Table Manners and Etiquette – A Short Summary of How to Behave

Table manners and etiquette – Rules for Children about how to behave around the formal table.

Table manners and etiquette - how to behave around a formal table

I came across this charming collection of rules and manners for children from the middle ages – this one is an edition from 1701, reproduced by the V&A in 1983. These sort of courtesy books were used by pages, as they climbed up the ladder in the medieval castle to become knights, and be accepted in society.

For the benefit of our modern ‘feral society’ here is a short extract of rules for children at the dinner table:

Of Behaviour at the Table.

    Come not to the Table unwash’d or not comb’d.
    Sit not down till thou art bidden by thy parents or superiors.
    Be sure thou never sit till Grace be said, and then in thy due place.
    Offer not to carve for thy self, or to take any thing, though it be what thou ever so much desireth.
    Ask not for any thing, but tarry till it be offered thee.
    Find not fault with any thing that is given thee.
    When thou haft meat given thee, be not first to begin to eat.
    Feed thy self with thy two Fingers, and the Thumb of the left hand.
    Speak not at the Table; if thy superiors be discoursing, meddle not with the matter.
    If thou want any thing from the Servants, call to them softly.
    Eat not too fast, or greedily.
    Eat not too much, but moderately.
    Eat not so slow as to make others wait for thee.
    Make not a noise with thy tongue, mouth, lips, or breath, either in eating or drinking.
    Stare not in the face of any one (especially thy superior) at the Table.
    Graese not thy Fingers or Napkin, more than necessity requires.
    Dip not thy Meat in the Sawce.
    Take not salt with a greazy Knife.
    Stuff not thy mouth so as to fill thy Cheeks; be content with smaller Mouthfuls.
    Smell not to thy Meat, nor move it to thy Nose; turn it not the other side upward to view it upon the Plate.
    Spit not forth any thing that is not convenient to be swallowed, as the Stones of Plums, Cherries or such like; but with thy left hand neatly move them to the side of thy plate or trencher. Bend thy Body a little downwards to thy plate, when thou moveth any thing that is sauced to thy mouth.
    Before and after thou drinkest, wipe thy lips with thy Napkin.
    When thanks are to be returned after eating, return to thy place, and stand reverently till it be done, then with a bow withdraw out of the Room, leaving thy superiors to themselves, unless thou be bidden to stay.

You can get a modern-day reproduction of the book (V & A Publications; 4th Ed edition (Dec 1983)) for next to nothing (1p+shipping) at Amazon UK.

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