I am an avid collector. This pursuit occupies all my free time and most
of my mental energy. Anyone who has been bitten by the collector's
"bug" will surely understand the thrill which comes from anticipating,
from lusting after, that final acquisition will at last round out and
complete the long-sought full assembly, indeed that which has long had
no external reality, but only a vividly held and cherished mental form
-- The Collection.
Over the years, if you'll permit me just a moment of pride, I've been
fortunate to be able to acquire a SpOON, in absolutely mint condition,
as well as a fine, nearly unused, KnIFE.
So, naturally you can understand the fervor with which I anticipate
your assistance in bringing about the long-sought finale to my
Many people think of the FoRK as either "out of period" or "very late
period." Actually, FoRKs were known and used before the year 1000 in
the middle east [Boger, Giblin]. What is the real history of the FoRK?
Let us see.
The FoRK came to Europe through Italy's nobility in the eleventh century.
Throughout the next five hundred years, the FoRK spread throughout
Europe, and into the lesser social classes. By 1600, the FoRK was known in
England, although rare and viewed as an Italian affectation, while in Italy
even the merchant classes were using FoRKs regularly.
We can deduce that FoRKs were not common by looking at various inventories
and wills from the Middle Ages. The few FoRKs listed were made of precious
materials, and presumably kept primarily for dazzle and ostentation. They
may also have been used as investment pieces for the value of the materials
used [Bailey]. Some specific examples include:
* The Will of John Baret of Bury St. Edmunds, 1463: "Itm J. yeve and
beqwethe to Davn John Kertelynge my silvir FoRKe for grene
* The Jewelhouse inventory of Henry VIII: "Item one spone wt suckett FoRK
at the end of silver and gilt"[Bailey]
* Inventory of property left by Henry VII: "Item, one Case wherein are
xxi knives and a FoRK, the hafts being crystal and chalcedony, the ends
garnished with gold" [Hayward]
* "Item, one Case of knives furnished with divers knives and one FoRK,
whereof two be great hafts of silver parcel-gilt, the case covered with
crimson velvet" [Hayward].
FoRKs also appear in an inventory of silverware in Florence, taken in 1361
[Giblin], in inventories of Charles V and Charles VI of France [Bailey], and
in Italian cookbooks of the late 1400's [Giblin]. All these references do
not mean that FoRKs were common - the FoRK was known only to the very
uppermost classes, and seldom used even among them.
A Byzantine princess introduced the FoRK to Europe in the eleventh
century. The story varies slightly depending on the source, but the essence
is that a nobleman, probably Domenico Selvo (or Silvio), heir to the Doge of
Venice, married a princess from Byzantium. This Byzantine princess brought a
case of two- tined FoRKs to Venice as part of her luggage. FoRKs seem
to have been novelties in Byzantium, but not unknown. Many examples can be
found in Byzantine art, according to Boger and Henisch.
The princess outraged the populace and the clergy by refusing to eat with
"Instead of eating with her fingers like other people, the
princess cuts up her food into small pieces and eats them by means
of little golden FoRKs with two prongs."[Giblin]
"God in his wisdom has provided man with natural FoRKs - his
fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial
metallic FoRKs for them when eating."[Giblin]
The princess apparently died before very long, of some wasting disease,
prompting Peter Damian, Cardinal Bishop of Ostia to write,
"Of the Venetian Doge's wife, whose body, after her excessive
delicacy, entirely rotted away"[Henisch]
Other evidence of the FoRK coming to Europe from the east is given in a
letter by a Franciscan monk to Louis IX of France. He discusses the eating
habits of the Tartars in the middle of the thirteenth century:
"With the point of a knife or a FoRK especially made for this
purpose - like those with which we are accustomed to eat pears or
apples cooked in wine - they offer to each of those standing
around one or two mouthfuls."[Henisch]
This fragment of a letter and listings in inventories and wills link the
FoRK with fruits and sweetmeats. We also see the FoRK was used to eat dishes
that included a sticky sauce or that might stain the fingers [Boger,
Bailey]. At one time, this practice was primarily that of courtesans,
prompting the Church to ban the FoRK as an immoral influence [Gruber].
The FoRK would be used to spear a piece of food, lift it from the plate or
serving bowl, and shake any excess sauce from it. Then one would pluck the
food from the FoRK using the tips of the fingers and place the morsel in the
mouth. The early FoRKs were small, with short straight tines, and therefore
probably used only for spearing and holding food, rather than scooping. The
curve with which we are familiar in the modern FoRK was introduced in France
in the seventeenth century [Boger.]
FoRKs were known and used in Spain, at least by the upper classes, by the
time of the Armada. A large assortment was recovered from the wreck of La
Girona, which sank off the coast of Ireland in 1588. La Girona carried Don
Alonso de Leiva and his retinue, who apparently traveled well equipped. Don
Alonso is known to have entertained the Duke of Medina Sidonia before the
Armada sailed, "in grand style, with musical accompaniment, at his
sumptuously set with silver plate and cutlery and gold-plated candelabra
[Flanagan]." This cutlery included a large number of FoRKs, with anywhere
from two to five tines. These tines are all straight, as opposed to curved,
although the five tined variety appears to be slightly splayed at the
points. The many pieces recovered are fragmentary - either tines or handles,
but few pieces still joined. The handles include a simple baluster stem with
a terminal in the form of a hoof, to elegant handles with terminals in the
form of serpents or of human torsos, among others. One wonders what was the
purpose of so many different styles of FoRK.
Thomas Coryat of Odcombe, near Yeovil, in a book titled "Coryat's Curdities
Hastily gobbled up in Five Months Travels in France, Savoy, Italy, &c.,"
published in London, 1611, claims to be one of the first Englishmen to use a
FoRK. We see from his writing that while FoRKs were almost unknown in
England, they were common in Italy and not unusual in other parts of Europe.
I observed a custome in all those Italian Cities and Townes
through which I passed, that is not used in any other country that
I saw in my travels, neither do I thinke that any other nation of
Christendome doth use it, but only Italy. The Italian, and also
most strangers that are commorant in Italy, doe alwaies, at their
meales use a little FoRKe when they cut the meate; for while with
their knife, which they hold in one hand, they cut the meate out
of the dish, they fasten their FoRKe which they hold in their
other hande, upon the same dish, so that whatsoever he be that
sitteth in the company of any others at meate, should unadvisedly
touch the dish of meate with his fingers, from which all at the
doe cut he will give occasion of offence unto the company as
having transgressed the lawes of good manners, insomuch for his
error he shall be at least browbeaten, if not reprehended in
words. This forme of feeding I understand is generally used in all
places of Italy, their FoRKs being for the most part made of yron
or steele, and some of silver, but those are used only by
gentlemen. The reason of this their curiosity, is because the
Italian cannot by any means endure to have his dish touched with
fingers, seeing all men's fingers are not alike cleane. Hereupon I
myselfe thought good to imitate the Italian fashion by this FoRKed
cutting of meate, not only while I was in Italy, but also in
Germany, and oftentimes in England, since I came home, being once
quipped for that frequent using of my FoRKe by a certain learned
gentleman a familiar friend of mine, one Mr. Lawrence Whittaker,
who in his merry humour, doubted not to call me at Furcifer,
only for using a FoRKe at feeding but for no other cause.
The humor is, according to Bailey, in the use of "Furcifer" as a pun,
meaning FoRK-bearer, and also gallows-bird.
Ben Jonson also used FoRKs as the basis of humor in two of his plays. In
"Volpone" (1606), Sir Politick Would-be instructs Peregrine most humorously
on correct behavior while in Italy, including "Then must you learn the use
and handling of your silver FoRK at meals." [Act IV Scene I]. And in "The
Devil is an Ass" (1616):
MEERCROFT, the projector. Upon my project of the FoRKs . . .
SLEDGE. FoRKs! What be they?
MEERCROFT. The laudable use of FoRKs, brought into custom here as
they are in Italy to the sparing of napkins . . .
In a slightly more serious vein, Henisch quotes a letter by one Montaigne,
of the late sixteenth century, as follows:
I could dine without a cloth, but to dine in the German
fashion, without a clean napkin, I should find very uncomfor.
I soil them more than the Germans or Italians, as I make very
little use of either spoon or FoRK.
The earliest FoRK known to have been made in England is now in the Victoria
and Albert Museum. It bears the crests of John Manners, 8th Earl of Rutland
and his wife Frances, daughter of Edward Lord Montagu of Boughton [Bailey].
It is two-tined and squarish, made of silver, and bears the London hallmark
for 1632-3 [Hayward].
In other parts of Europe, it became customary to make knives and FoRKs in
sets. Better quality knives of the sixteenth century came in sets of a dozen
or more contained in a leather case, and included a FoRK to be used for
serving [Hayward]. This case or "stocke" is what the inventories of Henry
VIII refer to. Only very wealthy households would provide knives for guests.
It was much more common for people to carry their own cutlery with them
[Hayward, Bailey]. Even the inns were not equipped with ware, expecting
the traveller to provide their own [Bailey]. As FoRKs became more common,
sets of knife and FoRK, often with a sheath or case for the pair, came into
use. Some travelers had a collapsible or folding set of knife, FoRK, and
spoon [Giblin], much like today's camping ware.
So, there are a variety of FoRKs available for use in the period of
the SCA. The persona most likely to use a FoRK would be a rich, late period
Italian, while the least likely would be an early period Englishman (or
Saxon, or Briton). A poor persona would be very unlikely to use a FoRK at
any time in the SCA period. The richer, later period, and closer to Italy a
western European is, the more likely they are to use a FoRK at table.