How the Tudors invented breakfast

In the Middle Ages, the nation that was to give the world the full English widely skipped breakfast. Yet, by 1600, a culinary non-entity had become a key part of our daily routine. Why the change? Ian Mortimer investigates

This 14th-century miniature shows men enjoying a glass of red wine. Alcohol features prominently in medieval and Tudor accounts of breakfast. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the April 2013 issue of BBC History Magazine

Few of us in the 21st century would dream of embarking upon our days on an empty stomach, but in historical terms, breakfast is hardly noticeable. Whole books have been written about feasts and banquets, dinners and suppers. Even teatime has its place on the shelves of our social history. But breakfast? Cornflakes, muesli, bacon and eggs, continental or full English – they are almost all ignored. And they are all features of the modern breakfast, which is far more often studied than breakfasts before 1600.

The reason is not hard to find. Feasts and banquets have their ritual, their theatre and their sources. We can read about the tens of thousands of animals killed for a two-day visit by Queen Elizabeth because accounts had to be compiled to manage the provision of so much meat. Likewise in the medieval royal household, the feasts were occasionally described by chroniclers who witnessed the king eating in the company of his courtiers.

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