Sarah Kathleen Hitchen

Sarah Kathleen Hitchen


Thesis Title

Lunacy, Frenzy, Non Compos Mentis: Schizophrenia and Cognitive Dissonance in Early Modern England


Manchester Metropolitan University


Dr Rosamund Oates
Dr Kathryn Hurlock

Research Summary

Sarah’s thesis – ‘Lunacy, frenzy, non compos mentis: schizophrenia and cognitive dissonance in early modern England’ – explores early modern perceptions of mental disturbance, focusing on the symptoms and behaviours that today are associated with schizophrenia. Specifically, she considers the different ways in which hallucinations, culturally inappropriate delusions, and strange or bizarre behaviours were experienced and understood in England between 1500 and 1733. She looks at the experience of the patient and how they were perceived by family, friends, and wider society, as well as exploring how they were treated legally, medically, and socially. By analysing these experiences, Sarah hopes to understand how early modern people viewed normality and abnormality, the role of stigma in illness, and to explore some of the fears around these particular pathologies.

Research Interests

The history of mental illness (and particularly of schizophrenia), disability history,
the role of stigma in illness
and the early modern carer’s experience.


Conference Papers:
August 2022: European Reformation Research Group Conference, ‘Madness, folk healing, prayer, and stigma in Reformation England: The case of Mary Verney.’
May 2023: The University of Liverpool History Department PGR Conference ‘Unearthing mental illness in the legal documents of early modern England.’
May 2023: Lancaster University Health Hub Symposium, ‘Stigmatisation of the mentally ill in early modern legal documents.’
July 2023: The Society for Renaissance Studies Biennial Conference, ‘Stigma and mental illness in early modern England: The case of Mary Verney.’
September 2023: ‘When does piety, or a crisis of conscience, become lunacy? Religion and the mentally ill in early modern England.’


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