Spotlight: Her Majesty’s dinner

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By | From the Collections

This royal menu card from Balmoral Castle takes us back to the reign of Queen Victoria. Then as now, the monarch spent her summers in Aberdeenshire.

Some of the Queen’s most intimate body-servants also hailed from Scotland; not only the famous gillie John Brown, but also her personal physician, Sir James Reid (1849-1923). However, personal physicians as well as queens need holidays, and it was during one of these that Thomas Barlow (1845-1945), celebrated London hospital consultant and society physician of Wimpole Street, was summoned by Reid in September 1897 to take his place while he took a well-earned rest.

L0024506 Menu for Queen Victoria's dinner at Balmoral Castle, 1897. Wellcome Image no. L0024506

Menu for Queen Victoria’s dinner at Balmoral Castle, 1897. Wellcome Image no. L0024506

Whenever away Barlow sent almost daily letters back to his wife, one of which included this menu card, recording the first formal dinner at Balmoral to which he was invited. Curiously the menu is trilingual, the language used being that deemed appropriate to the dish in question: most are described in French, the exceptions being a hearty German potato soup and English roast beef, with cold meats on the side table.

The Queen was notoriously fond of rich food, especially such things as cream cakes, and even as an old woman paid little regard to diet and regimen, to the consternation of Reid. She doesn’t seem to have troubled Barlow much during his stay, who thus had plenty of time to socialise and enjoy the scenery. Perhaps as a result she made a very favourable impression on him – she was, as he wrote to his wife, “all for pluck and energy and optimism and fresh air and cool rooms and getting out and enjoying things”.

The Barlow family papers are held in the Wellcome Library.

Author: Dr Richard Aspin is head of Research and Scholarship at the Wellcome Library.



Richard Aspin

Richard Aspin

Dr Richard Aspin is Head of Research in the Wellcome Library. An archivist and manuscripts curator by training, he has spent many years working with the Library’s collections, as both custodian and researcher. His main motivation for studying the past is to help rescue forgotten lives from the enormous condescension of posterity.

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