William Caxton introduced the mass production of books to England in the 1470s. He was also the first person to print books in the English language via the printing press. Caxton’s publications reveal the priorities and concerns of a businessman, not those of a linguist or scholar. In this episode, we explore Caxton’s contribution to the history of English, and we examine the impact of the printing press on the development of the English language.
In the 1400s, rising literacy rates and access to cheap paper combined to produce the first collections of personal letters in the English language. One of the earliest letter collections was maintained by the Paston family of Norfolk. Their letters reflect the struggles of an upstart family against the traditional landed nobility, and they provide an important perspective on the family dispute that became known as The Wars of the Roses.
The rose is one of the most beloved flowers in western Europe, and it has a long association with English royalty. In this episode, we explore the history of English gardens and the use of the rose as a symbol of various branches of the royal family. We also examine the oldest guide to gardening composed in the English language and the origins of the conflict that became known as the ‘Wars of the Roses.’
The legend of Robin Hood has its origins in the murky history of England after the Norman Conquest, but the first written examples of Robin Hood ballads don’t appear until the mid-1400s. In this episode, we examine the earliest references to the legend, and we explore the oldest surviving ballads that tell the story of the legendary outlaw. We also look at evidence of the Great Vowel Shift in these early ballads.
In this bonus ‘stay at home’ episode, we explore several words and phrases that appeared for the first time in the first half of the 15th century, including “turnpike,” “to curry favor,” “budget,” “average,” “peculiar,” “hogwash,” and others.
In the early 1400s, playing cards made their first appearance in England. Those cards provide evidence of an early form of printing, but it would take another generation for Johannes Gutenberg to invent the printing press. In this episode we explore the history of playing cards and the printing press, and we also look at the end of the Hundred Years’ War. We also examine how these events contributed to the history of English and the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern era.
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.
In this episode, we explore words associated with mealtime in the Middle Ages. We also examine the important role of bread in medieval meals and impact of bread-related terms on the English language. Finally, we look at the important role of table manners as outlined in an early English etiquette guide called the Boke of Curtasye.
In the midst of the English literary revival of the late 1300s, the household chefs of Richard II compiled the first cookbook in the English language. In the episode, we examine the cookbook known as ‘The Forme of Cury,’ and we explore the nature of food and cooking in medieval England. We also look at how the culinary arts shaped the English language.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the most popular English poems of the Middle Ages. In this episode, we explore the language and story of the poem. We also examine how the poem reflects certain changes that were taking place within the English language in the late 1300s.