In a great household, the following
roles are part o
f the household management and dining
James I dining with the
Spanish ambassadors. They are being served by
Gentlemen Waiters of
the king's household. They are going down on
one knee when they present
the dishes. Note the marshal of the feast
with the rod in the
- oversees all the domestic management.
of the Feast
- coordinates the service.
- in charge of the laving vessels, handwashing, and table linen. A ewerer
may have grooms to help.
- in charge of the bread. A pantler may have grooms to help with this task.
- carves the meat (roasts, birds, etc.).
in charge of wine and ale. The butler will have a groom or two who
will handle the cupbearing tasks.
- fills the cups, takes them to the guests, rinses them out, and puts them
on the cupboard to be used again when asked for. The lord and special guests
often have their own.
- the head waiter.
Waiters- in a royal household, these are gentlemen of the chamber.
They serve the dishes to the guests at high table. It is considered a highly
Ushers - the ones who bring
the food to the tables, the 'servants' generally. The sewer oversees them.
- someone usually has the job of tasting the food (and the wash water,
and the linens, etc). It varies who does this -- sometimes the head cook,
the steward, the marshal, the sewer or a combination (typically those in
responsibility who might have the opportunity to corrupt the food). This
task is known as assaying the food.
For this Feast:
Master Aleksander Yevsha is Marshall of the Feast.
Master Tibor and Lady Eleanor will serve as ewerers to high
table, the livered servants will handle laving for the others.
There is no pantler, the bread being served is all machets
and festive little rolls. Manchets will be pre-set, but for the second
course, the servants will have to bring out the little rolls in a
basket and lay them at each guest's place.
Baron Tibor will be kerver for high table. As needed the
other ushers will kerve for the guests as well. André will assist
at high table as needed. The main dishes requiring kerving are the boar
roast (1st course), turkey-duck-veal roast (2nd course). Guests may also
want help with the patridges in a pastry (1st course). The standing pies
should also be kerved. The technique used is to neatly cut out the top
of the pie around the edges and remove it, then scoop out the contents
for the guests. The top pie crust may be offered to the guests. Carving
tools and serving spoons will be set out by the "feature roast" on each
side of the "U."
Master Yevsha is butler. There will be a sideboard with all
the drinks on it. Guests should bring their beverages to him before dinner.
They will be decanted as needed and labelled, and the ushers will serve
them to the guests when requested.
The ushers will act as cupbearers to their tables. When guests
want a drink, they should request it from their servants, who will fill
their cups from their bottles (or with the non-alcoholic drinks, water
and verjuice). Eleanor with serve high table as cupbearer.
Isabella's cupbearer will serve Isabella
The Sewer is Adele Mallory (André for tonight).
The ushers are Ki-Lin (Pascal), Sylvia (Sylvius), Lilias
(Lilius), Michael Graham (Michel), Ayden, Donal Artur , Leucum (Lucian
), Isabella's cupbearer . For high table, the Sewer, Tibor, and Eleanor
(if needed) will usher.
There will be no tasters.
Serving royalty in the 15th
c. Serving men have their towels over the left
shoulder. The sewer
is wearing his across his body like a baldric.
Setting the Table
The ewerer and the marshall or sewer
normally lay out the table linens. The are typically 3 cloths at the high
table: one is laid down the center of the table and the other two are laid
at its edges so as to hang down on the sides. Clean linen is highly desirable,
and neatly pressed into fine sharp squares all the more desirable. The
laying down of the cloths is often accompanied with a certain amount of
kneeling and hand kissing (kissing one's own hand, a common method of showing
respect). If anyone is watching, it could be nice to perform this ceremony
for the high table before dinner.
For this feast: the handmade
table linens are wide, 60". There will be two at high table. One will have
a decorative border, this border should hang down in front. For the other
tables, there is one cloth a piece.
After the table cloths, the salt cellars
are placed on the table. There is usually a grand salt that is placed on
the high table near the lord of the hall, and smaller ones scattered about
the tables for others to use. Salt is an ancient symbol of hospitality,
as well as a necessary and valuable spice, and being near the master salt
is a sign of honor.
For this feast: There is
a larger bronze salt cellar to put in the center of the high table, with
two small ceramic ones on either side. There are 12 other small ceramic
ones to be placed on the other tables, one for every 3 people.
Next the trenchers, knives, spoons,
& napkins, are normally laid out at each place. In later times, the
trenchers are pewter plates. In earlier times, they are flat loaves of
stale bread. Trenchers can also be made of wood.
For this feast: guests
are all getting a pewter plate, a silver goblet, a napkin (folded on top
of the plate), and a pewter spoon. A manchet (for the first course) or
a couple of festive rolls (for the second course) are part of the preset.
Drinking vessels are usually kept
on the cupboard, then brought to each diner when requested, rinsed out,
and placed back on the cupboard to be shared.
For this feast: guests
will keep their own goblets. Bottles, jugs, pitchers will be kept on a
sideboard, and the liveried servants will take the goblet, fill it, and
return it to the guest.
Other preset for this feast includes
the sauces, and the servants carving tools and serving spoons, which will
be arranged by the "feature roast."
Clean hands before you eat is
very important to medieval manners. A lot of your food is eaten with
your hands out of communal dishes, and this is a matter of basic civility.
Laving can be done quite ceremoniously. Two servants bring around
ewer and basin starting with the highest ranking person.
The washing should be done by VERY
CAREFULLY, slowly pouring water from the ewer over the guests hands, with
the other servant holding the basin below to catch the drops. The ewerer
will then offer the towel on his arm for the guests to dry their hands.
Lower ranking guests may wash their
hands before sitting down at the table. A laving board, usually near the
entrance to the hall, should have a basin, ewer, and towels set up
for people to use as they come in.
Laving was also done after dinner,
when your hands are really dirty. Most medieval food was eaten with your
hands, and by the time dinner is over you need to wash again.
For this feast: Baron Tibor
and Lady Eleanor will do formal laving for the high table, with an aquamanile
and basin. For the other guests, liveried servants will bring around bowls
of water, and carry a towel. They will not have ewers. The hand washing
is large ceremonial, even in the middle ages you were expected to have
washed ahead of time.
In a medieval hall, the guests are seated
in order of precedence. Tables are normally laid out in a U shape, with
the master of the hall at the base of the "U'. The table to his right is
the Rewarde, and is considered a place of honor. This table eats from the
same dishes as the master. The table across from it to the left is
the "Second Messe", next down in social status, and so on down the hall.
The lowest seat is at the bottom of the leftmost table. We are organizing
the precedence as if all of the right side were one table, and all of the
left side another.
The pantler carving up the king's bread. He is
bread with a pantler's knife and then serving
it with a
"presentoir." He is making a little pile of
the king. Note the big salt cellar on the
table. There are
servers bringing in the dishes to the right.
They are stacked
up and held together with a towel. There are
playing as the servants bring in the dishes.(15th
For this feast: see the
Bread is usually laid out as part of
the preparation. Bread is a crucial part of the meal. It is not only food,
it is used to clean your utensils and sop up sauces. For the high table,
the pantler carves up the bread into perfectly rectangular pieces, without
crusts, and make neat little pyramids of slices before the honored guests.
The pantler should use a bread knife to do this job. Then the pieces that
have been cut should be laid before the master or guest using a presentoir.
This is a broad-bladed round-ended knife, rather like a long spatula or
a cake server.
For this feast: For the
first course there will be manchets. Manchets are rolls of fine white bread,
very prestigious. Each guest will have one in the preset, set to the left
of their plate. For the second course there will be delectable little rolls
with cheese and other fillings. Each guest will get two (brought around
in a basket between courses and set on the table)
Serving the Dishes
Kitchens normally had a staging area
for arranging the dishes to be served. The dishes are brought from this
area to the tables by servants in procession. Food always goes first to
the high table, and then to others, in order of precedence. Serve the king
first. Serve the right hand side of the table before the left.
After the servants present
the dishes for high table, they should go down on one knee if they
can.You don't have to hit the ground with this motion -- think genuflect,
or a deep reverence. We suggest doing this after presenting the dish because
we don't have the experience that period servers did of being able to serve
directly from bended knee. It would be very bad to lose the roast. If there
are Gentlemen Waiters present, give the dishes to them to place on the
Once the dish is on the high table,
it will be kerved by a kerver. At the other tables, guests have to do this
for themselves. It is considered a courtesy to carve someone's meat for
The kerver at the Duc de
Berry's table. Note the lovely linen towel on
his shoulder, which
has blue embroidery on it. The sewer is next to him
on hte left (Les Tres
Riches Heures du Duc de Berry).
In a typical period meal, each prepared
"dish" would be apportioned into "messes." Two to six people would be expected
to share a "messe." It would normally be two at high table and more elsewhere.
At typical society events, it is usually eight (the size of a modern "banquet"
Guests historically got food
from the messe onto their trenchers using their knives. At the high table,
the kerver will take care of cutting meat and fowl and putting the pieces
on the guests' trenchers. The pantler will cut and pare the bread and put
it to the left of the guests trenchers'. For other dishes, like sallets
or soup, the Gentleman Waiters should see about serving portions
out to the guests, at least the first time around.
As soon as the servants for high
table have handed over their dishes to the Gentlemen, then servants
shouild bring dishes to the other guests. In laying down the dishes, they
should try to keep a nice symmetrical order in the middle of the table.
Period household manuals stress the importance of arranging the dishes
For this feast: There is a diagram
for laying out the dishes (there are 12 of them). We have five tables,
the high table, and 4 other tables of 9 persons, 2 on each side of the
"U." There will be five of every dish, one for each table, except for the
"feature roast" (boar in the first course, turkey in the second), of which
there will be three (one for each leg, as shown in diagram). There will
be kerving tools and serving spoons set out by the feature roast. There
will be an usher to kerve on each leg of the table, Tibor to kerve at high
Things to keep in mind: it will take a while to get out 12 dishes.
We are assigning 2 servants per table. If each can carry 2 dishes, it still
involves 6 trips, and some dishes can only be carried alone (the feature
roast, the soup in tureens). People need to be discouraged from digging
into the food until it is all out. Do this by telling them to wait for
high table. They will want it carved immediately, so it is important that
the designated kervers be ready to start immediately, while other servants
take care of drinks and helping with the other dishes.
Because people will want drinks, and giving them drinks and carving
their food at the same time will cause a hectic meal experience,
we will try to serve them drinks BEFORE the first dishes come out (like
they do in modern restaurants). As a servant moves through the tables with
a laving bowl, a servant could come behind them handling the first round
of drink requests. We should allow a few minutes for this, it will be well
worth it so that the first few minutes of the dinner do not become a chaotic
Basic Waiting Rules
When putting down dishes, always serve
from the left side of the guest. When taking dishes away, clear from the
right side of the guest.When guests are seated on one side only, this will
make service much easier because you serve from the open side, rather than
over anyone's shoulder.
Historically beverages were kept
on a cupboard. The butler was in charge of it, with grooms to assist him.
Normally the cups themselves are also kept on the cupboard. When a diner
wanted a drink, the cupbearer would fetch & fill a cup and presents
to the guest. It is considered bad manners to drain the cup completely.
When done, the cupbearer takes the cup, empties it, rinses it, and puts
it back on the cupboard.
The Butler at the Duc de Berry's table. Behind
him to the left
is the cupboard, with an extravagant display
of gilt plate.
Besides the cups, it displayed the lord's
weath through all the
lovely dishes which were not currently in
For modern settings, the guests will
want to keep their cups on the table with them, but at the high table the
butler can take care of refilling cups when requested, and of asking if
the high table want refills. Cups should be set to the right of the trencher.
If the high table has any ale or wine that they want with the meal, it
is a nice touch to collect these before dinner and decant them (if
possible) into period style vessels, then set them on a cupboard where
the butler can manage them.
Unless there are lots of servant,
modern practicality requires that pitchers of water or other drinks should
just be kept on the table for everyone but high table. Servants should
see to it that these pitchers are kept full.
Notes on using period drinking vessels:
Earthenware vessels are porous even when they are well-glazed. When they
are filled with liquid they are heavy. If you are pouring anything from
an earthenware jug, always grip the handle in one hand, and put your other
hand underneath the bottom of the jug to support it. Do not carry all its
weight from the handle only, it might come right off.
For this feast: guests
will give their beverages to the Butler, Master Yevsha. We will provide
water and a mixture of verjuice and water (tastes like lemon water), wine
and anything else is provided by the guest. The guests' beverages will
be decanted if possible and labelled, and placed on a sideboard. Servants
will be responsible for acting as butler's groom to six or so people, filling
their drinks as needed.
Eating the Dishes
A lot of people do not actually know
how to eat their food at table. The historical procedure is to take food
from the messe onto your trencher using your knife.You do the same with
salt, scooping out a little from the salt cellar with the tip of your knife.
It is considered bad manners to put a dirty knife into the salt; the knife
should be cleaned with bread before putting it into anything. You should
not put your knife into your mouth.
Once you have gotten your food onto
your trencher, you are supposed to cut it into small pieces and eat it
with your hands. That is what God gave us napkins for. You wear the napkin
over your left shoulder and use it to clean your hands as required. If
there are sauces, you dip your bits of meat into the sauce and then eat
it. If you have a kerver, he may kerve pieces of meat in strips with a
little "handle" so that you can use the handle for dipping the meat.
As for liquid items, historically
you were expected to eat them with a spoon out of the common dish, or spoon
them onto your bread and eat it as sops. Many SCA folk bring a bowl with
them to feasts, but this is not part of the table setting on a formal table
in our time period. If
you want to eat in a period manner and be sanitary, you can use the sops
Note that the courtesy books all
tell people to cut their bread with a knife and not tear it into hunks.
Serving at table before the hunt (14th c.) The
servant on the
left is presenting the great salt celler,
the one on the right a
dish of fish. Both are semi-kneeling on one