On the basis of that letter the Parliament took away Richard’s right to be the king of England and Henry declared himself to be the rightful owner of the kingdom. What is relevant to our discussion here is the fact that all documents in connection with this transfer of power were written in English. Richard’s letter of abdication, for example, was in English, the articles of accusation against Richard, the order deposing Richard from the throne, the speech in which Henry claimed to be the rightful owner of the throne and the speech he delivered to convey his formal acceptance of the throne were all written in English.
2. The Use of English in Law Courts:
Towards the second half of the fourteenth century English replaced French in judicial proceedings. In 1356 the mayor of London decided that English would replace French in all the legal proceedings in the sheriff’s court of London and Middlesex and in 1362 the Statute of Pleading was passed, making it legally possible for lawyers to plead the case of their clients in the court in English.
Emphasizing the need for the use of English in law courts, the statute said “that the people which do implead or be impleaded in the king’s court and in the courts of others have no knowledge or understanding of that which is said for them or against them by their sergeants and other pleaders”. In view of the need, it laid down that “all pleas which shall be pleaded in his courts whatsoever, before any of his justices whatsoever, or in his other places, or before any of his other ministers whatsoever, or in the courts and places of any other lords whatsoever within the realm, shall be pleaded, sued, defended, answered, debated and judged in the English tongue”. Even after the enactment of this statute, the records of judicial proceedings were still maintained in Latin but the situation was now very different from the situation in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when the use of English in law courts was not at all permitted.
3. The Use of English in Schools:
French was used as the medium of instruction in schools and Latin as the medium of instruction in universities until about the middle of the fourteenth century.
During the second half of the fourteenth century, however, the situation started changing very fast and by the end of the fourteenth century English became the medium of instruction in nearly all grammar schools in England. This is evident from the following statement made by Trevisa in his translation of Polychronicon. This custom [the use of French as the medium of instruction in schools] was much in use before the first plague (i.e.
, the Black Death of 1348), and since then is somewhat changed. For John Cornwall, a licensed teacher of grammar, changed the teaching in grammar schools and construing from French into English; and Richard Pencrich learnt that method of teaching from him, and other men from Pencrich, so that now, in the year of Our Lord 1385, in the ninth year of Richard II in all grammar schools of England children are abandoning French and are construing and learning in English. Use of English was not at all permitted in grammar schools in England at one time and children were not supposed to use English words even when they were playing. So much so that children were often flogged if they used an English word during their play. It was, therefore, a big triumph for the English language to be acceptable as the medium of instruction in schools in England towards the end of the fourteenth century.