Queen Victoria's Underwear Goes Public

ABC's Miguel Marquez reports:

Underwear fit for a queen, Queen Victoria to be precise, have gone public after 100 years in a private collection. The “split drawers” measuring 56 inches in diameter and a matching chemise dating from the 1890s illustrate the Queen’s ample size at the end of the longest reign in British history.

The linen underwear, embroidered with a crown and the initials VR (Victoria Regina), were sold at auction in June for $1000 to the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. Interestingly these undergarments will eventually be displayed at Kensington Palace, the place where Queen Victoria was born and spent the majority of her youth.

Victoria ruled Britain longer than any other monarch from June 20, 1837 till her death on January 22, 1901. Curators at the Royal Historic Palaces that will care for the garments says they will be put on display at Kensington Palace once a $20 million renovation is completed before London hosts the Olympics in 2012.

Kerry Taylor who auctioned off the garments says Queen Victoria’s underwear are not as rare as one might think. Last year similar garments were auctioned off for nearly $10,000, ten times as much as the garments purchased by Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. Taylor said it was difficult to account for why Victoria’s underwear would sell for so much more in 2008. “She had so much underwear” said Taylor “maybe Queen Victoria didn’t like wearing the same pair twice.”

Just how this particular pair of underwear came up for auction is a bit of mystery. Ruth Howlett with the Historic Royal Palaces says personal items such as undergarments were at times given to trusted staff as a perk. These particular garments could have been put up for auction by descendants of staff who served Queen Victoria but their provenance isn’t exactly clear. One reason they might have fetched a much lower price than the underwear auctioned off last year. Charles Hanson, who auctioned off that set of undergarments, says they were preserved by a family in western England whose relative had worked for Victoria.

What makes this particular set of underwear and its size so astonishing is that Queen Victoria started out in the petite section and grew, as the British Empire burgeoned, into the plus-plus department. When Alexandrina Victoria ascended to the throne at 18 years old she had a twenty inch waist, less than a size zero today. During her 63 years and 7 months as Queen Victoria gave birth to 9 children and saw the British Empire grow to become the strongest power in the world. Her physical size grew with the Empire. By the time of her death her dress size had reached about a size 38 today.

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