List1 of 3
It's a commonly held belief that the era in which Queen Victoria ruled (1837-1901) was a proper one, big on high morals, low on fun. This may not have entirely been the case, according to the new Smithsonian Channel series, "Private Lives of the Monarchs."
The premiere episode explores the parts of Victoria's reign that not many historians talk about, particularly the prevalence of drugs and promiscuity.
I asked Tracy Borman, the series' host and joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces, about the use of illicit drugs in those days.
"It’s not what you expect from the Victorians, who were always seen as very prudish and serious. There is this whole other side to them that certainly came out during this series," Borman told me.
Possessing popular drugs at the time -- Opium, cocaine, morphine, chloroform -- were considered a "status symbol," according to Borman.
"If you were rich enough to afford it [drugs] then you were going to flaunt it. No one back then tried to cover it up." Since the risk of addiction and danger of overdose wasn't widely known, these drugs were readily available.
In fact, Victoria allegedly chewed gum laced with cocaine on the regular with her friend, future Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Most people in the 19th century smoked Opium through pipes, but Victoria didn't like to smoke. Instead, according to Victorian medicine expert Dr. Rosemary Leonard, Her Majesty took hers in the form of Laudanum, a tincture of Opium dissolved in 90 percent alcohol. The monarch primarily used it as pain medication for headaches or menstrual cramps. Back then, it was widely believed that Laudanum could "cure anything."
Like many mothers at the time, Victoria was administered chloroform to ease labor pains during the births of her last two children. "This wonderful drug was soothing, quieting and delightful beyond measure," Victoria wrote in her diary.