Elements of the Table and the History of Napkins

I recently picked up a book called ‘Elements of the Table – A Simple Guide for Hosts and Guests’ by Lynn Rosen. The book is full of tips and etiquette for setting the table as a host, and enjoying it as a guest, for all types of occasions. There is so much information and way too many types of silverware, but it’s truly a lovely book that I’m sure will come in handy. For some reason, no matter how many times I look it up, I always forget which side to put which piece of cutlery on…

I particularly enjoyed the history and stories scattered throughout the pages about how we came to use these items. For example, did you know that napkins became common in the sixteenth century? Napkin rings were popular, but not for decorative reasons! Napkins were very rarely washed, so each person had their own unique napkin ring so they would be re-using their own dirty linen rather than someone else’s!  Yum…

Of course, in the Middle Ages, whatever was close by was used as a napkin– the back of a hand, a piece of bread or clothing. In later years at French court, napkins were to be unfolded first by the highest ranked person and then everyone else could follow suit.  If everyone in the party were of equal rank, they would unfold their napkins at the same time.

I enjoyed this book by Lynn Rosen because although it provides all the information one could ever need, the author is realistic about what most people really have on hand. She doesn’t come across as an etiquette snob but rather advises to make setting the table work for your style. It doesn’t need to be stuffy or over the top. Simplicity is best.

More resources:

Home Life – How to create the perfect table setting

The Classy Woman blog – Manners Monday

2 Comments on “Elements of the Table and the History of Napkins

  1. History repeating itself… now in the days of sustainability and all things eco friendly it is advised that each family member maintains their own napkin – fabric of course – and washes it once or so per week. This both avoids the waste of paper napkins and of water/electrics/suds more than needed… yum!

  2. Hi! Thanks for your kind comments about my book. I’m glad you enjoyed it and found it interesting. That bit about the napking rings is my favorite bit of dining history trivia that I learned!
    Wishing you many happy dinner parties!

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