They have long been famed for their love of lavish banquets and rich recipes. But what is less well known is that the British royals also had a taste for human flesh.
A new book on medicinal cannibalism has revealed that possibly as recently as the end of the 18th century British royalty swallowed parts of the human body.
The author adds that this was not a practice reserved for monarchs but was widespread among the well-to-do in Europe.
Even as they denounced the barbaric cannibals of the New World, they applied, drank, or wore powdered Egyptian mummy, human fat, flesh, bone, blood, brains and skin.
Moss taken from the skulls of dead soldiers was even used as a cure for nosebleeds, according to Dr Richard Sugg at Durham University.
Dr Sugg said: ‘The human body has been widely used as a therapeutic agent with the most popular treatments involving flesh, bone or blood.
‘Cannibalism was found not only in the New World, as often believed, but also in Europe.
‘One thing we are rarely taught at school yet is evidenced in literary and historic texts of the time is this: James I refused corpse medicine; Charles II made his own corpse medicine; and Charles I was made into corpse medicine.
‘Along with Charles II, eminent users or prescribers included Francis I, Elizabeth I’s surgeon John Banister, Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent, Robert Boyle, Thomas Willis, William III, and Queen Mary.’
The history of medicinal cannibalism, Dr Sugg argues, raised a number of important social questions.
He said: ‘Medicinal cannibalism used the formidable weight of European science, publishing, trade networks and educated theory.
‘Whilst corpse medicine has sometimes been presented as a medieval therapy, it was at its height during the social and scientific revolutions of early-modern Britain.
‘It survived well into the 18th century, and amongst the poor it lingered stubbornly on into the time of Queen Victoria.
‘Quite apart from the question of cannibalism, the sourcing of body parts now looks highly unethical to us.