Magna Carta is often presented as the culmination of a dispute between King John and his barons, but it didn’t settle the debate. In fact, the charter actually sparked a new debate over the power of the king. That debate was one of many being held during the early 1200s when the art of debate permeated education, the legal profession, and even poetry. This period also witnessed the composition of the first major debate poem in Middle English called “The Owl and the Nightingale.”
The early 13th Century saw a massive increase in the production of government documents, including charters and official letters. In this episode, we explore the changing role of the written word in the Middle Ages. We also examine how King John’s financial exploitation of his barons led to revolt and Magna Carta.
During the early Middle English period, the long vowel sound represented by letter A started to shift to a new sound represented by letter O. In this episode, we explore this early vowel shift, and we also explore the dispute between King John and Pope Innocent III over the selection of a new Archbishop of Canterbury.
The 12th and 13th Centuries saw the rise of new institutions of higher learning called “universities.” In this episode, we look at the changing educational system in Western Europe and the rise of Oxford and Cambridge. We also explore the etymology of words associated with Medieval education and universities.
The first version of the King Arthur legend to be composed in English is found in Layamon’s 13th century poem called Brut. In this episode, we explore Layamon’s version of the story, and we examine how the text reveals certain changes in the English language during that period. Specifically, we look at new English words documented for the first time in the text, as well as grammatical and phonological changes reflected in the manuscript.
In this episode, we look at the rivalry between John “Lackland” and Arthur of Brittany for control of the Angevin Empire. John eventually emerged victorious, but in the process, he set in motion the events that led to the loss of Normandy and most of northern France. The loss of these territories produced a renewed sense of “Englishness” and a revival of English literature. This English renaissance was spearheaded by an English translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain.” For the first time, the legend of King Arthur was presented in English verse.
During the Middle Ages, lions were adopted as symbols of European royalty. Many monarchs also acquired nicknames related to lions. That included Richard the Lionheart. In this episode, we explore the origin of that nickname, and we examine the popular perception of exotic animals from Africa and Asia.
During the Crusades, Christian forces and Muslim forces traded blows in the Holy Land. At the same time, Europeans and Arabs traded goods through an extensive trading network that passed through the Near East and the Mediterranean. In this episode, we look at traders and Crusaders, and we explore the impact of these developments on the English language.
In this episode, we turn our attention to the Near East to explore the spread of the Islam and rise of Muslim science in the Middle Ages. This scientific and literary revolution in the Near East contributed to the English language in some surprising ways. We also explore the connections between healers and holy warriors, and we see how the modern hospital was a product of those two contradictory forces.
During the Middle English period, scribes developed a variety of spelling innovations to distinguish the sound of the various vowels. Some of those innovations were borrowed from French, and some were native to English. In this episode, we explore those spelling techniques, many of which still survive in Modern English.