Forks were first used in the Middle Ages, but eating with one was considered scandalous. In the 11th Century, when a Greek princess died shortly after introducing forks at her wedding with a Venetian Doge (chief magistrate) Domenico Selvo, it was perceived as divine punishment.
While forks were a regular feature on the tables of nobles in Italy since the 11th Century, and used in France in the 14th Century, it was introduced in England only in 1611 by Thomas Coryat through his book “Coryat’s Curdities Hastily gobbled up in Five Months Travels in France, Savoy, Italy, &c.” Even then, he was mocked about promoting the use of forks and called “Furcifer,” meaning fork-bearer.
The upper classes of Spain were using forks in the 16th Century, as could be told from a large assortment of forks that were recovered from the wreck of La Girona, which sank off the coast of Ireland in 1588. In 1630, Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts had the first and only fork in colonial America.
So what did people eat with before using forks? They used wooden spoons, knifes and, of course, their hands.
Forks, mostly being two-tined, were known as “split spoons”. Although there are examples of four- and five-tined forks from the before the 1600s, the four-tined fork became popular only in the late 1800s. See a time-line of eating utensils.