« PreviousContinue »
by him, to lay aside the English customs, and to imitate the manners of the French in many things; for example, all the nobility in their courts began to speak French as a great piece of gentility, to draw up their charters and other writings after the French fashion, and to grow ashamed of their old national habits in these and in many other particulars."* Further on we are told, "They [the Normans] held the language [of the natives] in such abhorrence that the laws of the land and the statutes of the English kings were drawn out in the Gallic [or French] tongue; and to boys in the schools the elements of grammar were taught in French and not in English; even the English manner of writing was dropped, and the French manner introduced in all charters and books."+ The facts are more correctly given by other old writers, who, although not contemporary with the Conquest, are probably of as early a date as the compiler of the Croyland History. The Dominican friar Robert Holcot, writing in the earlier part of the fourteenth century, informs us that there was then no institution of children in the old English-that the first language they learned was the French, and that through that tongue they were afterwards taught Latin; and he adds that this was a practice which had been introduced at the Conquest, and which had continued ever since.‡ About the middle of the same century Ranulf Higden, in his Polychronicon, says, as the passage is translated by Trevisa, "This apayringe (diminution) of the birthe tonge is by
Ingulphi Historia, in Savile, 895; or in Fulman, 62. The translation, which is sufficiently faithful, is Henry's.
Id. Savile, 901; Fulman, 71.
Lect. in Libr. Sapient., Lect. ii., 4to. Paris, 1518; as referred to by Warton, Hist. Eng. Poetry, i. 5.
cause of twey thinges; oon is for children in scole, azenes (against) the usage and maner of alle other naciouns, beth (be) compelled for to leve her (their) owne langage, and for to constrewe her lessonns and her thingis a Frenshe, and haveth sithe (have since) that the Normans come first into England. Also gentil mennes children beth ytauzt (be taught) for to speke Frenshe from the tyme that thei beth rokked in her cradel, and cunneth (can) speke and playe with a childis brooche; and uplondish (rustic) men wole likne hem self (will liken themselves) to gentilmen, and fondeth (are fond) with grete besynesse for to speke Frenshe, for to be the more ytold of." * The teachers in the schools, in fact, were generally, if not universally, ecclesiastics; and the Conquest had Normanized the church quite as much as the state. Immediately after that revolution great numbers of foreigners were brought over, both to serve in the parochial cures and to fill the monasteries that now began to multiply so rapidly. These churchmen must have been in constant, intercourse with the people of all classes in various capacities, not only as teachers of youth, but as the instructors of their parishioners from the altar, and as holding daily and hourly intercourse with them in all the relations that subsist between pastor and flock. They probably in this way diffused their own tongue throughout the land of their adoption to a greater extent than is commonly suspected. We shall have occasion, as we proceed, to mention some facts which seem to imply that in the twelfth century the French language was generally familiar to the people of all classes in England, at least in
Quoted from MS. Harleian. 1900, by Tyrwhitt, in Essay on Language and Versification of Chaucer, prefixed to his edition of the Canterbury Tales.
the great towns. It was at any rate the only language spoken for some ages after the Conquest by our kings, and not only by nearly all the nobility, but by a large proportion even of the inferior landed proprietors, most of whom were also of Norman birth or descent. Ritson, in his rambling, incoherent 'Dissertation on Romance and Minstrelsy,' prefixed to his 'Ancient English Metrical Romances,' has collected, but not in the most satisfactory manner, some of the evidence we have as to the speech of the first Norman kings. He does not notice what Ordericus Vitalis tells us of the Conqueror's meritorious attempt, which does not seem, however, to have been more successful than such experiments on the part of grown-up gentlemen usually are; so that he may be allowed to be correct enough in the assertion with which he sets out, that we have no information" that William the Bastard, his son Rufus, his daughter Maud, or his nephew Stephen, did or could speak the AngloSaxon or English language." Reference is then made to a story told in what is called Brompton's Chronicle respecting Henry II., which, however, is not very intelligible in all its parts, though Ritson has slurred over the 'difficulties. As Henry was passing through Wales, the old chronicler relates, on his return from Ireland in the spring of 1172, he found himself on a Sunday at the castle of Cardiff, and stopped there to hear mass; after which, as he was proceeding to mount his horse to be off again, there presented itself before him a somewhat singular apparition, a man with red hair and a round tonsure,* lean and tall, attired in a white tunic and barefoot,
* Tonsura rotunda. Scriptores Decem, 1079. The epithet would seem to imply that there were still in Wales
who, addressing him in the Teutonic tongue, began, "Gode olde kinge," and proceeded to deliver a command from Christ, as he said, and his mother, from John the Baptist and Peter, that he should suffer no traffic or servile works to be done throughout his dominions on the sabbath-day, except only such as pertained to the use of food; "which command, if thou observest," concluded the speaker, "whatever thou mayst undertake thou shalt happily accomplish." The king immediately, speaking in French, desired the soldier who held the bridle of his horse to ask the rustic if he had dreamed all this. The soldier made the inquiry, as desired, in English; and then, it is added, the man replied in the same language as before, and addressing the king said, "Whether I have dreamed it or no, mark this day; for, unless thou shalt do what I have told thee, and amend thy life, thou shalt within a year's time hear such news as thou shalt mourn to the day of thy death." And, having so spoken, the man vanished out of sight. With the calamities which of course ensued to the doomed king we have here nothing to do. Although the chronicler reports only the three commencing words of the prophet's first address in what he calls the Teutonic tongue, there can be no doubt, we conceive, that the rest, though here translated into Latin, was also delivered in the same Teutonic (by which is plainly meant Saxon or English). The man would not begin his speech in one language, and then suddenly break away into another. But, if this was the case, Henry, from his reply, would appear to have
some priests of the ancient British Church who retained the old national crescent-shaped tonsure, now deemed heretical.
understood English, though he might not be able to speak it. The two languages, thus subsisting together, were probably in general both understood even by those who could only speak one of them. We have another evidence of this in the fact of the soldier, as we have seen, speaking English and also understanding the king's French. It is, we suppose, merely so much affectation or bad rhetoric in the chronicler that makes him vary his phrase for the same thing from "the Teutonic tongue" (Teutonica lingua) in one place to English" (Anglicè) in another, and immediately after to "the former language" (lingua priori); for the words which he gives as Teutonic are English words, and when Henry desired the soldier to address the priest in English and the soldier did so, it must have been because that was the language in which he had addressed the king.
"King Richard," Ritson proceeds, "is never known to have uttered a single English word, unless one may rely on the evidence of Robert Mannyng for the express words, when, of Isaac King of Cyprus, ‘O dele,' said the king, 'this is a fole Breton.' The latter expression seems proverbial, whether it alludes to the Welsh or to the Armoricans, because Isaac was neither by birth, though he might be both by folly. Many great nobles of England, in this century, were utterly ignorant of the English language." As an instance, he mentions the case, before noticed by Tyrwhitt, of William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely, chancellor and prime minister to Richard I., who, according to a remarkable account in a letter of his contemporary Hugh Bishop of Coventry, preserved by Hoveden, did not know a word of English.'
* Linguam Anglicanam prorsus ignorabat.-Hoveden,