Queen Victoria’s Medical Household

I found the following story in Raymond Lamont-Brown’s  Royal Poxes and Potions: The Lives of Court Physicians, Surgeons and Apothecaries (2001), p. 133.

Queen Victoria was very concerned with her health and the health of others, although she didn’t always listen to her doctors’ advice. This book goes so far as to say that she was a hypochondriac (131). She, as with so many other royal households, employed a huge number of physicians and various medical experts and practitioners–between 40 and 50–over the span of her reign. Here are a few details:

The selection of the medical household had specific rules laid out by Act of Parliament (27 Henry VIII, c. 11. 1536). The position was to be held by the person selected until their death or retirement. They were selected by promotion, or by recommendation. They had to be leaders of their profession.

The average payments per annum during Victoria’s reign were as follows:

Physician or surgeon-in-ordinary (i.e. one in regular or permanent attendance to the royal household): £300

Surgeon to the household (i.e. one who has a more occasional, specialist role): £400

Apothecary to the household: £500

State Surgeon Ireland (can anyone verify what this term means?): £133

The royal household also brought in medical practitioners that we may now think of as ‘quacks’. This included “cuppers (at both Edinburgh and London); surgeon chiropodists; medical galvanists; phrenologist educationalists; and a masseuse (one of the few non-servant female posts at court – in 1883 the post was held by Madame Charlotte Nautet from Aix-les Bains).

Further, as Queen Victoria had duties that took her all over the country, she kept local medical staff on call for a variety of places, even in places she only visited rarely during her reign. While these doctors no doubt had many other local patients who required their attention, if Queen Victoria took an unannounced trip to the vicinity and felt unwell, they were expected to drop all of their regular duties and clients in order to see her. She had medical attendants of this nature in the following places:

Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace, Kensington Palace; Kew Palace; Hampton Court Palace; Windsor Castle; Osborne House [Isle of Wight]; Marine Pavilion [Brighton]; Claremont House [Esher, Surrey]; Holyrood Palace [Edinburgh]; Balmoral Castle [Aberdeenshire]; Dublin Castle.

Keep in mind that Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace, Kensington Palace, and Hampton Court Palace are all in London, with Kew Palace right outside London. Sister needed her medics, and she needed them NOW. Admittedly, driving upwards of ten miles through London in a carriage, in the event of an emergency, would not have been great, so it’s understandable that she might have staff waiting in or near each of her palaces. However, Queen Victoria didn’t travel far without a large retinue of servants, including at least some of her permanent medical staff, so it is surprising she needed quite so many in such a small radius.

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