Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph Had A Unexpectedly Simple Diet

An old proverb offers the advice of eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper — stressing the importance of eating well, like the royals do, during the daytime. But many in the nobility continue to eat meals fit for their rank well into the night. This is to be expected since historically, the ruling class has always had access to abundant amounts of luxurious food. For example, Mary, Queen of Scots, still feasted in fashion while imprisoned. And even King Charles and the late Queen Elizabeth have been known to indulge all sorts of cravings and curious eating habits.

Lavish dining means lavish spending, of course, and royals typically spare no expense. According to an article in "The Classical Journal," reproduced by the University of Chicago, Cleopatra once made a wager with Mark Antony that she could spend 10 million Roman sesterces (approximately around $5 million today) on one dinner — and won by dissolving one of her pearl earrings in vinegar and drinking it. 

However, not all monarchs paid big for their meals. In the case of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, the ruler's eating habits were much closer to dining like a pauper all day.

A simple diet for Emperor Franz Joseph

During the rule of Franz Joseph — who was emperor of Austria from 1848 to 1916, per Encyclopedia Britannica — the court kitchen had robust operations. After all, it was responsible for feeding the royal family as well as more than 2,000 employees (via The World of the Habsburgs). Meals followed a simple rule: the higher your ranking, the more food you received. But the quality of the food itself didn't change based on status. The emperor was served the court's most expensive meals (of course), but this generally meant that he was offered more food, not that he feasted on decadent and costly dishes.

Unless his responsibilities as ruler required something more extravagant, such as formal meals with members of the public, Franz Joseph actually preferred to dine without any frills. While staying in Bad Ischl during the summer, he was reportedly satisfied with just eating rye bread and fermented milk. And the emperor was known to enjoy eating a rather plain entrée for a monarch: tafelspitz — beef that's boiled in water with some vegetables and aromatics, per Holidays in Austria

It's also been said that Franz Joseph was "too modest" to ask the court kitchen for snacks during the long stretch between his early breakfast at 5 a.m. and lunch at noon or half past noon, according to blog Royal Splendor. Yet, while the monarch was not very demanding about the food he was served, he was quite particular about attendance for Sunday family dinners. All members of the royal household had to attend these gatherings, unless they were sick. If someone skipped out due to illness, the emperor would send his own doctor to verify.