Episode 134: A Lancastrian Standard

In the early 1400s, England welcomed a new king, a new ruling family, and a new role for the English language in the administration of government. In this episode, we explore the rise of the House of Lancaster and the emergence of a standard form of written English for the first time since the Norman Conquest.


17 thoughts on “Episode 134: A Lancastrian Standard

  1. Great show as always. I just wanted to point out a few things.

    First, the Anglo-Portuguese treaty is still in effect even though Portugal is a republic now. It was even called on by the United Kingdom as recently as the Falklands War in the 1980s. Also since both countries are part of NATO their ancient alliance is, in a way, at the heart of modern security.

    Second: The Henry plays were not written in sequence. Most scholars seem to think that the second Henriad (covering the War of the Roses) was actually written first and that Henry VI, part 1 was actually written as a prequel in order to dive deeper into the causes of the war. In addition a computer based analysis shows that Christopher Marlowe was a co-author for about 30% of the material in Henry VI, 1, 2, and 3.

    • Hi Jason. Thanks for the comments. I read somewhere in my research for the episode that the England-Portugal alliance has endured and was referenced during the Falklands War. That’s pretty fascinating. I am also aware that Shakespeare’s history plays were not written in order. I didn’t address that in this episode, but I intend to cover the presumed order of the plays in some detail when I get to the early modern period (like I did with Chaucer’s poems in the Middle English period). With respect to the authorship issue, that’s another fascinating topic which I would like to tackle at some point.

      • I wish you well with the Shakespeare authorship issue. You’ll need another 134 episodes to cover all the ramifications of that!

        Another fascinating episode which has given me a lot to think about.

      • He was the author. But he sometimes worked with others. They are writing a script so not surprising he did write every single word. But Shakespeare did write Shakespeare’s plays. Don’t get sidetracked on this issue—the nut would drive you crazy.

  2. Hi Kevin,
    if I understood you correctly the next episode will deal with the topic printing press.
    I am already very afraid of this episode, so please make yourself familiar with the correct German pronunciations!
    1. Johannes Gutenberg
    The best one I found is this female voice:
    Please do not say “GutenBÖRG”. This sounds a lot like “würg” which expresses strong vomiting in German. 😛
    2. Mainz

    Thanks in advance!

    PS: If you have questions do not hesitate to contact me!

    • Markus, don’t forget that lots of German words have common pronunciations in English. The “GOOT’n’berg Bible” is a thing that people say in English already with no attempt to sound German. Likewise anglophones say Mew-nick, not München, etc.

    • I think I’m good with “Mainz,” but Johannes Gutenberg is a well-known name in the English-speaking world, and it has a common pronunciation within English. I think it would sound odd if I pronounced it in a distinctly German manner. Maybe I’ll split the difference. 😉

  3. At 27 minutes in we hear “even though that passage was written by Shakespeare two centuries later, it contains the first recorded use of the term ‘spotless reputation’, so that was one of many terms coined by Shakespeare”.

    If “to coin a phrase” means to invent a new saying then the above, er, leaves me scratching my head.

    Also, we’re always seeing “lists of words invented by Shakespeare” but the truth is that those words are thought to be first attested in his writings. Modern scholarship says he neither invented as many words as traditionally thought, nor was the first to write them down. When you think about it, if there really were many brand news coinages in the plays, how could the audience have understood it?

    • … and again at 40:11, of Shakespeare’s Falstaff: “and that’s where we get the phrase ‘to eat someone out of house and home'”.

      What if the phrase predated Shakespeare, and has been in continuous oral use since that time? I’m not disputing that this is the earliest written attestation, but maybe Shakespeare’s vocabulary is much more a snapshot of the oral tradition, than novel turns of phrase.

      • I would defend my wording a bit more in this example. Even if Shakespeare didn’t “coin” certain phrases, the popularity of his plays certainly brought many of those phrases into common usage in the language. Yes, it’s possible that the phrases would have become common even without Shakespeare, but I don’t mind giving him credit since so many popular idioms and phrases appear for the first time in his literary works.

    • It’s a fair point, and usually I am more precise in my wording. I used the word “coined” in the sense of being the first known person to use the phrase, but of course, there is no way to know if Shakespeare was merely repeating a phrase that he had heard before.

      • Kevin. There are three possible meanings of the termed “coined” as you use it.
        1. Shakespeare invented the word or phrase.
        2. Shakespeare used a word or phrase that was in use verbally but had never been written down.
        3. Shakespeare used a word or phrase that was in a document that has not survived.
        The likelihood is that we shall never know the absolute truth behind each word or phrase but can only go on a balance of probabilities.

  4. Kevin, I first heard about your podcast a year ago, (strangers at the next table in the restaurant ) and I’ve spent the past twelve months catching up. These podcasts have been invaluable. I now have an entirely new perspective on the English language, history and etymology. I’ve told as many people as who will listen to me ramble on about it. Thank you for the education and I look forward to future episodes.

  5. Hi Kevin — You shed light on a period of English history I knew very little about in this episode. I especially enjoyed your capsule biography of John of Gaunt. Can you recommend any good books on the period?

    BTW, I started listening to the podcast about 2 years ago, and have finally (almost) caught up with you. It’s slightly bittersweet that now I’ll have to wait between episodes. Keep up the fine work.

    • Hi Doug. I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast. For a good overview of the entire Plantagenet period, I recommend ‘The Plantagenets’ by Dan Jones. It covers a broad period beyond the late 1300s and early 1400s, but it is a very accessible book. I also enjoyed ‘The Last Knight’ by Norman F. Cantor which focuses more on John of Gaunt.

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