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The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking


Beaumaris by Flickr User Today is a Good Day

Beaumaris by Flickr User Today is a Good Day

Leaving aside both the major and minor subtleties for a moment, being frank literally means being French.

According to most dictionaries the stated origins of the word are Middle English and are derived from medieval Latin francus ‘free’. This in turn comes from the fact that only Franks had full freedom in Frankish Gaul. The freedom to indiscriminately kick arse, it seems.

This is to only tell part of the story. The current usage came about in medieval Europe when chroniclers began to use the term in reference to the brusque and direct violence used by the French Normans, who made up the greater part of western european aristocracies.

As a direct consequence of Norman expansionism this violence was extensive, purposeful and blatant. The Normans wanted to be seen as a people who were barely able to contain their great military muscle and acted accordingly. They soon became the personification of violence to most people. It is this very directness we recall today in describing an exchange as ‘frank’.

There were concurrent uses of the term that had slightly differing meanings and subtleties that are now lost. Other contemporaneous usages of ‘frank’ which have since fallen by the wayside, to greater or lesser degrees, include: direct reference to the French themselves, gepgraphical political boundaries of lands controlled by the French, Norman aristocratic expansionists and their direct descendants, all of western european society or violent “others” (usually used by Eastern European pagan societies, Celtic societies and Islamic societies in the Maghrib and Holy Lands).

Trim Castle by Flickr User Haselton68

Trim Castle by Flickr User Haselton68

Three Examples of Direct Medieval Diplomatic Interventions

Horse Punch – Anecdotal Evidence
There is an arcane story of Frankish intimidation tactics. It is related that Norman leaders disputed the share of spoils between themselves and their Greek allies. The Greeks sent an envoy to the Norman camp to resolve the issue. We are told that one of the Normans was tending the Greeks horse upon his dismounting. Aware that the Greek should return with a story that should strike fear into the earts of his compatriots, the Norman punched the horse in the neck. The horse fell lifeless and the Normans replaced it with a better one (Norman horses were the M1 Abrams of their day – fast and strong, they were proud war horses).

Lisbon – Recorded Testimony
In 1147 the Normans lay siege to Lisbon. Speaking of his Frankish soldiers the Norman commander Hervey de Glanville pronounced ‘Who does not know that the Norman race refuses no effort in the continual exercise of its power? Its warlikeness is ever hardened by adversity’.

Trim Castle – Architectural Evidence
Throughout Europe the architectural legacy of Norman rule remains prominent and visible. North of Dublin in Ireland, John deLacy’s keep looks out over Trim town and the Boyne Valley. Even today this structure is larger than anything else around and even after almost 800 years stands resolute against the elements and history itself. Standing on ground which had been forcibly taken only a year or two before construction began, it is the very essence of medieval Frankish resolve, ostensibly declaring ‘I command you’ to all around.

Norman/French words that have become part of English

Many words which now have common currency in English trace a lineage back to these times when those who ruled England spoke French amongst their peers. These words tend to be symptomatic of ruling classes’ concerns. The lower classes then picked up on aspects of this aspirational tongue including; defend, arrest, plead, spy, reign, mechant, money, contract, embezzle, art, chess, dance, melody,garment, veil, wardrobe.

These are the words of people who control. Who else could have the finery of a veil contained in a wardrobe? As Melvyn Brand points out ‘The English laboured, the French feasted’. This is shown in how several imported words replaced others. A perfect example would be how ‘veal’ replaced the word ‘calf’ for this exclusive meat for the privileged.

The New Oxford American Dictionary, Elizabeth J. Jewell and Frank R. Abate (editors), Oxford University Press, September 2001
Collins Concise English Dictionary, Harper Collins, 2001
The Story of English, Melvyn Bragg, Hodder & Stoughton, 2003
The Making of Europe, Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950 – 1350, Robert Bartlett, Penguin, 1993

This article was posted by on Tuesday, October 27th, 2009 at 04:17.
It is archived in Culture, History, Ireland, Wild Places and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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