Image for Battle of Hastings, 14 October 1066 -  950th anniversary, 2016 ...

… But, who knew? Did you? Anyway, who cares? Just a few thousand Dark Age Pommies and Froggies about to become Dead White Males … so what?

Well, it’s in the Top Ten Events which Changed the World Forever, that’s what.

It pitted the boat-borne forces of William, Duke of Normandy (aka William the Bastard behind his back) against King Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England.

William’s invading army comprised his main force of Norman French armoured knights, the most effective military force of its day, aided by a rag-tag of loot- and land-seeking spivs, thugs, hitmen and the then equivalent of outlaw motor-cycle gangs, and accompanied by French- and Latin-literate clerics, officials and lawyers. (Toujours the lawyers.)

Against them, King Harold defended his kingdom (and his right to decide who entered it and the circumstances in which they entered) with the equivalent of our Army Reserve who’d had some training but were far from being a professional army, plus a levy of local farmers and villagers.

Harold’s core troops were further disadvantaged by just having fought and won an equally vital battle against another boat-borne invading force 200 miles (320km) up north in Yorkshire in late September. (That no maintenance had been done of the Roman road for 700 years didn’t help.)

Long story short, the Normans won (for a comic strip account, see the Bayeux Tapestry), Duc Le Bâtard is upgraded to King William I of England, the Anglo-Saxon English lost their country, and almost lost their language, and the rest, as somebody clichéd, is history. Which includes these effects (‘impacts’ if you’ve been subjected to too much rubbish lingo):

~  England was no longer a relatively minor Skandi-Germanic country on the periphery of NW Europe. Instead, through its new French connection, it became more closely involved in the internal and external politics of France, Europe’s most important power and one of its first nation states. Without Hastings, the two Anglo-Saxon / Nordic / Celtic British Isles may have become little more than a bigger and warmer pair of Icelands.

Perhaps the most enduring effect was on the language spoken in Le Bâtard‘s newly acquired kingdom.

The folk language encountered by William’s French-speaking nobles & soldiers, looters & mercenaries and French-literate clerics & lawyers looked like this:

~  the “LORD’S PRAYER” in 1066 (with today’s version) –

Fæder ūre þū þe eart on heofonum,  Sī þīn nama ġehālgod. Tōbecume þīn rīċe,
(Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come.)

ġewurþe þīn willa, on eorðan swā swā on heofonum.
(Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.)

Ūre ġedæġhwāmlīcan hlāf syle ūs tō dæġ,
(Give us this day our daily bread,)

and forġyf ūs ūre gyltas, swā swā wē forġyfað ūrum gyltendum.
(and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.)

And ne ġelǣd þū ūs on costnunge, ac ālȳs ūs of yfele.
(And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.)

An ADJECTIVE like, say, the opposite of “white” (as in the colour) needed all this rigmarole in 1066 Old English:

(You can see why the Froggies didn’t bother learning all that stuff, and the natives lost it in two or three generations, just like we’ve lost ‘whom’.)

Which in 2016 English is just .  .  .  .  “black”.

If you’ve ever had anything to do with German (or other inflected languages such as Latin and Greek, or Polish and Russian), you’ll’ve recognised what we no longer have to put up with in today’s English.

Link -

TWO ENTRIES from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (c.890 to 1154) for the years 981 and 982:

981. Hēr on þìs gēare wæs Sancte Patroces stōw forhergod, and þȳ ilcan gēare wæs micel hearm gedōn gehwǣ be þām scæriman æþber ge on Defenum ge on Wēalum.

(Here in this year, St. Petroc’s, Padstow, was ravaged, and in the same year much harm done everywhere along the sea-coasts, in both Devon and Cornwall.)

982. Hēr on þȳs gēare cōmon ūpp on Dorsætum iii scypu wīcinga and hergodon on Portlande. þȳ ilcan gēare forbarn Lundenbyrig. And on þām ylcan gēare forþfērdon twēgen ealdormenn, Æþelmær on Hamtūnscīre and Eadwine on Sūþseaxum.

(Here in this year, three ships of vikings came up into Dorset, and ravaged in Portland the same year. Also that year, London was burnt, and in that same year two ealdormen passed away, Aethelmaer in Hampshire and Eadwine in Sussex.)

After 1066, no schools (and, thanks to Ælfrǣd the Great, there had been quite a lot) either taught English or taught in English for about 350 years. Same for bureaucracy and administration, the law courts and most officialdom -  all was in Norman French. No wonder ‘Old’ English’ was unrecognisable by 1266 and even more so by 1466. No wonder people knew almost nothing about their written language, and its grammar.

The other major effect was the wholesale adoption of colloquial Old French into Middle English -  which, with the hyper-enthusiastic adoption of classical Latin by the literati during the Renaissance, explains why our language is richer in synonyms than every other. Some sets of synonyms are examples of the three sources of our language:  kingly (OE) / regal (L) / royal (Fr); tale (OE) / chronicle (L)  / memoir (Fr); take (O) / acquire (L) / seize (Fr); hackneyed (OE) / stereotypical (L) / clichéd (Fr).

What’s more, without the upheaval beginning late Saturday arvo 14 October 1066, today’s ‘English’ would never have become the world’s most extensive lingua franca (any more than Icelandic or Dutch would have), and would likely stayed what it once was, the westernmost dialect of Low German (meaning ‘lowlands’ German).

So, now you know why English spelling is so challenging -  it’s a ‘buy-one, get-two-free’ sort o language. There’s a Germanic foundation supporting a French frame and a Latin fit-out, plus furnishings from a global empire where the sun never set. Neither chaotic nor anarchic, and certainly not ‘stupid’  -  challenging. And impossible to radically ‘reform’. (As any half-decent teacher of English should know.)

BTW, something else I’ve just found out about Anglo-Saxon / Old English: Germanic peoples invaded, peopled and annexed large areas of north-central and north-western Europe from the 450s to the 1750s, but it was only in southern Britannia that their language displaced those of the natives.

*Leonard Colquhoun taught Years 9 to 11English and English Literature, together with HSC English in the Victorian and NSW curriculums. Although he rarely got to choose what novels, plays and poetry were in the syllabuses, he was equally rarely disappointed at what was allotted, because “gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche” [The Clerk in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales -  line 310]. Teaching some of the world’s great literature - what’s not to like? He reckons that 90% of problems in Australia’s schools would be 90% solved if 90% of lessons were by teachers who knew their classroom subjects in depth and breadth, and who had the classroom and allied skills to do so. He hopes one day that education ministers and their bureaucrats, and that university education faculties and their professors, will see things that way too, and that education ministers will tell university authorities that sub-standard graduates will not be registered to work in classrooms. He is particularly contemptuous of those who diss (what is now called) ‘direct instruction’, those who put more faith in faddish gizmos than in well prepared teachers, and those who have the delusion that long-term ‘assignments’ and ‘projects’ can substitute for their own ignorance and incompetence.