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Old February 4th, 2014, 05:15 PM   #1

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Which English Kings actually spoke English?


I'm under the impression Richard I couldn't speak English. He spoke Norman French, correct? When did that change? I think Simon Schama wrote that Edward Longshanks was the first English king who could actually speak English, is that true? Did other rulers come along that couldn't speak English? What did they speak?
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Old February 4th, 2014, 11:12 PM   #2
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i'm pretty sure i read that Henry II could speak English - probably of the schoolboy/tourist variety, but still. i think the same could be said for John - the reason Richard I couldn't speak English was that he barely lived here...

i think the problem you're going to find with such a yes/no question is one of degree - certainly uptil the 15th century the langauge of court, parliament and the justice system was French/Norman-French, so the written history that remains is going to be in those languages, and isn't going to be interested in whether the King could converse with his soldiery. i think it very unlikely however that, apart from Richard II - for the reason given - the Plantaganets could speak or understand no English at all, not lest because this would make personal direction in battle (which is what Kingship of the time is all about) virtually impossible.

Last edited by Dried Fruit; February 4th, 2014 at 11:22 PM.
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Old February 5th, 2014, 01:21 AM   #3

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Originally Posted by Menshevik View Post
I'm under the impression Richard I couldn't speak English. He spoke Norman French, correct? When did that change? I think Simon Schama wrote that Edward Longshanks was the first English king who could actually speak English, is that true? Did other rulers come along that couldn't speak English? What did they speak?
Richard was an Angevin and appears to have spoken the l[ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occitan_language"]angues d'oc[/ame] of his mother's Aquitaine.

Norman French was langues d'ol with a lot of Norse influence. Richard's father Henry could certainly understand Old Norman although he most likely spoke an Angevin/Parisian dialect, Wace, Roman du Rou commissioned by Henry was written in Old Norman.

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Old February 5th, 2014, 05:25 AM   #4

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This is a very interesting question.

In his book ‘The Adventure of English’ Melvyn Bragg does an excellent job of showing the astonishing changes the language went through at this time.

Bear in mind of course that speaking ‘English’ in the 12th century was very, VERY far away from speaking English today. Modern English takes such a huge proportion of its vocabulary from French, that it is completely unrecognisable compared to the old pre-1066 language. As I understand it over 80% of the Anglo Saxon vocabulary has been lost, meaning it isn’t used anymore. The words that remain are often the common, ‘base’ type words to do with the connecting parts of a sentence, and to do with farming, the land, etc. All the ‘high’ status word for intellectual concepts are of French origin.

As I understand it, Henry V was the first to address the people in English, at least in written form. There is anecdotal evidence that some of the kings before that may have understood some English, but I think Henry V is the first where we have conclusive proof.

Starting in August 1417, Henry V promoted the use of the English language in government, and his reign marks the appearance of Chancery Standard English as well as the adoption of English as the language of record within Government. He was the first king to use English in his personal correspondence since the Norman conquest, which had occurred 350 years earlier.

Here's a sample text, in Old English, just to show the differences we are up against:

Cnut cyning gret his arcebiscopas and his leod-biscopas and urcyl eorl and ealle his eorlas and ealne his eodscype, twelfhynde and twyhynde, gehadode and lwede, on Englalande freondlice.

Cnut, king, greets his archbishops and his lede'(people's)'-bishops and Thorkell, earl, and all his earls and all his peopleship, greater (having a 1200 shilling weregild) and lesser (200 shilling weregild), hooded(ordained to priesthood) and lewd(lay), in England friendly.

And ic cye eow, t ic wylle beon hold hlaford and unswicende to godes gerihtum and to rihtre woroldlage.

And I kithe(make known/couth to) you, that I will be [a] hold(civilised) lord and unswiking(uncheating) to God's rights(laws) and to [the] rights(laws) worldly.

Ic nam me to gemynde a gewritu and a word, e se arcebiscop Lyfing me fram am papan brohte of Rome, t ic scolde ghwr godes lof upp arran and unriht alecgan and full fri wyrcean be re mihte, e me god syllan wolde.

I nam(took) me to mind the writs and the word that the Archbishop Lyfing me from the Pope brought of Rome, that I should ayewhere(everywhere) God's love(praise) uprear(promote), and unright(outlaw) lies, and full frith(peace) work(bring about) by the might that me God would(wished) [to] sell'(give).

Nu ne wandode ic na minum sceattum, a hwile e eow unfri on handa stod: nu ic mid godes fultume t totwmde mid minum scattum.

Now, ne went(withdrew/changed) I not my shot(financial contribution, cf. Norse cognate in scot-free) the while that you stood(endured) unfrith(turmoil) on-hand: now I, mid(with) God's support, that [unfrith] totwemed(separated/dispelled) mid(with) my shot(financial contribution).

a cydde man me, t us mara hearm to fundode, onne us wel licode: and a for ic me sylf mid am mannum e me mid foron into Denmearcon, e eow mst hearm of com: and t hbbe mid godes fultume forene forfangen, t eow nfre heonon for anon nan unfri to ne cym, a hwile e ge me rihtlice healda and min lif by.

[I]Tho(then) [a] man kithed(made known/couth to) me that us more harm had found(come upon) than us well liked(equalled): and tho(then) fore(travelled) I, meself, mid(with) those men that mid(with) me fore(travelled), into Denmark that [to] you most harm came of(from): and that[harm] have , mid(with) God's support, afore(previously) forefangen(forestalled) that to you never henceforth thence none unfrith(breach of peace) ne come the while that ye me rightly hold(behold as king) and my life beeth.

Last edited by RoyalHill1987; February 5th, 2014 at 05:40 AM.
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Old February 5th, 2014, 07:05 AM   #5

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Quote:
Originally Posted by RoyalHill1987 View Post
This is a very interesting question.

In his book The Adventure of English Melvyn Bragg does an excellent job of showing the astonishing changes the language went through at this time.

Bear in mind of course that speaking English in the 12th century was very, VERY far away from speaking English today. Modern English takes such a huge proportion of its vocabulary from French, that it is completely unrecognisable compared to the old pre-1066 language. As I understand it over 80% of the Anglo Saxon vocabulary has been lost, meaning it isnt used anymore. The words that remain are often the common, base type words to do with the connecting parts of a sentence, and to do with farming, the land, etc. All the high status word for intellectual concepts are of French origin.

As I understand it, Henry V was the first to address the people in English, at least in written form. There is anecdotal evidence that some of the kings before that may have understood some English, but I think Henry V is the first where we have conclusive proof.

Starting in August 1417, Henry V promoted the use of the English language in government, and his reign marks the appearance of Chancery Standard English as well as the adoption of English as the language of record within Government. He was the first king to use English in his personal correspondence since the Norman conquest, which had occurred 350 years earlier.

Here's a sample text, in Old English, just to show the differences we are up against:

Cnut cyning gret his arcebiscopas and his leod-biscopas and urcyl eorl and ealle his eorlas and ealne his eodscype, twelfhynde and twyhynde, gehadode and lwede, on Englalande freondlice.

Cnut, king, greets his archbishops and his lede'(people's)'-bishops and Thorkell, earl, and all his earls and all his peopleship, greater (having a 1200 shilling weregild) and lesser (200 shilling weregild), hooded(ordained to priesthood) and lewd(lay), in England friendly.

And ic cye eow, t ic wylle beon hold hlaford and unswicende to godes gerihtum and to rihtre woroldlage.

And I kithe(make known/couth to) you, that I will be [a] hold(civilised) lord and unswiking(uncheating) to God's rights(laws) and to [the] rights(laws) worldly.

Ic nam me to gemynde a gewritu and a word, e se arcebiscop Lyfing me fram am papan brohte of Rome, t ic scolde ghwr godes lof upp arran and unriht alecgan and full fri wyrcean be re mihte, e me god syllan wolde.

I nam(took) me to mind the writs and the word that the Archbishop Lyfing me from the Pope brought of Rome, that I should ayewhere(everywhere) God's love(praise) uprear(promote), and unright(outlaw) lies, and full frith(peace) work(bring about) by the might that me God would(wished) [to] sell'(give).

Nu ne wandode ic na minum sceattum, a hwile e eow unfri on handa stod: nu ic mid godes fultume t totwmde mid minum scattum.

Now, ne went(withdrew/changed) I not my shot(financial contribution, cf. Norse cognate in scot-free) the while that you stood(endured) unfrith(turmoil) on-hand: now I, mid(with) God's support, that [unfrith] totwemed(separated/dispelled) mid(with) my shot(financial contribution).

a cydde man me, t us mara hearm to fundode, onne us wel licode: and a for ic me sylf mid am mannum e me mid foron into Denmearcon, e eow mst hearm of com: and t hbbe mid godes fultume forene forfangen, t eow nfre heonon for anon nan unfri to ne cym, a hwile e ge me rihtlice healda and min lif by.

[I]Tho(then) [a] man kithed(made known/couth to) me that us more harm had found(come upon) than us well liked(equalled): and tho(then) fore(travelled) I, meself, mid(with) those men that mid(with) me fore(travelled), into Denmark that [to] you most harm came of(from): and that[harm] have , mid(with) God's support, afore(previously) forefangen(forestalled) that to you never henceforth thence none unfrith(breach of peace) ne come the while that ye me rightly hold(behold as king) and my life beeth.
By the 12th century middle English was in use, the York writ of Cnut above circa 1020 is already starting to turn, gret would be grete (greteth) in West Saxon Standard OE.

Of the 100 most common words used in modern English most are OE in origin with the next most common being Old Norse, French only has a couple like "number" for example.

This is the last ASC entry in late Standard OE, 1131

se kyng Heanri com ham to Engleland toforen heruest fter Sancti Petres messe e firrer.

1132 is in early middle English

is gear com Henri king to is land. a com Henri abbot
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Old February 5th, 2014, 11:15 AM   #6

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Presumably the pre-conquest Kings of England spoke Old English?
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Old February 5th, 2014, 12:55 PM   #7
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Presumably the pre-conquest Kings of England spoke Old English?
As Scandinavian, I can attest that the Old English has a lot of striking similarities with Scandinavian.

"t ic wylle beon hold hlaford and unswicende"

hold=huld (still useable, if ancient)

unswicende=osvikande (you can give just about every verb a negation by sticking "un-/o-" on before it, in particular in the north Swedish dialects)

Between my knowledge of contemporary English, and modern Swedish, it feels as if I just might be able to get these blokes, had I been able to meet them.
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Old February 5th, 2014, 01:13 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Larrey View Post
As Scandinavian, I can attest that the Old English has a lot of striking similarities with Scandinavian.

"t ic wylle beon hold hlaford and unswicende"

hold=huld (still useable, if ancient)

unswicende=osvikande (you can give just about every verb a negation by sticking "un-/o-" on before it, in particular in the north Swedish dialects)

Between my knowledge of contemporary English, and modern Swedish, it feels as if I just might be able to get these blokes, had I been able to meet them.
Been watching "The Bridge" Larrey and being Scottish thought I could get the gist of much of it. Strange ending though.

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Old February 5th, 2014, 11:18 PM   #9
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It is said that George I could not speak English and that is why the role of the Prime Minister became so important.
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Old February 6th, 2014, 02:46 AM   #10
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It is said that George I could not speak English and that is why the role of the Prime Minister became so important.
I think the family continued to speak German amongst themselves up to about 100 years ago?
God knows the Stuarts were bad enough but George I, the "Wee German Lairdie", was a monster.
Stuart frying pan to Guelph fire.

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Last edited by The Gushel; February 6th, 2014 at 02:50 AM.
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