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Latin inscriptions are a mystery to me….

 

My mastery of Latin was gleaned at the age of 13, when for one dizzying year I was elevated to the “A” stream of King Edward VI’s Grammar School for Girls, Louth, Lincolnshire. Then they realized I wasn’t that bright, after all, and down I went!

The result of this demotion is that I have never been able to decipher Latin inscriptions. No, not the ones from Ancient Rome, but those of the medieval period here in England, where there was a very annoying (to me) habit of writing things in Latin. I can limp by in Old French, but not Latin.

My difficulty right now is a need to know what a particular inscription means. Here it is:-

Militis o miserere tui, miserere parentum
Alme Deus regnis gaudeat ille tuis.
(

I’m afraid I was low enough to try my hand with the Google translation service. While I could pick out words, what I could not do was string them together satisfactorily. So I appealed to my friends on Facebook, and they have been splendid. In advance, I thank Julia, Susan, Erik, Brian, Mary, Heather and last, but by no means least, Eileen!

Before I go on, I must point out that the o on its own in the inscription, is, of course, topped by something that I cannot make out. I thought, incorrectly, that it is an ö, but I’m told that an o with a little wiggle over it usually indicates an abbreviated word.

Then it seemed likely that the o might be short for ossis, which would make the first phrase “have mercy on the bones of your soldier” (As the knight in question died abroad on campaign and was brought back to England for burial, it would have been  only his bones that were returned, not the rest of him!)

Another offered translation is:-

O, have mercy on your knight, have mercy on (his) parents;
Dear God, may he rejoice in this, your kingdom
!

And another:-

Oh, pity your soldier, pity the parents. Dear God, may he rejoice in your kingdom.

So, I now know what the inscription means, and it makes sense!

Finally, let me identify the occupant of the vanished tomb  from which the inscription has been taken. It was that of 19-year old Sir Edward Holland, Count of Mortain, the youngest son of John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter. John was executed in 1400, and buried as a traitor at Pleshey, having taken part in the Epiphany Rising to remove the usurper Henry IV and return Richard II to the throne. Richard was John’s half-brother. According to Weever’s Ancient Funeral Monuments, Edward—who adhered to Henry V—was buried close to his father, and Edward’s wife (whom I have not been able to identify yet) was buried there as well. None of the tombs at Pleshey have survived, and were it not to Weever’s Ancient Funeral Monuments, no record would have remained. Edward died at the Siege of Rouen in 1418, fighting for Henry V, and that king paid for his remains to be brought home to England, buried and entombed.

Sadly, it would not be all that long before Henry V himself was brought home in such a way.

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