13 May: Cardinal Richelieu and the Table Knife

Disdain for bad table manners reportedly led 17th Century Machiavelli Cardinal Richelieu to insist that knives should be flattened at his table on 13th May, 1637 – revolutionising dining etiquette.

While some Mediaeval habits such as spitting and urinating at the table had largely disappeared by this era, finger-licking and the use of knives as toothpicks had persisted, and Richelieu’s irritation with such behaviours supposedly spurred him to action (although: it was probably *also* convenient for the baddie from ‘The Three Musketeers’ not to have a load of sharp knives in his guests’ pockets…)

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly trace the evolution of dining customs, from communal bowls to individual plates and utensils; question whether the polite use of toothpicks at the table has actually ever been solved; and explain why a Royal edict in 1699 popularised the table knife across France…

Further Reading:

• ‘Rhodri Marsden’s interesting objects: The table knife’ (The Independent, 2015): https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/rhodri-marsden-s-interesting-objects-the-table-knife-10229114.html

• ‘Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things’ (Chartwell Books, 2016): https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Panati_s_Extraordinary_Origins_of_Everyd/utroDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=knife+%2B+richelieu&pg=PA80&printsec=frontcover

• ‘How To Sharpen A Knife’ (Gordon Ramsay, 2013):