The period after the Norman Conquest (1066) until about 1485 is called The Middle Ages. During this time the English language and culture developed and the UK started to form a distinct identity. Read more about The Middle Ages, improve your reading skills and practise for the Life in the UK test.

The Middle Ages​

The Middle Ages saw the development of a national culture and identity. After the Norman Conquest, the king and his noblemen had spoken Norman French and the peasants had continued to speak Anglo-Saxon. Gradually these two languages combined to become one English language. Some words in modern English - for example, 'park' and 'beauty' - are based on Norman French words. Others - for example, 'apple', 'cow' and summer' - are based on Anglo-Saxon words. In modern English there are often two words with very similar meanings, one from French and one from Anglo-Saxon. 'Demand' (French) and 'ask' (Anglo-Saxon) are examples. By 1400, in England, official documents were being written in English, and English had become the preferred language of the royal court and Parliament.

In the years leading up to 1400, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a series of poems in English about a group of people going to Canterbury on a pilgrimage. The people decided to tell each other stories on the journey, and the poems describe the travellers and some of the stories they told. This collection of poems is called The Canterbury Tales. It was one of the first books to be printed by William Caxton, the first person in England to print books using a printing press. Many of the stories are still popular. Some have been made into plays and television programmes.

In Scotland, many people continued to speak Gaelic and the Scots language also developed. A number of poets began to write in the Scots language. One example is John Barbour, who wrote The Bruce about the Battle of Bannockburn.

The Middle Ages also saw a change in the type of buildings in Britain. Castles were built in many places in Britain and Ireland, partly for defence. Today many are in ruins, although some, such as Windsor or Edinburgh, are still in use. Great cathedrals - for example, Lincoln Cathedral - were also built, and many of these are still used for worship. Several of the cathedrals had windows of stained glass, telling stories about the Bible and Christian saints. The glass in York Minster is a famous example.

During this period, England was an important trading nation. English wool became a very important export. People came to England from abroad to trade and also to work. Many had special skills, such as weavers from France, engineers from Germany, glass manufacturers from Italy and canal builders from Holland.

This text is from taken Life in the United Kingdom, a Guide for New Residents, 3rd edition, Page 23

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Task 1 - comprehension

Task 2 - key information

Life in the UK test - make sure you know

Before you take the Life in the UK test, check you understand:

The development of the English language and culture

Also think about:

  • Important poets and authors of The Middle Ages
  • The new types of buildings that were constructed
  • British exports
  • The types of people who came to Britain from other countries



Think about another country you know well.

  • How many languages do people speak there?
  • What is the history of these languages?
  • What historical buildings are there?
  • Which is your favourite?

Write in and let us know. We’d love to hear from you!

You can find out more about the Life in the UK test, and about applying for British Citizenship here: