Physicians at the Palace

The RCP is thrilled to announce that a loan of objects related to notable 17th and 18th century royal physicians are now on display at Kensington Palace as part of their exhibition, Untold Lives: A Palace at Work. The loan is an exciting opportunity to share RCP collections and the history of physicians with a new and broad audience. The items from the RCP collections on loan include: 

Silver inkstand base with inscription.
Dr Matthew Baillie's inkstand

Dr Matthew Baillie's inkstand - given by Queen Charlotte 

This inkstand represents a devastating tragedy for Queen Charlotte and King George III. It was given to Dr Matthew Baillie, who was their royal physician, after the death of their youngest daughter Amelia.

The inscription reads:

‘The Queen wishes Dr Baillie to accept this small present… for his attendance upon her deceased beloved child Princess Amelia which cannot be obliterated from her mind.’ 


Painting of Dr John Arbuthnot.
Dr Arbuthnot painting

Portrait of Dr John Arbuthnot after Sir Godfrey Kneller

Scottish physician Dr John Arbuthnot was royal physician to Queen Anne and was known to be her favourite doctor. He is even memorialised in the staircase mural at Kensington Palace. After Anne’s death, Arbuthnot was dismissed along with the rest of her servants, showing how precarious royal favour could be. This painting was generously conserved and glazed funded by Historic Royal Palaces. 

Pharmocopoeia Meadiana
Pharmocopoeia Meadiana

Pharmacopoeia Meadiana by Dr Richard Mead

Another of Queen Anne’s royal physicians was Dr Richard Mead. This first edition book of Mead’s medicinal preparations from the Heritage Library, contains a recipe for treating gout which Anne experienced chronic bouts of throughout her life.

The treatment included crab’s claws and rhubarb. Mead was one of the many physicians summoned to Anne during her final illness.

Symons collection objects

A collection of objects from the Symons collection related to blood letting, infant care, and self-care were also loaned by the RCP Museum. 




Display about blood letting.
Collection of bloodletting instruments. Queen Anne was bled by her doctors, as was the practice of the day, causing her great distress towards the end of her life.


Display of silver nipple shields.
The silver nipple shields to ease discomfort during breastfeeding are also displayed in a display about royal wet nurses.


Caring for the royal family as ‘physician extraordinaire’ was a trusted and prestigious appointment but one that was constrained by medicine of the day. Dr Baillie could not cure Princess Amelia of her fatal tuberculosis, and while Dr Mead accurately predicted Anne’s imminent death, he could not stave it off.

Dr Arbuthnot poignantly reflected on Queen Anne’s death that  ‘I believe sleep, was never more welcome to a weary traveller than death was to her’.

The bodies of Kings and Queens were found to be as frail as all other humanity.


Untold Lives: A Palace at Work runs at Kensington Palace until 27 October 2024


Elizabeth Douglas ,
Collections officer

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