In 2012, Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee year it is interesting to note the connections that the University of Aberdeen has had with royalty. Indeed the founding of the University and King’s College in 1495 by William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen was supported by the reigning monarch. This was James IV (reign 1488-1513), a young king interested in learning. He investigated practical and scientific matters and encouraged education. He died at the battle of Flodden in 1513.
Charles I took an interest in the two universities of Aberdeen, King’s College and Marischal when his physician, William Harvey was made an Honorary Burgess of the City of Aberdeen in 1641. Charles I united the colleges into the Caroline University with William Guild elected rector. However when Charles II came to the throne, the union of the universities was annulled. Marischal felt it had not been on an equal footing with Kings. It was not until 1860 that the fusion of the universities occurred.
Physician to Charles II
Sir Alexander Fraser was born around 1610 and educated in Aberdeen. His family owned land at Durris. After obtaining a medical degree in Leiden he returned to London and became a favourite at court. He escaped to the Hague after the execution of Charles I and remained with the Prince who later became Charles II. He treated many members of the royal family though not always successfully. He extolled the air of Durris as being as good as any in England for health.
George III and Queen Victoria
William Harvey’s portrait was given to the Medico-Chirurgical Society by Sir Walter Farquhar, MD from King’s College in 1796 to encourage young Aberdeen students. Sir Walter attended George III during the King’s mental illness. Other Aberdeen graduates became royal physicians especially when Queen Victoria began the connection with Balmoral and royalty.
Sir James Reid
Son of the local Ellon doctor, James Reid was born in 1849 and had an outstanding academic career, graduating from Aberdeen University MB. CM in 1872. Working on the Continent he learned to speak German. Because of this, when Queen Victoria was looking for a new Scottish medical attendant who was conversant in German, James Reid was chosen. He remained her personal physician until her death in 1901. Sir James remained physician-in-ordinary to the next two monarchs, Edward VII and George V. His role as medical adviser diminished but he remained a friend of the family and was called for when Prince Albert needed help in 1914.
Three weeks after the outbreak of the First World War, Sir James Reid received notification from London telling him ‘to go to Wick and meet Prince Albert (‘Bertie’) who has appendicitis and is to be landed there from the Collingwood tomorrow.’ On board the hospital ship Rohilla, Sir James sailed with the Prince for Aberdeen. Travelling via Scapa Flow they passed the battleships and destroyers awaiting action. The Rohilla being too large to enter Aberdeen harbour, Prince Albert was disembarked in a cot by crane into a tug and brought ashore. The Prince had suffered abdominal symptoms for much of his life but this time, in 1914 he had his appendix removed.
Sir John Marnoch, Professor of Surgery operated on Albert in the Northern Nursing Home, Albyn Place. The future king made a good recovery. Telegams and letters were exchanged between Sir James and George V keeping the king informed about his son’s health. This correspondence is in the Medico-Chirurgical Society’s archive. 22 years after his operation, ‘Bertie,’ now the Duke of York returned to Aberdeen to open the new hospital at Foresterhill. His brother, King Edward VIII after the death of their father George V should have performed the ceremony but was meeting his future wife, Wallis Simpson instead. Later that year, 1936, Edward VIII abdicated and the Duke of York became King George VI.
HRH Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother opened new blocks in Foresterhill as did Diana, Princess of Wales. Other members were treated as Aberdeen Royal Infirmary at Foresterhill is the nearest hospital to Balmoral.