Question: Did they eat breakfast in the middle ages?
Answer: It was probably like things are nowadays in that some people ate breakfast, and others didn't.
A short set of instructions for dining is given in VaVaughan's "Fifteen Directions for Health" (1602):
Eate three meales a day vntill you come to the age of fourtie yeares: as, your breakefast, dinner, and supper; yet, that betweene breakefast and dinner there be space of foure houres, and betwixt dinner and supper seauen houres: the breakfast must be lesse then supper.
[Source: Vaughan's Fifteen Directions for Health (From his Naturall & Artificial Directions for health, 1602, p. 57-63.), reproduced in Early English Meals and Manners, Frederick J. Furnivall, 1868]
In "Via recta ad vitam longam" (1620), there are some interesting notes relating to breakfast. They suggest that it was common practice for those under the age of 25 or over 60 to eat three or more meals a day. Additionally, those who were active were expected to eat three or more times in a day, leaving only the sedentary or overweight to make do with only dinner and supper.
And if any man deſire a light nouriſhing, and comfortable breakfaſt, I know none better then a couple of potched eggs, ſeaſoned with a litle ſalt, and a few cornes of pepper alſo, with a drop or two of vinegar, if the ſtomacke be weake, and ſupped off warme, eating therewithall a litle bread and butter, and drinking after a good draught of pure Claret wine. This is an excellent breakfaſt, and very comfortable for them that haue weake ſtomacks.
Whether the ordinary vʃe of two meales in a day, be beʃt for the preʃervation of health?
I Anſwer, omitting the preciſe obſervation of the time. countrey, and cuſtome, that the vſe of two competent meales in a day, viz. of Dinner and Supper, is generally beſt for them that are within the limits of 25, & 60 yeeres, leading a ſtudious, or ſedentary kinde of life, if they deſire to auoyd crudity, the originall of moſt diſeaſes. But ſuch as vſe much exercise, or are of an hot and cholericke temperature, may eat oftner, as three times in a day, and that more largely at each meale, for the reſtitution of the ſubstantiall moyſture, which by reaſon of exerciſe, and a ſtrong naturall heat, is much exhauſted. Wherfore I aduiſe them, not to bee altogether faſting till dinner, but to breake their faſt with this threefold caution, that they finde their ſtomacks to be cleane and empty, that the breake-faſt be ſlender, and that of meats of light digeſtion, and that it be taken about foure houres before dinner. And heere I may not omit to aduertiſe all ſuch as haue plethoricke and full bodies, eſpecially liuing at reſt, and which are of a phlegmaticke temperature, that they not onely eſchew the vſe of breake-faſts, but alſo oftentimes content themſelues with one meale in a day: for by this meanes, nature being for a time disburthened, as it were, of meats, vſeth all her power, in digeſting and expelling the reliques, whereby it commeth to paſſe, that the ouer-plus of bloud is abated, raw humours concocted, all manner of excrements expelled, and the whole body conſequently, reduced to a ſound and healthy mediocrity. Heere it maybee demanded of ſuch, as for the health of their bodies, can oftentimes bee contented with one meale a day, whether it were better to take it at ſupper, then at dinner. Whereunto I anſwer, that at ſupper, becauſe in the night ſeaſon, and in ſleep, the ſpirits are more intenſe to concoction, being not withdrawne vnto outward and animal actions; yet with this prouiſo, that the ſup not late, for great and late ſuppers are very offenſiue to the whole body, eſpecially to the head and eyes, by reaſon of the multitude of vapours, that aſcend from the meats that haue been plentifully receiued. Wherefore they muſt, after ſupper, refraine from ſleepe, or lying downe, three houres at the leaſt, and bee ſometimes walking, ſometimes ſtanding, and ſometimes ſitting, that the meats may be the better digeſted, and paſſed from the ſtomacke, the vapours in ſome meaſure conſumed, the eyes and the whole head conſequently leſſe annoyed. But if any ſall erroniouſly accuſtome the vſe of one meale in a day, and ſall then lurch and deuoure ſo much, or more, as may well ſerue for two competent refections, as ſome, that vſually make but one meale in a day, are wont to doe, I muſt tell them, that two moderate refections were farre more commendable, and better for their health, then vnreaſonable feeding and glutting of themſelues at once, whereby all the powers and faculties of the body are oppreſſed, the ſtomacke weakned, crudities and obſtructions occaſioned.
Heere alſo may thoſe demand, that vſually make two meales a day, what ſpace of time ought to intercede the refections. Our vſuall time for dinner, in all places, is about eleuen of the clocke; and for ſupper, in moſt places, about ſix, according to which rule, wee commonly ſup about ſix houres after we haue dined, allowing an houres ſpace for a meale. I doe well approoue of the diſtance between the meales, and alſo of the allowance of an houres ſpace for a meale; but if Students, that may command the time and others alſo, that lead a generous kinde of life, ſhall alter the time for refection, as to dine about ten, and to ſup about fiue or ſix, according as their appetite, ſtrenghts, and diſpoſition of body ſhall require, they ſhall haue my better approbation, and that for three reaſons. The firſt is, becauſe it is not good to be ſo long faſting in the morning, except for moyſt and phlegmaticke bodies, as aforſayd: for the ſtomacke being ouer-long empty, attracteth from the inteſtines, and other parts, naughty fumes, and putrid humours, which doe not a little hurt both it and the head, eſpecially in ſuch as are of a cholericke temperature. The ſecond is, becauſe a larger time may be allowed, as ſhall be requiſite, for the concocttion and diſtribution of the meats receiued at dinner: for we ought not to eat againe, if wee will be diligent obſervers of our health, vntill the meat eaten before, be firſt concocted, and well auoyded out of the ſtomacke and the appetite thereupon certain, as it is formerly demonſtrated. The third reaſon is, that theyt, who being ſubiect vnto rheumes, hauing ſupped by ſix, which order for Students is very well obſerued in our Vniuerſities, will be the freer from nocturnall diſeaſes and rheumes, vnto which Students, and ſuch as liue a delicious, eaſie, and ſitting kind of life, are moſt ſubiect: and others that are free from rheumes, and mocturnall paſſions, hauing ſupped by ſeuen, will afterwards be the better diſpoſed to reſt, aboue an houre or two after ſupper, which is onely conuenient to preuent obſtructions.
They therefore that are paſt their declinging age, and entred within the limit of olde age, as thoſe bee, that are paſt 60, or 63 yeeres of age, may not preciſely bee tyed to any fixed times for their refection, but may eat three or foure times a day, or oftner, as their ſtomackes ſhall require, a little at a time, by reaſon of the imbecility of their digeſtiue faculty. Neither may children by any meanes bee tyed vnto fixed meales, for they, by reaſon of their great encreaſe of body, continuall motions, and diſſipable ſubſtance through the pores, require much and often nouriſhment. And thoſe alſo that are in their youthfull age, as from 14, to 25, being of hot and cholericke temperature, both becauſe they haue not attained vnto the Acme, or full height of their growing, as alſo by reaſon of their ſtrong naturall heat, require much nouriſhment, and are not alwayes to be limited to two or three meales in a day.
The cuſtome of drinking in the mornings faſting, a large draught of White wine, of Rheniſh wine, or of Beere, hath almoſt with all men ſo fare preuailed, as that they iudge it a principall meanes for the preſeruation of their health; whereas in very deede, it is, being without reſpect had of the ſtate or conſtitution of the body and diſcommodity.
[Source: Venner, Tobias, 1577-1660. Via recta ad vitam longam, or A plaine philosophical discourse of the nature, faculties, and effects (1620)]
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