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July 2016

The Leper King

Author Affiliations
  • 1New York Medical College School of Medicine, Valhalla, New York
  • 2Department of Dermatology, College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, New York
JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(7):815. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.5478

Since ancient times, people with leprosy have been ostracized from society, stigmatized with disfiguring skin lesions induced by the spectrum of immunological responses to Mycobacterium leprae. In the 12th century, leprosy was thought to represent punishment for one's sins or the sins of one's ancestors, a contagious disease only curable by divine intervention. Having leprosy must have been daunting, even for a king's son. Nevertheless, the last successful Christian defender of the Holy City of Jerusalem was a leper. Despite demonstrating incipient signs of lepromatous leprosy, King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, “The Leper King” (Figure), was crowned the sixth Latin King of Jerusalem in 1174 at the age of 13 years, even though Jerusalem and the Crusader States were surrounded and imperiled by a large, united enemy.