Exactly 950 years ago today, a crooked monarch with a false claim to the English crown called Harold suffered a Norman arrow through his eye. The missile penetrated his brain and caused almost instant death. William the Conqueror thus won the Battle of Hastings, a town that spent most of the next millennium failing to rise above the level of toilet. It still has 50 years to put this right, and local estate agents tell me it is “on the up”. So by 2066 it may make it to Motorway Service Station. We can but hope.
On a brighter note, the military exchange led to linguistic development and quite a bit of shagging. Today, some 45% of Brits have Norman DNA. This beats the DNA ravishing inputs from Eriks and Hermanns into a poor second place at 30%. But the links between Normande French and Anglo-Saxon language forms far outweigh anything that Scandinavia or Germany can claim.
One important reason for this is that within two generations (in those days, a mere eighty years) the Norman invaders had gone native to create a new mongrel language called English. As both France and England had previously been invaded by the Romans, the etymology worked rather well. It was further cemented when English King Henry II (himself a Duke of Normandy) married powerful rich bint Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152. At that point – given Eleanor had a previous with Louis VII of France – one could effectively say that the score in the final of the Invasion League was England 1 France 1.
The English, Scottish and French nations have spent much time fighting and bonking each other over the last 950 years. To take my own case, on my mother’s side the family name Mountain is an anglicisation of Montagne. My first wife (with whom I had my kids) had the Scottish maiden name of Butchart, itself a derivation from Bouchard – as in the French wine family.
This isn’t just a gentle meander through nothing of much importance. The one thing I have learned over and over again during forty or more years as a francophile is that the English and French speak a language which is almost identical beyond its actual pronunciation. OK, French has two genders and we have one: but even that is still a commonality in that le and la proper names are still abundant in contemporary English. Otherwise, we speak the same language, only differently.
The mingling process has continued in more recent times. The Great War brought tant pis, ça n’fait rien and parlez-vous into common English parlance. The 1960s brought Rock, weekend and ‘Top’ into French. Only last month I discovered that many French workers now use the term ‘bougarde’ for a tool or vehicle part that must be binned – a word learned from English workers declaring something to be ‘buggered’.
The real difference between us is cultural – most particularly in disagreements about what ‘best practice’ is in various social policies and professions. I see these differences as not only healthy: I would love the French and English élites to discuss (in an inclusive manner) how we can best exchange these practices to our mutual benefit.
The goal of European Union federalising nutters is to wipe out all this potential learning and common ground in favour of a bland, dictatorial greyness hellbent on the idea that One Size Fits All.
The best hope for a canton-style European partnership lies, I believe, in the shared heritage of the English and the French. This has been a foundation stone of our foreign policies for at least two centuries. Between us we share a language source going back 2,000 years, a curmudgeonly attitude to overblown authority, and a growing distrust of neocon economics. In our own ways, we both value communities. Hillary Clinton’s desire for one global interfering top-down US hegemony would be equal anathema for both of us.
I can only end this post by saying “Vive la différence!” and “Vive l’Entente Cordiale!”