It is a common misconception that people in the Late Medieval and Early Renaissance meals were hedonistic, violent, and with no sense of cleanliness or manners.
In truth, etiquette guidelines were complex and exacting. These rules, however, varied from country to country. In England, meals remained fairly bawdy even when the rest of Europe was seriously reigning in the ribaldry.
For example, an Italian guest at the royal table reported that Henry VIII would thrust “gobbits” of food into one cheek then the next. But In the rest of Europe, more refined manners had been adopted by the time Henry VIII reigned in England.
The authority on etiquette was mainly guided by Giovanni della Casa’s book, Galateo: Oero de ‘costume, (The Rules of Polite Behavior). It included how to dress well, develop witty conversation, and how to behave at table.
In his book, he admonished:
- It is not polite, while at the table, to scratch your head or somewhere else. A man should also, as much as possible, avoid spitting, but if he must, he should do it discreetly.