Style and Spectacle Feasts
Noble households were large socioeconomic enterprises, and meals were an integral part of their owners’ desire to display their status both at home and as they traveled around the countryside. Royal households employed anywhere from 300–800 indentured and other servants, while the households of lords and clergy employed an average of between 20 and 150 servants to perform the duties for the immediate family and its guests. In terms of meals, breakfasts were not common until the fifteenth century, so the first meal was usually lunch and then supper later in the day. These two meals could occupy between four and six hours of the day in noble households. Elaborate rituals accompanied each meal, from the sequence of entrance and seating, the layout of the table, and the courses (usually three by the fifteenth century), to the order and rites of service, entertainment, and conversation. British Library MS Harley 5086 is one of a number of anonymous treatises on food and table manners to survive from the later Middle Ages. These texts were in general aimed at younger men and women from noble families (the meaning of “babee” here) and form a sub-genre of a larger group of courtesy texts. They therefore share characteristics with and have similar intentions as Fürstenspiegel, advice to princes, and even romances, and many are French in origin. That several such tracts are written in verse suggests a mnemonic function.
From this labour ywys, nor hit refuse,
For myn owne lernynge wole I say summe thing
That touchis vertues and curtesye havyng.
But, O yonge babees, whome bloode royalle
Withe grace, feture, and hyhe habylite great ability
Hathe enourmyd, on yow ys that I calle endowed, exalted
To knowe this book, for it were grete pyte,
Syn that in yow ys sette sovereyne beaute,
But yf vertue and nurture were withe alle;
To yow therfore I speke in specyalle
And nouhte to hem of elde that bene experte
In governanunce, nurture, and honeste,
For what nedys to yeve helle peynes smerte,
Joye unto hevene, or water unto the see,
Heete to the fyre that kan nat but hoote be?
It nedys nouhte; therfore, O babees yynge, young
My book only is made for youre lernynge.
Therfore, I pray that no man reprehende
This lytyl book, the whiche for yow I make,
But where defaute ys, latte ylke man amende
And nouhte deme yt; [I] pray thaym for youre sake.
For other mede, ywys, I kepe noone take
But that God wolde this book myhte yche man plese
And in lernynge unto yow donne somme ese.
Eke, swete children, yf there be eny worde
That yee kenne nouhte, spyrre whils yee yt ken. ask
Whanne yee yt knowe, yee mowe holde yt in horde,
Thus thurhe spyrryng yee mowe lerne at wyse men.
Also, thenke nouhte to straungely at my penne,
In this metre for yow lyste to procede,
Men usen yt; therfore, on hit take hede.
But amonge alle that I thenke of to telle
My purpos ys first only forto trete
How yee babees in housholde that done duelle
Shulde have youre sylf whenne yee be sette at mete behave
And how yee shulde, whenne men lyste yow rehete, show good will
Have wordes lovly, swete, bleste, and benyngne. towards
In this helpe me O Marie, modir dyngne!
And eke, O lady myn, Facecia, Cleverness, Wit
My penne thow guyde, and helpe unto me shewe,
For as the firste off alle lettres ys the A,
So artow firste modir of alle vertue.
Off myn unkunnynge, swete lady, now rewe,
And thouhe untauhte I speke of governaunce,
Withe thy swete helpe supporte myn ygnoraunce.
A, bele babees, herkne now to my lore!
Whenne yee entre into your lordis place,
Say first, “God spede,” and alle that ben byfore
Yow in this stede, salue withe humble face. greet
Stert nat rudely, komme inne an esy pace,
Holde up youre heede, and knele but on oone kne
To youre sovereyne or lorde, whedir he be.
And yf they speke withe yow at youre komynge,
Withe stable eye loke upone them rihte,
To theyre tales and yeve yee goode herynge
Whils they have seyde; loke eke withe alle your myhte
Yee jangle nouhte; also caste nouhte your syhte
Aboute the hous, but take to them entent
Withe blythe vysage and spiryt diligent.
Whenne yee answere or speke, yee shulle be purveyde
What yee shalle say; speke eke thing fructuous.
On esy wyse latte thy resone be sayde
In wordes gentylle and also compendious,
For many wordes ben rihte tedious
To ylke wyseman that shalle yeve audience.
Thaym to eschewe therfore doo diligence.
Take eke noo seete but to stonde be yee preste;
Whils forto sytte, ye have in komaundement
Your heede, youre hande, your feet, holde yee in reste.
Nor thurhe clowyng your flesshe loke yee nat rent.
Lene to no poste whils that ye stande present
Byfore your lorde, nor handylle ye no thyng
Als for that tyme unto the hous touching.
At every tyme obeye unto youre lorde
Whenne yee answere, ellis stonde yee styl as stone
But yf he speke; loke withe oon accorde
That yf yee se komme inne eny persone
Better thanne yee, that yee goo bak anoone
And gyff him place; youre bak eke in no way
Turne on no wihte, as ferforthe as ye may. far
Yiff that youre lorde also yee se drynkynge,
Looke that ye be in rihte stable sylence
Withe-oute lowde lauhtere or jangelynge,
Rounynge, japynge, or other insolence.
Yiff he komaunde also in his presence
Yow forto sytte, fulfille his wylle belyve, quickly
And for youre seete, looke nat withe other stryve.
Whenne yee er sette, take noone unhoneste tale;
Eke forto skorne eschewe withe alle your myhte.
Latte ay youre chere be lowly, blythe, and hale,
Withe-oute chidynge as that yee wolde fyhte.
Yiff yee perceyve also that eny wihte
Lyst yow kommende that better be thanne yee,
Ryse up anoone and thanke him withe herte free.
Yif that yee se youre lorde or youre lady,
Touching the housholde, speke of eny thinge,
Latt theym alloone, for that is curtesy,
And entremete yow nouhte of theyre doynge, interfere
But be ay redy withe-oute feynynge
At hable tyme to done your lorde service. suitable
So shalle yee gete anoone a name of price. renown
Also to brynge drynke, holde lihte whanne tyme ys
Or, to doo that whiche ouhte forte be done,
Looke yee be preste, for so yee shalle ywys
In nurture gete a gentyl name ful sone.
And yif ye shulde at God aske yow a bone,
Als to the worlde better in noo degre
Mihte yee desire thanne nurtred forto be.
Yif that youre lorde his owne coppe lyste commende
To yow to drynke, ryse up whanne yee it take
And resseyve it goodly withe boothe youre hende.
Of yt also to noone other profre ye make,
But unto him that brouhte yt yee, hit take
Whenne yee have done, for yt in no kyn wyse
Auhte comune be, as techis us the wyse.
Now must I telle in shorte, for I muste so,
Youre observaunce that ye shalle done at none.
Whenne that ye se youre lorde to mete shalle goo,
Be redy to fecche him water sone,
Summe helle water; summe holde to he hathe done healthy
The clothe to him, and from him yee nat pace
Whils he be sette and have herde sayde the grace.
Byfore him stonde whils he komaunde yo sytte
Withe clene handes ay redy him to serve.
Whenne yee be sette, your knyf withe alle your wytte
Unto youre sylf bothe clene and sharpe conserve
That honestly yee mowe your owne mete kerve.
Latte curtesye and sylence withe yow duelle,
And foule tales looke noone to other telle.
Kutte withe your knyf your brede and breke yt nouhte.
A clene trenchour byfore yow eke ye lay cutting dish
And, whenne your potage to yow shalle be brouhte, thick soup, stew
Take yow sponys and soupe by no way,
And in youre dysshe leve nat your spone, I pray,
Nor on the borde lenynge be yee nat sene,
But from embrowyng the clothe yee kepe clene. dirtying
Oute overe youre dysshe your heede yee nat hynge,
And withe fulle mouthe drynke in no wyse.
Youre nose, your teethe, your naylles, from pykynge
Kepe at your mete, for so techis the wyse.
Eke or ye take in youre mouthe, yow avyse,
So mekyl mete but that yee rihte welle mowe
Answere and speke whenne men speke to yow.
Whanne ye shalle drynke, your mouthe clence withe a clothe,
Youre handes eke that they in no manere
Imbrowe the cuppe, for thanne shulle noone be lothe dirty
Withe yow to drynke that ben withe yow yfere.
The salte also touche nat in his salere
Withe nokyns mete, but lay it honestly no kinds of
On youre trenchoure, for that is curtesy.
Youre knyf withe mete to your mouthe nat bere,
And in youre hande not holde yee yt no way;
Eke, yf to yow be brouhte goode metys sere, diverse
Luke curteysly of ylke mete yee assay,
And yf your dysshe withe mete be tane away
And better brouhte, curtesye wole certeyne
Yee late yt passe and calle it nat ageyne.
And yf straungers withe yow be sette at mete
And unto yow goode mete be brouhte or sente,
Withe parte of hit goodely yee theym rehete,
For yt ys nouhte ywys convenyent,
Withe yow at mete whanne other ben present,
Alle forto holde that unto yow ys brouhte,
And as wrecches on other vouchesauf nouhte.
Kutte nouhte youre mete eke as it were felde men
That to theyre mete have suche an appetyte
That they ne rekke in what wyse, where ne when,
Nor how ungoodly they on theyre mete twyte, tear
But, swete children, have al-wey your delyte
In curtesye, and in verrey gentylnesse,
And at youre myhte eschewe boystousnesse.
Whanne chese ys brouhte, a trenchoure ha ye clene,
On whiche withe clene knyf [ye] your chese mowe kerve.
In youre fedynge luke goodly yee be sene,
And from jangelyng your tunge al-wey conserve,
For so ywys yee shalle a name deserve
Off gentylnesse and of goode governaunce,
And in vertue al-wey youre silf avaunce.
Whanne that so ys that ende shalle kome of mete,
Youre knyffes clene where they ouhte to be,
Luke yee putte uppe and holde eke yee your seete
Whils yee have wasshe, for so wole honeste.
Whenne yee have done, looke thanne goodly that yee
Withe-oute lauhtere, japynge, or boystous worde,
Ryse uppe and goo unto youre lordis borde,
And stonde yee there, and passe yee him nat fro
Whils grace ys sayde and brouhte unto an ende.
Thanne somme of yow for water owe to goo,
Somme holde the clothe, somme poure upon his hende.
Other service thanne this I myhte comende
To yow to done but, for the tyme is shorte,
I putte theym nouhte in this lytyl reporte,
But overe I passe, prayying withe spyrit gladde
Of this labour that no wihte me detray, belittle
But where to lytyl ys, latte him more adde,
And whenne to myche ys, latte him take away;
For thouhe I wolde, tyme wole that I no moresay.
I leve therfore, and this book I directe
To every wihte that lyste yt to correcte.
And, swete children, for whos love now I write,
I yow beseche withe verrey lovande herte
To knowe this book that yee sette your delyte
And myhtefulle God, that suffred peynes smerte,
In curtesye he make yow so experte
That, thurhe your nurture and youre governaunce,
In lastynge blysse yee mowe your self avaunce.