Sir James Reid, 1st Baronet

Sir James Reid, Bt, GCVO, KCB, VD, JP (23 October 1849 – 28 June 1923) was Physician in ordinary to three British monarchs. [1][2] He is the subject of a 1987 biography by Michaela Reid, which has been reprinted several times.[3]

Early career

He was born in Ellon, Aberdeenshire on 23 October 1849[4] and educated at Aberdeen Grammar School [5] and the University of Aberdeen. He qualified as a Doctor of Medicine in 1871 and then practised in Edinburgh. He moved to London to set up a practice, seeing patients for a decade before being appointed a resident physician to Queen Victoria.

Royal doctor

In July 1897, the Royal household hated the Munshi, and tried to get rid of him – writing letters attacking him, sending an envoy called Frederick Ponsonby to investigate his Indian background and Reid revealing that Karim had 'gleet' (gonorrhea)[6]. Reid also disapproved of the Queen's closeness to her latest manservant; he bullied her. The household staff believed that the Munshi was reading secret red box telegrams. Reid believed the very idea of it was insane. Her doctor pointed out to the Queen that she should place more importance on the health of the heir to the throne rather than paying attention to her Indian manservant.

On 19 November 1900, Vicky, Princess Royal and Dowager Empress of Germany, visited her mother, the Queen, at Osborne House. The Queen was gravely ill, and she told the royal physician that she looked very ill at Windsor. The Prime Minister was increasingly vexed by the pressures being exerted by the Boer War on the Queen; her health was breaking, and she was feeling 'wretched' at night. On the night of 16 December, Reid administered her three grains of Trianol to help her sleep.[7] On 18 December, Reid diagnosed "cerebral degeneration" (dementia). He was gloomy about her prospects of recovery, and Sir Francis Laking encouraged the impression that royal health was all well. But the Prince of Wales refused to sign off the Court Circular, undermining Reid's medical authority. Reid was the only person who remained at the Queen's side throughout her final illness. He asked if she wanted the Prince, but he tired of waiting and returned to London.

The most disreputable episode concerned Reid's handling of the Crown's affairs with the Kaiser. William was most unpopular with the royals when he insisted being at her side when she lay dying. They despised the war-monger. But Reid continued to liaise secretly with the German Emperor throughout Edward VII's reign. When The Kaiser went back on his word, and they failed to reduce their armaments, as hoped, the King despaired. But Reid informed the Kaiser of his "failing health". But in January 1901, the Prince relented for diplomacy, to allow the Kaiser's presence.

Reid was given strict instructions as to burying the Queen, including grave goods belonging to John Brown. He served her until her death, then Edward VII [8] throughout the whole of his reign and finally George V. in March 1909, Bertie fell ill, and Reid recommended a dose of radium; coughing from smoking cigars. Told the Kaiser that the King "was rapidly sinking."[9] On 6 March 1910, the King was treated for "acute cardiac distress" (heart disease). Reid's prognosis was possible pneumonia; but he recovered on 22 March. Reid decided to hide the facts from his family; and by 25 March, knowing the King was dying, gave a clean bill of health. The patient was permanently wheezing, asthmatic, and could not walk upstairs, ignoring the doctor's advice. By 5 May, the King was turning blue, and so Reid proposed strychnine as a heart stimulant.[10]

In September 1916 Reid received instructions from London to travel to Wick, northern Scotland. There he received Prince Albert (‘Bertie’, 1895–1952), second son of the King, and the future King George VI. The prince had been taken ill with an abdominal complaint whilst serving as a midshipman on HMS Collingwood. He was transferred to Aberdeen on the hospital ship Rohilla. On 29 September an appendectomy was performed on him by surgeon to the royal household Sir John Marnoch with Reid in attendance.

Reid died in post on 28 June 1923.[11]


Reid married, in 1899, the Honourable Susan Baring (14 Dec 1868 –4 Jul 1906), daughter of Edward Baring, 1st Baron Revelstoke. She had been Maid of honour to Queen Victoria 1898–1899.



  1. Reid, M. (2001). "Sir James Reid, Bt: Royal apothecary". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 94 (4): 194–5. PMC 1281397. PMID 11317628.
  2. "Sitter: Sir James Reid, 1st Bt. (1849–1923)". Lafayette Negative Archive.
  3. "Mysteries and Secrets". Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  4. ‘REID, Sir James’, Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007 accessed 11 July 2012
  5. Letters of Sir James Reid.
  7. Roberts, p.794
  8. "No. 27300". The London Gazette. 29 March 1901. p. 2194.
  9. Jane Ridley, "Bertie", p.432. - the prince was active in negotiations with the Kaiser, whom he met several times at Windsor and Marienbad, when they were discussing the reduction of Dreadnought battleships.
  10. Ridley, p.454-55.
  11. Queen Victoria's Physician. The Times (London, England), Friday, 29 June 1923; pg. 16; Issue 43380
  12. "No. 25939". The London Gazette. 25 May 1889. p. 2874.
  13. "No. 26638". The London Gazette. 28 June 1895. p. 3658.
  14. "No. 26890". The London Gazette. 10 September 1897. p. 5059.
  15. "Latest intelligence – Germany". The Times (36465). London. 27 May 1901. p. 3.
  16. "No. 27285". The London Gazette. 15 February 1901. p. 1145.
  17. "Glasgow University jubilee". The Times (36481). London. 14 June 1901. p. 10.


  • Magnus, Sir Philip (1971). Edward VII.
  • Reid, Michaela (1996). Ask Sir James: The Life of Sir James Reid, personal physician to Queen Victoria.
  • Ridley, Jane (2013). Bertie: Life of Edward VII.
  • Roberts, Andrew (1999). Salisbury: Victorian Titan. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-75381-091-3.

Baronetage of Great Britain
New creation Baronet Reed of Ellon
Succeeded by
Sir Edward James Reid, 2nd Baronet
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