In the two decades that followed the Norman Conquest, most of the land in England passed into the hands of French-speaking nobles. This process not only brought the feudal system to England, it also brought the French language to the peasants out in the countryside. In this episode, we explore these developments, and we look at some of the first words to pass from Norman French into English. We also examine an early Middle English passage from Robert of Gloucester.
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.