Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Etiquette of 17th Century

Customs of Bygone Age – Letters Show Etiquette of 17th Century

                                                           
Above ~2 styles of marrow scoops – By the mid-17th century one etiquette book author advised people stop handling or “mouthing” bones, but to remove bone marrow to eat, with a knife. Within time, marrow scoops and spoons became very popular, as bone marrow was considered a health food.  "Suck no bones… Take them not with two hands… Gnaw them not… Knock no bones upon thy bread, or trencher, to get out the marrow of them, but get out the marrow with a knife… To speake better… it is not fit to handle bones, and much lesse to mouth them. Make not use of a knife to breake bones…also breake them not with thy teeth, or other thing, but let them alone."  From Youth's Behaviour, by Francis Hawkins, 1646

Letters and other documents dealing with manners and customs of daily life in the 17th century which came to light recently, tend to show that it was customary in those days for "persons of quality" to have sets of their own spoons, knives and forks, which they took with them when invited out.

These papers are of particular interest just at this time, to collectors of antiques in connection with an addition made recently to the British Museum. This was the earliest hall-marked table fork known, engraved with the crest of Manners and Montague 1632. About the same time a silver spoon of identical hall-mark and crest was taken to Haddon Hall.

Books on etiquette and table manners were far from being the prerogative of the Victorian age, it is revealed, as in 1663 there was published in London a book entitled "The Accomplished Ladies' Rich Closet of Rarities," in which the following rules are laid down:

"A gentlewoman being at table abroad or at home must observe to keep the body straighte and lean not by any means upon her elbows— nor by ravenous gesture discover a voracious appetite. Talke not when you have meate in your mouth; and do not smacke like a pig or eat speene-meat so hot that tears stand in your eyes.

"It is very uncourtly to drink so large a draught that your breath is almost gone, and you are forced to blow strongly to recover yourself. Throwing down your liquor as into a funnel, is an action fitter for a juggler then a gentlewoman.

"In carving at your own table distribute the best pieces first, and it will appear very decent and comely to use a fork; so touch no meat without it."

Reference to the fork was of particular interest to the museum authorities, for those present-day indispensable instruments had not been been long introduced, it appears.


Forks were first imported from Italy, and their use in England at the time was considered pedantic and a laughable. One writer of the time speaks of the silver fork as "being used of late by some of our spruce gallants," which did not tend to make for popular at all among certain sets. – From Liverpool, as reported in the Sausalito News, April 1925


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