Manors and manners

Manors and manners

What did meals look like?


During Henry VIII’s reign the price of fresh meat had fallen enough that most Tudor families could eat meat regularly, but only wealthier Tudor households could eat lavish meals every day. Meals were served twice a day, usually at 10am and 4pm. Typically banquets consisted of two courses, where various dishes would be brought out at the same time.

Course 1 would generally consist of dishes such as bread, boar meat, pork leg, venison and in season vegetables. Course 2 would often have dishes such as roast lamb, rabbit, preserved fruit, gingerbread, deer pie and fish pie.

In Tudor Great Halls tables would be arranged in a ‘U’ shape, with the Master of the house sitting at bottom of the ‘U’. Guests of the highest rank and importance would sit closest to the Master of the house. The men would dine without their hats to show respect to the Master and women would cover their ears to shield themselves from the whisperings of the devil. In most houses (other than the most wealthy ones), guests would be expected to bring their own knife and spoon to eat with.

The Tudors also had a set of very strict rules around meals as etiquette was seen as incredibly important:

Before the meal

  1. Don’t sit down until you have washed.
  2. Undo your belt a little if it will make you more comfortable, because doing this during the meal is bad manners.
  3. When you wipe your hands clean, put good thoughts forward in your mind, for it doesn’t do to come to dinner sad, and thus make other sad.

During the meal

  1. Diners must use napkins to cover their laps, or on their left shoulder or wrist.
  2. It was rude to eat everything on the table as the servants would go hungry then.
  3. “Don’t shift your buttocks left and right as if to let off some blast. Sit neatly and still”
  4. Some households would allow children to stand at their betters’ table to take their meat. They should not stay for the whole meal, but once they have eaten enough, pick up their trencher, salute those at the table, and leave.
  5. Don’t wipe your fingers on your clothes; use the napkin on your lap or the ‘board cloth’.
  6. If someone is ill mannered by ignorance, let it pass, rather than point it out.
  7. Cut your bread with your knife, and do not tear it in great hunks.
  8. Do not overfill a spoon with soup or pottage, and definitely do not spill it on the tablecloth.
  9. Do not slurp your soup or pottage.
  10. Do not leave your spoon in the communal dish when you are done.
  11. Do not return chewed bones to the shared central plate.
  12. If food is dropped on the floor, pick it up but do not eat it.
  13. Do not stuff your mouth, pick your teeth, make rude noises, scratch yourself, blow on your food, spit in the washing basin or across the table, spit up food into your dish, talk with your mouth full, or fall asleep at the table.
  14. Do not put your elbows on the table (which was a sensible precaution against an accident when one considers the table was typically a board laid on top of trestles).
  15. Do not stroke cats and dogs at the table. An order was even made that dogs were not allowed in the dining hall in case they stole from the alms tubs or annoyed the guests with their barking and fighting.

After the meal

  1. Leftovers were to go to servants and staff, and their leftovers to the poor at the gates of the house

Researched and written by volunteer Macey