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Forensic Psychiatry in Nineteenth-Century Saxony: The Case of Woyzeck

Steinberg, Holger PD Dr. rer. medic. habil.1; Schmidt-Recla, Adrian PD Dr. iur.2; Schmideler, Sebastian MA1

doi: 10.1080/10673220701532466

In contrast to other areas of psychiatry, little work has been done on the history of forensic psychiatry, and such work is especially scarce regarding the first half of the 19th century, when forensic psychiatry began to develop together with the neurosciences. One newly discovered archival source bears immediate witness to the genesis of forensic psychiatry and is presented for the first time in this study. That source helps us to better understand, in particular, one of the most important cases in 19th-century German forensic psychiatry—namely, that of Johann Christian Woyzeck, the murderer who became the lead figure and the decisive model for the famous eponymous drama by German poet Georg Büchner. Duke Friedrich August, the heir to the throne of the German kingdom of Saxony, submitted a separately recorded special vote (or, very roughly speaking, a brief) that denied the criminal responsibility of the murderer since he had committed his crime out of jealousy and in an emotionally agitated state of mind that eliminated the offender's free will. Though possessing no relevant professional training, the duke applied, and argued in support of, a syndrome—partial mania—that was then the subject of ongoing controversy in general psychiatry. In that context, his vote and analysis can be seen a part of the conceptual development not only of forensic psychiatry, but also of German psychiatry and criminal law.

1Archives for the History of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, University of Leipzig

2Faculty of Law, University of Leipzig

Correspondence: Holger Steinberg, Archiv für Leipziger Psychiatriegeschichte, Klinik und Poliklinik für Psychiatrie, Universität Leipzig, Johannisallee 20, D-04317, Leipzig, Germany.

Original manuscript received 24 January 2006; revised manuscript received 22 June 2006, accepted for publication subject to revision 2 October 2006; final manuscript received 13 November 2006.

© 2007 President and Fellows of Harvard College
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