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Title: The Babees' Book - Medieval Manners for the Young
Author: Furnivall, Frederick James
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.








  E. T. F.
  E. T. F.

_A Matter of Manners_

_In this present day, when chivalry has achieved at last its perfect
bloom, it is hard to realize that but a scant four centuries ago the
children of even the very best families in England had to be taught
their table manners._

_Today the graces of deportment come by nature to our youth; and the
generation that has produced the immortal Rollo can not comprehend the
rude manners of the “bela babee,” or beautiful well-born boy of Queen
Elizabeth’s time._

_O, tempora! O, mores! How the times change and manners multiply! But
throughout the centuries--on the lengthening road of which we shall
plant another milestone presently with feasting and merry-making--good
manners and bad have ever gone hand in hand. And ever has he of
the mind conscious of virtue looked smugly down on the artless and
indifferent vulgarian._

_“The Babees’ Book,” from which some quaint extracts are here
reprinted, is from old Dr. Furnivall’s collection of “Divers treaties
touching the Manners and Meals of Englishmen in former days.” It gives
a moving picture of the domestic life of the Middle Ages. The present
translation out of the archaic language of the Fifteenth Century into
intelligible English has been made by Edith Rickert, who seems to have
preserved with skill and fidelity the spirit and form of the antiquated

_It will perhaps amuse the good little Rollo of today to know just how
his ancient cousin was taught to behave at table; and it will interest
his elders to observe that the fundamental basis of good manners lay
then as now in cleanliness, self respect, reverence and consideration
for the feelings of others._

                                                              _C. M. F._

_Christmas 1913._




May He who formed mankind in His image, support me while I turn this
treatise out of Latin into my common language, that through this little
comment all of tender years may receive instruction in courtesy and

Facet saith that the Book of Courtesy to teach the practice of virtue
is the most helpful thing in the world, so I will not shrink from this
labour or refuse it; but for mine own learning will say something that
touches upon the matter.

But oh, young babies, whom blood royal hath endowed with grace,
comeliness, and high ability, it is on you I call to know this book,
for it were great pity but that ye added to sovereign beauty virtue and
good manners. Therefore I speak to you specially, and not to old men
expert in governance, decorum, and honest manners, for what need is to
give pangs to Hell, joy to Heaven, water to the sea, or heat to fire
already hot?

And so, young babies, my book is only for your instruction; wherefore I
pray that no man reprehend it, but amend it where it is at fault, and
judge it not, for your own sake. I seek no other reward but that it may
please men and give you some ease in learning. Also, sweet children, if
there be in it any word that ye ken not, speer while ye may, and when
ye know it, bear it in mind; and so by asking you may learn of wise
men. Also, think not too strangely that my pen writes in this metre;
for such verse is commonly used, therefore take heed.

And first of all, I think to show how you babies who dwell in
households, should ’have yourselves when ye be set at meat, and how
when men bid you be merry, you should be ready with lovely, sweet and
benign words. In this, aid me, O Mary, Mother Revered; and eke, O
lady mine, Facetia, guide thou my pen and show unto me help. For as A
is the first of all letters, so art thou mother of all virtue. Have
pity, sweet lady, of my lack of wit, and though untaught I speak of
demeanour, support my ignorance with thy goodly aid.

Ah, “bele babees,” hearken now to my lore.

When you enter your lord’s place, say “God speed,” and with humble
cheer greet all who are there present. Do not rush in rudely, but enter
with head up and at an easy pace, and kneel on one knee only to your
lord or sovereign, whichever he be.

If any speak to you at your coming, look straight at them with a steady
eye, and give good ear to their words while they be speaking; and see
to it with all your might that ye jangle not, nor let your eyes wander
about the house, but pay heed to what is said, with blithe visage and
diligent spirit. When ye answer, ye shall be ready with what ye shall
say, and speak “things fructuous,” and give your reasons smoothly, in
words that are gentle but compendious, for many words are right tedious
to the wise man who listens; therefore eschew them with diligence.

Take no seat, but be ready to stand until you are bidden to sit down.
Keep your hands and feet at rest; do not claw your flesh or lean
against a post, in the presence of your lord, or handle anything
belonging to the house.

Make obeisance to your lord always when you answer; otherwise, stand as
still as a stone, unless he speak.

Look with one accord that if ye see any person better than yourself
come in, ye go backwards anon and give him place, and in nowise turn
your face from him, as far forth as you may.

If you see your lord drinking, keep silence, without loud laughter,
chattering, whispering, joking or other insolence.

If he command you to sit in his presence, fulfil his wish at once, and
strive not with another about your seat.

When you are set down, tell no dishonest tale; eschew also, with all
your might, to be scornful; and let your cheer be humble, blithe, and
merry, not chiding as if ye were ready for a fight.

If you perceive that your better is pleased to commend you, rise up
anon and thank him heartily.

If you see your lord and lady speaking of household matters, leave them
alone, for that is courtesy, and interfere not with their doing; but be
ready, without feigning, to do your lord service, and so shall you get
a good name.

Also, to fetch him drink, to hold the light when it is time, and to do
whatsoever ought to be done, look ye be ready; for so shall ye full
soon get a gentle name in nurture. And if you should ask a boon of God,
you can desire no better thing than to be well-mannered.

If your lord is pleased to offer you his own cup to drink, rise when
you take it, and receive it goodly with both your hands, and when you
have done, proffer it to no man else, but render it again to him that
brought it, for in nowise should it be used commonly--so wise men teach

Now must I tell you shortly what you shall do at noon when your lord
goes to his meat. Be ready to fetch him clear water, and some of you
hold the towel for him until he has done, and leave not until he be set
down, and ye have heard grace said. Stand before him until he bids you
sit, and be always ready to serve him with clean hands.

When ye be set, keep your own knife clean and sharp, that so ye may
carve honestly your own meat.

Let courtesy and silence dwell with you, and tell no foul tales to

Cut your bread with your knife and break it not. Lay a clean trencher
before you, and when your pottage is brought, take your spoon and eat
quietly; and do not leave your spoon in the dish, I pray you.

Look ye be not caught leaning on the table, and keep clear of soiling
the cloth.

Do not hang your head over your dish, or in any wise drink with full

Keep from picking your nose, your teeth, your nails at meal-time--so we
are taught.

Advise you against taking so muckle meat into your mouth but that ye
may right well answer when men speak to you.

When ye shall drink, wipe your mouth clean with a cloth, and your hands
also, so that you shall not in any way soil the cup, for then shall
none of your companions be loth to drink with you.

Likewise, do not touch the salt in the salt-cellar with any meat; but
lay salt honestly on your trencher, for that is courtesy.

Do not carry your knife to your mouth with food, or hold the meat with
your hands in any wise; and also if divers good meats are brought to
you, look that with all courtesy ye assay of each; and if your dish be
taken away with its meat and another brought courtesy demands that ye
shall let it go and not ask for it back again.

And if strangers be set at table with you, and savoury meat be brought
or sent to you, make them good cheer with part of it, for certainly it
is not polite when others be present at meat with you, to keep all that
is brought you, and like churls vouchsafe nothing to others.

Do not cut your meat like field-men who have such an appetite that they
reck not in what wise, where or when or how ungoodly they hack at their
meat; but, sweet children, have always your delight in courtesy and in
gentleness, and eschew boisterousness with all your might.

When cheese is brought, have a clean trencher, on which with a clean
knife ye may cut it; and in your feeding look ye appear goodly, and
keep your tongue from jangling, for so indeed shall ye deserve a name
for gentleness and good governance, and always advance yourself in

When the end of the meal is come, clean your knives, and look you put
them up where they ought to be, and keep your seat until you have
washed, for so wills honesty.

When ye have done, look then that ye rise up without laughter or joking
or boisterous word, and go to your lord’s table, and there stand, and
pass not from him until grace be said and brought to an end.

Then some of you should go for water, some hold the cloth, some pour
upon his hands.

Other things I might commend you to do, but as my time is brief, I put
them not into this little report; but overpass them, praying with a
spirit that rejoices in this labour, that no man abuse me; but where
too little is, let him add more, and where too much, let him take away,
for though I would, time forbids that I say more. Therefore I take my
leave, and inscribe this book to every wight whom it may please to
correct it.

And, sweet children, for love of whom I write, I beseech you, with
very loving heart, that you set your delight upon knowing this book;
and may Almighty God that suffered bitter pains, make you so expert in
courtesy that through your nurture and your governance you may advance
yourselves to lasting bliss.


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