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The King's English

King Henry the 5th of England has begun using English in his normal correspondence. An English King has not used English in day-to-day interactions since the Norman Conquests of the 11th century. French and Latin were the language of official correspondence, but this changed in the late 1300s when courts were required to judge cases in the language of the plaintiff. One assumes that English kings would speak English eventually but it appears that King Henry is promoting English as a political tool! He wants to legitimize his position as ruler of England by appealing to the people. His father, the Duke of Lancaster, was chosen as King because he deposed the tyrant King Richard the 2nd and saved everyone's head. (At that point Parliament would have voted him in as the Easter Bunny if that was what he wanted.) The question of the legitimacy of the Lancaster succession will spark the War of the Roses. [1] [2] [3] [4]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
For centuries it was a French custom to have French spoken in all business and legal interactions, (sort of like what Canada does today) but they were not trying to make French a universal language (a lingua franca, as they say). They wanted to ensure that the people wouldn't be cheated due to a misunderstanding in language! Until this time, French and Latin were the only languages that had enough structure to handle official correspondence but English matured enough to be useful. This official use of English may also explain the change in the pronunciation of words. Vowels are being spoken higher up the throat. This is a guess, but the English nobility, who are not English-speaking people, are pushing the language of English in directions more useful for them.

Link-boys: He Can't Hold a Candle

Thou hast saved me a thousand marks in links and torches, walking with thee in the night betwixt tavern and tavern. -- Falstaff joking with Bardolph in Shakespeare's play, Henry IV, Part 1, Act III, scene 3...

What is a "link" and why does it cost money? The Middle Ages is a dark place and London is no exception. If a person wants to visit the local pub he needs a torch or lantern to light the way. In London there is a service called "link-boys" who carry a torch made of a stick covered in pitch and twisted cotton fibers (called "link"). For the cost of a farthing they will escort you from door-to-door, lighting your way. At many houses, a metal device is mounted on the wall at the doorway to snuff out the torch. However, in the winter it is difficult to find a link-boy so the Mayor of London has instituted street lamps. These lanterns will light the London streets through winter. [5] [6] [7]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
"Bob can't hold a candle to George," is a phrase meaning that "Bob" is not even worthy to be a link-boy for George. A similar phrase would be, "He is not worthy to hold his coat." It is generally accepted that Mayor Henry Barton instituted the first street lamps, but there is no hard evidence of it. It is not a unique idea. The Romans would light their villas at night. The slave who lit the lamps was called laternarius which is Latin for "guide". Lanturna is the stand that holds a torch and that is where we get the word "lantern". [8]

The Great Schism Is Resolved

The Great Schism began when the Pope in Avignon was inspired to return to Rome for a visit and suddenly died there in 1378. The cardinals in Rome elected a new Pope but the cardinals in Avignon didn't want to move back to Rome so they elected a different Pope. This created a split in the Church called the Great Schism. The Council of Pisa was supposed to resolve the split but instead elected a third Pope! Finally, the Council of Constance was formed and by this time has either deposed, excommunicated or negotiated the resignation of the three Popes. With that accomplished they have now elected ONE POPE for the Church... Pope Martin the 5th. He is 49 years old. [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Pope Martin dissolved the Council of Constance which is considered a good thing. They took on powers that Popes from then on would consider ill-advised and therefore should not create the idea that a Council had more power than a Pope. Know what I mean? Pope Martin will negotiate with the Holy Roman Emperor who was there in Constance. France wants the Pope to come to Avignon, but the Pope will set out for Rome next year. He's going to take his time though. Rome is in a sorry state. The Pope won't arrive until 1420.

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1417, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Fisher, John H., Language Policy for Lancastrian England. PMLA, Vol. 107, No. 5 (Oct., 1992), pp. 1168-1180. (JOURNAL) quote: "I do not believe that this sudden burst of production in English after 1400 was simply a natural evolution. I think that it was encouraged by Henry IV, and even more by Henry V, as a deliberate policy intended to engage the support of Parliament and the English citizenry for a questionable usurpation of the throne. The publication of Chaucer's poems and his enshrinement as the perfecter of rhetoric in English were central to this effort. The evidence is circumstantial."
  2. Richardson, Malcolm. Henry V, the English Chancery, and Chancery English. Speculum, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Oct., 1980), pp. 726-750. Medieval Academy of America (JOURNAL) quote: "What is clear is that the pivotal period for the use of English by the government is the reign of Henry V (1413-1422). Before Henry's reign there are few English documents among the public records; after his death Latin and French are still widely used (and continue to be for the next century), but English increasingly appears after 1422 in numerous types of writs, warrants, inquisitions, and memoranda, and in the Rotuli Parliamentorum, among the most important English official records. It is to Henry's reign, therefore, that we must first look for the beginnings of Chancery English and, in particular, to the role played by the king himself."
  3. Dodd, Gwilym. (Associate Professor of History at the University of Nottingham) The Rise of English, the Decline of French: Supplications to the English Crown, c. 1420-1450. Speculum, Volume 86, Issue 01 , March 2011, pp. 117-150. The Medieval Academy of America. (JOURNAL) quote: "From the very outset, doubts were expressed about the hypothesis advanced by Fisher and Richardson, that the spread of English in the records of the central government could be directly attributed to a "language policy" put into place by the Lancastrian regime and, in particular, to the personal initiative of Henry V, who made the momentous decision-from a linguistic point of view-to have his signet letters written in English rather than French in July 1417."
  4. Henry V of England - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  5. Street light - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  6. Roskell, J.S. and Clark, L. and Rawcliffe, C. (editors) Barton, Henry (d.1435), of London. - History of Parliament Online, The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421. ISBN 9780862999438. 1993.
  7. Link-boy - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  8. Webster, Noah. (author) Grove, Philip B., (Editor-in-chief)) Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged ... with Seven Language Dictionary: Lantern. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 1981. (DICTIONARY)
  9. Ott, Michael. Pope Martin V. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 28 Aug. 2014.
  10. Shahan, Thomas. Council of Constance. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 28 Aug. 2014.
  11. Kirsch, Johann Peter. Pedro de Luna (Antipope Benedict XIII). The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 28 Aug. 2014.
  12. Salembier, Louis. Western Schism. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 28 Aug. 2014.
  13. University of St Andrews - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]

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