The Making of Manners and Morals in Twelfth-Century England: The Book of the Civilised Man (Hardback) book cover

The Making of Manners and Morals in Twelfth-Century England

The Book of the Civilised Man

By Fiona Whelan

© 2017 – Routledge

226 pages | 8 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9781138696297
pub: 2017-01-09
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How different are we from those in the past? Or, how different do we think we are from those in the past? Medieval people were more dirty and unhygienic than us – as novels, TV, and film would have us believe – but how much truth is there in this notion? This book seeks to challenge some of these preconceptions by examining medieval society through rules of conduct, and specifically through the lens of a medieval Latin text entitled The Book of the Civilised Man – or Urbanus magnus – which is attributed to Daniel of Beccles.

Urbanus magnus is a twelfth-century poem of almost 3,000 lines which comprehensively surveys the day-to-day life of medieval society, including issues such as moral behaviour, friendship, marriage, hospitality, table manners, and diet. Currently, it is a neglected source for the social and cultural history of daily life in medieval England, but by incorporating modern ideas of disgust and taboo, and merging anthropology, sociology, and archaeology with history, this book aims to bring it to the fore, and to show that medieval people did have standards of behaviour. Although they may seem remote to modern ‘civilised’ people, there is both continuity and change in human behaviour throughout the centuries.

Table of Contents




Manuscript Sigla


Chapter 1. The Background to Urbanus Magnus


Introduction to the Manuscripts



Chapter 2. Genre and Urbanus Magnus

Scholarship on Urbanus Magnus

The Genre of Courtesy Literature

The Origins of Courtesy Literature

Other Sources

Chapter 3. The Manuscript Evidence

Twelfth-Century Satire

An Educational Tool

Religious Use

A Medical Text

Chapter 4. Introduction to Themes

Chapter 5. The Medieval Household and Beyond

Administering the Household

Householder, Home, and Hospitality

Children and Wives

Staff and Servants

Outside the Household

Social Mobility and Appropriate Courtesy

Chapter 6. The Medieval Body in Urbanus Magnus

Bodily Moderation and Restraint

Speech and Laughter

Bodily Vices

The Body and Sex

Bodily Emissions


Chapter 7. Medieval Dining and Diet

The Archaeological Evidence

The Medieval Meal

Preparation and Consumption


Continuity and Change

Diet and Health

Chapter 8. New Interpretations

The Impetus for and Precursors to Urbanus Magnus


Social Habitus

The Court of Henry II

‘A Monument to Anxiety’


The Impact of Urbanus Magnus


Appendix: Contenances de table poems



About the Author

Fiona Whelan completed her DPhil in Medieval History at the University of Oxford in 2015, and has previously studied at Trinity College Dublin and University College London. She has published on manuscript dissemination and has contributed to the collection Transformations and Continuities in the Eleventh Century: The Archaeology of the Norman Conquest. She currently works for the University of Oxford and her research interests include the cultivation of norms of behaviour, food and diet in the medieval period, household administration, and the manuscript culture of early courtesy literature.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Historiography
HISTORY / Medieval
HISTORY / Social History