Political Intrigue and the English Language

Political intrigue has played a role in shaping the English language. In this post, we will look at one example from history of politics shaping the direction of the language.

Henry VII (1491-1547), King of England, had a major problem. He desperately needed a male heir for his kingdom. In order to do achieve, Henry VIII annulled several marriages or had his wife executed. This, of course, did not go over well with the leaders of Europe as nobles tended to marry nobles.

In order to have his first marriage canceled (to Catherine of Aragon) Henry VIII needed the permission of the Pope as divorce is normally not tolerated in Roman Catholicism. However, the Pope did not grant permission because he was facing political pressure from Catherine’s family who ruled over Spain.

Henry VIII was not one to take no for an answer. Stressed over his lack of a male heir and the fact that Catherine was already 40, he banished Catherine and married his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Much to the chagrin of his in-laws in Spain.

This resulted in the Pope excommunicating Henry VIII from the church. In response to this, Henry VIII started his own church or at least laid the foundation for Protestantism in England, with the help of German Lutheran Princes. It was this event that played a role in the development of the English language

Protestantism in England

Until the collapse of his first marriage, Henry VIII was a strong supporter of the Catholic Church and was even given the title of “Defender of the Faith.” However, he now took steps to flood England with Bibles in response to what he saw as a betrayal of the Catholic Church in denying him the annulment that he sought for his first marriage.

During this same time period of the mid-1500’s William Tyndale had just completed a translation of the New Testament from Greek to English. His translation was the first from the original language into English. Tyndale also completed about half of the Old Testament.

Although Tyndale was tried and burned for translating the Bible, within a few years of his death, Henry VIII was permitting the publishing of the Bible. Tyndale’s translation was combined with the work of Miles Coverdale to create the first complete English version of the Bible called the “Great Bible” in 1539.

With the bible in the hands of so many people the English language began to flow into religion and worship services. Such words as “beautiful”, “two-edged”, “landlady”, and “broken-heart” were established as new words. These words are taking for granted today but it was in translating the phrases from the biblical languages that we have these new forms of expression. How many men have called their woman beautiful? or how many people have complained about their landlady? This is possible thanks to Tyndale’s translating and Henry VIII’s support.

All this happen not necessarily for the right motives yet the foundation of the use of common tongues in worship as well as the audacity of translating scripture into other languages was established by a King seeking an heir.

Conclusion

Henry VIII was probably not the most religious man. He did not have any problem with divorcing or killing wives or with committing adultery. However, he used religion to achieve his political goals. By doing so, he inadvertently influenced the language of his country.

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