This extract from a fifteenth century book of instruction ‘John Russell’s Book of Nurture’ gives some rather interesting tips about acceptable conduct at the table. I am not entirely sure about the context, but it demonstrates I think that Medieval people cared about manners and were not so uncouth as some may think. This passage might make you laugh too….
“Simple conditions of a person that is not taught I will you eschew, for evermore they be nought.Do not claw you head or back as though you seek a flea. Not strike nor prick your hair to remove a louse See your eyes are not glowing nor blinking nor too heavy of cheer, Watery, winking nor dripping but clear of sight, Don’t pike your nose, not let clear pearls drip, Neither sniff nor blow your nose so that you sovereign hears it.
Twist not your neck askew like a jackdaw. Put not your hands in your stockings your codware to scratch not picking, nor fiddling, not rubbing as though you would saw, Do not rub nor wipe your hands nor beat your chest. Do not pick your ears even if you are slow of hearing. Don’t retch, spit too far or laugh too loudly. Speak not loudly, beware asserting or scorning. Be no liar with your mouth, neither boastful nor dribbling. Don’t squirt or spout with your mouth. Don’t gape, eat with your mouth open or pout. Don’t lick the dish with your tongue to get the last crumb.
Don’t be rash nor reckless, its not worth a clout. Don’t sigh deeply, cough or breathe loudly in front of your sovereign. No more hiccupping, belching nor groaning. Don’t stamp your feet or sit with your legs apart. Don’t scratch your body or keep opening and shutting your legs. Good son, don’t pick, grind or gnash your teeth, don’t breathe stinking breath on your sovereign. No puffing nor blowing, whether full or fasting and watch that your hinder part does not blast off. Short clothes that expose your codware are an ungodly style…”
From John Russell’s Book of Nurture a Medieval Manual containing guidance for the Marshall, the Chamberlain… and the lad at the table.