Francis Willis ran a private asylum in Lincolnshire and became a national celebrity after treating King George III during his famous ‘madness’. Originally a clergyman who had trained at Oxford, Willis was awarded a medical degree aged 41. However, his skills came mainly from experience, not study. Despite this he became a pioneer of moral treatment.
In December 1788 Dr Willis was summoned to treat George III. The King recovered and on 26 February 1789 the doctor's report from Kew described 'an entire cessation of his Majesty's illness'. Willis' reputation immediately soared and he became a national celebrity. He received a salary of £1,000 a year for 21 years. The writer, Fanny Burney commented in 1789 that 'Dr Willis is a man of ten thousand; open, honest, dauntless, light hearted, innocent, and high-minded: I see him impressed with the most animated reverence and affection for [the King]; but it is wholly for his character, - not a whit for his rand’.
A lively portrait of Willis by John Russell, after which the present miniature derives, was painted in his hour of triumph and is in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 2186). The present miniature's corresponding preparatory drawing by Henry Bone, dated 1807, see above, is in the National Portrait Gallery (inv. no. NPG D17616). It is inscribed 'Dr Willis for Mrs Willis / March 1807', suggesting that the present miniature was commissioned by Dr Willis' second wife, Mrs Storer, a few months before her husband passed away. Little is known about Mrs Storer, however she is recorded as a grace and favour resident in Apartment 7, Suite XIX at Hampton Court Palace between July 1782 and March 1808 (see S. Parker, Grace & Favour: A Handbook of who lived where in Hampton Court Palace 1750 to 1950, Surrey, 2005).