An illustrated guide to the British royal wedding feasts of the past
Finally, a true peek at the delicacies, opulence and, well, aspics of these regal receptions.
In case you haven't heard, there's a much-anticipated British royal wedding happening this spring. Whether you're obsessed with all things Harry and Meghan, have a new-found obsession thanks to The Crown, or simply enjoy a good piece of gossip, there's no doubt that many of us have our eyes on the royals right now. Prince Harry's family has a reputation for throwing extravagant weddings with feasts to match. The detailed menus of royal receptions are known dating back well into to the 1800's, but not a single picture of these decadent delights can be found in the public domain that we could find. Out of our frustration — and yearning to know what these meals actually looked like — we called on one of our favourite illustrators, Flo Leung, to bring these decadent dishes to life. With a little food history research, and a lot of her talent, we bring you a visual representation of the regal recipes served behind closed doors.
Here are 8 British royal wedding menus of the past to ogle — if you love a good aspic, you're in for a treat. The menus appeared in French, since Paris was seen as the centre of the culinary world by the early 19th century and thus menus were printed to reflect this sophistication, something that continued until well into the 20th century. While the official menus for the big day were never accompanied by English descriptors, we've done a little translating for you.
May they serve as inspo for that wedding your in-laws have offered to pay for or for your own OTT wedding viewing party menu. Or simply, follow along to marvel at the sheer intensity of these newlyweds' first meals as monarch and husband/wife/person whom everyone is about to have a lot of opinions about.
King George V and Queen Mary — July 6, 1893
Known as the Duke of York and Princess Victoria Mary of Teck when they married, these two royals went on to become King George V and Queen Mary, the grandparents of Queen Elizabeth. It wasn't love at first sight for this couple, though. In fact, Princess Mary was supposed to wed King George's elder brother, Edward, who died of pneumonia in 1892. After a period of mourning, the two became engaged in 1893 and were married later that year.
Just as is customary now (or until now, maybe!), the newlyweds returned to Buckingham Palace following the ceremony and the entire royal family greeted the crowds below from their balcony with the now-traditional "post-wedding royal wave." Following all of that crowd greeting, they retreated to a royal breakfast at 2:30 PM. A far cry from a fry-up, Queen Victoria saw fit to host a seventeen-course meal for her grandson's wedding reception though it was only mid-afternoon. Private collector Jake Smith has a detailed English version on the seventeen courses and it's worth checking out for details of "Chicken consommé with cock's combs, cock's kidneys, rice and garden-peas, garnished with shredded savoury pancakes." The menu was as follows:
Potages: Soup course
- Bernoise à l'imperatrice: A soup dish that pays homage to "the empress", presumably Queen Victoria, herself
- Crême de riz à la Polonaise: A soup dish of creamed rice à la Polonaise, which according to the dictionary, is "a boiled or steamed vegetable garnished with topping consisting of hard-boiled egg yolks, parsley, and breadcrumbs fried in butter"
Entreés (Chaudes): Hot entrées
- Côtelette d'Agneau à l'Italienne: Lamb cutlets in an Italian sauce
- Aiguillettes de Canetons aux Pois: Duckling cutlets (yes, baby ducks) with peas
- Filets de boeuf à Napolitaine: Beef fillets
Entreés (Froides): Cold entrées
- Poulets gras au cresson: A dish of chicken and watercress
- Mayonnaises de Volaille: Poultry with, as you guessed, plenty of mayo
- Salades d'Homard: Lobster salad
- Jambon découpes à l'Aspic: An aspic of cut up ham
- Langues découpes à l'Aspic: Another aspic, this time featuring tongue
- Roulardes de Veau: A rolled veal dish
- Pains de Foies à la Gelée: Liver in jelly (one more aspic for good measure)
- Hericots Verts: Green beans
- Gelées et Crèmes: Jellies and cream
- Pâtisserie assorite: Assorted pastries
- Cold Roast Fowls: The only menu item written in English, and a buffet in case anyone was still hungry
And to top it all off, there was a three-tiered cake adorned with, "white roses, miniature caladiums, asparagus fern, lovers knots of silver cord and shields with monograms and coats of arms of the bride and groom." Opulence aside, this tradition of a royal breakfast still exists today, and is the customary sit-down meal at the palace following the bride and groom's traditional balcony greeting.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth — April 26, 1923
After their spring ceremony, Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon were awarded the titles of Duke and Duchess of York, and would eventually become King George VI and Queen Elizabeth — you know her now as the Queen Mum. Not your typical courtship by any means, King George proposed three times before Elizabeth finally said yes. But when she did decided to marry him, the wedding was certainty a notable affair. Instead of being wed in a royal chapel, they broke with tradition and were married in Westminster Abbey, with George VI being the first royal prince to be married there since Richard II. According to the BBC, "it is believed this decision was taken to lift the spirits of the nation following the ravages of the Great War (1914-18)."
Following the ceremony, the royal breakfast consisted of an elaborate French menu; not the 17-course event that the groom's father had, but it was extensive nonetheless. A reception full of pomp and circumstance, the wedding cake so extravagant that their daughter, Queen Elizabeth II had a replica of it made for her wedding day. The menu consisted of:
- Consommé à la Windsor: Soup upon which Chef bestowed the name Windsor
- Suprèmes de Saumon Reine Mary: The choicest parts of salmon, with the Queen's name attached
- Côtelettes d'Agneau Prince Albert: yes, "Prince Albert" lamb cutlets
- Chapons à la Strathmore: Scottish style capons
- Jambon et langue découpé à l'aspic: An aspic of ham and tongue (what's a royal wedding without one)
- Salade royale: a royal salad
- Asperge, sauce creme mousseuse: Asparagus in cream
- Fraises Duchesse Elizabeth: Strawberries and cream, in the dutchess' honour
- Panier de friandises: Directly translates to a 'basket of goodies'
- Café: Coffee
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip — November 20, 1947
The Queen and Prince Philip celebrated their 70th anniversary in November 2017 and she is "the first British monarch to reach a platinum anniversary." For their wedding, the couple strayed from the typical springtime ceremony and were married in Westminster Abbey in the fall of 1947. Their nuptials were cause for celebration; they were the first large-scale royal event after WWII and as a special CBC Radio broadcast from November 13, 1947 reported, the wedding spread "a feeling of pleasant excitement" across the country. Nonetheless, the availability of products and food in the late '40s impacted the wedding and it was a much simpler banquet than those of the Queen's parents and grandparents. The menu featured:
- Filet de Sole Mountbatten: Sole fillet
- Perdreau en casserole: Partridge in a casserole
- Haricots verts: Green beans
- Pommes noisette: Potatoes
- Salade royale: Royal salad (naturally)
- Bombe Glacée Princesse Elizabeth: An ice cream dish made with strawberries
- Désert: Fresh fruit
- Cafée: Coffee
The wedding kept with royal wedding breakfast tradition of the past, and "held in the Ball Supper Room at Buckingham Palace, was attended by 146 guests." The partridge was likely chosen because game was not rationed. Although they're available year-round now, strawberries were considered a delicacy in November not only because of the economy, but because they were out of season. The monarchs had a greenhouse to grow them in though, and they were the finishing touch on the sweet course for the meal. If you're wondering why there was both ice cream and a dessert course, former royal chef, Darren McGrady tweeted that "the Queen has 'pudding' as well as 'dessert'. That's because dessert course is just fresh fruit at Buckingham Palace."
More in line with the traditions of her predecessors' weddings, the cake was a marvel at four tiers and over nine feet tall, however, it was mostly made from supplies sent from Girl Guides of Australia due to the lack of resources. But there were other cakes, too — they received 12 cakes as presents, and one of them was from a hotel in Toronto that sent a 7-tier, 280-pound cake overseas.
Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones — May 6, 1960
Princess Margaret shocked most of Britain when she announced her engagement to fashion photographer, Armstrong-Jones, on February 20, 1960. She had kept her courtship with a non-aristocratic relatively secret up until then. The people's shock eventually wore off and less than three months later, "thousands lined the streets to witness the Queen's younger sister get married."
And you didn't need to live in England to watch their big day — their ceremony was the first royal wedding to be televised and it drew in more than 20 million viewers. The wedding breakfast was, however, a private affair. The menu was not quite as extravagant as may be expected from someone with a rumoured 4-hour morning routine, but did keep with the tradition of a French menu. It consisted of:
- Filet de boeuf Princesse: A beef fillet named after the princess
- Haricot vert: Green beans
- Soufflé surprise Montmorency: No info on what the surprise in this souffle was, only that it was named Montmorency
The cake was, of course, a masterpiece. Instead of having her parents' cake replicated as her sister did, Princess Margaret's original confection stood over 5 feet tall and weighed 150 pounds.
Princess Anne and Mark Phillips — November 14, 1973
The only daughter of the Queen and Prince Philip, Anne was wed to the army captain in Westminster Abbey. Much like the weddings of her royal ancestors, it was a day of excitement throughout the country. Their big day was declared a bank holiday throughout Britain and the ceremony was also televised (garnering roughly 480 million more viewers than her aunt's wedding thirteen years prior), and was seen all around the world. There are fewer details seem to exist about this menu, but we know guests dined on:
- Partridge with fresh peas
- Peppermint ice cream
Similar to her parents' November ceremony, the wedding breakfast of Princess Anne also served partridge. Ice cream was on the menu as the sweet course too, despite it being late fall. For the cake, the Army Catering Corps created a 5'6" confection. It was the exact height of the bride, naturally.
Prince Charles and Lady Diana — July 29, 1981
The couple strayed from tradition and opted to be wed in front of 3,500 people at St. Paul's Cathedral instead of at Westminster Abbey. Far from a subdued affair, the day was also marked by a bank holiday. Streets were lined with thousands of well-wishers and their nuptials became the most watched broadcast on television to that date, with an estimated global audience of 750 million. After what was coined "the wedding of the century," they newlyweds gave the traditional balcony greeting at Buckingham Palace and then headed inside to their much more intimate wedding breakfast, with only 120 guests in attendance. Their reception banquet consisted of:
- Quenelles de barbue Cardinal: Quenelle of brill in lobster sauce (a sort of dumpling of puréed fish)
- Suprême de Volaille Princesse de Gailles: Princess of Wales chicken, which was chicken breast with lamb mousse stuffing
- Fèvres au beurre: Fava beans in butter
- Maïs à la crème: Corn with cream
- Pommes nouvelles: New potatoes
- Salade: Salad
- Fraises & Crème Caillée: Strawberries with Cornish cream, also known as clotted cream
- Brauneberger Juffer Spatlese 1976
- Chateau Latour 1959
- Krug 1969
- Taylor 1955
And forget having just one cake — these newlyweds had 27. Many of them were given to the couple as gifts, which were then given to charities and schools after their big day. Perhaps you're wondering what's with all of these dishes named after royalty? According to food historian, Gerard Baker, it is in fact another tradition among royal wedding feasts to give a nod to family.
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson — July 23, 1986
Almost exactly five years after the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson in another late-July wedding, but unlike the previous royal wedding, they opted for a ceremony at Westminster Abbey. There was, of course, a wedding breakfast back at the palace and the menu for their mid-afternoon reception consisted of:
- Eggs Drumkilbo: A hard-boiled egg, lobster and tomato salad with mayonnaise, set with sherry gelatin
- Carré d'Agneau Paloise: Lamb with mint sauce
- Couronne d'Epinards aux Champignons: Literally translates to a crown of spinach and mushrooms
- Fèves au Beurre: Fava beans in butter (seems to be another fave of the '80s)
- Pommes Nouvelles: New potatoes
- Salade: Salad
- Fraises St. George & Crème Caillée: Strawberries and clotted cream
- Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Auslese 1976
- Château Langoa Barton 1976
- Bollinger 1966
- Graham 1966
The feast began with a seafood dish that was reportedly the Queen Mum's favourite. And by this wedding, it becomes clear that strawberries and cream are clearly a favourite of the British royals when it comes to the sweet course.
Prince William and Kate Middleton — April 29, 2011
For the most recent royal wedding, the now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge exchanged vows in Westminster Abbey as well. Following the spring ceremony, they headed back to the palace for the balcony greeting where fans witnessed an unprecedented 2 balcony kisses. Following that, the Queen held a low-key reception for 650 guests. The wedding breakfast strayed from the norm, consisting of "10,000 canapés prepared by a team of 21 chefs." Some of the varieties on the menu were, "cornish crab salad on blinis, duck terrine, bubble and squeak, and Scottish langoustines."
- Marinated South Uist salmon, Lyme Bay crab and wild Hebridean langoustines, fresh herb salad
- Wine pairing: Meursault, Domaine Guyot-Javiller 2009
- Saddle of North Highland Mey
- Select organic lamb
- Highgrove spring vegetables
- English asparagus
- Jersey Royal potatoes with sauce Windsor
- Wine pairing: L'Hospitalet de Gazin, Omweol 2004
- A trio of Berkshire honey ice cream, sherry trifle and chocolate parfait
- Wine pairing: Laurent Perrier Rosé
- Coffee and fresh mint tea
Breaking from tradition in a few ways, this decidedly modern royal couple opted to have their menu printed in English rather than French and clearly labelled where ingredients were from within the UK. The accompanying wine list remained entirely French. And for dessert, they ditched the strawberries and cream for another royal wedding fave, ice cream.