Used as a kitchen tool for centuries, the fork was slow to make its way into common
usage as an eating implement.
By the 7th century, the fork was being used among royal courts in the Middle East and
by the 11th century was fairly common among the wealthy merchants in the region.
In the 11th century, forks were brought to Italy by a Byzantine princess upon her
marriage to a future Doge (chief magistrate) of Venice. Because she refused to eat
with her hands, the princess’s table manners were considered decadent and scandalous.
The Catholic church went so far as to sternly admonish her, stating her use of the fork
was an affront to God’s intention to use the fingers. When she died shortly after her
wedding, it was perceived as divine punishment and helped to delay the common usage
of forks in Italy for several more centuries. By the 14th century, forks were
occasionally showing up in the inventories and wills of the nobles and the wealthy.
In 1533, the fork worked its way to France when Italian Catherine de Medici married the future king of
France, Henry II. Again, the fork was slow to be accepted in France as the French thought it to be an
affectation of the Italians. The French found it awkward and even dangerous. When it did begin to
entrench itself in the local culture, it was strictly something for only the very wealthy and upper classes.
In 1608, after his travels in Italy, an Englishman named Thomas Coryate brought the first forks to England.
The English, however, wanted little to do with the fork, considering it to be effeminate.
In America, it is said that in 1630 Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony possessed the first
and only fork in the Colonies.
Not until 1633, when King Charles I declared, “It is decent to use a fork,” did the use of the fork begin to
gain a foothold of acceptance in England. Even then, it wasn’t until the 18th century that the fork worked
its way down to the lower classes in England.
It was also around this time that the shape of the fork itself took on a change. Up until this time, forks were
flat and normally consisted of two straight tines at the end of a handle. It was known as a “split spoon”.
The curved fork we’re familiar with today, which is much better designed to scoop up food, was developed in
the 18th century in Germany. The number of tines grew from two, to three, then to four. The four tined
fork didn’t become de rigeur until the mid-1800s.