II. From Old English Literature to Middle English Literature Anglo-Norman Period XI-XIII Centuries

In 1066 great changes took place in England. In the famous battle of Hastings the last Anglo-Danish king was defeated by Duke William from Normandy. He was proclaimed the new king of England and was crowned as William I.

The Norman Conquest began with the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It made William I the King of England but his dynasty’s outlook was far from nationalistic. Each Norman monarch held territories in what is now France as well as in the British Isles. All these lands belonged to the wider international community known as Christendom, where the universal Catholic Church centred in Rome played a leading role, even in non-religious matters.

William the Conqueror brought a new language and culture to England where a very strong feudal society was established.

The early medieval economy was based in the countryside rather than in towns. Urban centres did exist, as did some domestic industries. But most of the population numbering fewer than 3 million in the entire British Isles worked on the land. Primary products like raw wool accounted for most exports. After the Norman Conquest England’s considerable overseas trade was directed more towards France and Flanders than to previously-important markets in Scandinavia.

The nobility spoke French, the common people spoke English, and the language of the powerful churchmen was Latin. Thus each social class had its own language and literature. That period of English literature was called Anglo-Norman, because the French Language penetrated into English and influenced it greatly. The Normans brought the romance to England. The romance told of adventures and love and glorified knighthood. The churchmen wrote in Latin about religion, their books were moralizing and supported the feudal order of things. In the literature of the townsfolk we find the fable a short story with animals for characters and a moral in the end. Besides fables there appeared funny stories about cunning townspeople, rich merchants and their smart wives.

Old English developed into Middle English which was much easier to read and understand. Thus Middle English Literature was born. The English language had changed a lot since the time of “Beowulf”.

In 1190 English knights joined the knights from all over Europe who answered the call of the Pope to recapture the Holy Land, captured by the Turks in 1070. The English knights were led by King Richard the Lionheart. The feudal society of those days was divided into aristocracy and common people. The nobility possessed the land, all the rest had nothing. That is why the English peasants wanted freedom, they robbed the rich and were hiding in the deep woods where nobody could find them.

England’s favourite hero, Robin Hood, lived in the times of King Henry the Second (1154-1189) and his son Richard the Lionheart (1189-1199).

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