The Language of Heraldry part 1

The language of heraldry
Old French is the language of heraldry and many of the phrases used in the descriptions of the coats of arms are of Anglo-French derivation, the primary reason for this is that the French language was the first of the native tongues of Europe to arrive at anything resembling an equality with Latin. Since the time of the Roman Empire, Latin was the language of officialdom and had gradually become the everyday speech of people in Britain, France, Spain, and other western European countries.

When the Roman Empire crashed, the rule of Rome was overthrown in many countries and Latin was replaced with the local dialect. In some countries such as France and Spain Latin lived on, albeit in a changed form. The French language, itself derived from Latin, became a very fluent and powerful medium of expression and by the end of the 11th Century French was the language in which the cultivated gentleman expressed himself whether he were French by birth, or English, Irish, Sicilian, or even Palestinian. Latin remained the language of choice for the scholar and the religious.

It was a strange accident which brought this to be true in England. The Norman Conquest destroyed a great fabric of literature which the invading Frenchmen for all their apparent brilliance could not match. The literature written in Old English ranged from poetry, drama, history and biography to philosophy and the novel but the Norman Conquest put the control of the country in the hands of French speakers. For 300 years the official languages of England were Latin and French until the loosening of the feudal system returned the English language to it’s people.
Map of the Norman Empire

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