Norman Monasteries

Norman Monasteries

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Most of the Normans who arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066 were devout Christians. Norman landowners in England gave a considerable amount of money for the building of churches and monasteries.

The Clare family were great supporters of the Church. In about 1135, Richard of Clare, provided the land and the money for the building of a priory in Tonbridge. After 1140 the Priory of St Mary Magdalene supplied the priests for the villages controlled by the Clare family.

One of the first monasteries built by the Normans was Canterbury Priory. With the support of Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, it soon became one of the most important monasteries in England. Lanfranc left instructions that all future Archbishops of Canterbury should be elected by the monks of Canterbury Priory.

The monks of Canterbury Priory were followers of St. Benedict, who had established several monasteries in Italy in the 6th century. St. Benedict insisted that his monks obeyed certain rules. One rule was that they had to pray eight times a day. Another rule was that they should work with their hands. The monks were encouraged to work in the fields, as well as doing their own cooking, washing and cleaning.

Benedictine monks were instructed to eat two simple meals a day and were not allowed to eat expensive food such as meat. The monks were also told that they should not spend their time talking to each other. A prosperous monk would be expected to donate all his personal wealth to the monastery. While in the monastery a Benedictine monk had to wear a habit made of dark, coarse, hard-wearing material.

When rich Normans died they often left some of their money and land to monasteries. People were especially generous to Canterbury Priory. By 1200 Canterbury Priory had been given land in Kent, Essex, Surrey, Suffolk, Norfolk, Devon, Oxfordshire and Ireland.

Land owned by Canterbury Priory was a source of great wealth. Twice a year, at Easter and Michaelmas, a monk would travel to the villages owned by Canterbury Priory to collect the rents from their tenants. By the end of the 13th century Canterbury Priory was making a net profit of over £2,000 a year from the land that it owned.

Another source of income was the collection of religious relics associated with Thomas Becket. People suffering from diseases and illnesses believed they would be cured if they touched these holy relics. In gratitude, the pilgrims donated money to the priory. In some years it was not unusual for the monastery to receive over a £1,000 from grateful pilgrims.

Despite these revenues, the priory was deeply in debt. In 1285 the priory owed £4,924.18s. 4d. Although the monks had taken a vow of poverty, it became obvious that they were spending much of their large income on themselves. Even with an income of £3,000 a year the monks thought it necessary to borrow money to help pay for their expensive lifestyle.

The monks spent a vast amount of money on food. One visitor was surprised when he discovered that the monks enjoyed sixteen-course meals, including the serving of meat, a food that St. Benedict had forbidden them to eat. The monks were especially fond of fish. The priory accounts show that in some years the monks spent nearly £250 a year on fish. Wine from France was another luxury item that the monks enjoyed.

The monks employed a large number of servants to look after them. By the end of the 13th century, the accounts reveal that there were more servants in Canterbury Priory than monks. The monks employed people to buy and cook their food, wait on them during dinner, tend their gardens, look after their animals, wash their clothes, and to clean and repair the monastery. The monks also paid actors and musicians to entertain them.

Benedictine monks took a vow to help the poor. The priory appointed an almoner who was in charge of organising their charity work. He had his own building outside the gates of the priory. However, only about £20 a year was given to the almoner for this work. This was less than what the monks were spending on clothes every year.

A study of the priory accounts reveal that between 1284 and 1373, less than one per cent of the almoner's income was given to the poor who sought help from the priory. The rest of the almoner's money was spent on maintaining the household and in gifts to the monks in the priory, who claimed that they were so poor they needed financial help.

To be a member of the Cistercian order... is now believed to be the surest way to heaven... Certainly many of their regulations seem severe... they wear nothing made with furs or linen... They have two tunics with hoods, but no additional garments... they do not take more than one meal a day, except on Sunday. They never leave the cloister but for the purpose of labour, nor do they ever speak, either there or elsewhere, save only to the abbot or prior... While they look after the stranger and the sick, they inflict intolerable tortures on their own bodies, for the health of their souls.

The Cistercians came to England... They obtain land from a rich man... by much pretending of innocence and... putting in God at every other word. The wood is cut down and levelled into a plain... bushes give place to barley, willows to wheat... in order to give them full time for these operations, their prayers have to be somewhat shortened... The Cistercians do not eat meat... Yet they keep pigs to the number of many thousands, and sell the bacon - though perhaps not quite all of it. The heads, legs, and feet they neither give away, throw away, nor sell. What becomes of them God knows.

We reject... fur garments, the linen and the mattresses on the beds, and also the variety of dishes at meals... we will live by our own labour... and condemn the use of tithes... We will not live in cities, towns or villages, but in places far from the haunts of men.

Module 1: transformation from pre-Norman monasticism to the introduction of the religious orders into Ireland in the twelfth century

Dr Edel Bhreathnach worked with Dr Elaine Pereira Farrell (RA) to the end of August and is now working with Dr Miriam Clyne (PD) on this module. Primary source research has been undertaken concentrating on five foundations: three island monasteries (Devenish, Co. Fermanagh, Iniscleraun, Co. Longford and Inis Celtra, Co. Clare) and two larger, proto-urban monastic settlements (Kilmacduagh, Co. Galway and Ferns, Co. Wexford).

With the exception of Inis Celtra, the monasteries studied were transformed to varying degrees into Augustinian foundations. The sources consulted include all annalistic sources from AD1000-1500, the Calendar of Papal Letters, State Documents of Ireland and hagiographical texts. Certain trends are emerging in relation to these monasteries which are beginning to clarify the nature of pre-Norman monasticism in Ireland and the extent of transformation with the intrusion of the Augustinians. The most significant issues include the continuity of power structures, especially the control of hereditary ecclesiastical families or local lords, the foundations&rsquo sources of wealth in their ownership and acquisition of estates, their relations with local bishops and the papacy including attempted reforms, and the veneration of local saints as a means of retaining popular devotion.

The singular landscape of island monasteries remains a particular study and this is now concentrating on Devenish, Iniscleraun and Inis Celtra. The co-existence of a number of different communities on these islands (e.g. an Augustinian community, a Céli Dé community and a parish church) is apparent from the sources, and the next step is to seek physical evidence in the landscape. As Devenish has been subject to a recent detailed survey, and occurs frequently in the sources, it will form the core of the island study, looking at how the different churches reflect the different communities on the island, the imprint of various chronological horizons in the landscape e.g. the early enclosure(s), the so-called &lsquocollegiate church&rsquo and its relation with the fifteenth-century Augustinian foundation and Devenish&rsquos estates and their distribution in the wider landscape.

Primary research has identified areas for geophysical survey at Ferns Co. Wexford and Kilmacduagh Co. Galway to address questions relating to a greater understanding of the layout and extent of the inner monastic sites e.g. through the detection of an enclosure or enclosures, the probable original location of crosses and the existence and location of any other pre-Norman sculptures or buildings.

The relationship between the multiple church buildings on the sites will also be examined, together with broader questions relating to the extents of monastic estates, and the continuity or otherwise of these holdings, and the development and longevity, in some cases into the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, of pilgrimage and cultic rituals associated with these early settlements.

Norman Painting

Norman painting, like other Romanesque painting of its time, is best demonstrated by illuminated manuscripts, wall paintings, and stained glass.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the illuminated manuscripts and wall paintings in Normandy and England during the Romanesque period

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Norman dynasty had a major political, cultural, and military impact on medieval Europe, spreading from France south to Italy and north into England after the Norman invasion of England in 1066.
  • In the visual arts, the Normans did not have the rich and distinctive traditions of the cultures they conquered. However, in the early 11th century, the dukes began a program of church reform and encouraged the patronizing of artistic and intellectual pursuits.
  • The chief monasteries taking part in this “renaissance” of Norman art and scholarship helped facilitate a brief golden age of illustrated manuscripts from roughly 1090-1110.
  • Wall paintings were a significant form of Norman art in Normandy and England, though few exist today.
  • Another significant Norman art form is stained glass most of the magnificent stained glass of France, including the famous windows of Chartres, dates from the 13th century.
  • Norman Romanesque embroidery is best known from the Bayeux Tapestry , an embroidered cloth nearly 70 meters (230 feet) long which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England.

Key Terms

  • iconoclasm: The belief in, participation in, or sanction of the destruction of religious icons and other symbols or monuments, usually with religious or political motives.
  • quatrefoil: A symmetrical shape which forms the overall outline of four partially overlapping circles of the same diameter.
  • historiated: Illuminated with decorative designs that represent parts of the following text.

Background: The Normans

The Normans descended from Norse raiders from Denmark, Iceland, and Norway who in the 10th and 11th centuries gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. The distinct cultural and ethnic identity of the Normans emerged in the first half of the 10th century and continued to evolve over the succeeding centuries. The Norman dynasty had a major political, cultural and military impact on medieval Europe. Norman cultural and military influence spread from France south to Italy and north into England after the Norman invasion of England in 1066.

Manuscript Illumination

In the visual arts, the Normans did not have the rich and distinctive traditions of the cultures they conquered. However, in the early 11th century, the dukes began a program of church reform, encouraging the Cluniac reform of monasteries and patronizing intellectual pursuits, especially the proliferation of scriptoria and the compilation of lost illuminated manuscripts . The chief monasteries taking part in this “renaissance” of Norman art and scholarship were Mont-Saint-Michel, Fécamp, Jumièges, Bec, Saint-Ouen, Saint-Evroul, and Saint-Wandrille. These centers were in contact with the Winchester school, which channeled a pure Carolingian artistic tradition to Normandy. From roughly 1090-1110, Normandy experienced a brief golden age of illustrated manuscripts however, the major scriptoria of Normandy ceased to function after the midpoint of the 12th century.

An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as decorated initials, borders (marginalia), and miniature illustrations. Romanesque illuminations focused on the Bible and the Psalter . Each book of the Bible was prefaced by a large historiated initial major initials were similarly illuminated in the Psalter. In both cases, more lavish examples had cycles of scenes in fully illuminated pages, sometimes with several scenes per page in compartments. The Bibles, in particular, often had very large pages and were sometimes bound into more than one volume .

Illuminated Manuscript, The Three Magi from the St. Albans Psalter, Norman English, 12th century.: The typical foci of Romanesque illumination, such as this one pictured, were the Bible and the Psalter.

Wall Painting

The large wall surfaces and plain, curving vaults of the Romanesque period lent themselves well to mural decoration in Normandy and other Norman lands. Unfortunately, many of these early wall paintings have been destroyed by dampness over the years, or the walls themselves have been re-plastered and painted over. In Normandy, such pictures were systematically destroyed or whitewashed in bouts of iconoclasm during the Reformation .

A classic scheme for the painted decoration of a church had, as its focal point in the semi-dome of the apse , Christ in Majesty or Christ the Redeemer enthroned within a mandorla and framed by the four winged beasts (symbols of the Four Evangelists). If the Virgin Mary was the dedicatee of the church, she might replace Christ here. On the apse walls below were saints and apostles, often including narrative scenes. On the sanctuary arch were figures of apostles, prophets, or the 24 “elders of the Apocalypse”, looking in towards a bust of Christ or his symbol, the Lamb, at the top of the arch. The north wall of the nave contained narrative scenes from the Old Testament, while the south wall contained scenes from the New Testament. On the rear west wall was a Last Judgment with an enthroned and judging Christ at the top.

One of the most intact schemes in existence is at Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe in France. The long barrel vault of the nave provides an excellent surface for fresco and is decorated with scenes of the Old Testament. One of these shows a lively depiction of Noah’s Ark, complete with a fearsome figurehead and numerous windows through which Noah and his family can be seen on the upper deck, birds on the middle deck, and pairs of animals on the lower deck. Another scene shows the swamping of Pharaoh’s army by the Red Sea. The scene extends to other parts of the church, with the martyrdom of the local saints shown in the crypt, the Apocalypse in the narthex , and Christ in Majesty. The range of colors is limited to light blue-green, yellow ochre , reddish brown, and black.

Stained Glass

Another significant Norman art form is stained glass. Most of the magnificent stained glass of France, including the famous windows of Chartres, dates from the 13th century. Few large windows remain intact from the 12th century. One is the Crucifixion of Poitiers, a remarkable composition which rises through three stages: the lowest a quatrefoil depicting the Martyrdom of St Peter, the largest central stage dominated by the crucifixion, and the upper stage depicting the Ascension of Christ in a mandorla. The figure of the crucified Christ already shows hints of the Gothic curve. Many detached fragments of these windows are in museums, and a window at Twycross Church in England is made up of important French panels rescued from the French Revolution . Glass was both expensive and fairly flexible in that era (in that it could be added to or rearranged) and was often reused when churches were rebuilt in the Gothic style .

Other Visual Arts

Many works of art have survived from this time period, mostly as church vestments . Norman Romanesque embroidery is best known from the Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidered cloth nearly 70 meters (230 feet) long that depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England. Images in the cloth include depictions of William, Duke of Normandy, the coronation and death of the English King Harold, the Battle of Hastings, and even Halley’s Comet.

Bayeux Tapestry: The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth—not an actual tapestry—that depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings.

800-year-old Monastery Rediscovered

This evidence is providing proof that the site was the location of the long-lost monastery , known in Latin as De Bello Becco. There is documentary evidence that there was a French Cistercian monastery in this general area, but it had never been found.

It appears that the recent dig has found the lost cloister and its complex of ancillary buildings. This proves the local claims that the Cistercians had lived in the area was correct. Matthew Stout told the Irish Mirror that “we are fortunate people that we were able to unearth this amazing story”.
It appears that the land was given to members of this order of monks from Normandy by the powerful Walter de Lacey in 1215. His family was among the most powerful Norman magnates in Ireland.

Excavation of the Norman Monastery is revealing a complex of ancillary buildings. ( Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use)

They played a leading role in the conquest of southern, central, and eastern parts of the island from 1169 to 1175. The French Cistercians were invited to Ireland in order to bolster Norman control of the island and they established their community at Beaubec.

This location was of great strategic importance and occupied a key point in the vital Boyne Valley . The monastic order played a crucial role in the development of the region, as they established a commercial network and engaged in long-distance trade.

The French monks also were innovators in agricultural production and noted farmers. This helped to strengthen the Normans hold on this part of Ireland.

The Normans

The coming of the Anglo-Normans to Ireland in the 1170s has become know as the Norman Invasion. The Normans had originally come to England and Wales from Normandy in France. A new monastic order, the Cistercians from France, had been invited to Ireland in 1142 even before the Normans arrived, and founded the Cistercian Mellifont Abbey in County Louth.

Some Cistercian monks were sent from France to train Irish monks. They spoke French so if you were learning to be a Cistercian at that time you would have heard a mixture of French, Irish and Latin.

Inside the Cistercian Mellifont

Inside the Cistercian Mellifont.

Courtesy of

Inside the Cistercian Mellifont

Inside the Cistercian Mellifont.

Courtesy of

Many of the newly arrived Norman knights also spoke French while others spoke English. The Normans were Christian and so they built even more abbeys and monasteries. Monastic schools continued. French and English would have thrived in schools in Ireland too.

Over time, however, the Normans did not behave like a foreign conquering army. They learned to speak Irish. They could also write and read Irish and many adopted the Irish custom of fosterage as well as Irish clothing customs. They also sent their children to schools for poets and lawyers.

They then became patrons of Irish bards and poets. If you were a newly trained bard at that time you might have played your harp in front of an Anglo-Norman lord. The Statutes of Kilkenny of 1366 forbade the use of Irish language or customs by the Anglo-Normans

Ennis Abbey, Co. Clare.

An example of the great abbeys erected after the Anglo-Norman Invasion. Founded by Irish chief, Donogh Cairbreach O' Brien in 1240.


Anglo-Norman was never the main administrative language of England: Latin was the major language of record in legal and other official documents for most of the medieval period. However, from the late 12th century to the early 15th century, Anglo-Norman French and Anglo-French were much used in law reports, charters, ordinances, official correspondence, and trade at all levels they were the language of the King, his court and the upper class. There is evidence, too, that foreign words (Latin, Greek, Italian, Arabic, Spanish) often entered English via Anglo-Norman.

The language of later documents adopted some of the changes ongoing in continental French and lost many of its original dialectal characteristics, so Anglo-French remained (in at least some respects and at least at some social levels) part of the dialect continuum of modern French, often with distinctive spellings. Over time, the use of Anglo-French expanded into the fields of law, administration, commerce, and science, in all of which a rich documentary legacy survives, indicative of the vitality and importance of the language.

By the late 15th century, however, what remained of insular French had become heavily anglicised: see Law French. It continued to be known as "Norman French" until the end of the 19th century even though, philologically, there was nothing Norman about it. [4]

One notable survival of influence on the political system is the use of certain Anglo-French set phrases in the Parliament of the United Kingdom for some endorsements to bills and the granting of Royal Assent to legislation. [5] [6] These set phrases include:

  • Soit baille aux Communes ("Let it be sent to the Commons", on a bill sent by the House of Lords to the House of Commons)
  • A ceste Bille (avecque une amendement/avecque des amendemens) les Communes sont assentus ("To this Bill (with an amendment/with amendments) the Commons have assented", on a bill passed by the House of Commons and returned to the House of Lords)
  • A cette amendement/ces amendemens les Seigneurs sont assentus ("To this amendment/these amendments the Lords have assented", on an amended bill returned by the House of Commons to the House of Lords, where the amendments were accepted)
  • Ceste Bille est remise aux Communes avecque une Raison/des Raisons ("This Bill is returned to the Commons with a reason/with reasons", when the House of Lords disagrees with amendments made by the House of Commons)
  • Le Roy/La Reyne le veult ("The King/Queen wills it", Royal Assent for a public bill)
  • Le Roy/La Reyne remercie ses bons sujets, accepte leur benevolence et ainsi le veult ("The King/Queen thanks his/her good subjects, accepts their bounty, and wills it so", Royal Assent for a supply bill)
  • Soit fait comme il est désiré ("Let it be done as it is desired", Royal Assent for a private bill)
  • Le Roy/La Reyne s'avisera ("The King/Queen will consider it", if Royal Assent is withheld)

The exact spelling of these phrases has varied over the years for example, s'avisera has been spelled as s'uvisera and s'advisera, and Reyne as Raine.

Among important writers of the Anglo-Norman cultural commonwealth is Marie de France.

The languages and literature of the Channel Islands are sometimes referred to as Anglo-Norman, but that usage is derived from the French name for the islands: îles anglo-normandes. The variety of French spoken in the islands is Norman and not the Anglo-Norman of medieval England.

Much of the earliest recorded French is in fact Anglo-Norman French. In Northern France at that time, [ when? ] almost nothing was being recorded in the vernacular because Latin was the language of the Church and consequently of education and historiography, and was thus used for the purpose of records. Latin also remained in use in medieval England by the Church, the royal government and much local administration, as it had been before 1066, in parallel with Middle English. The early [ when? ] adoption of Anglo-Norman as a written and literary language probably owes something to this history of bilingualism in writing. [ citation needed ]

Around the same time, as a shift took place in France towards using French as a language of record in the mid-13th century, Anglo-Norman French also became a language of record in England though Latin retained its pre-eminence for matters of permanent record (as in written chronicles). From around this point onwards, considerable variation begins to be apparent in Anglo-French, which ranges from the very local (and most anglicized) to a level of language which approximates to and is sometimes indistinguishable from varieties of continental French. Thus, typically, local records are rather different from continental French, with diplomatic and international trade documents closest to the emerging continental norm. [7] English remained the vernacular of the common people throughout this period. The resulting virtual trilinguism in spoken and written language was one of medieval Latin, French and Middle English.

Language of the king and his court Edit

From the time of the Norman Conquest (1066) until the end of the 14th century, French was the language of the king and his court. During this period, marriages with French princesses reinforced the royal family's ties to French culture. Nevertheless, during the 13th century, intermarriages with English nobility became more frequent. French became progressively a second language among the upper classes. Moreover, with the Hundred Years' War and the growing spirit of English and French nationalism, the status of French diminished.

French was the mother tongue of every English king from William the Conqueror (1066–1087) until Henry IV (1399–1413). Henry IV was the first to take the oath in English, and his son, Henry V (1413–1422), was the first to write in English. By the end of the 15th century, French became the second language of a cultivated elite. [8]

Language of the royal charters and legislation Edit

Until the end of the 13th century, Latin was the language of all official written documents. Nevertheless, some important documents had their official Norman translation, such as the Magna Carta signed in 1215. The first official document written in Anglo-Norman was a statute promulgated by the king in 1275. Thus, from the 13th century, Anglo-Norman became used in official documents, such as those that were marked by the private seal of the king whereas the documents sealed by the Lord Chancellor were written in Latin until the end of the Middle Ages. English became the language of Parliament and of legislation in the 15th century, half a century after it had become the language of the king and of most of the English nobility. [8]

Language of administration and justice Edit

During the 12th century, development of the administrative and judicial institutions took place. Because the king and the lawyers at the time normally used French, it also became the language of these institutions. [8] From the 12th century until the 15th century, the courts used three languages: Latin for writing, French as the main oral language during trials, and English in less formal exchanges between the judge, the lawyer, the complainant or the witnesses. The judge gave his sentence orally in Norman, which was then written in Latin. Only in the lowest level of the manorial courts were trials entirely in English.

During the 15th century, English became the main spoken language, but Latin and French continued to be exclusively used in official legal documents until the beginning of the 18th century. Nevertheless, the French language used in England changed from the end of the 15th century into Law French. This variety of French was a technical language, with a specific vocabulary, where English words were used to describe everyday experience, and French grammatical rules and morphology gradually declined, with confusion of genders and the adding of -s to form all plurals. Law French was banished from the courts of the common law in 1731, almost three centuries after the king ceased speaking primarily French.

Language of the people Edit

Though the great mass of ordinary people spoke Middle English, French, because of its prestigious status, spread as a second language, encouraged by its long-standing use in the school system as a medium of instruction through which Latin was taught. In the courts, the members of the jury, who represented the population, had to know French in order to understand the plea of the lawyer. French was used by the merchant middle class as a language of business communication, especially when it traded with the continent, and several churches used French to communicate with lay people. [8] A small but important number of documents survive associated with the Jews of medieval England, some featuring Anglo-French written in Hebrew script, typically in the form of glosses to the Hebrew scriptures. [9]

As a langue d'oïl, Anglo-Norman developed collaterally to the central Gallo-Romance dialects which would eventually become Parisian French in terms of grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. Before the signature of the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts in 1539 and long afterward in practice, French was not standardised as an official administrative language of the kingdom of France.

Middle English was heavily influenced by Anglo-Norman and, later, Anglo-French. W. Rothwell has called Anglo-French 'the missing link' because many etymological dictionaries seem to ignore the contribution of that language in English and because Anglo-Norman and Anglo-French can explain the transmission of words from French into English and fill the void left by the absence of documentary records of English (in the main) between 1066 and c. 1380. [10]

Modern French has changed dramatically compared to the Anglo-Norman period. For example, Anglo-Norman legal documents use the phrase "del Rey" (of the king). This is identical to modern Spanish but different from the modern French "du Roi". [11]

Anglo-Norman morphology and phonology can be deduced from its heritage in English. Mostly, it is done in comparison with continental Central French. English has many doublets as a result of this contrast:

  • warranty – guarantee
  • warden – guardian
  • catch – chase (see below)
  • wage (Anglo-Norman) – gage (French)
  • waitguetter (French, Old French guaitier)
  • war (from Anglo-Norman werre) – guerre (French)
  • wicket (Anglo-Norman) – guichet (French, from Norman)

The palatalization of velar consonants before the front vowel produced different results in Norman to the central langue d'oïl dialects that developed into French. English therefore, for example, has fashion from Norman féchoun as opposed to Modern French façon (both developing from Latin factio, factiōnem). In contrast, the palatalization of velar consonants before /a/ that affected the development of French did not occur in Norman dialects north of the Joret line. English has therefore inherited words that retain a velar plosive where French has a fricative:

English < Norman = French
cabbage < caboche = chou, caboche
candle < caundèle = chandelle
castle < caste(-l) = château
cauldron < caudron = chaudron
causeway < cauchie = chaussée
catch < cachi = chasser
cattle < *cate(-l) = cheptel (Old French chetel)
fork < fouorque = fourche
garden < gardin = jardin
kennel < kenil = chenil (Vulgar Latin *canile)
wicket < viquet = guichet
plank < planque = planche, planque
pocket < pouquette = poche

Some loans were palatalized later in English, as in the case of challenge (< Old Norman calonge, Middle English kalange, kalenge, later chalange Old French challenge, chalonge).

There were also vowel differences: Compare Anglo-Norman profound with Parisian French profond, soun sound with son, round with rond. The former words were originally pronounced something like 'profoond', 'soon', 'roond' respectively (compare the similarly denasalised vowels of modern Norman), but later developed their modern pronunciation in English. The word veil retains the /ei/ (as does modern Norman in vaile and laîsi) that in French has been replaced by /wa/ voile, loisir.

Since many words established in Anglo-Norman from French via the intermediary of Norman were not subject to the processes of sound change that continued in parts of the continent, English sometimes preserves earlier pronunciations. For example, ch used to be /tʃ/ in Medieval French, where Modern French has /ʃ/ , but English has preserved the older sound (in words like chamber, chain, chase and exchequer). Similarly, j had an older /dʒ/ sound, which it still has in English and some dialects of modern Norman, but it has developed into /ʒ/ in Modern French.

The word mushroom preserves a hush sibilant not recorded in French mousseron, as does cushion for coussin. Conversely, the pronunciation of the word sugar resembles Norman chucre even if the spelling is closer to French sucre. It is possible that the original sound was an apical sibilant, like the Basque s, which is halfway between a hissing sibilant and a hushing sibilant.

The doublets catch and chase are both derived from Low Latin *captiare. Catch demonstrates a Norman development while chase is the French equivalent imported with a different meaning.

Distinctions in meaning between Anglo-Norman and French have led to many faux amis (words having similar form but different meanings) in Modern English and Modern French.

Although it is a Romance language, Norman contains a significant amount of lexical material from Old Norse. Because of this, some of the words introduced to England as part of Anglo-Norman were of Germanic origin. Indeed, sometimes one can identify cognates such as flock (Germanic in English existing prior to the Conquest) and floquet (Germanic in Norman). The case of the word mug demonstrates that in instances, Anglo-Norman may have reinforced certain Scandinavian elements already present in English. Mug had been introduced into northern English dialects by Viking settlement. The same word had been established in Normandy by the Normans (Norsemen) and was then brought over after the Conquest and established firstly in southern English dialects. It is, therefore, argued that the word mug in English shows some of the complicated Germanic heritage of Anglo-Norman.

Many expressions used in English today have their origin in Anglo-Norman (such as the expression before-hand, which derives from Anglo-Norman avaunt-main), as do many modern words with interesting etymologies. Mortgage, for example, literally meant death-wage in Anglo-Norman. Curfew (fr. couvre-feu) meant cover-fire, referring to the time in the evening when all fires had to be covered to prevent the spread of fire within communities with timber buildings. [12] The word glamour is derived from Anglo-Norman grammeire, the same word which gives us modern grammar glamour meant first "book learning" and then the most glamorous form of book learning, "magic" or "magic spell" in Medieval times.

The influence of Anglo-Norman was very asymmetric: very little influence from English was carried over into the continental possessions of the Anglo-Norman kings. Some administrative terms survived in some parts of mainland Normandy: forlenc (from furrow, compare furlong) in the Cotentin Peninsula and Bessin, and a general use of the word acre for land measurement in Normandy until metrication in the 19th century, but these words are probably linguistic traces of Saxon or Anglo-Scandinavian settlements between the 4th and the 10th centuries in Normandy. Otherwise the direct influence of English in mainland Norman (such as smogler "to smuggle") is from direct contact with English in later centuries, rather than Anglo-Norman.

When the Normans invaded England, Anglo-Saxon literature had reached a very high level of development. The important Benedictine monasteries both wrote chronicles and guarded other works in Old English. However, with the arrival of the Norman, Anglo-Saxon literature came to an end and literature written in Britain was in Latin or Anglo-Norman. The Plantagenet kings encouraged this Anglo-Norman literature. Nevertheless, from the beginning of the 14th century, some authors chose to write in English, such as Geoffrey Chaucer. The authors of that period were influenced by the works of contemporary French writers whose language was prestigious. Chaucer is considered to be the father of the English language and the creator of English as a literary language. [8]

The major Norman-French influence on English can still be seen in today's vocabulary. An enormous number of Norman-French and other medieval French loanwords came into the language, and about three-quarters of them are still used today. Very often, the Norman or French word supplanted the Anglo-Saxon term, or both words would co-exist but with slightly different nuances: for example, ox (describing the animal) and beef (describing the meat). In other cases, the Norman or French word was adopted to signify a new reality, such as judge, castle, warranty. [8]

In general, the Norman and French borrowings concerned the fields of culture, aristocratic life, politics and religion, and war whereas the English words were used to describe everyday experience. When the Normans arrived in England, their copyists wrote English as they heard it, without realising the peculiarities of the relationship between Anglo-Saxon pronunciation and spelling and so the spelling changed. There appeared different regional Modern-English written dialects, the one that the king chose in the 15th century becoming the standard variety.

In some remote areas, agricultural terms used by the rural workers may have been derived from Norman French. An example is the Cumbrian term sturdy for diseased sheep that walk in circles, derived from étourdi meaning dizzy. [13]

The Norman invasion of Ireland took place in the late 12th century and led to Anglo-Norman control of much of the island. Norman-speaking administrators arrived to rule over the Angevin Empire's new territory. Several Norman words became Gaelic words, including household terms: garsún (from Norman garçun, "boy") cóta (cote, "cloak") hata (hatte, "hat") gairdín (gardin, "garden") and terms relating to justice (Irish giúistís, bardas (corporation), cúirt (court)). Place-names in Norman are few, but there is Buttevant (from the motto of the Barry family: Boutez en Avant, "Push to the Fore"), the village of Brittas (from the Norman bretesche, "boarding, planking") and the element Pallas (Irish pailís, from Norman paleis, "boundary fence": compare palisade, The Pale). [14] Others exist with English or Irish roots, such as Castletownroche, which combines the English Castletown and the Norman Roche, meaning rock.

Only a handful of Hiberno-Norman-French texts survive, most notably the chanson de geste The Song of Dermot and the Earl (early 13th century) and the Statutes of Kilkenny (1366). [15]

Rare French monastery from Norman times discovered on farmland in Ireland

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For a time several hundred years ago, Anglo-French Lords occupied Ireland, and they invited French monks known as Cistercians to build Norman monasteries around the countryside. And one of them has just been found under a pasture by archaeologists.

In Beaubec near the city of Drogheda in County Meath just north of Dublin in Leinster province, local historian John McCullen owns a cattle farm. In the field his livestock often graze, McCullen insisted that there must be something special to find on his property that archaeologists should explore.

After all, the history of the area is certainly rich, especially during Norman times when Anglo-French Lords took over much of Ireland under King Henry II.

It all started when Leinster King Dairmait Mac Murchada lost his rule to a rival, so he sought a meeting with Henry in 1166 to ask for his help in regaining his kingdom. Henry declined, and that’s when Murchada struck a deal with Earl of Pembroke Richard Strongbow, who agreed to help Murchada in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage and inheritance of the Leinster throne upon his death.

Marriage of Strongbow & Aoife MacMurrough in front of Christchurch Cathedral by William Murphy via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Murchada would die in 1171, and Strongbow became King Richard of Leinster, and the first king to be an Anglo-French outsider. This upset King Henry, who expressed outrage that one of his own nobles would be a king to rival his own kingdom.

And so, Henry finally brought an army to Leinster. Strongbow realized he could not defeat Henry’s forces, so he bent the knee. Henry then took possession of Dublin for himself and left other lands in Leinster, Meath and elsewhere to other Anglo-French Lords. Strongbow agreed to help Henry elsewhere while still retaining some Irish lands. Strongbow would die in 1176 from a foot infection.

Through Strongbow’s daughter with Murchada’s daughter Aoife, their descendants include most of the nobility of Europe since then, including many kings and queens.

Meanwhile, to cement Norman rule over Ireland, the Anglo-French Lords invited an order of monks known as the Cistercians to build monasteries and bring order.

The Cistercians founded 33 monasteries across Ireland between 1142 and 1230 and also established a large number in Britain. They were very different from the preceding Irish monasteries, and reached the height of their success in the 1200s, before declining after this time due to financial difficulties and general stagnation.

The Cistercian monks excelled at manual labor, particularly agriculture as they ran farms around the monasteries, so it’s not a stretch that McMullen would believe that they may have built a monastery on his own property, especially since there is a ruin from the time that already exists above ground.

Pasture in Beaubec, Ireland where the Cistercian monastery was found. Image via Beaubec Excavations.

It turns out that he was right.

Archaeologist Geraldine Stout and her husband Matthew Stout, a medieval expert, agreed to explore the grounds to see what they could find. What they found was a Cistercian Catholic monastery that hasn’t been seen since the early 1500s during the Protestant Reformation.

Aerial photo of the excavation site featuring part of the monastery and outer buildings. Image via Beaubec Excavations.

“The monastery played a crucial role in medieval Leinster, even during the so-called Gaelic Revival of the 14th century when the Irish Celts re-occupied most of the lands taken by the Normans,” Ancient Origins reports.

“It appears that some 100 monks and possibly many others lived at the site for centuries. The monastery was a religious center until the early 16th century when Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of all the monasteries in English-held lands in Ireland.”

Norman Artifacts Indicate Long-lost Monastery Has Been Found in Ireland

&mdash Cult of Amon Ra (@Cultofamonra) August 2, 2019

Referring to the find as “hugely significant” because such discoveries are rare, the pair called in medieval building archaeologists David Sweetman and Con Manning to help them.

“John has always believed that Beaubec is a special place and we are fortunate people that we were able to unearth this amazing story,” Matthew Stout told the Irish Mirror.

“Beaubec is ideally located to throw light on the involvement of the Cistercians in commercial development and international maritime trade in the Boyne Valley during the medieval period.”

“The main aim of the project was to uncover structural remains of the layout of the Cistercian foundation, retrieve evidence of French pottery and identify the kind of agricultural produce that the monastic grange would have exported and imported,” Stout continued.

And the team found plenty, including French roof tiles and clear evidence of advanced agriculture.

Norman roof tiles not made in Ireland. Image via Beaubec Excavations

“It was a big site but we struck gold almost straight away and filled a shed with medieval pottery and artifacts which will now go for post excavation work,” Stout said.

“We uncovered a corn drying kiln and even dried peas which prove that crop rotation was ongoing even back in the 13th century.”

Remains of a kiln used by the monks. Image via Beaubec Excavations.

Geraldine Stout explained how many monks were living on the site and when it may have built.

“We know that Walter de Lacey gave lands to this Abbey in Beaubec in Normandy in 1215, so there would have been about 100 monks living here up until the 16th century,” she said.

“De Bello Becco was flourishing in Ireland in 1302 when it had to pay a tithe of 29s 4d to the Diocese of Meath, which placed it in a group of the highest valued churches in Meath.”

At the conclusion of the dig for the season, the team marveled at what they had found, but it’s not the artifacts that bring them the most satisfaction.

“Archaeology is not about finding treasures but answers, but I think in this case we’ve hit the jackpot on both fronts and we’re hugely looking forward to getting back here next year,” Geraldine Stout said.

Again, you never know what could be under the ground you’re standing on. Just because a field is largely empty, does not mean there wasn’t something there before. McMullen trusted his gut that there was more to his property than meets the eye. Now Ireland can add another little chapter of lost history to the books.

COLOUR YOUR OWN medieval monastery

Download this colouring sheet to create your own version of our medieval monastery history timeline poster! Read through the introduction to life in a monastery, then get creative with coloured pencils, pens or paints.


Find out what an illumination is, and how the beautiful letters that feature in the manuscripts created by medieval monks and nuns were created. Then, follow our instructions to design your own illuminated initials!


Can you make it to the top of the board? Find out if you've got what it takes to get the top job with this historical version of Snakes & Ladders! If you land on a ladder, follow it up to the space above. But if you land on a snake, follow it down. Download a game board, spinner and 3D players to play.

More things to make and do

Browse our best ideas and get hands-on and crafty with history. From model historical homes to costumes and coats of arms, there&rsquos plenty to be inspired by. Simply download our easy-to-use templates and instructions, and get making!

2021: Year Of Medieval European Tunnel Discoveries

The announcement of the discovery of ancient Welsh abbey tunnels comes only two days after Ancient Origins wrote about a similar discovery in Poland.

According to The First News , archaeologists in Poland discovered “a secret tunnel underneath Ducal Castle in Szczecin, Poland while exploring Nazi-era passages built during WWII.” According to the director of Ducal Castle, Barbara Igielska, the brick-and- mortar materials used to make this ancient tunnel were radio carbon dated to the medieval period.

Karol Krempa, head of the castle's renovation and investment department, says further work is vital to understanding and safeguarding the castle, but they can’t rule out that there might be “much more to the 270-meter section of tunnel than we are currently aware of.” This brick tunnel section serves as a groundwater runoff channel and initial inspections suggest the tunnel in Wales runs parallel to the Angiddy Brook flowing through the Wye Valley.

This observation suggests the Welsh abbey tunnels might have also served a “ hydrological function ” similar to the Ducal Castle tunnel in Poland. Tunnels are notoriously dangerous discoveries for after being excavated they can threaten to undermine the stability of the surrounding architecture.

While excavators in Poland are suggesting they back fill the tunnel, Barbara Igielska at Ducal Castle wants to “maintain and restore it for tourists to experience.”

Regarding the Welsh abbey tunnel discovery, archeologists haven’t even started what looks to be a very complicated project. A strategy is currently being drafted and the excavators will soon set about a complete exploration of the tunnels, but Mr Gore says no matter how fast they progress it will likely take many years to complete the excavation.

Top image: Tintern Abbey, founded on May 9, 1131, is the location of the recently discovered Welsh abbey tunnels. Source: Saffron Blaze / CC BY-SA 3.0


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of. Read More

V - The Norman monasticism

In the foregoing chapters we have seen how the revival of English monasticism, wholly spontaneous in its origin under Dunstan at Glastonbury, drew its further inspiration from two centres of new life abroad. From Fleury came the impulse of Cluny, modified by its passage at second hand and by the peculiar characteristics of Abbo and others from Ghent came the spirit of the Lotharingian reform. Together these two sources sent to England what may be called the first of that series of waves of foreign influence which succeeded each other in the course of three hundred years, culminating in the coming of the friars in the first half of the thirteenth century.

As has been seen, the overseas influence in the tenth century was temporary. English monastic life, having once received in 970 the impress of foreign traditional practice in the Regularis Concordia , continued thence-forward to develop its own traditions and characteristics without any further communication with monasteries abroad. Between the sojourn of Abbo of Fleury at Ramsey in 986–8 and the first Norman heralds of the coming invasion under Edward the Confessor there is no trace of continental influence in English monasticism. The second wave, that of the Norman tradition, was to be far more pervading and permanent in its effects, and in order to appreciate the changes which it brought about, we must glance at the antecedents and history of the body of monasteries from which it drew its origin.