Thursday, September 24, 2020

1066 and all that . . .


An interesting email from Brett B arrived in my mailbox yesterday from Brett B, he of Brett’s Monthly fame.  It concerns some interesting flow on effects of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest.


Brett's email:

It's the anniversary of the Norman Conquest of 1066. It was this week that William the Conqueror of Normandy first arrived on British soil. The French-speaking Normans eventually defeated Old English-speaking Saxons at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066 — which had a larger and more pronounced effect on the development of the English language than any other event in history.

Norman French replaced the Germanic-based Anglo-Saxon as the official, administrative, and ceremonial language, and Anglo-Saxon was demoted to everyday, common use. The sturdy English cow, calf, and sheep on the hoof became French once they were on the plate: beef (from boeuf), veal (veel), and mutton (mouton). The word vellum, for a type of parchment made of calfskin, also comes from the French word for calf. In all, some 10,000 French words were adopted into the English language, and within the course of a few centuries, English went from being a strictly Germanic language to one infused with a large Latinate vocabulary, which came via French.

The Normans of course also imposed their ideas and practices of governing on their conquered English subjects, and our vocabulary still reflects a huge number of French-based words. Government is a word of French origin that came in during Middle English. The Old French word is governer from Latin "to steer" or "to rule."

For many years, English-speaking subjects took allegiance to the royal crown. Allegiance is a distinctly Anglo-Norman word — it's a variation of the Old French ligeance, from a Latin word describing foreign serfs who were allowed to settle on Roman land and till the soil.

Subject, no surprise, was a word introduced by the Norman invaders, and when it first came into Middle English from Old French (sujet, "brought under"), the word meant "a person owing obedience."

Yet the conquered English subjects continued to swear allegiance to the king. The French-speaking Norman leader of the invaders, William the Conqueror, actually tried in his middle age to learn to speak English, the tongue of his newly conquered subjects. But from the invasion, English gained several synonyms of French origin that meant, essentially, kinglike or kingly. These include royal, regal, and sovereign. Royalty developed in the late Middle Ages to include a sense of "right to ownership" over minerals, which in the mid-1800s began to also apply to payment given by a mineral harvester to the person who owned the land from which the mineral came. Later, royalties applied to the sales of copyrighted materials.

From the Norman Conquest came the Anglo-Norman French word corune, from Old French coroner, ultimately from Greek for "circle, ring." It formed the basis not only of the kingly crown, but also of corolla — the inner ring of petals in a flower — and corollary, coronary, coronation, and coroner — who in Norman times, as an officer of the crown, was appointed to investigate any seemingly unnatural deaths of members of the ruling class.

Words from the Anglo-Norman legal system also form the primary basis for the vocabulary of our modern legal system. A defendant is summoned to court, from the Old French cort, from the Latin word for yard. If it's a civil affair, one might hope that all people "present at court" (the original meaning of courtier) will be courteous, which originally meant "having manners fit for a royal court." A complaint is filed by the plaintiff, from the Old French word plaintive — a "lamentation" — which is itself derived from a Latin word, planctus, meaning "beating of the breast."


Thanks Brett


Some history by way of background:

The Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066 between the Norman-French army of William, the Duke of Normandy, and an English army under the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson, beginning the Norman conquest of England.

The English army was composed almost entirely of infantry and had few archers, whereas only about half of the invading force was infantry, the rest split equally between cavalry and archers. Harold appears to have tried to surprise William, but scouts found his army and reported its arrival to William, who marched from Hastings to the battlefield to confront Harold. The battle lasted from about 9 am to dusk. Early efforts of the invaders to break the English battle lines had little effect; therefore, the Normans adopted the tactic of pretending to flee in panic and then turning on their pursuers. Harold's death, probably near the end of the battle, led to the retreat and defeat of most of his army. After further marching and some skirmishes, William was crowned as king on Christmas Day 1066. 

Casualty figures are hard to come by, but some historians estimate that 2,000 invaders died along with about twice that number of Englishmen.


I have posted the above summation because I was reminded of a poem about the Battle of Hastings that I last read back in my uni days. I managed to track it down . . . 


By Marriott Edgar 

I'll tell of the Battle of Hastings,
As happened in days long gone by, 
When Duke William became King of England, 
And 'Arold got shot in the eye. 

It were this way - one day in October 
The Duke, who were always a toff 
Having no battles on at the moment, 
Had given his lads a day off. 

They'd all taken boats to go fishing, 
When some chap in t' Conqueror's ear 
Said 'Let's go and put breeze up the Saxons;' 
Said Bill - 'By gum, that's an idea.' 

Then turning around to his soldiers, 
He lifted his big Norman voice, 
Shouting - 'Hands up who's coming to England.' 
That was swank 'cos they hadn't no choice. 

They started away about tea-time - 
The sea was so calm and so still, 
And at quarter to ten the next morning 
They arrived at a place called Bexhill. 

King 'Arold came up as they landed - 
His face full of venom and 'ate - 
He said 'lf you've come for Regatta 
You've got here just six weeks too late.' 

At this William rose, cool but 'aughty, 
And said 'Give us none of your cheek; 
You'd best have your throne re-upholstered, 
I'll be wanting to use it next week.' 

When 'Arold heard this 'ere defiance, 
With rage he turned purple and blue, 
And shouted some rude words in Saxon, 
To which William answered - 'And you.' 

'Twere a beautiful day for a battle; 
The Normans set off with a will, 
And when both sides was duly assembled, 
They tossed for the top of the hill. 

King 'Arold he won the advantage, 
On the hill-top he took up his stand, 
With his knaves and his cads all around him, 
On his 'orse with his 'awk in his 'and. 

The Normans had nowt in their favour, 
Their chance of a victory seemed small, 
For the slope of the field were against them, 
And the wind in their faces an' all. 

The kick-off were sharp at two-thirty, 
And soon as the whistle had went 
Both sides started banging each other 
'Til the swineherds could hear them in Kent. 

The Saxons had best line of forwards, 
Well armed both with buckler and sword - 
But the Normans had best combination, 
And when half-time came neither had scored. 

So the Duke called his cohorts together 
And said - 'Let's pretend that we're beat, 
Once we get Saxons down on the level 
We'll cut off their means of retreat.' 

So they ran - and the Saxons ran after, 
Just exactly as William had planned, 
Leaving 'Arold alone on the hill-top 
On his 'orse with his 'awk in his 'and. 

When the Conqueror saw what had happened, 
A bow and an arrow he drew; 
He went right up to 'Arold and shot him. 
He were off-side, but what could they do? 

The Normans turned round in a fury, 
And gave back both parry and thrust, 
Till the fight were all over bar shouting, 
And you couldn't see Saxons for dust. 

And after the battle were over 
They found 'Arold so stately and grand, 
Sitting there with an eye-full of arrow 
On his 'orse with his 'awk in his 'and.

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