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English Studies

Vol. 90, No. 4, August 2009, 379–402

Soil and Toil: English and French in the

English Countryside During the Later
Middle Ages
William Rothwell

It is generally accepted that one of the lasting consequences of the French Conquest
of 1066 was its influence on the vocabulary of the English language, bringing about
changes that may be better appreciated now that the authoritative Middle English
Dictionary (MED) and the second edition of the corresponding Oxford English
Dictionary (OED) are completed, with revision work on the third edition of the latter
being already in progress for a number of years. This increased knowledge of the
post-Conquest development of the lexis of English has been helped by a similar
advance in the knowledge of the lexis of French during the same period that has taken
place across the Channel where Frédéric Godefroy’s ten-volume Dictionnaire de
l’ancienne langue française (Godefroy) from the end of the nineteenth century has
been supplemented by the eleven volumes of the Altfranzösisches Wörterbuch
compiled by Adolf Tobler and Erhard Lommatzsch (1955–2002) (T-L), and the
monumental Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (FEW), at the present time
undergoing a major overhaul that will take years to complete, along with the new
Dictionnaire étymologique de l’ancien français (DEAF) that in its turn is advancing
steadily through the alphabet. As a consequence of this very considerable progress in
the dictionaries on both sides of the Channel it might be assumed that all the
materials necessary for a full understanding of the etymology and semantic
development of the many items in the English lexis which are derived from the
French of the medieval period would now be in place, this combination of French
and English dictionaries being able to provide the linguist or historian working in the
field of medieval English today with a veritable mine of information on which to
draw. However, not until these new French dictionaries have been carefully
researched in detail by the English lexicographers for their rich etymological content
and the resulting new material fully absorbed into their English counterparts will it be
possible to appreciate the true impact of the French language on the vocabulary of
Middle English. Moreover, whilst the vocabulary of the literary and broadly
administrative or legal registers of the medieval French language of the continent is

William Rothwell is Emeritus Professor at the University of Manchester, UK.

ISSN 0013-838X (print)/ISSN 1744-4217 (online) Ó 2009 Taylor & Francis

DOI: 10.1080/00138380902990275
380 W. Rothwell
now well covered in the French dictionaries, it must be remembered that there
remain less well-researched areas of French vocabulary which are just as important,
despite their having stimulated little scholarly interest in France in the past and so
being potentially absent from the standard lexicological works which are based largely
on the somewhat limited areas of lexis represented in the older dictionaries. Although
the texts which contain such hitherto neglected terminology are now being published
in greater numbers,1 such new information may not find its way fully into the public
domain for years to come unless all the current dictionaries adopt a process of
continuous upgrading on-line.
Moreover, not only the new Anglo-Norman Dictionary (AND2) must now be
examined in detail as it works through the alphabet, demonstrating that by no means
all the French terms present in modern English came from the other side of the
Channel, but, less obviously perhaps, so must the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from
British Sources (DMLBS) on account of the many cases where an ostensibly ‘‘Latin’’
term in a British document is no more than a French word thinly disguised. The
French of medieval England was not merely a travesty of continental French, having
the same vocabulary, but used by people unable to master its grammatical ‘‘rules’’ as
laid down by the nineteenth-century philologists. Anglo-French was a language in its
own right serving the needs of the francophone section of medieval English society,
needs which were not necessarily identical to those of continental France, although
such an equivalence is tacitly assumed to be the case in works of historical grammar
that do not link language with the society in which it was used. The new AND2 is a
large-scale work which gathers its information from many British sources hitherto
untapped by its continental counterparts and when completed will be able to enrich
and correct many entries in the historical dictionaries of English in terms both of the
earliest attestation of a French word in England and also its range of senses. Whilst
remaining within the parameters of the subject of this article, Anglo-French in the
medieval English countryside, it is already possible to show that there was no need to
look across the Channel to find many French words that were taken up into the lexis
of English, because they had been used in Anglo-French texts for many years. A case
in point is the MED entry ‘‘flour (n. (1)) [OF flour] c1230 (?a1200)’’. In fact, the
word is found about a hundred years earlier in The Anglo-Norman ‘‘Voyage of St.
Brendan’’,2 dating from the first quarter of the twelfth century. Similarly, the entry
E.g. Marco Polo’s detailed travelogue with its first-hand account of a largely unknown world full of novelties
now brought into the public domain by Anja Overbeck in Literarische Skripta in Ostfrankreich, the medical texts
Die ‘‘Anathomie’’ in der ‘‘Grande Chirurgie’’ des Gui de Chauliac edited by Sabine Tittel, and David Trotter’s
Albucasis, together with Tony Hunt’s eight large volumes full of new information on medieval medicine, plant
names and the trilingual contents of numerous educational treatises in thirteenth-century England, all of which
need to be incorporated into the new dictionaries of medieval French, Anglo-Latin, Anglo-French and Middle
English. To these must now be added the new volume Lexiques scientifiques et techniques dealing with subjects as
diverse as veterinary medicine, viniculture, vegetation, equestrianism, accountancy, mathematics and astronomy
compiled by numerous scholars and brought together by Olivier Bertrand, Hiltrud Gerner and Béatrice Stumpf.
The incorporation of all this and other similar material into the contemporary series of dictionaries is essential if
they are to be capable of representing correctly the past vocabularies of English, French and Latin.
Short and Merrilees, eds., v. 96.
English and French During the Later Middle Ages 381

date for flower in the OED, again taken from ‘‘OF flour . . .’’, is given as ‘‘a1225’’. In
the MED entry ‘‘gardin, [OF gardin]’’ the word is said to appear in English ‘‘a1325
(c1280)’’, but is found from the thirteenth century in Anglo-French in John of
Garland.3 The OED derives the word from ‘‘ONF’’ (i.e. Old Northern French) with
the date ‘‘13 . . .’’ The MED herbe is said to come from ‘‘[OF erbe]’’ and dated as
appearing in English ‘‘c1300’’, but it is found in the Anglo-French Comput of
Philippe de Thaon, composed in 1119.4 The OED, under herb, gives the earliest
dating of the word in England as ‘‘c1290’’. Given that the Conqueror brought his
native language with his army across the Channel in 1066, it is only natural that this
French presence in England would be the source for any ‘‘borrowing’’ that would
take place, rather than mainland France, whether or not the ‘‘borrowed’’ word is
attested soon after 1066 or many years later.
Furthermore, the information given even in the more accessible areas of language
by the new historical dictionaries of English is not to be accepted uncritically as being
always correct in respect of terms with medieval French connections, their compilers
not being sufficiently familiar with the medieval French of the continent and Anglo-
French to assess critically the contents of the French dictionaries from which they
take their information. This may be seen in the entry ‘‘box (n. (1))’’ in the MED,
which derives the word from ‘‘[OE box; also cp (¼ compare) OF buis (both from
L[atin] buxus) (a) the box tree (Buxus sempervirens) or its wood’’. This etymological
connection between the Latin buxus, English ‘‘box tree’’ and the medieval French buis
determines the dictionary’s interpretation of a quotation taken from a survey of land
in the Cotswolds: ‘‘(1300) Survey Wychwood in Archaeol. 37 437’’ which reads
‘‘Boscus Abbatis de Wynchecombe qui vocatur le Boxe’’. However, although the
DMLBS under buxus confirms the meaning ‘‘box-tree’’ as given in the MED, the
word on which the MED entry is predicated in the Latin text is not buxus at all, but
boscus, which has a not dissimilar form but a different meaning, being glossed in the
DMLBS as ‘‘a wood, grove’’, so that the meaning ‘‘box-tree’’ proposed by the MED
for le Boxe in this extract from the official land survey in Latin is untenable. The form
le boxe in the Latin quotation might perhaps appear to be a convenient example of an
ignorant English scribe5 using a French definite article before an English noun
(‘‘box’’, i.e. the tree), but this is to ignore the spellings given in Godefroy’s quotations
for the French bois ‘‘réunion d’arbres couvrant une certaine étendue de terrain’’, which
are bois, boç, boes, bos, bosc, bouz, boz, bousc, bouys, bouis, bouix, boix and buix, this
last form being closer to the standard buis (buxus) for the ‘‘box-tree’’ than to the
headword bois (‘‘wood’’ Complément 8.335b–6a). The numerous forms for buis
attested in the dictionaries of medieval French are as follows: Godefroy (Complément
8.353a) has an entry ‘‘BOUIS mod. buis’’ (i.e. ‘‘box-tree’’), in which two of the
examples given have the form bois, two others bouys and another bouix. Similarly, T-L

Hunt, Garland, 172.
Short, ed.
Rothwell, ‘‘Ignorant Scribe and Learned Editor.’’
382 W. Rothwell
under ‘‘buis Buchs’’ (1.1197) has a form bois in one of its quotations, and the Trésor
de la langue française informatisé (TLFI) under buis confirms this spelling variation in
an entry for 1160–70, where it states roundly that ‘‘buis désigne le bois’’ and that, on
the other hand, bois is a ‘‘forme attestée (i.e. for buis) jusqu’en 1443’’. The sheer
number of different spellings for these common words given in the dictionaries
shows that no sustainable semantic differentiation based on scribal orthography can
be made between the medieval French terms used for ‘‘box-wood’’ and those for
‘‘wood, grove’’, and that, as so often in medieval texts, the key to their meaning lies in
the semantics of the overall textual context, not in any abstract phonology or
morphology as set down in the manuals of medieval French. When situated in the
context of land belonging to the Abbot of Winchcombe, and with the Latin boscus in
support, the sense of the French le Boxe is indubitably ‘‘wood, grove’’, not ‘‘box-tree’’.
The MED itself gives countless examples of everyday words whose plethora of forms
cannot possibly be explained by any amount of phonological or morphological
juggling, for example ‘‘Hed’’ has 50þ forms, ‘‘Norice’’ 38 forms, to give just two
random cases pertinent to the present enquiry.
The above interpretation of the Latin quotation based on semantic dictionary
evidence is supported by the local geography readily visible today. When the
eastbound B4632 road from Cheltenham drops steeply from Cleeve Hill with its
agriculturally unproductive thin covering of vegetation on limestone, it comes down
to Winchcombe on the plain, a linear village in the Middle Ages, with its medieval
church on the left-hand side of the road which runs roughly west to east through the
village and is bordered on the right by a stream that now marks the limit of
permissible building. Across this stream is a wooded area of good soil that is now
absorbed into the grounds of Sudeley Castle, a post-medieval structure. This area of
woodland would have belonged to the abbot of Winchcombe in the medieval period,
and would have been regarded as a valuable perquisite, hence the entry in the official
land records, whilst his conjectured possession of just one single box-tree, the sense
that must be inescapably inferred from the MED entry, would not have been worth
even so much as a mention in those records.
This example is a reminder that in the broader perspective of language in medieval
England cognisance must always be taken of the structure of the medieval society in
which Anglo-French, Latin and English were used. Anglo-French served the educated
population of the day, despite offending grammatically against the ‘‘rules’’ laid down
by philologists centuries later. In practice the lexical ‘‘borrowings’’ from French
which have passed into modern English were taken primarily from the upper registers
of the language such as the records of the various levels of national and municipal
administration or the law,6 as well as the numerous religious, scientific, medical or
grammatical texts, although it must not be forgotten that there was also a quite

E.g. the thousands of pages in the Year Books, the many volumes of the Selden and Surtees Societies, the Statutes
of the Realm, Britton, the Borough Customs, the Liber Albus, etc. For bibliographical details of these works see
AND2, ‘‘List of Texts.’’
English and French During the Later Middle Ages 383

different French element present in the vulgar content of the English lexis, a less well-
known part of the Anglo-Norman legacy that cannot just be swept out of sight under
the carpet.7 The dominant role in the absorption of medieval French terminology
into English was played by the small, but influential section of French speakers
amongst the population of the towns and cities who drafted the law of the land and
those responsible for administering that law as it applied to the whole apparatus of
government, together with the similarly important merchant class which conducted
and developed the various branches of an active trade and commerce, both internal
and external, ensuring the prosperity of the country and the survival of the language
in which they operated. From the time of the Conquest until the later Middle Ages
these crucial levers of power in England would have been in the hands of literate
French speakers irrespective of whether they had an unimpeachable French pedigree8
stretching back to the days of the Conqueror’s army or had acquired their French in
England by study as a means of advancement, and whether or not their French
grammar would have satisfied the requirements of those French (and some English)
philologists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who sought in vain the perfect,
but ever-elusive francien9 claimed to be the fountain-head of the French language
supposedly inherited somehow from the irretrievable spoken Latin of the Ile-de-
France,10 a valuable cachet that conveniently provided a valuable link between
language and the central government based in that area that would lead in time to the
Bourbons, Malherbe and Vaugelas.
Failing to take account of the wide range of roles played in the community by the
different types of Anglo-French speaker over several generations, from noble
landowner of French extraction to humble English clerk, philologists have tried to
condense the language into a neat packet complete with its ‘‘rules’’ and have been
disappointed at the failure of surviving texts to conform to these ‘‘rules’’. The
resulting dismissive attitude towards Anglo-French on the part of the philological
community at large, especially in nineteenth and twentieth-century France, but
including also many scholars in England itself, has carried over into the general
estimate of its value, or rather lack of value, in terms of the history of England, with
the result that its correct role in the formation of modern English has not yet been

This feature of Anglo-French was at the root of Chaucer’s vulgar vocabulary in works such as the Wife of Bath’s
Tale (Rothwell, ‘‘The Anglo-French element’’).
This word is an excellent example of the ‘‘borrowing’’ process from French into English, being an anglicised
form of the French pied-de-grue, literally ‘‘crane’s foot.’’ Although this is attested for Anglo-French with its
modern English meaning at the beginning of the fourteenth century in one of the Year Books (AND pé), and as
an English word in the early fifteenth (OED), it is not recorded in the dictionaries of French as being in any way
connected with lineage, its only currency in its country of origin being in the phrase faire le pied de grue, literally
‘‘to stand on one foot’’ and so ‘‘to stand around waiting.’’
‘‘The history of the French language is therefore concerned with the various changes through which Latin as
spoken in Paris and its environs passed’’ (Ewert, 1). The certainty evident in this pronouncement (and many
others in the same vein) is disturbing in the absence of evidence capable of equating unequivocally the forms
found in surviving written material with the presumed pronunciation of unidentifiable individuals living seven
or eight centuries ago who lacked both an accepted phonetic alphabet and any means of preserving sound.
384 W. Rothwell
fully appreciated. In contrast to the small literate minority of influential
francophones, who enjoyed freedom of movement up and down the country and
so were able to maintain a form of language free from local dialectal variation, the
majority of the population, especially in the countryside, remained anglophone and
was illiterate throughout the medieval period, universal literacy coming only after the
Education Acts of the later nineteenth century. In addition to being illiterate, they
were also legally bound for life to the piece of land which they worked, two important
factors which resulted in the creation of spoken dialects. Consequently, the surviving
written evidence in Middle English and Anglo-French cannot be taken as reflecting
accurately the true balance of the two languages, spoken and written, at any given
time across the whole country.
The distribution of the francophone and anglophone sections of the population in
terms of residence as brought about by social forces emphasised the separation of the
two languages. Whilst the exigencies of communal life in the cities and towns would
have meant that their inhabitants of English and French descent were bound to have
at least some kind of regular linguistic contact with each other, irrespective of their
native languages and their varying command of each other’s speech, the situation in
the more thinly populated countryside would have been quite different, with a
limited number of francophone landlords using a much greater number of
predominantly anglophone labourers on their extensive estates under the supervision
of a well-established range of officials responsible to the landowner for different
aspects of the agricultural work. These officials had to be capable of interpreting the
instructions of their French masters and passing the requisite orders down to the
English work force in their charge. In addition to this numerical imbalance between
speakers of the two languages on country estates in the hands of francophone
landlords, the separation created by the legal relationship mentioned above between
the lord, his officials with their specialised duties who passed his orders down to his
workers, and finally the uneducated workers themselves must have accentuated the
social gulf between the two linguistic groups and so inevitably affected the overall
linguistic situation obtaining on the estates. For example, in the ‘‘Seneschaucy’’, an
Anglo-French text from the late thirteenth century dealing with estate management,11
it is said that the seneschal (i.e. the lord’s ‘‘steward’’, his right-hand man) should
know quantes acres deyvent ester arez par an de priere e de custume (‘‘how many acres
should be ploughed each year by boon12 and custom13) e quantes acres pur deners
(‘‘and how many acres would have to be paid for in money’’).14 This brief sentence
illustrates the essence of the social and financial working of the feudal system in
medieval England. The anglophone peasants who worked by ‘‘boon’’ and ‘‘custom’’
would be legally bound to plough the same land year after year at the lord’s behest, as

Oschinsky, 264.
OED boon ‘‘An unpaid service due by a tenant to his lord.’’
OED custom 3 ‘‘Customary service due by feudal tenants to their lord.’’
Under priere1 Godefroy (6.404) defines the word as: ‘‘corvée, taille, aide que le seigneur demandait à ses vassaux
et qu’il avait droit de leur ordonner.’’
English and French During the Later Middle Ages 385

would their offspring who followed in their footsteps, thus ensuring the continuity
not only of feudal rule but also of the English language in agricultural communities
from one generation to the next.15 On the other hand, there was no question of the
francophone lord himself being directly involved in such dealings with his peasant
workers, all the practical instructions concerning direct contact with the soil being in
the hands of the seneschal capable of turning the lord’s orders in French into the
English of the peasants. In similar vein the late thirteenth-century Tretiz of Walter of
Bibbesworth, which will be dealt with in some detail later in this study, refers to the
lord putting his serf into the stocks as a punishment,16 the English peasants who
formed the backbone of the agricultural work force being owned by their foreign
masters in much the same way as the livestock in the fields, and bound to the land
where they were born, many of them hardly moving out of their village,17 so that any
direct contact with the French of the landowners would have been rare, in contrast to
the linguistic situation of the town-dwellers.
These differing social circumstances between town and country determined the
nature of the linguistic situation in England as regards the impact made by the
language of the conquerors on the vocabulary particular to these different areas, so
that the overall administration of a large country estate might well have been thought
out in French in the landlord’s manor house, but by the time the practical work of
ploughing, sowing or reaping was being carried out in the landlord’s fields the
language of communication amongst those involved would have been English, having
changed at some now indeterminable stage in its passage down from francophone
landowner to anglophone peasant. This would have been the state of affairs
particularly on the very extensive estates, since much of the work on the land would
have taken place at some considerable distance from the manor house, especially in
cases where a major landlord owned more than one estate, often in widely separated
areas, making his physical presence in each of them of necessity infrequent.18
After the passage of some seven centuries it is not possible to know exactly how
this interplay of languages took place on individual estates up and down the English
countryside over time, but a concrete example of the difficulties that it has created in

Magna Carta states explicitly that the franchises granted by the king apply to ‘‘freemen,’’ a toz les frans homes de
nostre regne (Holt, ‘‘A Vernacular French Text,’’ 357) and to them alone. The serfs enjoyed no such privileges.
Under the entry soke the OED Online confirms the reality of this bondage as late as 1661: ‘‘A great part of those
Tenants which held of their Lords by Socage, did come with their Sokes (their Ploughs) certain days in the year
to plough and sow the Demesnes of the Lord.’’
Li seignur fet sun cneif coingner En ces (¼ses) ceps pur chastier (‘‘The lord has his serf put into his stocks as a
punishment’’) (Rothwell, ed., Tretiz, vv. 691–2).
The restrictions on movement are made clear in the Seneschaucy referred to above, where the shepherd is
forbidden to leave his flock to attend fairs, markets, wrestling-matches, parties or inns: Nul bercher ne deit
departir de cez berbiz pur aler a feires, ne a marchez, ne a lutes, ne a veiles, ne a la taverne . . . (Oschinsky, 286).
For example, one of these landowners, Henry de Lacy, owned a very large estate now known as Kingston Lacy
in the south-west of the country, in Dorset, as well as land many miles away in the East Midlands. This state of
affairs may still be seen in England today, where the Duke of Devonshire owns land not only in Devon, in the
south of the country, but also much farther north in the Chatsworth area in Derbyshire, the family seat, and yet
another estate about another hundred miles to the north in Wharfedale in Yorkshire.
386 W. Rothwell
the past for lexicographers and might do so again in the future may now be seen in
the treatment of the simple word ‘‘soil’’, the basic element of agriculture, as found
in the continental dictionaries of French and also the historical dictionaries of English
which take etymological material from them. In about 1240 the francophone bishop
of Lincoln in the East Midlands, Robert Grosseteste, a man of humble English origin,
compiled a set of rules in French for the guidance of the widowed Countess of
Lincoln in preserving and administering her lands and household.19 As in his
numerous religious writings in French,20 the bishop used an insular form of the
language for these ‘‘Rules’’. Although a prominent man of the cloth, his possession of
land, an integral part of his episcopal prerogative, would have guaranteed his interest
in estate management and would have ensured also the presence of professional staff
familiar with the running of an estate. His second rule (388) deals with the need for
the landlord or lady to set up without delay an enquiry into the contents of each
manor on their estates regarding the number of ploughs it contained, the extent of
land in terms of arable and meadow, the pasture for sheep and cows, the total
amount of livestock and so forth. In this rule the French term for ‘‘land’’ is terre (as in
terre guaynable—‘‘arable land’’). In the eighth rule (394–6) terre is used again in the
same sense with caruees (le numbre de vos caruees de terre, i.e. ‘‘carucates of land’’),
but later in the same rule (396) the owner of the estate is advised to enquire cumben
prent l’acre de semayl de cel soyl de terre (‘‘how much seed-corn each type of soil
requires per acre’’). This time the introduction of soyl adds an element of precision to
the phrase. Terre here means ‘‘land in general’’, as in the previous phrase, whilst soyl
concentrates the sense to mean ‘‘earth/land’’ in terms of cultivation. The use of the
French term soyl here, not to replace an English one, but to supplement or refine the
sense of the statement, may be seen elsewhere. The simplest example of this may
perhaps be seen in the modern English ‘‘grass’’ and ‘‘herb’’, where the adopted
French term herbe is used to apply to special forms of ‘‘grass’’ possessing a healing
quality. Another example is the adoption alongside the Germanic ‘‘plum’’ (Pflaume)
of the French prune to denote the dried, as opposed to the fresh, fruit, with the
French prune de Damas condensed into the neat ‘‘damson’’.
Near the close of the thirteenth century soil is found again in Anglo-French in
v.102 of the Tretiz21 of Walter de Bibbesworth: En bace tere ad bon soil (‘‘In low-lying
ground there is good soil’’ i.e. for growing crops), where it carries the same semantic
connection with cultivation. In the manuscript from which this quotation is taken
the Middle English gloss ‘‘erthe’’ is set above the French soil, an indication that,
rightly or wrongly, the scribe considered the term soil to be in need of explanation for
his anglophone readership. Yet the first, far from exhaustive, edition of the Anglo-
Norman Dictionary (AND) under its entry soil1 already gives a number of other

The ‘‘Rules’’ are to be found in Oschinsky, 388–415, which will be examined later in this article.
The religious works of Grosseteste are to be found in a number of disparate publications: Urtel; Murray, ed.;
Dean; Thomson, from The Writings of Robert Grosseteste: Injunccio penitenti gallice, 155, Oracio ad sanctam
Margaretam gallice, 157, Oraciuncula post prandium gallice, 158.
Rothwell, Tretiz.
English and French During the Later Middle Ages 387

quotations containing the word dating from the later thirteenth and early fourteenth
centuries in which it is similarly used in England in this sense of ‘‘ground for
cultivation’’, and ongoing research could well increase the number of attestations in
the future. The significance of this testimony is that the texts concerned do not relate
to the countryside, but are some of the most important legal works composed in the
French of England in the centuries following the Conquest. They confirm that the
Anglo-French soil was already well established in the legal terminology of medieval
England at that time. What is more, present dictionary evidence in Latin, although
only partial until the new DMLBS reaches the letter ‘‘S’’, would suggest that the Latin
solum from which ‘‘soil’’ is derived was likewise already an accepted legal term at an
early date in the Anglo-Latin of medieval England. R. E. Latham’s now outdated
Revised Medieval Latin Word-List from 1965, with a Supplement in 1980, does not
provide quotations in support of its entries, but under solum gives a derivative
solotenus, glossed by ‘‘down to the ground’’ which is dated as early as ‘‘c950’’ and
recorded again in ‘‘c1090’’, with another derivative sullagium glossed as ‘‘solage,
ground-rent’’ coming no later than ‘‘1200’’. However, the definitive judgement on
this point must await the entry in the new DMLBS that will have full Latin examples,
including dates and authorship. Be this as it may, like so many ‘‘borrowings’’ from
French, the word and its meaning were not necessarily imported from France itself.
This is only one example amongst many showing that the new dictionaries of English
will have to incorporate evidence systematically from both the AND and the DMLBS.
The derivation of the medieval French soil is not in doubt, being recorded as sol
in the FEW under ‘‘solum boden’’. In the Latin Dictionary of Charlton T. Lewis and
C. Short (Lewis and Short) the adjectives that accompany solum—cultum, incultum,
derelictum, foecundum, pingue—show one of its senses as being connected with
agriculture, alongside the more general ones of ‘‘ground’’, ‘‘earth’’, ‘‘land’’ or
‘‘bottom’’. The close lexical relationship between Latin and medieval French would
suggest that the modern French sol, being derived from this Latin original, might
similarly carry an agricultural sense from an early date, but the entries in the
dictionaries of both medieval and modern French show serious differences in their
treatment of the word. Godefroy has just one quotation in his entry ‘‘2 sol’’
(10.682a), dating from as late as 1539, almost three centuries after its appearance in
Grosseteste’s ‘‘Rules’’, and defined by the dictionary in very general terms as ‘‘étendue
sur laquelle reposent les corps à la surface de la terre’’, without any mention of
cultivation. The more recent T-L makes no positive contribution to the question, and
even muddies the water in its entry ‘‘sueil, soil’’ (9.1058–9) by confusing two separate
French words. Its first gloss ‘‘Schwelle’’ (‘‘sill’’) in this entry is applied to several
quotations, in two of which the correctness of the gloss is guaranteed by the Latin
equivalent limen, but the contexts of other quotations under the same gloss are
disturbingly aberrant. For example, ‘‘Soz le soil a mains et as piez Font fosse’’ would
make better sense if soil were read as meaning ‘‘earth, soil’’ rather than ‘‘sill’’ (the
Schwelle of the German gloss), to give the meaning: ‘‘Under the (top)soil they dig a
ditch with their hands and feet’’. Three other quotations in this entry use an
388 W. Rothwell
expression metre sous soil/suell/suel (a different spelling in each text) which similarly
would make better sense if read to mean ‘‘to bury (under earth)’’ rather than ‘‘to put
under a sill’’. The dictionary’s evident confusion when dealing with the various
derivatives of the semantically quite distinct Latin words solum and solea in medieval
French is caused by its reliance on nothing more than spelling and is confirmed
beyond any doubt at the very end of its sueil entry (9.1059) where the glosses ‘‘Erde,
Boden’’, the meaning of the Latin solum, are given for the final quotation, after the
numerous earlier and semantically very different glosses ‘‘Schwelle, Rahmen eines
Fensters, Thron (?)’’, all of which belong to the Latin solea, in conformity with the
entry in the TLFI which gives seuil ‘‘Du latin d’époque impériale solea.’’ There is no
semantic link between the sill of a door or window and ‘‘ground/earth’’ which would
justify the presence of such diverse quotations in the same dictionary entry. In fact,
this single quotation for the senses Erde, Boden in the T-L is completely out of place,
being taken from another of the manuscripts of the Anglo-French Bibbesworth text
referred to above: ‘‘En bace tere ad bon soil (Gl[osse] god hirthe)’’, where the spelling
soil and the Middle English gloss ‘‘hirthe’’ would both indicate the necessity for it to
be housed in a separate entry in the dictionary under soil, not sueil. At this point it
may be noted in passing that the FEW under solum (78) makes the pertinent
observation that: ‘‘In vielen bedeutungen und ablt. (i.e. ableitungen) ist SOLUM schwer
zu scheiden von den vertretern von SOLEA’’. Although applying in this particular
context to material from the south of France, the point holds good for the north also.
The situation is clouded even more by the presence of three separate entries in the
T-L for the single word sol as a noun (9.786), none of them referring to ‘‘soil’’ or
‘‘earth’’, but meaning ‘‘sun’’, ‘‘sole (of a shoe)’’ and sou (‘‘coin, piece of money’’)
respectively. The notorious abundance of forms found in the spelling of medieval
French terms, as illustrated earlier in this article, exacerbates the confusion. The
dictionary’s two entries under the form soil (9.768) have nothing to do with ‘‘earth/
soil’’, being glossed as Schmutzloch and Schwelle, indicating a quite different
etymology from solum. The senses of the German words Schmutzloch (‘‘dirty hole’’)
and Schwelle (‘‘sill’’) are accommodated in the first edition of the AND under soil2
and soeil respectively.
This absence of sol from the T-L in the sense of ‘‘soil’’ would suggest that the term
must be attested in French no earlier than the fifteenth century, this being the cut-off
date beyond which the dictionary does not provide any material, as stated in its
introduction ‘‘Zur Einführung p.V’’. The dictionaries of modern French support this
late dating for the word, with the authoritative TLFI defining its entry sol1 as ‘‘Partie
de la croûte terrestre, à l’état naturel ou aménagée’’, this final word ‘‘aménagée’’
pointing to the possible use of the word in the context of cultivation, but the date of
its entry into French is given as ‘‘xve s.’’ and its source as the ‘‘haut bret[on]’’ word
‘‘soul’’. The idea that medieval France, with its vast fertile lands and a rich written
culture throughout the Middle Ages, did not possess a key agricultural term such as
sol (‘‘soil’’) until the fifteenth century, as is suggested by its earliest attestation up to
the present time, and would need to adopt it from the small outlying province of
English and French During the Later Middle Ages 389

Brittany, less fertile in terms of both land and culture, is hardly credible. The latest
edition of the Petit Robert (2007) gives this same definition almost word for word in
its entry sol, but without the Breton reference, deriving the term correctly from the
Latin solum, but dating its earliest attestation as ‘‘1538’’ (as was referred to earlier in
respect of Godefroy). This absence from the new Petit Robert of the supposed
importation of the word from Brittany, as claimed in the TLFI, is supported by
Grosseteste’s text quoted above which uses soil in England three centuries earlier, an
attestation confirmed by Bibbesworth a few decades later. However, it must be borne
in mind that the absence of a term from current dictionaries at a particular historical
date cannot be taken as irrefutable evidence of its absence from the language
concerned. New texts may well provide earlier attestations.
The treatment of sol in the FEW under ‘‘solum boden’’ is much fuller and more
wide-ranging, the word being given as going back to the twelfth century (‘‘seit 12.
jh.’’), in ‘‘Apr’’ (i.e. Old Provençal), followed by the form soul from Brittany (‘‘hbret.
15.jh.’’) mentioned above, but the date given in the dictionary for the earliest
attestation of sol in ‘‘mfr. nfr.’’ (i.e. medieval and modern French) is no earlier than
‘‘(seit Est[ienne] 1538)’’, again following Godefroy. However, whilst the form sol itself
is attested in the FEW, as was the case with the dictionaries referred to earlier, the
meaning attributed to it has no direct connection with agriculture. For example, in
addition to the main definition, ‘‘surface de la terre o u l’on se tient, o
u l’on marche, sur
laquelle on construit’’, the following meanings are given, accompanied by different
dates: terre, gazon, terre qui est au fond de l’eau, quantité de liquide répandue sur le sol,
etc., and also the following senses in modern French: muraille, partie de la roche sur
laquelle une mine ou un filon est appuyé. What is more, the ‘‘Apr.’’ (Old Provençal)
source mentioned above as providing the earliest attestation of the word in the
twelfth century is followed in the dictionary by numerous other quotations
containing different forms of the word and similarly belonging not to the French
of the northern area (‘‘Afr.’’), as might be expected, but to the medieval language of
southern France. If the ongoing revision of the FEW, already a voluminous work of
remarkable scholarship, were able to situate in both space and time the quotations in
which terms are found, providing the contexts in which they occur and identifying
the respective texts in full along with their dates and places of composition, this
might lead to a better understanding of the reason why such a key agricultural term
as sol should be attested so late in the Ile-de-France area claimed to be the home of
the modern French language, long after being recorded in outlying territories to
both the north (Anglo-French) and the south (Occitan/Old Provençal). Only under
the derived term soulage, spelled also as solage, is there a reference in the dictionary
to ‘‘mfr. nfr.’’ ‘‘terrain considéré quant à sa nature (16.jh)’’ and only as late as 1588
is there an unambiguous connection made between this word solage and
agricultural practice, the term being defined as ‘‘nature du sol, au point de vue
agricole’’. These etymological difficulties with solum/sol on account of spelling
emphasise again the importance of meaning as against form when dealing with
medieval terms.
390 W. Rothwell
This difference between the attested presence of sol at an early date in both England
and southern France and its absence from the central region of France itself until the
close of the Middle Ages is symptomatic of the wider situation concerning the
vocabulary of agriculture that had attracted the attention of Louis Lacour as early as
1856 when he published Traité d’économie rurale. His work followed Delisle who had
written that: ‘‘C’est en Angleterre que les écrivains du moyen âge semblent avoir eu le
plus de goût pour l’économie rurale’’, contrasting their texts with comparable works
composed in France around the same time and stating with reference to the latter
that: ‘‘Ils sont peu nombreux, et contiennent rarement les détails qu’on serait en droit de
leur demander. Le plus ordinairement, ce ne sont que des compilations dont les
rédacteurs ont indistinctement copié les ouvrages des agronomes de l’antiquité.’’22
Lacour began his article with the categorical statement that: ‘‘Au treizième siècle,
l’agriculture en Angleterre était arrivé à un degré de perfection que nous ne devions
atteindre de si tôt.’’ This striking contrast between the recorded presence of a
comprehensive vocabulary of agriculture amongst the francophone nobility of
England in the thirteenth century and its absence from the centre of France itself is
interpreted by Lacour as an indication of the greater development of the agricultural
industry across the Channel at this early date. No reason is given for the differing
situation in the two countries, but this interpretation fails to recognise that the
French agricultural treatises compiled in England were not so much a testimony to
the advanced state of the industry at that time as the product of an attempt by
francophone landowners to stem the inevitable decline of their minority French
language in this particular area of activity in the face of the advance of English, the
mother tongue of the majority of the population, especially in rural areas. The
popularity of the treatises attested by the exceptional number of copies of these works
still surviving supports this interpretation and fits also with the concern of
Bibbesworth’s patroness that led to his composing the Tretiz. Just as there was no
need for the presence of French agricultural treatises in central France where the
techniques of the industry and its terminology would pass naturally from father to
son from one generation to the next without any compelling need to set them down
in writing, similarly, as is proved by the absence of any sizeable body of French terms
in English farming today, the native English terminology would be transmitted by
word of mouth alone amongst a population that was very largely illiterate and also
static by law, hence most unlikely to adopt a foreign vocabulary.
Setting aside, then, Lacour’s explanation of the presence of the agricultural treatises
in thirteenth-century England and returning to the position of sol/soil in the French
current on different sides of the Channel in the medieval period, this shows yet again
the ability of the much-maligned insular French to supply lexicological evidence
independently of the language of mainland France, thus calling for all aspects of this
long neglected branch of French to be fully included in any future etymological
enquiries concerning the French element in English. In the present instance the

Lacour, 123, note 1.
English and French During the Later Middle Ages 391

development of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary came too late for its contents to be
used in the compilation of the entry for ‘‘soil’’ in either the current MED or OED,
with the result that the etymological path of the word as given in these standard
works of reference differs from one to the other, with both of them being confused.
Under the entry soil (1) of the MED the word is said to derive from ‘‘[AF soil, land,
earth, var[iant] of OF sueil, suil, souil]’’, with the date of its earliest attestation given
as ‘‘c1400 (? c1380)’’ but, whilst the stated derivation from Anglo-French is correct
here, as is one of its given senses ‘‘the ground in which plants grow’’, this linkage of
the English ‘‘soil’’ with the French sueil is incorrect. As has been demonstrated above
with reference to the entry in T-L, these are different words, semantically separate and
connected by nothing more substantial than spelling at a time long before the advent
of the dictionary which would eventually impose standardisation on the orthography
of both English and French. The Old French sueil and its variants come not from the
Latin solum (Lewis and Short ‘‘ground, earth, land, soil’’), but from solea (Lewis and
Short solea sense E ‘‘a sill’’), the modern French ‘‘seuil’’. The OED under soil n.1
gives both the roughly correct date for the first attestation of the word (‘‘13..’’) and
also the correct sense: ‘‘The ground with respect to its composition [. . .] as the source
of vegetation’’ (II 6), but, like the MED, is led astray by spelling in its etymological
section. After stating correctly that the word is ‘‘a(dopted from) AF soil, soyl in sense
2b’’, the dictionary is misled by these spellings to claim that it is ‘‘app(arently)
representing L(atin) solium, whence also OF Soil, suel [. . .] taken in the sense of
L(atin) solum [. . .] F. sol ground’’. This convoluted explanation, however, is
untenable. The Latin solium means ‘‘seat’’ (Lewis and Short) and is semantically
linked to neither ‘‘sill’’ nor ‘‘soil’’, so the dictionary is claiming that on account of a
mere spelling both Anglo-French and continental writers used soil derived from
solium (‘‘seat’’) instead of the correct sol derived from solum. This is to elevate
phonology and orthography above semantics in the medieval period at a time when a
word in either French or English could have many spellings without being ‘‘wrong’’,
as was seen earlier in the case of boxe.23,24
This small etymological problem attaching to ‘‘soil’’ may contribute towards an
understanding of the wider question of the spoken languages of medieval England if
two different kinds of documentary evidence dating roughly from that time are
Another difficult situation involving a word with two quite different senses is to be seen in two separate
entries in Godefroy (6.360a and 10.397a) and one in T-L (7.1673–4) under ‘‘pouter.’’ For Godefroy the word is
feminine in both senses, but the T-L lists it as ‘‘s. m. und s. f.’’ and gives it two quite different meanings in
separate paragraphs, although the gender of the two forms is not determinant of the meaning. The first sense
is Fohlen or junge Stute and the second Tragbalken. The word is deliberately used by Bibbesworth in his Tretiz,
where he puts both senses in one sentence in order to illustrate his mastery of homonyms, as he makes clear
by saying that when building a house a beam (le poutre glossed as ‘‘wiver tre’’) should be placed above the
cellar (i.e. to support the floor above), and le poutre (i.e. the foal) should be tied by a halter (chevestre) to a
pillar supporting the beam. T-L quote this sentence under the translation Tragbalken without any mention of
it under Fohlen/junge Stute, and without giving any indication that there might be two distinct words here.
The two disparate senses are treated as no more than an extension of the one meaning ‘‘beam of wood,’’
which in some unexplained way developed from the original ‘‘young animal.’’
See the well-balanced argument concerning this issue in Berndt.
392 W. Rothwell
brought into play in order to make possible an illustration and tentative explanation
of the linguistic situation in the area of rural economy during the later thirteenth
century and into the fourteenth. The first type of evidence comes from the four
agricultural texts mentioned earlier which were compiled in England at different
times in the later thirteenth century but have until recently been confined to the
domain of English history, leaving untapped their potentially important linguistic
content.25 The second type of evidence belongs clearly in the field of language, being
Bibbesworth’s teaching manual of French vocabulary mentioned earlier that dates
from the closing decades of the century and was composed for the anglophone
offspring of a French landowner in the East Midlands. The present study will use
these two sources in order to illustrate the relationship of French and English in the
English countryside during the later medieval period.
The four treatises on agricultural management are all couched in Anglo-French,
the earliest being the Rules of Grosseteste referred to above, next the Seneschaucy,
similarly mentioned earlier, followed by a treatise by Walter of Henley entitled
Hosbondrye, and finally an anonymous Husbandry. The first of these four works dates
from the decade before the middle of the thirteenth century, with two more in the
1270s, and the Husbandry near the end of the century. This last work is primarily
concerned with the accounting skills necessary for the management of large estates
rather than with the practice of agriculture. All four were first edited by Elizabeth
Lamond (Walter of Henley’s Husbandry) in 1890, but the later Dorothea Oschinsky
edition treats them in a much wider perspective, the Anglo-French texts themselves
being accompanied by more than 250 pages of valuable introductory material that
sets them in context by listing the complete contents of the many manuscript
collections which contain one or other of them. The importance attached to these
treatises by the francophone readership in England during the later thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries is made clear by the editor’s statements that: ‘‘Eighty-four
manuscripts include one or more of our treatises’’26 and ‘‘The manuscripts include
fourteen copies of the Rules, fifteen of the Seneschaucy, thirty-five of Walter, twelve of
the Husbandry . . .’’.27 Such highly unusual numbers of surviving copies of these texts
would point to there being a widespread understanding at that time amongst the
francophone landowners in England of the need to preserve the role of French in the
governance of the English countryside, as is evident in the request of Bibbesworth’s
patroness for a teaching manual that would help preserve her native language. The
many other texts which accompany the agricultural treatises in all these manuscript
collections are also important in that they are often of a diverse literary or religious
nature without any link with agriculture or husbandry, thus illustrating the wide
range of interests amongst the educated francophone minority in England who
collected such works during the later medieval period. As was mentioned earlier in
One of the agricultural treatises concerned, the Seneschaucy, was studied from the standpoint of its French
vocabulary by Frankwalt Möhren in his book Wort-und sachgeschichtliche Untersuchungen.
Oschinsky, 10.
Ibid., 11.
English and French During the Later Middle Ages 393

this article, a fifth treatise named Traité d’économie rurale by its editor, Louis Lacour,
had been published as early as 1856. Although no firm date is given for the
compilation of this text, Lacour dates it in 1290–1300,28 roughly the same time as
Bibbesworth’s Tretiz.
In spite of dealing broadly with the same subject, these agricultural treatises
approach it from quite different angles, so that the vocabularies they contain vary
considerably. As might be expected in view of its authorship, the earliest text, the
Reules of Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, does not deal exclusively with the
management of the land and the care of the animals on his estate, matters that would
have fallen within the purview of his steward, the seneschal, but also lays down rules for
the conduct of his household, such as the ceremonial attached to the serving of meals
in the great hall and the reception of guests, together with the social behaviour of his
staff. In contrast, the second text, the Seneschaucy, is a longer, more detailed and less
personalised exposition of the individual duties and responsibilities of the landowner’s
officers on an estate, from the important steward, bailiff and reeve down to the humble
cowherd, swineherd and dairymaid, duties that included the repair of walls, the
digging of ditches and the mending of carts, all with the profitability of the estate in
mind. The third text, the Hosbondrye of Walter of Henley, is different again, being
more personal and presented as the advice of a father to his son on the techniques of
estate management, dealing not so much with the roles of the landowner’s senior staff,
but rather explaining to the young man the processes of ploughing, sowing and
reaping, the performance of tasks such as estimating the amount of work that may be
expected of a plough in a day, making an informed choice between using a horse or an
ox to pull the plough, or deciding the breadth and depth of a furrow made by the
plough at different times of the year in view of the differing condition of the land. The
popularity of this personally inclined treatise is clear from the forty-one pages of
variant readings in small print which follow it in Oschinsky’s edition, the forty-five
surviving copies which contain these variants being widely scattered territorially. The
fourth text, entitled Husbandry, is shorter than Walter’s Hosbondrye and approaches
the subject of estate management from the point of view of practical advice given to
the accountant employed by the lord rather than from the standpoint of the lord
himself. Finally, the Lacour text appears to follow in the footsteps of Walter of
Henley’s Hosbondrye, being the advice of a father to his son.
The second source of evidence relating to the linguistic situation in the English
countryside in the later medieval period comes from the Anglo-French Tretiz of
Walter of Bibbesworth for what he called aprise de langage.29 In the closing years of the
thirteenth century and throughout the fourteenth there appeared up and down
England a succession of different versions of this text, of which fourteen have survived.
Like bishop Grosseteste, Bibbesworth came from the East Midlands and states in his
Prologue to what may be the earliest extant copy of the text, although not necessarily

Lacour, 127.
There is no irrefutable evidence of precise dating attaching to these various texts.
394 W. Rothwell
the original, that he was writing at the behest of his patroness Dyonise de
Mountechensy30 who lived in the same area and asked for a text that would provide
her offspring with the necessary French vocabulary of the countryside. This request,
together with the number of surviving manuscripts of the work composed in response
to it, is a clear indication that, as far as its role in the domain of agriculture was
concerned, the primacy of French in England was felt to be under threat at that time.
Consequently, Bibbesworth equipped his French text with glosses in Middle English
for those terms which he thought might present difficulties for the reader, setting them
above the French forms to which they refer. The result is the compilation of a single
text, although preserved in a number of differing versions with their differing glosses,
which is able to show the extent of the penetration of French terminology into the
English vocabulary of the countryside in the late thirteenth century.
In this regard, however, it is important to bear in mind that the amount of glossing
in the fourteen surviving manuscripts of his text varies widely from one to another,
the version in the British Library Sloane 513 from the fourteenth century having no
glosses at all, whilst the later version in All Souls College 182 from the early fifteenth
century has more than the base ‘‘G’’ manuscript itself.31 Also, the length of the text,
the number of its sections and often their content are similarly variable to a
considerable degree, so that the work cannot be approached as just one basic text
with minor differences of spelling and glosses that varied from one version to
another, as is often the case with literary texts. For instance, three of the manuscripts
insert a section on the names of fish from both river and sea into this work dealing
with the vocabulary of the countryside. In the absence of dictionaries in either French
or English at the time of their production, and the consequent plethora of spellings, it
is only to be expected that the correspondence of French text and English gloss will
not always be perfect in terms of modern English.
Although the Middle English glosses attached to the numerous versions of this
Anglo-French text differ in both form and number, offering a considerable body of
potential lexicological material, they have been studied in their own right only by
John Koch, as long ago as 1934, in an article in Anglia entitled ‘‘Der
Anglonormannische Traktat des Walter von Bibbesworth in seiner Bedeutung für die
Anglistik’’. At that time the MED was not available for consultation, so that Koch’s
findings are inevitably neither complete nor always accurate.32 On the Anglo-French
side, faulty transcriptions by modern editors masked the linguistic value of the

As might be expected, the names are spelled in different ways in the various manuscripts, but in her 1929
edition of the text Le Traité de Walter de Bibbesworth sur la Langue française, Annie Owen (ed.) provides
evidence from studies by earlier writers that would situate the Bibbesworth family in the East Midlands, with the
author himself being buried in the church of Little Dunmow towards the end of the thirteenth century, and the
noble family of his patroness being well-known landowners in the surrounding area.
This labelling of the manuscript follows that of Owen in her edition of 1929 purely in order to avoid confusing
the reader with a set of different references, as is the case in the work of John Koch referred to below.
This question has been addressed in an earlier article of the present writer, ‘‘A Mis-Judged Author,’’ and will be
further clarified in the article which accompanies the forthcoming new edition of the base text to appear on the
Anglo-Norman On-Line Hub.
English and French During the Later Middle Ages 395

various manuscripts of the text itself for many years, causing the work to be
dismissed as not worthy of serious attention. Nevertheless, when the different
versions of the Bibbesworth texts are correctly transcribed, along with their Middle
English glosses where present, and the resources of the two standard dictionaries of
medieval French are combined with those of the MED and the OED, it can now be
proved that in a large majority of cases the scribes were correct in their use of both
languages and the modern scholars at fault.33 The contents of the four Anglo-French
agricultural treatises are useful for a correct understanding of the contrasting role
played by Bibbesworth’s Tretiz in the rural society of his day. Despite promising to
deliver tut le fraunceis necessary for husbondrie e manaungerie (i.e. ‘‘husbandry and
estate management’’) and listing the standard agricultural and other country
procedures in his Prologue in prose—arer, rebingner, waretter, semer, searcler, syer,
fauger, carier, muer, batre, ventre e mouwere, pestre, brescer, bracer, concluding with
the addition of the wealthy landowner’s entertainment—haute feste araer,34
Bibbesworth does not concentrate his attention principally on the agricultural
vocabulary, as might be expected. In fact, he does not provide any Middle English
glosses to explain the meaning of the agricultural tasks listed in his Prologue,
presumably because the Prologue is intended for his patroness and those who were
already familiar with French and husbandry, but begins his verse text proper and the
accompanying glosses with the French vocabulary of child-birth, going on to list in
detail the parts of the body, both exterior and interior, together with the child’s
clothing and food. These sections are followed by the French names for birds and
beasts, with their calls, then a section on harvesting, leading to the techniques of
baking, brewing and weaving, the duties of the housewife. The Tretiz proceeds in this
haphazard way, with sections on the weather, trees and plants, more birds and
animals and then lists of the parts of a cart and a plough, terms used in building a
house, some indoor tasks such as making the fire and laying a table, a number of
unpleasant bodily functions like spitting, sneezing and belching, which have nothing
to do with rural agriculture, and the text ends with the vocabulary of a lavish feast,
the entertaining of one’s equals being another aspect of the landlord’s duties which
the new generation would have to master. It is perhaps not an accident that, although
the section dealing with the less savoury activities of the body is liberally glossed, the
only Middle English glosses in the section of thirty-five verses describing the feast are
those relating to nine of the birds and animals that would provide the meat dishes
and had already been mentioned in the earlier part of the work. No attempt is made
to provide glosses for the rarer or richer types of food such as rabbits in gravy, a

The AND has deliberately not been used in this current exercise in order to demonstrate that the French forms
occurring throughout the versions of the Bibbesworth text are not mere oddities found only in the ‘‘debased’’
insular form of French now represented in the AND, as would be suggested by the dismissive attitude adopted
by most philologists towards the language in the past, but represent a perfectly viable means of communication.
I.e. ‘‘to plough,’’ ‘‘to turn ground over a second time,’’ ‘‘to plough fallow land,’’ ‘‘to sow,’’ ‘‘to hoe,’’ ‘‘to reap,’’
‘‘to carry,’’ ‘‘to stack,’’ ‘‘to thresh,’’ ‘‘to winnow,’’ ‘‘to grind,’’ ‘‘to knead,’’ ‘‘to brew’’ (both brescer and bracer),
‘‘to organize a splendid feast.’’
396 W. Rothwell
boar’s head complete with decorations, brawn, or mace, cubebs and cloves, although
such delicacies make their appearance in both Anglo-French and Middle English texts
around this time.35 The inference must be that the young future landowners for
whose benefit Bibbesworth composed his Tretiz would automatically become
acquainted with such luxuries as they took up their allotted position in rural society.
It may be seen from this sketchy outline of the contents of the Tretiz that, despite
his Prologue, it would be a mistake to look to Bibbesworth for the vocabulary
necessary for an understanding of the agricultural treatises in Anglo-French. These
latter works were intended for a specialised readership who used French as their first
language and were concerned at the possibility of its disappearance as the language of
husbandry, whilst Bibbesworth’s declared aim was to provide a new generation
growing up in an increasingly anglophone environment with the more general French
terminology of the countryside. It would be no less of a mistake, albeit very tempting,
to dismiss his work as being no more than a rag-bag of miscellaneous French terms
furnished with a less than complete set of Middle English glosses. The value of his
Tretiz, especially when the vocabularies of the various manuscripts are brought into
the picture alongside the base text, is twofold. In the first place, his command of the
French vocabulary of practical daily life that he would have liked to see in the
countryside of late thirteenth century England, together with his visible fascination
with words, especially homonyms and near-homonyms, offers a rare insight into the
richness of the Anglo-French lexis and allows him to add to the legacy of the French
of England, if not to English itself, a new dimension quite distinct from that provided
by the rich store of preponderantly legal and administrative documents referring to
an essentially urban environment and a popular literature centred in large measure
around epics, romances and religious texts of various kinds produced from the time
of the Conquest onwards.36
Yet the social structure of post-Conquest England, with the minority francophone
proportion of the population constantly dwindling despite its wealth and power,
whilst the majority lived their whole lives ‘‘in English’’, meant that the French terms
in Bibbesworth’s Tretiz that were taken into English were, in the main, refinements
rather than basic enrichments. A few of these French words relate to areas of language
such as building techniques, as, for example, ‘‘giste’’ (i.e. ‘‘joist’’ v. 954), ‘‘lover’’
(modern ‘‘louver’’ v. 982) and ‘‘pautre’’ (v. 963 meaning ‘‘a beam’’),37 but items such
as the English ‘‘bokel’’ (French boucle, modern English ‘‘buckle’’), used to gloss the
French mordaunt (v. 192) referring to a belt, ‘‘floute’’ glossing the French frestele (v.
764), the earliest example of the modern ‘‘flute’’ given in the MED, or ‘‘garter’’,
For the Anglo-French terms see Hieatt and Jones; and for the Middle English see the MED and OED, noting
the type of text as well as their dates.
He wrote a French dialogue on the Crusades, debating with a fellow nobleman Henri de Lacy as his
protagonist whether to serve God in the Holy Land fighting the Saracens or serve his beloved at home, as well as
two long poems in honour of the Virgin and Women, again in French, in which he demonstrates a remarkable
ability to play with words for their own sake, although the result is a very contrived and difficult text.
The MED gives its earliest example of this word as being found in L. F. Salzman’s Building in England from
1360, half a century after Bibbesworth, because it has been misread as ‘‘pantre’’ (i.e. ‘‘pantry’’).
English and French During the Later Middle Ages 397

‘‘garland’’, ‘‘tabard’’, ‘‘spice’’, ‘‘chattle’’ are not basic items of vocabulary. The
majority of French words adopted fall into this category, e.g. ‘‘crispe’’ (glossing
recercillez v. 33), ‘‘scorn’’ (glossing eschar v. 170); ‘‘preciouse stones’’ (glossing rubie
v. 51); ‘‘soly’’ (i.e. ‘‘soiled’’, glossing sale v. 1029 and 1074); ‘‘spell’’ (glossing espandre
v. 731); ‘‘horer’’ (i.e. ‘‘horror’’ glossing dedeing v. 1089); the ‘‘Middle English’’
‘‘lozenge’’ (a French term first recorded in the MED in a quotation from
Bibbesworth), glossing the French flater ‘‘to flatter’’ (v. 304).
Other areas of the lexis show the same limited amount of ‘‘borrowing’’ even in
those dealing with the countryside. The few names of fruit trees in Bibbesworth’s text
that were taken into English lexis are as follows: perere (v. 677) glossed ‘‘peretre’’
(‘‘pear-tree’’); cereiser (v. 677), ‘‘chiritre’’ (‘‘cherry-tree’’); coingner (v. 687),
‘‘quincetre’’ (‘‘quince-tree’’); paumere (v. 699) ‘‘palmetre’’. One or two, however,
are more interesting. The Middle English ‘‘bolas’’ (modern English ‘‘bullace’’) and
‘‘bolastre’’ (v. 682) are originally French, being attested in Godefroy: ‘‘belocier
arbre . . . qui produit des beloces’’ (1.618b), ‘‘beloce petite prune sauvage (Complément
8.314a–b), and are also in T-L (1.913). The forms beloce and belocier are absent from
both the Petit Robert and the TLFI, suggesting that they are now obsolete. In
Bibbesworth’s Tretiz ‘‘bolas’’ and ‘‘bolastre’’ are used as Middle English terms to gloss
the French crekes and crekere (v. 682). These latter forms are authenticated by
Godefroy under creque (9.245b) and crequier (9.245b) and by T-L (1.1030) under
the entries creque and crequer which are said to be derived from the Germanic
Krieche, wilde Pflaume and wilder Pflaumenbaum respectively, being the medieval
forms of modern French crèque and créquier. Like beloce and belocier, these two
words are listed neither in the TLFI nor the Petit Robert, but two of the examples
given in T-L are from Flemish texts, which would suggest that they might belong to
the form of French used in Flanders, a meeting-place of the Romance and the
Teutonic languages, raising the possibility that Bibbesworth himself might be
associated with that region. The modest enrichment of the fruit vocabulary referred
to above may be seen again in Bibbesworth’s pruner glossed ‘‘plontre’’ (i.e. ‘‘plum-
tree’’ v. 678), which not only antedates by a century and a half the sole example of the
word in the MED as an English term (‘‘c1450’’), but illustrates the richness of modern
English with its bilingual terms for members of the ‘‘plum’’ family—‘‘plum’’ (the
fresh fruit, Germanic), ‘‘prune’’ (the dried fruit, Romance) and, for good measure,
the little abbreviated ‘‘damson’’ from the East (prune de Damas— Damascus).
Other sectors of the natural world of the countryside recorded in the Bibbesworth
text again show little in the way of ‘‘borrowings’’ from French into Middle English.
The English names of flowers taken from French are not numerous: ‘‘bloweth’’
(modern French bluet, ‘‘cornflower’’, glossing the medieval French blaverole (v. 342);
‘‘lilie’’ glossing lys (v. 644); ‘‘malve’’ (mallow), glossing mauwe (v. 342), ‘‘solicle’’ (a
form of MED solsecle ‘‘pot marigold’’, the earliest attestation in the MED again
coming from Bibbesworth, glossing the French surcye (v. 646), listed by T-L under
soussie (9.018–19). Similarly, as might be expected from the earlier study of ‘‘soil’’,
the vocabulary of agricultural products in medieval England owes little to French,
398 W. Rothwell
‘‘borrowing’’ only one or two forms such as ‘‘flour’’ (v. 380), which is left in the
French text without any gloss in Middle English, evidently not needing translation,38
and pese (v. 332), glossed by ‘‘pese’’ (‘‘peas’’). The English ‘‘stalk’’ (v. 211) used to
gloss the French estiche is said by both MED and OED to be of Scandinavian origin,
although neither dictionary provides compelling evidence for this assertion.
A similar paucity of ‘‘borrowings’’ is found also in the lists of birds and animals,
only two species of bird, the ‘‘cuckow’’ (kokel glossed ‘‘kochou’’ in v. 797) and the
‘‘partridge’’ (partriz in both languages (v. 224) being definitely taken from French.
The French choue (‘‘jackdaw’’) is glossed in Bibbesworth by the Middle English ‘‘co’’
(v. 59), which is said by the MED to be derived ‘‘[Prob OE ca . . .]’’, but under its
entry ‘‘chough(e, co(o, coue, . . .’’ the dictionary has ‘‘[Cp OF choe, choue, . . .]’’,
and gives the Middle English forms ‘‘chowghe’’ and ‘‘schowghe’’, linking the two
The names of animals likewise are not taken over from French into English in any
number, the French hirchoun (modern French hériçon) with its identical English gloss
‘‘hirchoun’’ (v. 777), MED irchoun (i.e. ‘‘urchin’’, ‘‘hedgehog’’) being indisputably a
‘‘borrowing’’, together with purceaus (v. 1120), similarly taken in the almost identical
form ‘‘porceaus’’ and listed in the MED under porcelle ‘‘a small pig’’, without any
reference to Bibbesworth, but strangely provided by the dictionary with a derivation
from the ‘‘[L (i.e. Latin) porcellus]’’, despite the abundant French evidence in T-L
(porcel 7.1479–81) going back to the twelfth century. The ‘‘rat’’ found in v. 812 is
recorded in English in about 1000 AD according to the OED, being found in the works
of Aelric, with its appearance in French coming around 1170 in the Anglo-French
Livre des rois (T-L 8.329) and around 1190 in Anglo-Latin.39 This source in the Livre
des rois and its date are given again in the TLFI, suggesting that in this case the process
of ‘‘borrowing’’ was reversed, but further research may well cast doubt on this.
As far as the human body is concerned, once again the ‘‘borrowing’’ into Middle
English from French is very small. For example, the French palet (v. 67), already
attested for Anglo-French in the mid-thirteenth century Douce Glossary,40 is glossed
in Bibbesworth by the English ‘‘rof’’ (i.e. roof of the mouth), the modern borrowing
‘‘palate’’ dating from near the close of the fourteenth century (MED ‘‘a1382’’).
Similarly, the French fontayne (v. 87), the modern French fontanelle, is glossed in four of
the Bibbesworth manuscripts by ‘‘mold’’ or ‘‘molde’’ (MED mold(e 2. ‘‘the top or
crown of the head’’)), which was apparently used until the end of the fifteenth century.
In the light of these meagre ‘‘borrowings’’ into English of French terms referring to
the natural world, it is hardly surprising that one of the areas of the lexis used in the
Tretiz in which the impact of French on Middle English was very limited indeed is
the vocabulary of agriculture, despite the intentions of Bibbesworth’s patroness and
the circulation of the different versions of the text up and down the country over
T-L 3.1934–40: 1939 feines Mehl, corresponding to MED flour (n [2]), ‘‘the best part of wheat.’’
This dating in R. E. Latham’s Revised Medieval Latin Word-List of 1965 may be changed when the new DMLBS
reaches ‘‘R.’’
hoc palatum: paleit in De membris hominum (Hunt, Teaching and Learning Latin, 1:420).
English and French During the Later Middle Ages 399

decades. For instance, at first sight it might appear that the Anglo-French muez in the
sentence En grange, vos bles muez (‘‘In the barn stack your grain’’ v. 350), with the
French muez glossed in Middle English as ‘‘mouwe’’, indicates a ‘‘borrowing’’ from
French into English, but the MED ‘‘moue’’ (n.[3]) is translated as ‘‘A heap or stack of
grain’’, with the date ‘‘c1275 (?a1200)’’, which would probably just antedate
Bibbesworth, who is credited by the dictionary with providing the earliest attestation
of the verb ‘‘mouen (v. (4)) to stack grain, hay’’. Again, the alleged ‘‘French’’ geeste
(v. 491) used in the making of beer is not French at all, but the modern English
‘‘yeast’’ (MED yest), going back to Old English ‘‘gist’’, confirmed in T-L 4.296. The
French vaanne for winnowing grain, glossed by the English ‘‘fanne’’ in v. 785 of the
Tretiz is recorded for ‘‘a800’’ in the OED, and in the description of the parts of
the plough, the English gloss ‘‘koltre’’ (modern French coutre and modern English
‘‘coulter’’) for the French soke in v. 921 is said by both the OED and the MED to
come from Old English and is recorded in the OED as early as ‘‘c1000’’. The maillet
(v. 927) the ‘‘plough-beetle’’, is not recorded in the MED under ‘‘mailet’’ before 1399,
being said to be a borrowing from Old French and given in the OED under ‘‘mallet’’
around the same time ‘‘c1400’’. In sum, this study of the ‘‘borrowing’’ of French
terms into the lexis of English relating to the vocabulary of the countryside in the
later thirteenth century shows that, despite the efforts of a number of prominent
French speakers who recognised the danger to the survival of their native language in
England presented by the far more numerous indigenous English speakers, the
predominance of English in rural areas could not be reversed.
The relative paucity of rural vocabulary of French origin that found its way into
standard English in the later medieval period may be linked to the grammar found in
the French agricultural treatises of the later thirteenth century in England and also in
Bibbesworth’s Tretiz, both of which show repeatedly the presence of grammatical
‘‘errors’’ condemned by philologists as indicating a failure to follow the accepted
rules. Yet both Bibbesworth and the authors of the agricultural treatises came from
educated backgrounds and were men of high social standing in their communities.
That such writers should be ignorant of the grammar of their native language to the
point of committing unwittingly a whole series of grammatical ‘‘errors’’ which run
right through their work is scarcely credible, so these ‘‘errors’’ must indicate a move
away from the accepted pattern of medieval French grammar as set out in the
standard manuals. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the ‘‘errors’’ are not
random but centre on a failure to mark the gender of nouns and the agreements of
adjective with noun or past participle with subject,41,42 thus presenting texts that are
E.g. in Bishop Grosseteste’s Reules: En dreit de vos foreyne terres; un roule—un autre enter; ço roulle; tute vos
graunges (388); tote mes dreytures; . . . des avauntdite choses (390); . . . a meyllur maners de vostre terre (392). In
the Seneschaucy: Le seneschal dez terres deit ester sages e leals; foreyne bosoynes; de autre choses; tute les pestures (all
on 264); al sustenaunce del maner (266). In Walter of Henley: une gent qe unt terres . . . (308); il seient trop
hautement amercié (310); aucune gentz dient qe . . . (314); une carue qe fust adreit gardé e guyé (316). In the
Husbandry: sun roule (418); les malveyses terres . . . com les bons (418); chascune tas (420); nul altre manere (422);
. . . qe les puyssent aver sauvé (422).
See Rothwell, ‘‘The Anglo-French element.’’
400 W. Rothwell
to be read more like English. Such failures to comply with the grammatical rules of
continental French were not the product of the agricultural texts alone, but may be seen
also in administrative and legal documents written in England around the same time.
If French had displaced English as the national language, this move away from
flexion might have spread, but for such a change of language to take place would have
required not only a much greater proportion of French speakers in the country as a
whole, but a social transformation of the English countryside in terms of its
inhabitants. The governance of the countryside along feudal lines preserved the
estates of the francophone landowners for generations, but effectively prevented any
prospect of their language replacing the English of their innumerable serfs rooted in
the ‘‘soil’’.

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