A Venetian nobleman sitting down to sup with King Henry VIII in 1530 would have at once noticed something missing from the English table. Each guest would have a silver spoon for pottage, sauces, and jellies and a knife for cutting meat, but no forks. Like most other Englishmen, His Majesty believed that fingers would suffice to carry food to the mouth, and anyone who thought differently was considered over-nice, or maybe just Italian.
While most of the courts on the Continent had been using forks for years, the English were very slow to pick up this particular dining refinement. Charles I's Queen Henrietta Marie brought them from her native France in the 1620s, and Charles II, too, favored them after his lengthy exile in Europe. By the end of the 1600s, diners of the better sort had begun accepting the two-tined fork (a smaller version of those used for carving meat) as a useful invention, and often carried their own with them. Not until the 18th c. did fashionable English forks acquire that extra tine or two, and receive the graceful bend to help carry food. Still, the two-tined variety remained in use into Victorian times in rural areas of England and among those who saw no use in tossing away perfectly good cutlery.
But it wasn't a refinement easily won. Like most Englishmen, traveller Thomas Coryat regarded forks with the greatest suspicion when he first encountered them in 1608 in Italy (perhaps at a grand banquet like the one above), and of course made fun of them – after, I suspect, he was "brow-beaten" himself for using his fingers.
"I observed a custom in all those Italian Cities and Townes through which I passed...The Italian and also most other strangers that are commorant in Italy do alwaies at their meals use a little forke when they cut their meate. For while with their knife which they hold in one hande they cut the meate out of the dish, they fasten their forke, which they hold in their other hand upon the same dish, so that whatsoever he be that sitting in the company of any others at meate, should unadvisedly touch the dish of meate with his fingers, he will give occasion of offence unto the company, as having transgressed the lawes of good manners in so much that for his error he shall be at the least brow-beaten, if not reprehended in wordes....The reason of this curiosity is, because the Italian cannot by any means indure to have his dish touched with fingers, feeling all mens' fingers are not alike cleane."
-- Thomas Coryat, Coryat's Crudities, Hastily Gobled up in Five Moneths' Travells...,vol. 1
Above: Detail from The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese, 1563, The Louvre
Below: Silver filigree knife with steel blade and fork, late 17th c. French