"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

English Kings Spoke French For 300 Years

Remember those Norman French guys who took over in 1066? They didn’t stop being French for a long time.
Anglo-Saxon was for peasants.
Ever notice how Robin Hood’s enemies have names like ‘Guy de Gisborne?’

We tend to think of the Hundred years war as a classic conflict between the British and the French.

Really, it was a war between French nobles over France. Many of England’s Norman descended rulers were more invested in Aquitaine and Normandy than in England, which was a relatively minor corner of their empire.

Here is a map of “England” towards the end of the 12th century AD.

A main lesson here is how we project our present values on the past.

-We forget that nationalism is a largely 19th century idea that would have been incomprehensible to 12th century nobles.

-We somehow tend to assume that the Normans gave up France just because they took over England. Again modern ideas of nationalism distort our perspective.

3 responses to “English Kings Spoke French For 300 Years

  1. eric May 4, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Technological development helped fuel the modern nation-state. Some empires managed to thrive in spite of the hurdles, but the tech made it much easier.

    1. Printing press, which allowed mass publishing. It also fueled the growth of bureaucracy. This allowed national education to become much more feasible, which helped replace local dialects with a national language.
    2. Steam, coal then oil power allowed faster travel.
    3. Sanitation & Medicine, all of the cities grew faster than they could keep them clean, squeezing all of the trash and disease together in close quarters. Rome had Aqueducts, but we were slower in getting on track.

  2. eric May 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Also, having one unified language made the creation of large armies easier. If I remember right, the Russian officer corp in WWI was at a disadvantage because they spoke German, whereas the enlisted spoke Russian. Drafting low skilled citizens was possible because of the ease of use and mass production of gunpowder weapons.

  3. Giovanni Dannato May 12, 2012 at 8:08 am

    I think you’ve got a point about the printing press.

    For most of history, the idea of defining a nation based on ethnic groups and languages was patently absurd. The ruler was the strongest of the local warlords and he didn’t much care what language his peasants spoke from place to place as long as they did what peasants are supposed to do.

    But when you suddenly have people reading in their native language, things might just get a little more complicated.

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