I have been reading about European history in the XII century and I am finding out that several of the modern day languages hadn't yet evolved to what they are now: Langue d'oïl was still being used in France & Belgium, Old Saxon was still in vigor as well as Anglo-Saxon and Old East Slavic / Old Russian.

Was there an "official" language among monarchies just as English is nowadays for most governments? There were already agreements, marriage pacts and even crusades planned among different monarchies so they must have established communication somehow... I'm leaning towards the equivalent of French at the time, however I couldn't get any official sources to confirm this.

Wikipedia lists some of the monarchs of the time here: 12th-century monarchs in Europe


3 Answers 3


When it comes to western Europe, medieval Latin would be closer to an "official" language, especially for international affairs. The Roman Catholic Church's power and influence at the time was unparalleled and several major events of the era started with a Papal Bull. Here's a short list of Papal Bulls that were political in nature and were addressed, formally or informally, to the monarchs of the era:

  • Sicut Judaeis (1120): Provides protection for the Jews who suffered from the hands of the participants in the First Crusade,
  • Omne Datum Optimum (1139): Endorses the Knights Templar,
  • Quantum praedecessores (1145): Calls for the Second Crusade,
  • Laudabiliter (1155): Gives the English King Henry II lordship over Ireland,
  • Manifestis Probatum (1179): Recognition of the kingdom of Portugal and Afonso Henriques as the first king,
  • Audita tremendi (1187): Calls for the Third Crusade,
  • Cum universi (1192): Defined the Scottish Church as immediately subject to the Holy See,
  • Post Miserabile (1198): Calls for the Fourth Crusade.

Several other historical documents of the 12th century are written in medieval Latin, even if not issued by the Pope or the Roman Catholic Church. For example:

One document that stands out is the Charter of Liberties (1100), a forerunner to the Magna Carta. While apparently the original was most probably written in Latin, several copies of it were made in other languages depending on the intended audience, and all could have been considered authoritative at the time. The Magna Carta itself though was originally issued in Latin (and 15 years into the 13th century), and then translated to French.

In the east, however, Byzantine Greek had replaced Latin as the official language of the Byzantine Empire since 620, when Emperor Heraclius started styling himself as Βασιλεύς1 instead of the Latin Augustus. Official documents of the era were written in Byzantine Greek, although it's not unreasonable to assume that at least some of the documents that were addressed to European Monarchs would be written in medieval Latin.

Given that "official" at the time mostly meant sanctioned by the church, either the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church, I'd say that medieval Latin and Byzantine Greek would be very close to what we would today consider official languages.

1 King; sovereign.


According to wikipedia, Anglo-Norman French (the dialect of French spoken by the Norman conquerors) was used for that purpose in England in the 13th century. Before that it was typically Latin, and afterwards English.

(BTW: langues d'oïl basically means a dialect of French where oui is used to mean "yes". Anglo-Norman French was in fact one of those).

For diplomatic communications, Latin was generally used. Remember that the "Romance Languages" (French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian, etc.) were just regional dialects of Latin that slowly drifted into mutual-unintelligability.


Here are the official titles of Catholic European kings in the 13th century.

Lithuania 1261:

Mindowe, Dei gratia rex Littowie

Hungary and Croatia 1270:

Stephanus dei gracia Hungarie, Dalmacie, Croacie, Rame, Seruie, Gallicie, Lodomerie, Cumanie Bulgarieque rex

Denmark and the Wends 1251:

Abel dej gracia Danorum Slauorumque rex dux Jucie

The Franks (France) 1246:

Ludovicus, Dei gratia Francie rex

The Swedes and the Goths 1276:

Magnus dei gracia sweuorum gotorumque rex

Bohemia 1291:

Nos Wencezlaus, dei gratia rex Bohemie, dux Cracouie et Sandomerie, marchioque Morauie

England 1261:

Henricus, dei gracia Rex Anglie Dominus Hibernie et Dux Aquitannie

The Scots 1240:

Alexander dei gracia Rex Scottorum

Sicily Naples 1289:

Karolus secundus, Dei gracia rex Jerusalem Cicilie, ducatus Apulie & principatus Capue princeps Achaye, andegavie provincie et forcalquerii comes

the other Sicily 1282:

Petrus dei gracia Aragonum et Sicilie Rex

Latin Empire of Constantinople 1205:

Balduinus, eadem [Dei] gracia fidelissimus in Christo imperator, a Deo coronatus, Romanorum moderator et semper augustus, Flandrie et Hainoie comes

Jerusalem 1258:

Conradus dei gratia Ierusalem et Sicilie rex, dux Swevie

Antioch 1219:

ego Raymundus Rupini dei gracia princeps Antiochenus, Raymundi principis fili

Cyprus 1252:

Nos Henricus Dei gratia rex Cypri

Norway 1264:

Magnus dei gratia rex Norwagie

Poland 1295:

nos Premislius secundus, Dei gracia rex Polonie et dux Pomoranie

Portugal 1259:

ego Alfonsus dei gratia Rex Portugalie

Aragon, etc. 1231:

nos Jacobus, Dei gracia, rex Aragonum et regni Majoricarum, comes Barchinonensis et dominus Montispessulani

Castile, etc. 1249:

ferdinandus Dei gratia, Rex Castelle et Toleti et Legionis et Gallicie et Seuille et Corduue et Murcie et Jaheni

Navarre 1223:

nos Sancius, Dei gratia rex Nauarre

Emperor 1226:

Fridericus secundus divina favente clementia Romanorum imperator semper augustus, Jerusalem et Sicilie rex


What language are these title from 13th century documents written in? Almos t all are in Latin. They show that many documents in Catholic European countries were written in Latin.

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