‘If I was to give you an opinion, I should say that a certain little Princess eats… frequently a little too much, and almost always a little too fast’.
Figure 1: Dress Victoria wore at her first Privy Council on 20 June 1837Fashions changed across her reign, with the waistline moving, and skirts changing in volume and shape, so it is impossible to directly compare the gowns of the 1840s with those of later eras. It’s hard, therefore, to identify exactly when she stopped being slender, or at least relatively so, and moved definitively to being overweight.Until Albert’s death, photographs suggest Victoria remained a normal weight. He was renowned for having calmed her down, and she later looked back with mild horror at her behaviour before her marriage. Albert wasn’t interested in food, and quite probably suffered from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease, which may well have been a contributory factor in his death (you can read more about Albert’s ill-health in Helen Rappaort’s ‘Magnificent Obsession’). When the couple travelled to their holiday homes at Osborne and Balmoral, he went off shooting or to visit his various farming projects while she walked over the moors, picnicking in hollows, or taking tea with the children at Osborne’s Swiss Cottage.After Albert’s death, Victoria’s world collapsed, and she reverted to her first love: food. She put on significant amounts of weight, occasionally losing several stone without it making her look thin (as after an illness in the 1870s, when she had to be fed by her daughter like a baby, which she hated). By the late 19th century she was struggling to walk unaided, and her surviving gowns are enormous in comparison to those from her youth. Several pairs of bloomers also exist, suggesting that her waist was by now in excess of 40 inches wide, an unhealthy size considering her height.In old age, Victoria had the reputation of a glutton. She ate extraordinarily fast, and, having finally adopted service à la Russe, she could put away an entire eight or nine course meal in half an hour – purgatory for her fellow diners, as the table was cleared each time she finished a dish, so they had to match her pace or starve. Marie Mallet, one of her ladies in waiting, commented that she had the constitution of an ox, but suffered horrendous indigestion due to her habit of consuming huge apples, ice creams, full and rich meals, all washed down with copious amounts of claret. Her doctors eventually suggested she try substituting one of her meals with Benger’s Salts, which was an indigestion remedy. She did, indeed start taking them, but in addition to her normal meals, rather than as the directed substitution. In December 1900 her appetite started to fail her: it was one indication that, at 81, and after a reign of over 60 years, she was finally dying.
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A History of Royal Food and Feasting
A History of Royal Food and Feasting
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