New Source Translation: Wahre Hoveschheit

I’m glad to announce the upload of a new translation. The Wahre Hoveschheit (true courtesy) is a Tischzucht or book of table manners most likely produced in the fifteenth century for a monastic community in Westfalia. It specifically addresses members of cloistered orders with the goal of teaching lower-class members proper conduct in polite company, but the rules described in it are applicable more widely.

Bad monk! Drinking from bowls is a faux pas. 13th century illumination courtesy of wikimedia commons

The Wahre Hoveschheit very likely enjoyed some popularity within its limited area, given two manuscript copies survive. It was first edited in the nineteenth century, but relatively little has been done with the text since. I produced a translation for the Society for Creative Anachronism’s (SCA) magazine Tournaments Illuminated in 2012 and have finally found the time to review it and post it here.

We do not know the author or origin of the text, but looking at its structure it appears to be cpomplete as it was intended. It begins with an introduction explaining the need to learn proper deportment for members of cloistered orders. This is followed by lengthy explanations of manners at table and, more concisely, general conduct in polite company and when visiting people in their homes. The final paragraphs seem to lose cohesion. They outline responding to challenges to the authority of the clergy and church, cast in terms of ‘foolish questions’ and especially envision debates with Jews. The recommended responses vary from claiming lack of education to brushing off the questions or insulting the questioner. Especially the attitude to Jews is crassly hostile. I included a translation of this part, but do not in any way share the underlying assumptions in case this needs spelling out.

It is quite unlikely that clergy in Westfalia in the 1400s would have interacted much with Jews. Jewish communities had dwindled and in many cases been expelled or destroyed in the 14th and 15th century in most cities. More likely, they serve as a rhetorical foil, an imaginary opponent against whom the aggressive insults that the reader may have wanted to hurl at his fellow Christians were permitted. What we can imagine is members of holy orders, especially those with little formal education, facing challenges from an educated, earnestly pious, and increasingly anticlerical laity. That is the more likely context here.

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