The French of Wales? Possibilities, Problems, Implications

Matt Lampitt 
St John’s College, University of Cambridge

In his groundbreaking 1994 article, ‘L’anglo-français au Pays de Galles’, David Trotter outlined what he called an ‘enquête préliminaire’ into the presence and purpose(s) of French in medieval Wales. He showed that French was present in much of Wales (both so-called pura Wallia and Marchia Wallie), most often in its capacity as an administrative language. His compelling conclusion was that: ‘N’en déplaise aux Anglais, l’anglo-français est un phénomène britannique, une langue non pas de l’Angleterre, mais des Iles Britanniques’ (1994, 481; With all due respect to the English, Anglo-French is a British phenomenon, a language not of England but of the British Isles).

Despite considerable recent research into various ‘Frenches’ outside of France (in England, Outremer, Italy, etc.), there has, since Trotter’s article, been relatively little sustained interest in a possible ‘French of Wales’. This paper aims to address that problem. Using key case studies to expand, revise, and reframe a number of Trotter’s conclusions, I ask: what would a ‘French of Wales’ look like? Where and how would we go about identifying it? Is it, as Trotter suggested, a primarily administrative language, or is there also literary evidence? Pushing further, however, this paper also seeks to explore what a ‘French of Wales’ would mean: what are its political enjeux? How might it problematize the ways in which we so often project modern national configurations onto the medieval past? What might be its wider implications, for example, for traditional models of cultural geography so frequently underpinned by notions of core and periphery?

It is to such questions that this paper hopes to suggest some possible answers, as well as generating scholarly interest in the fascinating Welsh contexts of medieval French without borders.