manuscripts in French
In the Middle Ages, French was an English vernacular. William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, triumphed over Harold Godwinson and the English forces at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066, thereby introducing a Francophone ruling class and, with them, the French language. French was an important medium for English thought throughout the English Middle Ages. Anglo-French texts survive from the twelfth century on in a variety of genres, including romance, history, science, administration, biblical translation, and poetry. Like Latin, French was a language of the schoolroom. Much of English law was recorded in Anglo-French, and devotional literature, especially (but not solely) for female audiences, was written in Anglo-French. It was also a major literary language: Geoffrey Chaucer, the so-called Father of English Literature, was well versed in French literature, and other English poets, such as John Gower, composed poetry in French.
Osborn a56 includes a copy of Walter of Bibbesworth’s Le Tretiz, an Anglo-French poem intended to instruct children in the French language — a reminder that, as important as French was in English society, it still needed to be taught.
Beinecke MS 591 contains the adventures of the legendary English nobleman Guy of Warwick, relating Guy’s battles with dragons and a Dun Cow, among other tales. That this story is recorded in French stands as testament to the language’s status in English literary writing and its status among the nobility.
Beinecke MS 395 is an anthology of Anglo-French romance narratives in verse, religious poetry, and prayers. Despite its elegant and legible formatting, the book’s poor parchment suggests it may not have been a high-status item when created. It evidently enjoyed use, however, because later readers glossed the volume in Middle English and Latin.
The small size of Takamiya MS 25 suggests its portability. Its text—the Statutes of England—is recorded in Latin (as is visible here) and French, offering evidence that knowledge of both languages was necessary in the domains of English government and law.