The History of English Podcast

The History of English Podcast


The Spoken History of a Global Language


Episode 85: How to Run an Empire  

The massive realm of Henry II extended from southern France through the British Isles. The administration of the so-called “Angevin Empire” required an extensive bureaucracy. In this episode, we examine some of the key government officials who administered the government … Continue reading

Episode 84: Law, Order and Murder  

In the wake of civil war and anarchy in England, a crime wave gripped the nation. Murders and other violent crimes were rampant. Henry II sought to reimpose law and order throughout the country by reforming the English legal system. … Continue reading

Episode 83: A Trilingual Nation  

During the reign of Henry II, the speech of England was dominated by three languages - English, French and Latin. In this episode, we examine the relative roles of those three languages, and we also explore how the social barriers between those languages were breaking down in the 12th century.

Episode 82: A Marriage for the Ages  

The marriage of Matilda's son, Henry, to Eleanor of Aquitaine was a crucial event in the history of England and France. It produced a powerful realm which contributed to the return of peace and the end of Anarchy.  In this episode, we explore these political developments, and we also examine the state of marriage in 12th century Europe.  We also explore how these events shaped the vocabulary of the English language.

Episode 81: Love Songs and Troubadours  

While civil war raged in England, a completely different culture was flourishing in southern France. In this episode, we explore the opulent court of Aquitaine and the rise of the troubadours. Love was in the air as a new type of poetry was created in the 12th century. We also examine words associated with Medieval entertainment and courtly life.

Announcement: 10 American Presidents Podcast  

Check out the 10 American Presidents podcast for an episode about the development of American English and the influence of presidential speech on American English.

Episode 80: Knight Life  

Much of the devastation of the Anarchy was carried out by knights who acted as thugs and bullies. For several generations, knights had served as the strongmen of western Europe. By the 12th century, the nature of knighthood was starting to change. The Church was taking a more active role in knightly affairs, and the mounted knights were gradually becoming lesser nobles. In this episode, we explore the evolution of the Medieval knight from mounted warrior to the eve of chivalry. We also explore the etymology of words related to knighthood.

Episode 79: Anarchy  

In the years after Matilda's return to England, the country descended into chaos and civil war. This period is known by modern historians as the Anarchy. The events were recorded by a scribe in Peterborough who wrote in an early form of Middle English. In this episode, we examine these events through the entires in the Peterborough Chronicle. We also explore several new pronoun forms which appear for the first time in these passages.

Episode 78: Under Siege  

In this episode, we explore the outbreak of civil war in England as forces loyal to Matilda took up arms against King Stephen. The civil war led to a breakdown of central authority. The power vacuum was filled by local barons who constructed castles throughout the countryside. This ushered in a new era of siege warfare. We explore these events as recorded in the Peterborough Chronicle, and we examine how siege warfare influenced the English language.

Episode 77: Rival Relatives and the Land of Scots  

Following the death of Henry I, the king's nephew Stephen seized the throne and claimed the English throne before Matilda could get to England. We examine the reasons why Stephen was considered an acceptable alternative to Matilda. As soon as Stephen became king, he experienced challenges from a couple of English nobles. One of those nobles also happened to be the King of Scotland. We examine these initial challenges and explore the origin of Scots - the first version of English spoken outside of England.

Episode 76: The Gender Problem  

The final continuation of the Peterborough Chronicle captured a major change in the history of the English language. That change was the loss of grammatical gender. The traditional distinctions between masculine and feminine nouns disappeared in the final few entries of the Chronicle. This development coincided with the first attempt to place a female on the English throne. In this episode, we look at the weakening of these traditional gender barriers.

Episode 75: Mixed Languages and Scrambled Eggs  

In this episode, we continue our look at the gradual emergence of Middle English from the linguistic rubble left in the wake of the Norman Conquest. English remained fractured and broken, and foreign influences continued to come in. We explore the changing language of the Peterborough Chronicle. We also examine how a merchant’s failed attempt to buy some eggs shaped the history of the English language.

Episode 74: Head Cities and Home Towns  

The population of England grew significantly in the centuries following the Norman Conquest of England. That development led to the growth of villages, towns and cities. During that period, London also emerged as the capital of England. In this episode, we examine these developments and explore the etymology of words associated with Medieval English settlements.

Episode 73: Possession, Power and Checkmate  

In this episode, we explore the connections between possessions and power – especially political power.  No Medieval king exemplified that connection better than Henry I of England.  Henry valued his possessions, and he made sure to collect every penny that was owed to him. And speaking of possessions, this was also a period during which the English language was starting to change the way it indicated possession. We explore these linguistic developments by examining the language of the Peterborough Chronicle.

Episode 72: The Dark Ages of English  

The early part of the 12th century represented the darkest days of the English language.  English writing had almost disappeared, and spoken English was divided among a variety of regional dialects that were often incomprehensible to speakers in other parts of the country.  For most prominent people in England, both Latin and French were considered to be far superior languages.  English was mocked and ridiculed.  This view even extended to Anglo-Saxon names which started to disappear during this period.  The English language that everyone knew was dying out. In parts of the country, it was already dead.  In its wake, a new English was emerging, but that new language had not yet been revealed in writing.

Episode 71: On The Hunt  

In this episode, we explore the events leading to the death of William the Conqueror. And we’ll look at the reign of his son and namesake, William Rufus. The story of William’s succession is also the story of a sibling rivalry. William’s three sons fought with each other – and even with their father – for control of the Anglo-Norman kingdom. But one thing that William and all of his sons had in common was a love for hunting, and the importance of hunting is reflected in the English language which contains many words and phrases originating in the language of Medieval hunters.

Episode 70: Mind Your Manors For Pete’s Sake  

For more than a century following the Norman Conquest, English writing fell out of favor. During that hiatus, French words continued to flow into English. A lot of those words were associated with the manors that dotted the English countryside where most of the peasants lived and worked. In this episode, we look at some of those French and Latin words associated with manors and peasants.  We also examine how the manorial courts were used as tool to exploit the peasants and tie them to the land.

Episode 69: From Conquest to Domesday  

In the two decades that followed the Norman Conquest, most of the land in England passed into the hands of French-speaking nobles. This process not only brought the feudal system to England, it also brought the French language to the peasants out in the countryside. In this episode, we explore these developments, and we look at some of the first words to pass from Norman French into English.  We also examine an early Middle English passage from Robert of Gloucester.

Episode 68: Rebels With a Cause  

It may come as a surprise that William the Conqueror embraced English after the Norman Conquest.  He also maintained much of the existing Anglo-Saxon bureaucracy. Had William continued those policies, the English language would be very different today. Despite William’s attempt to rule as an ‘English’ king, his favorable policies quickly vanished in the wake of a series of rebellions throughout his newly conquered kingdom.   Afterwards, William initiated the process by which the Anglo-Saxon nobility and land holders were removed from power and replaced with his French allies. The new French aristocracy established a social environment which shaped the transition of Old English into Middle English.

Episode 67: The Year That Changed English  

In this episode, we look at the events of 1066 – one of the most important dates in the history of English. Of course, this was the year of the Norman Conquest and the beginning of the end of Old English. It was an incredibly active year. And if the events had not unfolded in the way they did, it is likely that William’s conquest would have failed, and English would be a completely different language today. As we look at the events of 1066, we also explore the etymology of the names of the seasons and other related words.

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