Arts & Culture History

Dr Margery Blackie – The Queen’s physician 

  • October 25, 2022
  • 5 min read
Dr Margery Blackie – The Queen’s physician 

by Sophie Pretorius

Dr Margery Blackie was both a homeopath and an allopath, which is what homeopaths call doctors qualified in the conventional sense. The Royal Family have long favoured the opinions of these sorts of doctors, knowledgeable in both fields. So much so that Dr Charles Kennedy Elliott, who succeed Dr Blackie as Queen Elisabeth II’s physician, was encouraged to, convert and train as a homeopath, before becoming her attendant physician in 1979.  Blackie herself in 1968 succeeded Sir John Weir, a medical doctor and homeopath to both Elizabeth II and her father. Homeopathy was removed from NHS prescription protocol only very recently, in 2017. It has been, and despite this loss of NHS backing, continues to be, a part of medical discourse since its creator, Samuel Hahnemann, coined the term in 1807. It follows two guiding principles, ‘Like cures like’ (similia similibus curentur), which emphasises that substances that produce certain symptoms in a healthy patient, can and should be, used to treat those symptoms happening spontaneously during the course of an illness.

For example, Cantharis dilution, a preparation taken from the blister beetle, is used in homeopathy to treat ‘painful eruptions’ on the skin. The second principle is the counterintuitive axiom of dilution. That is, that the more diluted the ‘hair of the dog’ medicine is, the more potent its restorative powers (the usual homeopathic ratio being one to one novemdecillion, or 1:1060, roughly equivalent to diluting three drops of a substance in all the earth’s oceans). Then comes the unofficial third rule, and likely the cause of all homeopathy’s clinical success; strong emphasis is placed on treating the whole person, and the combination of the presenting symptoms, rather than the sickness alone. Homeopathy has remained largely unchanged since its invention, which has been a source of criticism, as well as pride, for the discipline. 

Dr Blackie, born in 1898 in Hertfordshire, to a household of homeopaths, was by all accounts a splendid, conscientious, funny, and astute physician. She had a practice in South Kensington, which she established in 1929 with Dr Helena Banks at 18 Alfred Place (now 18 Thurloe Street), at which a blue plaque has been erected in her honour. She was the first woman to be named President of the Faculty of the British Homoeopathic Society in 1949, and re-elected twice. She was also the first ever female physician to a British monarch. She took up this post amidst a time of increased hostility to homeopathy. Royal backing bolstered, and continues to bolster, its respectability.

Homeopaths around the world take the astounding longevity of House of Windsor’s longevity as a large-scale case study on the benefits of this mode of treatment. Elizabeth II was known to merit her good health to homeopathic medicines, as did her father, George VI, who even named a racehorse Hypericum, after a remedy. Elizabeth reportedly travelled everywhere with a homeopathic suitcase which Dr Blackie stated in 1978 contained arsenic, strychnine, wormwood, wolfsbane, death cap mushroom, and the venom of the Gila monster, rattlesnake and hooded cobra. Blackie joked that she would every day be let into Buckingham Palace with a suitcase full of poison, though only in the smallest preparations.

Lady Jane Lindsay, with whom Dr Blackie lived in later life, described her as ‘one of the sweetest, most lovable, finest creatures straight from Heaven’. Indeed, her most admirable quality, and the most admirable quality of her discipline, was gentleness and consideration. It seems to me the reason for homeopathy’s continued success is the time taken in the consultation, along with the sympathetic touch. Dr Blackie, for instance, was known to walk her patients from the waiting room into her surgery, taking every interaction with them seriously, down to how they shook hands. In effect, a good homeopath functions like something of a medical psychotherapist, with the extended power to be able to prescribe placebo pills ad infinatum. I do not say this as a criticism, placebos are potent medicine, and a poetic testament to the power of human belief. Peter Morrell’s photograph, reproduced above, certainly shows two women demonstrating ‘radiant health’. This last phrase is the one used to describe Elizabeth II’s general state in the Faculty of Homeopathy’s tribute to her, after her recent passing, a state which they heavily imply they were responsible for.

Elizabeth and Margery both specialised in a certain sort of commanding and sensible femininity and, importantly, were also both women of quiet, resolute faith. They both corralled the irrational or intuitive (depending on your patience with the whole business) forces they perceived into sensible and legitimate boundaries. Finally, each appears to have been able to make the other feel better, which is perhaps more than most patients can say of their doctors, and certainly vice versa.

Queen Elizabeth II and Dr Margery Blackie at the The Faculty of Homeopathy Congress, 1970

© Peter Morrell


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Sophie Pretorius

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