Breakfast before the Regency was a very grand affair. It was eaten at about 10am, and was much more in the style of what we would call “brunch”, since there was generally no lunch served, and the breakfast meal would have to sustain people until the evening dinner.
Thus, a Georgian breakfast was hearty, and consisted of eggs, kidney, chops, liver, and perhaps dishes like kedgeree.
By the time the Regency period started in 1810, breakfast had become a simpler and more relaxed meal. Lunch, or nuncheon, as it was then known, had been introduced as a midday meal, so the breakfast didn’t need to be so large.
There were several reasons for this change. Innovations in cooking techniques and food preservation plus a growing variety of foods meant things that had not previously been available were now suddenly on the table. On top of this, travel was becoming easier and safer, and people were able to visit friends for dinner, which meant eating became a social occasion.
Breakfast in the Regency decade was, therefore, far less likely to include meats, although a few of the older generation stuck to what they knew. For most people though, breakfast, Regency style was similar to what we would call a Continental breakfast today.
On the table, there would be rolls and bread, perhaps toasted, served with butter and preserves. There would also be cake, such as honey cake, plum cake, pound cake and fancy breads like brioche. The whole would be washed down with a pot of tea or a dish of hot chocolate. (Chocolate was only available as a drink. Eating chocolate was not known in England until 1847 when Joseph Fry created mouldable chocolate.)
When you ate your breakfast depended very much on who you were. If you were a titled lady with nothing to do all day but please yourself, you would probably take breakfast on a tray in your bedchamber, somewhere between 10am and 11am, before getting up to start your day.
In aristocratic households, breakfast would be laid out on dishes on the sideboard, and the family would wander in and help themselves between 9am and 11.30am. Breakfast was not served to them: an English person was never waited on at breakfast the way they were at other meals.
The gentry ate earlier than the aristocracy, and they ate en famille. The family members would generally rise at about 7am, and they would write letters, walk, see to their business, etc., before coming together at about 9am for their meal.
Servants, however, would have to wait. Having risen at 5am, or earlier, to make up the fires, boil the water, clean the house, make the meals and everything else, the servants would clear up after their employers’ meal before finally sitting down to eat themselves.