Selection From Liber Urbanus

Hello! This week is a completely different type of blog but I felt like everyone should have a read and (hopefully) love the post I have done this week. This post is an extract of something that I studied last week at Kings College London in my Aristocratic Society in the Middle Ages course. Don’t stop reading if that sounded insanely boring to you, the post is amusing for all, not just us History geeks. I will post the my favourite bits from the selection that we studied from Daniel of Beccles ‘Liber Urbanus’ translated by A. Frith in 2007 but I feel like there is no part of it which should be left out. All you need to know whilst reading the selection is that it is written describing what you can and can’t do as a knight and how to act in some awkward situations (such as what to do when you’re Lord is taking too long in the toilet…). I really hope you enjoy this, I can’t imagine anyone reading it without having a little giggle.

‘Dining at a rich man’s table, say little, lest you be called talkative and garrulous among the diners. Be modest; let reverence be your companions. No wit it profitable, unless it be controlled. Love restraint if you love to be witty.’…

‘Sitting at table as a guest, you should not put your elbows on the table.’ (haven’t we all heard this from our mums at some point? Turns out it dates all the way back to the eleventh century!)… ‘You can put your elbows on your own table but not on someone else’s. When you are in good health, do not put cushions under your elbows as you eat; sit at table with your head erect. Before a meal it is all right to loosen one’s belt.’…

‘Do not be a nose-blower, at dinner nor a spitter; if a cough attacks you you defeat the cough. If you want to belch, be mindful to look at the ceiling… Do not say, ‘Drink-first’ when the butler offers you a drink. If he says ‘Wassail’, let your response be ‘Drink hail’. But if by chance you have a girl as a butler, you may properly say ‘Drink first to me, taking an equal share.’…

‘Let those sitting down hold their napkins… A dinner can take place without a table, not without a napkin.’…

‘When he [the Lord] sits on the privy in the usual way, take in your hands hay or straw, pick up two big wads of hay in your fingers and press them well together. You should prepare to give them to your patron when he wants them. Let the wads be given to him as you stand, not bending the knee. If two together are sitting on a privy, one should not get up while the other is emptying himself.’…

And my personal favourite… ‘If the wife of your lord turns her eyes on you too often, and wantonly looses shameful fires against you, letting you know that she wants to have intercourse with you; if she says, “the whole household and your lord, my husband, shall serve you forever, you alone shall be my darling, you shall rule everything, everything which belongs to your lord shall be open to you” consult me, my son; what I counsel is planted in your heart; between two evils, choose the lesser evil; your sager plan is to feign illness, nerve-wracking diseases, to go away sensibly and prudently.’…

And then these final few gems… ‘When you are a cuckold, learn to stare up at the ceiling.’… ‘Whatever your wife does, avoid harming your marriage’… and finally, the most hilarious, ‘When there is something you do not want people to know, do not let your wife know it.’

I hope you have enjoyed these amazing little extracts. What I found most amusing and fascinating is that very little has changed from the eleventh to the twenty first century. The well-known ‘woman gossip’ and ‘elbows on table’ are still so current, yet hundreds of years and so much culture has changed since this selection would have been written. So, thank you for reading my blog and I hope you enjoyed the little difference it had this time. Next time I will be reviewing  ‘Just North Child’ by Edith Pattou (and yes, I am still struggling my way through the Age of Magic by Ben Okri… the things I do for my blog!).



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