In Venice, the fork seems to have been introduced as early as the XIth Century, by a Greek princess, wife of the Doge Domenico Silvio.  She carries her food to her mouth “with little two-pronged forks of gold”.

This novelty passes for a mark of such outrageous refinement that it causes a scandal, and the lady is severely objurgated by the ecclesiastics, who call divine anger down upon her.  Shortly afterward, she comes down with a repulsive illness, and Saint Bonaventure does not hesitate in declaring that it is a punishment from God.

The terrifying preacher Olivier Maillard is still fulminating against the lady sinner, three centuries later.

A text from a XIIIth Century traveller proves that the Tartars of that time are already using forks for eating meat.

The same instrument is used in Italy, in a town called Plaisance, in 1390.  It only appears one hundred years later in Venice.

From Italy, it is taken to England, in 1611, by Thomas Coryate.  He will be the object of a constant stream of sarcasm for this exploit, and will be known only as furcifer, or “fork-man”, from then on.

Before that, the fork had arrived in France, rather timidly at first – we have already noted that it existed only in a few princely inventories – and for very precise uses.  It is to the mignons that is owed its acclimatisation in this country.

Such a capital revolution of custom, like eating with forks, must not have happened without a reason.  Mr Havard believes that he has discovered this reason in the extraordinary development of collars and ruffs at the end of the XVIth Century.

As it is impossible to carry food to the mouth with the fingers while wearing such a collar, spoon handles have to be lengthened, and, for solid foods, forks have to be used.

For his part, Mr Bonnaffe attributes the importation of forks into France to Henri III, who is able to appreciate their utility when he passes through Venice.  However, it is worth noting that, once the fashion of ruffs has ended, the use of forks becomes less frequent.  This could just be coincidental.

Returning to France from Poland, Henri III passes through Venice, where he is given a magnificent reception.  At this meal, he sees a particular instrument whose utility is obvious.  On his arrival in France, he talks about it to those around him, and this is how the habit of using it started.

Pamphleteers, who let nothing escape them, are indignant about this innovation.  They mock the mignons, who never touch meat with their hands, but with forks, carrying it to their mouths, “stretching their necks and their bodies over their plates”.  They also have the nerve to take up their lettuce with this little forked tooth, and not only lettuce, but also artichokes, asparagus, peas and shelled beans!

However, beginnings are difficult, and most people “drop as much in the serving dish, on their plates, and on the way, as they put in their mouths”.  The insistent mocker laughs at these refined people who wash their hands in water “where irises have soaked”, even though their hands haven’t touched either meat or grease, because they have forks.

Although the fashion of forks penetrates court circles, it isn’t adopted by everyone, even in high society.  The “gallant ladies”, in Brantome’s time, use either fingers or forks, or both, when eating pates and other hot delicacies.

It isn’t until the century of the Grand King that we see manuals of polite behaviour recommending the use of the fork.  Even so, for a long time, at the table of Louis XIV, only the King uses this instrument.  The others have to make do with a knife and their fingers.

Eighth part tomorrow.

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