1637: Perhaps weary of watching dinner guests picking their teeth with the points of their daggers, Cardinal Richelieu orders the blades of his dinnerware to be ground down and rounded off. Et voilà, the modern dinner knife is born.
Prior to Richelieu's flash of inspiration (or simple revulsion at bad manners), diners typically used hunting daggers to spear their morsels, which were then conveyed to the mouth by hand or with the help of a spoon. The fork, the implement that really revolutionized chowing down, had existed since biblical times. Despite its utility, however, the fork remained a relative rarity in the West until the 17th century, even among the French royals that Richelieu served with unswerving devotion.
Richelieu's knives became the rage among the court and soon everyone who was anyone in France had a set. The dinner knife became commonplace throughout France after Louis XIV -- who, like most kings, had his own reasons for not wanting sharp blades and pointed tips around -- decreed its universality. Soon afterward, the dinner knife found its way throughout continental Europe to England and, eventually, the American colonies.
It's fitting that the table knife helped refine table manners at the French court. If the French didn't invent good manners (and they didn't: the ancient Egyptians instituted a code of behavior during the Fifth Dynasty), they at least gave the world étiquette, the five-franc word that's synonymous with refined behavior.
Cardinal Richelieu, of course, was more than a simple cutler. As Louis XIII's chief minister, he was no stranger to using sharp implements to influence geopolitical events.
His policies transformed France into a powerful state, bringing it into direct conflict with the House of Hapsburg and the Holy Roman emperors. Allying Catholic France with the Protestant Swedes in the Thirty Years' War, Richelieu looked on as sword-wielding mercenaries laid waste the tiny neighboring German states, helping fuel the grudges that set the stage for modern European history.