The Royal Diets of George III and George IV

Unlike George IV, known for his excesses in all matters, his father was the complete opposite and abstained from any form of excess in the food department, so much so that even the newspapers felt obliged to write about it. George III was a creature of habit and had a routine that was only ever to be disturbed by special events or meetings that he had to attend.

George III on on of Windsor Castle's terraces; Peter Edward Stroehling, c.1807
George III on on of Windsor Castle’s terraces; Peter Edward Stroehling; Royal Collection Trust

His day typically began at 7am and after washing and being dressed his majesty would take a walk before breakfast. If they were are Windsor he would spend time at the stables checking over his horses, but when at Kew he would inspect his workmen and suggest ideas for improvement – clearly he did his best thinking first thing in the morning.

He used to take breakfast alone, but as he got older he would dine with the rest of the family. It was a frugal affair but with the added luxury of a cup of cocoa (my kind of breakfast!)

The Chocolate Maiden; M. Beaune; Museums Sheffield
The Chocolate Maiden; M. Beaune; Museums Sheffield

The Queen and Princesses would enter the breakfast parlour at nine o’clock precisely and about 10 o’clock they would retire to do their own thing. The King would take a ride or deal with paperwork in his study. The Queen and the princesses would take a ride in the royal carriages.

Dinner would be served at exactly 1 o’clock, early but Georgian standards, at which time he ate the plainest food – beef, mutton and very occasionally fish.  As a special treat the King would eat boiled chicken, followed by a pudding.

Frogmore House: The Dining Room c. 1819. Royal Collection Trust
Frogmore House: The Dining Room c. 1819. Royal Collection Trust

His favourite drink was orange juice, but he also enjoyed a simple beverage called a ‘cup’, which was distilled from the herb, borage, which was then mixed with white wine – perhaps to make it more palatable. Borage was traditionally used to treat a whole host of conditions – the digestive system, asthma, the heart, urinary system – so basically a good all round tonic. It was also believed to have a calming effect for different types of mania – so possibly prescribed by the King’s doctors to keep him calm (today it’s often used to treat menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes).

Temperance enjoying a frugal meal. British Museum
Temperance enjoying a frugal meal. British Museum

At four o’clock the Queen and Princesses dined separately, but even before the table was cleared the King would arrive for a chat about the favourite topic of the day taking tea or coffee with them.

This passed the time until about 6 o’clock when they separated and got ready for the evening parties.  The day typically ended with either cards or music. Sometimes Princess Amelia would play the piano accompanied by her sister Princess Mary who apparently was an excellent singer.

Now we know that the Prince Regent, later George IV, had quite an appetite, but we we took a closer look at a book which gave a full breakdown of what everyone ate, from the Prince down to the lowliest of the royal kitchen maids. Overall, the sheer volume of food consumed almost defies belief.

A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion. Lewis Walpole Library.
A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion. Lewis Walpole Library.

George’s favourite breakfast consisted of two pigeons, three beefsteaks, three parts of a bottle of white wine, a glass of dry champagne, two glasses of port and a glass of brandy. It should come as no surprise then that George was indeed rather rotund in stature.

From household accounts though, it would appear that George himself made an occasional attempt at dieting, probably following advice from his doctors. Sober meals of plain boiled salmon and rice soup appeared on dinner menus, but one can only assume that these half-hearted attempts at dieting failed; especially considering that alongside these dishes were the somewhat less slimming sweetbreads and lobster-au-gratin.

Thomas Coutts (1735-1822) by William Beechey. City of Edinburgh Council
Thomas Coutts (1735-1822) by William Beechey. City of Edinburgh Council

We came across this amusing little anecdote about the extremely wealthy banker Thomas Coutts who was staying as a guest of the Prince of Wales in Brighton. The story goes that the morning after the night before, Thomas Coutts, nursing something of a hangover, decided to take a breath of air and was sitting outside the pavilion when an eccentric elderly lady approached him, assuming he was a beggar due to his attire (it had clearly been quite a party), she handed him a token for five shillings issued by Coutts bank to buy himself breakfast. She also said she would speak to her friends as she felt sure that between them they could raise enough money to buy him a dinner. Coutts thanks her profusely and said he would wait for her on the same bench that evening.

Sure enough, in the middle of the Prince’s banquet, Coutts slipped out unnoticed and returned to the same bench. The elderly lady and her friends soon appeared and she cried out, ‘there’s my distressed old friend for whom I ask your charity’That’, exclaimed one of the ladies, ‘ why that’s Mr …’ but before she could utter the great banker’s name, the Prince of Wales appeared from behind, and to the amazement of the benevolent lady, slapped the poor old man on the back and shouted loudly ‘ Tom Coutts, we have  fined you a bottle for leaving your glass’, Thus leaving the elderly lady speechless and embarrassed. We never did find out whether he returned her initial five shillings or not – presumably not, that’s why he remained so wealthy!

He Stoops to Conquer or Royal George Sunk. Brighton Museums
He Stoops to Conquer or Royal George Sunk. Brighton Museums

All in all, George was destined for greatness, quite literally. And it was a fact that didn’t go unnoticed. His wife Caroline, on first meeting him, commented “he is very fat, and he is nothing like as handsome as his portrait”; perhaps why the famously unhappy marriage didn’t work.

The Duchess of Gloucester drew the comparison between George and “a great feather bed”.

It supposedly took three hours to lace him into his girdle and whale bone corset due to all the “bulging”. Once girdled his waist measured 55 inches, however, this feat of engineering was such that the tightness of the girdle almost caused George to faint during his own coronation and contemporaries are recorded as saying that his natural stomach hung between his knees. Someone else, rather unkindly likened him to a “great sausage stuffed into the covering”.

It was most definitely not a case of ‘like father, like son’!

Sources

Brighton Museums

The Ipswich Journal 11 October 1788

Morning Advertiser 19 February 1827

London Courier and Evening Gazette 1 November 1805

Manchester Mercury 14 January 1812

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8 thoughts on “The Royal Diets of George III and George IV

    1. Sarah Murden

      Delighted that you enjoyed the article and thank you so much for that image, I had seen it before, but couldn’t recall where, so I’ve added it now 🙂

      Like

  1. Pingback: Merkwaardig (week 43) | www.weyerman.nl

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