Although today is being observed as Columbus Day (and Thanksgiving in Canada), I thought I’d go with a different narrative of invasion and conquest. Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, in which Duke William II of Normandy became King William I of England, promoting himself from Bill the Bastard to William the Conqueror (although the Anglo-Saxons probably preferred option 1).
One of my favorite aspects of the battle, in a Lucy-jerks-the-football-away manner, is the report that at least twice in the battle, the Normans faked having been routed. When Harold’s troops would pursue the “fleeing” Normans, leaving soundly defensible positions in the process, the Normans would turn (with cavalry support) and hammer the Saxons. Fool me once and all that.
It would still take 100 to 150 years for English to fully move from Old to Middle, and a couple of centuries more for it to take its rightful place as a literary language, but the vast influx of new vocabulary played a huge role in the development of the language, and I would suggest that the Norman Conquest is a big reason my kids find Chaucer much easier to read than Caedmon.
So happy anniversary, folks, and avoid taking arrows to the eye.