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 Which English monarchs actually spoke English?

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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Mon 18 May 2015, 08:56

In 1066 when Duc Guillaume le Bâtard conquered England he, almost to a man, replaced all the nobility, both lords temporal and spiritual, with his Norman-French speaking cronies. For the remaining 20 years of his rule I doubt he ever felt the need or desire to speak a word of English. Similarly George I managed to reign Britain for 13 years without ever being able to speak even the simplest of sentences in English. Yet other monarchs were accomplished polyglots. Elizabeth I for instance may have had "the body of a weak and feeble woman", but she could still address the common people in their own language ... as well as flirt with the Duc d'Alençon in French, address the Venetian ambassador in Italian, the Papal legate in Latin, and had Aristotle accidentally popped up at court, she could even have chatted in ancient Greek too.

So when did English replace French as the principal language at court? And which monarchs were sufficiently competent in English to be able to speak directly to their subjects - regardless of whether English was their mother tongue or just a language they'd managed to learn?
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Mon 18 May 2015, 15:28

Good question Meles.

My understanding is that King John was the first monarch (after 1066) who could speak passable English. The first who was conversant in English and who also encouraged its use at court was Edward III. His patronage of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer should also be seen in this light. Edward also presided over the Pleading in English Act 1362 which permitted the use of spoken English in courts of law. Edward's son Richard II was the first monarch to be fluent in English while Henry IV was the first monarch for whom English was his first language.

An odd thing about the Pleading in English Act is that only predated the Statutes of Kilkenny in Ireland by 4 years. Those statutes famously bemoaned the fact that English settlers in Ireland were 'forsaking the English language'. So one wonders if this must mean that while English was being promoted in Ireland and Wales it was simultaneously being treated as second rate in England itself. Puzzling.

P.S. re Elizabeth's language skills. Here's a copy of a phrase list believed to belong to her when she briefly studied Irish:

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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Mon 18 May 2015, 16:07

Your mention of Richard II and Chaucer immediately made me reflect that even if he (Richard) could speak good, court/London/lawyers' English, there's no certainty he'd have been understood throughout all the realm. I'm writing from memory here but doesn't Chaucer (himself a speaker of the London/South Midlands dialect of Middle English) recount the tale of two merchants, one from northern England, the other from the south, who, whilst travelling together, stop at an inn in the Midlands? One asks for "eggys", the other asks for "eyren" ... and the landlady understands neither, until it finally dawns on her that they are both simply asking for eggs!

And in the same vein ... as well as studying Irish I believe it has been said that Elizabeth could also speak some Cornish, Welsh and Scots. If that is true then she could certainly claim to be able to speak directly to nearly all of her subjects.
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Mon 18 May 2015, 20:34

Wasn't the eggy story Caxton's, MM?

Elizabeth was probably taught Welsh by Blanche Parry, a bi-lingual Welsh lady:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blanche_Parry


EDIT:

It is Caxton:

In the preface to the Eneydos he told a story of some merchants going down the Thames. There was no wind so they landed on the Kent side of the river to buy food. ‘And specyally he axyed after eggys. And the good wyf answerde that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaunt was angry for he also coude speke no frenshe but wold haue hadde egges and she vnderstode hym not. And thenne at laste a nother sayd that he wolde haue eyren. Then the good wyf sayd that she vnderstood hym wel’ [And he asked specifically for eggs, and the good woman said that she spoke no French, and the merchant got angry for he could not speak French either, but he wanted eggs and she could not understand him. And then at last another person said that he wanted ‘eyren’. Then the good woman said that she understood him well].
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Tue 19 May 2015, 08:52

@Temperance wrote:
Wasn't the eggy story Caxton's, MM?

Ooops ... wrong author, wrong king and about 100 years out Embarassed  ... but I maintain that my basic premise was still correct in that even though a late medieval king might have been able to speak good English, there's no guarantee that he'd have been universally understood throughout the realm.

I've been thinking about Elizabeth's half-sister, Mary. She certainly spoke English like a native, but I wonder if she wouldn't have been more comfortable in private speaking Spanish? Her childhood was mostly spent away from court under virtual house arrest with Catherine of Aragon and her mother's Spanish speaking confessors and maids. A bit like Queen Victoria who'd learned German as a child from her mother (Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saarfeld). Doubtless in private Victoria spoke German with Albert, and apparently even during official ministerial audiences she sometimes lapsed into German when speaking with him ... much to the irritation of Lord Palmerston, who was fluent in Italian but not German.
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Tue 19 May 2015, 17:35

MM wrote:
... but I maintain that my basic premise was still correct in that even though a late medieval king might have been able to speak good English, there's no guarantee that he'd have been universally understood throughout the realm.


Yes - and that was possibly true for the older royals and the aristocracy (not the upper-middles, but the proper posh lot) until very recently.

If ever a real old aristocrat - like some ancient lady-in-waiting or dowager duchess - appears in some documentary on TV, they speak in their own super-posh version of received pronunciation which makes it hard sometimes to know what they are on about: hice for house and rarely for really for example. And they all pronounce Charing Cross as if it were still the original  French: Chère Reine Cross, not the vulgar, flattened Cha-ring Cross.

But things have changed: Her Majesty's accent (unlike the speech of some of her generation of aristocratic courtiers) has modified greatly over the past fifty years and, oddly, as this Telegraph article suggests, the upper-middle classes now sound posher than the young aristocrats. I suppose the latter no longer want to seem to be a breed apart. They still are, of course: speaking Estuary English fools no one.


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/9653166/Prince-Williams-cut-glass-accent-is-a-little-less-polished-than-Kate-Middletons.html

I read somewhere that Mary Tudor spoke Spanish to her husband, Philip of Spain, but that, having learnt the language from her mother, it was a very dated Spanish - rather like a youngish woman today speaking as if she were living back in the 1930s. Philip apparently said it was like conversing with an ancient maiden aunt. Don't know how true that is.
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Wed 20 May 2015, 09:40

Emperor Charles V is reputed to have said; "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse"
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Wed 20 May 2015, 11:16

During the last French State visit to the UK (in about 2005 - so it must have been Chirac), at the state banquet held at Windsor Castle, Liz gave a good part of her welcoming address in French. As I recall quite a lot of her speech was transmitted direct, without translation/voice-over, on all the main French TV news channels. My French is far from perfect but I was watching the news with a native French speaker and he commented that her French was grammatically faultless. She was of course reading from prepared notes, but even so he said it was clear that she was a very competent speaker of the language.

However he added that her accent was a bit odd. And here I had to agree since she seemed to speak French in exactly the same tightly-clipped tones that she used to use when speaking English in the 1940s and '50s. Her English pronunciation may have mellowed a bit over the decades since, but her French seems to have remained as sharply aristocratic as ever. And though I describe it as 'aristocratic' I've never actually heard any real French aristos (such as the various ducal claimants to the French throne who do still occaissionally pop up on French TV), ever speak French quite like that. Perhaps Liz's French accent is just as she learned it in the 1940s, and so perhaps it actually reflects that of one particular, very posh, English governess.

PS:

Trike .... wasn't that Charles V comment made by Voltaire? If so I suspect it is not an entirely true representation of his Imperial Majesty's command of languages ... but rather Voltaire making pithy comments about things he didn't much like, such as the institution of the Holy Roman Empire and divinely appointed monarchs generally, and with sly digs at Spaniards, Germans and God. (I note that as quoted, it's only Frenchmen - comme Monsieur Voltaire himself - that remain free from obvious criticism).
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Thu 21 May 2015, 21:21

@Meles meles wrote:
Ooops ... wrong author, wrong king and about 100 years out Embarassed

Don't worry Meles - you're not alone in making boobs on this thread. For example I've noticed that earlier I referred to Richard II as being the son of Edward III when, of course, he was his grandson.

Regarding royals and their command of languages, then only today Martin McGuinness commended Prince Charles on his ability in Irish:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/prince-charles/11621350/Prince-Charles-visits-Catholic-church-in-Belfast-on-mission-of-reconciliation.html
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Fri 22 May 2015, 09:17

@Meles meles wrote:

PS:

Trike .... wasn't that Charles V comment made by Voltaire? If so I suspect it is not an entirely true representation of his Imperial Majesty's command of languages ... but rather Voltaire making pithy comments about things he didn't much like, such as the institution of the Holy Roman Empire and divinely appointed monarchs generally, and with sly digs at Spaniards, Germans and God. (I note that as quoted, it's only Frenchmen - comme Monsieur Voltaire himself - that remain free from obvious criticism).

Very possible, Meles.
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Fri 22 May 2015, 09:20

@Vizzer wrote:




Regarding royals and their command of languages, then only today Martin McGuinness commended Prince Charles on his ability in Irish:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/prince-charles/11621350/Prince-Charles-visits-Catholic-church-in-Belfast-on-mission-of-reconciliation.html

I'm fairly sure James IV was the last king to be fluent in Gaelic.
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Fri 22 May 2015, 21:20

In my original post I seem to have rather assumed that, pre-Norman conquest, all kings of England spoke English ...  but actually I suppose Cnut (king 1017-1035) spoke Danish as his first language, and though Danish/Fresian is linguistically very close to Old English, I wonder if Cnut ever actually spoke "English".
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Fri 22 May 2015, 21:35

@Meles meles wrote:
In my original post I seem to have rather assumed that, pre-Norman conquest, all kings of England spoke English ...  but actually I suppose Cnut (king 1017-1035) spoke Danish as his first language, and though Danish/Fresian is linguistically very close to Old English, I wonder if Cnut ever actually spoke "English".
Or if the term "English" was particularly meaningful at that time .....
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Fri 22 May 2015, 21:44

Well yes, quite.

Perhaps for the sake of this thread we'd best stay post 1066 .... although even then, as has been discussed, the English spoken in Cornwall was probably nigh incomprehensible to english-speakers in Cumberland, and visa versa.
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Fri 22 May 2015, 22:09

@Meles meles wrote:
Well yes, quite.

Perhaps for the sake of this thread we'd best stay post 1066 .... although even then, as has been discussed, the English spoken in Cornwall was probably nigh incomprehensible to english-speakers in Cumberland, and visa versa.
"Was"????????????????
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Fri 26 Jun 2015, 10:55

@Meles meles wrote:
In 1066 when Duc Guillaume le Bâtard conquered England he, almost to a man, replaced all the nobility, both lords temporal and spiritual, with his Norman-French speaking cronies. For the remaining 20 years of his rule I doubt he ever felt the need or desire to speak a word of English.

Early on he made a few minor attempts at proclamations in English, but it quickly proved impractical, of course.  Whether he could speak any is a moot point.  Which makes me wonder, when Harold went to Normandy, how did the Duke and the Earl communicate?  Did Harold speak French?  Did everything have to be done through translators?  Or was there another common language they could use?

(Incidentally, I'd understood that Edward III was first to be fluent in English, and Richard II first to use it as his principal language).

Not entirely relevant to the thread, but Victoria was learning Hindi. Her notebooks still survive.
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 28 Feb 2016, 09:49

Last night the BBC2 programme about Queen Victoria mentioned how German was the favoured language of Victoria's family. One Lady-in-Waiting, in her recollections of Victoria's family, apparently had noted in her memoirs how, in their old age, when Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, got together, they would still talk in English, but that, as they chatted, they reverted to the "English" of their childhood - a language so heavily accented that it sounded as if they were actually speaking German!
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 28 Feb 2016, 10:00

Accents are interesting. When Prince Arthur was engaged to Catherine of Aragon, but before they actually met, they corresponded in Latin since she knew very little English and likewise he hardly any Spanish. But when they did finally meet they found they still couldn't converse as they spoke Latin which such extremely different accents.

Also, just as a minor matter of interest, it is recorded that Napoleon I spoke French with a strong and rather common Corsican accent, while Hitler spoke German with a heavy Austrian accent ... which in both instances gave ammunition to their political enemies, at least early in their respective careers.
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 28 Feb 2016, 15:30

So much for ammunition versus amnition re accents then. The House of Hanover has survived it too. A true test would probably be surviving high position in the Women's Institute. When did the term 'Speaking the King's/Queen's' language come in? 

However, looking further backwards in time, how many of the English monarchs spoke English? Many were from or were schooled in France - and what of James 1? Russian aristocracy preferred to use French I have always believed - perhaps that is a myth of my grandmother's.... along with tales of incest and affairs. (I had an interesting raising.)
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 28 Feb 2016, 15:48

@Priscilla wrote:
Russian aristocracy preferred to use French I have always believed - perhaps that is a myth of my grandmother's.... along with tales of incest and affairs. (I had an interesting raising.)

My granny came from Bootle, although she was born in Ireland. They had incest and affairs there too, I believe.

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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 28 Feb 2016, 15:54

@Temperance wrote:
@Priscilla wrote:
 Russian aristocracy preferred to use French I have always believed - perhaps that is a myth of my grandmother's.... along with tales of incest and affairs. (I had an interesting raising.)

My granny came from Bootle, although she was born in Ireland. They had incest and affairs there too, I believe.


Ah but did she write her billets-doux and whisper her petits-mots, en Française?
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 28 Feb 2016, 15:55

Tolstoy had the Russian aristocracy speaking French, with varying proficiency, in War and Peace. But I think it was only a custom (affectation?) developed in the 18thC when one of the Tsars tried to reform Russia from perceived 'backwardness'. Not really up with Russian history so I could be wrong.

Edit. Just had a quick look and this site is quite informative
http://languagehat.com/language-in-19th-century-russia/
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 28 Feb 2016, 15:59

Anyway by the late 19th century the Russian royal family were mostly German (ie from German/Danish families), weren't they? I thought that Tsar Nicholas II (and later the Tsarina Alexandria) had to learn Russian as a third or fourth language, only when adults, after having mastered French and German as children (the languages used at home). And I believe that neither of them ever spoke Russian with complete confidence ... but then they very probably rarely had to.


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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 28 Feb 2016, 16:11

@Meles meles wrote:
@Temperance wrote:
@Priscilla wrote:
 Russian aristocracy preferred to use French I have always believed - perhaps that is a myth of my grandmother's.... along with tales of incest and affairs. (I had an interesting raising.)

My granny came from Bootle, although she was born in Ireland. They had incest and affairs there too, I believe.


Ah but did she write her billets-doux and whisper her petits-mots, en Française?



Well, she would often say, "Pardon my French" after commenting bitterly on some faux pas committed by my grandfather while he was drunk which, alas, he usually was.

Didn't English aristocrats always lapse into French when discussing (at dinner) something not suitable for the servants to hear? Wasn't "Pas devant les domestiques" the signal for the judicious change of lingo? They did that in Upstairs Downstairs anyway.
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 28 Feb 2016, 16:29

Also featured in Dowton:

http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2012/sep/23/downton-abbey-series-three-episode-two

Inspired by Matthew and Mary's continental honeymoon the second episode also came over all French in parts. In his prison bunk, Bates had been dreaming about Anna dancing the can-can and eating frogs' legs. Matthew was "en déshabillé" in front of Anna. Martha warned Cousin Isobel against talking about her Charitable Home for Harlots over dinner: "Pas devant les domestiques."
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 28 Feb 2016, 16:34

https://books.google.co.uk/books?isbn=0141186003 Search for "Pas devgant l'enfant".
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 12 Mar 2017, 09:29

I've always wondered how William the Conqueror and Harold Godwinson actually spoke to each other when the latter travelled to Normandy.  I can't imagine William knew much, if any, English and whilst Harold may have picked up a bit of Norman-French at Edward the Confessor's continental court I doubt it was enough to have an extended conversation in.  So was it all done through translators? Or did they find a common tongue?  (Perhaps Latin, like Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon?)
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 12 Mar 2017, 09:36

Franglais?

"Qu'est-ce que vous think you're doing, Guillaume? L'Angleterre n'est pas pour vous, sweet pea*. So pensez encore une fois.

*He meant cabbage.

EDIT:

For those of you too young to remember the wonderful language invented by Miles Kington for Punch, here is the blurb from Amazon about  "Le Bumper Book of Franglais".

Franglais is the ultimate invented language. A source of unending delight to anyone who did French at school, it is the creation of the great English humorist Miles Kington.
This new collection brings together the best pieces written in the two-and-a-half decades up to the author's tragic death in 2008. Each appears in paperback for the first time, with more than 50 specially commissioned illustrations by Wendy Hoile.
These 101 comic masterpieces provide a timeless survey of the British character in all its eccentricity. Page after page is filled with hilariously recognizable send-ups of our national life, from Wimbledon to Windsor Safari Park, grouse-shooting to Guy Fawkes' night, the library to the lost property office.
In no time even the most linguistically challenged reader will be thinking, speaking and dreaming Franglais. For, in the words of the grand-maître himself: 'Parler franglais c'est un doddle!'



Sorry, A-N, yours was a serious question. Je suis aller back under mon petit stone now et je ne reviens ici plus. Honnête.
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 12 Mar 2017, 12:52

That Amazon blurb is true to form. It claims that Franglais was 'the creation' Miles Kington. I'm pretty sure that dual linguistic usage and toying has been a feature on both sides of the British Channel for centuries. It could be that Kington was the first to coin the word. It's a similar canard, perhaps, to the 'football was invented in England' nonsense which the UK establishment and media regularly put out as gospel until very recently. Codification, of course, is not the same thing as invention.

Also eyebrow-raising is the reference to Kington's death as being 'tragic'. For a man in his sixties to succumb to cancer is not that unusual I would suggest. A misuse of the word 'tragic' here perhaps.

Amazon doit essay durer to chercher for le just word.
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 12 Mar 2017, 13:03

OK, OK, OK - I was only quoting.

@Vizzer wrote:

Amazon doit essay durer to chercher for le just word.

That's not very good franglais, Vizzer.  I suggest: "Le blurb sur Amazon est, dans mon opinion, un load de complete crap."

I didn't know Kington had done a translation of Le Franglais Lieutenant's Femme.

I've just looked up "stone" in French and discovered that a dry-stone wall is un mur de pierres seches. How very useful. I'm sure that will come in handy sometime.


EDIT: When poor Kington was told he'd got terminal cancer, he wrote a book called "How Shall I Tell the Dog?"  (and other musings). In English.
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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 12 Mar 2017, 15:55

@Anglo-Norman wrote:
I've always wondered how William the Conqueror and Harold Godwinson actually spoke to each other when the latter travelled to Normandy. 

Just a thought ... but both their families were related, in several ways, to the Norwegian and Danish nobility. William was the great-great-grandson of Rollo the 'viking' founder of the Norman dynasty, while Harold was a nephew of Sven Forkbeard and a cousin of Cnut the Great. William of course probably spoke Norman-French at home, while Harold usually spoke Old Wessex English. But might they not both still have understood some sort of common Norse language - a sort of Scandinavian 'lingua-franca' perhaps?

But anyway I'd have thought that Harold probably spoke some Old Northern French as well as his English. Wasn't French already becoming established as the language of international trade, at least with England and the Low Countries, albeit if not yet quite as the standard language of diplomacy (which I assume was then ecclesiastical Latin)?

And surely if the current incumbent of the English throne can be fluent in French (and her husband fluent in French and German with some modern Greek as well), I really don't see why her predecessors shouldn't also have been competent in at least one language other than their habitual one.


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PostSubject: Re: Which English monarchs actually spoke English?   Sun 12 Mar 2017, 19:05

I suppose that's true.  I just don't see Harold as bilingual, but I admit not on any real evidence, just a gut feeling (which is what he got from a sword...  Sorry!)

William apparently did experiment with issuing English proclamations at the start of his reign, but quickly realised that since his own deputies wouldn't understand them he might as well stick to his native lingo.
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