This thesis explores the association of George Fox (1624-1691) – Leicestershire-born founder of the Society of Friends – and William Tuke (1732-1822) – leading York Quaker, businessman and philanthropist – to the treatment of mental illness. Split into three main chapters, the author explores changes in the meaning of madness (from possession to mental affliction; from the madman as bestial to a person who had misplaced their reason) before closer discussions of the two men and their respective approaches: of faith healing in a world of demons, witches and sin where Dissenters were considered mad, witches or allied to Satan; and humane institutional care at the York Retreat within a faith cemented by orthodoxy and influenced by the reason exalted by
Enlightenment thought. For both, Quaker belief in the redemptive salve of Christ through the personal choice of heeding the Light at once indicated that cure was possible and that it could be attained through religious observance.

Keywords: mental illness; madness; insanity; York; The Retreat; miracle; cure; Quaker; Quietism; faith healing

Useful for: those interested in mental affliction and its care in the past, especially the treatment of Quakers; students of the slow shift from religious to worldly explanations of sickness; historians of psychiatry, madness, medicine and early Quakerism; those exploring the York Meeting and applications of differentials in Quaker theology.


This study contrasts the notions of insanity and healing of two key Quakers in two different eras, whilst positing that their faith was instrumental to their approach; in fact, they both recognised that mental distress was a part of reaching God, which meant that the ability to discern between spiritual experiences and religious excess was imperative. This section forms the backdrop to the work outlining: the central themes and rationale, relation with wider scholarship, the sources and methodology, and the structure of the work.

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