Friday, May 23, 2014

Etiquette, Daniel of Beccles and The Book of Civilized Man


The Latin, "Urbanus Magnus Danielis Becclesiensis," or "The Book of Civilized Man" by Daniel of Beccles, is thought to be the first English book of manners, or courtesy book.  It most likely dates from the beginning of the 13th century.  To date, there is no full translation into English, but there is an edited Latin edition of 1939 by the Irish scholar Josiah Gilbart Smyly. It is a significant book, because in the later Middle Ages dozens of this type of courtesy book were produced. 


Books of etiquette, both ancient and modern, have a long history. As a general rule, a book of etiquette is a mark of a dynamic and spirited society, as opposed to a stable society. Beccles' book, being the earliest known, represents the awakening to etiquette and decorum in English court society. 

The royal court of Henry II~ Historians believe that Daniel of Beccles may have been a member of Henry II's court.  In the 16th Century, John Bale, wrote that he had seen a document showing Daniel in Henry's court for over 30 years. A Henry is mentioned in the text, and some of the manuscripts can be dated to the early 13th century, make it very probable the poem dates from that period.
The Book of Civilized Man is a 3000 line, Latin verse poem, offering proper advice on a wide range of social situations encountered in daily, typical medieval life.  These examples include:
  • 'If you wish to belch, remember to look up to the ceiling.' 
  • 'Do not attack your enemy while he is squatting to defecate.' 
  • 'If there is something you do not want people to know, do not tell it to your wife.' 
  • 'Say thank you to your host.' 
  • 'Don't mount your horse in the hall.' 
  • 'If visitors had already eaten, give them drink anyway.' 
  • 'Loosen your reins when riding over a bridge.' 
  • 'Receive gifts from great men with gratitude.' 
  • 'If you are a judge, be just.' 
  • 'Eating at the table of the rich, speak little.'
  • 'Sitting at table as a guest, you should not put your elbows on the table.'
  • 'In front of grandees, do not openly excavate your nostril by twisting your fingers.'
  • 'While food is hidden in your mouth, let your tongue not minister to words.' 
The book ends with 'Old King Henry first gave to the uncourtly the teaching written in this book.'




Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia