Episode 68: Rebels With a Cause

It may come as a surprise that William the Conqueror embraced English after the Norman Conquest.  He also maintained much of the existing Anglo-Saxon bureaucracy. Had William continued those policies, the English language would be very different today. Despite William’s attempt to rule as an ‘English’ king, his favorable policies quickly vanished in the wake of a series of rebellions throughout his newly conquered kingdom.   Afterwards, William initiated the process by which the Anglo-Saxon nobility and land holders were removed from power and replaced with his French allies. The new French aristocracy established a social environment which shaped the transition of Old English into Middle English.

4 thoughts on “Episode 68: Rebels With a Cause

  1. Just to point out that when you’re going back 1000 years, you don’t need an incestuous royal family to be able to trace back descent to royalty. I have a provable line of descent from Alfred the Great and William the Conqueror (through Henry II’s illegitimate son, William Longespée). It’s really not very impressive. Millions upon millions of people do. How does this happen? Because I have very significant English ancestry (three of my grandparents were New England Yankees whose ancestors were Puritans who came over in the Great Puritan Migration of the 1630s and the other one was descended from English and Scottish ancestors who came over ca. 1800). When you go back 1000 years in England, I have tens of millions of ancestor branches since this is an exponential function. How many people were there in England in 1066? Low estimate is half a million, high estimate is 3 1/2 million. What does that mean? It means I’m pretty much descended from all of them multiple times – well, all of them who have any living descendants at all anyway. And so, more than likely, is Queen Elizabeth II (who has a significant amount of English ancestry through her mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, as well as European Royal ancestry through her father).

    It works both ways generally. Not only do royal families have younger sons, daughters, and illegitimate children whose lines eventually marry into the middle classes, but even so august a personage as Queen Elizabeth II usually has lines which descend from the middle classes (and the peasantry if you go back far enough). E.g. Elizabeth II’s mother was Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, a member of the nobility. The late Queen Mother’s mother was Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck who was the granddaughter of a Prime Minister. Cecilia’s mother was Louisa Burnaby, a member of minor nobility. And Louisa’s mother was Anne Caroline Salisbury who was the daughter of a humble solicitor. We’ve already reached the middle classes and we haven’t even gotten back to the 18th century yet. We don’t even know who Anne Salisbury’s grandparents were. It’s just too difficult to do genealogical research on someone so humble that far back, but she was almost surely descended from everyone in England in 1066 (who still has living descendants, and with the expected exceptions of people whose entire line of descent moved to other countries), including the royalty as well as the peasantry.

    • Thanks Andrew. As you noted, the math tells the story. A simple exponential equation reveals that each of us should have billions of ancestors if we were able to trace them all back to the early Middle Ages. Of course, as you noted, that’s more people than were alive then. So the lines of descent are not linear. They all mix together in a complicated web. The moral of the story is that most people are related to each other if you go back far enough – and in most cases, you don’t have to go back that far at all. It’s the idea behind six degrees of separation (or if you prefer, six degrees of Kevin Bacon 🙂 ).

  2. I have always assumed that a government “bail out” of a struggling company is a modern term taken metaphorically from bailing out a boat that is taking on water and in danger of foundering. The term would therefore be related to pail… the implement used to bail out the boat. Are you sure it comes from bailiff?

    • Hi John. Great question! First of all, I don’t have any evidence to support the theory that “bail” is related to “pail.” According to the OED, the term “bail out” is probably derived from the use of the verb “bail” in the sense of bailing someone out of jail. The connection is based on the financial aspect of both transactions. That particular version of “bail” is related to the noun “bailiff.”

      However, the same OED entry also notes the influence of the other verb “bail” is the sense of bailing water out of a boat. That second version of the verb “bail” is derived from an altogether different source – specifically a word for a bucket used to remove water called a “bail.” Both verbs are several centuries old, but the term “bail out” is not attested until the early 1900s. The OED acknowledges that both verbs may have contributed to the modern phrase, and in fact, the phrase “bail out” may represent a merger of the two older verbs. So in that sense, I guess we are both correct. 😉

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