Queen Victoria’s voracious appetite for food and sex
What did Queen Victoria eat, and what were some of her favourite foods? From ‘fancy breads’ and smoked haddock to whisky and mulled wine, Queen Victoria displayed a healthy enjoyment of food and drink throughout her life. Here, food historian Professor Rebecca Earle explores the five-foot monarch's hearty appetites, which weren’t just confined to the dining table…
Queen Victoria was certainly an enthusiastic eater. “Her little majesty”, as one observer called the five-foot monarch, had a hearty appetite, and displayed a healthy enjoyment of food from her earliest years. According to historian Cecil Woodham Smith, this worried Victoria’s relatives, who urged her to take more exercise and slow down. They fretted that the teenaged princess “eats a little too much, and almost always a little too fast”.
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Mealtimes with the queen
Mulled wine, ice creams, cakes, and pastries of all sorts were an enduring pleasure. According to the anonymous account from 1901, she had a great appetite for: “chocolate sponges, plain sponges, wafers of two or three different shapes, langues de chat, biscuits and drop cakes of all kinds, tablets, petit fours, princess and rice cakes, pralines, almond sweets, and a large variety of mixed sweets.” “Her Majesty”, it added, “is very fond of all kinds of pies, and a cranberry tart with cream is one of her favourite dishes”.
The ‘dangers’ of a hearty appetite
Queen Victoria’s appetite for sex
It has been suggested that the cultural roots of anorexia nervosa lie in the Victorian era’s denigration of eating as inherently unfeminine and dangerously sexual. Medical accounts from the 1890s began to describe cases of teenagers who stopped eating “on account of her mother talking to her about being so fat”, or because of a “fear of being seen as a bit heavy”. By not eating, young women distanced themselves from the taint of sexuality, and demonstrated their proper, genteel, and moral status. Deprived of other avenues for self-expression, young women could at least decline to eat; refusing food provided these women with a voice. As the historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg has argued, “young women searching for an idiom in which to say things about themselves focused on food and the body”.