In Which I Trollin Through 17th Century Norfolk and A Dictionary of Middle English

Trollin v., L.G. trullin, troll, roll, walk, wander, ‘volvo’ PR.  þus haþ he trolled (pple.) forþ þise two and þritti winter.

I am reading a dictionary of Middle English and I am absolutely riveted. When the husband and children leave the house, I read it out aloud to myself and wonder if my most distant named ancestor John Thyrston or Johannis Thurston or Jno. Thurstone (they weren’t picky about spelling back in the day) sounded anything like this. Middle English was spoken from the 11th century to the late 15th century. John lived in Norfolk in the early 1600s in the Early Modern English period, which ran from the Tudor period to the Restoration, but I founden (v. O. Fr. found) the Middle English Dictionary first. Þus haþ he sounded more like Chaucer than like us.

John Thurston is my 10th great grand-father. He was born in about 1609, perhaps in Holland. By 1636 he was living in Great Walsingham, Norfolk. He married his sweetheart Jane Ryxe at St Peter’s Church on 12th June – a lovely summer’s day.

St Peter's Church, Great Walsingham

Great Walsingham is a small green village in Norfolk, not far from the coast. It is a hop, skip and a jump from Little Walsingham at which the Virgin Mary appeared to Richeldis de Faverches in 1061. A holy house was built on the spot and it became a popular pilgrimage site. Catherine of Aragon visited the shrine only to watch her husband, Henry VIII, sack and destroy it years later in 1538. The statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was carried off to London where it was burnt. All that remained of the building after its sacking was the gatehouse, the chancel arch and a few out-buildings.

 Weep Weep O Walsingham,

Whose dayes are nights,

Blessings turned to blasphemies,

Holy deeds to despites.

Sinne is where our Ladye sate,

Heaven turned is to helle;

Satan sitthe where our Lord did swaye,

Walsingham O farewell!


 ~The Walsingham Lament, Anonymous Elizabethan Lament 

Walsingham Abbey Remains

John Thurston lived in the area long after Our Lady of Walsingham had been destroyed but it was still a very long time ago. He was 1 year-old when Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter. Galileo certainly didn’t use a ‘telescope’ for this as the word was only used for the first time a year after his discovery in 1611.

Upon John’s birth, his parents would never have heard the phrases “fair-play” and “in a pickle” as they were yet to be invented by Shakespeare in his play The Tempest. It was performed for the first time on 1 November 1611. Samuel Johnson’s great dictionary was still 150-odd years in the making. It is a wonder that Johnson ever completed his nine-year project at all. He never woke before noon.

John Thurston married shortly after the first ever Thanksgiving in Virginia. This was at the height of the English Civil War. He might well have been involved. Certainly members of his family would have fought. Proportionally more Englishmen died in the English Civil War than in any other war the English have taken part in since. John was 40 and a father of three living children in 1649 when the war ended and King Charles I was beheaded outside Whitehall Palace.

I have no idea when John passed away. He would have been 57 when The Great Fire, started in Pudding Street, destroyed most of London. His grandson and namesake was 75 when he passed away (a ripe old age in 1747), so perhaps he was of long-lived stock. Either way, he never left Great Walsingham. The family lived in the parish until the late 1820s when Richard Farrow, a builder, moved to London.

But I digress…below, a list of some of the fabulous words from the Dictionary of Middle English:

Bere-bliss, sb., bringer of bliss


Bi-cnawen, v., acknowledge, know

Say it out loud. It’s a goodie.

Keek, v., look, peep

Poop v., a short blast on a horn

No 7 year-old would have giggled at the word then and I’m not sure why but that makes me giggle.

Gleimous, adj., slimy

I am going to encourage my son to bring this back into common usage. 7 year-old boys need lots of words for slimy.

Gnaggen, v., gnaw

Muschil, sb. muscle

Næiδer, pron & conj, for neither

Only because it looks fabulous.

I bi-cnawen that I will add more of these as time passes but I will remain mindful of my husband’s advice on brevity. For now, congeiene (v., O.Fr bid farewell to, dismiss) to all.

3 thoughts on “In Which I Trollin Through 17th Century Norfolk and A Dictionary of Middle English

  1. Pingback: Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary In a Time When Music Saved Your Life. « tracyloveshistory

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