The Truth About Elbows On The Table
The truth about elbows on the table
From an early age we are told to not put our elbows on the table, especially while having guests. even back in the swamp, where i matured out of the ooze, the custom was well known, and many who failed to comply were thrown to the hungry manatee, which has mercy for none. But how did this existential imperative came to be?
listen here, my friends, and hark my words.
It all goes back to the war of the roses. England changed hand from Lancaster to York, York to Lancaster again and again as the tide. It all ended (sort of) with the brutal and treacherous reign of Richard III. Richard, ever distrustful of his barons, seldom ventured out of the palace and rarely went on the royal procession , the traditional touring of the castles of the land. He mostly feared an attempt on his life while on the roads, and poisoning, and seldom drank wine, which may or may not have reminded him of a certain drowned nephew.
But there was a minimum degree of traveling that he was required to accent to. And so, just before Easter, he went on such a rare excursion , touring the strongholds that he knew with certainty would stand by him. And so, the honor and burden fell to lord after lord, as they feasted the retinue in the great halls, spending each a fortune on food and entertainment. Woe be to he, who failed to please the very, very irritable monarch.
And so , It was on Easter feast that the procession reached the estate of the Earl of Willowsby, who was known as a former Lancastrian loyalist, until he changed sides. The visit was to be his one and only chance to rehabilitate his good name, in the eyes of the crown and he spared no expense in the effort. Great amounts of foods, were brought, garments of exquisite taste, spices of great luxury. Troupes of actors, singers and story tellers were summoned. all had to be of the greatest display of sophistication and wealth. under no circumstance, should the guest find his visit boring, bland or tedious. Most of all, the Earl of Willowsby knew that his feast must surpass that of all other hosts which the king visited. And so, upon the evening, great effort was made, and the fires of the great hall were lit and the kitchen was a hive of activity.
We must digress now, to consider the life within a castle in the late middle ages. All but a very select few of the household lived in private rooms. With no electricity or other modern amenities like running water or sanitation, concentrating the household staff, retainers and guests in one large, heated room was the most practical thing to do. This giant hall was called, surprisingly, “the great hall”, all meals, were taken there, all major public events, were held , and so was all the sleeping. On days were feasting was prescribed, long tables would ring the room, around which all would sit and enjoy themselves. The most important, the chief guests would sit on raised platforms with the host and the guest of honor sitting at the midpoint of the long table. This platform, called a dais, would elevate the guests from others, and serve as a symbolic representation of the power structure . All this was accomplished thanks to the usage of trellis tables. Now, trellis tables, were no new inventions. They date back at least to roman times , if not older ages. A long, broad, plank of wood would serves as the table. On which food and drink and tableware would be placed. The plank is supported on both ends by two triangular legs. The trellis table must be easy to assemble and disassemble, as that many guests would be provided a place to sleep in the great hall itself, once the tables are cleared and the floor is swept clean. The legs of the trellis , are therefore not directly connected to the table, but held in place by articulated “trenches” , where the top points of the legs meet the table board. Apart from that, as we mentioned the board is simply a long plank of wood.
In this case, as befitting the royal visit, the greatest trellis table was erected on the dais and decorated with a rich velvet tablecloth. It was worth in it’s own a large fortune. On the evening, great plates of the best dishes were served. Fish was avoided as it was after the lent period, by which time all were quite tired of seeing the blank stare of marine animals from their plates. Large metal service trays were brought forth, holding lamb and pork, and veal and venison, pheasant and goose, hare and boar. Fruit was dearly brought from faraway lands, as were cakes and bread of all shapes and colors. Large pitchers of wine, beer and mead were placed. The household did not neglect to place silver candelabras, laden with large candles to provide lighting and freshly picked flowers in earthenware vases, to give a pleasing aroma.
You might think that the trellis table broke under the strain of such a load, placed along its extensive span. But it was not so. Trellis tables were cunningly constructed for just these occasions. More akin they were to bridges which hang between two cliff-sides than they are to the puny tables of our times. The table was built with a strong “spine” which did not allow the board to bend and sag under the weight placed upon it. Indeed, the table which was to be placed on the dais was carefully inspected by the master caretaker of the castle on the preceding day. The the Earl of Willowsby was still worried for the table and to assure it’s reliability, the table was erected in the courtyard. A horse was then made to walk upon it, carrying on its back a knight of the guard in full armor. Imagine such a sight! A table and a horse upon it with a knight riding on top!!
The table held the weight. It did not bend the slightest and after a long moment, when all the workmen and dignitaries inspected the table to their satisfaction, the knight was given a sign. He gently kicked the spurs into the warhorse’ side and the animal made a heroic leap off the table. The table was then cleaned and brought to the great hall to be erected in perpetration..
On the night of the feast, King Richard III was not in a good mood. He was never in a good mood. That was one of the things that made him so famous. That and killing his nephews and everyone who dared to irritate him. The king was not in a good mood, as we said; Reports had come in, from spies in France and in England proper. They confirmed to Richard’s distress that an enemy from abroad was conspiring with many within the kingdom to make preparations for war. He was not one to take such threats lightly. But could not ride back to London on the day, as bad weather had caught him and his men on the road. He walked from the solar, the castle’s master bedroom, which was made ready from him, into the great hall wearing his finery. Men watched him as he strode Onto the dais, avoiding his eyes, and yet trying hard to not seem as though they were avoiding his gaze. Most importantly, they avoided at all cost to stare at his famous hump. A certain theatrical portrayal had since exaggerated his deformity much beyond what it really was. But it all paled in comparison to how it became renowned in the gossip of the times. All knew the ultimate penalty for staring at it, but all could not resist the temptation to gaze upon the royal peak. It is so with children and so with adults, that when they are told not to do something, they find it more irresistible upon them to attempt it.
As the hump was more on the right side of the king’s back, and the king was now facing the great hall, all those who faced him on the LEFT had a clear view of it, for better or worse. All those on the RIGHT had greater difficulty seeing the hump, as it was not the mountain that they had envisioned or hoped to witness.
All through the night, men from the right side made visits to their comrades on the left, ostensibly to talk of family relations and gossip as all do. They were of course using such schemes to sneak glances at the king’s unimpressive hump. Oh, how they tried and tried to catch sight of the rumored mountain crest.
As they drank more, their endeavour became more and more apparent. King Richard was quite used to this by this age, having possessed a hump all his life. He knew to restrain his considerable rage at the impudence of the revelers. Of course that is not to say that he forgot and surly not forgive such an insult. King Richard the third was a indeed a marvel of his times remembering slights and assigning future revenge.
All through the night, he drank little but milk and glared at the revelry. He ate very little of the dishes prepared in his honor. He was not impolite to the host, but did not exude much joy, as was the custom of kings, particularly during religious feasts. The comedians, singers and other performers did their best to entertain the somber king to no avail they did however distract much of the celebrants from the worries of the day and along with the copious amount of drink that was served, helped to dull the caution that one must have in the company of royalty.
It was so, that during the later stages of the evening, a knight by the name of Sir Clinton Bandry approached the king. This he did under the heavy influence of drink and merrymaking. As the king was sitting elevated from him, upon the dais, and seated in a great distance, the knight made his way across the great hall, and was stopped by the guards just beside the table. As he was totally intoxicated, he made an inept display of bowing to the king, nearly falling over. He received permission to address the king, after expressing his desire to pledge the king his loyalty and to vouchsafe his service in the upcoming battles. The king assented to this and allowed the man to come closer. the drunkard came close, but it was then that a sudden dizziness had overtaken him. To brace himself, he placed his elbows upon the raised table as stern pillars do to a cathedral, thus he stood, ever so slightly to the right of the king, which gave him an excellent vantage point of the royal eminence. He then declared vociferously of his intention to support the king even until death , and to do his best to avenge the king of all those who betrayed him. He did so, while all the while half-looking at the king and half looking at the hump.
It was then that our story takes a turn for the worse as could be expected.
You see, as the knight was being so boisterous , and yet holding himself up only by the grace of his elbows which were planted firmly unto the table, a fragment of the table’s spine became undone. This flaw was not seen while the horse was upon it the day before, but apparently it became more acute as the horse made it’s final gallop, which unfortunately stressed that point more than others and caused slight cracks in the material to expand and lengthen. These though were totally hidden all through the evening, as the table did not sag even under the enormous weight of all that food and drink. But the elbows of the knight and the weight they had forced upon a very narrow area, and only one side of the table caused the table to now bend downwards unevenly. If you looked at it from the right way, at a certain distance, the problem would have been made apparent. The table was long and the bend was very slight but it was down-turned at the most critical place, so that it made the table become like a longbow, drawn downwards, with the leaning drunken knight as the arrow.
As poor Sir Bandry concluded his speech, the king was already seething from the obvious attempt to see his hump. He had already imagined how, this knight would be served.
“be off with from my presence” he said coldly. The knight , finally realizing the mistake he had made, became gravely frightened. He quickly rose and thus removed his elbows from the table. The effect of which, was that in a fraction of a second, the table itself, now relieved from the added weight bounded upwards dramatically, sending a large decorated bowl of dark pudding flying directly at the kings lap.
The transformation of potential energy to kinetic energy , which was at play here might have been amusing to all who saw it, but for the fact that now as the king’s own garments were ruined! They all looked in horror, those on the left side and those on the right, as the king stood up and examined his pants. If ever there was an example of god’s wrath upon the world, it was in the expression upon Richard, the third of his name, king of the famously cool-headed English on that moment!!
Sir Bandry stood in shock, trembling like a child awaiting punishment.
But the king’s expression surprisingly changed to a shallow smile.
“so! my good man.” he exclaimed warmly “As you said, you intend to serve me in the wars?”
“yes... yes” mumbled Sir Bandry.
“a fine and noble intention. I see you are a strong man. Very commendable! Do you think that you could carry a barrel filled with liquid, say.. oil perhaps.. do you think you can do that? Carry such a heavy weight? ”
“why.. a barrel full of oil?” said Bandry “i could carry such a barrel, easily, and for your honor, your majesty i shall, if you so require”
“that is very good. “ said the king “upon the morning, you will be made to hold a barrel filled with oil which will be fastened to you with ropes, and both YOU and IT will be then placed ever so gently upon the trebouchet, and sent flying, as you have sent the pudding flying!! GUARDS TAKE HIM!!”
And so the guards did. While it was such a swift change of mood , most of those who knew the king were accustomed to such caprice.
But this story is not altogether a tragedy. The good Earl of Willowsby, who was sitting beside the king during the events, and was remotely related to Sir Bandry, then intervened. Risking his own life, you must realize. He begged the king to show forgiveness, and if not that, at least to consider things practically. War had not broken out yet, and Sir Bandry with all his flaws would still better serve as a human missile, during the hostilities than a mere practice shot for the artillerists. Furthermore, the good Earl argued, it was known to be lucky for kings to show mercy on Easter feasts, and it certainly would give the king’s loyal men comfort and courage to know that they are fighting in support of such a merciful and godly man.
To that the king accepted. He made a decree of twofold importance. That all shall know the mercy of Easter feast and the fool Sir Bandry . On that same decree it was made known that the king was most displeased with the habit of placing elbows and feet upon tables, which was so heinously prevalent in houses, taverns, castles and other public places. From that day forward as a law of the land, all who are found to place their elbows upon tables of any size, would be tried for high treason for they undermine the safety and peace of the kingdom. The penalty for such gross misbehavior shall be hanging for the poor, beheading for the noble and burning at the stake for the Jews , Scots and all women of child-bearing age. You may be interested to know that this law has never been repealed or amended. And so until today the law of the land is clear; Placing your elbows upon the table, during dinnertime especially, is a serious violation of the ethics of the time and shall be punished accordingly.
Incidentally, both Sir Lincoln Bandry and his benefactor, the Earl of Willowsby , survived long after the death of king Richard III in the battle of Bosworth. You may remember it, when the king would have famously traded his entire kingdom for a horse. Both men lived for many years past that, promoting the laws of the land, but Richard’s elbow-on table prohibition most of all.