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Queen Victoria (1819-1901)

Christian tradition held that women should suffer the pain of childbirth. Queen Victoria clearly did not share this point of view. After suffering the pain of delivering seven children without any anaesthetic, she was more than willing to try the latest drug available to ensure the pain-free birth of her eighth child. That drug was chloroform.

Prince Albert (1819-61), Queen Victoria's husband, was well informed about anaesthesia. In early April 1853 he summoned its leading English practitioner for an interview at Buckingham Palace. John Snow had achieved notoriety in his use of anaesthetics, especially chloroform. The Church of England and Sir James Clark, the Queen's senior physician, were unsure about the innovation of pain relief during childbirth and felt that the Queen should not use the same drug that many common women used. But on 7 April 1853, Snow administered chloroform at the birth of Prince Leopold. Snow also administered chloroform for the birth of Princess Beatrice in 1857.

‘Her Majesty is a model patient,’ declared Snow. He was fortunate that there were no complications as childbirth, especially royal childbirth, was unnerving even for a well-known and highly competent practitioner - and even more so for a pioneering anaesthetist.

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M Stearn, 'Queen Victoria and Chloroform', Women's Health Medicine, 2/4 (September 2006) pp 8-9

S J Snow, Blessed Days of Anaesthesia: How Anaesthetics Changed the World (Oxford: OUP, 2008)