Timelines to Visualize History

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

Overview for "Poetry"

Begin End Event Description Keywords
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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

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
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
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