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Item 8, Dame Courtesy


Abbreviations: CT: Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales; MED: Middle English Diction­ary; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences and Proverbial Phrases.

Title No title or incipit. Though some modern descriptions of this text have called it The Young Children’s Book on the basis of line 147, the title adopted here was Furnivall’s first title for the poem and the title used by both Blanchfield (“Idiosyncratic Scribe”) and Guddat-Figge (Catalogue of Manuscripts) in their descriptions of Ashmole 61. The phrase “Dame Courtesy” only appears twice; it is unusual enough to distinguish the poem from other, similar works.

7 When Gabryell Owre Lady grette. Lines 7 and 8 refer to two episodes in Luke 1:26–55: the Annunciation and the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. A source for the claim that these moments provide an origin for human courtesy has not been identified.

35 If thou labour. The biblical injunction given to Adam after the Fall, “with labour and toil shalt thou eat” (Genesis 3:17), seems to be modified here to acknowledge that certain orders of medieval society relied on the labor of others.

41 Treuth doyt never his master schame. Proverbial; see Whiting, T510.

53 For so thou kepys all the lawe. An allusion to Matthew 22:37–40.

60 Ne no servantys no wey loker. The meaning of this line is unclear and may be cor­rupt, but see MED, “lokere” n. 2: “watchman,” “spy,” or “overseer.”

69 With thi fynger schew thou nothyng. An instance of the very old prohibition against pointing.

86 Sey “God be here”. One of many ritual blessings used for protection. For an exam­ple, see Friar John’s entrance into Thomas’s house in Chaucer’s Summoner’s Tale (CT III[D]1770).

90 Tyll he byde thee that rewlys the halle. The marshal and the usher were household officers responsible for seating diners according to their rank.

97 Take the salt. Diners served themselves salt from salt cellars, serving vessels shar­ed among others. See item 7, Stans Puer ad Mensam, lines 146–51 and note.

105 Wype thi mouthe when thou wyll drinke. Diners shared communal drinking vessels, so cleanliness with the cup was a priority.

115 When thou spytys. This and other courtesy literature make it clear that medieval diners commonly spat at meals; the polite place to spit seems to have been the floor, often covered in rushes before the meal so that it could be cleaned more easily afterwards.

119 Kepe thi knyfe both clen and scherpe. Medieval diners were expected to bring their own knives to meals and to keep them in good condition. They were often worn in pouches hung from the belt.

130 thi dysch. The trencher was made out of sliced bread, upon which individuals placed their food. Dishes were generally reserved for the communal serving dishes shared among several diners. As this text and the preceding text (Stans Puer ad Mensam) make clear, polite manners carefully restricted the ways in which food could be transferred to and from the trencher.

136 Lest it fall ther. The cup in question seems to be a drinking horn, commonly used for wine or other alcoholic beverages.

147 This boke is made for chylder yong. See the introduction to this text.

152a AMEN QUOD RATE. Rate has drawn a grinning fish between this colophon and the start of the following item on fol. 21v.


Abbreviations: see Explanatory Notes

46 these. MS: the.

61 kynd. MS: lynd.

72 muste he be. MS: muste be.

89 furst. MS: furth.

94 felewly. MS: feleyly.

127 noyse. MS: nose.

133 the. MS: tho.

144 thi. MS: thou.

fol. 20r










fol. 20v










fol. 21r










fol. 21v     



Whosoever wyll thryve or thé
Muste vertus lerne and curtas be.
For who in yowth no vertus usythe,
In age all men hym refusythe.
Clerkys that cane the scyens seven
Seys that curtasy came fro heven
When Gabryell Owre Lady grette
And Elyzabeth with her mette.
All vertus be closyd in curtasy,
And all vyces in vilony.

Aryse betyme oute of thi bedde,
And blysse thi breste and thi forhede.
Than wasche thi hondys and thi face,
Keme thi hede and aske God grace
Thee to helpe in all thi werkes;
Thow schall spede better, whatso thou carpes.
Than go to the chyrch and here a Messe:
Ther aske mersy for thi trespasse.
To whom thou metys come by the weye,
Curtasly “gode morne” thou sey.
When thou hast don, go breke thy faste
With mete and drynke of god repaste.
Blysse thi mouthe or thou it ete;
The better schall be thi dyete.
Befor thi mete sey thou thi grace —
It ocupys bot lytell space.
For oure mete and drynke and us,
Thanke we owre Lord Jhesus.
A Pater Noster and Ave Mary
Sey for the saulys that in peyne ly.
Than go labour as thou arte bownde,
And be not idyll in no stounde.
Holy scryptour thus it seyth
To thee that arte of Cristen feyth:
If thou labour, thou muste ete
That with thi hondys thou doyst gete.
A byrd hath wengys for to fle,
So man hath armes laboryd to be.
Luke thou be trew in word and dede:
In all thi werkes than schall thou spede.
Treuth doyt never his master schame;
It kepys hym out of synne and blame.
The weys to heven, thei ben this tweyn:
Mercy and treuthe, as clerkys seyn.
Whoso wyll come to the lyfe of blysse,
To go these weys he may not mysse.
Make no promys bot it be gode,
And kepe thou it with myght and mode,
For every promys, it is dette
That with no falsed muste be lette.
God and thi neybores lufe all wey;
Welle is thee, than may thou sey,
For so thou kepys all the lawe
Withoute any fer, drede, or awe.
Uncallyd go thou to no counsell;
That longys to thee, with that thow melle.
Scorne not the pore, ne hurte no man.
Lerne of hym that thee tech cane.
Be no gloser, nor no moker,
Ne no servantys no wey loker.
Be not prowd, bot meke and kynd,
And with thi better go thou behynd.
When thi better schewys his wylle,
To he have seyd thou muste be stylle.
When thou spekys to any man,
Hand, fote, and fynger kepe thou styll than,
And luke thou uppe into his face,
And curtase be in every place.
With thi fynger schew thou nothyng,
Nor be not lefe to telle tydinge.
If any man sey welle of thee
Or of thi frendys, thankyd muste he be.
Have few wordys and wysly sette,
For so thou may thi worschyppe gete.
Use no sueryng nother lyeng
In thi sellyng and thi byeng,
For and thou do, thou arte to blame,
And at the last thou wyll have scham.
Gete thi gowd with trewth and wynne,
And kepe thee out of dette and synne.
Be loth to greve and leffe to plese;
Seke the pes and lyfe in es.
Of whom thou spekys, where and when,
Avyse thee welle, and to what men.
When thou comys unto a dore,
Sey “God be here” or thou go ferre.
Whereever thou commys, speke honestly
To syr or dame or ther meny.
Stand and sytte not furst withall,
Tyll he byde thee that rewlys the halle.
Wher he bydis, ther must thou sytte,
And for non other change ne flyte.
Sytt upryght and honestly;
Ete and drinke and be felewly.
Parte with hem that sytes thee by;
Thus teches thee Dame Curtasy.
Take the salt with thi clen knyfe.
Be cold of spech and make no stryfe;
Bakbyte no man that is awey;
Be glad of all men wele to sey.
Here and se, and sey thou nought,
Than schall thou not to profe be brought.
With mete and drynke befor thee sette
Hold thee plesyd and aske no bette.
Wype thi mouthe when thou wyll drinke,
Lest it foule thi copys brinke.
Kepe clen thi fyngers, lypes, and chinne,
For so thou may thi wyrschype wynne.
In thi mouth when thi mete is,
To drinke or speke or laugh, iwys,
Dame Curtasy forbydys it thee.
Bot prayse thi fare wheresoever thou be,
For be it gode or be it badde,
In gud worth it muste be had.
When thou spytys, be welle were
Wherso thou spytys nyghe or fer.
Hold thi hand befor thi mouth
When thou spytys, and hyde it couth.
Kepe thi knyfe both clen and scherpe,
And be not besy for to kerpe.
Clens thi knyfe with som cutte bred,
Not with thi cloth, as I thee rede;
With any fylth to fowle the clothe,
A curtase man he wylle be lothe.
In thi dysch sett not thi spone,
Nother on the brynk as unlernyd don.
When thou sopys make no noyse
With thi mouth as do boys.
The mete that on thi trencher is,
Putt it not into thi dysch;
Gete thee sone a voyder,
And sone avoyd thou thi trencher.
When thi better take thee the coppe,
Drinke thi selffe and sett it uppe;
Take the coppe with thi hondys,
Lest it fall ther as thou stondys.
When thi better spekys to thee,
Do of thi cape and bow thi kne.
At thi tabull nother crache ne claw —
Than men wyll sey thou arte a daw.
Wype not thi nose, nor thi nos thirlys —
Than men wyll sey thou come of cherlys.
Make thou nother cate ne hond
Thi felow at thi tabull round,
Ne pley with spone, trencher, ne knyffe.
In honesty and clenys lede thou thi lyffe.
This boke is made for chylder yong
At the scowle that byde not long;
Sone it may be conyd and had,
And make them gode if thei be bad.
God gyff them grace vertuos to be,
For than thei may both thryff and thé.
thrive or prosper; (see note)
uses (practices)

know the seven sciences

greeted; (see note)


in time (i.e., early)
i.e., make the sign of the cross


fare better, whatever you ask for
meet coming by the way


takes only a little time

Our Father; Hail Mary
lie in purgatory
as you must
in no situation

(see note)
what you earn with your hands

never does; (see note)

they are these two

do without [these virtues]; (t-note)

[a] debt
not be hindered by falsehood

(see note)

Do not offer counsel unasked
Busy yourself with what pertains to you

who can teach you
flatterer; mocker
watcher of servants; (see note)

Until he has spoken

(see note)
eager to tell news


swearing nor lying

if you do

Earn your goods (living); honor

loath to grieve; eager to please
peace; ease

forth; (see note)

retinue (company)
he who rules the hall asks; (see note)
with dignity (respectfully)
friendly; (t-note)

(see note)
temperate of speech
Slander; absent

be put to trial

(see note)
rim of your cup


your food

In good worth (With respect)
spit; aware; (see note)

(see note)

edge as the unlearned (boorish) do
sup (eat); (t-note)
unrefined fellows
serving dish; (see note)
      a dish for removing items from the table
gives you the cup; (t-note)

(see note)

jackdaw (fool)
come from churls (are lowborn)
cat or hound

cleanliness (propriety)
(see note)
Who do not stay long at school
learned and known

thrive and prosper
(see note)

Go To Items 9-11, Latin Epigrams and The Rules for Purchasing Land, introduction
Go To Item 9, Latin Epigram, text