Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Sir Frederick Treves, who operated on King Edward VII

Frederick Treves was born in Dorchester in 1853 and studied medicine at the London Hospital Medical College. He gained fame as Royal Surgeon to Edward VII, operating on his appendix just two days before the planned coronation. His decision to operate on June 24, 1902, caused the coronation to be postponed, and considering that the heads of state from around the world were already in London, the pressure not to operate must have been enormous, especially as not all surgeons present were in agreement to operate. Treves was resolute. In response to Edwards’s outcry of “I have a Coronation on hand,” Treves replied, “It will be a funeral, if you don’t have the operation.”

Treves’ confidence about the King’s prognosis was derived from an earlier tragedy in his life when in 1900 his eighteen-year-old daughter developed severe abdominal pain and he failed to operate because he was sure it was not appendicitis and she developed peritonitis and died. Treves never hesitated again; the future King’s life was saved, and an indebted King Edward VII commanded that the whole British Empire raise their glasses and toast Sir Frederick Treves. Treves had reached the pinnacle of his fame.

He retired at age fifty in 1903, wealthy and famous, and decided to write travel books. He died on December 7, 1923, in Lausanne, Switzerland, ironically from peritonitis resulting from a ruptured appendix. The funeral service was organized by Thomas Hardy, his great friend, now eighty-four and very frail. Though implored not to attend, as it was bitterly cold and raining hard, nevertheless he insisted and stood beside the open grave without an umbrella for the entire ceremony. Hardy remains justifiably famous for his Wessex books; Treves conversely, is hardly remembered, even though at the beginning of the last century he was one of the most famous men on the planet.

Abstracted from “Just who was Sir Frederick Treves?” by Steve White, Dorset Life, 2014.

Please read more about Sir Frederick Treves in this journal in “Joseph Merrick, ‘The Elephant Man’” by JMS Pearce, in History Essays, Spring 2020.

Vanity Fair caricature of Sir Frederick Treves
Vanity Fair caricature of Sir Frederick Treves, 1st Baronet. From Issue 1655, July 1900. By Leslie Ward. Via Wikimedia.

Highlighted Vignette Volume 13, Issue 4 – Fall 2021

Winter 2021



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