As a child psychologist I’m intrigued by the stories people share from their childhood. Some people were the family’s golden child; others were the scapegoat. Children make sense of their place in the world based upon these experiences. It sets the stage for the careers they choose, how they treat people, and ultimately, how they face death.
Historical records, while imperfect, allow us a peek at Nero in the nursery, Henry VIII learning to joust, and Napoleon playing with tin soldiers. These men who set fire to the pages of history were once little boys with scraped knees and runny noses. The principles of psychology can be used as a Rosetta Stone to more fully understand them. That is the essence of this site.
Nero knew trauma before he knew his own name. His father had died and his mother exiled before his 5th birthday. He was the David Copperfield of the ancient world, taken in by relatives who despised his parents. It’s tempting to imagine his aunts sniffing the air and cluck-clucking their disapproval when hearing his mother’s name. Less than twenty years later, Nero conspired with filthy henchmen to murder his mother in the sanctity of her bedroom.
Although Henry VIII had a charmed life compared to Nero, secrets lurked beneath the surface. He and his older brother, Arthur, were as different as lead from gold. Arthur was weak and sickly. Henry was strong and full of light. The King, their father, preferred Arthur. The Grandmother, the crone, doted on Henry. He grew up feeling ‘less than’ to the one who mattered most and ‘more than’ to the one who didn’t. When Arthur died, his father had no heart and less time to train Henry for the throne.
Napoleon’s core conflict is the most fascinating of all. The man destined to become the Emperor of France detested the French while still in his mother’s womb. Napoleon was born on the scrappy island of Corsica. His parents were freedom fighters who hated the French soldiers that raped their island and shredded its constitution. His mother, six months pregnant with him, dodged French bullets and hid in mountain caverns to escape subjugation. If we could ask Napoleon one question it might be: When you became a man was there ever a pain that pierced your heart when you realized you had become all you were taught to despise as a boy?
If you’re interested in the psychology behind these kings and the people trapped in their orbits, you’ve come to the right place. Thank you for visiting! My site is still growing so keep checking back to see what’s new.
At the age of three Nero lost his father and inherited one-third of the estate; but Gaius Caligula, who was also named in the will, not only took everything, but banished Agrippina. Nero therefore grew up in very poor circumstances under the care of his Aunt Domitia, who chose a dancer and a barber to be his tutors. – Suetonius, 6.6.
Although not permanently resident with her, Henry is therefore likely to have feared his grandmother as much as he loved her, for she represented an oppressive mix of sharp wits, high expectations and maudlin piety, leavened by a pinch of slowly gnawing anxiety. – John Matusiak in Henry VIII: the life and rule of England’s Nero.
As the nation was perishing I was born. Thirty thousand Frenchmen were vomited on our shores, drowning the throne of liberty in waves of blood. Such was the odious sight which was the first to strike me. – Napoleon Bonaparte