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The Norman Conquest and its effect on English


The English king, Edward the Confessor, who had been reared in France, brought over many Norman advisors and favourities; he distributed among them English lands and wealth to the considerable resentment of the Anglo-Saxon nobility and appointed them to important positions in the government and church hierarchy. In many respects Edward paved the way for Norman infiltration long before the Norman Conquest. However, the government of the country was still in the hands of Anglo-Saxon feudal lords, headed by the powerful Earl Godwin of Wessex. In 1066 the elders of England proclaimed Harold Godwin king of England. As soon as the news reached William of Normandy, he mustered a big army by promise of land and plunder, and, with the support of the Pope, landed in Britain. In the battle of Hastings in October 1066, Harold was killed and the English were defeated. This date is the date of the Norman Conquest. Most of the lands of the Anglo-Saxon lords passed into the hands of the Norman barons, William’s own possessions comprising about one third of the country. The Normans occupied all the important posts in the church, in the government, and in the army. Hundreds of people from France crossed the Channel to make their home in Britain. Immigration was easy, since the Norman kings of Britain were also dukes of Normandy and, about a hundred years later, took possession of the whole western half of France, thus bringing England into still closer contact with the continent. French monks, tradesmen and craftsmen flooded the south-western towns. Much of the middle class was French.

The Norman Conquest was one of the greatest event in the history of the English language. Its earliest effect was a drastic change in the linguistic situation. The most immediate consequence of the Norman domination in Britain is to be seen in the wide use of the French language in many spheres of life. For almost 300 years French was the official language of administration. The intellectual life, literature an education were in the hands of French-speaking people; French, alongside Latin, was the language of writing. At first 2 languages existed side by side without mingling. Then, slowly and quietly, they began to permeate each other. The Norman barons and the French town-dwellers had to pick up English words to make themselves understood, while the English began to use French words in current speech. Probably many people became bilingual and had a fair command of both languages. The struggle between French and English was bound to end in the complete victory of English. The earliest sign of the official recognition of English by the Norman kings was the famous PROCLAMATION issued by Henry 3 in 1258 to the councilors in Parliament. It was written in 3 languages: French, Latin and English. During this period such changes were in English: there appeared prepositions and conjunctions, but the grammar was saved unchangeable. Such words as servant, prince, guard – (connected with life of royal families) were borrowed. With life of church – chapel, religion, prayer, to compess; with city life – city, merchant, painter, tailor. The names of animals were saved, but if their meanings were used as meal – the Norman’s names were given to them (beef, pork, veal, mutton).

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