Daniel of Beccles






Urbanus Magnus


The Book of the Civilized Man

Danielis Becclesiensis


Urbanus Magnus


compiled by
Anne Frith, Dorothy Smith, Anne Bauers
and Susan Treggiari.
illustrated by Nony Ollerenshaw


Foreword by Dom Antony Sutch

Published by A. Deed Frith


First impression August 2007

Printed copies of the booklet may be bought at:


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6a The Walk                                          Leman House

Beccles                                                  Ballygate

Suffolk                                                   Beccles

NR34 9AJ                                              Suffolk

gazettebookshop@hotmail.com        NR34 9ND

01502 712 688

© A Deed Frith

From the publisher at                          Woodlands, St Mary's Road, Beccles Suffolk NR34 9NQ with a cheque for £6.00 made out to E. A. Frith. This price includes postage and packing within the U.K.



ISBN 9780951598559


              Auribus intentis exaudi digna docentis

Verba tui patris, que te docet et tibi scribit,

Nate; paterna tue doctrina sit insita menti.



With attentive ears, hear the worthy words of your

father as he teaches you, which he teaches you and

writes for you, my son; let your father’s teaching

be grafted on your mind. (9-11)




Whatever the motive, whether snobbery, etiquette, social acceptability, custom, parental guidance or simply courtesy, sensitivity or awareness of the other, how to behave has ever been at the centre of society. Manners and morals have reflected as well as created civilisations and social classes. What people do and how they do it has been at the heart of human life and indicative of the powers and relationships within it. In the 12th Century, political power was not only with the monarch but also the church. The latter possessed huge lands, was the main provider of education, and ecclesiastics were often holders of high secular office. Society reflected these facts.


It is possible that Urbanus Magnus was written both for novices as well as boys and men seeking to be accepted in higher society. It seems to want an ordered society knowing good manners and Christian morals and acting by them. A postscript asks that Daniel of Beccles enjoy the joy of heaven: secular and religious combined.


Who was this man, Daniel? Was he an ecclesiastic, a knight or a teacher or all three? What was his background and why did he write this poem on urbanity? Is this political correctness or social climbing? Is it religious training?


What is certain is the Urbanus Magnus is a "stonking good poem" fascinating to historians, scholars, the curious and very relevant to us today. There is sound advice as to how we should behave let alone those of nine centuries ago. Contemporary social circles demand formal patterns of behaviour and language. One might not be eligible to marry in to Royal circles if one’s parents use the word "toilet" as opposed to "loo", "lavatory", "W.C." or even "powder room"!!


As a recent arrival in Beccles as well as a monk, priest and retired teacher of history, I am fascinated by the book. Beccles certainly was, and in my mind still is, a town of worth to which aspiring personages would want to be linked. Thus Medieval Beccles is unearthed.


In this book we have a "feast of fat things". Help yourself and be sufficiently intrigued to translate the 3000 lines of the poem or continue the hunt for the man and the manners of Daniel of Beccles. I am sure that he did not " excavate his nostril by twisting his fingers".


Dom Antony Sutch


                 Munera que tibi dent opulenti suscipe gratis.


Receive gifts from great men with gratitude. (1477)



     Until eighteen months ago Danielis Becclesiensis, known today as Daniel of Beccles, author of the three thousand line Latin poem Urbanus Magnus, was unrecognised in Beccles. This was probably because there is no full English translation of this early thirteenth- century Latin poem. Also because John Bale, from Covehithe in Suffolk, the somewhat unreliable Tudor antiquarian, mistranscribed Becclesiensis as Ecclesiensis and so to 'Churche'. (Ecclesia is Latin for church). So the poem was for many years accredited to a Daniel Churche.


     With the English title of The Book of the Civilized Man, or The Book of Manners, it has recently been much quoted in books and articles on the history of etiquette and thirteenth century society.   In particular, Danny Danziger and John Gillingham quoted from him in their excellent book 1215, The Year of Magna Carta.   This led us to research the book and the man.   Most fortunately a friend of many years, Susan Treggiari, had recently retired back to Oxford.   The commentary, which forms the second section of this booklet, has been compiled by her.   In the first section we have concentrated, with some success, on tracing Daniel within Beccles. 


     The most entertaining parts of the poem refer to manners;  and in particular table manners for the upwardly mobile boys and men of the late twelfth century. We decided that illustrations would greatly enhance the booklet. Fortunately, Nony Ollerenshaw offered to illustrate any pieces of advice we chose.


     The Internet has provided opportunities for research undreamt of even ten years ago.   There are numerous references to the Urbanus Magnus in many European languages.   It is accepted that it was the first of the courtesy books, or books of manners, to be written in England and it was much copied throughout the Middle Ages.


     Several lines of research are on-going.   There is still no full translation of the poem; a verse translation would be wonderful.   Meanwhile we present this commentary on the poem, a description of Medieval Beccles and of Daniel.  His advice, in poetic form, is a happy blend of living without giving offence to others, and self-interest.     Twenty-first century mothers will find that much of the advice concerning table manners is still relevant.   'Don’t speak with your mouth full: sit up straight and don’t put your elbows on the table.'






Dum cibus ore latet, verbis non lingua ministret.



   While food is hidden in your mouth, let your tongue

               not minister to words. (946)



          Ad mensam conviva sedens non accubiteris.


               Sitting at table as a guest, you should not put

               your elbows on the table. (990)






Part 1             Daniel of Beccles


Danielis Becclesiensis, known today as Daniel of Beccles, has not been recognised in Beccles.   Well-known in academic circles at home and abroad, he wrote, with wit and humour, a three thousand-line poem of advice to men and boys of the late twelfth century.   This poem was written in Latin and there is still no English translation.   It is probably for this reason that Daniel is not recognised in his place of origin.   Another reason for centuries of obscurity is that John Bale in the sixteenth century ascribed the Urbanus Magnus to a Daniel Church.


Research is on-going to find evidence of Daniel in the Beccles area.   Meanwhile the assertion by John Bale that Daniel, who is described in the genitive case as Danielis Ecclesiensis, was a knight at the court of Henry II for thirty years has certainly not been disproved.


     There are four more or less complete Medieval manuscripts, which survive in Trinity College Dublin, Worcester Cathedral, Gonville and Caius College Cambridge and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.  Extracts have been included in recent articles and books on Medieval society. 


     Daniel of Beccles first came to our attention through the excellent book, 1215, the Year of Magna Carta, by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham.   This book showed that England was prosperous in the years before Magna Carta.   Many men were anxious to improve their status alongside the growing wealth of the country.   Books of manners were written to advise these men.   It is accepted that the Urbanus Magnus was the first such book of manners to be written, and to have survived, in England.   With Latin as the international language of the Catholic Church throughout Europe at the time, the book was much copied.   There is an entry in the on-line encyclopaedia The Wikipedia and on a number of other sites in many languages.  


Research into Daniel of Beccles and his book confirmed that there is no full translation into English, but there is an edited Latin edition of 1939 by the Irish scholar Josiah Gilbart Smyly.


Although in the late thirteenth-century manuscript held by Trinity College Dublin the author is described as Daniel Becclesiensis, there was no hard evidence that he came from Beccles in Suffolk.   However, no other place has laid claim to him.  The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography does not list him; neither does the Dictionary of National Biography.    The ODNB does, though, record an Alan of Beccles, who would have been a contemporary of Daniel for he is listed as having a number of judicial and administrative positions within the Norfolk Diocese between 1202 and his death in 1240, including several years as the Archdeacon of Sudbury.


Perhaps the mistranslation of Daniel Ecclesiensis by the Tudor antiquarian John Bale of Covehithe in Suffolk as Daniel Church has led to this omission.  John Bale, described as a Protestant, who died in 1563, was briefly Bishop of Ossory in Dublin in 1553.  He recorded the Urbanus Magnus, though incorrectly ascribing it to Daniel Church, in a catalogue of British authors.   He claimed to have seen a document stating that Daniel Ecclesiensis had been a knight at the court of Henry II for thirty years.   His evidence in some areas is accepted as wilfully unreliable but perhaps he really had seen such a document, for the earliest surviving manuscript of the poem came from the Augustinian Monastery of St Thomas Becket, near Dublin, founded in 1177 by William Aldelm for Henry II. 


The manuscript was held in the library of Bishop Usher in the middle of the seventeenth century.   He gave it to Trinity College Dublin, where it remains.   Perhaps there really were other documents with the copy seen by John Bale, for he was Bishop in Ireland shortly after the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.   At that time the books and documents belonging to the Monastery must have been relocated.     It is recorded that John Bale was an avid collector of old documents, particularly from Augustinian and Carmelite monasteries.   Having obtained his bishopric under the Protestant boy King Edward VI, it seems that he fled within the year, in great haste, when the Catholic Mary succeeded her half-brother.   He compiled his catalogue of British authors and literary works towards the end of his life.


In the twelfth century it was customary for people leaving their place of birth to be known as coming from their place of origin.   A Daniel of Morley was writing at much the same time on the subject of Astronomy.


The Internet has opened up great opportunities for research.   Already several charters of different ages involving men described as Daniel de Beccles, spelt variously, have been found.   In particular a Feet of Fines, (a document concerning land purchase), has been found for 1250.  Volumes listing earlier Feet of Fines for Suffolk were not available at the time of compiling this booklet.


The most interesting find, which is still being researched, is a record in Latin that a Daniel de Beccles in the seventh regnal year of King John who ruled from 1199 - 1216 had the advowson/patronage of the Church at Endesgat, secretly of the Abbot of Bury St. Edmunds.   Jocelin of Brakelond, who was the head cellarer at the Abbey at the time, recorded that the Abbot was successful in claiming the patronage of a number of churches.   He also retained some that were claimed by other people.   Jocelin's list included  the church of Ingate, (Endgate/Endesgat) in Beccles.   This Church was the earliest substantial Church in Beccles.   Superseded by the present large Church dedicated to St Michael in the fourteenth century, it was demolished in the time of Elizabeth 1.   The graveyard was rediscovered recently by horrified builders while erecting an extension for a local house.


Norman Scarfe in his recent book Jocelin of Brakelond: The Life of a Monk and Chronicler of the Great Abbey of St Edmund, recorded that Abbot Samson, who spoke Latin and French and also preached in the Norfolk dialect, was throughout his life grateful to a William of Diss, his school-master. The education of boys was not confined to the great ecclesiastical establishments.


At this time the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds had to provide knights for the King's Court and also knights in person for service abroad. It is possible that Daniel of Beccles could have been one of these knights.   The nearest great secular landholders to Beccles were the Bigod family who had built a castle at Bungay some 5 miles up-river from Beccles. As the Bigods were usually on the losing side of disputes between king and barons, a highly intelligent young man such as Daniel of Beccles would benefit far more from close association with the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds than with the family of Bigod.


Medieval Beccles


Beccles today is a small market town lying on the Suffolk bank of the River Waveney, which is the boundary between the ancient counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. As late as the reign of Queen Victoria, Beccles was described as a port. When a new bridge was needed in 1884, permission had had to be sought from the Admiralty, as it would obstruct a seaway.   It was no doubt as a port and perhaps the last place where a bridge was possible before the estuary that gave Beccles its importance through the Middle Ages and up to the time when other bridges were built.


In West Suffolk the Benedictine Abbey of Bury St Edmunds was very rich and powerful throughout the Middle Ages.   One of the monks, Jocelin of Brakelond, wrote in conversational Latin what would today be called a journal.   He entered the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds as a novice in 1173.   His writings stopped in around 1202 and he died some thirteen years later.   In the published edition of his chronicle he mentioned Beccles:  also disputes between the Abbot and the Prior, the election of a new abbot and many day-to-day happenings at the Abbey.   He showed that Bury had an international reputation and the Abbot was involved with national affairs and in close touch with the royal court.  King Henry II and King John both visited the Abbey.


There is no definitive history of Beccles in the Middle Ages.   The late Ted Goodwyn was compiling such a history but sadly died before it was completed.   Much of the following information comes from his notes.   They were, though, compiled before the spread of the Internet and are not comprehensive.


It is believed that the Manor of Beccles had been granted to the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds by the youthful King Eadwig, sometimes called Edwy, who reigned briefly from 955-959.


The Domesday Book of 1088 has a considerable entry for Beccles.   William I had ordered a record to be compiled in order that taxes could be levied, so only information relevant to taxation was gathered.   The information from the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk had not been collated before the King died and so are much fuller than for the rest of the country.


Beccles is described in Domesday as having a church with twenty-four acres of glebe.   Taxes are paid in herring and customary dues are to be paid one quarter to the King who holds eighty-two acres in Beccles and three-quarters to the Abbot.   The number of burgesses in Beccles was greatly increased shortly after the Norman Conquest by the influx of 22 burgesses from Norwich.  The amount of money to be raised from Beccles nearly doubled during the lifetime of William I.


It seems that Beccles continued to prosper. In several respects it was considered alongside Bury St. Edmunds and Ipswich as an administrative centre.   In 1205 Yarmouth, Orford and Beccles were each ordered to supply two shipmasters to King John and 140 mariners. These men were to go to London to take charge of two of the royal ships lying in the Thames.      It is at this time, the seventh regnal year of King John, that a Daniel de Beccles is recorded as being concerned with the advowson of the Church at Endgate.  Jocelin of Brakelond sourly remarked alongside his list of properties belonging to the Abbot rather than to the Convent, which includes Endgate, that Abbot Samson had until his election, been in favour of passing on some of the income to the convent. This he refused to do when he became Abbot.


In 1260 Beccles was granted the right to hold a yearly fair on the night and morning of St. Matthew the Apostle. By 1265 a bridge was incidentally recorded so presumably it had been there for sometime.


It is known that in the time of King Henry II, 1154 - 1189, cases of Oyer and Terminer were heard in Beccles.  A case concerning the selection of a new rector for Beccles was taken up in Letters by Archbishop Theobald to the Pope. Beccles remained a strong centre for various courts until the nineteenth century. The last magistrates’ court was closed shortly before the 21st Century.


The subsidy returns for 1327 show 206 taxpayers in Beccles, and 214 in Ipswich.   Bury St Edmunds is shown as having 152 taxpayers, and Woodbridge had 43.   It has been calculated that this probably meant a population for Beccles at the time of about 1000.


 In 1386 the Close Rolls record an order to the Escheator (escheators were royal officials responsible for collecting fines etc for the Crown) not to meddle with the house of the Abbot in the high street. It had been claimed that this house, measuring 150 feet by 22 feet, was a nuisance to neighbours.  This is a building of considerable size and shows that the Abbey had a real presence in the town. This seems to have been a time of conflict between the Abbey and the town for, in 1391 the Abbot won a fight over ownership of the very valuable common, which amounted to some fourteen hundred acres.


In 1385 there is a record that a schoolmaster was to be appointed in Beccles by the Abbot.   There is no indication that this is a new








              Bestia brutalis non impresepiat aula,

              Nec porcus, nec murilegus videatur in illa,

              Esse queunt in ea dextrarius et palefridus,

              Addictique canes lepori, catulique molossi;

              Aucupitres, nisi, falcones et mereelle.


Let not a brute beast be stabled in the hall, let not a pig

   or a cat be seen in it; the animals which can be seen in it

   are the charger and the palfrey, hounds entered to hare,

   mastiff pups, hawks, sparrow-hawks, falcons and merlins.










Quando recessurus fueris, sit ad hostia mannus;

              Non aula scandas illum


When you are about to leave, let your cob be at

the door. Do not mount him in the hall. (1465-6)








position.   At much the same date there are references to two local men, one Hardgrave, and John Druary, described as schoolmasters, writing a collection of grammatical and didactic treatises.   One in particular gives simple sentences in English, which must be translated into Latin.


Throughout the Middle Ages Beccles and the surrounding villages were in touch with national affairs and movements. There are records from many villages of men joining the Peasants' Revolt in the reign of the young King Richard II. The Lollard movement was strong throughout the Waveney Valley and men from Beccles were executed in Norwich in 1429.


Beccles, then, was an important town throughout the Middle Ages with strong ecclesiastical, and therefore scholarly, connections.  It was an administrative centre and important for courts of justice.   A man, perhaps coming from no great family, could well be satisfied to be identified as ' of Beccles.'


The assertion by John Bale that Daniel was a knight at the Court of Henry II for thirty years could well be true, though the length of time is uncorroborated.   The gift of the advowson of Endesgat in Beccles to a Daniel de Beccles by the Abbot of Bury in about 1206 is evidence that there was an important man named Daniel associated with Beccles at that time.   It is to be hoped that some time in the future Daniel of Beccles, author of the Urbanus Magnus, will take his proper place in the history of Beccles and in the Dictionary of National Biography.


E.A.F. Summer 2007.





                        Quod nescire velis homines, tua nesciat uxor.


When there is something you do not want

people to know, do not let your wife know it.




Part 2               The Latin Poem

The title of the book on manners and morals ascribed to Daniel was perhaps Urbanus. (Later, it was known as Urbanus Magnus, The Big Civilized Man or Liber Urbani magnus, The Big book of the Civilized Man.[1]) By the late 13th c. there was an edition, which contained 2837 lines. This is the earliest extant complete manuscript, which belonged to the Abbey of St Thomas Becket near Dublin, founded by William FitzAldelm at the request of Henry II in 1177. It had already attracted marginal notes. It was probably used for the instruction of novices. It is this manuscript, together with those from Worcester Cathedral and Gonville and Caius College, from which Smyly provided a critical edition: J. Gilbart Smyly ed., Urbanus Magnus Danielis Becclesiensis (Dublin, 1939). This is the only printed text available.

The Dublin manuscript says the author was Daniel of Beccles, Daniel Becclesiensis. The scribe added ‘of Beccles’ as an afterthought or correction.[2] The only account we have of the author comes from a 16th-century compiler of a catalogue of English writers, John Bale (1495-1563), a Protestant polemicist and dramatist and a native of Suffolk.[3] His authority is dubious. There had been plenty of time for the account to be embroidered. Bale, writing in Latin, says

Daniel Churche[4] or ‘Ecclesiensis’ would now have completely disappeared from human memory, had not a certain ancient chronicle, found in London, saved this great man’s name from destruction. From this chronicle I found out for certain, that Daniel was for his period an elegant poet, expert in both kinds of writing, prose and verse, from the house and household of the most noble King of the English Henry II [1154-89]. It appears from the same document that he was a knight of the highest rank and a man distinguished by ancient nobility. Besides, he was even more distinguished by his loyalty, piety and gentlemanly intellectual gifts, and also by his position in the favour of his excellent prince and by his virtuous administration of high office. Whatever further he was, I find that he produced a small elegant work in Latin verses to which he gave the title The Civilized Man, on courtesy in manners, in one book; Rhythmic poems, in one book. He composed many other works too.

He was famous in the year 1180 from the birth of our Lord and Saviour, under the before-mentioned King Henry, his excellent prince and teacher, and it says in the Chronicle that he remained more than thirty years at his court.  (John Bale, Scriptorum catalogus (1557) Cent. Tert. xvii.)


John Bale is clearly wrong on ‘Churche’ and medievalists accept that Ecclesiensis should be corrected to Becclesiensis, ‘of Beccles’ in the light of the Dublin ms. The chronicle, if it existed, has not come to light. Nothing in the poem casts light on the author’s home town. But there is nothing to disprove the poet’s connection with Beccles. He makes one specific reference to English custom: ‘The English race knows to pay a vow seven years later’ (830).  The author’s social status may have been that of a knight, as John Bale says. That he belonged to the household of Henry II seems quite possible. He claims ‘old King Henry’ as authority for his teachings:


 ‘Old King Henry[5] first gave these teachings[6] for those who lack refinement, which are written below in this little book’ (2836-7).[7] 

Whichever King Henry is meant, this suggests that he was connected with the court.


Urbanus or The Civilized Man: The poem and its context

The poet sets out his theme at the beginning of the work:

To be adorned with morals and manners, if you desire, reader, to be venerated, to be noble among lords and lead a civilized life, to be a provident overseer in administering your own property, read and re-read often and keep for ever in your mind these verses which I have decided to write, clad in the lightness of common language, for boy-clerks. (1-6)


The poem is a rich mix of morals and manners, often jumping from subject to subject in a rapid and confusing way. It goes with a swing




Si domini coniux in te sua lumina vertat,

Sepius, et turpes in te lasciviat ignes

Te faciens scire tecum se velle coire;

Si referat: “Tibi tota domus, dominusque maritus

Serviet eternum, tu solus eris mea vita,

Cuncta reges, que sunt domini tibi cuncta patescent”.….

Consule me, genite; que consulo corde seruntur;

Inter dampna duo dampnum minus elige, nate,

Sanius est tibi consilium simulare dolores,

Morbos sollicitos, sane sapienter abire,

Quam te commaculet domine furiosa voluptas.



           If the wife of your lord turns her eyes on you too often and

          wantonly looses shameful fires against you, letting you

          know that she wants to have intercourse with you; if she says,

        “The whole household and your lord, my husband,

          shall serve you for ever, you alone shall be my darling, you

          shall rule everything, everything which belongs to your

          lord shall be open to you”... consult me, my son; what I

          counsel is planted in your heart; between two evils, choose

          the lesser evil; your safer plan is to feign illness, nerve-

          racking diseases, to go away sensibly and prudently. (1896-1917)


In brief:


If your lord’s wife propositions you, you are on a hiding to nothing, feign illness.





            Cum sis zelotypus discas spectare lacunar.



When you are a cuckold, learn to stare up at the ceiling.











           Quidquid agat coniux, sponsalia ledere vites.


Whatever your wife does, avoid harming your marriage.


and is extremely readable.[8] The poet uses vivid and memorable expressions:   ‘One brief hour takes away the gifts of long ages’ (371); ‘Be careful, my dear, to whom, what, why, when you are speaking’ (640. It is catchier in Latin:

Hoc tibi, care, cave cui, quid, cur, quando loquaris…).

The author was well read in classical literature. He quotes the Roman poets Horace, Ovid, Lucan and Juvenal. But he shows great originality in using old material and expressing it in his own way. His descriptions of contemporary life are detailed and vivid.

Works such as Ovid’s pseudo-didactic handbook on Love (Ars Amatoria, in elegiac verse) influenced Daniel. Ovid (43 BC- AD 17) has good advice, for example, on grooming. Horace (65-8 BC) composed moralising Epistles in hexameters, each addressed to a friend. Epistles 1.17 and 18[9] are on the topic of making oneself pleasing to a rich and influential patron. Teaching on morality and behaviour was transmitted through attacks on vice in satirical hexameter verse by Horace (the Sermones or Chats) and Juvenal (the Satires). The attack on women in The Civilized Man belongs to the same flourishing tradition as Juvenal’s sixth Satire and the 12th-century writings of Walter Map (fl. 1160–1196, died c. 1208-10), courtier of Henry II and Archdeacon of Oxford.[10] Didactic prose works in Latin were often addressed to an individual, especially a son.


No book of etiquette survives from Graeco-Roman antiquity. On the subject of manners and deportment, there had been earlier conduct books for Greek women, of which we have some fragments.

Clement of Alexandria (late 2nd-early 3rd century AD) wrote a work on Christ as Teacher (Paedagogus), which had much to say on good manners, of which Christ was the model. In Daniel’s time, there were works on etiquette in French and in the Arab world. In the 12th century, the continental theologian Hugh of St Victor (1096-1141) and Petrus Alfonsi, who wrote on the proper behaviour of monks, gave advice on table manners in Latin prose.[11]


But Urbanus is probably the earliest in England.[12] Rigg calls it ‘the first major English contribution’ to this type of writing.[13] It is the ‘most substantial courtesy poem in any language’.[14]

If the book was composed in the late 12th century, then it belongs to the ‘12th century Renaissance’, a time of cultural renewal inspired by classical models, which saw the elaboration of monastic rules of behaviour (‘customaries’) and ‘household ordinances and serving manuals’. Under Henry II, England found peace (after the civil wars of Stephen and Matilda); castles became more comfortable (the chimney had been introduced); boys were educated at monasteries, schools and in noble households; a university was emerging at Oxford, as well as at Paris and Bologna.[15] They learnt their Latin out of a collection of couplets attributed to Cato (2nd c. BC), but in fact assembled in around the 3rd century AD.

The Author as reflected in his work

The writer may have begun as a page in a noble household and continued in service to the king. He is concerned about corruption


    Esto thoro famulans, domini nudum tege corpus.


If you are acting as a servant, stand by the

bedside; cover your lord’s naked body. (1282)





 Dissonat ingenuo genitus de sanguine pravo.


A man of bad blood differs from a gentleman.



and how a judge should behave; he can produce a list of the arms and supplies needed by a town; he re-works the Graeco-Roman anti-feminist tradition in warning the reader against lascivious wives; he knows what is needed for a grand house. He is concerned to avoid quarrels (to such an extent that he expects a husband to tolerate an adulterous wife). He seems to feel strongly that a lord is a slave to his responsibilities.[16] 

The Addressee


The writer occasionally addresses the reader as his son,[17] but he is also considering a wide range of boys, able to read Latin, who might grow up to be huntsmen, priests, soldiers, sailors, teachers, doctors, bailiffs, landed gentry, commanders of towns, even kings (1763-86). (He advises them not to make a profession of robbery.) He claims even to write for women.

A priest especially, soldier, married woman, girl, any gentleman should keep these new writings. (2834-5)

He knows that good habits must be learnt young:


What the young foal learns he remembers in old age. No polite manners can be taught to an old dog. (87-8)

Small children naturally had deplorable habits:

They cover their clothes with ashes, they make them dirty, they dribble on them; they wipe their noses flowing with filth on their sleeves. (2427-8)

They had to be kept away when you had guests. It was their elders’ responsibility to train them properly (2415-2449). The advice on etiquette usually presupposes a man growing up in a nobleman’s house and going through the stages from page to independent householder.[18] In this time of growing prosperity and opportunities, people who were moving up in society through education, ability and service needed to know how to behave so as to attract patrons, friends and marriage-partners.[19] Those who followed Daniel’s advice could become gentlemen. It is clear who is the role model: ‘A man born of bad blood differs from a gentleman’ (104). He insists on the need for anyone to behave in a way proper for his social status. On the other hand, those who already enjoy advantages of birth should not be arrogant:                          

Do not go puffed up, although you are ennobled by your birth. The more power you have, the more you should look ahead for yourself. It is enough to be able to do harm, when you have the power of harming. Do not rain down damage on anyone, when you hit the stars with your head. (382-5)

If you had achieved upward mobility, you should not forget where you had come from:

If you are poor as a boy, if you are rich when you are growing old, when rich remember your past poverty. And perhaps it will be a pleasure for you to remember past things. (1305-7)[20]


                            Si iacet in disco pinguis bolus ante sodalem,

                         Illum non digites, ne rusticus addigiteris.


If a fat morsel lies in the dish in front of your         companion, do not touch it with your  finger,

          for fear that fingers will be pointed at you as a boor.




          Braccis sive sinu pulices neque sint tibi preda,

          Coram patrono, coram famulantibus aula.



   Do not hunt for fleas on your arms or bosom in front

   of the patron or in front of the servants in the hall. (1111-12)



The poem                Morals

Daniel’s advice begins, as is proper, with a man’s duty to God. One should obey the law, including the Commandments, avoid vices and ensue virtues, perform pious works, love learning, behave in church, think of the inevitability of death, the joys of Heaven and the terrors of Hell. There follows a long section on how to behave to one’s fellow men, with a notable emphasis on avoiding conflict. After over 900 lines of such reflections on the conduct of a good -- or at least prudent -- man, Daniel comes to consider manners and etiquette.


The addressee would be on show when he dined in company with others.

Dining at a rich man’s table, say little, lest you be called talkative and garrulous among the diners. Be modest; let reverence be your companion. No wit is profitable, unless it be controlled. Love restraint if you love to be witty.[21] Let a small morsel be put in your mouth and chewed with a polite tooth; while your fellow-diner[22] is dividing a dish, do not eat, nor should the carver eat it unless he is told to. Take care to cut only what is sufficient of bread or meat. Do not carve morsels of meat which are too small or too big for the companion who is sitting at table with you. Let them be put not on a dish but on a crust of bread. Carve neatly with a long stroke of the knife. As you carve the meat, your fellow-diner should put the portions apart by themselves. Afterwards do you clean the greasy knife with your bread.[23]

… Let fine bread be cut before being chewed. It is allowable to cut and afterwards to eat wholemeal bread [bread with bran]. Warm bread should be broken; the flesh of hare, lamb, rabbit, and piglet you may break when fresh.[24] Any meat in a pie is to be cut; the flesh of whale, seal and porpoise[25] should be sliced. And similarly you will cut roast meat of whatever sort: the conger eel with the turbot,[26] salt meat and salt fish.[27] should be cut.

When your fellow drains his cups, cease eating. Beware of shouting ‘Wassail’ unless you are bidden to do so. While food is visible in your mouth, let your mouth savour no drink; while food is hidden in your mouth, let your tongue not minister to words. The morsel placed in an eater’s mouth should not be so big that he cannot speak properly if he needs to do so. Beware of draining cups greedily like Bacchus….


Sitting at table as a guest, you should not put your elbows on the table. You can put your elbows on your own table but not on someone else’s.[28] When you are in good health, do not put cushions under your elbows as you eat; sit at table with your head erect. Before a meal it is all right to loosen one’s belt.


             Bachi more cave calices haurire gulose.


     Beware of drinking wine greedily like Bacchus. (948)




Que comedi valeant coclearia non tibi fiant.



                  Spoons which are used for eating do not

                  become your property. (1003)



Towards one dining with you let your eyes often be blind.[29] Let the lord not see the diner’s back. Do not put pieces of bread back in the soup (or sauce) once you have touched them with your tooth.[30] The spoons should not lie beside the dish. They should not be loaded with food when they are put in your mouth, lest part of the food falls from them as you take too big a bite Let your thumb not get in the way of the feast taken in the spoon. Let two diners not eat from the same spoon. Spoons which are used for eating do not belong to you.[31] When dining, do not play with your knife or spoon.… After you have taken food, wipe the spoons with a napkin. When not eating, you may make sops for other people’s drinks. Ask for no dish; take those which are near you.[32] Demand no drinks except those which the butler offers….

A hot soup should not feel the blowing of one’s mouth: let bread be broken and at the same time let it be stirred with a crust of bread or a spoon. Beware of spotting your napkin with sauce or soup; do not dine all over your clothes like a herdsman. Do not lean your head over the dish; with neck high sit silent, not looking all around. If a fat morsel lies in the dish in front of your companion, do not touch it with your finger, for fear that fingers will be pointed at you as a boor. Let the fingers of fellows not go into the dish together. Take any food between forefinger and thumb neatly, lest the grease of meat or fish greases your lips on the outside. Scorn to lick your fingers when they are smeared with fat. Do not clean around platters with fingers or bread. When you drink soup do not shake your fingers in the dish. As you drink soup, let your palm not hold the dish nor let a slice of bread turn it around.

Do not be a nose-blower at dinner nor a spitter; if a cough attacks you defeat the cough.[33] If you want to belch, be mindful to look at the ceiling.[34] … Do not say ‘Drink first’ when the butler offers you drink. If he says ‘Wassail (Weisheil)’, let your response be ‘Drink hail (Drincheil)’. But if by chance you have a girl as butler, you may properly say ‘Drink first to me, taking an equal share’….[35]


Let those sitting down hold their napkins…. A dinner can take place without a table, not without a napkin…. (919-1080)

After these refinements of behaviour at table, the author naturally thought of how people should relieve themselves. Only the host himself might urinate in the hall after dinner: the rest, it is clear, should go outside. A man emptying his bowels should find a hidden place in a wood or field and face into the wind. He should use his left hand to wipe himself. It was shameful to attack an enemy who was in this position. It was wrong to fart indoors. Among various rules for considerate behaviour in the hall, Daniel remarks that one should not hunt for fleas. Eventually, it would be time for the inferior to wait on the lord as he went to bed:

When at night you are ordered to serve your lord at bedtime, you should do your duty, go before and carry lights. When your lord enters the inner chamber, swiftly check that the privy (gumphus) is free of dirt.

When he sits on the privy in the usual way, take in your hands hay or straw, pick up two big wads of hay in your fingers and press them well together. You should prepare to give them to your patron when he wants them. Let the wads be given to him as you stand, not bending the knee…. If two together are sitting on a privy, one should not get up while the other is emptying himself. (1266-79)

Daniel continues with various pieces of advice on morals and etiquette, including a prohibition of picking one’s nose in public, of wearing hats in the hall (unless one is bald), of swearing blasphemously (he gives a list of oaths to avoid), of mounting one’s horse in the hall, of ostentatious dress. He tells the addressee how to behave if he is a butler, scholar, merchant, priest, prince or commander of a fortified town (with a list of equipment and food you will need). He tells you how to please your lord’s wife, especially if she wants to seduce you,[36] and how to keep your own wife, however awful she is (again, there is a list of the ways in which she might be awful). Even if she has a lover, Daniel advises turning a blind eye.[37]  Women are naturally immoral. There are detailed rules for the householder and host. The poem ends with advice on healthy living, including good food, baths, cheerful conversation, songs and a proper regimen (in the morning, wash, stretch, comb your hair, clean your teeth). This part may be a later addition.


Auribus intentis exaudi digna docentis

Verba tui patris, que te docet et tibi scribit,

Nate; paterna tue doctrina sit insita menti.(9-11)

With attentive ears, hear the worthy words of your father as he teaches you, which he teaches you and writes for you, my son; let your father’s teaching be grafted on your mind.

Excerpt from Josiah Gilbart Smiley’s book of 1939 – the last 3 lines.

Explicit liber urbani Danielis Becclesiensis

Curvamen veli dimittite. Gaudia celi

Qui geminauit Heli, merito tribuat Danieli.

Here ends the Book of the Civilized Man by Daniel of Beccles.

Let down the arc of the sail. May He who granted the joys of Heaven to Elijah give them for his deserts to Daniel.



This booklet could not have been compiled without the help of Professor Susan Treggiari and we thank her for her interest and enthusiasm. Not least for her translation for us of most of the three thousand line poem. There is no published English translation. Also for her access to academic documents and archives. She gratefully acknowledges the expert help and kind advice of Donald Russell and Barbara Harvey.


John Ross from County Wicklow directed us to the 1939 edition of the Urbanus Magnus by Josiah Gilbart Smiley and to the earliest manuscript of the poem which is held in Trinity College, Dublin.


Locally we are most grateful to Nesta Evans, David Lindley, and Michael and Sylvia Porter.

Bibliography and sources.


Butler, H.E.                (ed) Butler H.E. (1949)              The Chronicle of Jocelin of Brakelond. Nelson Medieval Classics, Thomas Nelson

                                                                                    and Sons Ltd. London


                                     Danziger D. &                         1215 The Year of Magna Carta.

Gillingham, J. (2003)                 Hodder and Stoughton.

                                    ISBN 0 340 82474 3


O.U.P (1960)                           Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names, Fourth edition. O.U.P.


Rigg, A.G. (1992)                    A History of Anglo- Latin Literature 1066 1422.

                                                Cambridge University Press

ISBN 0521415942


Rye, W. (1900)                        Calendar of Feet of Fines for Suffolk. Ipswich. Earlier volumes containing these records were not accessible at time of writing.


Nor                               Scarfe, Norman 1999              Jocelin of Brakelond. Life of Monk and Chronicler of the Great Abbey of St. Edmund.

                                                                                    Fowler Wright Books.

                                                                                    ISBN  0852443528


Smyly, J. G. (ed) (1939)           Urbanus Magnus Danielis Becclesiensis. Hodges Figgis, Dublin




Suckling, A. (1846)                  The History and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk with Genealogical and Architectural Notes of its several Towns and Villages.

                                                John Weale London.


Wikipedia                                 Free on-line encyclopaedia. (There are a number of sites on the Internet in various languages but many of them are repetitive. Daniel is sometimes indexed as Daniel of Beccles and sometimes as Danielis Becclesiensis.)


Unpublished sources and On-Going Research


Goodwyn, E.A.                        Sadly Ted Goodwyn died before completing his History of Beccles. Material has been taken from his notes about Medieval Beccles. These were compiled before the days of the Internet when research still involved visits to libraries and archives.


Document from Beccles            Unascribed 15 page hand-written document, very recently found in the Town Hall at Beccles and is a copy of

 one which is in the Oxford Law Library (Legal History A134). It was passed to David Lindley with others from the Town Hall. It is this document which, in Latin, refers to Daniel de Beccles and the advowson of Endgate, (a Parish on the edge of Beccles at that time) in the seventh year of King John so about 1206. This document, probably written over 100 years ago quotes a Latin document by Kemble.


Susan Treggiari                         Email susan.treggiari @classics. ox.ac.uk Although a classicist, she translated for us much of the three thousand line poem and other Latin texts.


Trinity College Dublin                The Board of Trinity College Dublin provided a digital image of the end of the earliest surviving manuscript of the Urbanus Magnus ascribed to Daniel Becclesiensis, believed to be late thirteenth century.






















































































Price £5.00                   ISBN 9780951598559


[1] This was to distinguish it from a shorter work which was sometimes known as Urbanus Parvus, sometimes as Facetus: cum nihil utilius.

[2] Jonathan W. Nicholls, The matter of courtesy. A study of medieval courtesy books and the Gawain poet (London: Brewer, 1985) p.149. We have confirmed this by autopsy of a photocopy of the manuscript. At the end of the poem are added three lines (2838-40) which say ‘This is the end of the book of the Civilized Man of Daniel of Beccles’ and ask for the joys of Heaven for Daniel. These will have been written, not by the poet, but by a scribe.  The manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris also names Daniel.

[3] See Leslie P. Fairfield, John Bale. Mythmaker for the English Reformation (West Lafayette, Indiana, 1976) p. 1. John Bale was born at Covehithe. Fairfield points out that Bale’s ‘capsule biographies … contain numerous willful inaccuracies’ (p. 115).

[4] Bale saw the author described as Ecclesiensis and thought this meant ‘of the church’ and so gave him the surname ‘Church’. But Ecclesiensis does not have this meaning in Latin. (Ecclesiasticus would be one possibility for this sense.) Ecclesiensis  would mean ‘of Eccles’. See A. G. Rigg, A History of Anglo-Latin literature 1066-1422 (Cambridge, 1992) p. 125.

[5] This used to be taken to mean Henry I (which seems to me the obvious sense of vetus, ‘ancient’, but this would be a false claim of the antiquity of the advice the author is transmitting later). The book certainly cannot have been written as early as Henry I (Nicholls p. 151). But it is credible that Daniel would make a false claim of the antiquity (and therefore respectability) of his advice. Henry I’s court is held up by Walter Map as a model of order (the ‘customs’ of the royal household had been written down) and ‘a school of virtues and of wisdom’, while the King himself was a model of courtesy (De nugis curialium 5.5). It has been suggested that ‘old King Henry’ refers to Henry II in the period when his son young Henry had also been crowned king, at Westminster in 1170 (and Winchester in 1172) (Nicholls p. 151). If that was meant, I would expect the elder king to be described as ‘the father’ or ‘the old man’. If, however, it refers to Henry II, this fits well with Daniel’s reported service --- and probably education  --- at his court. ‘The active part said to be played by King Henry in the production of the poem (2835-37) may also strengthen the belief that the composition of Urbanus Magnus had something to do with the foundation of the Abbey of St Thomas, which … Henry II had instigated’ (Nicholls pp. 151-2).

[6] Daniel emphasises that he is teaching, in lines 9-11.

[7] Lines 2836-7 Must once have been at the beginning.

[8] ‘It is through its influence on other poems that the lasting quality of Urbanus Magnus is best appreciated…. exact and comprehensive’; ‘… the style and surety of touch that distinguishes Urbanus’; ‘An enormous range of subjects: the most comprehensive courtesy poem in any language, covering every aspect of life’ (Nicholls pp. 165-6, 176, 185).

[9] Daniel had certainly read 18.

[10] See W. S. Smith (ed.): Satiric advice on women and marriage from Plautus to Chaucer (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005).

[11] Alfonsi, author of Disciplina clericalis (Training for clerics), a converted Spanish Jew, was allegedly a physician to Henry I.

[12] R. Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225 (Oxford, 2000) p. 582.

[13] Rigg p. 125.

[14] John Gillingham, ‘From Civilitas to Civility: codes of manners in early modern England’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6 (2002) 267-289 at 272.

[15]  Nicholls, The matter of courtesy pp. 45-49.

[16] Bartlett p. 585 compares Map 1.10: ‘every house has one servant and many masters’.

[17] ‘With attentive ears hear the worthy words of your father as he teaches you, which he teaches and writes for you, my son; let your father’s teaching be grafted on your mind’ (9-11). The book may have been written for his son and dedicated to him.


[18] ‘If the royal court nurtures you under its wings, be thought sweet in speech’ (875-6).

[19]  Bartlett suggests that the poem is ‘not a guide to self-assurance but a monument to anxiety’ (England under the Norman and Angevin Kings p. 588). Gillingham sees it as advice to ‘budding gentlemen’, especially schoolboys (pp. 270-1).

[20] A reminiscence of Vergil Aeneid 1.203: ‘perhaps some day it will be a pleasure to remember even these things.’

[21] Cf. Disticha Catonis (some at least of these couplets were known from AD 200 on) 2.19:  ‘Talk little at thy feasts, lest men esteem / Thee wordy, though thou fain would witty seem.’ (tr. Wayland Johnson Chase, The Distichs of Cato. A famous medieval textbook [Madison, 1922]); Disticha Catonis prose proverb 51: ‘Say little at a party’.

[22] Diners ate in pairs (Nicholls p. 33, Bartlett p. 585).

[23] Cf. Nicholls p. 35: the Gilbertines and Victorines were advised to clean their knives on bread before cleaning them again with a napkin. He compares Urbanus Magnus 2616-7.

[24]  Cf. the Anglo-Norman Petit traitise 64-7, copying Daniel (Nicholls p. 165): ‘Chaud pain devez depescer; / Char de lievre ne devez trenchier, / Ne de aignel ne de conin, / Ne char fresche de purcelin.’

[25] Ceti, any large sea monster: whale, shark, dolphin, dogfish. Glossator A in the Dublin ms. glosses as ‘porpoise’.

[26] A glosses as sturgeon, a royal fish.

[27] Allec, strictly the sediment of garum, fish sauce, in classical Latin.

[28] Cf. Nicholls p. 35 for parallels, e.g. in Facetus: ‘cum nihil utilius’ 143.

[29] Luscentur, as read by Smyly (the ‘more difficult reading’) is accepted by Mediaeval Latin Dictionary as ‘to turn a blind eye (in order to avoid witnessing an indiscretion)’.

[30] Similar identification of this as bad manners in Hugh of St Victor De institutione novitiorum [12th c.] PL 176 col. 952 (cf. Nicholls p. 37): ‘Others put half-gnawed crusts and pieces of bread they have already bitten back into the portions and dip the remains left by their teeth in the cups to make sops.’

[31] I.e. you must not take the spoons away. The Customary of St Peter’s Westminster (c. 1266) 101-2 orders the refectoriarius to lay one spoon for each diner, but two for the president and collect them at the end of dinner. The St Edmundsbury Chronicle 1296-1301 71 reports that all the spoons had been removed from the refectory. (Information from Mediaeval Latin Dictionary.)

[32] Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-before 215) warns against leaning forward to get one’s helping first or reaching out too far (Paedagogus 2.55 ff.).

[33] Also forbidden to monks at services (Nicholls p. 41). Clement had dealt with this topic earlier: ‘At banquets we should not be forever spitting or violently coughing or blowing our nose’, out of consideration for our companions. ‘Again, if a sneeze take us by surprise, or, even more so, a belch, we need not deafen our neighbour with the noise and in so doing exhibit our lack of manners.  A belch should be released silently, as we exhale, with our mouths shut, not wide open and gaping like the masks of tragedy.’ (Paedagogus 2.60, tr. Simon P. Wood). 

[34] Cf. line 2005. By analogy with that line, Daniel might mean you should pretend you have not belched. Clement criticised immodest women for belching and advised ‘The emission of the breath in a belch should be made noiselessly’ (Paedagogus 2.33, tr. Simon P. Wood).

[35] Bartlett says it was ‘common, perhaps customary’ to have a girl serving drinks (p. 579).

[36] ‘I prescribe a rule for you, my dearest son: Do not offend married women who have balls’ (1947-8).

[37] ‘When you are a cuckold, learn to stare at the ceiling’ (2005). Cf. in a similar context Juvenal 1.55-7: … ‘when each pimp of a husband / Takes gifts from his own wife’s lover – if she is barred in law / From inheriting legacies – and, while they paw each other, / Tactfully stares at the ceiling or snores, wide awake, in his wine?’ (tr. Peter Green).