English Literature History

  • 731

    The Venerable Bede

    The Venerable Bede
    In his monastery at Jarrow, completes his history of the English church and people
  • Period: 731 to

    History of English

    This interactive timeline shows you the evolution of English language and literature.
  • 800


    The first great work of Germanic literature, mingles the legends of Scandinavia with the experience in England of Angles and Saxons
  • 950

    The material of the Eddas

    The material of the Eddas
    Taking shape in Iceland, derives from earlier sources in Norway, Britain and Burgundy
  • 1031

    Book of Life

    Book of Life
    The purpose of a 'Book of Life' (or Liber Vitae), was to record the names of members and friends of monasteries or convents: the belief was that these names would also appear in the heavenly book opened on the Day of Judgement.
  • 1060

    Norman psalter

    Norman psalter
    Probably made at Winchester, although it is not certain by or for which religious house there, the Arundel Psalter seems to have been a personal prayerbook. Use of the psalter in the middle ages could be for church services or personal prayer.
  • 1066

    William The Conqueror

    William The Conqueror
    Battle Abbey was founded in 1066 by William the Conqueror, on the site of his famous victory over King Harold at the Battle of Hastings (which actually took place about 7 miles from Hastings). This manuscript, created in 1150, contains two historical accounts of the abbey, almost certainly written there.
  • 1150

    First text in Middle English?

    First text in Middle English?
    Most sermons (or homilies) in this collection are copies of earlier ones in Old English. But this one is different. It is an English translation of a Latin sermon in which we can see many of the changes that signal the end of Old English.
  • 1190

    The Owl and the Nightingale

    The Owl and the Nightingale
    ‘The Owl and the Nightingale’ is a poem in which two competing characters trade insults with each other. It is the earliest example in English of a popular literary form known as a verse contest.
  • 1245

    Medieval English Song - 'Sumer is icumen in'

    Medieval English Song - 'Sumer is icumen in'
    This manuscript is the oldest known musical round with English words, written in the 13th century for six voices. Singers can choose between Middle English lyrics in black or Latin ones in red. The English version celebrates the arrival of spring, and many of the words are recognisable.
  • 1300

    Duns Scotus

    Duns Scotus
    Known as the Subtle Doctor in medieval times, later provides humanists with the name Dunsman or dunce
  • 1340

    William of Ockham

    William of Ockham
    Advocates paring down arguments to their essentials, an approach later known as Ockham's Razor
  • 1469

    Thomas Malory

    Thomas Malory
    In gaol somewhere in England, compiles Morte d'Arthur – an English account of the French tales of King Arthur.
  • 1524

    William Tyndale

    William Tyndale
    Studies in the university at Wittenberg and plans to translate the Bible into English
  • 1564

    Marlowe and Shakespeare

    Marlowe and Shakespeare
    They are born in the same year, with Marlowe the older by two months
  • Shakespeare's central character

    Shakespeare's central character
    In Hamlet expresses both the ideals of the Renaissance and the disillusion of a less confident age
  • John Smith

    John Smith
    Publishes A Description of New England, an account of his exploration of the region.
  • John Donne

    John Donne
    England's leading Metaphysical poet, becomes dean of St Paul's
  • Aphra Behn's novel Oroonoko

    Aphra Behn's novel Oroonoko
    Makes an early protest against the inhumanity of the African slave trade
  • John Locke

    John Locke
    Publishes his Essay concerning Human Understanding, arguing that all knowledge is based on experience.
  • The Augustan Age begins in English literature

    The Augustan Age begins in English literature
    Claiming comparison with the equivalent flowering under Augustus Caesar.
  • Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe

    Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe
    With its detailed realism, can be seen as the first English novel
  • Walter Scott

    Walter Scott
    Publishes The Lay of the Last Minstrel, the long romantic poem that first brings him fame.
  • William Cobbett

    William Cobbett
    Brings back to England the bones of Thomas Paine, who died in the USA in 1809
  • English poet Robert

    English poet Robert
    Browning publishes a vivid narrative poem about the terrible revenge of The Pied Piper of Hamelin
  • Charles Dickens

    Charles Dickens
    Begins the publication in monthly numbers of David Copperfield, his own favourite among his novels
  • Charles Darwin

    Charles Darwin
    Puts forward the theory of evolution in On the Origin of Species, the result of 20 years' research
  • George Eliot

    George Eliot
    Publishes Middlemarch, in which Dorothea makes a disastrous marriage to the pedantic Edward Casaubon
  • Oxford University Press

    Oxford University Press
    Publishes the A volume of its New English Dictionary, which will take 37 years to reach Z
  • Joseph Conrad

    Joseph Conrad
    Publishes his novel Lord Jim about a life of failure and redemption in the far East
  • John Galsworthy

    John Galsworthy
    Publishes his novels about the Forsyte family as a joint collection under the title The Forsyte Saga
  • Evelyn Waugh

    Evelyn Waugh
    Publishes Men at Arms, the first novel in the Sword of Honour trilogy based on his wartime experiences
  • Michael Frayn's

    Michael Frayn's
    Play Copenhagen dramatizes the visit of Werner Heisenberg to Niels Bohr in wartime Denmark
  • The Amber Spyglass

    The Amber Spyglass
    Completes Philip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials