What I remember from my college course is that whenever a delegation of barons came to discuss their grievances in English, the King would hear them out politely without understanding a word, conclude the meeting by saying "J'accept," and leave it at that. This went on for quite some time after the Conquest.

John Lackland must have spoken pretty good English: he negotiated with the provincial barons expertly. His own brother's nickname, however, was French: Cœur de Lion. Their father, Henri II, thought of himself as the king of both England and France at times.

Who was the first king of England to speak English as a first language, and what brought about this change in the ruling house's philosophy?

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    I already answered this question: history.stackexchange.com/questions/20700/… Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 1:40
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    I really doubt the situation you described actually happened. England is a pragmatic country and translators would not be hard to find. Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 12:44
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    He'll never be known as John the first, he's sure to be known as John the worst....
    – wogsland
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 4:31
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    We even have a song from King Richard in french - and in the lyrics the English are listed as if they were just one people more among his other french subjects youtube.com/watch?v=ejYmffwkuqo
    – Luiz
    Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 20:57
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    What makes you think the barons addressed the king in English in the period when the king knew no English? The barons' families had mostly come over along with Wm the Conqueror, and many of them still held land in Normandy (or in some cases even resided there) until John lost Normandy.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Apr 25, 2021 at 23:47

4 Answers 4


Apparently since my previous answer to this same type of question had no upvotes it cannot be used to tag this question as a duplicate. Therefore, I will excerpt the relevant part:

The first kings to be more English than French were the Tudors starting with Henry VII. The Tudors married real English women, not French-bred women imported from the continent. They also started passing laws requiring people to speak English. One of the weird side effects of the court speaking French was that non-English languages like Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Cornish flourished. After all, you can hardly require people to speak English when the whole court is speaking French! The Tudors changed all this. They made English the language of court and they also began requiring everyone in the kingdom to speak English. The law courts and universities also switched to English under the Tudors. There was still a lot of lingering French among the nobles, but the tide had turned and English became the standard.

This is what one scholar wrote:

Although early Tudor policy affirmed English as the land's primary language when Henry VII in the early 1490s unexpectedly replaced statutes published in parallel French and English with statutes published only in English, this signaled to the nation that the arcane Anglo-French terminology of law would henceforth be transferred wholesale into English.

"Studies in the History of the English Language" by Christoper Cain.

Thus you can see 1490 was really the watershed year when Henry VII basically made it clear: ok, everybody, we are all going English.

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    @Ricky: Henry VII was Welsh! He was pandering to the English middle class. Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 2:02
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    @Ricky: Because taxes on the middle class was where the money for a fleet was going to come from. Henry VII's fleet laid the basis for 450 years of naval supremacy by the English. Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 2:15
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    @PieterGeerkens You post a lot here ... most of it wrong. Henry VII didn't build up a fleet - Henry VIII did. He inherited a fleet of 5(!) ships. Although even then they were more perceived as transport for troops rather than warships. It wasn't until the Spanish Armada's defeat that England switched to war at sea. And the Dutch were navally superior for another century at least. Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 12:50
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    I'd call William of Orange a successful hostile naval invader.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 23:18
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    I would like to know the answer to the actual question, namely the first English speaking king not the question you have answered which relates to the official policy of the court language. You may be right that it is Henry VII but your statements do not really go that far (nor did they in the other answer you gave). Commented May 15, 2017 at 12:51

Although Henry V made English the official language of government, there is some debate as to whether it was him or his father, Henry IV, who was the first king to use English as a first language. On balance it was probably Henry IV (for the reasons stated below) so it follows that his predecessor Richard II was the last king whose first language was French.

The History of English article (from thehistoryofenglish.com) says ‘Henry IV, who came to the English throne in 1399, was the first monarch since before the Conquest to have English as his mother tongue’. The book The French in London says ‘Henry IV (1399-1413), the first king of England since the conquest whose mother tongue was English’(quoted by Jacquie Heys).

Henry IV would most probably have been influenced by his father John of Gaunt who was a patron of the English language. Also, by the time Henry IV was born, French was already being supplanted by English as the first language of the nobility. Douglas Kibbee says ‘French as a native language is definitely on the decline, even among nobility of Norman origin’ by the early 13th century (quoted by Jacquie Heys).

Considering the question though (last English king whose first language was French), we should also consider whether any kings after Henry IV had French as their first language. If we accept that Henry IV used English as his first language, it is highly likely that Henry V did too (given the general trend towards English).

Henry VI may be seen as a possibility because his father died when he was six months old (and therefore had no influence) and his mother was French (Catherine of Valois) but she did not have much part in his upbringing as she was not trusted by English nobles. Also, Henry VI’s father Henry V had made English the official language of government and English continued to be promoted during Henry VI’s reign (according to Douglas Kibbee). Then we should also consider that in the Hundred Years War, France was the enemy. The French in London says ‘Under Henry V, the interminable quarrel with France brought about a popular rejection of all things French’. None of this is conclusive evidence, but it is pretty strong. Under the circumstances, it also seems highly unlikely that the later kings Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III would have been brought up with French as their first language.

English was probably spoken by kings since at least Edward I who learnt it from his tutors (and his father Henry III also spoke it well). By the time of Edward III, it seems to have been widely used among the nobles, some of whom actually had to learn French from tutors.









  • Interesting. This would make Louis I the last king of England who spoke essentially no English until George I. (I think William III had a smattering.)
    – C Monsour
    Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 20:31
  • Louis I? Who he? Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 11:10

It looks like there has been an incorrect answer (Richard II) to this question up for years and missing the mark by centuries. The last king of England (of Great Britain, actually, of which England was a part) who spoke French as his first language was George II.

According to Andrew Thompson's George II: King and Elector, p. 16, referring to George II, "Johann Hilmar Holsten acted as George's tutor after the boy's fourth birthday, teaching him, among other things, German because he had previously only spoken French." Thompson cites Mijndert Bertram's Georg II, p. 25.

This is not surprising since French was the language of many princely courts in Germany at the time, and his father was the heir and then the ruler of Hanover. (For example, Ragnhild Hatton's biography of George I quotes from letters of the 1680s among George II's parents and uncles, which are invariably in French when the original language is quoted.) George II was in his early 30s when his father George I inherited the British throne and he moved to England.

He continued to use French frequently as king of England, since that was the language he and his wife spoke to each other, including their famous exchange when she was on her deathbed and urging him to remarry after she died:

-"Non, j'aurai des maîtresses!"

-"Ah, mon Dieu, cela n'empêche pas!"

  • Interesting... but, if you read the body of the question, I think you'll find you've been a little unfair to the other answers - they are not bad, rather it's that the OP's title Q does mean exactly what the body says. The OP wrote "Who was the first king of England to speak English as a first language...". Going by the context and question in the body, I think it's fair to say that George II was not the first to speak Eng as first lang. Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 2:32
  • @LarsBosteen I don't think I'm being unfair at all. It's uncontroversial that the first king of England who spoke English as his first language was Egbert, the first king of England. No one was trying to answer that question. And it's clear the main thrust of the question was contained in the title
    – C Monsour
    Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 2:49
  • @LarsBosteen And obviously I am not claiming that George II was the first king of England to speak English as his first language--that would be ludicrous--, so if anything is unfair it is your comment.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 3:09
  • @LarsBosteen For example the currently most upvoted answer says in bold font "Richard II was the last king of England whose first language was French". While the answer was wrong, at least its author, and all those upvoters, were able to construe the question.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 3:13
  • @LarsBosteen Edited to clarify which previous answer I am claiming is off by centuries.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 3:56

Henry V was the first English king to use English in administration. He did not ban French and Richard II could speak English.

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    This answer could be improved by adding references to these assertions.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 13:10
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    This is not really an answer to which king could speak English as a first language, though.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 15:15

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