From TheFirst Italian Essay on Chaucer : Caron Cioffi The Chaucer Review, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Summer, 1987), pp. 53-61
Law reporting in French to the 17th century
It was the very fact thatso few people in England actually spoke French after the thirteenth century thatitself accounted for the development, during the later thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, of law French as the official language of disputation in the courtsand of Anglo-Norman as an accepted language of written communication in royaland civic government. In other words, the employment of French as a formal andauthoritative language of process actually increased in inverse proportion to itsuse as a language of generalized social exchange.22 Equally, the distinction betweenspeech and writing means, as the final section of this analysis will argue, that thetechnical abolition of the use of law French as the spoken language of the courtsin 1362 had no direct effect on the acceptability and feasibility of Anglo-Normanas a written language of record.
Professor Linne Mooney, a scholar from Maine, who is a visiting fellow at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, tracked Pinkhurst down by studying his signature to an oath in the earliest records of the Scriveners' company in the city of London, and comparing it with Chaucer manuscripts.His signature is the eighth earliest entry in the company's Common Paper, or members' book of regulations. This indicates that he joined soon after the scriveners began keeping systematic records in the year 1392. The date squares neatly with the period of Chaucer's life and authorship."Lots of people have looked at these records before, but they did not happen to be people who were working on scribes," Prof Mooney told the Guardian yesterday. They were not equipped to recognise that Pinkhurst's signature is also the handwriting of The Canterbury Tales and of two earlier Chaucer works, Troilus and Criseyde, and Boece, his translation of Boethius's The Consolations of Philosophy.But Pinkhurst, far from being an incompetent, emerges as Chaucer's most favoured scribe in an age where writers worked closely with individual scriveners rather than dealing with scriptoriums (script factories) as they came to do after Chaucer's death in 1400.He can now be recognised as the scrivener of the two most authoritative copies of the Canterbury Tales: the Hengwrt manuscript, which is now in the National Library of Wales, and the Ellesmere manuscript, kept in San Marino, California.He also emerges as the closest the poet had to an obituarist. A note in Pinkhurst's handwriting at the end of the Cook's Tale, one of the unfinished Canterbury Tales, says, "Of this tale Chaucer wrote no more
The majority of later Old English texts are written in a fairly uniform type of literary language, based on the West Saxon dialect. The linguistic forms employed show considerable regularity, as do the spellings used to represent them.the Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English records around 500 different spellings for through.
evidence relating to the making of the Statute of Pleading leaves it decidedly ambiguous as to the political dynamics that under pinned the statute and the motives of those who formulated it.27
Three items within the resulting program of legislation have been particularlyremarked. First, the commons won the important concession that Parliamentshould have the formal and exclusive right to authorize the wool subsidy.35 Thisprovided a guarantee against the use of great councils and merchant assembliesas forums for the negotiation of the tax and thus supposedly prevented, once andfor all, the making of private agreements between the Crown and merchant syndicates for the financial exploitation of overseas trade.36 Secondly, a number ofcommon petitions were drawn together to form a systematic statement on theroyal prerogative of purveyance, restricting the compulsory purchase of foodstuffsand the requisitioning of other goods for the royal households and, critically,providing a guarantee that those who handed over such provisions should bepromptly compensated in ready cash.37 Thirdly, the Crown issued, in statutoryform, a general pardon confirming its decision to renounce all claims to the outstanding fiscal impositions arising from earlier visitations of the shires made bythe king's justices in eyre.3
Parson’s taleUpon a time a philosopher would have beaten a disciple for his great misdoing, at which the philosopher had been much annoyed; and he brought a rod wherewith to scourge the youth; and when the youth saw the rod he said to his master: "What do you intend to do?" "I will beat you," said the master, "for your correction." "Forsooth," said the youth, "you ought first to correct yourself who have lost all your patience at the offence of a child." "Forsooth," said the master, weeping, "you say truth; take the rod yourself, my dear son, and correct me for my impatience."
Schooling was not compulsory in the Fourteenth Century, but literacy and learning were on the increase. There was little formal education for women, but even remote villages might have a priest who could teach promising boys their letters. In urban areas there were schools attached to cathedrals and larger churches where choirboys were taught to learn to read and sing the service, like the son of the poor widow in the Prioress’s Tale. Education was remorselessly religious and moral: learning letters began with prayers and psalms, increasingly in English. A thorough grounding in Latin, however, was still the objective of grammar schools for the aspiring middle classes aiming to enter the professions of the Church, law or medicine. After school, the sons of the wealthy could either continue their education at University or go to one of the Inns of Court and Chancery. In being placed as a page in a great household, Chaucer followed another traditional route of advancement, that of ‘education by experience’.Primer England: late Fourteenth Century MS Hunter 472 (V.6.22)This fourteenth-century prayer book, or primer, was probably written for a young person who had to learn to read from it. It opens with the Latin alphabet, Christianized with a cross at the beginning and ‘amen’ at the end. It is followed by the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Creed (the essentials of belief). The linking of the ABC and prayer marks an elementary stage of teaching. It is estimated that by the end of the Fifteenth Century perhaps half the population could read English – although this literacy may only have extended as far as an ability to recognize words from the most familiar prayers and psalms. A marginal annotation from a sixteenth-century reader states that this manuscript is a good and profitable book ‘for a man that can not understondLatyn’.Preceding the opening of the text, the flyleaves have been utilized by a fifteenth-century reader to copy out further prayers. Several contemporary notes are found in the calendar section of the manuscript: the earthquake of 1382 is noted at the entry for 21st May while the coronation of King Richard of 1377 is marked at July 15th. At the foot of the first page of text is the autograph of the seventeenth century poet, divine and Canon of Chichester, Samuel Woodford (1636-1700).Rubric from a later workThe Pater Noster said in Latin is just as good in the mouth of an unlettered man as it is in the mouth of a priest or learned person. But a priest, or a lettered man who understands it, can read it with more devotion than can a layman who docs not understand it and docs not know what he is saying. Similarly, a good sharp sword is as good in a chi1d's hand as it is in a swordsman’s hand, but it is more useful to someone who knows how to light. Furthermore. a light shines just as brightly in a blind man’s eye as it does in a sighted man’s, but it is more useful to the sighted man. For this reason, everyone should also say his prayers so that he understands them inwardly and with devotion. For our Lord Jesus Christ did not write the Pater Noster in Latin, but in the vernacular, that is, in Hebrew, which the common people in the land spoke. You should also know that the Pater Noster stands above all other prayers, because the other prayers were made by the Sons of Man, but the Pater Noster was composed by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Wisdom of the Father. Therefore, you should say your Pater Noster with utmost diligence because it is full of the utmost devotion and sweetness."“Adam scrivener, if ever thee befallBoece or Troilus [the earlier books] for to write new [again],Under thy longe locks thowmaist have the scall [scabs],But [unless] after my makinge thou write mortrew,So oft a day I mot [must] thy werkereneweIt to correct, and eke [also] to rubbe and scrape,And all is thorowe thy necligence and rape [haste].
Full-page miniature of a woman teaching a group of girls how to read, at the beginning of the ABC. The teacher holds a ferule, a wooden paddle for striking students.
Extra capital letters con, et Last letter in lower case ?Variant forms of a, r, s, u No w.
The first estate of that society was the clergy.Anticlerical writers in Chaucer's time, such as Langland and theLollards, often criticized its members for their alleged failure tounderstand what they read or to improve their shortcomings by study.Chaucer, significantly, does not level these charges. Rather, his representatives of all the major kinds of male clergy include men ofeducation and learning: the Monk who has "an hundred" tragediesin his cell, versified or in prose (B2 3161-62); a friar, already mentioned, who has studied at university (D 2185-86); and the Parson,who is able to preach a long analytical sermon on sin and penancewith citations from Ambrose, Augustine, and Isidore, as well as theBible and the Canon Law (I 75, 84, 89, 97, 931). Even a parishclerk, in Oxford at least, can be reckoned to know enough Latin tomake "a chartre of lond or acquitaunce" (
The Sergeant of the Lawis not only able to read the French and Latin of the statutes andjudgments, but can himself "endite" or draw up what are presumablylegal petitions and instruments, and has read in his leisure bothOvid's Metamorphoses and Chaucer's Legend of Good Women (A323-27, B1 45-89). So too the Physician, though his study may be"litel on the Bible," is credited with the knowledge of fifteen Latinauthors of medical treatises (A 429-38). The literacy of trade, basedon the keeping of accounts, is well evoked by Chaucer in the Shipman's Tale, the merchant of which spends most of t
8. f2013 Rebirth of English & Chaucer
Rebirth of English
"It is a language that will do you good in
England, but passe Dover it is worth nothing.”
1591 Giovanni Florio
Chaucer’s Education - Conjectures
• Primary School
• Grammar School
• On the job – page to Elizabeth de Burgh, the
Countess of Ulster, wife of Lionel, Duke of
• Inns of Courts
Rules required use of spoken Latin; Oriel
(1326) and Queens (1340) required
conversation to be in French
Full well she sang the services
Intoning through her nose,
And fair she spoke her French, and fluently,
After the school of Stratford-at-the-Bow,
For French of Paris was not hers to know.
A clerk from Oxford was with us also,
Who'd turned to getting knowledge, long ago.
As meagre was his horse as is a rake,
Nor he himself too fat, I'll undertake,
But he looked hollow and went soberly.
Right threadbare was his overcoat; for he
Had got him yet no churchly benefice,
Nor was so worldly as to gain office.
For he would rather have at his bed's head
Some twenty books, all bound in black and red,
Of Aristotle and his philosophy
Than rich robes, fiddle, or gay psaltery.
Yet, and for all he was philosopher,
He had but little gold within his coffer;
Royal family, central administrators, senior
judiciary, and some of the high nobility
– Spoken French
Gentry and bourgeoisie
– Pragmatic French, written French
Drivers of Switch to Written English
• Political opposition to France
• Isolation from spoken French
• Participation of native English speaking
merchant class in government
• Plague effects – loss of Latin-trained clergy
• Wyclif’s attempts to reach out to English
speakers (limited and unsupported)
Writing: Chaucer to Adam [Pinkhurst]
Adam scrivener, if ever thee befall
Boece or Troilus [the earlier books] for to write new
Under thy longe locks thow maist have the scall
But [unless] after my makinge thou write mor trew,
So oft a day I mot [must] thy werke renewe
It to correct, and eke [also] to rubbe and scrape,
And all is thorowe thy necligence and rape [haste].
• Taken to be the form used from 1150-1500
• Through 1350
– Relies less on inflectional endings and more on
– Borrowings from French, Latin and Scandinavian
(they, anger, law, skill, skin)
– More regional variation due to lack of literature
Ordinances of Grocers
• 1348 Original in Norman French
• 1419 Order English translations
• 1463 Better (?) translation made
1362 English made a language of
• Educated clergy and lawyers had been killed
by the plague
• Chancellor opens Parliament in English
1399 Henry IV addresses Parliament in
• Deposition against Richard II in English
• Abdication in English
Statute of Pleadings 1362
The laws, customs, and statutes. . . are not
commonly known . . . since they are pleaded,
counted, and judged in the French language,
which is very much unknown . . . , so that the
people who plead or are impleaded in the king's
courts and the courts of others have no
understanding or knowledge of what is said for
them or against them.
Statute of Pleadings
The king, desiring the good governance and
tranquillity of his people, and to prevent the
misfortunes that do and could befall in this
wills that all pleas that shall be pleaded in any of
his courts . . . shall be pleaded and counted in the
English language . . .
and that they be entered and enrolled in Latin;
• Continuing resolution
– Wool subsidy (peacetime!)
• Concession that Parliament has right to
initiate the subsidy
• Other concessions of Royal prerogatives
Education – Prioress’ Tale
A little school of Christian folk stood down
At that end that was furthest from the town
A bunch of children, all of Christian kind,
There were who in that school each year did learn
The customary things, for there we find
They're taught to sing, and right from wrong
And from their childhood cheating ways to spurn
Education – Prioress’ Tale
At seven he his schooling had begun;
This little child, his little book in hand,
As in the school he sought to understand
His little primer, heard the children sing
The Alma Redmptoris antiphon;
Closer he drew to hear the music ring,
For to the notes and lyrics he was drawn;
The first verse he did memorize anon.
Education – Prioress’ Tale
The meaning of the Latin words he sung,
He knew not for he was still very young,
So with an older student he conferred,
Who answerd thus, "This song, as I have heard,
Was for our blessed Lady kind composed,
To hail her, and to pray that she might be
For us our succor when life's book is closed.
That's all the help, I fear, you'll get from me;
My Latin grammar's not so good, you see.