Royal Etiquette: What is Etiquette and how it Started

French King Louis XIV

When people began to interact with one another, they learned to behave in ways that made life easier and more pleasant. Manners and etiquette had a practical purpose and developed rules for proper social conduct.

The history of Manners & Etiquette

What is etiquette and how did it get started?

It all began in the French royal court

Much of what is now considered formal etiquette started in the French royal court in the 1600s and 1700s. The nobles who lived at court did not work, so they developed elaborate social customs mostly to avoid becoming bored. They drew up a list of proper social behavior and called it “etiquette.”

Etiquette was also an easy way to differentiate those in the royal court from the “commoners.” Those with proper manners could easily be recognized in society and commoners could no longer easily sneak into court.

Once this “secret code of behavior” was discovered, the trend spread throughout Europe. Everyone wanted to act in mannerly ways to emulate the royals. This caused the royals to create even more intricate rules of behavior in order to maintain their differentiation.

Etiquette from the 1500s to the early 1900s

From the 1500s to the early 1900s children learned etiquette at school. They were advised on such points as:

  • the proper way of kneeling before their teachers, and
  • the value of remaining silent until spoken to

Etiquette in the 1700s

In the 1700s the following rules were enforced:

  • Grease not thy fingers or napkin more than necessity requires.
  • Smell not thy meat nor put it to thy nose.
  • Foul not the table cloth.
  • Spit not in the room, but in the corner, or rather, go out and do it abroad.
  • Cleanse not your teeth with the table cloth, napkin, fork or knife.

Etiquette in the 1800s

In the 1800s a young man could not speak to a young woman he knew until she had first acknowledged him. Little girls curtsied and little boys bowed when introduced to someone. Even until today, when a young man and a young woman went out on a date, the girl was expected to sit quietly in the car while he walked around it to open her door and help her out.

Modern day manners

  • Current manners include:
  • Don’t overload the fork.
  • Don’t squirm at the table.
  • Swallow food before drinking.
  • Eat silently, not noisily.

Basic etiquette is treating everyone with the same degree of kindness and consideration, and it consists mostly of common sense. It is helpful to know how to behave in certain situations. Not only does it make life more comfortable for you and others, it makes you more self confident in social situations.

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