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.
The Middle English document called the Ormulum is a goldmine for historical linguists because the text explicitly indicated how the vowel sounds in the text were to be pronounced. The text was written at a time when the vowels in many words were changing. Some long vowels were being pronounced as short vowels, and vice versa. The Ormulum captured many of these changes for posterity. In this episode, we explore the concept of long vowels and short vowels, and we see how Modern English uses many of the same spelling innovations first documented in the Ormulum.
Following the Norman Conquest of England, the French-educated scribes encountered the English language used by the Anglo-Saxons. The new scribes discovered unfamiliar letters and strange spellings. Early Middle English documents like the Ormulum show several spelling innovations introduced during this period. In this episode, we examine how the French-trained scribes introduced new spellings for certain consonant sounds.
The final years of Henry II’s reign were consumed with putting down rebellions. Those rebels included Henry’s sons and wife. In this episode, we explore Henry’s family of rebels. We also examine the book of homilies known as the Ormulum. This early Middle English text appeared near the end of Henry’s reign, and it contained the first known usage of many Modern English words.
The massive realm of Henry II extended from southern France through the British Isles. The administration of the so-called “Angevin Empire” required an extensive bureaucracy. In this episode, we examine some of the key government officials who administered the government of England. We also explore the first English settlements in Ireland.