Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice: From Oriental Bazar to English Cloister in Anglo-French

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice: From Oriental Bazar to English Cloister in Anglo-French

W. Rothwell

Modern Language Review Supplement: One Hundred Years of ‘MLR‘: General and Comparative Studies,94 (1999), 647-59


In May of 1436 the George of Seaton came into the port of Southampton: its entry was logged in French. In the same month a boat came in from Portugal: it too was logged in French. These were just two out of many vessels, some from British ports, others from all over continental Europe, whose comings and goings were all recorded in French. Naturally, the year 1436 was not an exception to the rule: from the time of the Oak Book in about 13002 French was the working language of the port. At around this same period, the early decades of the fifteenth century, the Grocers’ Company, the Merchant Taylors, the Goldsmiths, the Mercers, and other mercantile corporations based in London were also using French, mixed with English, to preserve a record of their business activities. In Southampton the regulations governing the administration of the medieval city were also in French, as were those for Leicester and York, where French appears alongside Latin and, increasingly, English. In the ecclesiastical field a similar situation obtained.

At Durham, the extensive accounts of the abbey from the early fourteenth century to the sixteenth contain not only the expected Latin and, increasingly with the passage of time, English, but also an unexpected amount of French. In the same city a separate set of documents relating to the activities of the Bishop in the early part of the fourteenth century as both a temporal and a spiritual leader also contains a sizable percentage of Anglo-French. In the higher reaches of government and the law French continued to be widely used well into the fifteenth century, despite the statute of 1362 banning it from precisely these areas.

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