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The Middle English Period

(1066-1500)

 

1066-1204 Decline of English

  • French (Norman) invasion (1066), William, Duke of Normandy's conquest and unification of England, crowned king of England as William I, the Conqueror (r. 1066-1087); Normans were descendants of Danes living in northern France and spoke a French influenced by Scandinavian; death of many Anglo-Saxon nobles

  • French became the dominant language in England, spoken by the upper classes from 1066 until late in the 14th century. English language was relegated to the lower classes and was heavily influenced by French in matters of vocabulary, prosody, and spelling

  • Frenchmen in all high offices; kings of England spoke French, took French wives and lived mostly in France; French-speaking court; imposition of feudal system, vassalage, peasants bound to the land

  • Henry II (House of Plantagenet, Angevine) (r. 1154-1189), married to Eleanor of Aquitaine; Henry II and Eleanor were the parents of Richard I, the Lionheart (r. 1189-1199) and John Lackland

  • lack of prestige of English; French was the language of the court; Latin was the written language of the Church and secular documents; Scandinavian still spoken in the Danelaw; Celtic languages prevailed in Wales and Scotland

  • development of bilingualism among Norman officials, supervisors; some marriages between French and English people; some bilingual children

  • examples of words of French origin: tax, estate, trouble, duty, pay, table, boil, serve, roast, dine, religion, savior; pray, trinity

  • very little written English from this period; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle continued to be written until 1154

1204-1348 Rise of English

  • King John (John Lackland) (r. 1199-1216); loss of Normandy in 1204; beginnings of the political and cultural separation between England and France

  • many Norman landholders chose to stay in England, spoke Anglo-French dialect

  • Henry III (r. 1216-1272), son of John; francophilia of Henry III, many Frenchmen given official positions

  • eventual decline of French cultural dominance in England

  • rise in use of English, smoothing out of dialectal differences, beginning of standard English based on London dialect; crusades and pilgrimages contributed to increase in communication and formation of common language.

1348-1509 Dominance of English

  • French remained official language of England until second half of 14th c.; by mid to late 14th c. English was normal medium of instruction; in 1362 English became official language of legal proceedings; everyone in England spoke English by end of 14th c., displacing French, Norse, and Celtic languages

  • increase in English writing, more common in legal documents than French or Latin by 15th c.

  • emergence of London/East Midland dialect as standard spoken and written language; dominance of London as commercial center, seaport, proximity to Westminster court

  • Edward III (Windsor) (r. 1327-1377); his claim to French throne led to Hundred Years' War (1337-1453); eventual French victory; England lost all of its continental holdings; English hostility to French language and culture

  • Black Death 1348-1351, death of one third of English population, social chaos, labor shortages, emancipation of peasants, wage increases, rise in prestige of English as language of working classes

  • War of the Roses (1455-1485), House of York (white rose) vs. House of Lancaster (red rose)

  • printers' activity (William Caxton 1474), increased literacy

  • Henry VII (House of Lancaster) (r. 1485-1509) marries Elizabeth of York (daughter of Edward IV), fathers Henry VIII, and begins Tudor dynasty

  • 1509 begins reign of Henry VIII; end of Middle English Period, beginning of English Renaissance and Early Modern English Period

 

 

 

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last updated: 11/30/2008

 

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