The Lytille Childrenes Lytil Boke, a medieval conduct book


Don’t pick your nose. Don’t burp. Wash your hands. Take your elbows off the table. Does this sound familiar? This manuscript is full of rules like these, written more than 500 years ago. The ‘Little Children’s Little Book’ taught children table manners, so that they would know how to behave in noble or royal households. By listing all the many things that medieval children should not do, it also gives us a hint of the mischief they got up to.

What are the rules?

  • ‘Pyke notte thyne errys nothyr thy nostrellys’: Don’t pick your ears or nose.
  • ‘Pyke not thi tothe with thy knyffe’: Don’t pick your teeth with your knife.
  • ‘Spette not ovyr thy tabylle’: Don’t spit over your table.
  • ‘Bulle not as a bene were in thi throote’: Don’t burp as if you had a bean in your throat.
  • ‘Loke thou laughe not, nor grenne / And with moche speche thou mayste do synne’: Don’t laugh, grin or talk too much.
  • ‘And yf thy lorde drynke at that tyde, / Dry[n]ke thou not, but hym abyde’: If your lord drinks, don’t drink. Wait until he’s finished.
  • ‘And chesse cum by fore the, be not to redy’: Don’t be greedy when they bring out the cheese.

What is a courtesy book?

This kind of guide to behaviour, known as a courtesy book, was popular in parts of Europe from the 13th to 18th century. It was useful for children and families who aspired to join the nobility or find work serving at the royal court. This author links manners to religion as well as social rank, saying that ‘courtesy’ comes directly from ‘heaven’.

What form of English is this?

This copy from around 1480 is written in Middle English, which is distinct from English spoken today. Some words now have new meanings, or have fallen out of use. For example, ‘meat’ was used to mean ‘food’ and ‘thou’ meant ‘you’. At that time, there were no definite rules for English spelling, so one word (such as ‘little’) was written in different ways. Printing had only recently been introduced to England by William Caxton. It would help to fix spellings in the centuries to come.

Different versions of the ‘Little Book’

There are three different copies of the ‘Little Book’ at the British Library, and at least three more in other collections. This copy is part of a larger manuscript, probably meant for children and other household members. The manuscript includes texts on hunting and carving meat, medicine, blood-letting and English kings. On the third page shown here (f. 59v), small sections have been copied out. At the end, there is a doodled letter ‘M’ and the name ‘Maria’.


Sec. Hand. 3 41.. f.210.



[___] J J J


Litylle chyldrynne here may ye lere

Moche curtesy that ys wretyn here

For clerkys that the vij [7] artys con [kan]

seyth Synne that curtesy from hevyn cam

Whenne Gabryelle once lady grette

And Elezabethe w[i]t[h] mary mette

Alle vertuys ben closyde in curtesy

And alle vysys in velony

Loke that thy hondys benne wasche clene

That no fylthe in thy naylys ben sene

Take noo mete tylle the fyrste gracys ben sayde

And tylle th[o]u see alle thynge a rayde

loke my sone that th[o]u nought sytte

Tylle the ruler of the halle the bytte

Atte the mete in the begynnynge

loke a pon pore men th[e]n thynke

For thy fulle wombe w[i]t[h] owte any faylys

Wotte fulle lytylle what the hungery aylys

Ete not thy mete to hastely

A byde and ete esely

Tylle th[o]u have thy fulle servyse

Touche noo messe in noo wyse

kerne not thy brede to thynne

Ne breke hit not on twynne

The mosselle that th[o]u begynnysse to touche

Cast them not in thy pouche

Put not thy fyngerys on thy dysche

Nothyr in flesche nothyr in fysche

Put not thy mete in to the salte

In to thy Seler that thy salte halte

But lay hyt on thy trenchoure


To fore the and that ys thy honoure

Pyke notte thyne errys nothyr thy nostrellys

And th[e]n doo men wylle say th[o]u comyste of Earlys

But whyle thy mete in thy mouthe ys

Dryke th[o]u not for yete not thys

Ete thy mete by smalle morsellys

Fylle not thy mouthe as dothe brothellys

Pyke not thy tothe w[i]t[h] thy knyffe

Whyle th[o]u ettyste by thy lyffe

And whenne th[o]u haste thy potage i done

Oute of the dysche put thy spone

Spette not ovyr thy tabylle

Nor a pon hyt for hyt ys not able

lay not thy elbowe nothyr thy fyste

A pon the tabylle whyle th[o]u este

Bulke not as a bene were in thy throtahe throote

As a karle that comythe owte of a coote

And thy mete be of grete pryce

Be Ware of hyt or th[o]u arte not wyse

Speke noo Worde stylle ne sterke

And honowre and curtesy loke y[o]u kepe

And at the tabylle loke th[o]u make goode chere

loke th[o]u rownde not in nomannys ere

w[i]t[h] thy fyngerys th[o]u towche and taste

Thy mete ~ And loke th[o]u doo noo waste

loke th[o]u laughe not nor grenne

And w[i]t[h] moche speche th[o]u mayste do synns

Mete ne drynke loke th[o]u ne spylle

But sette hit downe fayre and stylle

Kepe thy clothe clene the byforce

And bere the that th[o]u have no schorne



Byte not they mete but cut hit clene

Byte not thy mete but cut hit clene

Be well ware that noo drope be sene                                      Be welle ware

Whenne th[o]u etyste gape not to wyde                                  that noo drope be

That thy mowthe be in everysyde                                           sene

And sone be ware of one thynge                                            C

Blowe th[o]u not in thy mete not drynke

And yf thy lorde drynke at that tyde

Dryke th[o]u not but hym a byde

Be hyt at eve be hit at morowe

A pon they trencher noo fylthe be sene

Hyt ys not honeste as I the tell

Drynke th[o]u not by hynde noo mannys backe

If th[o]u do th[o]u arte to blame

And chesse cum by fore the be not to redy

To cut there of be not to gredye

Caste not thy bonys in to the flore

But lay hem fayre on thy tranchoure

Kepe clene thy clothe be fore alle

And syt th[o]u stylle w[i]t[h] alle

Tylle gracys be sayde unto the ende

And tylle th[o]u have washe w[i]t[h] thy frende

Lete the more worthy theince th[o]u

Wasche by fore the and that ys thy prowe

Spete not on thy bason

And ryse w[i]t[h] hym that sate w[i]t[h] the soylle

And thanke hym fayre and welle

Aftyr jangely not w[i]t[h] jacke ne gylle

But take thy leve of the lorde lowly

And thanke hym w[i]t[h] thy hert hyly

And able to gedye in same

And bere the soo that th[o]u have noo blame

Thenne wylle they sey there aftyr


That a gentylle man was here

He that dyspysythe thys techynge

He ys not worthy w[i]t[h] awt x  lesynge

Nevyr at a goode mannys tabylle for to sytte

Nothyr of noo Worshippe to wete

And there fore chlydryn pur charyte

Lernythe thys boke that ys callyd Edyllys be                                     There was a

And pray for hym that made thys                                                       man th[a]t hadde [?]

That hym may helpe swete Jhes[us]

To lyve and dy a monge hys frendys

And us grancte in joy to a byde

Say ye alle Amen for charyde in every syde



Here endythe the boke of Curtesy                                                     m

that ys fulle necessury unto yonge

chyldryn that muste nedys lerne the                                                   Maria The manne

maner of curtesy ~                                                                              gods [hed?]  off the church

                                                                                                            that be in en

              Explicit Amen

There was a man that hadde nought

There came thenys & robbyd hy[m] & toke nought

he ranne owte and cryde nought

Why shulde he crye he loste nought

here ys a tale of ryght noughte


Cronica si peuces si certant Oxonienses

Post paucos menses pugnabu[n]t et angliginentes



[Translation (attempted)]


[Chronicle if Peuces contend with the men of Oxford.

After a few months they and the Englishmen will fight.]                    Nota b[e]n[e] q[ui] [__?]


Full title:
The boke of curtesy,' beginning, 'Litylle chyldrynne here may y e lere,' f. 58; Miscellaneous historical and other pieces in prose and verse
15th century
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Egerton MS 1995

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