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The Book of Courtesy

by Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno)
Orignally published in the November 1995, A.S. XXX issue of the Dragonflyre, a publication of the Barony of Vatavia.

This is a redaction of the Book of Courtesy written around 1460 by an unknown author. I have modernized the spelling and replace obscure Middle English words with more modern ones. I did not attempt to maintain the rhyme or meter, though the general flavor remains. I did not change the grammar. This is the first of three sections. From "Early English Meals and Manners", ed. Frederick J. Furnivall, London, 1868, pgs 177-181.

Here begins the first book of courtesy.

Who so will of courtesy learn,
In this book he may have it!
If thow be gentleman, yeoman, or knave,
The need nurture for to have.
When thou comes to a lord's gate,
The porter thou shall find there at;
Give him thow shalt thy weapon then,
And ask him leave in to go
To speak with lord, lady, squire, or groom.
There to the dais to take the tale;
For if he be of low degree,
Than him falls to come to thee;
If he be gentleman of birth,
The porter will lead thee to him.
When thow come though hall door to,
Do of thy hood, thy gloves also;
If tho hall be at the first meat,
This lesson look thow not forget:
The steward, controller, and treasurer,
Sits at the dais, thou greet in health.
Within the hall sit on either side,
Sit other gentlemen as falls that tide;
Salute thee faire to them also,
First to the right hand thou shall go,
Sit to tho left hand thy never thou cast;
To them thou bow without twist;
Take heed to yeoman on thy right hand,
And sit before the screen thou stand
In middle the hall upon the floor,
While marshall or usher come from the door,
And bid thee sit, or to board thee lead.
Be stable of cheer for honor, and council;
If he the set at gentleman's board,
Look thou be hind and little of word.
Part thy bread and carve in two,
Tho outer crust tho nether from;
In four thou cut tho over dole,
Set them together as it were whole;
Sit cut tho nether crust in three,
And turn it down, learn this at me.
And lay thy trencher thee before,
And sit upright for any sore.
Spare bread or wine, drink or ale,
To thy mass of kitchen be set in mind;
Lest men say thou art hunger beaten,
Or else a glutton that all men see,
Look thy nails been clean in blithe,
Lest thy fellows loath there with.
Bite not on thy bread and lay it down,-
That is no courtesy to use in town;-
But break as much as thou will eat,
The remnant to poor thou shall let.
In peace thou eat, and ever eschewe
To fight at board; that may thee rue.
If thou make grimaces on any wise,
A velany thou catches or ever thou rise.
Let never thy cheek be Made too great
With morsel of bread that thou shall eat;
An ape mow men say he makes,
That bread and flesh in his cheek bakes.
If any man speak that time to thee,
And thou shall forswear, it will not be
But galloped, and a-bide thou most;
That is a scheme for all the host.
On both half thy mouth, if that thou eat,
v Many a scorn shall thou get.
Thou shall no laugh nor speak no thing
While thy mouth be full of meat or drink;
Nor sup not with great soundage
Neither potage nor other thing.
Let not thy spoon stand in thy dish,
Whether thou be served with flesh or fish;
Nor lay it not on thy dish side,
But clean it honestly with-out pride.
Look no grease on thy finger there
Defoul the cloth thee before.
In thy dish if thou wet thy bread,
Look ther-of that not be led
To cast again thy dish into;
Thou art un-hinde if thou do so.
Dry thy mouth all well and fine
When thou shall drink other ale or wine.
Nor call thou not a dish again,
That is take for the board in plain;
If thou spit over the board, or else upon,
Thou shall be holden an uncourteous man;
If thy own dog thou scrape or claw,
That is holden a vice amoung men knave.
If thy nose thou clean, as may befall,
Look thy hand thou clean, as with-all,
Privately with skirt do it away,
Other else though thy tippet that is so gay.
Clean not thy teeth at meat sit,
With knife nor straw, stick nor wand.
While thou hold meat in mouth, beware
To drink, that is an-honest turn,
And also physic forbids it,
And says thou may be choke at that bit;
If it go thy wrong throat into,
And stop thy wind, thou art forgo.
Nor tell thou never at board no tale
To harm or shame thy fellow in mind;
For if he then withhold his self-control,
Afterwards he will forcast thy death.
Where-sere thou sit at meat in board,
Avoid the cat at on bare word
For if thou stroke cat other dog,
Thou art like an ape tied with a lump.
Also eschewe, without strife,
To foul the board cloth with thy knife;
Nor blow not on thy drink nor meat,
Nether for cold, nether for heat;
With meat nor bear thy knife to mouth,
Whether thou be set be strong or couth;
Nor with tho board cloth thy teeth thou wipe,
Nor thy nine that run red, as may betide.
If thou sit by a right good man,
This lesson look thou think apon:
Under his thigh thy knee not put,
Thou are full lewed if thou do it.
Nor backward sit gif not thy cup,
Nother to drink, nother to sup;
Bid thy frend take cup and drink,
That is holden an-honest thing.
Lean not on elbow at thy meat,
Nother for cold nor for heat;
Dip not thy thumb thy drink into,
Thou art uncourteous if thou it do;
In salt cellar if that thou put
Other fish or flesh that men may wit,
That is a vice, as men me tell,
And great wonder it most be else.
After meat when thou shalt wash,
Spit not in basin, nor water thou dash;
Nor spit not lorely, for no kin made,
Before no man of god for dread.
Who so ever despise this lesson right,
At board to sit he has no might.
Here ends now our first talking,
Christ grant us all his dear blessing!

Here ends the first book of courtesy.

 

Bibliography

Furnivall, Frederick J., ed. Early English Meals and Manners. London: N. Trübner & Co., 1868. pp. 177-181.

 

Copyright © 1995 - present His Lordship Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno). All rights reserved.

 

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