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Clergy and the Care of the Insane in Eighteenth-Century Britain1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2009

R. A. Houston
Professor of Modern History at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.


Writers on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England have stressed the significance of doctors and clergy in the provision of residential care for the better-off mad person. “The private madhouse trade in fact started with the practice of doctors taking private patients into their homes.” So wrote Macalpine and Hunter. According to William Parry-Jones, English “lunatics from the more affluent classes were cared for individually, often in the custody of medical men or clergymen.” The two professions commonly overlapped, meaning that clerics could provide medical care. Andrew Mason has written enthusiastically that “towards the end of the seventeenth-century, so-called ‘clerical mad doctors’ abounded.” As educated men working in an occupation with few barriers to entry, English clergy could “readily take up medicine,” which was just one element of the burgeoning eighteenth-century market place. “Those entering the madbusiness were drawn from … clergymen, both orthodox and non-conformist, businessmen, widows, surgeons, speculators, and physicians.”

Copyright © American Society of Church History 2004

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11. The 1857 Royal Commissioners remarked on the division, among private madhouse keepers, between “men of education, and well fitted, by professional training, to have the management of institutions for the insane,” and ignorant empirics such as a victual dealer, failed baker, gardener and public house keeper. Report of the Royal Commissioners on Lunatic Asylums and the Laws Relating to Them in Scotland … 1857 (Shannon: Irish University Press, 1969), 100.Google Scholar Facsimile edition: first published as Report by Her Majesty's Commissioners: Appointed to Inquire into the State of Lunatic Asylums in Scotland and the Existing Law in Reference to Lunatics and Lunatic Asylums in That Part of the United Kingdom (Edinburgh: T. Constable, 1857).Google Scholar

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17. The Royal College of Physicians, chartered in 1518, administered supervision of this act in London, magistrates in the provinces.

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42. NAS SC54/2/36, Duncan Campbell (1726).

43. NAS SC36/74/13, James Couper (1816).

44. Signet Library, Session Papers, vol. 345, case 5, “The petition and complaint of the Rev. James Baine minister, and of Lieut. Michael Baine, of his Majesty's Regiment of Light Dragoons, November 18, 1768,” 4.

45. NAS C22/91, 193. CC9/7/79, 538.

46. NAS C22/112, 116.

47. NAS JC54/1, report for Forfar (1 May 1818). However, the Third Report of the Committee on Madhouses in England, etc. (June 1816), 377–78, had stated that there were no licensed private madhouses in Forfarshire.

48. Report of the Royal Commissioners … 1857, Appendix M, no. 6, p. 307.Google Scholar

49. Ibid., Appendix M, 298.

50. This includes newspapers. I have also benefited from discussion with Dr Helen Dingwall, who reports no such advertisements in her extensive study of medical advertising in eighteenth-century Edinburgh newspapers. Dingwall, H. M., “‘To Be Insert in the Mercury’: Medical Practitioners and the Press in Eighteenth-century Edinburgh,” Social History of Medicine 13:1 (2000): 2344CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed. An example of a woman advertising her private madhouse can be found in Edinburgh Evening Courant, no. 10, 473, 2 March 1785.

51. Report of the Royal Commissioners … 1857, Appendix M, 188–89.Google Scholar

52. NAS C22/96, 346.

53. Address of Several Ministers of the Presbytery of Dundee to Their Parishioners (Dundee: n.p., n.d. [ca.1835]).

54. Sunnyside Royal Hospital (Montrose), SRI/1. Papers now housed in Dundee University Archives.

55. A portioner was an heir to a section of an estate.

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60. Houston, “Professions.”

61. Edinburgh City Archives (ECA) Merchant Company no. 264.

62. NAS SC67/42/1, William Adam (1723).

63. Signet Library, Session Papers, vol. 345, case 5, “Answers for Helen Hay … November 29, 1768,” 12.

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66. NAS SC39/47/3, Hugh Maxwell (1784).

67. NAS SC67/57/16, George Thomson (1818).

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