Carving Knives with sheath

Medieval, Knives, about AD 1406; Sheath, about AD 1406-1410
From Dijon or Paris, France

The ritual of feasting was more formal in the Middle Ages than today.  The larger knives would have been used by an 'esquire carver'  to chop, carve and then serve the meat to his lord, who would have used the smaller knives himself at the table.

The wooden handles of these carving knives are richly decorated with armorial devices, mottoes and floral motifs. This sophisticated design is carried out in translucent enamel and gilt silver.  On each side of each handle are two armorial shields within a floral border, and a motto  's'il plaist a dieu' ('If it pleases God') with floral motifs.

The heraldry has been identified as the arms of Jean de Touraine and his wife Jacqueline of Bavaria-Hainault, who were married in 1406.

The sheath is stamped and engraved with the design of a figure of a peasant carriying a hoe within floral decoration, and the motto 'J'endure' ('I persevere'). The cover of the sheath is similarly decorated with a watering pot and the conjoined initials 'Y' and 'O' possibly for Ysabel of Burgundy and Olivier de Blois, her husband, who were also married in 1406.

Although the motto may relate to the hard lot of the peasant, the watering pot was a recognized symbol of inconsolable grief, and may refer to the death of  Ysabel in 1412.


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More information


J. Cherry, Medieval decorative art (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

J. Robinson, Masterpieces: Medieval Art (London, British Museum Press, 2008)

O.M. Dalton, 'On a set of table knives in the the British Museum, made for John the Intrepid, Duke of Burgundy', Archaeologia-5, 60: 2 (1907), pp. 423-40


Length: 37.30 cm
Length: 38.50 cm
Length: 23.80 cm
Length: 21.30 cm
Length (sheath): 40.20 cm

Museum number

M&ME 1855,12-1,118



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