interpreter

Latin, interpres, latinarius.

After the Conquest, English, French and Latin were current in England. English, moreover, had been widely employed at all levels of government before 1066, and the vernacular was more widely used in literature and historical writing than in any other European country. For all these reasons, interpreters would have been in great demand after 1066. According to Ordericus Vitalis, the Conqueror himself attempted to learn English 'so that he could understand the pleas of the common people without an interpreter and benevolently pronounce fair judgements for each one as justice required' (Ecclesiastical History, edited by Marjorie Chibnall, vol. 2, pages 256-57). However implausible, this anecdote does point up the need for interpreters in the heart of government, a need which would have been even greater at lower levels.

Domesday Book names four interpreters, two of whom are also described as
commissioners (legati). It is possible, therefore, the word commissioner could sometimes signify interpreter, in which case Hervey the commissioner should be added to the list. All five of these men appear among the minor tenants-in-chief, holding what would later be called sergeantries. In addition, the name Latimer (Latinus) meant interpreter. Seven Latimers occur in Domesday, several of these also being minor tenants-in-chief or holding a portion of a royal manor.

Domesday interpreters were of both English (Leofwin; Godric) and French (Hugh; Richard; Robert) extraction, though the majority - and all the more prosperous ones - were French. This may reflect the reality of their distribution though the number of recorded interpreters can only be a fraction of the actual total; and English interpreters probably figured disproportionately among the less well-endowed, and therefore unrecorded, figures.

For the interpreters named in Domesday Book, see H. Tsurushima, 'Domesday interpreters', Anglo-Norman Studies, vol. 18 (1996), pages 201-22; and for sergeantries, R.R. Darlington, 'Introduction to the Wiltshire Domesday', Victoria History of the county of Wiltshire, vol. 2, edited by R.B. Pugh and E. Crittall (1955), pages 42-177.
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