In the movie Braveheart, Princess Isabella is walking beside several of her maids in waiting when she makes a snide comment in French about her husband, the English prince, whom she does not like. The maids all giggle and the young women enjoy knowing they are the only ones who understand what the princess has said. The movie assumes that people at the English court of this time would not be fluent in French. In actuality, however, it was during this period of English history (late 1290’s) that everyone would have understood French–that was their language too!

In fact, French was the language spoken by all the royalty and government officials in England from the time of William the Conqueror (in 1066) to the time of Chaucer in the late 1300’s. French was the only language used other than Latin in all the English law courts, churches, and homes of the nobility. English was learned on the side, if at all, though it endured as the dominant language of the lowly common folk. It was almost 100 years after the time of William Wallace, the main character in the movie, that English once again became the dominant language of English royalty and government officials.

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