Stratford Atte Bowe Re-visited

Return to list of articles

William Rothwell (2001)

Originally published in The Chaucer Review, A Journal of Medieval Studies and Literary Criticism Vol. 36, No. 2, 2001

One of the most familiar quotations in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is the reference to his Prioress speaking the French of ‘Stratford atte Bowe’ rather than that of Paris, which she did not know. Yet there is no consensus as to the meaning of the phrase. Editors of the tales have explained it in different ways. A.C. Cawley says that: ‘The Prioress spoke French with the accent she had learned in her convent (the Benedictine nunnery of St Leonard’s, near Stratford-Bowe in Middlesex)’,[1] but more recently, without mentioning this explanation, The Riverside Chaucer suggests that her French was marked by more than just its accent, claiming that she spoke ‘in the manner of (After the scole of) Stratford atte Bowe (rather than that of the royal court)’. This wider interpretation would open the door to a distinction not just between two different pronunciations, but between two different types of French. Furthermore, the reference in parentheses to the royal court introduces a new element, creating the possibility of a linguistic situation consisting not of  two forms of the language, as in Chaucer’s text, but three: 1) the ‘correct’ French of Paris, 2) a non-standard French recognizibly associated with the areas of Stratford and Bow in East London and 3) this third unspecified type, allegedly used in England at the royal court and contrasting with the Stratford atte Bowe variety, but not mentioned by Chaucer. However, whilst such a three-fold distinction would have the merit of recognizing that Cawley’s restriction of the linguistic differences to one of  local accent does not correspond to the sense of the text, where the Prioress is clearly stated to be ignorant not just of the Parisian accent but of the actual language of Paris, it is no more than a gratuitous creation of the editor, having no textual basis.[2] Chaucer’s comparison involves two elements, not three: the French used at the royal court does not come into the picture, and there is no attempt made in The Riverside Chaucer to explain the choice of an apparently nondescript area of London to represent what the readers of The Canterbury Tales must have understood immediately in the later fourteenth century as being the seat of a non-Parisian form of French.[3] Cawley must be given credit for seeing that there was a connection between Madame Eglentyne’s French and her vocation, but he did not get beyond the possible identification of Chaucer’s model for his prioress with one particular nunnery, offering no reason for this. Any convincing explanation of ‘Stratford atte Bowe’ needs to be sought against a wider background: it will entail looking again at Chaucer’s meticulous portrayal of Madame Eglentyne, examining the role of the religious houses in later fourteenth century England and, above all, trying to understand  the multilingual aspect of the social situation obtaining in the country at that time.


The portrait of the Prioress has been analysed in detail more than once,[4] always in the perspective of gentle mockery on the part of Chaucer. Eileen Power used Madame Eglentyne as a foil against which to sketch broadly the life of the medieval nun in society, noting points such as her infringement of the Church’s ban on the keeping of pets in the convent, her unveiling of her broad forehead, her leaving the convent to go on a pilgrimage, etc., an approach taken further by Helen Cooper’s close scrutiny of the imperfections Chaucer built into his portrait, concluding that the Prioress is not quite the genuine article either as a nun or as a courtly lady. This latter criticism is occasioned by Chaucer’s remark about Madame Eglentyne’s attempt to imitate the court – ‘she … peyned hire to countrefete cheere Of court …’ (vv. 139-40), which may perhaps be responsible for the misleading conjecture about the French of the royal court found in the Riverside Chaucer.[5] Whilst none of this can be gainsaid, it does not necessarily imply mockery. Chaucer depicts not an ideal personage, but rather one true to life. For instance, a generation before Chaucer, Bishop Stapeldon of Exeter found it necessary to write – in Anglo-French – to the head of the nunnery at Canonsleigh ordering her to wall up two gates, through which unauthorized entry had led to unspecified scandals and unseemly acts; again, he told the nuns at Polsloe that, on his visitation, he found things which could not be allowed to continue, and he forbade the nuns to go into Exeter, as they were wont to do, wascrauntes de hostel en hostel, ‘wandering from hostel to hostel’. His successor, Bishop Grandisson, chided the nuns at Canonsleigh for being less ‘religious’ than they ought to be and argued with the Abbess – both of them using Anglo-French – who was insisting on the nuns having the right to choose their own confessor, rather than the one stipulated by the bishop.[6] Madame Eglentyne was not simply a literary creation: Chaucer’s audience would have recognized her, along with her French. Moreover, her portrait is designed to contrast in every respect with the conspicuously masculine characters that come immediately before and after her. The Prioress is everything that they are not. The Knight who precedes her in Chaucer’s list of pilgrims is a physically powerful, doughty warrior, a model of chivalry, immensely experienced in battles all over Europe, the Middle East and even Russia, hence worldly-wise to a degree, with a son who takes after him physically and is a redoubtable ladies’ man to boot. The Monk who is placed after her is not a pale, emasculated scholar, pacing the cloister poring over a book, but a rich, worldly man of substance, literally as well as figuratively, who lives for the chase with his greyhounds, dresses expensively, eats very well indeed and cares not a fig for monastic rules, whether Benedictine or Augustinian. The Host goes further, declaring that the brawny Monk would have been better suited to the stud than to the monastic life.[7] Neither the position allocated to these characters in the parade of pilgrims nor the portrayal of their attributes is a matter of chance: nor is the depiction of Madame Eglentyne, whose pronounced femininity is sandwiched between these different brands of uncompromising masculinity.


Yet this very feminine person will later tell a tale of dreadful murder and savage, implacable revenge made acceptable to a medieval audience by being set in a framework of unquestioning faith and rabid anti-semitism. It would be incongruous were this story to be put into the mouth of a character depicted as inviting even gentle mockery. The text, however,  shows the Prioress as being unaffected and quiet, eschewing vulgarity in her speech, pious, well-mannered to the point of being fastidious, careful about her appearance, well-dressed and wearing one or two good items of jewellery, but without descending into ostentation, courteous to all, dignified and tender-hearted. In this last respect her care for her little pet dogs serves to mark a deliberate contrast with the Monk’s boisterous hunting of hares with his greyhounds. All these characteristics in a woman are positive. Moreover, Chaucer gives her a pleasing physique, well-developed, with a broad forehead, a shapely nose, grey eyes and a small, soft red mouth. As Helen Cooper notes, there is a lot of the woman here as opposed to the nun, and the gold brooch she wears with its ‘A’ surmounted by a crown and its ambiguous motto ‘Amor vincit omnia’ might raise an eyebrow, but again, in the light of the comments of the Exeter bishops mentioned above, it suggests observed reality rather than calculated mockery. On similar lines, immediately before the reference to her French comes a remark which, were it isolated, might be read as poking fun at her and so preparing the reader to disparage her ‘bad’ French: the prioress sings her divine service in a nasal voice. However, a century and a half before Chaucer, Walter of  Bibbesworth had commented on the practice of women deliberately lisping in order to make themselves more attractive to their lovers,[8] and Friar Nicholas Bozon echoed the same theme in his Char d’Orgueil at around the same time.[9] Minor affectations in the speech of upper-class ladies were apparently not unknown, and this detail may perhaps be seen as another indication of Madame Eglentyne’s less than total commitment to her vocation, the woman in the nun’s habit, but it is not to be construed as mockery, because Chaucer praises her delivery as ‘ful semely’. Immediately following this mention of her singing comes the reference to her French. What has generally, but mistakenly, been adjudged to be Chaucer’s mockery in portraying flaws in her personality and her singing of the Divine Office has led to the assumption that his reference to her speaking the French of Stratford atte Bowe must be another quip in the same vein – a flawed personality using a flawed French. Yet here again positive comments in the text have been conveniently ignored in order to arrive at this derogatory interpretation. Chaucer’s words could not be plainer: ‘And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly’ (p.15.124). It is simply not possible to use the adverbs ‘ful faire’ and ‘fetisly’ of a debased form of language – it would be a contradiction in terms – nor can they be regarded as ironic. Consequently, his use of ‘semely’ must likewise be seen as complimentary rather than ironic, whether applying to her French (v.123) or to her wimple (v.151). The point of Chaucer’s juxtaposition of the two forms of French is to round off the picture of an intelligent upper-class woman who is cultivated but not versed in the ways of the world. Indeed, her very name suggests natural beauty of an unsophisticated kind. The simplistic contrast between the ‘pure’ French of Paris and her ‘defective’ French of Stratford atte Bowe that would invite disparagement[10] is contradicted by the text itself. Whilst having a good command of Western Europe’s language of courtesy and elegance, acquired from her religious training, her experience of life has not taken her – unlike Chaucer[11] – outside England to the home of ‘correct’ French.[12] Nevertheless, she is not a somewhat simple-minded woman of little account, but a personage of some consequence, escorted on her travels by a companion nun and three priests. If this reading of her appearance and character is accepted, any incongruity between her personality and her tale disappears.


Moving now from The Canterbury Tales to the society in which they were produced, it is clear that the connection of Stratford atte Bowe with both French and the religious orders must have been apparent to Chaucer’s readers, and any attempt to determine this connection must take into consideration the social differences between the late fourteenth and the late twentieth centuries in respect of the London area. These may be summed up in two facts of English history: the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII and the retention of the House of Lords right up to the end of the twentieth century. More noticeably than elsewhere, perhaps, these two facts have helped determine the physical, and hence social, pattern of London. The general area referred to in the Canterbury Tales as ‘Stratford atte Bowe’ is nowadays a humdrum and not very prepossessing corner of the vast East London sprawl, but was not so in Chaucer’s time. Cawley located Madame Eglentyne in the Priory of Stratford at Bow on the strength of information contained in the entry in the Victoria History of the Counties of England,[13] but confined himself to a simple linking of  Chaucer’s place-name with the priory, ignoring the crucial part of a long, detailed entry which sets down the connections of the nuns with prominent citizens of London and also with royalty. Most pertinent for the present enquiry is the statement that: ‘In the 14th century, however, Stratford for a time became fashionable’(p.157), and the editor lists the presence there of Elizabeth of Hainault and other royal personages, especially between 1356 and 1381, full in the Chaucerian period. So much for the imagined exclusion of the Prioress’s form of French from the royal court. Moreover, in her Sources of London English, Medieval Thames Vocabulary,[14] Laura Wright quotes a Plea and Memoranda Roll of 1386 referring to illegal fishing in a breach in the bank of the Thames situated on the land of the abbot of Stratford and the abbess of Barking. Even more significantly, the language used in the roll is the French of Stratford atte Bowe,[15] not Parisian French. She refers also to the ownership of weirs by Merton Priory, the Abbess of Syon, the Carthusian Priory near Sheen, the Priory of the Hospital of Mary without Bishopsgate, and the Priory of  St. John of Jerusalem, so that this whole area was home, six hundred years ago, to numerous religious houses. After Chaucer’s time, the Dissolution of the Monasteries would open up large tracts of land in this region of the Thames that had hitherto been in the possession of religious orders. Coupled with the growing volume of trade in the busiest port in the kingdom, this would attract industry and commerce on a large scale and absorb what in the Middle Ages had been a number of outlying villages into an increasingly populous working-class area of the capital itself. By the later nineteenth century Barking would be renowned not for its nunnery but as the location of the massive sewage-works that marked the first large-scale attempt to rid the over-crowded London population of its recurrent epidemics. In contrast, much of the central and western parts of the city had always been under the control of the king, his nobles or, in later medieval times, of the influential mercantile companies, and would remain so for the foreseeable future. The Royal Parks and palaces, Russell Square, Berkeley Square, Bedford Square and numerous other place-names are still a reminder of the centuries-old presence there not only of royalty but also of numerous noble families such as the Dukes of Bedford, Devonshire and so on. The survival of their extensive property rights has been crucial in creating the modern social, and hence linguistic, distinction between East London and West London, a distinction that seems to have been applied, anachronistically, by the editor of The Riverside Chaucer to the late fourteenth century.[16] A similar situation may be seen further north, where the wealth behind the extensive estates of the gentry on the rich, fertile land of the Cheshire Plain has preserved open, agricultural country to the west and south of Manchester to this day, whilst the poor upland area to the east and north was snapped up cheaply in the Industrial Revolution and converted into a sprawling network of cramped, overcrowded working-class townships housing many hundreds of  Blake’s ‘dark, Satanic mills’, producing linguistic differences parallel to those down in London.


Bearing in mind this social difference between the Stratford area then and now, the relationship between Chaucer, the religious houses and Madame Eglentyne’s French can be examined in more detail. For some years around the time of The Canterbury Tales Chaucer had been living over Aldgate and working as Controller of Customs at the port just a mile or two up-river from the land involved in the Plea Roll mentioned above. It is impossible that he could have been unaware of the presence and nature of the religious houses there. For instance, like the Priory of Stratford at Bow referred to by Cawley, the nunnery at Barking in its turn enjoyed royal connections dating back to the twelfth century, when it had Becket’s sister as Abbess, followed by Henry II’s illegitimate daughter Maud; many noble ladies passed through it over generations, acquiring both religious and also secular knowledge. Indeed, the name ‘Chaucer’ is recorded twice in the abbey around the time of The Canterbury Tales.[17] As a natural consequence of their origins in France, the religious houses in medieval England, both monasteries and nunneries, fostered the teaching of French (as well, of course, as Latin). In the late twelfth century Barking was graced by the remarkable English nun of such astonishing linguistic ability that she was able to translate a lengthy Latin Life of St. Edward into very good French verse that will stand comparison with that of works produced in France itself at around the same time.[18] It is thought that this same nun was also responsible somewhat later for a similarly highly regarded Life of St. Catherine.[19]


These early literary products denote an active interest in the teaching and learning of French that extends up into later medieval England[20] and was not an exclusively male preserve, as has been imagined. The fact that employment in the royal or municipal administration was reserved for men does not affect the linguistic issue, because French was used for other purposes besides official correspondence both before and after Chaucer’s day. In the Introduction to his French grammar of 1409 John Barton says that ‘touz les seignurs et toutes les dames en mesme roiaume d’Engleterre volentiers s’entrescrivent en romance …’[ all the lords and ladies in the realm of England like to correspond in French] and he reinforces this inclusivity by then addressing himself to ‘mes chiers enfantz et tresdoulcez puselles que avez fam (i.e. ‘faim’) d’apprendre cest Donait …’[my dear boys and sweet girls who are keen to learn this Donatus] .[21] Again, amongst the model drafts of the Oxford dictatores from the second half of the fourteenth century composed to teach students the technique of letter-writing[22] are a small number in French to and from the mothers of the young men.[23] In the field of genuine correspondence, noble women had been both writing and receiving letters in French over a long period. In about 1272 Aline, widow of  Hugh the Despenser, re-married to the count of Norfolk, writes in French to Walter of Merton regarding the export of  a quantity of wool;[24] in 1281 Maud Pantouff writes in French to the Bishop of Bath seeking help to recover lands seized from her;[25] in 1328-9 the Prioress of Polsloe writes to the Queen in French, politely refusing to accept into her convent a  royal nominee;[26] in about 1395 Richard II writes, again in French, to the Abbess of Barking in support of his nominee to a benefice;[27] other similar French correspondence involving noble ladies is not in short supply.[28] Even if such ladies had male amanuenses to draft their letters, they must have known what was being written and received in their name. In nunneries, moreover, as in the Barking and Exeter examples above, the correspondence must have been handled entirely by women.


Until recently, the connection between the religious – both male and female – and the cultivation of French all over England in the later Middle Ages has largely gone unnoticed, because many of the relevant texts were not in the public domain. However, some fifteen years ago Tony Hunt pointed to a number of hitherto unknown Anglo-Norman works emanating from religious establishments in England from the twelfth century onwards.[29] All are germane to the present question of Stratford atte Bowe, but one or two are of particular relevance. He writes: ‘Little more than a decade after the fateful murder (sc.of Becket) a monk of St Albans set out to write an edifying poem on Thomas …’ (p.1), a monastic work in French that must have had more than a local diffusion to judge by his reference to six thirteenth-century manuscripts of the text and also surviving fragments from Cambridge going back to c.1200. Another example he gives is of an early thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman translation of the Rule of St Benedict (p.6). Time and again throughout this seminal article Hunt’s abundant evidence reveals a stream of hitherto unknown Anglo-French works stemming from religious houses up and down the country and running from the late twelfth to the fifteenth century. Since then he has published some of these, including an insular translation of the Rule of St. Augustine, but, more significantly for present purposes, he has brought to light a number of  texts in insular French which set down the rules under which the female religious – like Madame Eglentyne – were to live, one of them coming from the mid-fourteenth century, only a few decades before The Canterbury Tales.[30] This evidence further reinforces the references above to the bishops of Exeter and their dealings with nunneries. More generally, it has been shown that the Anglo-Norman Chronicle of Wigmore Abbey has links with the Abbey of St. Victor in Paris,[31] the fourteenth-century Anonimalle Chronicle written in a very marked insular French was produced in the Abbey of St. Mary in York,[32] the voluminous accounts of  Durham Abbey were in large measure set down in French right up into the later fifteenth century[33] and the extensive fourteenth-century Bishop’s Register from Durham,[34] in the militarily sensitive area bordering Scotland, contains a good deal of Anglo-French alongside its Anglo-Latin, much of it consisting of a long-running, very acerbic quarrel with the king: monarch and ecclesiastic fought each other over the thorny Scottish question using Anglo-Latin and Anglo-French. In the Introduction to the trilingual De Quatuordecim Partibus Beatitudinis[35] connected with Lichfield Cathedral the editors not only refer to the evidence ‘for AN’s (sc. Anglo-Norman’s) taking precedence over all the other texts’ (p.11),[36] but also comment on ‘the major developments in the productions of religious books in the period 1375-1475’ (p.12). Further evidence for the link between the religious houses and the fostering of  French in Chaucer’s time is provided by a grammatical text entitled Le donait soloum douce [sic]  franceis de Paris which was composed in the early fifteenth century in Buckfast Abbey in Devon,[37] and also by a considerable body of model letters in Latin and French compiled partly in Combe Abbey, ‘brought together at Oxford and transcribed there’ before being taken to Robertsbridge Abbey in Sussex.[38]


When all this and other literary activity (see Note 40) is put together it clearly illustrates the importance of the role played by the religious institutions to ensure the survival of French in what was increasingly an anglophone country, and it is this connection that explains Chaucer’s phrase ‘the scole of Stratford atte Bowe’. ‘Scole’ here means more than just ‘manner’: it still retains an untranslatable redolence of its basic didactic meaning. All through the Middle Ages Crown and Church in England were conjoined in the sense that the talents, linguistic as well as administrative, required to organize the running of a powerful trilingual nation state had to be sought in the Church, whose long history of learning had put it firmly in control of education.[39] The classic illustration of this fact and the problems which could ensue from it is the story of Becket and Henry II, but the link was operative also at lower levels in the religious hierarchy. A few years ago a brief article in the French Studies Bulletin,[40] based on an item in the Bishops’ registers from Exeter referred to above (Note 6), examined  the visit  of  Bishop Stapeldon to Flanders in 1319 on the king’s business, mainly concerning naval matters, but also to inspect Philippa of Hainault with a view to her marrying the future Edward III. Highly germane to the question of the status of the French of Stratford atte Bowe is a perceptive observation in the article regarding the form in which the bishop’s report to the king was couched: ‘a text evidently designed for a broadly historical-cum-diplomatic-cum-political purpose reads just like the accounts of comely, nubile women found throughout the courtly romances of the period, where paragons of feminine beauty are described from head to foot in a stock enumeration of physical features’(p.3). The bishop’s ability to use in Anglo-French this literary technique originating in the artes poeticae is incompatible with the idea that in the fourteenth century it was nothing but a corrupt form of the ‘correct’ French of Paris. Again, Bishop Grandisson who followed him displays a mastery of the semantics of Anglo-French in a barbed letter to Hugo of Courtenay, who has reproached him for his wealth and lavish life-style: all refined and deferential politeness on the surface, with its references to Scripture, the letter plays on the meanings of singulereté, singuler(e) and sengle, turning against the nobleman the very vocabulary used in his own letter, and ends with a distortion of the usual episcopal blessing – Le sen del Seint Espirit garde vostre saver et vostre aver! [May the wisdom of the Holy Spirit protect your knowledge and your wealth]. All this is skilfully calaculated to demonstrate in almost insulting terms the intellectual superiority of the cleric over the layman, however exalted the latter may be.[41]


This long tradition of the use of French amongst the classes which powered the wheels of government in England stretches back to the twelfth-century texts referred to earlier and forward into the system of education which trained them in the fourteenth century. The Cistercian Formularies referred to above are mainly in Anglo-Latin, but with an admixture of Anglo-French. They are model letters ostensibly from Cistercian students at Oxford, often asking for money or other help, and so belong with the Letters of the Oxford Dictatores[42] which contain similar material in both languages and are linked to the names of the Oxford teachers Thomas Sampson and William Kingsmill. The letters in the Cistercian formularies are said to come from the 1370’s,[43] the treatises on letter-writing associated with the Oxford dictatores run between c.1355 and the early part of the fifteenth century, roughly the age of Chaucer. The link between religious houses and this type of teaching is demonstrated by the editor of these texts who writes that one of the treatises ‘was compiled at St. Albans in the 1380’s by William  Wyntershulle, chaplain to Abbot Thomas de la Mare’ (p.370). Moreover, the living nature of the instruction dispensed in this way is clear from her further remark that: ‘for the new version a fresh selection of examples has been provided’ (ibid.). These two published collections of texts are by no means the sum total of such didactic works produced around the time of The Canterbury Tales: there exist numerous other manuscripts of the material used by the dictatores[44] in their teaching which have yet to find an editor, thus suggesting a wider diffusion of  this kind of linguistic instruction.


Just as the connections of many Oxford students with religious houses are indisputable, so are their links with the world of higher administration and the law. In her edition of the Letters of the Oxford Dictatores Richardson writes: ‘From the reign of Edward II there come a tractatus de litterarum composicione, a treatise on conveyancing, and a collection of model deeds, all three unmistakably connected with Oxford. The tract on letter-writing, although concerned with ecclesiastical administration and procedure, assumes that the reader will be familiar with the procedure of the common law and will have by him a Registrum Brevium, while the treatise on conveyancing mentions the Fet Asaver …’ ( p. 43). The Registrum Brevium is self-explanatory; the Fet Asaver (ed. G.E. Woodbine, New Haven, 1910) is a legal treatise giving an explanation of the different kinds of  brief and details of the procedure governing the passage of some of them through the courts of law. Couched in Anglo-French and Anglo-Latin, it concentrates on issues connected with the ownership of land: as its title clearly states, it is not the jejune product of an uneducated mind, but an authoritative legal manual based on a set of technical terms having generally accepted currency and precise semantic values. The language it uses has nothing to do with ‘bad French’ in the sense of  being a random, incoherent jargon, but nevertheless, like the works of the dictatores themselves, it does not respect the rules of continental French syntax. Richardson’s statement links the French of Stratford atte Bowe not only with the Oxford dictatores, but also with the late thirteenth-century French treatises on English law such as Britton [45] and The Mirror of Justices [46] Works such as these must have been an essential part of the training given to the pupils of the dictatores. Their technical complexity and their widespread diffusion (the Britton has survived in no fewer than 26 manuscripts) are indications of the class from which those pupils were drawn and also of the currency of this Anglo-French. These connections between Anglo-French and the training of lawyers in medieval England emerge clearly from Paul Brand’s article ‘Courtroom and Schoolroom: the Education of Lawyers in England prior to 1400’.[47] After drawing attention to ‘a considerable body of evidence for the organized education of common lawyers outside the courtroom … long before 1400’ (p.151), he goes on to refer to the material used in this teaching: ‘The second treatise, Natura Brevium, is in French and much more obviously derives directly from spoken lectures’ (p.154). This introduction of spoken French into law studies in medieval England is reinforced on the next page, where he claims that ‘by 1300 registers may well normally have been transmitted orally and in the context of an organized educational course run by senior chancery clerks’ (p.155). In all this educational activity Anglo-French is a very active ingredient, although it would be rash to hazard a guess as to how it might have been pronounced.[48]


The continued existence of an influential body of educated administrators using the French of Stratford atte Bowe in their work as late as Chaucer’s time and even beyond is emphasized by  A.L. Brown’s study of the Office of the Privy Seal.[49] In the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries two of the clercs whose careers he follows are of particular interest in the present enquiry. Neither Frye nor Hoccleve was well-born and both were English, but they were drafting official letters to municipal dignitaries, cathedral chapters, universities and foreign rulers. Brown comments: ‘French is the commonest language among the Frye correspondence, even in the letters to and from his family in Wiltshire’ (p.264: my emphasis) and again: ‘In the Office it was French and to a much lesser extent Latin they used in their day-to-day work’ (p.264). The same applies to Hoccleve: ‘In Hoccleve’s formulary written in the early twenties (i.e. 1420’s) not one of the letters is in English’ (p.264: my emphasis).[50] As with the records of shipping using the port of Southampton, the change-over from French to English in the Office of the Privy Seal comes during the third decade of the fifteenth century and is complete by the fourth.[51] The French of all these documents is the insular variety, not that of Paris. So the French of Stratford atte Bowe was being used extensively at the heart of government in London during Chaucer’s life-time and well into the fifteenth century.


The careers of these two clercs of the Privy seal Office tie in with references in the body of Richardson’s collection of model letters by the dictatores showing that the students who worked with legal texts such the Registrum Brevium and the Fet Assaver were hardly likely to go on to exercise a humble religious vocation ministering to the spiritual needs of a flock consisting largely of peasants in a small country parish: they would have been the future senior administrators of secular and ecclesiastical government in England. Brown comments that Frye was a signet clerk around 1387 and that ‘he never enjoyed the range of employment and the rewards, such as prebends and deaneries, that many graduates received’ (p.273). Again, ‘he had been in minor orders in 1395 and his annuity was granted in the usual form “until promoted to a benefice”’ (p.275). Hoccleve too had begun his career in about 1387-8 and was ‘hoping for a benefice’ (p.272). By way of comparison, in one of Richardson’s model letters in French a student writes to a cousin asking him to intercede with his father who wishes him to go into the Church, whilst he himself wants to return home to manage the family estates after the death of his father. The cousin writes back, also in French, on behalf of the father to say that the intention of the head of the family was that the student, the elder of his sons, should  make a career in the Church  ‘par cause que vous eussiez une bone esglise’ and that he should also enjoy an income from the family estates to be provided by the younger son who would run them (pp.372-3). Evidently, the elder son’s ecclesiastical career was intended to be more rewarding, in both senses, than that of the younger one left at home living off the land. Again, a flowery plea in French to an unspecified ecclesiastical superior soliciting advancement  brings a promise of financial assistance for study over the next seven years unless the supplicant has been ‘deinz le mesme temps (“meantime”) a nul covenable benefés avancez’ (p.374).  In another case, a student asks his mother to prevail upon the king and nobles to get him a benefice (p.375). Finally, the incumbent of a church who is hoping to become ‘bachiler en leis’ at Oxford writes to his baillif asking him to forward the income generated by the farming out of his church during his absence at university (p.375-6). He clearly intends his new legal status to be of use to him in advancing his ecclesiastical career.


The Anglo-French, or French of Stratford atte Bowe, of these model letters used by the dictatores is paralleled by that of the real letters that Frye addressed to prominent officials in London in support of a candidate for the post of Gaoler of  Newgate Prison, which are printed in Dominica Legge’s Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions[52] and, amongst much other similar material,[53] by the registers of the bishops of Exeter referred to above that run from the mid-thirteenth century to 1419. Using Anglo-French alongside their Anglo-Latin, the bishops correspond with royalty, nobility and municipal leaders not only on ecclesiastical matters such as preferment to benefices, but also on secular topics involving land and the law, with the Anglo-French legal vocabulary used being a genuine and sophisticated vernacular product as against the innumerable calques of the Anglo-Latin.[54] This reality is confirmed yet again by the legal historian Paul Brand in the article referred to above. The content of all these texts demonstrates the close links obtaining between Anglo-French and the religious houses, the universities, higher administration and the law right up to the end of the fourteenth century. The French of Stratford atte Bowe in Chaucer’s time was not a mere quaint and corrupt relic of a far-distant language of culture, the incoherent jargon of  the lower classes in East London that, somewhat incongruously, had found its way into the speech of  a highly respectable prioress, but a working language of government alongside Latin and English. This is the language which Chaucer, like his father and grand-father before him, would have been dealing with every day in his work in the Customhouse,[55] as a justice of the peace in Kent and as a Member of Parliament.[56] Issues such as the complaint about illegal fishing in the Thames near the religious houses of Stratford and Barking mentioned earlier would have been commonplace, and the language in which they were made would have been a mixture of Anglo-Latin, Anglo-French and Middle English.[57]  It is not by chance that Chaucer’s description of the Sergeant of the Lawe[58] is full of Anglo-French terminology.[59] The editors of the Chaucer Life-Records comment on this multilingual situation and publish a limited number of  documents in French, but, as may be gathered from a reading of their foot-notes, there must be a great many more which remain unseen.[60]


The Anglo-French used in all these later writings offends against the grammatical practices of literary continental French and, consequently, has not found favour with those who study medieval French. It is difficult to empathize with what appears to be a bastard form of language, and only by setting it in its historical context and examining its structure can Anglo-French be properly assessed and, perhaps, its role in the development of  English viewed in its true light. Reduced to its essentials, it is French vocabulary used in a framework of largely English syntax. The reason behind this strange amalgam is that the French lexis had become part and parcel of the vocabulary in constant, daily use in England,[61] but any native command of the grammatical structure of French had long disappeared from the linguistic inheritance of the English, with the result that those who needed French for professional purposes had to acquire its grammar as a foreign language. The agreements between noun and adjective, subject and verb, the instinctive use of gender, the positioning of the adjective in relation to its noun, the intricacies of verbal conjugation, all these fundamentals of French grammar had become increasingly foreign to the English as the years rolled on after 1066.[62] The scribes who set down the municipal, governmental and commercial records of later medieval England thought in English and their thought was automatically couched in English syntax, yet the penetration of the French lexis into English was such that it was no longer possible to speak or write in fourteenth-century England without using what had been French terms but were now an integral part of the lexis of English.[63]


However, the French terminology introduced into England through the French of Stratford atte Bowe was not ‘borrowed’ as is usually claimed. The process went much deeper: Anglo-French was absorbed into English, often expanded or altered morphologically or semantically over the years in the process and supplemented by derivatives not recorded for the continental original,[64] to such an extent that the result would, on occasion, have been unintelligible to a native Frenchman. It is well known that English took up its series of verbs ending in  –ish  – ‘banish’, ‘cherish’, ‘establish’, ‘nourish’, ‘polish’, ‘punish’, ‘ravish’, etc., from Anglo-French coinages, abandoning the continental infinitives in –ir  and making new English ones based on the ‘extended’ verb forms in  –issons, -issez. What is less appreciated, however, is the extent to which many everyday French terms took on a life of their own in England. Few of the English who now eat fish and chips realize that the ‘batter’ surrounding the fish is a peculiarly Anglo-French semantic development of the Old French bature,[65] or that when they consider the ‘size’ of their fish they are going back to a morphological and semantic development in the French of Stratford atte Bowe of the Old French assise,[66] still current in its non-aphetic form in both modern English and modern French legal terminology. This is the explanation for an English legal register made up very largely of French terms not understood in France (or, often, in England, either).[67]


Evidence of this independent and often complicated evolution emerges at every turn. For example, an ordinance in French made by the guild of weavers in Bristol in 1389-90 stipulates that any member of the guild who gives his workers more cloth than is laid down in the regulations shall be fined twenty pence to be paid to, literally, the ‘wax’  – la cere – of the guild. This is an extension of an already existing semantic development of the continental cire into the Anglo-French term for the green wax (verte cire) used in the Exchequer seal. From meaning the actual ‘seal’ used by the clerks to seal the writs issued to sheriffs ordering them to levy money due to the Exchequer, the term developed to mean the ‘writ’ itself, then a further semantic expansion took it into the sense of the account held in the Exchequer of debts levied by these writs sealed by green wax and on to mean the revenue due to the Exchequer. Here in Bristol in the same decade as the composition of The Canterbury Tales the term is used without its adjective (la cere) to mean the treasury of the guild.[68]  Like their counterparts in London, the officials and members of the guild in Bristol who used this non-Parisian French for their business activities were not illiterate peasants, but leading figures in a highly organized community. The commonplace baston ‘stick’ is used without the personal ending –ier in the authoritative Statutes of the Realm to indicate a warden of the Fleet prison who carried a staff as the symbol of his office: ‘(prisoners) sont plusours foitz soeffertz aler a large (…), a le foitz sanz ascun maynpris avec une bastoun de Flete’ [prisoners are often permitted to go outside without any bail with a warder from the Fleet Prison].[69] On the continent this semantic development did not take place, the word being given the customary personal –ier ending  – bâtonnier – to indicate the man holding the stick, now specialized in the sense of  the head of the French Bar. In the same semantic field the modern English ‘verger’, passed down from Anglo-French,[70] does have the personal ending, but continental French does not appear to have created a derivative with this sense from the root word verge ‘rod’. Over in the ecclesiastical sphere Bishop Grandisson of Exeter wrote to the king in 1351-2 regarding the Chancellor, the Dean of York, saying that he had ‘par tote Engleterre berbiz sanz nombre:[71] he is using ‘berbiz’, literally ‘flocks of sheep’, in the spiritual sense of  ‘laity’, hence ‘benefices’, the ecclesiastical livings attached to the ‘cure of souls’. That terms such as ‘la cere’, ‘berbiz’ or, perhaps, even ‘baston’ would not have been correctly understood in Paris was irrelevant: these documents were for internal use.[72]


Another type of development found in the French of Stratford atte Bowe is the formation of a new English term from an attested French original. The new derivative looks French, but may or may not be attested in the dictionaries of French. A clear example of this kind of difficulty is provided in Sources of London English:

a Billyngesgate Quenhith & autres liewes sur la coste de Thamyse es maisons & hostels de Bargiers Batillers & autres comunes fferiers ou ils sount pur male gayne & faux lucre volentierment recettez concellez & noetandre conveyez & feriez al Graveshende ou autres liewes hors del ffraunchise & distresse du dicte Cité … [ … at Billingsgate, Queenhith and other places on the coast of the Thames in the houses and lodgings of bargees, boatmen and other common ferrymen, where they are willingly sheltered, concealed and conveyed and ferried by night for illegal gain and profit to Gravesend or other places outside the franchise and jurisdiction of the said city …] (1421)[73]

Whilst batillers ‘boatmen’ is an attested derivative from batel  ‘boat’ (Godefroy 8C 304b), itself said to be formed, incidentally, from the Old English ‘bat’, bargiers is a derivative of the Old French barge that is absent from the dictionaries of French. (The OED knows the English ‘bargee’ only from 1666). So what might appear on the surface to be two examples of the same linguistic procedure are, in fact, dissimilar. The past participle feriez ‘(ferried’) and the related noun fferiers (‘ferrymen’) go further than this, the verb coming from Old English, despite its apparently French form, and its derived noun having, therefore, only its –ier ending to give it a French look.[74] This is one indication amongst many that the English did not divide their language up neatly according to its country of origin (of which the majority would have been ignorant in any case), but simply used whatever linguistic material was to hand.[75]


It has been suggested that the presence of royal French wives in the fourteenth century and the influx of many French nobles after their defeat at Poitiers would have brought ‘correct’ French to the English royal court at the time when Chaucer was writing, whilst the need for the victorious English to govern their newly-acquired territories in France would have called for French-speaking administrators. The queens and the captured nobles would obviously have continued to use their native language in London, but to postulate that this increase of continental French in one small corner of the land could have brought about any change in the working practices of a long-standing nation-wide bureaucracy is to confuse the roles of the spoken and written forms of language. The administrative machinery of government in England had operated for generations through clerks trained to write Anglo-Latin, Anglo-French and Middle English. There is no sure way of knowing how these languages were spoken through the ages, but common sense would suggest that the inescapable realities of time and space would militate successfully against any semblance of uniformity of speech: in a pre-electronic society only a native language or dialect rooted in the soil of a country or county and passed on from cradle to grave within that restricted area, whether it be England or France, can hope to even aim at such a goal.[76] The essential for the English clerks and for their masters was the written, hence durable, word of record, not the ephemeral spoken variety. This written record did not suddenly change from a haphazard Anglo-French to a uniform continental French when it was taken across the Channel, even when the Office of the Privy Seal was divided in 1420, with half of it going to France.[77] Although Englishmen with a linguistic background similar to Chaucer’s may well have spoken a form of French in keeping with that of their interlocutors at the negotiations culminating in the Treaty of Bretigny after the Battle of Poitiers, the documents that emerged for the record were not purged of all insular forms.[78] Nor did such insular forms attract automatic derision. In fact, on 30 June 1380 a letter went to the municipal authorities in Bruges from the English king himself demanding recompense for damage suffered by his subjects when their boat, loaded with merchandise bound for London, was seized and ransacked at Sluys: the letter is couched in Anglo-French, with ‘wrong’ genders for nouns, ‘wrong’ adjectival agreements, unorthodox verb-forms and an eccentric syntax.[79] Again, the Livre de Seyntz Medicines,[80] written by Henry of Lancaster in the middle of the fourteenth century, abounds in similar ‘mistakes’, yet the author was one of the very highest in the land and is honoured by Froissart’s tribute: ‘dus de Lancastre qui fu vaillans sires, sages et imaginatis’ (edition p.vii). Far more difficult to deal with are the written exchanges at this time between England and its territories in Gascony, in which the language used can vary from French to Anglo-French and on to Gascon, itself mixed with French and/or Latin.[81]


The impossibility of encompassing the totality of either Anglo-French or continental French in a single all-embracing formula valid for generations leads to the question of multilingualism in medieval Britain. The different aspects of the complex relationships obtaining between the three languages used in Chaucer’s time in various social and economic contexts, together with the extent to which they overlapped, may now be seen in detail for the first time in a number of articles that make up Multilingualism in Later Medieval Britain.[82] Several of these articles show how records at this time could contain elements of all three languages, often in the same sentence, and how it is sometimes impossible to state categorically which one is being used. To take only one example, in a searching analysis of a trilingual literary manuscript, Andres Kristol writes: ‘dans le manuscrit que nous allons étudier, la même abréviation est utilisée dans angl. alle “all”, lat. ille ou frç. ville; angl. ‘spiritually’ est abrégé de la même manière que lat. ‘spiritualiter’’ (p.40, Note 14), [in the manuscript that we are about to study, the same abbreviation is used in English ‘all’, Latin ille or French ville; English ‘spiritually’ is abbreviated in the same way as Latin spiritualiter]. The importance of this observation is that it brings into the literary sphere a phenomenon already illustrated at greater length by Laura Wright in her Sources of London English with reference to business documents. She shows how the same system of abbreviations and suspension signs operated across all three languages, thus often blurring the sharp distinctions between one and the other (pp.8-11).[83] The clerks who set down a whole range of administrative documents moved regularly from one language to another and took their scribal practices with them. All this is highly pertinent to the question of Stratford atte Bowe. The comfortable, neat and tidy dichotomy between, on the one hand, a ‘good’ French of Paris, therefore of France itself (and also, by extension, the royal court in London), with stable, accepted norms leading to the standard language of today and, on the other hand, an unregulated, undisciplined Stratford variety with its faulty syntax and bizarre forms, is too easy to be true. Kristol is categorical: ‘Or, dire « le français » ou « l’anglais » est évidemmment une simplification grossière. Ce qui caractérise la situation linguistique de l’époque concernée, c’est l’absence de formes standardisées des deux langues vernaculaires’ [To talk about ‘French’ or ‘English’ is evidently a crude simplification. What characterizes the linguistic situation at the time we are dealing with is the lack of standard forms in both vernaculars] (p.39). He returns to this theme later: ‘le français continental, lui-même, à cette époque, est encore caractérisé par sa variation interne, et les professeurs de français en Angleterre en sont parfaitement conscients’ (p.51). … De toute façon, parler de norme, à la fin du XIVe siècle, fait encore peu de sens’ (p.52) [continental French itself at this time is still characterized by its internal variations and the teachers of French in England were perfectly well aware of this. … In any case, to talk of a norm at the end of the fourteenth century does not make much sense’] [84] Referring directly to the widespread lack of esteem accorded to later Anglo-French, he writes: ‘Les intellectuels anglais du XIVe et du XVe siècle qui ont souvent rédigé des manuscrits trilingues, n’étaient pas des pauvres d’esprit, ignorants et mal formés, tout au contraire.Une fois de plus, je m’incris en faux contre le préjugé très ancien au sujet du « mauvais français » qu’on aurait parlé et écrit en Angleterre, au Moyen Age. Pour moi, les jugements de valeur de ce type témoignent d’une incompréhension profonde de la réalité linguistique de l’époque …’ (p.50-51) [The English intelligentsia of the 14th and 15th centuries who often drew up trilingual manuscripts were not simpletons, ignorant and badly educated, quite the reverse. Once again I dispute the validity of the old prejudice regarding the ‘bad French’ supposed to have been spoken and written in England in the Middle Ages. As far as I am concerned, value judgements of this kind reveal a profound failure to understand the linguistic reality of the age].[85] This is the linguistic environment in which Chaucer worked and in which his Prioress would have lived.


The reference to the French of Stratford atte Bowe in The Canterbury Tales was not a mildly derogatory remark of little moment intended to raise an indulgent smile at the expense of an unsophisticated Prioress. Her use of this form of French is meant solely as an indication of her insular horizon. More important, however, than the literary aspect of the remark are its linguistic connotations, although these have never been correctly appreciated and systematically developed. Chaucer’s audience lived and worked with this type of untrammelled French day in and day out: it was an integral part of  their environment. Madame Eglentyne’s ‘Frenssh of Stratford atte Bowe’ is a major component of  Kristol’s ‘réalité linguistique de l’époque’.[86] Moreover, a further, and as yet unexplored, aspect of this  ‘réalité linguistique’ in Britain is the passage from Anglo-French into English not only of countless individual items of vocabulary, but of a whole range of locutions now taken for granted as being indigenous. Iglesias-Rabade has made a preliminary foray into this area,[87] but without realizing that the conduit was usually Anglo-French, rather than the continental varieties of the language. The French spoken by Chaucer’s Prioress will have to be examined afresh, paying due attention to this new dimension,[88] and its impact on Middle English re-assessed.[89]


In the wider context, the complex linguistic situation in England in the later Middle Ages is now finding an echo across the Channel in areas where the lands of the French kings bordered on Germanic-speaking territories in the north[90] and different forms of Romance in the south.[91] The whole question of the history of the French language in the medieval period, both inside and outside France, is currently being reviewed by a new generation of scholars and is pointing towards a fundamental revision of traditional ideas regarding the development of the ‘standard’, its location and the time-scale of its expansion. At the end of his review of Multilingualism in Later Medieval Britain the editor of the Revue de Linguistique romane writes of the need to bring into the public domain non-literary documents in France similar to those from Britain, with the warning that: ‘Il faudrait s’y employer si nous ne voulons pas que le français soit marginalisé dans cette recherche prometteuse sur le multilinguisme médiéval’, [We shall have to get down to this if we do not want French to be marginalized in this promising research on medieval multilingualism]. [92] The French of Stratford atte Bowe, with its decisive effect on Middle English, has an important role to play in that promising research.



[1] G. Chaucer, Canterbury Tales (London, 1975), footnote to ll.124-6.

[2] The editor of The Riverside Chaucer may have had in mind the presence at the English court after the Battle of Poitiers of many of the captured French nobles, who would be speaking continental French, but this is not stated.

[3] The only mention of Stratford atte Bowe is in the Index of Proper Names, where it is simply given as ‘a town about three miles from London’.

[4] E.g. as early as 1926 (and repeatedly after that in reprints) by Eileeen Power in Medieval People (London), Jill Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire (Cambridge, 1973), Helen Cooper, The Oxford Guide to the Canterbury Tales (Oxford, 1989).

[5]  This assumption by Anglicists of Chaucer’s mockery has been copied by specialists in French. On p.32 of her ‘French language and literature in medieval Ireland’, Études Irlandaises 15/1 (1990), Grace Neville writes: ‘For Chaucer, … the French of England was no more than a bastard variety of the speech of Paris, the only true form of French’.

[6] These quotations are taken from, respectively, pp. 96, 316, 317 and 264 of F.C. Hingeston-Randolph, The Registers of Walter Bronescombe … (London) 3. vols. 1892, 1894, 1897. I am indebted to Professor D.A. Trotter  for providing me with extracts from this work.

[7] ‘The Prologue of the Monk’s Tale’, Riverside Chaucer p.240, vv. 3129-3138.

[8] Mes de femmes ai dedeing grant Ki par orgoille se aforcent tant En parler bleser (M.E. wlispen) Pur meuz pleiser a lur amis [But I profoundly scorn women who, out of pride, strive hard to lisp when speaking, in order to be more attractive to their lovers],  Walter  de Bibbesworth: Le Tretiz,  ed. W. Rothwell, ANTS Plain Texts Series 6 (London, 1990), vv. 1089-1091.

[9] les damoyseus qe saunz nul mester Bleseyent (var. Blaisent) par queyntise pur doucement parler, De (=‘Pur’) plere a lor amys et atrere lor quer, [the young women (not men, despite the spelling) who needlessly lisp out of refinement in order to speak more delicately, so as to please their lovers and win their hearts] Johan Vising, Deux Poèmes de Nicholas Bozon … (Göteborg, 1919), p.19, vv. 346-48.

[10] The comment by Kibbee that ‘Chaucer’s Prioress still claims to have mastered some manner of French’, in For to Speke Frenche Trewely (Amsterdam/Philadelphia 1991), p. 69 illustrates a  failure to read Chaucer’s words accurately. The Prioress does not ‘claim’ anything: Chaucer’s wording is precise, contrasting two types of French. See W. Rothwell, ‘Stratford atte Bowe and Paris’, Modern Language Review  80 (1985), 39-54.

[11] For details of Chaucer’s visits to France in the king’s service, including his capture and ransom during the campaign of 1359-60 as well as his subsequent role in diplomatic negotiations there, see Chaucer Life-Records, eds. Martin M. Crow & Clair C. Olson (Oxford 1966).

[12] For the question of ‘correct’ French, see Note 84.

[13] ed. R.B. Pugh; vol. 1, A History of the County of Middlesex, ed. J.S. Cockburn (Oxford,  1969), pp.156-59. I am indebted to Professor D.A. Trotter for providing me with this material.

[14]   (Oxford,1996).

[15]le pesson en la dite ewe est destruyt especialment p[ar] trenkes & weres myses en la dite ewe & p[ar] hebbyngnettes myses en ffletes & shores en mesme l’ewe & en la bruche env[er]s Berkyng al breche sur la t[er]re l’abbé de stratford & l’abbesse de Berkyng’, [the fish in the said water is destroyed especially by nets and weirs put into the water and by hebbingnets put in inlets and banks in the water and in the breach towards Barking … in the breach on the land of the Abbot of Stratford and the Abbess of Barking],  pp.64 &120. The number of anglicisms in this extract, as well as the  infractions of the rules of French syntax, show clearly that this is Anglo-French – the French of  Stratford atte Bowe. The abbreviations, unresolved in the book in order to show the true state of the roll, have been expanded here for the sake of convenience. The author translates ‘trink’ as ‘A kind of fishing net used on a weir’ (p.76) and ‘hebbingnet’ as ‘ A net spread between two poles positioned on the shore or at the mouth of a creek or inlet to trap fish as the tide goes out’.

[16] Dr Laura Wright informs me that the division between West and East London may well go right back to the Old English period, when the River Lea probably marked the boundary between Middlesex and Essex.

[17] The records mention an ‘Elizabeth Chausir’ at Barking Abbey in 1397 and an ‘Elizabeth Chaucy’ in the same establishment in 1381 (Chaucer Life-Records, eds. Martin M. Crow & Clair C. Olson (Oxford 1966), p.546).

[18]En conclusion, nous pouvons dire que la langue de notre poème est remarquablement pure’, La Vie d’Edouard le Confesseur, ed. Östen Södergard (Uppsala, 1948), p.102.

[19] The Life of St. Catherine, ed. W. Macbain ANTS XVIII (Oxford,1964), p.xxv. In this regard the editor points out her ‘bold play on words in ll .987-90’ (p.xxvi). For an English nun to be able to use French words of similar form but different meanings in a verse composition is, indeed, worthy of note.

[20] See W. Rothwell, ‘ The Teaching and Learning of French in later Medieval England’, to appear in Zeitschrift für französische Sprache und Literatur in 2001.

[21]  E. Stengel, ‘Die ältesten Anleitungsschriften zur Erlernung der französischen Sprache’, Zeitschrift für französische Sprache und Literatur 1 (1879-80), 1-40, p. 25.6-7;

[22]  H.G. Richardson, ‘Letters of the Oxford Dictatores’, in Oxford History Society, New Series, v, 1942, pp.360-416.

[23]  The mother is traditionally more amenable to requests from her offspring for money etc. than the father.

[24]  F.J. Tanquerey, Recueil de Lettres Anglo-Françaises (1265-1399), (Paris, 1916), p.10-11.

[25]  Ibid.  p. 27.

[26] See Note 6, p. 213.

[27] Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions, ed. M. D. Legge, ANTS 3 (Oxford, 1941), p.138-9

[28] E.g. Tanquerey, pp. 35, 37, 42, 43, 65, 78, 106, 138, 161, 168, etc.; Legge, pp. 81, 90, 91, 92-3, 97, 98, 99, etc. Such letters must be no more than a fraction of the real volume of correspondence.

[29] ‘Anecdota Anglo-Normannica’, The Yearbook of English Studies 15 (1985), 1-17.

[30] E.g. ‘An Anglo-Norman Treatise on the Religious Life’, in P.R. Monks & D.D.R. Owen, Medieval Codicology, Iconography … : Studies for Keith Sinclair (Leiden, 1994), 267-75; ‘An Anglo-Norman Treatise on Female Religious’, Medium Aevum 64 (1995) 205-231; ‘An Anglo-Norman Rule of St Augustine’, Augustiniana, 45 (1995), 177-89; ‘Anglo-Norman rules for the priories of St Mary de Pré and Sopwell, De Mot en Mot: Aspects of medieval linguistics, eds.  Stewart Gregory and D. A. Trotter (Cardiff, 1997), 93-104. For further information on the scope of Anglo-Norman, see now Ruth Dean’s long-awaited important revision of Vising’s Anglo-Norman Language and Literature (London, 1923),  published by the Anglo-Norman Text Society (2000).

[31] J.C. Dickinson and P.T. Ricketts, ‘The Anglo-Norman Chronicle of Wigmore Abbey, Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists Field Club XXXIX (1969), 413-43.

[32] The Anonimalle Chronicle 1333-1381, ed. V. H. Galbraith (Manchester, 1927); The Anonimalle Chronicle 1307-1334, eds. Wendy R. Childs and John Taylor, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Record Series CXLVII (1987).

[33] Extracts from the Account Rolls of the Abbey of Durham, ed. Canon Fowler, Surtees Society, vols. 99 (1898), 100 (1898), 103 (1901).

[34] T.D. Hardy, Registrum Palatinum Dunelmense. The Register of  Richard de Kellawe, Lord Palatine & Bishop of Durham, 1311-1316, 4 vols.,  Rolls Series 62 (London, 1873-78).

[35] eds. Avril Henry and D. A. Trotter, Medium Aevum Monographs, New Series XVII (Oxford, 1994).

[36]  A similar statement is made by Andres Kristol : ‘Il ne fait pas de doute que dans ce manuscrit, le français est la langue “noble”, qui a droit à la plus grande et à la plus belle écriture’, [There is no doubt that in this manuscript French is the ‘noble’ language that can claim the biggest and best hand-writing], Multilingualism in Later Medieval Britain (Cambridge, 2000), 37-52,  pp.43-4.

[37] Brian Merrilees, ‘Donatus and the Teaching of French in Medieval England’, Anglo-Norman Anniversary Essays, ANTS Occasional Publications Series 2 (London, 1993), 273-91.

[38]  H.G. Richardson, ‘Cistercian Formularies’, in Formularies which bear on the History of Oxford c.1204-1420, ed. H.E. Salter (Oxford, 1942), 281-327. The quotation comes from p.287.

[39] A modern illustration of this bond is the presence of robed archbishops and bishops on the benches of the House of Lords.

[40] See D.A. Trotter, ‘Walter of Stapeldon and the Premarital Inspection of Philippa of Hainault’, French Studies Bulletin 49 (1993), 1-4.   Note 10 of this article gives references to a quantity of other similar evidence.

 [41] De Courtenay had accused Grandisson of being synguler in the sense of ‘aloof, unapproachable’: in his reply Grandisson  uses the adjective first in the sense of  ‘special, unique’ as applied elsewhere to the Virgin, and then as ‘straightforward’, as opposed to ‘double come ly seclesages’. The very term of criticism used by the nobleman has been turned round into a commendation backed by the Virgin herself. The juxtaposition of saver and aver in the final sentence is the bishop’s parting shot, with its innuendo regarding De Courtenay’s intellect and desire for wealth. See Note 6, pp.202-3. My attention was drawn to this letter by Professor D.A. Trotter.

[42] ed. H.G. Richardson in Oxford History Society, New Series, vol. v, 1942, 360-416.

[43] op. cit. p.286.

[44] See the entry samps2 in the ‘List of Works Quoted in the Dictionary’ at the end of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, eds. W. Rothwell et al, (London), 1977-92.

[45] ed. F.M. Nicols (Oxford: Clarendon), 1865, 2 vols.

[46] ed. W.J. Whittaker (Selden Society, 1895).

[47] Historical Research 60 (1987), 147-65. See also his article ‘The Languages of the Law in Later Medieval England’, Multilingualism  in Later Medieval Britain, ed. D.A. Trotter (Cambridge, 2000), 63-76.

[48]  See Andres Max Kristol, ‘La Prononciation du français en Angleterre au XVe siècle’, Mélanges de Philologie et de Littérature médiévales offerts à Michel Burger (Paris, 1994), p.84 ff.

[49] ‘The Privy Seal Clerks in the Early Fifteenth Century’, in The Study of Medieval Records. Essays in honor of Kathleen Major, eds. D.A. Bullough  & R.L. Storey (Oxford, 1971), pp. 260-81.

[50] This tallies with Bishop Stapeldon’s attempt to get the nuns of Polsloe to use Latin, although he recognizes that their Latin is ungrammatical – ‘tut ne soit mie le Latin bien ordiné solom la reule de gramere …’. They must have been using Anglo-French. The quotation  is on  p.318 of the register referred to in Note 6.

[51] See W. Rothwell, ‘Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice: from Oriental  Bazar to English Cloister in Anglo-French’, Modern Language Review 94 (1999), 647-59.

[52] ANTS 3 (Oxford, 1941), pp. 80-81 (no.33), 82 (no.35), 88-89 (no.41).

[53] See Notes 24-28.

[54] See W. Rothwell, ‘The Problem of Law French’, French Studies 46 (1992), 257-71, and ‘The Trial Scene in Lanval and the Development of the Legal Register in Anglo-Norman’, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 101 (2000), 17-36.

[55] See the French records of shipping and imports in The Oak Book of Southampton, ed. P. Studer, Publications of the Southampton Record Society 10 (Southampton, 1910-11), The Port Books of Southampton, ed. P. Studer, Publications of the Southampton Record Society 15 (Southampton, 1913), The Local Port Book of Southampton for 1435-6, ed. Brian Foster (Southampton, 1963).

[56] Contrary to received wisdom, the Statute of 1362 did not ban French from use in government business and the law. See W. Rothwell, ‘English and French in England after 1362’, to appear in English Studies (Amsterdam) in 2001.

[57] The extracts from a large number of hitherto unexplored texts now published in The Sources of London English are a cogent illustration of the wealth of information regarding the linguistic situation in England during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries which could be unearthed by the publication of the full texts.

[58] Prologue vv. 309-330.

[59] See W. Rothwell, ‘Chaucer and Stratford atte Bowe’, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 74 (1992), 3-28, and ‘The Trilingual England of Geoffrey Chaucer’, Studies in the Age of Chaucer 16 (1994), 45-67.

[60] E.g. ‘Although the customs accounts were uually kept in Latin, in a less formal record French might be used.’ p.193, Note 2. The editors print no more than the brief heading of one such document at this point. This deplorable attitude is shared by other editors of  similar records. Totally ignorant of the lexicological value of what he regards as the humdrum content of his material –  tools, constructions, parts of  farm machinery, etc. – the editor of the voluminous accounts of Durham Abbey (See Note 33) repeatedly omits large sections of it. Again, in his edition of  The Black Book of Southampton, 3 vols., Southampton Record Society, 1912, A.B. Wallis Chapman writes: ‘These ordinances and memoranda are for the most part written in Old French …’ (Introduction p.v), but he prints less than half a dozen pages of French as opposed to many scores of pages of Latin. The French is, admittedly, Anglo-French, not that of a Froissart, but the Latin is no less Anglo-Latin, a far cry from that of Virgil or Cicero. The mantle of veneration accorded to the giants of Classical Latin literature cannot legitimately be transferred to the acquired form of the language used for routine administration by humble clerks fifteen hundred years later.

[61] See W. Rothwell, ‘Anglo-French and Middle English Vocabulary in Femina Nova’, Medium Aevum 69 (2000), 34-58.

[62]  See Note 20.

[63] The remark that the Prioress ‘peyned  hire to countrefete cheere of court’ is a good example of this, all the lexical elements, including the reflexive verb, being taken from Anglo-French. See W. Rothwell, ‘The Trilingual  England of Geoffrey Chaucer’, Studies in the Age of Chaucer  16 (1994), 45-67.

[64] See W. Rothwell, ‘The Missing Link in English Etymology: Anglo-French’, Medium Aevum 60 (1991), 173-96,  ‘The Legacy of Anglo-French: faux amis’ , Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 109 (1993), 15-46 and ‘English and French in England after 1362’ (See Note 56). These articles do no more than adumbrate the scale of  the lexical contacts between French and English in the medieval period.

[65]bruets, soupes, roeles, bature, past …’, T. Hunt, Popular Medicine in Thirteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1990), p.20; ‘Pernez fleur demeyne e blaunc de l’oef, et fetes bature’, C.B. Hieatt & R. Jones, ‘Culinary Collections edited from British Library Manuscripts Additional 32085 and Royal 12.C.xii’, Speculum 61 (1986), p.862. The term is also used to mean a medical plaster in Popular Medicine … 279.103 and 281.123. The fleur in the second of the above quotations falls into the same category – modern English ‘flour’, modern French farine.

[66] In 1369, only a few years before The Canterbury Tales, two carpenters obtained a contract to build a row of houses to be used as shops in the area of St. Paul’s. It is stipulated that the timber used shall all be of the same size ‘le meryn dont tous les ditz maisons serront faites serra de l’assise dessouth escrit’ [the timber with which all the said houses will be built shall be of the size written below]. L.F. Salzman, A Documentary History of Building in England down to 1540  (Oxford, 1952), p. 442. Ten years later (1379-80) the official appointed to inspect cloth is enjoined not to attach his seal of approval to any cloth ‘qe ne soit de l’assise ordeiné par estatut’ [that is not of the size ordained by statute] Rotuli Parliamentorum, Record Commission , London 1767-77, iii 82.

[67] See W. Rothwell, ‘The Problem of Law French’, French Studies 46 (1992), 257-71.

[68]le servaunt paiera a chescun defaute pur sa partie al cere du dite arte xxd’, [for his part, the operative shall pay 20 pence to the treasury of the said guild for every infraction] The Little Red Book of Bristol, ed. Francis B. Bickley, 2 vols. (Bristol/London, 1900), ii 59. The textual proof of these developments will be found in any eventual publication of the second edition of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary.

[69]  Record Commission (London, 1810-25), ii 4.

[70]les fees des criours, mareschaux ou vergers’, Year Books of Edward II , xxvi 40, Selden Society.

[71]  p.75.

[72] That semantic fields differed not only as between insular and continental French, and between different varieties of  medieval continental French, but also between medieval French and modern French is still not generally appreciated. For an example of this and  its effect on lexicography, see W. Rothwell, ‘The Semantic Field of Old French Astele: the Pitfalls of the Medieval  Gloss in Lexicography’, to appear in Journal of French Language Studies in 2001.

[73] p.178. For ease of comprehension the folowing manuscript forms have been expanded – coes to comunes, dice to dicte; likewise the u of  the ms. conueyez and Graueshende has been converted to v.

[74] It is disappointing to find that linguists are even today writing about the socio-linguistic situation in late fourteenth-century England without familiarizing themselves with the mass of documents that reflect the trilingual nature of communication at that time. In her new History of English (Oxford, 2001) Barbara A. Fennell is content to follow Thomason and Kaufman – Language Contact, Creolization and Genetic Linguistics (Berkeley, California, 1988) –  who themselves give no indication that they even knew of the existence of  such material, let alone had read it. Copying them almost word for word, she writes: ‘There is no evidence to suggest that large numbers of the native English population learned French between 1066 and 1250, and after 1250 there was no motivation to do so …’ (p.130). She goes on to say; ‘In purely linguistic terms, the influence of French on English is thus neither extreme nor special’ (ibid.). However, it is not a question of the numbers who learned French, but of the reasons why they did so and the role played in society by this acquired French, as has been illustrated above. These are  linguistic issues no less important than sound changes.

[75]  It is pleasing to find Derek Pearsall emphasizing that ‘Chaucer’s Englishness is largely something that has been foisted upon him at later times, and particularly in the nineteenth century’, ‘The Idea of Englishness in the fifteenth century’, in Nation, Court, Culture: New Essays on Fifteenth-century English Poetry, ed. H. Cooney (Dublin, 2000), 15-27, p.16. I am indebted to Professor Helen Cooper for drawing my attention to this article and to her own piece ‘Welcome to the House of Fame’, Times Literary Supplement, October 27, 2000, 3-4.

[76]il est illégitime de tirer la moindre information au sujet des pratiques orales d’une analyse des pratiques écrites. Le non-respect de cette distinction est sans doute responsable en partie du moins du dialogue de sourds entre « francophiles » et « francophobes » dans la discussion sur l’importance du français en Angleterre médiévale’, [it is unjustified to draw any conclusions in respect of the use of the spoken language from an analysis of the written one. The failure to observe this distinction is doubtless responsible at least in part for the dialogue of the deaf between ‘francophiles’ and ‘francophobes’ in the argument about the importance of French in medieval England], Andres M. Kristol, Multilingualism in Later Medieval Britain, ed. D.A. Trotter (Cambridge), 2000, pp. 37-52, p.38.

[77]  See Note 49.

[78] Pierre Chaplais, ‘Some Documents Regarding the Fulfilment of the Treaty of Bretigny (1361-1369), Camden Miscellany XIX (1952), 1-84.

[79]  I am indebted to Dr. Laura Wright for allowing me to see her transcription of  the Plea and Memorandum Roll A23 m 6.

[80] ed. E.J. Arnould, ANTS 2 (Oxford, 1940).

[81] For this very complex multilingual situation, see D.A. Trotter, ‘Anglo-Norman outside England’, Leeds-York seminar on ‘The Use of French in England’, a paper read at Leeds in 1995; ‘Mossenhor; fet metre aquesta letra en bon francés: Anglo-French in Gascony’, De Mot en Mot: Aspects of medieval Linguistics, Cardiff: 1997,199-226, and ‘Some Lexical Gleanings from Anglo-French Gascony’, Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 114 (1998), 55-72.

[82] See Note 36.

[83] This theme has been carried further in her article in the Multilingualism volume, where references to her earlier work may be found.

[84] Kristol is in very good company here. In 1989 Bernard Cerquiglini had written a caustic indictment of  traditional French philology: ‘le philologue rêve d’une ancienne langue pure et grêle, dénudée et blanche,, telle une église romane immaculée, dans le goût du Second Empire.’ [the philologist dreams of an Old French pure and slender, bare and white … like an immaculate Romanesque church, after the taste of the Second Empire]  Éloge de la variante: histoire critique de la philologie  (Paris : Seuil), 1989), p.94.

[85] See W. Rothwell, ‘Playing “follow my leader” in Anglo-Norman Studies’, Journal of French Language Studies 6 (1996), 177-210.

[86] As if the linguistic situation in both Britain and France were not already sufficiently complicated in the medieval period, historical linguists will eventually have to grapple with the roles of Welsh and Breton in the changing picture through the ages. The Welsh dimension is touched upon by Professor Cooper in her article in the Times Literary Supplement for 27 October 2000. For further  information and bibliography, see D.A. Trotter, ‘L’anglo-français au Pays de Galles: …’, Revue de Linguistique romane 58 (1994), 461-88, and Llinos Beverley Smith, ‘Welsh and English Languages in Late-Medieval Wales’, Multilingualism in Later Medieval Britain, 7-21.

[87] ‘French Phrasal Power in Late Middle English: Some Evidence Concerning the Verb nime(n)/take(n)’, Multilingualism in Later Medieval Britain, pp. 93-130.

[88] The  revision of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary now under way will pay greater attention to this aspect of the language than any previous dictionary of Medieval French.

[89] Works such as J. Mersand’s Chaucer’s Romance Vocabulary  (Port Washington, N.Y., 1939; rpt., 1968) cannot be taken as authoritative.

[90] See ‘Urkundensprachen im germanisch-romanischen Grenzgebiet, Beiträge zum Kolloquium am 5-6 Oktober in Trier, eds. Kurt Gärtner und Günter Holtus (Mainz, 1997). I am indebted to Professor D.A. Trotter for drawing my attention to this work. The forthcoming 2001 colloquium in Trier will doubtless pursue this line of enquiry further.

[91] See, purely as two examples amongst many: A. Lodge, Le plus ancien registre de comptes des consuls de Montferrand en provençal auvergnat 1259-1272, Clermont-Ferrand, mémoires de l’Académie des sciences, belles-lettres et arts de Clermont-Ferrand, 1985, and, by the same scholar: ‘La Vie quotidienne à Montferrand au XIIIe siècle’, Montferrand 1196-1996, Conférences du VIIIe centenaire de la Charte de Franchises, Clermont-Ferrand 1996, which deals expressly with the relationship between the language of Montferrand and that of Paris in the 13th century.

[92] Gilles Roques, Revue de Linguistique romane 64 (2000), 465. The forthcoming book Skripta und Variation by Harald Völker announced for the Beihefte series of the Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie will doubtless add much new evidence.