When dinner is announced, the mistress of the house requests the lady first in rank, in company, to shew the way to the rest, and walk first into the room where the table is served; she then asks the second in precedience to follow, and after all the ladies are passed, she brings up the rear herself. The master of the house does the same with the gentlemen. Among the persons of real distinction, this marhalling of the company is unnecessary, every woman and every man present knows his rank and precedence, and takes the lead, without any direction from the mistress or the master.
When they enter the dining-room, each takes his place in the same order; the mistress of the table sits at the upper-end, those of superior rank next [to] her, right and left, those next in rank following, the gentlemen, and the master at the lower-end; and nothing is considered as a greater mark of ill-breeding, than for a person to interrup this order, or seat himself higher than he ought. – John Trusler, 1791
As the eldest daughter, Jane and Elizabeth sat nearest their father during family meals, with Jane to his right. When Lydia returns as Mrs. Wickham, she unceremoniously bumps Jane to a position towards the middle of the table, for her married state gave her a higher rank than her eldest sister:
Elizabeth could bear it no longer. She got up and ran out of the room; and returned no more till she heard them passing through the hall to the dining parlour. She then joined them soon enough to see Lydia, with anxious parade, walk up to her mother’s right hand, and hear her say to her eldest sister, ‘Ah, Jane I take your place now, and you must go lower, because I am a married woman.’ – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Custom, however, has lately introduced a new mode of seating. A gentleman and a lady fitting alternately round the table, and this, for the better convenience of a lady’s being attended to, and served by the gentleman next to her. But notwithstanding this promiscuous seating, the ladies, whether above or below, are to be served in order, according to their rank or age, and after them the gentlemen, in the same manner. – John Trusler, p 6
From: The honours of the table, or, Rules for behaviour during meals : with the whole art of carving, illustrated by a variety of cuts. Together with directions for going to market, and the method of distinguishing good provisions from bad; to which is added a number of hints or concise lessons for the improvement of youth, on all occasions in life. By the author of Principles of politeness, &c. … For the use of young people, John Trusler
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