just causes heretofore." Summonses could be (and often were) avoided based on a wide range of excuses. Personal illness, real or “convenient,” was a favorite excuse for declining to take to the field. Insufficient advance notice was another. And monarchs knew how to “read between the lines,” so that they could impose penalties, both direct and indirect, if they suspect a malingerer. They might directly challenge the individual’s claim of illness, for example, and summon the person to explain himself in person. Or they might be more passive-aggressive and simply decline to hear some future request for aid from the person, or decline to promote that person, or remove them from some lucrative office. Each person summoned to serve militarily had to weigh the cost-benefits of refusal-compliance. Most complied. A few did not. Some were even notoriously habitual in pleading illness or whatever. But it would be entirely plausible for a character in a historical novel about Tudor England to find a way to avoid service.