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When cigarettes were acceptable

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 27 January 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:203

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Tobacco - two Royal anecdotes


It is well-known that the Royal family have been ardent followers of
homeopathy since the time of King Edward VII [1841-1910], who enjoyed for
many years the company as a royal dining partner of Dr Frederick H F Quin
[1799-1878], who first introduced homeopathy into fashionable high-society
London in about 1828, and who founded the British Homeopathic Society and
the London Homeopathic Hospital.

"Soon after settling down to practice in London Dr Quin was invited
to dine at the house of a nobleman, and having been detained by
professional engagements he came in late. Quietly slipping into his
appointed place at the table, he was highly amused to find his two
neighbours, to whom he was personally unknown, engaged in animated
conversation about himself. "Have you heard" said one, "of this new-
fangled system that has been introduced by a Dr. Quin? It is said to
consist in giving medicines which produce, on the healthy, diseases
similar to the diseases to be cured, but in such very small doses as to be
absolutely ridiculous."

"Why, the man must be a fool!" exclaimed the guest on the other side
of Dr. Quin.

"More knave than fool, I should imagine," replied the other.

"Pardon me, gentlemen, for interrupting you," said Dr. Quin, "but I
think it right to inform you that I am Dr. Quin."

His neighbours stammered out apologies for their inadvertent
rudeness, but Dr. Quin set them at their ease by saying, "No offence,
gentlemen; and to show you that I bear no ill will, I shall be happy to
take a glass of wine with both of you - with you, sir, in my character of
fool, and with you, sir, in my character of knave."
[From Sixty-five Years Work - An Historical Sketch of the London
Homeopathic Hospital, 1914]

What is less well-known perhaps is the royal connection with tobacco.

King George V [1865-1936] was often called the ‘sailor king’ but was
always subject to terrible bouts of seasickness. He was eventually cured
of this condition with Tabacum, prescribed in minute dose by Dr Sir John
Weir [1879-1971], in his time the homeopathic doctor to five monarchs,
including King Haakon VII [1872-1957] of Norway, whose wife Maud [1869-
1938] was the youngest daughter of Edward VII. The main symptoms of
seasickness, apart from the vomiting, is an overpowering nausea and
dizziness, which any smoker knows are symptoms induced by their very first
puff on the dreaded weed. Employing the substance along homeopathic lines,
Tabacum is still chiefly used in homeopathy for travel sickness of all

The second royal connection with tobacco comes with King George VI
[1895-1952], who was helplessly
addicted to the weed. He was also a fervent follower of homeopathy, naming
one of his racehorses Hypericum, which won the 1000 Guineas in 1946. When
I gave a presentation about homeopathy to the Historical Society of the
North Staffs Medical Institute a few years ago, I mentioned these points
about Royal links with homeopathy and about King George V and his

At that point an elderly retired doctor asked me if I knew why King
George VI had died of lung cancer. He went on to tell us that it was his
devotion to homeopathy, which had prevented the King from seeking an
earlier and more thorough examination and diagnosis for his frequent
coughing and chest pains. He claimed that the King’s devotion to
homeopathy was little more than a primitive form of superstition and that
this vestige of loathsome medical medievalism, to which, in his view, all
Royals are subject, had cost the King his life. When they did finally get
around to a proper examination, it was too late and he never recovered
from the removal of one lung.

It is an interesting theory, which I have no way of confirming or
denying. It is doubtful that such details could ever be confirmed publicly
in any case. Either way, these small stories provide two useful links
between Royals and Tobacco. It does seem somewhat ironic, however, that
father and son both had links to Tobacco – one cured with a small dose of
it and the other addicted to and ultimately being killed by it!

Competing interests: No competing interests

29 January 2001
Peter Morrell
Hon Research Associate, History of Medicine
Staffordshire University, ST4 2DE