Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

Historical Background 1.1 The Norman Period and Beyond

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1. Historical Background

1.1 The Norman Period and Beyond

In the period of the Middle Ages after the Norman Conquest, everything changed rapidly. The new ruler from Normandy introduced many changes and these served as a trigger for further transformations. One of the most important novelties was the new language - Norman French, which was used by the highest classes who came to England with the King. However, King William was not interested in replacing the language, he himself “tried in vain to learn English.” (Woodbine 409), therefore the two languages rather existed alongside for some centuries, and his own coronation was carried out in both, English and French languages (Woodbine 409). The French language was adopted by higher classes which had direct contact with the Norman lords and the King; on the other hand, Norman lords had to learn English in order to be able to communicate with their servants and peasants and their children frequently learned it as their mother tongue from their nurses. The language link naturally weakened after the loss of lands in France in 1204 (Orme 74).

The new ties with the Continent supported trade, mainly with wool and, subsequently, more and more people were drawn out of their land and they had to seek employment in the cities. This increase in the number of the town-dwellers thus created an opportunity for building towns and “many new towns were established during the late eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries.” (Kearney 68) And Kearney further claims that “the creation of new towns was thus a remarkable feature of post-Conquest England” (68). An interest in towns developed during this period although this “was a result of many factors” one of them being that “towns were playing an increasingly important part in the economic and social life of England ” (Gransden 45) and “A feature of a number of late twelfth-century writers was interested in towns, both in their topography and in the customs of their citizens”, for instance writers such as William Fitz Stephen, Lucian or Richard of Devizes wrote descriptions of London, Chester, and Bristol and Bath respectively (Gransden 45-46). The growth of the cities had an effect in education and different types of school started to have convenient conditions for their development. Scholars could meet in towns and so universities could evolve and gradually more and more scholars and students appeared among the towns-dwellers.

The division of society was established long before the Norman Conquest and this structure prevailed throughout the Middle Ages and after, as Aldrich states: “medieval society had three broad male dimensions, those who prayed, those who fought and those who toiled, dimensions still reflected centuries later” (13). For the medieval people this structure was given by God and therefore righteous and a chance to move up the social scale was rarely considered, in particular in poor families. The lower classes had to rely on manual work and the yearly crop for their survival, and they had to face the catastrophic impact of bad years, wars or other disturbances; the upper classes lived mostly from the work of their servants, peasants, and serfs. Thus it can be stated that the upper classes had a better position from which they could pursue their studies, for they could spare the work force, money and even the time; upper-class boys and sometimes girls had an ideal chance for education. Lower classes had certainly entirely different experience related to fieldwork or housework and the question of money must have presented an insuperable problem in many cases. The newly evolved middle class which consisted of merchants, craftsmen, shopkeepers, and yeoman farmers “realised the value of education and eagerly exploited what the schools offered” (Orme 240), because they associated education with the improvement. Even if only one child of a family, usually the eldest son, could start studying, he was encouraged to do so and raise his changes to win a better status in the world.

The Catholic Church represented one of the most essential bodies of the Middle Ages and its importance is closely associated with providing education. It may be claimed that churchmen played a dominant part in education, but during the late Middle Ages law became connected with laymen and “identification of literacy with the clerical order was becoming increasingly outmoded” (Thomson 347).

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