After learning of the April 7th use of chloroform by Queen Victoria at the birth of Prince Leopold, The Lancet in an editorial challenged the accuracy of the information, and then condemned the Queen's physicians and Dr. John Snow (although not by name) for even considering anesthesia.

The Lancet, May 14, 1853.

A very extraordinary report has obtained general circulation connected with the recent accouchement of her most gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. It has always been understood by the profession that the births of the Royal children in all instances have been unattended by any peculiar or untoward circumstances. Intense astonishment, therefore, has been excited throughout the profession by the rumor that her Majesty during her last labor was placed under the influence of chloroform, an agent which has unquestionably caused instantaneous death in a considerable number of cases. Doubts on this subject cannot exist. In several of the fatal examples persons in their usual health expired while the process of inhalation was proceeding, and the deplorable catastrophes were clearly and indisputably referable to the poisonous action of chloroform, and to that cause alone.

These facts being perfectly well known to tile medical world, we could not imagine that any one had incurred the awful responsibility of advising tile administration of chloroform to her Majesty during a perfectly natural labor with a seventh child (actually the eighth of her nine children). On inquiry, therefore, we were not at all surprised to learn that in her late confinement the Queen was not rendered insensible by chloroform or by any other anesthetic agent. We state this with feelings of the highest satisfaction. In no case could it be justifiable to administer chloroform in perfectly ordinary labor; but the responsibility of advocating such a proceeding in the case of the Sovereign of these realms would, indeed, be tremendous. Probably some officious meddlers about the Court so far overruled her Majesty's responsible professional advisers as to lead to the pretence of administering chloroform, but we believe the obstetric physicians to whose ability the safety of our illustrious Queen is confided do not sanction the use of chloroform in natural labor. Let it not be supposed that we would undervalue the immense importance of chloroform in surgical operations. We know that an incalculable amount of agony is averted by its employment. On thousands of occasions it has been given without injury, but inasmuch as it has destroyed life in a considerable number of instances, its unnecessary inhalation involves, in our opinion, an amount of responsibility which words cannot adequately describe.

We have felt irresistibly impelled to make the foregoing observations, fearing the consequences of allowing such a rumor respecting a dangerous practice in one of our national palaces to pass unrefuted. Royal examples are followed with extraordinary readiness by a certain class of society in this country.

Four years later in 1857 at the birth of her last child, Queen Victoria again used chloroform. The Lancet continued over the ensuing years to criticize Dr. Snow for his innovative ways, but more for his application of the germ theory rather than the use of chloroform. 


Caton D. Anesthesiology 92, 247-252, 2000.

Editorial. The Lancet 453, May 14, 1853. 

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