Battie, William
First name:
18th century
Field of expertise:
Place of birth:
Modbury (ENG)
* 01.09.1703
† 13.06.1776
Biography print

English physician, mad-doctor and philologist.


William Battie (1703-1776) was born in Modbury, Devonshire, as the son of a vicar. He was schooled at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge. After receiving his license in medicine in 1730, he practised as a physician in Cambridge where he also held lectures on anatomy. He moved to London in 1738 and, in 1742, was elected one of the “governors” of Bethlem Hospital. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and in the years to follow taught and published in the fields of physiology and clinical medicine. In 1750, Battie joined forces with a group of philanthropic physicians and other notables to solicit donations to found a new institution for the treatment of poor patients as an alternative to the notorious Bethlem Hospital. St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics was opened in 1751, with Battie as the founding chief physician. In 1764, he was elected President of the Royal College of Physicians. William Battie died in 1776 and was buried in Kingston, Surrey.


A classic: A Treatise on Madness

Battie’s medical writings (1751/52, 1757, 1780) show him firmly rooted in 18th-century medicine and physiology. He also published new editions of Aristotle (1728) and Isocrates (1729/48, 1749). His 1758 work A Treatise on Madness became a seminal textbook for modern clinical psychiatry. Following the insight that “management did much more than medicine”, he developed a novel milieu therapy based on a sensualist approach. Rather than resulting from a disturbed mind, he wrote, madness was a “praeternatural and false perception of objects” caused by a disorder in the nervous impulses and pressure on the medullary substance (Sect. VII: 41, 45 f.). His concept of “moral management” demanded that the patients be kept in a clean and calm environment to shield them against the irritations and stimulations that exert a pathogenic influence on the nerve fibres. This treatment should be supported with drugs like emetics and purgatives, while cranial injuries would sometimes require head surgery.


Battie (1758: 44) distinguished two basic forms of madness: “original madness” due to internal (e.g., hereditary) damages to the nervous matter and “consequential madness” resulting from external influences such as skull fractures, sunstrokes, violent emotions or idleness. He was convinced that disorders caused by external factors can often be cured, and St Luke’s Hospital gave preferential treatment to patients suffering from these conditions. Battie also believed that if no external causes could be established, the patient most likely suffered from an incurable “original madness”. He suggested that the likelihood of an organic disease with an unfavourable prognosis increased if the anamnestic and diagnostic process failed to reveal clear external factors. These categorical differentiations are already typical of the later scientific controversies in the field of psychiatry on the relationship between knowledge and ignorance, mental and psycho-social causes, primary and secondary phenomena, organic and “functional” disorders, or between incurability and curability. Battie’s concept can be seen as an attempt to declare some of the (hitherto underdetermined) mental disorders to be curable.



Andrews, J., A. Scull (2001): Undertaker of the mind: John Monro and mad-doctoring in eighteenth-century England. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Aristoteles (1728): Aristotelous technes rhetorikes biblia tria; Aristotelis de rhetorica seu arte dicendi libri tres, Graeco-Lat. (edited by W. Battie). Cambridge: Thurlbourn.

Brückner, B. (2011): Moral, Freiheit und Natur – Die Ursprünge der europäischen Psychiatrie im Schnittpunkt von Aufklärung und Romantik. In: Sozialpsychiatrische Informationen 40, (3), pp. 8-10.

Brückner, B. (2007): Delirium und Wahn. Geschichte, Selbstzeugnisse und Theorien von der Antike bis 1900. Vol. 1. Vom Altertum bis zur Aufklärung. (Schriften zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte Bd. XXII). Hürtgenwald: Guido Pressler Verlag.

Battie, W. (1746): Oratio anniversaria in theatro Collegi Regalis Medicorum Londinensium ex Harvaei instituto habita die XVIII. Octobris 1746. London: Whiston.

Battie, W. (1751): De principiis animalibus exercitationes, [I-III], A Gulielmo Battie, M.D. London: Whiston & White.

Battie, W. (1752): De principiis animalibus exercitationes, [IV-VI.], A Gulielmo Battie, M.D. London: Whiston & White.

Battie, W. (1757): De principiis animalibus exercitationes, [I-VI.], A Gulielmo Battie, M.D. London: Whiston & White.

Battie, W. (1758): A treatise on madness. London: Whiston & White.

Battie, W., J. Monro (1758): A treatise on madness. Remarks on Dr. Battie’s treatise on madness. (Nachdruck). London: Dawsons 1962.

Battie, W. (1780): Gulielmi Battie Aphorismi de cognoscendis et curandis morbis nonnullis ad principia animalia accomodati. Magdeburg: Orphanotropheus.

French, C. N. (1951). The story of St. Luke's Hospital. London: Heinemann.

Hunter, R. A., I. Macalpine (1955): William Battie, MD, FRS; pioneer psychiatrist. In: The Practitioner 174, (1040), pp. 208-215.

Isokrates (1729): Isokratus logoi hepta kai Epistolai. Isocratis Orationes septem et Epistolae. Codicibus nonnulis Mss., et impressis melioris notae exemplaribus collatis, varias lectiones subject, versionem novam notasque ex Hieronymo Wolfio potissimum desumptas adjuncxit Gul. Battie. [Vol. 1]. Cambridge: Typis Academicis.

Isokrates (1748): Isokratus logoi tessareskaideka. Isocratis Orationes quatrodecim. Variae lectiones, versionem novam, a. c. notas adjunxit Gul. Battie. [Vol. 2]. London.

Isokrates (1749): Isokratus Hapanta; Isocratis Opera, quae quidem nunc ex tant omnia. varias lectiones, versionem novam ac notas adiunxit Gulielmus Battie. [Vol. 1] London: Davis, Whiston & Dod.

Isokrates (1749): Isokratus Hapanta; Isocratis Opera, quae quidem nunc ex tant omnia. varias lectiones, versionem novam ac notas adiunxit Gulielmus Battie. [Vol. 2] London: Davis, Whiston & Dod.

Morris, A. (2008): William Battie’s treatise on madness (1758) and John Monro’s remarks on Dr Battie’s treatise (1758) – 250 years ago. In: The British Journal of Psychiatry 192, (4), pp. 192-257.

Porter, R. (1987): Mind-forg'd manacles: A history of madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Tuke, D. H. (1882): Chapters in the history of the insane in the British Isles. London: Keegan Paul, Trench & Co.


Burkhart Brückner, Robin Pape


Foto: Wellcome Collection / Source: Wikimedia / License: CC BY 4.0. 


Referencing format
Burkhart Brückner, Robin Pape (2016): Battie, William.
In: Biographisches Archiv der Psychiatrie.
(retrieved on:24.05.2024)