Victoria Lamb - amo, amas, amat: Latin in Tudor England

250KB medium colour photo victoria lamb copyToday, I’m delighted to welcome Victoria Lamb, historical novelist of some repute as well as fun-loving person. Her exciting Tudor series for adults beginning with The Queen’s Secret is centred around the enigma of Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’ while her Tudor Witch series for Young Adults has been described as ‘Twilight meets The Other Boleyn Girl’. Her knowledge of Tudor England is vast and, like me, she has a penchant for Latin…

Beyond the level of peasants labouring in the fields, Latin was omnipresent in Tudor society. Before the Reformation, Latin was the language of church services and biblical readings – so if you could not understand Latin, you just sat and picked your nose. It was used in legal, state and municipal documents, with English a poor second choice when it came to anything even remotely important. But after Henry VIII made the Catholics personae non gratae, Latin dropped out of use in church – except for a last hoorah under Bloody Mary. It was replaced by the Book of Common Prayer, and English translations of the Bible courtesy of early reformers like Thomas Cranmer and William Tyndedale, who reportedly said he wanted ‘the boy that driveth the plow’ to know as much scripture as the clergy.

So how did most people in the educated classes learn Latin in the first place?

tudorchildren3Girls and boys learned to read and write in ‘petty’ schools from age 4 to 7, but those families who could afford it then sent their sons to grammar school until the age of 14. (Girls were either privately tutored after the age of 7, or had no further formal education.) Latin was what boys learnt at grammar school – as the name suggests – along with Greek, religion, arithmetic and some history. To distinguish between an ablative and a dative, they studied William Lily’s famous Rudimenta Grammatices, authorized by Henry VIII in 1542. Lily’s Grammar was so well-known that Shakespeare referenced it in several plays, and it continued to be used in schools until Kennedy’s Primer took its place in the early nineteenth century. (I used Kennedy’s at school in the 1980s, which shows how long-lived these grammars can be!)



Some early Tudor humanists like Erasmus and his followers – including Thomas More – believed Latin had become corrupted during the Middle Ages. Latin was still a living language at that point, so had absorbed many neologisms and changes in pronunciation and usage that they disliked, just as some disdain ‘text speak’ today, so they wanted to purify the way it was spoken and written. They advocated new writings in this purer Latin, along with strictly classical loan-words: this move eventually become known as Neo-Latin. Unfortunately, the Great Vowel Shift which took place in Tudor England – and incidentally paved the way for Modern English – also affected the ‘received pronunciation’ championed by Erasmus and Co. – so their neo-classical Latin came through a little less pure than intended.

Elizabeth1- ermine portait

Elizabeth I

After the Reformation, Latin continued to be used in legal and state documents such as the Charter Rolls and Patent Rolls. But increasingly English became more popular in official documents, either as an expression of nationalism, or as a way of cocking a snoot at Catholics and their Latinate church services. By the time of Elizabeth’s death – a keen classical scholar who translated a number of Latin texts as a child – the English were more than ready for King James’ authorized English Bible. The great age of Latin reform was over, and it was all downhill from thereon.

Tibi gratias maximas agimus Victoria Agna!

HER LAST ASSASSIN small cover photoVictoria Lamb writes historical fiction for Random House. Read her latest novel, set in the reign of Elizabeth I, is Her Last Assassin.

Lady-in-waiting Lucy Morgan is once again torn between her dangerous attraction to William Shakespeare and her loyalty to Queen Elizabeth I. England is facing its gravest threat yet. The Spanish have declared war, and Elizabeth finds herself attacked by sea – and by Catholic conspiracy from within her own court. Master Goodluck goes undercover, tasked with discovering the identity of this secret assassin, leaving his ward Lucy not knowing if the spy is alive or dead. Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth is growing old in a court of troublesome young noblemen, while Lucy is struggling to love a man whose duties lie elsewhere. When the final challenge comes, these two women must be ready to face it. But there is one last surprise in store for both of them.

About Victoria…
Victoria Lamb is a novelist with two historical series from Random House set in the Tudor era, one for adults (Bantam) and one for Young Adult readers (Corgi). She also writes poetry and literary fiction as Jane Holland, and adult romance as Elizabeth Moss.

Born in Essex in the mid-sixties, Victoria is the middle daughter of bestselling novelist Charlotte Lamb and the classical biographer Richard Holland. When the family later moved to the peaceful Isle of Man, Victoria was brought up in rural surroundings in a home full of books.

She returned to England for her education as an adult, and married there. While living in Warwickshire, affectionately known as Shakespeare Country, she began writing The Queen’s Secret, a novel set at nearby Kenilworth Castle during an epic visit by Queen Elizabeth I in 1575.

Victoria now lives in Cornwall with her husband, four of her five children, and a highly energetic Irish Red Setter. In her leisure time, she has been known to write poetry and go for long walks across the moors. She writes other kinds of fiction under various names, and as a former Warwick Poet Laureate, her poetry is published under the name Jane Holland.


Twitter: @VictoriaLamb1

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is out early summer 2014.

5 comments to Victoria Lamb – amo, amas, amat: Latin in Tudor England

  • Great to meet another Essex girl! Interesting interview, thanks for sharing. I have one of Victoria’s books and aim to purchase more when my TBR pile shrinks.

  • I enjoyed his post as I am interested in both language and history. Although my books are set in the 17th and 18th centuries, I am fascinated by the hold Latin had on England, and of course it was the language also of universities across Europe. I would have loved to study Latin, but never had the chance. Thank you for a very informative blog.

  • Thanks for your comments, it is an interesting subject. You can study Latin with the Open University (though it is rather expensive) or learn the basics by buying the Cambridge Latin Course, amongst others, starting with Book One. It may be easier than you imagine! And hi, Glynis! Yes, Essex born and bred. Though I haven’t been back in years!

  • I just read Her Last Assassin and it’s a great book. I am adding her other books to my TBR list.

  • Thank you so much, Denise.