Yule smile

Just as we have left behind the Thanksgiving festivities and a Christmas dinner is not far away, we might think of table manners. Most know which fork is used for salad, which for dessert, what glass to use for champagne and what for hot mulled wine, and our children have been instructed what is done at the table and what is not… But it is interesting to see how much in common we have with the mediaeval children who were taught how to behave at the table, or rather how not to misbehave, because learning good manners was considered “better than playing the fiddle, thought that’s no harm”.

Before meals:

Wash your face and hands

Be dressed properly

Make a low curtsy or bow to your parents and wish the food may do them good

Let your betters sit before you

Say Grace before the meal, then wait a while before eating

See others served first

Take salt with your knife

Cut your bread, keep your knife sharp


At the table:

Keep your fingers and nails clean

Wipe your mouth before drinking

Behave properly

Sit upright

Remember: silence hurts no one, and is fitted for a child at table



Pick your teeth, or spit

Don’t fill your spoon too full

Don’t smack your lips, or gnaw the bones

Don’t scratch yourself at the table

Don’t clean your mouth or nose with the tablecloth

Don’t put your elbows on the table

Don’t belch as if you had a bean in your throat

Don’t jabber or stuff yourself

Don’t speak with your mouth full

Don’t laugh too much

After the meal don’t leave your seat before others


Adapted from:

The Lytylle Childrenes Lytil Boke, or Edyllys Be; from The Schoole of Vertue, and Booke of Good Nourture for Children by F. Seager; from The Young Children’s Book, printed  from the Ashmolean MS 61 (Bodleian Library) about 1500 AD, and from The Boke of Curtasye, from Sloane MS (The British Museum), about 1460 AD.

Image from Richard Pynson’s 1526 edition of The Canterbury Tales.