Unlike Sir Pagan, William the Conqueror was very much a real-life character. He invaded Britain in 1066 and fought the Battle of Hastings, defeating the army of King Harold. The battle was recorded in the Bayeux Tapestry.
A seal was used to stamp the wax sealing important documents before the days of glue and Sellotape. It usually bore the coat of arms or mark of its owner and was a security device to ensure that the papers weren't opened before they reached their recipient.
Wold is John Durbeyfield's way of saying "old". Throughout the book, Hardy presents the speech of rustic characters phonetically rather than in standard English. If you have trouble making sense of any of it, try reading it out loud.
A quotation from the Second Book of Samuel in the Bible (1:19): David says this when Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle.
Cerealia was a Roman festival celebrating the goddess Ceres. Its exact dates aren't known, but it is thought to have taken place over seven days in April.
Sources suggest that one of the rituals involved women clothed in white running with lighted torches to represent the goddess's search for her daughter Proserpina, who was abducted, raped, and taken to the underworld.
The first conflict in Tess is between her two languages: the thick, west country dialect her parents speak and the much more standard English she is taught to speak at school. Hardy later tells us that when Tess is with her mother, the Jacobean (the period during the rule of James I) and Victorian ages stand side by side, representing this gap as a time span of over 200 years.
The standardised school system was introduced during the Victorian era. Although education for all children wasn't mandatory until 1871, by the mid-nineteenth century the Church of England had set up a series of National Schools where reading, writing and arithmetic were taught. In out of the way places such as Marlott, these would typically have been overseen by one teacher, with children of all ages learning together in one room.
As you can hear from this 1930s recording of a Dorset accent, thick west country accents could be quite hard for outsiders to understand:
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A quotation from William Wordsworth's 'Lines Written in Early Spring'.
One of the key ideas of late-eighteenth century Romantic poets such as Wordsworth was the pathetic fallacy. This is the belief that the natural world is benevolent to us and responds to our experiences and emotions. For Hardy, thirty years after Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species had rocked the western world, such an idea was untenable.