Queen Victoria’s Table Manners

I heard this story from this week's episode of QI XL (series K, episode "Kitchen Sink").

Despite her grim court with its focus on seriousness and ceremony, Queen Victoria did not have stellar table manners, which probably contributed to her being seriously–even dangerously–overweight. She was only 4'11" but weighed 12 stone (168 lbs, or 76 kg) and had a 50-inch waist. At least we assume it was a 50-inch waist, since the MP Norman St. John-Stevas (1929-2012) had a collection of Queen Victoria's bloomers, which, at their largest, had a waist that size.

Victoria loved to eat and, since she was served first at the table and there was no etiquette on waiting for others or pacing herself, she would begin right off and plow through an incredible number of courses before everyone else had even been served their first dish. There are records of her consuming a 14-course dinner within 30 minutes.

An unfortunate bit of protocol attached to her bad manners was that once the Queen was finished, everyone had to stop eating and have their dishes immediately removed from the table. So while she was well-sated, everyone else had only just been served before their food was whisked away. Lord Hartington apparently once shouted "Bring that back!" to a footman who was carrying away his untouched plate. This adds a whole new element to the Queen Victoria biopic Mrs. Brown where Victoria reprimands her daughter (daughter-in-law? I can't remember) for allowing herself to get too thin. Maybe she wouldn't be so thin if you slowed down, there, Vicky.

When her doctors started becoming concerned about her obesity, they ordered her to start eating Benger's Food, a type of supplemental gruel, instead. She misunderstood (perhaps deliberately) and started eating Benger's . . . on top of her normal diet.

In fact, this goes hand-in-hand with a post I did looooong agoooooooo about what happened when Empress Sissi of Austria's young daughter, Archduchess Marie-Valerie, met Queen Victoria. Empress Sissi suffered from crippling eating disorders and passed her intolerance of overweight people onto her youngest daughter, who was absolutely terrified to meet the rubenesque Victoria for the first time.

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