As prosperity grew in 12th century England there was a renewed focus on etiquette and manners. This was a time of cultural renewal which was based on classical models. Along with the elaboration of monastic rules of behaviour (‘customaries’) and the development of ‘household ordinances and serving manuals’, there also appeared a series of Anglo-Latin courtesy poems which gave advice to young men on appropriate aristocratic and Christian behaviour.
One of these ‘books of manners’ was a 3,000 line work called ‘Urbanus Magnus’. This was written by a Danielis Becclesiensis,(today translated as Daniel of Beccles) and was intended to advise men and boys on how to improve their status in a rapidly changing society. Daniel was described by the Tudor chronicler John Bale as having been in the household of King Henry II for over 30 years. His poem covers such subjects as hierarchy, table manners and sex, with a dizzying array of jumps between topics.
I am particularly taken with his last suggestion:
Should you desire to belch, remember first to gaze up at the ceiling.
If you need to clear your nose, do not show others what appears in your hand.
Do not omit to thank your host.
Abstain from mounting your horse in the hall.
It is unseemly to fall upon your host while he is voiding his bowels.
Finally, if while dining in the company of your liege and his wife expresses her desire for carnal knowledge, the best thing to do is to pretend to be ill.