If you watch a lot of a Hollywood ‘medieval’ movies, you would be forgiven in thinking that all medieval people, from the youngest to the oldest, ate like pigs at the trough, threw gnawed animal bones on the floor, belched and yelled loudly at the dinner table, and merrily ate their dinners with filthy nails and mud smeared on their faces.
In fact, there were several books written about manners showing a very different code of conduct, particularly where eating was concerned. The Lytille Childrenes Lytil Boke, which was written about 1480, was a book of manners for Wars of the Roses era youngsters. Perhaps it was even used in the upbringing of Richard’s son, Edward of Middleham, or the children of Edward IV and George of Clarence. In it, children are exhorted not to pick their noses, belch as a bean was caught in their throat, dig at their teeth with a knife or spit over the table. They were also told not to be greedy when the cheese arrived (I presume cheese must have been seen as a special treat since it is specifically mentioned). They were also cautioned not to laugh, grin or talk too much–a bit in the vein of the Victorian ‘children are to be seen, not heard.’
The Lytille Childrenes Lytill Boke, whose author is unknown, has recently been digitised by The British Library, along with many other classic, later works. The copy they have used for the digitisation has a name written inside it–‘Maria’ (most likely a Mary). I wonder if young Mary heeded the good advice and never burped at table or grabbed at a slice of cheese?