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Francis Willis (1718-1807)

Francis Willis trained at Oxford as a clergyman. For most of his life he ran a small private asylum in the Lincolnshire countryside where he cared for men and women struggling with mental health problems. Willis’s fame and clientele grew. Local officials pressured him to get a medical degree, which he earned from Oxford aged 41, but his skills came mainly from experience, not study. Willis’s methods were diverse. They involved orthodox medical practices such as blistering and crude psychological tactics like coercion. He also knew when to appeal to his patients’ good sense and humanityand often encouraged them to take responsibility for their actions. His most lasting fame came in his seventies when he treated King George III. Later doctors, particularly Philippe Pinel, heralded Willis as a pioneer of what became known in the 1800s as moral treatment.

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Bibliography

I Macalpine and R Hunter, George III and the Mad Business (London: Allen Lane, 1969)

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