: Anyone who does find this sort of thing interesting may like to know that the rather older and more clunky University of Oxford Manuscript website has been doing this for about ten years. It can be found at http://image.ox.ac.uk
(Oxford has quite a few other digital libraries to be found here
Perhaps most significantly, the Early Manuscript collection includes the Piers Plowman B-text
, which is the version as read by Spenser, Shakespeare, and Jonson. It's also one of the greatest Ricardian poems in its own right, but you know, no big deal or anything >_>:
In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne,
I shoop me into shroudes as I a sheep were,
In habite as an heremite unholy of werkes,
Wente wide in this world wondres to here.
Ac on a May morwenynge on Malverne hilles
Me bifel a ferly, of Fairye me thoghte.
I was wery forwandred and wente me to reste
Under a brood bank by a bourne syde;
And as I lay and lenede and loked on the watres,
I slombred into a slepyng, it sweyed so murye.
Thanne gan I meten a merveillous swevene--
That I was in a wildernesse, wiste I nevere where.
You know, I had no freaking idea that the Magna Carta was written in Latin. I had expected it to be in Middle English or somesuch. There was a time when I actually could have read the original.
Medieval Latin is quite eccentric, though. All the rules that made the language make sense get tossed out of the window.
On English: English doesn't re-emerge fully as an official language until around the turn of the 14th century: Richard II addressed the leaders of the peasant's revolt in English (though he preferred French), Henry IV accepted (after he'd nicked it from Richard) the crown in English (the first since Edward the Confessor) and his son, Henry V, wrote his war reports in English. Up until this point, French was favoured by members of the court and those who wished to emulate them, Latin was the language of the law and the church. The Anglo-Saxons, before 1066, were much more egalitarian in their use of language: laws, the bible, the court, all in English. They even attempted to standardise the spelling of words.
That's very black and white but there's a fascinating project called the French of England
which is helping to reassess the way in which (the) English and (the) French interacted:
For four centuries French was a language of literature in medieval Britain, as well as a language of record, law, government, administration and the professions.
This significant literary corpus (nearly a thousand texts) remains understudied because nationalising literary histories have often allowed it to fall between continental French and English scholarship.
Yet, beyond a few well-known works famously kidnapped for French national literary history (the Chanson de Roland, the Lais of Marie de France), there is a wealth of post-Conquest historiography, epic, romance, saints' lives, lyric, devotional and other works in the French of England, from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries.
Taking this literature into account involves re-mapping the literary history of medieval Britain; it adds, for instance, two hundred years of composition by women to a tradition sometimes supposed as beginning with Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe: it offers a complex post-colonial literature as the Normans re-write their past as English.
And it challenges and remodels some of our most important assumptions about literature, language, and their interrelations.