If I am not mistaken, modern English language has a large influence from Old French through the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror in 1066 and subsequent Norman monarchs.

However, the modern words used in reference to male and female rulers in a monarchy are king and queen, derived from Old English cyning and cwen respectively.

But if the new rulers brought with them their language, why aren't monarchs today called something derived from roi and reine, or something along those lines?

Is it something the new rulers chose, maybe to bring themselves closer to their new subjects? Or did the population keep calling the new rulers cyning and cwen, regardless of the language the rulers brought with them, and it simply stuck? Or is it something completely different?

  • Maybe the subjects refused to change (most laypersons spoke 'English' rather than French) - language follows the people. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 16:52
  • 21
    We only use 'roi' and 'reine' if we're about to eat them. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 16:52
  • 7
    Although we don't use roi, we do use the adjective form royal. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 17:43

3 Answers 3


Even if "William the Conqueror" thought himself Guillaume, roi d'Angleterre, most of his English subjects would have no idea what a roi d'Angleterre was, much less a Guillaume. No doubt William wanted to be known as just the next king, not the founder of a new order. But I think that was not the reason "king" remained in English.

The English terms "earl", "sheriff" and "knight" were retained by the Norman rulers to promote continuity. French terms were used for concepts not previously part of English government such as "marquess". (Some concepts were mixed, like "duke". Some French terms were alternatives to English terms, like "count".)

It would be obvious here that the Normans were more interested in exploiting the English apple cart than upsetting it. They actually did both, but not by attempting to turn England into Normandy. Even if William were King of England and Duke of Normandy, England and Normandy remained separate concerns.

It cannot be surprising that "king" and "queen" remained in English given the Norman attitude.

  • 2
    This sounds entirely plausible, but do you have any sources?
    – Readin
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 5:11
  • @ Readin... what is the specific concern?
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 9:19
  • Well I am not sure they wouldn't have understood what a Guillaume was, seeing how the name most likely derives from the same Old Germanic name as William does, but I think I see your point. Even if Angles and Saxons had retained administrative terms from the variant of Latin they found upon their arrival, the Roman Empire was not a kingdom so they wouldn't have retained Latin terms for royalty. Would you then say it is something the new rulers chose? And, as a curiosity, do you know if Anglo-Saxons retained any administrative terms from Latin?
    – Carvo Loco
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 12:18
  • 1
    @Carvo Loco.......As far as I know, the Anglo-Saxons found no government in Britain familiar to their ways. I mentioned "duke" in the answer, which was from Latin, but not from Imperial administration. The Anglo-Saxons had little permanent organized government and only outside pressure caused England to unite under one King/, and that not an all-powerful one.Most of the Latin acquired into English before The Conquest was connected to the Church. The Anglo-Saxons had a notion of general equality in their communities with leaders seen as "first among equals"; this was disturbed by the Normans.
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 16:22
  • 1
    @ Readin... I did not mean to leave it at that. One basis for the answer was the condition, politically of the Channel Islands. By the reckoning of the governments of those Islands, they are part of Normandy, and, have never been part of England, Great Britain or the UK.. The different institutions and language of government supports the notion that England was never the object of a radical :"Normanization" of its government.. That is getting away from language, though, so I did not include any of that in the answer.. I am not offended by your comment . I hope I can satisfy ytour concerns..
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 23:40

William claimed the existing title of King held by Harold. French became less popular in large part due to the 100 years war. Henry IV was the first to take his oath in English. Henry V was a native English speaker.

The last thing William wanted was to invent a new title and leave the title "King of England" open to be claimed by one of his many enemies and rivals. The whole point of the Norman conquest was to claim the title "King of England" for William.

  • 4
    The last thing William wanted was to invent a new title and leave the title "King of England" open to be claimed by one of his many enemies and rivals. The whole point of the Norman conquest was to claim the title "King of England" for William. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 19:21
  • 2
    You should move/copy your comment into your answer.
    – Makyen
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 0:44
  • 1
    Thanks for your answer, MikeJRamsey56, and especially for your helpful added comment. Following Makyen's suggestion, I have taken the liberty to copy your comment to the main body of your answer, although it is pending review by peers.
    – Carvo Loco
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 12:25

One reasonable explanation is that the Normans wanted to be seen as the legitimate heirs to an existing title rather than as conquerors who granted themselves a new title.

Having said that the key legal terms and adjectives such as monarch, crown, sovereign and royal are all Latin or Old French in origin.

This can also be related to the fact that terms for livestock tend to have Old English origins (Cow, Pig etc) while terms for meat as food tend to be french.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.