Timelines to Visualize History

A Project by the Department of Medieval English Literature and Historical Linguistics, University of Düsseldorf

Begin End Event Description Keywords
410 -

Romans leave Britain

In 410, the Romans left Britain after centuries of occupation. Few remnants of this era in the history of the British Isles can be found, among them several place names that are of Latin origin (e.g. Dubris = Dover, Glevum Colonia = Gloucester, Leodis = Leeds, Londinium = London).
Language Contact, Political, History
449 600

Invasion of Germanic Tribes

The famous scholar Bede mentions the year 449 as the traditional date of the coming of Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians. The Germanic tribes summoned by King Vortigern settled and eventually took over most of the area which is now England. They brought their language with them, which at that time was the variety of Western Germanic. While 449 is recorded as the first arrival of the Germanic tribes, they continued to colonize the British Isles for another century. This process is often called consolidation.
Political, Old English Period, History
449 1066

Old English Period

The Old English Period is a convenient division of English history into a larger category. It takes its name from the language that was spoken during that time in England – Old English, the language(s) that developed from the Germanic language(s) spoken by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians. It is used to distinguish linguistic, literary and historical eras.
Linguistics, Old English Period
596 664


The Church's story in England began with the advent of a mission from Rome, in the year 596, when Saint Augustine of Canterbury arrived in Kent and established the Roman tradition. In 633, another mission arrived in the north of England and established a Celtic tradition there. By mid-7th century, most of the pagan Anglo-Saxons had been converted to Christianity.
History, Old English Period, Religious
596 -

First Roman Missionaries

In 597, the first group of missionaries arrived from Rome and the Roman tradition was followed in the south, while the Irish tradition, introduced by Iro-Scottish missionaries prevailed in the north. Check out Christianisation to learn more!
History, Old English Period, Religious
600 850


From the 7th to the 9th century, there was no political unity in England and the changing overlordship divided the land in to seven kingdoms. These kingdoms were Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Wessex, Sussex and Kent.
History, Old English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers
600 800


As a result of Christianisation, a language contact situation with Latin occurred. Latin was the lingua franca of the church, therefore all texts and sermons were in Latin. It was primarily written, therefore the influence was on a higher register and in the areas of education and religion.
Linguistics, Language Contact, Religious, Old English Period
633 -

Irish Missionaries

Missionaries from Ireland arrived in the north of England and Christianized the people, while in the south people have been Christianised by Roman missionaries. Check out Christianisation to learn more!
History, Old English Period, Religious
660 800

The Golden Age

The Golden Age was an age of learning and education, literature (primarily in Latin) and arts. English Church scholars were renowned throughout Europe to such an extend that they were asked to convert continental Germanic tribes to Christianity (for example St. Suitbertus in Düsseldorf). The Golden Age lasted until a decline of Latin learning set in after the attack on Lindisfarne (793), which lasted until King Alfred was firmly established on the West-Saxon throne.
Literature, Old English Period, Religious
664 -

Synod of Whitby

At the Synod of Whitby, Church leaders decided in favor of the Roman tradition and calculation of Christian holidays, which was in use in the South, instead of the Irish tradition used in the north. This unification lead to a flourishing church tradition.
Old English Period, Religious, History
672 735


The catholic monk Bede was an influential author and scholar. His most famous work is the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, written in the early 8th-century, in which he gives an account of the invasion of Britain by Germanic tribes. After his death, Bede was recognized as one of the leading scholars of his age and came to be known as one of the Church Fathers. He reportedly composed Bede's Death Song, on his death-bed and his works alone account for almost half the manuscripts of OE poetry.
Literature, Old English Period, Poetry, Prose
731 737

Early Pieces

The three early pieces, which were also the first written evidence of Old English, were Bede's Death Song (735), Cædmon's Hymn (737) and The Leiden Riddle (731).
Old English Period, Poetry, Literature
793 1042

Old Norse

From Viking invasions up until the end of the reign of the Danish Kings, Old English was influenced by Old Norse. This influence began several decades after the first Viking attack on Lindisfarne, when the Vikings returned for new raids and eventually decided to settle in England. Eventually, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings were in such close contact that the Old Norse language had a significant impact on Old English.
Linguistics, Language Contact, Vikings, Old English Period
793 -


The first Viking attack was the raid on Lindisfarne monastery in the north of England. It was an easy target because the monks had no defenses, believing God would protect them. There were many similar raids in the following decades, and they were often directed against monasteries and churches.
Old English Period, Political, Vikings, History
793 900

The First Viking Age

The sacking on the monastry of Lindisfarne marked only the beginning of the Viking Age. In the second half of the 9th century the threat became even more serious, as the Danes started regular raids and only eventually the kingdom of Wessex, under the reign of King Alfred, offered resistance.
History, Old English Period, Political, Vikings, Language Contact
827 871

Early Anglo-Saxon Kings

King Egbert of Wessex was the first king to expand his territories beyond his own kingdom. He was later succeeded by his son Æthelwulf, whose four sons became the following kings, the fourth of which was Alfred the Great.
History, Kings + Rulers, Old English Period, Political
871 899

Alfred the Great

Alfred was the so-called first King of England, accepted by all the English that had not submitted to the Vikings. He defeated the Vikings multiple times and made a treaty with them to establish the Danelaw. Alfred's kingship extended beyond mere military leadership; his non-military achievements include his initiative to restore Latin learning and education in England.
Old English Period, Political, Religious, Standardisation, Vikings, Danelaw, Kings + Rulers, History
890 -

Danelaw & The Treaty of Wedmore

After some fruitless attempts from the Danes to invade Wessex, King Alfred brought London under his control in 886. Around 890 a new treaty, the Treaty of Wedmore, was sealed between Alfred and the Danish leader Guthrum. It confirmed the separation of the northern and north-eastern part of England as an area under Danish control; this part came to be known as Danelagu (Danelaw), the area where Danish law prevailed.
History, Danelaw, Old English Period, Political, Vikings
899 924

Edward the Elder

Alfred's first successor was his son Edward the Elder. He was a West-Saxon king who was also acknowledged as overlord in Mercia, whose nobility cherished a tradition of some independence. He began to expand in 917, and at the end of the year 918, he had brought the whole of England south of the river Humber under his control, and in 920 the kings of York, Scotland and Strathclyde submitted to Edward, so that the West-Saxon rule had been extended further north. Edward the Elder died in 924 and was succeeded by his son Athelstan.
Danelaw, Old English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers, History
900 980

Unification under Wessex

At the end of the 9th century, England was divided: the north was under the Danelaw, the south and south-west were under English rule. The decades which followed after the end of King Alfred's reign (the first half of the 10th century), are usually referred to by historians as the period of the re-conquest of the Danelaw by Alfred's successors. There were multiple times of conflict and struggle, but at the end of Eadred's reign, in 955, the north was under English control.
History, Danelaw, Old English Period, Political, Vikings
900 1300

Typological Change

In the typological change, English changed from a synthetic, highly inflectional, to an analytic language that relies on a stricter word order. The change was likely caused as a result of language contact with Old Norse, as Old English and Old Norse had similar roots but different inflections.
Linguistics, Language Contact, Middle English Period, Old English Period
924 939


Athelstan's reign was characterized by his attempts to secure English control over the north; on the one hand, he arranged Anglo-Scandinavian marriages in order to support peaceful relationships with the north, on the other hand, he won decisive battles, as in 937 at Brunanburh when, together with his brother Edmund, he stopped a combined Scottish-Viking army. Athelstan died in 939 and was succeeded by his younger brother Edmund.
History, Danelaw, Old English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers
931 933

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a truly impressive and justly famous successor to the world history of Roman extraction. King Alfred had a it compiled from earlier sources covering the years from Christ's birth to 892; it becomes a fuller historical report for the 9th century, and is today one of our most important sources for Anglo-Saxon history as a whole.
Literature, Old English Period, Political, Prose
937 -

Battle of Brunanburh

Though the place where Edward the Elder and his brother Edmund stopped a combined Scottish-Viking army has not been identified as yet, the battle has become well known. The West-Saxon victory was praised in a poem which was written into the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year 937.
Danelaw, Old English Period, Political, Vikings, Poetry, Literature
939 955

Edmund and Eadred

Athelstan died in 939 and was succeeded by his younger brother Edmund. Edmund's reign (939-946) was a time of continued conflicts in the north, and of changing military fortune. Edmund was succeeded by his brother Eadred in 946, who at first was acknowledged in the Anglo-Scandinavian areas and at the end of Eadred's reign, in 955, the north was under English control again.
History, Danelaw, Old English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers
950 1000

Vercelli Book

The Vercelli Book, probably written in the second half of the 10th century, got its name because it is today kept in the cathedral library at Vercelli in northern Italy. It contains six poems, among them Saints' Lives by Cynewulf, such as for example Andreas and Elene. The Vercelli Book is one of the Four Poetic Codices – the date is an approximate date of the production of the manuscript.
Literature, Old English Period, Poetry
950 1020

The Four Poetic Codices

Most Old English poems are contained in manuscripts written roughly between the years 950 and 1020. Most prominent among the manuscripts are the four great codices, which among themselves share roughly two-thirds of the whole Old English poetic corpus. The four poetic codices are the Beowulf Manuscript, the Junius Manuscript, the Exeter Book and the Vercelli Book.
Literature, Literature, Old English Period, Poetry
959 975

King Edgar and the Benedictine Revival

King Edgar's most prominent achievement in non-military activities was his massive support of the revival of monastic life in England. He installed the three leading reformers Dunstan, Æthelwold and Oswald, increased the number of reformed monasteries, expelled secular clerics and replaced them with reformed monks and abbots. It re-inspired cultural life in late Anglo-Saxon England and lead to a revival of education in Latin and English.
Old English Period, Political, Religious, Kings + Rulers, Standardisation, History
970 990

Exeter Book

Still to be found in Exeter Cathedral Library is the Exeter Book, a manuscript written (or perhaps merely compiled) between 970 and 990. It is a true medieval anthology with a wide range of poetry, from the holy to the secular, including, among other things, the 95 or so Anglo-Saxon Riddles. The Exeter Book also holds a somewhat heterogeneous group of poems which are concerned with instruction and advice of the more general kind - so called worldly wisdom. It is one of the Four Poetic Codices.
Literature, Old English Period, Poetry
975 1010


Beowulf is probably the most famous Old English heroic epic. It is set in southern Scandinavia during the migration period of the 5th and 6th centuries. In the poem, the hero Beowulf frees the Danish king Hrothgar and his people from the threats of the monster Grendel and Grendel's mother. Afterwards he returns to his native Geatland richly rewarded and becomes king, but eventually has to face a new threat.
Literature, Old English Period, Poetry
978 1016

Æthelred and the Return of the Vikings

Æthelred's long reign is usually regarded as an unlucky one. He struggled with massive Viking raids, paying large amounts of tribute, as well as with treachery and desertion due to his 'bad rule'. His nickname the Unræd (un-counsel) suggests that he was ill-advised by his counsellors. He fled to exile in 1013, when the Danish King Swein invaded the country, only to be asked to return and rule the English in 1014 after Swein died.
History, Old English Period, Political, Vikings, Kings + Rulers
980 1020

Ælfric & Wulfstan

Ælfric & Wulfstan were important writers of late West-Saxon prose, and were mainly inspired by the Benedictine Reform and the bigger, unified England. Ælfric was an abbot and a second-generation reformer who wrote a Latin grammar and many other works of prose. Wulfstan was Archbishop of York and wrote many sermons and designed laws for Æthelred.
Literature, Old English Period, Prose, Religious
980 1042

The Second Viking Age

After Æthelred fled to Normandy into exile, the Danish king Swein was acknowledged as king of all England in 1014. He was succeeded by his son Cnut (1016-1035), whom the English preferred over Æthelred's son Edmund. Both of his sons, Harold (1035-1040) and Harthacnut (1040-1042) became king after him, but with Harthacnut the male line of the Danish dynasty ended and Edward the Confessor, son of Æthelred the Unread and Emma of Normandy, became the last Anglo-Saxon king.
History, Language Contact, Old English Period, Political, Vikings
991 -

Battle of Maldon

The heroic poem The Battle of Maldon praises the resolute, loyal, but futile resistance of ealdorman Byrhtnoth and his men against a larger Danish army, which systematically ravaged along the south-west coast from Essex to Hampshire in 991. Loyalty, courage, and treasure are recurrent themes in secular heroic poetry; they are reflected in poems such as Beowulf and The Battle of Brunanburh.
Literature, Old English Period, Poetry, Political, Vikings
1000 -

Junius MS

The Junius Manuscript, so called because the humanist Francis Junius presented it to the Bodleian Library Oxford, dates to about 1000 and is the best-known collection of biblical poetry. Some poems contained in itare Genesis, Exoduss, Daniel, Christ and Satan. It is one of the Four Poetic Codices.
Literature, Old English Period, Poetry
1002 -

St. Brice's Day Massacre

After multiple struggles with Viking raids, Æthelred gave the order to kill all Danes living in his kingdom. This massacre was only one of the many poor political decisions which made King Æthelred's rule a 'bad one' – many Danes had been living peacefully in England for generations and inter-married with the Anglo-Saxons. The fact that it is believed that Swein's sister and brother-in-law were also killed in this massacre, would furthermore explain Swein's decision to conquer England in 1003.
History, Old English Period, Political, Vikings
1016 1035


Cnut (also known as Canute or Knútr) was the son of Swein, who briefly ruled England during Æthelred's exile. During most of his reign, Cnut also more or less controlled Denmark and, less effectively, Norway, but he was fully accepted as king of England and did not suppress the conquered country. He married Æthelred's widow Emma and also continued a policy of supporting the church. When Cnut died in 1035, his son Harold inherited the throne. When Harold died in 1040, his brother Harthacnut became king, but then died in 1042.
History, Old English Period, Vikings, Kings + Rulers, Political
1035 1042

Harold and Harthacnut

When Cnut died in 1035, he left behind two sons by two different wives, each one favored for the throne by a party with an eye on their own interests. One claimant was Harthacnut, by then king of Denmark, the other was Harold. Since Harthacnut was engaged in conflicts in Norway, Harold was acknowledged as king by 1037. However, when he died in 1041, Harthacnut succeeded to the throne and reigned until his death in 1042.
History, Old English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers, Vikings
1042 1066

Edward the Confessor

Edward was Harthacnuts half brother and the son of Æthelred and Emma. He was made king in 1042. He had spent most of his life in exile in Normandy, so his relationship to Normandy was closer than to either Denmark or England. A long-lasting conflict between Edward and the family of Godwin, the earl of Wessex, characterised Edward's reign in the 1050s and early 1060s. He died heirless as the last Anglo-Saxon king, a situation that led to the Norman Conquest. He was a very religious king, which earned him the title the Confessor.
History, Old English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers, Norman Conquest
1066 1500

Middle English Period

The Middle English Period is another commonly used division of English history into a larger category. In the ME Period, English had already evolved into a more analytic language, probably as a result of Old Norse contact. During this period, it was heavily influenced by French. Like OE, the term is used to distinguish linguistic, literary and historical eras.
Linguistics, Middle English Period, Norman Conquest
1066 1089

William I (the Conqueror)

William was the first Norman king of England. His predecessor Edward the Confessor was his first cousin once removed and had maintained a close relationship to William, having promised the throne to William during his stays in Normandy and making William's claim to the throne well-founded. William became king of England after the Norman Conquest. During his reign, William gave orders to compile a great survey of all the landed possessions in England to strengthen his authority.
History, Middle English Period, Kings + Rulers, Norman Conquest, Political
1066 -

Norman Conquest

When Edward the Confessor died without an heir, three people made a claim the throne: First was Harold Godwinson who ascended the throne, but was attacked by Scandinavian king Harald Hardrada in the north. Though Harold Godwinson won the battle, William of Normandy used the opportunity to attack in the south. Godwinson and his weakened armies hurried to the south, but lost the Battle of Hastings again William.
Political, Old English Period, Middle English Period, Norman Conquest, History
1066 1154

Norman French

As a result of the Norman Conquest, French became the official language of government. Though English survived, it was heavily influenced and adopted a large amount of French vocabulary. The influence happened on a higher register, in the language of government, medicine, fashion, aristocracy, art and education.
Linguistics, Language Contact, Middle English Period, Norman Conquest
1086 -

Doomsday Book

William the Conqueror gave orders to compile a great survey of all the landed possessions in England in 1086 which should provide the king with reliable assessment of taxes due to the crow. This Domesday Book is an inventory of England which made it easier to track taxes. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest administrative achievements of the Middle Ages.
Literature, Middle English Period, Political, Norman Conquest, Prose
1087 1100

William II

While the eldest son of William I, Robert Curthose, inherited Normandy, England went to the third in line – William II, after the death of his elder brother and second-in-line Richard. William II did not really extend his dominion, but still managed to secure Cumberland and Westmoreland and defeated the King Malcolm III of Scotland in 1091. William II died under questionable circumstances being hit by an arrow on a hunting trip, supposedly by of one of his own men.
History, Kings + Rulers, Middle English Period, Political
1096 1204

The Crusades

The crusades were a series of religious wars whose purpose was it to recapture the Holy Land. The crusades were at once preached with great enthusiasm across Europe and many nobles set out on the great adventure. The crusaders had various motivations to go on the long campaign: greed, penance, and true belief in the holy war were among the most common. Most crusader groups took the land way to the Holy Land, only a few chose the sea voyage. There were four major crusades, the third of which saw the participation of Richard I (Lionheart).
History, Middle English Period, Political, Religious
1100 1135

Henry I

Henry Beauclerc was crowned Henry I after the death of his brother William II. His eldest brother Robert contested his reign over England, but Henry defeated him at the Battle of Tinchebray and imprisoned him for the rest of his life. His only legitimate son died in 1120 and Henry I declared his daughter, Matilda, his heir. When Henry died of illness in 1135, Stephen of Blois succeeded him, leading to a long civil war with Matilda which brought great misery and devastation to the country.
History, Kings + Rulers, Middle English Period, Political
1102 1167

Empress Matilda

As only heir to Henry I, Matilda was supposed to inherit her father's throne after his death. But since she was female and, above all, married to the count of Anjou, she was not appealing to the Normans, who favored her cousin Stephen of Blois instead of her. This conflict led to a long civil war between them and only ended after Stephen agreed to make Matilda's son Henry II his successor.
History, Kings + Rulers, Middle English Period, Political
1118 1170

Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket was one of the most influential martyrs in the history of the English Church. Outstanding administrative talents marked him out for a rapid career and he was made Chancellor of England by Henry II, whom he was a close friend of. After multiple arguments about the powers of the Church, Becket fled to France and when he came back six years later, he was assassinated after enraging the king.
History, Middle English Period, Political, Religious
1122 1204

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II out of love in 1154, after having previously been married to the king of France. She brought new territories into the marriage, making Henry II's realm the largest ever ruled by an English king to date. She is also known for her love of culture; she founded her own literary court where she surrounded herself with troubadours and artists from her southern territories. Under her patronage, the ideals and codes of courtly love were promoted in literature.
History, Middle English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers
1135 1154

Stephen of Blois

Stephen of Blois, the son of William the Conqueror's daughter, claimed the throne of England in 1135. He was supported by the citizens of London, his brother the Bishop of Winchester and the Bishop Roger of Salisbury despite having taken an oath of fealty to Henry I's daughter Matilda. This led to a long civil war which brought great misery and devastation to the country.
History, Middle English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers
1154 -

Peterborough Chronicle

After the Norman Conquest, the new Norman-speaking ruling class appreciated their own French literature and was probably not very much inclined to have native English literature written down in expensive manuscripts. There is only one exception: The Peterborough Chronicle, i.e. a version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It is an annal, meaning that each year's events are recorded in an entry. It is a text typical of a transitional period. The language and style are still late Old English, though with many Middle English features.
Literature, Middle English Period, Prose
1154 1413

Central French

With the reign of the Plantagenets, English came into contact with Central French. Though English was previously influenced by another variety of French, there are a few lexical doublets that resulted from this contact situation. See also Norman French to learn more.
Linguistics, Language Contact, Middle English Period
1154 1189

Henry II

Henry II (b. 1133) was one of the most powerful rulers in western Europe at the time and was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine. After King Stephen had recognised him as his heir, he eventually became king of England in 1154. He succeeded peacefully to the throne, where he quickly restored the powers of the monarchy and reclaimed royal rights as they had been before Stephen's reign. He is also famous for his friendship with Thomas Becket.
History, Middle English Period, Kings + Rulers
1164 -

Constitutions of Clarendon

The constitutions are a set of 16 articles passed by Henry II and designed to define the relationship between church and state in England. Half of the articles were concerned with the limitation of the procedures of ecclesiastical judges and the competence of the church courts. These articles reaffirmed the fact that the king's consent was needed for the excommunication of his tenants, that cleric who committed a crime should be punished. Furthermore, the articles touched on matters like the custody of vacant sees and England's relations with the papacy.
History, Middle English Period, Political, Religious
1180 1200

The Ormulum

The Ormulum is a late twelfth-century poem from the East Midlands of some 20,000 short lines. It is named after its author, an Augustinian canon called Orrm, a Scandinavian name meaning 'serpent'. While The Ormulum is commonly held to be only of minor literary interest, it is remarkable in linguistic terms: The author devised a semi-phonetic spelling system in which the consonants are consistently doubled after short vowels. Thus it is of primary importance for linguists and dialectologists.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry
1189 1199

Richard I

Richard I rebelled against his father Henry II and overthrew him with the help of the French king Philip II. While Richard participated in the third crusade, he left his throne to his brother John Lackland who then conspired against him with his former ally Philip II. When he returned home, he reconciled with his brother and went to war against France. Winning many decisive battles during the crusade and being pious and righteous earned him the famous title of Cœur de Lion - the lionhearted.
History, Middle English Period, Political, Religious, Kings + Rulers
1199 1216

John Lackland

King John's reign is seen as the darkest period in medieval English history. His loss of Normandy in 1204 and his excommunication by the pope in 1209 led to a serious rebellion of the nobility in 1214. Eventually John had to sign the Magna Carta, acknowledging the constitutional framework of his father Henry II.
History, Middle English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers
1200 -

The Owl and the Nightingale

The Owl and the Nightingale (approximately created around 1200) is, next to Laȝamon's Brut, another masterpiece of the period. This poem of 1794 lines in octosyllabic couplets is unique in many respects, but most of all because it is the first example of a specific Middle English genre, the bird debate.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry
1200 -

Laȝamon’s Brut

Laȝamon’s Brut, usually dated around 1200, is the first known English version of the history of the kings of Britain from its legendary founder Brutus to the last ruler Cadwallader. Brut is a long Middle English poem, cast in a modified form of the native alliterative long line with interspersed usage of rhyme. It is a free English adaption of the version by the poet Wace (1155), but additionally contains the life of King Arthur and the story of his Round Table.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry
1215 -

Magna Carta

The Magna Carta is a document that acknowledges the constitutional framework of Henry II. During his troublesome reign, King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. One of its outstanding achievements is that no one should be imprisoned, forfeit his lands or be exiled except by the judgement of his equals or common law.
History, Middle English Period, Political
1216 1272

Henry III

Henry III was the eldest son of John and succeeded his father when he was only nine years old. He governed the land with the help of various councellors. During the Barons' War, he and his son Edward were taken captive, until his son was able to escape and free him. Henry III was supposedly a very pious ruler, having named his son Edward after Edward the Confessor.
Middle English Period, Kings + Rulers, History
1221 -

The Coming of the Friars

In the 13th century, the two most influential mendicant orders were founded: the Franciscans by St Francis of Assisi in 1210, and the Dominicans by St Dominic in 1216. The enormous success and popularity of the mendicant orders was mainly due to two reasons: the widespread criticism of the corruption and inefficiency of the Church establishment and the spiritual demands put forward by an ever increasing and articulate urban laity. Friaries were established in all the great cities of western Europe, and in the universities, theological chairs were held by Dominicans and Franciscans.
History, Middle English Period, Religious
1250 1300

Land of Cockaygne

The earliest fully comic tale in Middle English is The Land of Cockaygne, preserved in the MS Harley and probably composed in Ireland. The poem combines elements of a satire with those of parody. It is the vision of the Cloud-Cuckoo-Land or Land of Fair-Ease in which the daily routine of monks and nuns is depicted in great detail. The abbeys are places of sinful life and neglect. Gluttony and unrestrained sexual desire are among the worst offences of the holy men and women.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry
1258 1265

Baron's War

The Magna Carta could not stabilize the Crown's power in the long run, and open rebellion arose against Henry III between 1258 and 1265, in the Baron's War. Led by the king's brother-in-law Simon de Montfort, a coalition of barons tried to impose reforms on the king. The parties were successful in turns. Eventually the king and his son the future king Edward I defeated the barons and Simon's army was killed alongside himself.
Middle English Period, Political, History
1270 1300

Havelok the Dane

Havelok the Dane is one of the outstanding early Middle English romances, a common feature of which is 'a knight and a quest'. Romances are classified according to their matters, thus this poem supposedly belongs to the Matter of England. Havelok, without knowing it, is the dispossessed heir of the Danes and flees to England in exile. After a vision showing him that he is the rightful king, he returns to England and reclaims his throne from the Ursurper.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry
1270 1300

Dame Sirith

A fabliau is a humorous short tale popular in medieval French literature and is always short, its urban middle class characters are depicted as stereotypes, and the plot is simple. The perhaps only English representative of the genre Fabliau is Dame Sirith (c.1272-82), telling the story of Wilekin who succeeds in seducing the wife of an absent husband with the cunning help of Dame Sirith.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry
1272 1307

Edward I

During the Baron's War, Edward supported Simon de Montfort before changing sides in favor of his father, Henry III. He defeated Montfort in battle, restoring royal power. He succeeded his father in 1272 and later reformed feudal land law and legislation in favor of the Crown. Wars in France and Scotland mark Edward I's reign. He attacked France in 1297, but had to return due to William Wallaces rebellion. Never being able to fully conquer Scotland, Edward died in 1307, leaving the throne to his son, Edward II.
History, Middle English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers
1307 1327

Edward II

Edward was a king of England whose reign was marked by conflict with the nobles until he was eventually overthrown by his wife in favour of his son. He had a very close and controversial relationship with a man called Piers Gaveston, and it is rumored that this was the primary reason for his disposal.
History, Middle English Period, Kings + Rulers, Political
1327 1377

Edward III

Being the nephew of the French king Charles IV on his mother's side, Edward III saw himself as his legitimate heir. When his claimed was denied, it led to renewed struggles between the English and French and when Philip VI seized Guienne, Edward declared himself King of France and went to war. Winning the famous Battle of Sluys and Battle of Crécy, Edward proved himself to be a capable military leader, adding large territories in France to the English Crown.
History, 100 Years War, Kings + Rulers, Middle English Period, Political
1330 1408

John Gower

'Moral Gower', as Chaucer called him, is most famous for his masterly use of three languages (Latin, French and English). In each language he wrote one major work criticising the political and social conditions of his time, most notably the English Confessio Amantis (c.1390), 33,000 lines of a lover's confession to Genius, the priest of Venus. Among his shorter poems are the Anglo-Norman Cinkante Balades (before 1374) and the English In Praise of Peace, dedicated to Henry IV.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry
1330 1376

Edward the Black Prince

Edward the Black Prince, also Edward of Woodstock (after his birthplace), was the eldest son of Edward III and the first English prince to not become king, since he died a year before his father. He was an exceptional military leader, who proved himself during the Battles of Crécy and Poitiers, and a founding Knight of the Garter. He was succeeded by his son Richard II.
History, 100 Years War, Middle English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers
1332 1386

William Langland

One prominent example of the alliterative revival is William Langland's The Vision of Piers Plowman (written around 1367-87). The poem presents itself as a sequence of allegorical dream-visions dazzling the reader by its changing shades of consciousness of the persona and by a complex network of allegorical references. About Langland himself only little is known; he was educated for a career in church, but got married and earned his living as a psalter-clerk.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry
1337 1386

First Phase of the 100 Years' War

Political reasons, feudal disputes between England and France, and the striving for economic power were the main causes of this series of wars which erupted in 1337. What followed was not constant warfare, but rather a series of campaigns and battles with long interruptions of diplomatic negotiations and truces. After the death of the Black Prince in 1376 and his father in 1377, the young king Richard II and his regents were no longer capable of waging war against France; fighting ended in 1386 and a truce of 30 years was signed in 1396.
History, Middle English Period, Political, 100 Years War
1340 1399

John of Gaunt

John of Gaunt was the third of Edward III's five surviving sons. By marriage to Blanche of Lancaster in 1359, he became Duke of Lancaster, which made him the most powerful nobleman of the realm. When the king fell ill, Gaunt ruled the country in his stead. He was a shrewd statesman, but his unorthodox methods and inability to compromise antagonized the Church and the Commons. Many suspected that he was aiming for the crown, but they were proved wrong when Gaunt stood faithfully to his young nephew King Richard II.
History, Middle English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers, 100 Years War
1340 -

The Battle of Sluys

During the First Phase of the 100 Years' War, Edward III declared himself king of France after Philip IV seized Guienne. He invaded Northern France and won a decisive naval battle near Sluys in the Scheldt estuary. After the French lost almost their entire fleet, the battle resulted in the English control of the Channel, while the French navy was no longer a threat to England.
History, 100 Years War, Middle English Period, Political
1342 1402

John of Trevisa

John of Trevisa, sometimes called John de Trevisa or John Trevisa, was a contemporary of Chaucer. He was a prolific translator, an is best know for his translation of Ranulph Higden's Polychronicon, a universal history.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry, Prose
1343 1400

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer is the most prominent writer of Middle English literature. Chaucer's best know work is The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories told by a fictitious group of pilgrims on their way from London to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury. Chaucer is infamous for not adhering to the stereotypical genres of the time, and he often combined features of several genres in many of his Canterbury Tales.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry, Prose
1346 -

The Battle of Crécy

The Battle of Crécy was the first great English land victory over the French during the first phase of the 100 Years' War. On August 26, 1346, Edward III led his army of less than 10,000 men to the Northern French village Crécy. It was especially archers who inflicted terrible losses on the thrice as large French army and it was virtually drowned in a shower of English arrows.
100 Years War, Middle English Period, Political, History
1348 -

The Black Death

The Black Death (the plague) ravaged England in the 1340's, reducing its population by at least one third. The effect of the plague on agrarian society was complex, leading to attempts to reimpose feudal rights and contributing to outbreaks of violence, such as the Peasants' Revolt. Eventually, it led to the virtual disappearance of villeinage in England and great prominence of the middle class, marking the end of feudal society.
History, Middle English Period, Political
1356 -

The Battle of Poitiers

Edward the Black Prince, the eldest son of Edward III, won the second great English victory of the first phase of the 100 Years' War at the Battle of Poitiers on September 19, 1356. Philip's successor, King John II of France, and the Duke of Burgundy were captured and led to London where they were held in chivalrous captivity until a ransom was paid.
History, 100 Years War, Middle English Period, Political
1369 1426

Thomas Hoccleve

Thomas Hoccleve (Occleve) was certainly an admirer of Chaucer. Although many of Hoccleve's poems are clearly indebted to the great poet, he is more than a poor imitator and his work should be studied in its own right. Hoccleve is most famous for his autobiographical writings, in which he describes his work as a clerk in the office of the Privy Seal, London life, and above all his own mental breakdown. Many of his poems are moralising and written in the form of a complaint.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry
1370 1449

John Lydgate

Lydgate's work shows a great variety in content and style: from long translations to brief occasional poems and a short prose work. He is best known for his translations from French and Latin, like The Troy Book (1412-21), The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man (1426) and The Siege of Thebes, where he presents himself as a Canterbury pilgrim, who is asked by Chaucer's pilgrims to tell his tale. His indebtedness to Chaucer is shown in his allegories. e.g. The Temple of Glass.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry, Prose
1373 1438

Margery Kempe

Margery Kempe decided to enter a spiritual way of life after a vision she claims to have had after giving birth. She swore a vow of chastity and went on a multitude of pilgrimages throughout England, then Jerusalem and different places in Europe. Her hysterical weeping and constant praying there polarised people. All we know of Margery Kempe's life is recorded in her single work The Book of Margery Kempe. The book is quite unsual in style and language and can be labelled as a mystical writing.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry
1375 1400

Pearl / Gawain Poet

The Pearl-Poet or Gawain-Poet probably lived in the second half of the 14th century. Not much is known of this author, except that he wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Patience, Cleanness, and Pearl. These four poems are preserved in a unique manuscript, the BL Cotton Nero A.x.. The Pearl-Poet might possibly also be the author of St. Erkenwald, which shows structural and stylistic similarities with the other texts. Tests of phonology, syntay, accidence, rhyme and vocabulary place the poet in the Northwest Midlands area.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry
1377 1399

Richard II

At the age of only 10, Richard inherited the throne after the death of his father Edward the Black Prince, who was the eldest son of Edward III. Richard's reign was marked by a series of changing counsellors, the Peasants' Revolt and an attempt to take over his control by a group of aristocrats known as the Lords Appellant. Later he was overthrown by his exiled cousin, Henry IV, son of John of Gaunt, and died in his captivity in 1400.
History, 100 Years War, Middle English Period, Kings + Rulers
1377 1399

Ricardian Poets

Modern scholars sometimes refer to the 'Big Four' of Middle English poetry as the Ricardian poets, so called because they were active during the reign of Richard II. In addition to the Pearl/Gawain-Poet and William Langland, these are Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower. The first two preferred the native alliteration form of poetry, whereas the latter used the romance patterns of rhymed stanzas.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry
1381 -

The Peasants' Revolt

The Peasants' Revolt was an uprising of the lower and middle classes, prompted by the increase of taxation due to the conflict with France and the devastation of the plague. They demanded a tax reduction and an end to serfdom.
History, Middle English Period, Political
1399 1413

Henry IV

Henry was the son of John of Gaunt, fourth son of Edward III. After his father's death, Henry's cousin Richard II denied him all inheritance and exiled him. He returned with the also exiled former Archbishop Thomas Arundel and began a campaign to reclaim not only his patrimony, but later on also the English throne, where he may have become the first king after the Norman Conquest whose mother tongue was English rather than French. His reign was marked by series of plots against him and he died of some unknown illness in 1413.
History, 100 Years War, Middle English Period, Kings + Rulers
1400 1800

The Great Vowel Shift

The Great Vowel Shift is a systematic sound shift in which all long stressed vowels were raised to higher positions, and those which could not be raised became diphthongs. As a result of the GVS, and the process of standardisation that began simultaneously, there is now a difference between spelling and pronunciation in English. The first phase of the change was nearly completed by 1500 and the last stages of the Great Vowel Shift were completed by 1800.
Linguistics, Middle English Period, Standardisation, Early Modern English Period
1412 1431

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc became the heroine of her day when she successfully led French armies against the English. She had seen visions of saints and of God telling her to fight against the English; so she became an able military leader, very unusual for a girl of her time. Her wearing men's clothes made her easily suspicious to the Church, and so the English had no difficulties to finally accuse her as an heretic. She was burnt in May 1431, but her death was largely a political act.
100 Years War, Middle English Period, Religious, Political, History
1413 1422

Henry V

Twelve years before the truce with France was intended to end, Henry V resumed the 100 Years' War. He won the famous Battle of Agincourt and took Rouen and Paris, controlling all of France north of the Loire. With the peace treaty of 1420, Charles VI of France recognized Henry V as his heir and regent and married him to his daughter, Catherine of Valois. Henry died unexpectedly at Vincennes, fighting the French and thus left his cross-channel kingdom to his one-year-old son Henry VI.
100 Years War, Middle English Period, Kings + Rulers, History
1414 1453

Second Phase of the 100 Years' War

Henry V resumed the 100 Years' War when he invaded France in 1415. After winning the decisive Battle of Agincourt, he gained control over all of France north of the Loire in the following years. With the Treaty of Troyes the French king declared his own son illegitimate and recognized Henry V as his heir and regent, until under Joan of Arc, the French forces freed Orléans, defeated the English and drove them north. From 1449 onwards, the French regained nearly all territories and eventually the war ended in 1453 without any peace treaty.
History, 100 Years War, Middle English Period, Political
1415 1471

Thomas Malory

It is hard to say anything about Thomas Malory with certainty. Even his authorship of the outstanding Le Morte Darthur, the only book assigned to him, has been questioned. However, the text provides us with the author's name, and the one Thomas Malory who most likely is the author of Le Morte Darthur seems to have been in prison when he wrote the book. Le Morte Darthur is the only work he wrote, but it has been very influential ever since it appeared; it was one of the first English books printed by William Caxton.
Literature, Poetry, Middle English Period
1415 -

The Battle of Agincourt

After seizing the French port Harfleur, Henry V was intercepted by the French on his retreat to Calais. Henry's 6,000 men faced about 25,000 French knights and soldiers, but against all odds, the English won this decisive battle of the second phase of the 100 Years' War because of their lightly equipped archers who had the advantage over their heavily armoured enemies. This victory paved the way for Henry's success in the following years and he took Rouen and Paris and controlled all of France north of the Loire.
History, 100 Years War, Middle English Period, Political
1417 -

English becomes official language

Since the Norman Conquest, French had been the official language in England. However, when Henry V became king, he made English the official language again. Henceforth, the parliament was held in English and the royal Chancery wrote in English as well, spreading the London variety.
Linguistics, Standardisation, Middle English Period
1420 -

Treaty of Troyes

Supported by House of Burgundy, Henry V took Rouen and Paris and controlled all of France north of the Loire. In 1420, a peace treaty was signed at Troyes virtually fulfilling the English aims of war. The French king, Charles VI declared his son illegitimate and recognized Henry V as his heir and regent. Henry married the French king's daughter, Catherine of Valois, and returned triumphantly to England in 1421.
History, 100 Years War, Middle English Period, Political
1421 1461

Henry VI

Henry VI inherited the throne when he was only a year old. He ruled from 1422 to 1461 and again from 1470 to 1471. By marrying Margaret of Anjou, he hoped to achieve peace, but France resumed the 100 Years' War and by 1453 had regained nearly all the territories they had lost. This is said to be one of the main reasons (next to Henry's mental illness) for the breakout of the Wars of the Roses, during which Edward IV defeated and imprisoned Henry VI and claimed the throne in 1461.
History, 100 Years War, Middle English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers, Wars of the Roses
1455 1485

The Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses were the conflicts between the House of Lancaster and the House of York, which were both descended from Edward III. These conflicts resulted in military action from 1455 to 1485. Edward IV defeated Henry VI, was crowned and ruled until his death in 1483. Richard III then usurped the throne, but was killed in battle against Henry Tudor, who had the Lancastrian support. Henry VII's (Tudor) marriage to Elizabeth of York ended the Wars of the Roses and paved the way for the rise of the Tudor dynasty.
History, Middle English Period, Wars of the Roses, Political
1461 1483

Edward IV

Edward IV, being the great-grandson to Endmud Langley, the fourth son of Edward III, was one of the main protagonists of the Wars of the Roses on the York side. He defeated Henry VI and his wife Queen Margaret and imprisoned him in the Tower of London, where he later died - or was probably murdered. Until his death in 1483, Edward's rule was firmly established and his kingdom prospered, with the first English printing press being established at Westminster by William Caxton.
History, Middle English Period, Political, Kings + Rulers, Wars of the Roses
1476 -

William Caxton's Printing Press

William Caxton brought the printing press from Germany to Westminster. The introduction of the first printing press enhanced the use of a supra-regional standard form of the language and standardisation began. Printed books from London became available all over the country, and with their distribution, a written standard was further established. Thus, while the Norman Conquest from 1066 and its consequences marks the beginning, Caxton's printing press at Westminster denotes roughly the end of the Middle English period.
Linguistics, Middle English Period, Standardisation
1483 1485

Richard III

Richard was the younger brother of Edward IV. After Edward's death, Richard ursuped the throne and had himself crowned as Richard III after disposing of the legitimate heir. Richard is one of the main protagonists of the Wars of the Roses. At the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, he lost his life and his kingdom against Henry VII of the Tudor dynasty, who was supported by the Lancastrians.
History, Middle English Period, Kings + Rulers, Wars of the Roses
1485 1509

Henry VII

Henry Tudor seized the throne from Richard III when he killed him, with the support of the Lancastrians, in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth. Henry finally united the Houses of York and Lancaster with his marriage to Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV. He restored stability after the Wars of the Roses, but the last years of his reign were overshadowed by his financial greed and legal struggles. Still, he reigned peacefully and was succeeded by his son Henry VIII after his death.
History, Kings + Rulers, Middle English Period, Political, Wars of the Roses
1485 -

The Battle of Bosworth

In the final battle of the Wars of the Roses, Henry Tudor had returned from his exile in France, where he had gathered an army of about 2,000 men (mostly mercenaries and exiles). On their way to fight Richard, they were joined by Welsh troops. The two parties met at Bosworth – Richard wanted a quick end by leading a separate charge to kill Henry, but was surrounded by an attack from the sidelines. Richard was killed, fighting bravely. His body was dragged into Leicester, and when Henry Tudor entered the city, he was proclaimed king.
History, Middle English Period, Political, Wars of the Roses
1495 -


The best known medieval morality play, written by an unknown author around the time of the rise of the Tudor Dynasty, is Everyman (or The Somonyng of Everyman). Following the main character Everyman, who represents mankind, through his pilgrimage the play revolves around salvation and how to obtain it. Morality plays set the focus on the lifetime of the individual and are usually allegorical in form.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry
1500 1600

Latin, Greek, Italian

The English Renaissance caused a renewed interest in classical languages and a flourish in culture, but it also caused another wave of language contact for the English language. Again, Latin was a popular source for new words, particularly in the field of religion and science. But many words were also adopted from Greek (also in the field of science) and from Italian (primarily in the field of architecture).
Linguistics, Early Modern English Period, Language Contact
1500 1750

The Early Modern English Period

The Early Modern English Period describes a linguistic, historical and literary period. By 1500, English had already evolved to resemble Modern English more closely, though is still retained some inflections that were lost in Modern English. The period is marked by standardisation as a result of the printing press, renewed Latin influence during the Renaissance and the ongoing process of the Great Vowel Shift.
Linguistics, Standardisation, Early Modern English Period, Language Contact
1712 -

Swift and Defoe's Language Academy

Many writers of the 16th and 17th complained about the state of the English language, as it had became such a mess due to The Great Vowel Shift and numerous Language Contact situations. This idea came to its peak in 1712, when Jonathan Swift published his Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue. But as you might have guessed, there has never been a successful reform of the English language.
Linguistics, Early Modern English Period, Standardisation
1755 -

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary is the first and most important dictionary of the English language, which played an important role in the standardisation of the English language. With the publication of the two-volume dictionary in 1755, he laid the foundation to all later historical lexicography.
Linguistics, Standardisation