The foods we see in Seasons 1 and 2 of Bridgerton represent some of the English Regency era’s luxury eats, including venison, ice cream, sugary pastries, and tea. But did you know that the working-class diet consisted of bread and porridge, maybe supplemented with meat, not the lavish foods and drinks we see in Bridgerton?
Venison, also known as Deer meat, is one of the foods in Bridgerton that talks about the English Regency. Venison is one of the most luxurious foods in early modern England. Lord Cowper declares during a dinner in Season 2 of Bridgerton, “I say, Featherington, I bet you could never find a venison like this in the Americas.” That’s absolutely true: Even if the same types of deer existed on both continents, venison had a different meaning in England. It was considered the king’s meat.
Also, in many tellings, Robin Hood is on the run due to illegally hunting on the king’s land. That’s an actual thing. In the early medieval period, before the Norman Conquest, common-born people could hunt game, gather wood, and let their livestock forage on the king’s land. But when King William arrived from Normandy, France, in 1066, he instituted a vastly different set of laws wherein royal land — approximately one-third of southern England — was for the king’s use only. Poaching became a crime punishable by execution or amputation. As a result of venison being reserved for all the king’s men, it became the status protein for all of early modern England.
Venison was so important that Sir Ralph Verney divided up the venison he received among his friends and family in order to fuel the social bonds between them. The Epicure’s Almanack of 1815, a guide to the eating establishments of London, noted the places that “expose to sale” fine venison.
When we see Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley) hunt with the Bridgertons in Season 2, it’s the Regency equivalent of vacationing on a members-only private island. And when landed nobles like the Bridgertons, Featheringtons and Cowpers serve venison at their tables; they’re setting themselves apart from the growing merchant elite that might have more money but lack access to the crown.
Tea Drinking was also essential to demonstrating respectability during this time. According to tea-loving 18th-century physician Dr. Thomas Short, tea encouraged “Business, Conversation, and Intelligence” while preventing “Expense and Debauchery” as it assembled “many sober Companies” in public and private settings. Adding just enough sugar without going overboard demonstrated moderation. Excessive love of sugar was noted, as it is in Bridgerton when Violet warns her staff that houseguest Miss Patridge “requires large amounts of sugar for her morning tea.”
Meanwhile, tea was considered necessary since it acted as a stimulant and confirmed that a person was respectable. In the late 1830s, they established colonial tea plantations in India in order to avoid buying tea from China.
However, the food we see in Bridgerton is set dressing to create an eye-popping fantasy version of the Regency period. In early 1800s England, food came to the table loaded with cultural meaning and traces of the British Empire. Of course, the meals were soon devoured, but the impact of hunger for prized food and ingredients continues to linger for centuries.