Who was the last English king whose first language was French?

Ricky 12/09/2015. 2 answers, 1.010 views
england language norman conquest

What I remember from my college course is that whenever a delegation of barons came to discuss their grievances in English, the King would hear them out politely without understanding a word, conclude the meeting by saying "J'accept," and leave it at that. This went on for quite some time after the Conquest.

John Lackland must have spoken pretty good English: he negotiated with the provincial barons expertly. His own brother's nickname, however, was French: Cœur de Lion. Their father, Henri II, thought of himself as the king of both England and France at times.

Who was the first English-speaking king of England, and what brought about this change in the ruling house's philosophy?

5 Comments
1 Tyler Durden 12/09/2015
I already answered this question: history.stackexchange.com/questions/20700/…
Ricky 12/09/2015
@TylerDurden: Mine's better worded.
TheHonRose 12/09/2015
Well, after the Norman Conquest, most of the barons were French, so why would they be speaking English? A relict of this is found in English today - the pork the nobles ate comes from Old French, the swine the (English) peasants raised is Old English.
TheMathemagician 12/10/2015
I really doubt the situation you described actually happened. England is a pragmatic country and translators would not be hard to find.
wogsland 02/12/2017
He'll never be known as John the first, he's sure to be known as John the worst....

2 Answers


Tyler Durden 12/09/2015.

Apparently since my previous answer to this same type of question had no upvotes it cannot be used to tag this question as a duplicate. Therefore, I will excerpt the relevant part:

The first kings to be more English than French were the Tudors starting with Henry VII. The Tudors married real English women, not French-bred women imported from the continent. They also started passing laws requiring people to speak English. One of the wierd side effects of the court speaking French was that non-English languages like Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Cornish flourished. After all, you can hardly require people to speak English when the whole court is speaking French! The Tudors changed all this. They made English the language of court and they also began requiring everyone in the kingdom to speak English. The law courts and universities also switched to English under the Tudors. There was still a lot of lingering French among the nobles, but the tide had turned and English became the standard.

This is what one scholar wrote:

Although early Tudor policy affirmed English as the land's primary language when Henry VII in the early 1490s unexpectedly replaced statutes published in parallel French and English with statutes published only in English, this signaled to the nation that the arcane Anglo-French terminology of law would henceforth be transferred wholesale into English.

"Studies in the History of the English Language" by Christoper Cain.

Thus you can see 1490 was really the watershed year when Henry VII basically made it clear: ok, everybody, we are all going English.

5 comments
4 Pieter Geerkens 12/09/2015
@Ricky: Henry VII was Welsh! He was pandering to the English middle class.
2 Pieter Geerkens 12/09/2015
@Ricky: Because taxes on the middle class was where the money for a fleet was going to come from. Henry VII's fleet laid the basis for 450 years of naval supremacy by the English.
1 Pieter Geerkens 12/09/2015
@Ricky: Henry VII was the last successful hostile naval invader of England - guess why he built a fleet.
1 TheMathemagician 12/10/2015
@PieterGeerkens You post a lot here ... most of it wrong. Henry VII didn't build up a fleet - Henry VIII did. He inherited a fleet of 5(!) ships. Although even then they were more perceived as transport for troops rather than warships. It wasn't until the Spanish Armada's defeat that England switched to war at sea. And the Dutch were navally superior for another century at least.
2 Oldcat 12/22/2015
I'd call William of Orange a successful hostile naval invader.

Navaratna Rajaram 06/13/2017.

Henry V, was the first English king to use English in administration. He did not ban French and Richard II could speak English.

1 comments
1 T.E.D.♦ 06/13/2017
This answer could be improved by adding references to these assertions.

Related questions

Hot questions

Language

Popular Tags