This article is an edited transcript of William: Conqueror, Bastard, Both? with Dr Marc Morris on Dan Snow’s History Hit, first broadcast 23 September 2016. You can listen to the full episode below or to the full podcast for free on Acast. When William the Conqueror was born in 1027 or 1028, the stars …
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But, by the late 14th century, standards of French in Britain were slipping – at least in some quarters. Perhaps not such a problem at home, where English had already assumed some of the roles previously performed by French. But if British merchants wanted to export wool, or import bottles of Bordeaux, knowledge of French was still a must.
It’s around this time that the “Manieres de langage” – or “Manners of Speaking” – began to appear. These model conversations, the earliest used to teach French to English speakers, were used by business teachers who taught all the necessary skills for performing basic clerical work.
In 1278 the King of England came up with a new plan to raise money and land, as leaders are fond of doing. Certain that historic privileges had been usurped by uppity subjects, King Edward sent royal officers around to prominent individuals demanding by what legal right – quo warranto – they held their honours. However when Edward’s men arrived at the home of one John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, the ageing aristocrat pulled out his rusty sword and proclaimed: “My ancestors came with William the Bastard, and conquered their lands with the sword, and I will defend them with the sword against anyone wishing to seize them.”
When Henry Plantagenet (the future Henry II of England) acquired the duchy of Aquitaine in 1152 through marriage, it stretched from the Loire to the Pyrenees, and was ruled from Poitiers. It encompassed several other lordships, including the old duchy of Gascony, whose northern boundary had been roughly the Garonne river. Following French conquests in 1204, the duchy of Aquitaine shrank back towards the Garonne, and the capital became Bordeaux.