As a child in the 1940s I was taken to tea with an old lady whose proudest possession was a collection of Queen Victoria’s underwear (she was, I think, descended from a lady-in-waiting). I have never forgotten the gigantic drawers, a nightdress the size of a family tent and the surprisingly slender, short white stockings. How could a body of those dimensions have been held up by such delicate legs? Recently, Annie Gray reveals in the introduction to The Greedy Queen, a pair of Victoria’s drawers sold at auction for £12,900. Clearly I am not the only person to be intrigued by the story behind them, told by Gray in this account of Queen Victoria’s relationship with food throughout her long life. Gray has written a wonderfully entertaining book (even the acknowledgements are worth reading), but her light touch camouflages a scholarly work of social history, widely researched, thoroughly annotated and beautifully produced and illustrated. It even includes recipes from the royal menus, which Gray has modernised and rather heroically cooked so we don’t have to (boar’s head, anyone?), and descriptions of some perilous research. Gray dared to sample Victoria’s combination of claret and whisky (it horrified Gladstone) and found it ‘dangerously good’.
When she became queen at the age of eighteen Victoria was described as small and plump with fine eyes. No great beauty, in other words, but passable for a public figure and in no way gross. Brought up by her widowed mother, the Duchess of Kent, and her mother’s sidekick,