Welcome to the 9th final of the 500 Words competition held today at Windsor Castle in this magnificent Waterloo Chamber.
As some of you probably know, Chris Evans gave birth to 500 Words in 2010, so as he might say: he’s the Daddy! We are thrilled that we have managed to lure him back from Virgin today to support us.
Welcome back, Chris, and thank you Zoe for taking the helm so brilliantly. Now you probably came into the Castle thinking of a Royal Wedding or two… But they were just the most recent in a long line of memorable Royal occasions in this historic place.
Windsor Castle is the longest-occupied castle in the world. It was the home of 39 monarchs and it’s at the heart of our country’s history, but alas, as you can no doubt hear, it is now also in the heart of Heathrow’s flight path!
39 Kings and Queens is just too many, so let’s start with Queen Victoria. It was here in 1861 that her beloved Prince Albert died. Poor Victoria was so devastated that she wore black for the remaining 40 years of her reign… They called her the ‘Widow of Windsor’.
In the 1820s, George IV spent a small fortune furnishing the rooms in the latest style. He commissioned the wonderful portraits in this room, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, to mark the Duke of Wellington’s great victory over Napoleon in the famous battle of Waterloo.
Back to the Tudors, to Elizabeth I and Shakespeare, who wrote ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ for her…
We hurtle down the centuries, and finally reach the castle’s creator, William the Conqueror, who stood at the foot of this hill and chose the site of the castle in 1070. You are such a clever bunch that I am sure you all know the date he arrived, (uninvited): 1066 – the Battle of Hastings and the beginning of the Norman Conquest.
William the Conqueror changed everything: the way people were ruled and the way they lived…But the most dramatic change of all was the way they talked. The English language was never the same again. William and his court spoke French so as it was the language of the ruling classes it slowly influenced the way everyone spoke…In fact, it’s said that most of us know thousands of French words before we have a single French lesson…
Now, I have read some of your amazing stories, so I know how much you love words… You have even invented some of your own! The English vocabulary is huge and what a choice we have! All through the centuries we have been adding words from other languages. They don’t replace ours, but they give us a massive choice when we are searching for just the right one. After the Norman Conquest lots of French words came into the English language. We no longer eat roast cow, but roast beef (from the French – boeuf); not sheep casserole, but mutton (mouton).
As time went on, French enriched our language with many shades of meaning. As well as the old English thoughtful, we can also be pensive; or the down to earth English smell or stench can also be odour or perfume, from French.
We are still adding words to this day – they say about 1,000 new ones every year. That’s two whole entries for 500 Words! There’s a few which sound completely English now -: loot, from Hindi; cartoon, from Italian; lemon, from Arabic; smithereens, from Irish; ketchup, from Chinese (there’s a surprise!) and poltergeist, from German. We have come a very long way from ‘1066 and all that.’
Today we celebrate the incredible imagination and talent of every one of you who sent in a story. Your writing also celebrates the richness and variety of the English language, using what the Anglo-Saxons called ‘the word-hoard’ – your stories sparkle and ignite. And I must add that it has been a fascinating and, as always, a virtually impossible task to choose the winners…
So huge thanks go to the judges, teachers,parents, and everyone who has worked so hard to make this competition such fun. But, most of all, thank you to all of you young wordsmiths who have shown us how AWESOME the English language is today.