“I dreaded the thought of marrying,” Queen Victoria wrote, prior to her engagement to her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. “I was so accustomed to having my own way that I thought it was 10 to one that I shouldn’t agree with anybody.”
It was allegedly the thought of having to live with her mother forever (as the custom of the day dictated for single females – even royal ones), that forced the young Queen to take a husband. And her reluctance quickly changed to euphoria after they met. “Oh! To feel I was, and am, loved by such an Angel as Albert, was too great a delight to describe!”, she exclaimed.
The public was slightly miffed that the 18-year-old queen planned to marry an impoverished prince as young as herself. This prompted the Queen to plan an OTT affair that would secure the public’s affections. The thoroughly elaborate occasion included a feast with dishes like turbot cooked over a boiler served with lobster sauce and raised game pie - a pigeon pie served with the feet sticking out the centre, so the guests knew what they were getting.
As Lucy Worsley drily observes in the SBS two-part series, Victoria And Albert: The Wedding, "In 1840, Buckingham Palace was no place to be a vegetarian."
The meal was topped off with a 130 kilogram, 2.7-metre round wedding cake, sporting a figure of Britannia with cupids in lieu of the requisite happy couple figurines.
Aspic, pheasants and a little bit of cruelty
Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, inherited her mother’s love of extravagance. When she married His Serene Highness Prince Henry Maurice of Battenberg (whose name was a mouthful in itself), they celebrated with a 20-course menu that included spit-roasted ortolans (the tiny yellow songbird, eaten whole, has been banned from French menus since 2007); stuffed pheasants glazed in Madeira aspic (a dish that sets its ingredients in a meat consommé or stock gelatine); and cakes steeped in maraschino and coffee syrup.
The tiny yellow songbird, eaten whole, has been banned from French menus since 2007
Despite being married during the hard years of the Long Depression, Prince George, Duke of York’s (the current Queen’s grandfather), and Princess Mary of Teck’s wedding was also a lavish affair. This was also in stark contrast to the simple life that George and Mary went on to favour. Perhaps the 17-course wedding feast was a celebration of everything the couple had been through to make it down the aisle.
More aspic, this time with tongues and liver
The 17 courses included dishes like crême de riz à la Polonaise (a sweet creamed rice, baked in a mould), côtelette d’agneau à l’Italienne (lamb cutlets with a sauce made with wine, carrots, sundried tomato and garlic), filets de boeuf à Napolitaine (beef loin layered with pork and ham and served with both a citron and a raisin sauce on the side), jambon découpes à l’aspic (ham aspic), and langues découpes à l’aspic (tongue aspic).
France was known as the culinary capital of the world, and so wedding menus were always presented in French as a sign of sophistication and elegance. And if you are partial to aspic, tongue, veal and liver, then the full menu is available right here.
Wedding cake walks
After ploughing their way through countless dishes, royal wedding guests were required to leave room for cake. The rather modest three-tier cake was made by McVitie's Cake Company – the first of many royal wedding cakes made by the company. In fact, it was only last year that the centuries-long relationship was broken, when Megan Markle and Prince Harry chose Claire Ptak from the popular East London pastry shop Violet Bakery, to make their organic Amalfi lemon and English elderflower cake.
Thanks to HRH Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, we’ve come to expect the equivalent of a cake skyscraper.
It has to be said, the resulting cake was disappointingly small. Thanks to HRH Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, we’ve come to expect the equivalent of a cake skyscraper. Their cake stood over 2.5 metres tall, had four tiers and weighed three times as much as Queen Victoria’s tiny cake. Not content with a cake that required a Sherpa to cut, 11 other types of cake were presented to Princess Elizabeth and displayed at Buckingham Palace.
Fortunately, royal wedding fruit cake can last for decades. Mostly due to the high-proof spirits that all the fruit gets soaked in, plus the rock-hard icing providing a kind of armour against aging. Last year at a Los Angeles auction, slices of cake from Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s 1981 wedding were sold for $1,920. The chief executive of the auction house was quick to point out that the 37-year-old cake was “not suitable for consumption.” That wouldn’t stop us having a nibble, though…
Sweetbreads and another reluctant bride
Speaking of knocking things back, the Queen Mother, then known as Lady Elisabeth Bowes-Lyon, refused Prince Albert, Duke of York three times before they were finally wed in April 1923.
After all, what's a royal wedding without aspic?
After the ceremony at Westminster Abbey – chosen to lift the nation’s spirits after the horror of the Great War - a 10-course royal breakfast was served, only made modest in comparison to his father’s 17-course marathon. Dishes on the menu included côtelettes d'Agneau Prince Albert (lamb cutlets with sweetbreads, asparagus and spinach to honour Prince Albert), suprèmes de saumon Reine Mary (salmon with a mushroom sauce to honour Queen Mary) and jambon et langue découpé à l'aspic: (aspic of ham and tongue). After all, what's a royal wedding without aspic?
Royal wedding food tax
Of course, large feasts aren’t new for any royal but even before more recent and modern royal nuptials (covering the last 90 years or so), Henry III married Eleanor of Provence in 1236 and introduced a heavy tax to pay for the wedding breakfast. While the public may not have been overly excited about this particular tradition, History Extra reports that an eyewitness described an “abundance of meats and dishes, with large quantities of venison and a variety of fish”, served to “the joyous sounds of the gleemen”. So perhaps, the royal wedding food tax serving the right foods can indeed be rather joyous.
Tune in for the two-part series Victoria And Albert: The Wedding 7.30pm Thursday 11 and 18 of April on SBS and then on SBS On Demand. Watch Episode 1 via On Demand right here.