Лекция 6 | England in the Late Middle Ages

Britain in the Late Middle Ages (XIV – XV)

I) 1) Decline of serfdom

  1. Joining Wales
  2. The Hundred Years’ War
  3. Language changes and the start of printing

II) 1) Decline of serfdom

The main process in economy and social live was the decline of serfdom In 1348 Britain was troubled with the terrible disease called the Black Death. People died in 24 hours and only one of 10 who had got sick survived. The whole villages and towns lost their population. It was the part of the world pandemic. Now it is estimated that about a half of the world population perished.

The epidemic killed half of Britain’s population. In the other European countries it killed up to a third. For many centuries it was believed to be a plague. However the modern scientists hesitate that it was plague. In the XVI century, in the period of queen Elizabeth, the disease returned and the queen ordered to keep records and to fix all the deaths. The statistics showered that it wasn’t a plague. The real plague moves very slowly with the speed of a rat, because rats are the carriers of plague. But this disease moved with a speed of a man from town to town and from village to village. Besides during plague 2% of people die, not 2/3 of the population. The modern doctors thing that it was a kind of virus disease, not a plague. But traditionally the disease is called “the plague”. At any case it influenced the British history and culture differently.

The Black Death caused the decline of serfdom in Britain. Serfdom was the enforced labour of serfs on the fields of landowners, in return for protection and the right to work on their fields. the Black Death reduced the rural population and increased the price of the peasants’ work. The lack of working hands made the nobles pay a salary to their workers. The Black Death killed the majority of the British population and let the peasants free.

In 1348 Britain met the disease called the Black Death. The epidemic killed half of Britain’s population. It was believed to be a plague, butt according to modern research it was a virus disease. It caused the decline of serfdom. The lack of working hands made the nobles pay a salary to their workers.

2) Joining Wales

In the XIII century Plantagenet kings interested more in their French, than British possessions. But Edward I preferred to widen his British territory. In 1284 he joined Wales to England; he subdued it with his army and came to Wales to be crowned. But Welsh chieftains were not delighted to be ruled by the English king. They decided to play a trick. They came to King Edward I and said that they wanted to be ruled not by an English king, but by a Prince of Wales, and they named several requirements, the prince had to met. They thought their requirements were impracticable. The prince had to be born in Wales, to be of royal blood, not to speak English and French, and not to have done any harm to anybody.

It seemed to be a difficult problem, but Edward I solved it easily. He told: “Do you want to have your own prince? You will have such. It will be my son”. The name of his son was also Edward and he was a baby then. Later on he became the king Edward II.

Baby Edward was born in Wales as the queen followed her husband during the trip for the crown, she was waiting for a baby, and the baby was born in Wales. He was king’s son called Edward. As he was a baby, he was too small to speak any language and to have done harm to any­body.

As for the title “the prince of Wales” since that time all the heirs of the British throne have worn it.

Who is the prince of Wales now?

Charles, the son of queen Elizabeth. He was born in 1948, so he is not a baby

In 1284 Edward I joined Wales. The Welsh chieftains decided to play a trick and said that they wanted to be ruled by a Prince of Wales. The prince had to be born in Wales, to be of royal blood, not to speak English and French. Edward I assigned his baby son to be the Prince of Wales. Since that all the heirs of the British throne have worn the title.

3) The Hundred Years’ War

Between whom was thas war and how long did it last?

Usually the war is considered to have been the war between England and France. It wasn’t quite so. The two main enemies were the House of Valois and the House ofPlantagenet. The House of Valois claimed the title of King of France, while the Plantagenets from England claimed to be Kings of France and England. The Plantagenet Kings in England had their roots in the French regions of Anjou and Normandy and were sure in their rights for the French throne. French soldiers fought on both sides.

On the other hand it didn’t last 100 years. There was a series of conflicts in 1337-1453. You can see that really they lasted 116 years. The term «Hundred Years’ War» was a later one invented by historians to describe the series of conflicts

There main reasons of the war was the dynastic. The king of England in the middle of the XIV century was Edward III. His mother Isabella was the daughter of Philip IV Handsome, the King of France. After the death of the French king Edward was his closest relative, his grandson. Edward declared that he would rule both England and France. But the French nobles didn’t want to obey English king. They gave the French throne to the far relative of the previous dynasty Philip of Valois. Edward III declared the war on France.

The «Hundred Years’ War» lasted 116 years (XIV/XV). It was the struggle of the 2 dynasties for the French throne. Plantagenets claimed to be Kings of France and England. The war was started by Edward III of England.

By the word, it should be told that in English tradition Edward III became the symbol of the perfect knight. The knights’ code told to protect honor, to serve god and to defend any lady in need. Edward produced these ideas into his court. Once during the dancing party one of the ladies accidentally dropped her garter. The garters were used then for tying stockings and Edward noticed some of his courtiers laughing at her. He picked up the garter and tied it on his own leg saying “Let him be ashamed who sees wrong in it”[1]. It was told originally in French and till now it is the motto of the British royal family. And it is still in French. It is written in the herbal sign of the Royal family.

After that he founded the Order of the Garter and chose the best 24 knights to be its members. It is the number of the king Arthur knights of the round table. Nowadays the Order of the Garter is one of the highest British rewards. The man who did much for Britain in different spheres are rewarded. The number of the lively winners is still 24. Only after the death of any member the other man can be rewarded. Men wear he Order on their legs, women – on their sleeves. As for Edward’s words “Let him be ashamed who sees wrong in it”

During the dancing party at Edward’s court the lady dropped her garter. The knights laughed at her. Edward picked up the garter, tied on his own leg saying “Let him be ashamed who sees wrong in it” (in French). These words have become the motto of the British royal family. Edward founded the Order of the Garter. Nowadays the people who had done much for Britain are rewarded. They are 24.

At the beginning of it Britain had a success. First of all thanks to the fact that its army was organized in a new way. It was a paid army. British army had the best bowmen in Europe. They were peasants hired in British army. During the reign of Plantagenets all the English men had to train shoot­ing arrows from a bow, special competitions were held, all other competitions were forbidden, all other weapons were forbidden. That’s why the English bowmen were the best trained in Europe. They pierced knight’s amour from the distance of 300 meters. French nights couldn’t have reached the rows of the English and use their swords before they were cought up with the arrows.

There is a sign in modern English culture, the origin of which is connected with The Hundred Years’ War. It is the sign “Victory” of football fans and in some other situations. The popular version tells that sometimes English bowmen were captured and ransomed. But before giving them freedom the French had cut their two fingers off in order they couldn’t use the bows. These were forefinger and middle finger. And the Englishmen who hadn’t been captured and met the enemy in the battle showed their two fingers. They wanted to let the French know that they were still able to fight (to pull the string).

The most famous battle which brought victory to Edward III was the battle of Creci (1346) The English army was eight times smaller than the French one. Nevertheless they won.

The English behaved as conquers and looters. After the battle of Poitiers it was told that every woman at England had a French braclet on her arm.

And this situation of victory was the reason of British fall. The English had arose such a wave of hatred, that France was lost for them. I hope that you know the events connected with the name of Joanne d’Arcy (Orleans Maiden).

At the beginning of the war Britain had a success thanks to the new, paid, kind of army and the better bowmen. In the end the English behaved as looters, arose hatred and were defeated.

The result of the war was not good for the inner affairs of England too.. There were about 60 noble families in Britain who controlled the country. During the war with France their representatives were the commanders of the battlements. And on returning to England they preserved their little armies and didn’t want to disband them. The kings couldn’t control them more and they started private waкs. The strongest clans in these wares were the Lancasters and the Yorks. They and their supporters fought for 30 years for the English crown (1455 – 1485). The writer of the XIXth century Walter Scott called it “The War of the Red and White Roses”. First the Lancastrian Dynasty got throne and then the York one. But before we end the war as far as medieval British history, I’ll want you to translate the name Lancaster

The former noble commanders of the “Hundred years’ war” started private wars in England. The strongest clans were the Lancasters and the Yorks. Walter Scott called it “The War of the Red and White Roses”.

  1. Language changes and the start of printing

By the end of the XIV century French had disappeared in England as the language of high strata. The decline of French moved step by step.

It might have been the Black Death which helped it. The plague touched the aristocracy too, a lot of them died, but the king needed a lot of people to serve. People from lower levels moved to higher levels to substitute the dead ones. They spoke English and brought it to the world of policy.

The second reason was the Hundred years’ war. During the war Edward III forbade French in his army. English soldiers had to feel their Englishness.

By the start of the XVth century French as spoken language was dead in England. In 1404 English diplomats refused to conduct negotiations with France in French, claiming that the language was unknown to them.

By the end of the XIV century French had disappeared in England as the language of high strata. The decline of French was connected with the Black Death. The king needed servants. People from lower levels substituted the dead ones. They spoke English, not French. Besides Edward III forbade French in his army.

The outstanding importance in English culture had the start of printing. Printing caused the cultural revolution in Europe. It allowed to spread information quickly and within a lot of people.

Who was the first European printer? – Johann Guttenberg from Germany, he invented printing in 1445

Who was the first printer in Russia? – We don’t know his name. The first books were printed in Voscow in the middle of the XVI, and the second printer was Ivan Feodorov

The first English printer was William Caxton. He was apprenticed to the cloth merchant in London. But then he went to Belgium and started his own business. He spent there 35 years and became a rich merchant and the head of English colony. He had a hobby. He collected hand-written books. That love of books led him into a new occupation. And when he was about 50, he left his business and went in translating and spreading books. He studied how to print books in Cologne[2] (Germany). About 30 years had past since the invention of Gutenberg. He printed his first books abroad[3].

After his third printed book he returned to England and set up England’s first press at WestminsterAbbey. Printing was a kind of a toy for rich and noble then. The first European printers had given patrons what they expected — fine copies of Latin and Greek manuscripts. None of that for Caxton. He changed the rules of the game. He started printing in English for common people. His first book printed in England was “The Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophes”. It was in 1476. The other books were “The CanterburyTales”

  • By whom?

By Chaucer, who is known to be the father of English literature

Then he printed a French-English dictionary, romances. He was preparing his one-hundredth book when he died in 1491. Mostly he had translated the books he printed himself.

Historians say, that Caxton’s England was a cultural backwater. When Caxton took books to the people he changed England, and prepared the blossoming forth of English culture in the next XVI century.

The first English printer was William Caxton. He spent abroad 35 years and was a rich merchant. Collecting books was his hobby. He studied printing in Germany in the age of 50 and printed his first books abroad. He returned to England and started printing in English for common people (the others printed in Latin). He printed 99 books, much more than any other of his contemporaries. He prepared the blossoming forth of English culture in the XVI century.

The third remarkable process in English culture of the period was the Great Vowel Shift. Everyone knows that there is a large gap between English pronunciation and English spelling. They say that the English pronounce “Liverpool” and write “Manchester”. There is a joke by Bernard Shaw on the topic. He asked

— In what way should we read the word “ghotio”?

We should read it “fish”, because

  • we read (f) in “enough”
  • we read (i) in “women”
  • we read (sh) in “revolution”

The reason of such a state was the Great Vowel Shift. It was a major change in the pronunciation of the English language that took place between XIII and XVI. The Great Vowel Shift was first studied by the Danish linguist Otto Jespersen (1860–1943), who coined the term. Changing of the pronunciation is the natural thing for every language. The surprising aspect was the speed of the shift. It happened so that the Shift took place when printing started. And printing made standardization of the spelling. Caxton used the traditions of hand-writers. But just at that moment the system of language was changing with a great rapidity. Caxton and his descendents fixed the obsolete norms of the English spelling. So it may be said that Caxton evoked both the blossom forth of English culture and the gap between spelling and oral speech.

There are different opinions of the reasons of the Great Shift. Some theories attach the cause to the mass immigration to South East England after the Black Death. The difference in accents made the certain groups to modify their speech.

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