The Norman Conquest

In 1066, the Normans invaded England. It was an event that was to transform the English language forever. For over 300 years French was the language of power, spoken by royalty, aristocrats and high-powered officials - some of whom couldn?t speak English at all. During this time, thousands of French words entered the English language.

Look at the list of words below. Some of the words come from Old English (or Anglo-Saxon). Others come from Norman French. Put on your language detective cap, and try and work out which are which. You might find it helpful to use an etymological dictionary, or The Oxford English Dictionary (you will find a copy in your local library).

  • Animals: Cow, beef, hen, pork, sheep, ox, veal.
  • Armoury and architecture: Arrow, bow, armour, battle, castle, tower, shield, spear, war, army.
  • Class: Queen, king, sovereign, duke, baron, knight, earl, count, serf, servant, worker.
  • Jobs: Weaver, banker, tailor, shepherd, carpenter, shepherd, baker, mason, draper.
  • Clothes: Coat, hat, stockings, blouse, jacket, shoes, socks, bonnet, trousers, collar
  • Society and work: Tax, crop, far, rent, property, parliament, state, plough, lease, reap.

Having discovered the origins of these words, think about the different kinds of people living in England between the 11th and 14th centuries. How do you think people with Anglo-Saxon origins may have differed from those with Norman origins? How did their lifestyles differ? How do the words above provide clues to these questions?