Having a meal like royalty might mean splurging for some stuffed pigeon
In modern American vernacular, “feasting like a queen” means putting your first post-payday Trader Joe’s groceries to good use, or better yet, being able to afford the bottomless brunch for once. We’re a monarch-less country, so starting our day the royal way is something we can’t fathom. But historically speaking, eating like royalty hasn’t been all unlimited mimosas and splurging on a second croissant. No, instead, think barley soup, stuffed pigeon, and eggplant.
And it’s not just queens who ate this stuff: We’re talking princesses, empresses, and all variants of crown-wearing ladies. Finally, you can get a quick look at what female royalty had for breakfast (and/or the bizarro food offerings at the casual everyday banquet). You might even be able to adopt their favorite foods for your own morning routine... when appropriate and sane. Incidentally, I’m not sure that all of the following offerings can be found at Trader Joe’s—maybe Whole Foods, though.
Ultimately, you may decide that a queenly diet can be either too bonkers or too boring to replace your morning coffee and bagel combo, but if you’re down to get experimental, these historical tidbits should be a good place to get you started. Lorde be damned, we can be royals. Or, failing that, at least eat like them.
Hatshepsut, Egypt, 1507–1458 BC
Ancient Egyptians had yet to develop a refined palette, nor had they developed many food-stuffs beyond a coarse stone-ground whole wheat bread. Breakfast? Yes, mostly bread. So while statues depicted Hatshepsut, the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt, as slender and bearded (sister did run the country as a cross-dresser), her mummy showed her to be morbidly obese, ridden with cavities, and... well, still bearded. Turns out the wacky pharaohs could Photoshop out the results of a carb-heavy diet like the rest of us.
Cleopatra, Egypt, 69 BC–30 BC
You know your most glamorous foodie friend, the one with the impeccable bangs and eerily on-point eyeliner game? Her brunch party doesn’t hold a candle to even the most low-key Cleopatra banquet: The Queen served her guests delicacies like fava bean soup, and—oh!—stuffed pigeon! But if stuffed pigeon doesn’t seem like an appealing breakfast—for social media or your stomach—maybe you can stick with fresh selection of your local farmer’s market’s figs. After all, they were Cleo’s pre-suicide last meal request.
Empress Theodora, Byzantine Empire, 500–548
Growing up Greek, I knew Theodora primarily as a saint (and as the name of, like, six of my aunts). History also knows her as the courtesan-turned-queen wife of Emperor Justinian, which is a hell of a career trajectory. And although there’s not a ton of information about Byzantine cuisine, it’s safe to bet that she ate a lot of spiced foods (rosemary and saffron are popular picks). For a long time commodities like eggplant, lemons, and oranges were exclusive to the area, so we can also assume those fruits and veggies made guest appearances in her meals.
Wu Zetian, China, 624–705
On one hand, you have to praise Wu for her ambition, and she still bears the distinction of being the only female emperor in Chinese history. On the other hand, hearsay is she got there by poisoning anyone who got in her way, which would be decidedly uncool. She had seemingly feminine tastes, with a penchant for floral cakes and cookies. Legend also connects her to the imperial turnip-based “peony swallow dish,” a soup that features a mock-flower and tastes like, no kidding, swallow’s nest. Which is great if you need a fill-in for your early morning swallow cravings.
Anne Boleyn, England, 1501–1536
Breakfast wasn’t the favorite food during the Tudor era, so it’s hard to guess what the history’s most beloved homewrecker had in the morning. If you’re sitting at a table with 5000-calories-a-day Henry VIII, you’re probably limited to whatever banquet scraps are left, you know? There is an interesting story that ties the couple’s first meeting to Maid of Honor tarts; Anne-Boleyn may have been devouring the custard treats some with her gal pals at the time.
Catherine de’ Medici, France, 1519–1589
The myth of de’ Medici is that she showed up to France via Italy with a ton of cooks, ready to party, and introduced the country to everything from sherbert to cream puffs to macarons to crepes to forks (and so on and so forth). In truth, a lot of those foods were already around, and she maybe popularized the utensil, if that. Still, there’s no doubt that her team probably pushed certain delicacies deeper into French culture. So you can enjoy a crepe—with a fork—and feel surprisingly close to the monarch... also refreshingly normal, considering some of the other meals we’ve encountered so far.
Queen Elizabeth I, England and Ireland, 1533–1603
Dinner was still preferred meal of the day by the time Good Queen Bess was ruling. If the breakfast wasn’t skipped over entirely, it consisted of ale, a sweet bread called manchet, and pottage, an oat and beef stew... mmm, sounds like a great way to start your day. Truth be told, Liz was better known for her sweet tooth: She loved marzipan (then called “marchpane”) and her affinity for the snack legit turned her teeth black. Very Queen Hatshepsut chic.
Catherine the Great, Russia, 1729–1796
Catherine II enjoyed an exceptionally long tenure as Empress (she remains, in fact, the longest-ruling female ruler of Russia) that was peppered with a bevy of lovers. But more interesting than her appetite for men was her strange taste in food: Her bigger banquets served up pheasants, quails, and tortoises (what) but her favorite meal was boiled beef with pickled cucumbers and dried deer tongue-based sauce. Consuming that before you have your first cup of coffee sounds gently nauseating, but maybe kolomna pastila would be more manageable: It’s a baked apple-and-honey candy that Catherine also adored.
Marie Antoinette, France, 1755–1793
We all know that cake-comment is misattributed to her Marie Antoinette, but you’ll be shocked to learn she wouldn’t consume mountains of macarons and champagne for breakfast, (let alone to an ’80s post-punk soundtrack). The dauphine would enjoy hot chocolate first thing in the morning, or occasionally coffee (like us commoners). She’d probably pair this with an Austrian proto-croissant called a kipferl, capping off a meal that sounds easy to recreate, but still pretty decadent.
Queen Victoria, England, 1819–1901
Victorian-era breakfasts were very protein-centric, and you can bet that the era’s namesake stayed true to that diet. She would have standard items like bacon and eggs, (or less normal ones, like, you know, tongue). Traditionally the first meal of the day was a private affair, but dinnertime was when Victoria showcased her skills as a speed gormandizer. And sorry, fam, once Queen Victoria was done eating you were all done eating. So to make your next ladies’ brunch extra Victorian, immediately gobble your food and tell your waiter that “We’re all finished, thanks” before anyone even touches their huevos rancheros.
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, Russia, 1901–1918
In case this isn’t ringing a bell, we’re talking about your favorite non-Disney princess Anastasia. While her real life probably didn’t involve talking bats, black magic, or, like, surviving, it did involve some pretty unusual meals. One Romanov Romanov breakfast menu lists “barley soup, pirozhki, salmon mayonnaise, English style beef filet, cornish hen cutlets, pears in sherry, cowberry pie.” I have no clue what any of that means, but it was enjoyed on their family yacht, so it must be fancy.
Maharani Gayatri Devi, India, 1919–2009
The princess-turned-politician, whom Vogue named as one of the ten most beautiful women in the world, once also wrote a cookbook, which I guess is another cool line to add to your royal résumé. In her later life she copped to not being a great cook in spite of all that Swiss finishing-school training, and admitted to be a woman of simplistic tastes. Boiled eggs made for an adequate breakfast, washed down with water.
Queen Elizabeth II, United Kingdom, 1926–present
Apparently the Queen and I have something in common, besides the collection of obnoxious hats: We both love to enjoy a bowl of Special K in the morning. She likes to deck out her cereal with fruits such as strawberries, apricots, prunes, or maybe even some macadamia nuts. A boiled egg or marmalade-coated toast works in lieu of cereal, but Darjeeling tea is a constant in Buckingham palace. No word on what the corgi army eats for breakfast.
Grace Kelly, Monaco, 1929–1982
Bearing the cross of being a Hollywood goddess long before she became princess of Monaco, the flaxen-haired beauty stuck to tiny and somewhat simple meals. To stay trim, she would sometimes have oatmeal for breakfast and then bring in hyper-healthy treats like carrot sticks, celery, and apricots to snack on. It sounds like a joyless existence, and hopefully that European life helped her loosen up, but her routines seemed to work for her nonetheless.
Kate Middleton, United Kingdom, 1982–present
You have to love Kate Middleton for keeping it real, whether it’s doing her own wedding make-up or having a balding husband. Her breakfast habits seem to follow suit, with to some reports the Duchess of Cambridge has a penchant for green juice. Finally, after years of quail, cowberry pie, and tongues galore, we can say it: “Royals, they’re just like us!”