Francis Palgrave.

The history of Normandy and of England (Volume 3) online

. (page 40 of 41)
Online LibraryFrancis PalgraveThe history of Normandy and of England (Volume 3) → online text (page 40 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

specimen of the Norman dialect, is merely a
translation from a Latin text, executed, as it
should seem, about the conclusion of the reign
of Henry III.

It is in this reign that the so-called Norman-

. 1

French first makes its appearance m the nionu-
ments of our diplomacy and jurisprudence, con-
tinuing, with very little variation, till the reign
of Edward III., when the more modern French
of Paris materially affected the archaic dialect
of our island. Previous to this period no au-
thentic law, or deed, or charter, has ever been.



discovered, except in Latin or in English. The
traditionary employment of the language of
Rome, however barbarized or corrupted, con-
tinued to be one of the links which connected
the media3val states with the fourth monarchy,
and it possessed a vast preponderance as a
written language ; but the employment of the
English was limited to some few charters, writs,
or letters, gradually diminishing in number until
the last which occurs [before] the age of York
and Lancaster, when the diplomatic employment
of the English language revived ; and this last
document is the memorable proclamation, de-
claring how Henry, King of England, Lord of
Ireland, and Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine,
had assented to the restraints imposed upon him
by those whose names so forcibly bespeak their
Norman lineage. To this most remarkable
English document, penned so near to the Anglo-
Norman period, there is not an English name.

19. The gradual formation of our present
English, as contradistinguished from what is
usually termed Anglo-Saxon, is a problem not to
be solved by the one single cause of the Norman
accession ; for though that event accelerated the
change, still we must be permitted to repeat
what we conceive to be the guiding principle of
our historical investigations that the Conquest
only accelerated a process which otherwise
would have proceeded more slowly and more
incompletely ; but still, that it would have dif-


fered only in degree, and not in kind. And here
again we must take the test of comparison, as
supporting the assertion which we have made.
We regret the loss of our " English undefiled."
In grim despair the philologer pores over the
strains of Beowulf, and, failing to solve the im-
penetrable enigmas of the lay, he weeps over the
deleterious influence of the Conquest. But has chan g e ?

language in

the Gothic speech fared better in its own country ? ScandUiaTia -
Shall we find, in essentials, very much more
conformity to antiquity in Scandinavia ? Alas !
if Regner Lodbrok were to chaunt his death-
song in the streets of Copenhagen, nay, even of
Drontheim, the Quida would be as little intel-
ligible to his auditors, as if Csedrnon, accom-
panying himself upon his harp, were to intonate
his glee at an oratorio in Hanover Square.

Our readers will recollect that, in conformity
with our denial of the real existence of an Anglo-
Saxon nation, except as a convenient, though
somewhat delusive mode of designating the
English of the ante-Norman period, so also must
we deny there being any Anglo-Saxon language. NO such

language as

If you had asked Alfred what he had in his g
hand, he would have answered it was an Englisc- -
boc, and have been wonderfully surprised if you
had given it any other name. The distinction
then between the language which, in compliance
with inveterate habit, we will call Anglo-Saxon,
and the English, anterior to the Eeformation,
for that event had here, as well as in Germany,


great influence upon language, consists, first, in

the adoption of foreign words, principally from

the Romance dialect of France ; and secondly,

Gradual in the obliteration of many of the inflexions of

changes in

Anglo-Saxon grammar, the loss of all the cases
save one, the diminution of the nice distinction
in the moods of verbs by means of the tones and
semitones of the vowels, and the general simpli-
fication in the construction of the phrases ; and
both those changes, although unquestionably
aided by political circumstances, arose from the
wonderful manner in which speech adapts itself
to the exigencies or desires of the mind. " Out
of the abundance of the heart, the mouth
speaketh," is one of those divine truths as fully
applicable to the collective language of each
branch of the human race, as to the fulness and
fluency of discourse, which strong and intense
feeling gives to the individual.

20. About the period of the Conquest, the

Romance dialects of France began to exert a very
singular fascination, if such a term may be em-
ployed, which has continued to the present age,
and which caused them to become, for many
ages, a common link between the various nations
of Western Christendom. " Son," says the Nor-
wegian king, in his instructions to his heir,
" learn Walske, (Welch,) for that goes widest in
the world." And the Northmen, as soon as they
came in contact with other nations, with the
most singular readiness, assumed their speech,


and neglected or forgot the customs, as well as
the language of their Scandinavian ancestors.
Very few localities in Normandy now bear any

totally lose

traces of Teutouism in their etymology. A few


vestiges may be traced by the diligence of the
antiquary. Falaise is so-called from the Fels, or
rock, on which it stands ; Oistreham, Ouestre-
ham, speak for themselves : yet, even in these
cases, it may be doubted whether these and some
others of the same kind are not due to a still
more remote population to the Saxons who
peopled the Saxon shore, or to the so-called
Gauls; for when we recollect that the great
Druidical temple was called Eisern-thor, because
it had iron doors, it is difficult to deny but that
a Belgic dialect was spoken there before its an-
nexation to the Roman Empire.

Be this as it may, it is certain that when
the Northmen occupied Neustria they found a
population entirely Romanized, and the country
full of Roman recollections and associations,
still looking to the venerable shade of Rome as
the mistress of the world. This Romanism the Andietmt


Northmen adopted with the utmost eagerness,
and to such an extent, that when William the
Conqueror was young, it was only a few old folks
at Bayeux who could speak the Danish tongue.
More singular, as evidencing the Roman impress
given to the inhabitants of this region, is the
fact, that, in Normandy, we find the earliest
evidences of poetry in the Romance tongue.


Yet the first jongleur whom we can quote as

having chaunted the praise of the Emperor and

his " doze peers/' was Taillefer, at the battle of

Hastings ; for to suppose that the Chanson de

Roland could have any reference to Rollo, is a

theory as contrary to evidence as to the general

Normans tenor of Norman history. In Sicily, and in

K a r manceto Apulia, the Greek and the Arabic were found as


vernacular dialects by the Normans, and Roger
assumed the diplomacy of Byzantium, and de-
corated his garments and his structures with the
Cuphic scrolls of Bagdad. Yet here a Romance
dialect preponderated ; and the very name of
Tancred de Hauteville shews how completely
the Normans had become associated to the
people whom they had subdued,
it reaches Before the Conquest the same fashion was


spreading. The palace of Edward the Confessor
was filled with bishops and courtiers of Norman
or Romance extraction. At an earlier period
the Anglo-Saxons had begun to enrich their lan-
guage by a macaronic intermixture of Greek and
Latin, and so, in all probability, they now began
to do with the more courteous phrases of the
French or Romance tongues. The introduction,
after the Conquest, of so many settlers of foreign
origin, no doubt accelerated the process of inter-
mixture. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle shews
how, even amidst the seclusion of Peterborough,
Romance words began to become familiar. Yet
in all this we can discern nothing of compulsion,


but much of imitation, and of the influence result-
ing from intercourse and example; and thus, even
in Scotland, the Romance became so prevalent,
that an instance exists when the coronation oath
was pronounced in the Norman or French language.
The great era, however, of the introduction
of the Romance language in this country must
be placed in the reign of Beauclerc; and the
taste and examples of his two Queens Matilda,
and still more, Adeliza of Louvaine gave an
impulse to the employment of that dialect, which
rendered it the language of secular literature.
Yet other causes contributed, and amongst them,
as we conjecture, were the needs of commerce.
In London, certainly the most Anglo-Saxon por-
tion of the realm, the earliest entries of their
municipal records are in Romance French, and
written with such remarkable purity and facility
as to shew how thoroughly it must have been
cultivated as the common language of inter-
course in our metropolis; and the fashion con-
tinued to encrease in the court, as well as in the
city. Whilst Edward III., by his legislation, f t f d 7 nder
prohibited the employment of the French lan- E
guage in the pleadings of the courts of justice, it
was encouraged in the pleadings of the court of
Love ; and maintained its ground as exclusively
amongst the higher classes as the French lan-
guage in the court of Germany, in the days of
Frederick the Great : and a whimsical, as well
as an extraordinary proof of the influence thus



acquired by habit, is found in the fact that the
correspondence between George II. and the
Prince of Wales, as laid before Parliament
during their unhappy dissensions, is wholly in
the French language.

21. With respect to the grammatical altera-
tions which the English sustained, we should be
inclined to venture upon the following hypothesis,
which we merely submit for the consideration
of those who are better calculated to discuss it.
Thorpe or Kemble.Halliwell or Wright, can alone
investigate it with sufficient opportunity and
knowledge. It seems, therefore, probable to us,
"he that England before the Conquest possessed at


least two, if not more, concurrent dialects, as m
almost every part of Germany at the present
day. The book language, we suspect, was not
the vulgar tongue ; it was fully understood by
the common people, and yet not employed by
them in common discourse ; and after the higher
classes were, if not wholly extirpated, yet much
diminished in number and in influence, the vul-
gar dialect of the common people rose, as it were,
to the surface, and, combining itself with the
book language, formed the basis of the English
which we now employ. If, for example, fifty
years ago we can imagine a revolution which
should have carried off the Adel, and the
Burghers, and the Predigers of Holsteiu, and
dispersed or destroyed the stores of litera-
ture, the Hoch-Deutsch would in great mea-

L\ KV'.r.isH. 637

sure have disappeared: the Platt-Deutsch might
have become the prevailing language ; and in
the course of years, Klopstock would, in his
own country, have required the labours of the
lexicographer, like our Anglo-Saxon remains.
This is a rough comparison, but we believe it is
the only one by which the development of our
modern English can be explained.


22. According to the technical phraseology
of some of our ecclesiastical historians, the tenth u
century is emphatically denominated the " secu-
lum obscurum." Towards its conclusion, a
brighter light began to be seen on the verge of
the horizon of the other portions of the Chris-
tian Commonwealth, until the period of the
Conquest, but the darkness hung over England,
perhaps even with encreasing shade. I do not
speak merely of learning considered as an orna-
ment. The attempts made by Alfred to give to
the priesthood that knowledge needful for the
discharge of their duty, failed. The bright days
of the English Church had passed away, and
her priesthood had settled upon the lees. It is
with communities as with individuals ; those
who do not advance in goodness decline, and we
seek in vain for any token of redeeming vitality.

The ecclesiastical synods, without which
there can be neither the co-operation required
for the administration of any human community,
nor the gifts promised to those who assemble in



the name of Him by whom the Church is
guided, were almost entirely disused. When
the clergy did meet, it was merely for secular
concerns, and as a portion of the Witenagemot.
They had practically become as effete as a Con-
rgy ' vocation. The abuses of the Church continued
unrebuked and unrestrained, or what was worse,
rebuked by the mockery of precepts not in-
tended to restrain, as a clause in a mutiny act
against duelling, a proclamation against vice
and immorality. Learning had altogether de-
cayed ; and let it be recollected that in those
days the theory, however imperfectly carried
out, was that all learning should be directed to
the service of G-od ; so that this decay implies
not alone a decline of cultivation and of intel-
lect, but of sound doctrine and of holiness. He
who could read Latin was talked of as a prodigy.
With the decline of ecclesiastical discipline,
morals had declined also : never can the one
subsist without the other. The dusty rule of
St. Benedict slumbered on the shelf, whilst rich
fur and fine linen clothed the monk, and the
savoury dishes smoked on the long table of the
refectory. Scarcely could the priest at the
altar, reeking from the debauch, stammer out
^ ne words of the Liturgy. Your English [clerk]
was a glutton and a sot : of other vices we will
not speak ; it is sufficient to observe that they
united the heat of passion to the most cold-
blooded avarice. Without doubt, much of this


degradation had been occasioned by the cease-
less Danish invasions, and equally so by the
general breaking up of the Commonwealth, when
the sceptre was wielded by Edward's powerless
hand. But national misfortunes are judicial
punishments, at once the evidence and the means
of correction of national sins. The warnings
were repeated, repeatedly disregarded, till at
length they burst in vengeance.

23. William in Normandy had shewn no
great respect for the rights of the Church, when *'
they were opposed to his will ; and in England he
soon shewed the extent which he gave to his
regal power. Perhaps his first overt act was
when he caused the monasteries to be searched
for the property deposited in them by the Eng-
lish, a proceeding equally against good faith
and the respect commonly rendered to the
Catholic sanctuary. Heavy taxes were imposed Taxes:
without any mitigation upon the Church pro-
perty, and large portions were violently seized
and granted out to his followers. But these s fisca -
measures, though they might yield a certain de-
gree of profit and advantage, did not accomplish
the end which William's policy now openly
sought, the transfer of all the territorial supre-
macies to a new class of lords. This process,
however, could not be effected entirely at his
will and pleasure ; but the vices of the Church
of England afforded him the means of inflicting
that punishment by which her strength was to



be renewed. In the last era of the Anglo-Saxon
state, besides the other sins of the clergy, the
higher orders were most grievously stained with
simony, the general corruption of the Western
Church, but nowhere more apparent than in
England the simoniacal purchase of the sacred
office, a sin against knowledge, equally detri-
mental to the Church and degrading to the

Of these prelates, no one was more defamed
than Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
But who was to sit in judgment upon the
Primate? The problem was soon solved. Since
the first settlement of the Anglo-Saxon Church,
the Roman see had scarcely exercised anyjuris-
diction in England ; and the connection which
existed between this island and the patriarch of
the West, seems to have been principally con-
fined to the payment of Peter's pence, and the
dues exacted for the pallium, the confirmation
of the archiepiscopal authority. Now three
papal legates are seen in England ; Hermenfrid,
Bishop of Sion, accompanied by two cardinals,
dispatched upon the petition of William for the
purpose of confirming him in the royal autho-
rity ; but their further errand was immediately
disclosed. Convening a council, it was held at
Windsor for the purpose of extirpating the evils
of the Church, Stigand was canonically deposed
from his archbishoprick, as well as from the
bishoprick of Winchester. He was sentenced


to the penance of perpetual imprisonment in the
castle of Winchester : a scanty diet, insufficient
for the wants of the old man, was allowed by
the parsimony of the Exchequer. His friends
advised him to provide himself with better food ;
he replied that he had not a penny. At last he
died ; and when they were stripping the shrunken
corpse, they found a little key hung round his
neck, and certain schedules of parchment con-
taining an account of the treasure heaped up in
the vault which that key opened, and to which
he had thus clung to the very last. The blow
thus struck was speedily followed up. Bishops
and abbots were successively removed, many for
sufficient cause, some perhaps unfairly ; and this
plan being consistently and steadily pursued,
scarcely two more years had elapsed when
Wulstan of Worcester was perhaps the only
English bishop remaining in the realm ; and for
more than a generation, no Englishman was suf-
fered to acquire any ec> ?siastical dignity.

24. The constant overruling of the devices
of man, is the perpetual key to the intricacies
of human affairs. What sought William in the
deposition of the English prelates ? Why did
he place the whole nation under a ban, render-
ing their name and race an exclusion from the
Church of their fathers ? His own pleasure, the
security and consolidation of his own power.
But the very measures which he employed
worked against his own intent, and the wrong

T T 2


produced the remedy. Had the Conquest taken
place a generation earlier, the irruption of the
Normans would have been as injurious to the
intellectual advancement of England as the in-
vasions of the Danes, for under the first five
dukes their own subjects neglected all useful
learning. Fierce and untameable, they united
the roughness of the barbarian to the heartless-
ness of partial civilization. But destined as the

changes make

way for abler ^r orman g were Q gjfg^ a m ighty change in the

fortunes of Christendom, there was given to
them the talent of seeking out the means of im-
provement. Of the eminent men who adorn the
Norman annals, perhaps the smallest proportion
were of Norman race. Discernment in the
choice of talent, munificence in rewarding ability,
may be justly ascribed to the Norman rulers.
If in the Norman there was an entire absence of
real national feeling, there was an equal absence
of national jealousy ; and at the same time that
William was effecting the conquest of England,
the way was prepared for rendering that con-
quest the means of introducing the teachers who
were to reclaim the English Church from sloth
and spiritual degeneracy.

g 25. Amongst those whose names the dying
king enumerated, as testifying by their lives and
conversations, that to the best of his power he
had well exercised the trust for which he was now
called to render an account, were those of Lan-
franc and his successor Anselm. Of the second,


we shall speak hereafter. [The career of the
first we have traced to the period of William's
marriage.] He had already refused the Arch-
bishoprick of Rouen., offered to him upon the
death of Maurellius, the Italian ; and he equally
shrunk from the acceptance of the see of Can-
terbury. In this dignity there was nothing
which could tempt him. He delighted in the
pleasant places in which his lot had been cast.
Pursuing still with unabated zeal the studies
which had raised him to eminence, and which
were now giving him the more enduring gratifi-
cation of the consciousness that he had been the
means of training others to follow in the same
good path, he was most loth to quit his solitude.
But, yielding at length to the commands of the
King and the solicitations of the Norman clergy,
he accepted the unwelcome mitre, and was in-
stalled with more than usual solemnity in the
metropolitan cathedral. He was most joyfully
accepted by the people, who hailed him as a
father; and henceforth Lanfranc deemed hini-
s.elf to be an Englishman, and identified him-
self entirely with the community to which he
was now allied, but without in anywise depart-
ing from the fidelity which he was bound to
render to his Sovereign. According to the old
English constitution, the Archbishop of Can-
terbury was, as I have before observed, a
species of tribune of the people. He was
William's chief adviser. To this was added


the authority of justiciar, or, as we should say,
regent, which he exercised whenever William
was absent from the realm ; and pre-eminent as
the station was which Lanfranc holds in the
written history of the reigns of the Conqueror
and of Rufus, it was the silent, or, at least, the
unrecorded influence exercised by him as a
statesman which rendered him most beneficial
to the people. On Lanfranc, as Archbishop,
we shall speak hereafter more particularly. In
his mixed character, as the chief of the lords
spiritual, he may be considered as the great
supporter, in some respects the founder, of the
constitution. His firm, but temperate defence
of the rights of the Church, enabled his suc-
cessors to be the defenders of the rights of the
state. There is no true defender of one with-
out the other. The crozier of Lanfranc, handed
down by Anselm and Becket to Hubert and
Langton, did more for Magna Charta than the

26. It is the common error of all men to
pride themselves upon their one good quality,
which they consider as giving them a receipt in
full for all the opposite failings and sins. William
was clear of simony, the sin which, as I have
before observed, corrupted the appointments of
the Church in their ve^y source, and in which
almost all his compeers participated with the
utmost gladness and greediness. Pope Gregory
held him up, in this respect, as an example to


others. But as the canonists lay down in grave
technical aphorisms, what we all know from
common sense would that we did not from
daily experience the spirit of the prohibi-
tion may be fully violated, although the hard
money may never have passed ; and whilst wunam f

choice of

William most religiously abstained from be- prclates -
stowing his prelacies in consequence of the
"munus a manu," still he indemnified himself
most amply by the " munus a lingua" and the
"munus ab obsequio" deriving perhaps even
more convenience and advantage from these
considerations, than as if the preferment had
been sold as the next presentation to an ad vow-
son is at the present day.

Gilbert Marninot was recommended by his
great skill in medicine and also in astronomy.
He was a court physician and court astrologer :
felt the Conqueror's pulse and cast his horo-
scope. In the knowledge of a useful art there
was nothing uncanonical ; nor would the care
of bodies have necessarily disqualified him for
the care of souls ; but what was the Bishop in
other respects ? The sports of the field, hunt-
ing and hawking, were his amusements. Science
[also was his,] for he was deeply learned ac-
cording to the standard of the age, and one of
his observations, accidentally preserved, forms
an important link in the annals of the visible
heavens. To these he added the habits of the
camp. He was liberal and merry, fond of good


cheer and good fellowship. In his time the
canons of Lisieux were as jovial as a mess-table,
though, at the same time, he was most diligent
in promoting secular learning. In short, he was
fit for anything except his station. But no
money had been paid, and William hugged
himself in his virtue. Furicus, an Italian by

Online LibraryFrancis PalgraveThe history of Normandy and of England (Volume 3) → online text (page 40 of 41)