The first of the three sessions of the celebratory conference held at St Anne’s College looked in chronological order at uses of Latin in Britain from the 8th century to the 16th. Entitled ‘Medieval Latin in Britain’, it was chaired with characteristic wit by Andy Orchard.
The first speaker was Mary Garrison (York), whose talk, ‘How the DMLBS rescued Alcuin as a scribe’, revealed the crucial role that the Dictionary’s entry for ‘industria’ played in convincing her that Alcuin himself had copied out many of the volumes in his lost library.
Next up was Neil Wright (Cambridge), whose engaging talk on ‘The Twelfth-Century Renaissance in Anglo-Norman England’ was described by Andy Orchard as ‘customarily seminal’. We saw how the historian William of Malmesbury and the poet Joseph of Exeter skilfully exploited the presumed erudition of their readers for political and literary ends.
After coffee, Wendy Childs (Leeds) masterfully guided us ‘From chronicles to customs accounts’ in the long 14th century, showing how both the high literary register of historians like Thomas Walsingham and the rough-and-ready register of people like customs officials dealt with the need to find Latin words to refer to modern kinds of ships, goods, and so on.
Finally, Robert Swanson (Birmingham) memorably portrayed the continuing vitality and undiminished importance of Latin in 15th- and 16th-century England as the ‘Elephans in camera’ for historians of the period, who often prefer to focus on the rise of the vernacular. A recurring refrain was the astute observation that ‘more English did not mean less Latin’.