Overview of Periods of Early
English History
Pre-History—1066 A. D.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
Pre-Rome/Pre-History  up to 55 B. C.
Roman Occupation  55 B. C. – 410 A. D.
Anglo-Saxon Period  410 – 787 A. D.
Viking Invasions  787 – 1066 A. D.
Norman Conquest begins in 1066
Pre-Historic / Pre-Roman
??-55 B.C.
Stonehenge circa 3100 BC
A towering circle of ancient
stones, draped in the mist
of centuries. The clatter of
horses’ hooves, the clash of
swords and spears. A tiny
island whose motley tongue
would become the language of the world, and whose
laws, customs, and literature would help form Western
civilization. This is England, and the story begins here.
McDougal Littell, p 18
The islands we know as Great Britain have been occupied
by man since the Paleolithic Period [Old Stone Age]. We
have archeological evidence dating back 40,000 years of
nomadic peoples living in what is now England and
Wales.
© Dane Degenhardt, Monde Dane, 2009.
www.wordinfo.info/.../Eng-hist-2-Celts-Brit.gif
Centuries of Invasion
The Dark Ages, as the Anglo-Saxon period is often called, was
a time of bloody conflicts, ignorance, violence, and
barbarism. Life was difficult, and the literature of the period
reflects that reality. Little imagery of the brief English
summers appears in this literature; winter prevails, and
spring comes slowly, if at all. The people were serious
minded, and the reader finds scarce humor in their
literature. Indeed, many of the stories and poems present
heroic struggles in which only the strong survive. And no
wonder.
McDougal Littell, p 19
Chief among the earliest actual cultures was a group of
loosely related tribes called Celts which inhabited most
of central Europe. It is not known when the Celts entered
Great Britain; but according to Julius Caesar, it was likely
before 200 BC.
The Celtic tribe which entered Great Britain was called
the Brythons [which became Britons from which we get
the term Britain]. The Celts were great story-tellers, great
drinkers and great fighters - with a liking for single combat,
after which the victor proudly displays the severed head of
his opponent. Their religion was polytheistic [from the
Greek roots polys-many; theos-god].
The Celts in Europe began to trouble their very
different neighbors, the sober and disciplined Romans
during the first century B.C.
http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?groupid
=831&HistoryID=aa84&gtrack=pthc#ixzz0ukMiW6rF
The first person ever to write about England may
have been the Roman general Julius Caesar, who in 55 B.C
attempted to conquer the British Isles. Put off by fierce
Celtic warriors, Caesar hastily claimed victory for Rome
and returned to Europe, leaving the Britons (as the people
were known) and their neighbors to the north and west,
the Picts and Gaels, in peace.
McDougal Littell, p 19
Fosse Way- Built in 47 AD by the Emperor
Claudius , it is the only road remaining from the
initial Roman invasion.
geograph.org.uk
A century later, however, the Roman army returned in force and
made good Caesar’s claim. Britain became a province of the great Roman
Empire, and the Romans introduced cities, roads, written scholarship, and
eventually Christianity to the island. Their rule
lasted more than three hundred years.
“Romanized” Britons adapted to an urban
lifestyle, living in villas and frequenting public
baths, and came to depend on the Roman military
for protection. Then, early in the fifth century,
the Romans pulled out of Britain, called home to
help defend their beleaguered empire against
hordes of invaders.
With no central government or army,
it was not long before Britain, too, became a target
for invasion.
McDougal Littell, p 19
www.hadrians.com/.../roman_soldiers_clothes.html
Summary of the Roman Occupation

Julius Caesar began the invasion/occupation of Britain in 55
B.C. His visits planted the seeds for trade and diplomacy
that made possible the later occupation by Claudius. Tacitus, Agricola
13



The occupation was completed by the Emperor Claudius
from 43 to 50 A.D.
The Romans left in 410 A.D. because the Visigoths attacked
Rome and the fall of the empire began. By 476 there was no
longer a western Roman Empire.
St. Augustine landed in Kent in 597 and converted King
Aethelbert (king of Kent, the oldest Saxon settlement) to
Christianity; he became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
Roman architecture found in
England today.
Hadrian’s Wall built about 122 A.D.
Roman baths at Bath, England
www.travelpod.com/.../tpod.html
www.travlang.com
www.english-heritage.org.uk/.../
Cultural and Historical Results of the Roman
Occupation in Britain

Military



Infrastructure



The Romans built a strong government (fell apart when the Romans left).
Architectural structures were built: Roads, walls, cities, villas, public baths
(some remains still exist)
Language and Writing



Celts were pushed into Wales and Ireland.
Romans prevented Vikings from raiding for several hundred years: C.
Warren Hollister writes, “Rome’s greatest gift to Britain was peace” (15).
Latin became the official language
The practice of recording history led to the earliest English “literature”
being documentary [Venerable Bede 672-735: Ecclesiastical History of the
English People].
Religion

Christianity began to take hold, especially after St. Augustine converted
King Aethelbert
www.classjump.com/.../Anglo-Saxon%20%20Old%20English%20History%20and%20Literature%201.ppt
The Most Important Results of the
Roman Occupation



Latin heavily influenced the English language.
Relative peace prevailed.
Christianity began to take hold in England (but
did not fully displace Paganism for several
hundred years).
The Anglo-Saxon Period
410-787
www.classjump.com
The Angles and Saxons, along with other Germanic tribes,
began arriving from northern Europe around 449 AD.
The Britons—perhaps led by a Celtic chieftain named
Arthur (likely the genesis of the legendary King Arthur of
myth and folklore)—fought a series of battles against the
invaders. Eventually, however, the Britons were driven to
The west (Cornwall and Wales), the north (Scotland), and
across the English Channel to an area of France that
became known as Brittany.
McDougal Littell, p 19
McDougal Littell, p 19
http://www.phancocks.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/lo
calhistory/germanic.htm
Settled by the Anglo-Saxons, the main part of
Britain took on a new name: Angle-land, or
England. Anglo-Saxon culture became the basis
For English culture, and their gutteral, vigorous
language became the spoken language of the
people, the language now known as Old English.
Important Events in the
Anglo-Saxon Period

From 410- 450, Angles and Saxons invaded
from Baltic shores of Germany, and the Jutes
invaded from the Jutland peninsula in Denmark.
[The Geats, a tribe from Jutland, appear in the
epic Beowulf.]

Nine Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms eventually became
the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy (England was not
unified), or “Seven Sovereign Kingdoms.”
www.classjump.com
Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy
[hept=7 arch=government, rule]

Heptarchy = Seven Kingdoms
[England-to-be]
1.
Kent
2.
Essex (East Saxon)
3.
Sussex (South Saxon)
4.
East Anglia
5.
Northumbria
6.
Mercia
7.
Wessex (West Saxon)
Scotland-to-be
5
6
4
Wales-to-be
2
1
7
3
Do you recognize any of these names?
www.classjump.com
Viking Invasions 787-1066
home.online.no/~joeolavl/viking/osebergskipet.htm
McDougall-Littell, p 20
The first Viking raids in the British Isles were in 793.
For the next 30-40 years, the Vikings engaged in hitand-run raids where they landed a small number of
ships at a
settlement, spent a few days
pillaging and burning it before heading back to
Scandanavia to sell their booty. The Vikings were after
two types of booty - riches and slaves - which they
carried off to sell. They soon found that the
monasteries were the richest sources of both goods
and this is why monasteries suffered so much.
However, the Vikings also attacked a lot of grád Fhéne
(commoner's) dwellings.
getasword.com/.../
www.wesleyjohnston.com/.../vikings.html
www.wesleyjohnston.com/.../vikings.html
Picture by Ray Pritchard
PicturesOfEngland.com
McDougall-Littell, p 20
A sidebar about the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
http://www.britannia.com/history/
docs/asintro2.html
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is one of the
most important documents that has
come down to us from the middle ages.
It was originally compiled on the orders
of King Alfred the Great in
approximately A.D. 890, and
subsequently maintained and added to
by generations of anonymous scribes
until the middle of the 12th Century.
The original language was AngloSaxon (Old English), but later entries
were probably made in an early form of
Middle English.
We like to think of this document as the ultimate timeline
of British history from its beginnings up to the end of the
reign of King Stephen in 1154. The Chronicle certainly
does not present us with a complete history of those times
and is probably not 100% accurate, either, but that
doesn't diminish its enormous value in helping us to
arrive at a clearer picture of what actually happened in
Britain over a thousand years ago.
The entire Chronicle runs to almost 100,000 words. Seven
of the nine surviving manuscripts and fragments now
reside in the British Library. The remaining two are in
the at Oxford and Cambridge universities.
http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/asintro2.html
Important Results of the Anglo-Saxon and Viking
Invasions


Politically and Culturally
 Continued political instability and conflict (i.e., tribal war): there
was no central government or church
 The Anglo-Saxon code (more on this when we read Beowulf)
Linguistically
 The English language is “born” during the first millennium and
is known as Old English (OE). Anglo-Saxon is the term for the
culture.
 Old English is mainly Germanic  the core of our modern
English is vastly influenced by this early linguistic “DNA”
 MANY dialects of Old-English, as one might imagine. This is
because there were five or six different cultures: Angles,
Saxons, Frisians, Jutes, Danes, and Swedes
*Alfred the Great (ruled from approx. 871-899 A.D.) was one of
the first Anglo-Saxon kings to push Vikings back; in fact, he
was one of the first kings to begin consolidating power,
unifying several of the separate Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
www.classjump.com
Huh?
(we better boil those important results down!)






Lots of ongoing tribal feuds and wars led to . . .
Lots of intermingling of similar but different
Germanic languages . . . interrupted by . . .
MORE Viking invasions, which gave way to . . .
Some political unification (Alfred) . . .
. . . Which led to . . .
OLD ENGLISH, the earliest form of our
language!!
www.classjump.com
The Norman Conquest
1066
In 1042, a descendant of Alfred’s took the throne, the
deeply religious Edward the Confessor. Edward, who had
no children, had once sworn an oath making his French
cousin William, duke of Normandy, his heir—or so William
claimed. When Edward died, however, a council of nobles
and church officials chose an English earl named Harold to
succeed him. Incensed, William led his Norman army in
what was to be the last successful invasion of the island of
Britain: the Norman Conquest.
McDougal Littell, p 20
Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066,
and on Christmas Day of that year, William the Conqueror
was crowned King of England.
The Norman Conquest
ended Anglo-Saxon
dominance in England.
Losing their land to the
Conquerors, noble
Scale model of the Battle of Hastings
families sank into the peasantry, and a new class of
privileged Normans took their place.
McDougal Littell, p 20
A Voice from the Times
William returned to Hastings,
and waited there to know
whether the people would submit
Edward the Confessor in his coffin
to him. But when he found that
Bayeux Tapestry
they would not come to him, he
went up with all his force that
was left and that came since to
him from over sea, and ravaged
all the country. . . .
Harold receives
arrow in his eye at
—Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
the Battle of
Hastings and dies.
Bayeux Tapestry
www.historic-uk.com/.../NormanConquest.htm
A Sidebar on the Bayeux Tapestry
The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidery, 1.6 by 230 ft, made in
the 11th century. The origin of the tapestry is unknown. The earliest
known written reference to it is a 1476 inventory of Bayeaux
Cathedral.. It is on display today in Bayeaux, Normandy, France.
Celebrating the conquest of England by William, Duke of
Normandy, this linen canvas was probably created after the Battle of
Hastings on October 14th, 1066 in the south of England by AngloSaxon embroiderers as their work was well-known throughout Europe.
Legendary animals, ships, Vikings, Norman and Saxon
cavalries illustrate the exploits of William and his opponent Harold,
another pretender to the throne of England.
http://www.tapestry-bayeux.com/index.php?id=3
The tapestry: 18 inches high and 230 feet long
Normans sailing to Hastings
Section depicting Halley’s Comet.
Death of King Harold
Early England Created by Three
Invasions
1. Roman Occupation 55 B.C.-410 A.D.
2. Anglo-Saxon
and Viking
Invasions 410 –
1066 A.D.
GERMAN(IC)
LATIN (Roman)
www.classjump.com
3. The
Norman
Invasion
(The Battle
of Hastings)
in 1066 A.D.
FRENCH
Results of the Norman Conquest

Two Most Important Effects:
French becomes official language of politics and
power and exerts enormous influence on Old
English
 England begins unifying under a French political
system, much of which is still with us (even in the
U.S.) today

The Spread of Christianity
Like all cultures, that of the Anglo-Saxons
changed over time. The early invaders were
seafaring wanderers whose lives were bleak,
violent, and short. Their pagan religion was
marked by a strong belief in wyrd, or fate, and they
saved their admiration for heroic warriors whose
fate it was to prevail in battle. As the Anglo-Saxons
settled into their new land, however, they became
an agricultural people— less violent, more secure,
more civilized.
The bleak fatalism of the Anglo-Saxons’ early
beliefs may have reflected the reality of their lives, but it
offered little hope. Life was harsh, it taught, and the
only certainty was that it would end in death.
Christianity opened up a bright new possibility:
that the suffering of this world was merely a prelude to the
eternal happiness of heaven.
Early Anglo-Saxon literature reflected a
fatalistic worldview, while later works were
influenced by rapidly spreading Christianity.
Christianity takes hold
No one knows exactly when the first Christian
missionaries arrived in Britain, but by a.d. 300 the number
of Christians on the island was significant. Over the next
two centuries, Christianity spread to Ireland and Scotland,
and from Scotland to the Picts and Angles in the north. In
597, a Roman missionary named Augustine arrived in the
kingdom of Kent, where he established a monastery at
Canterbury.
From there, Christianity spread so rapidly that by 690
all of Britain was at least nominally Christian, though
many held on to some pagan traditions and beliefs.
McDougall Littell p. 21
Monasteries became centers of intellectual,
literary, artistic, and social activity. At a time when
schools and libraries were completely unknown,
monasteries offered the only opportunity for
education. Monastic scholars imported books from
the Continent, which were then painstakingly
copied. In addition, original works were written,
mostly in scholarly Latin, but later in Old English.
The earliest recorded history of the English people
came from the clergy at the monasteries.
McDougall Littell p. 21
The greatest of these monks was the Venerable
Bede (c. 673–735), author of A History of the
English Church and People.
When Vikings invaded in the late eighth
and ninth centuries, they plundered monasteries
and threatened to obliterate all traces of cultural
refinement. Yet Christianity continued as a
dominant cultural force for more than a
thousand years to come.
McDougall Littell p. 21
A Sidebar on the Venerable Bede
The Venerable Bede (673-735), regarded as the father of
English history, lived and worked in a monastery in
northern Britain during the late seventh and early eighth
centuries. His most famous work, A History of the
English Church and People, is a major source of
information about life in Britain from the first successful
Roman invasion (about a.d. 46) to a.d. 731. The book
contains many stories about the spread of Christianity
among the English.
McDougall Littell, p. 92
http://www.religionfacts.com/
christianity/people/bede.htm
First page of Bede’s History, this written in 800
Raised By Monks
At the age of seven, Bede was taken by his parents to a
monastery at Wearmouth, on the northeast coast of Britain,
where he was left
in the care of the
abbot, Benedict
Biscop. It is not
known why the
boy’s parents left
Picture by Ray Pritchard
PicturesOfEngland.com
him or whether
he ever saw them again. When he was nine, Bede moved a
short distance to a new monastery at Jarrow, where he
McDougall Littell, p. 92
spent the rest of his life.
Multitalented Scholar
ede was a brilliant
scholar and a gifted writer and teacher. He
was also a careful and thorough historian.
He sought out original documents and
reliable eyewitness accounts on which
to base his writing. Working in a chilly,
damp, poorly lit cell in the monastery,
Bede managed to write about 40 books,
including works on spelling, grammar,
science, history, and religion.
McDougall Littell p. 21
A Bookish Boy
Bede seems to have been
a naturally devout and studious child. He
read widely in the monastery libraries and
participated fully in the religious life of the
monastery. He was exposed to the art and
learning of Europe through the paintings,
books, and religious objects brought from
Rome by Abbot Biscop. Bede became a
deacon of the church at the age of 19—six
years earlier than was usual—and was
ordained to the priesthood when he was 30.
McDougall Littell p. 21
Still Venerable Today
Bede’s reputation
as a scholar and a devout monk spread
throughout Europe during his lifetime
and in the centuries following. (The
honorific title “Venerable” was probably
first applied to him during the century
after his death, as an acknowledgment of
his achievements.) Although Bede was
influenced by the outlook of his time—as
is evident in the miracle stories he included
in his History—his carefulness and
integrity are still respected and valued by
scholars today, almost 1,300 years later.
The tomb of the Venerable Bede
McDougall Littell p. 21
Interesting facts:
•Bede is the only Englishman that Dante names in the Paradiso.
•From Bede’s era came the idea of dating everything from the birth
of Christ (AD). Thus, the letters BC (before Christ) may have been
started by him.
•Bede was the first person to use footnotes---thus they are his
invention.
•It is believed that the library at his monastery had between 300500 books, making it one of the largest in England and a center
for education and culture.
•The word Venerable was first attached to his name in the 9th
century. It means that his holiness is recognized by the church.
The Epic Tradition
Anglo-Saxon literature often focused on great
Heroes such as Beowulf, though sometimes it
addressed everyday concerns.
The early literature of the Anglo-Saxon period
mostly took the form of lengthy epic poems praising
the deeds of heroic warriors. These poems
reflected the reality of life at this time, which was
often brutal. However, the context in which these
poems were delivered was certainly not grim.
McDougall Littell p. 21
In poets—bring the epic poems to life.
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McDougall Littell p. 21
In the great mead halls
of kings and nobles,
Anglo-Saxons would
gather on special
occasions to celebrate
in style. They feasted
on pies and roasted
meats heaped high on
platters, warmed
themselves before a
roaring fire, and
listened to scops—
professional poets—
bring the epic poems
to life.
Strumming a harp, the scop
would chant in a clear voice
that carried over
the shouts and laughter of
the crowd, captivating them
for hours on end
with tales of courage, high
drama, and tragedy.
McDougall Littell p. 21
adventuresindailyliving.blogspot.com
matherart.com
To the Anglo-Saxons, these epic poems
were far more than simple
entertainment. The scop’s performance
was a history lesson, moral sermon, and
pep talk rolled into one, instilling
cultural pride and teaching how a true
hero should behave.
At the same time, in true Anglo-Saxon
fashion, the scop reminded his listeners
regia.org
that they were helpless in the hands
of fate and that all human ambition would end in death.
With no hope for an afterlife, only an epic poem could
provide a measure of immortality.
McDougall Littell p.
These epic poems were an oral art form: memorized and
performed, not written down. Later, as Christianity spread
through Britain, literacy spread too, and poems were more
likely to be recorded.
In this age before printing
presses, however,
manuscripts had to be
written out by hand,
copied slowly and
laboriously by scribes.
McDougall Littell p.
illuminatedleaves.com
Thus, only a fraction of Anglo-Saxon poetry
has survived, in manuscripts produced centuries
after the poems were originally composed. The
most famous survivor is the epic Beowulf, about
a legendary hero of the northern European past.
In more than 3,000 lines, Beowulf relates the tale
of a heroic warrior who battles monsters and
dragons to protect the people.
Yet Beowulf, while performing superhuman
deeds, is not immortal. His death comes from
wounds incurred in his final, great fight.
McDougall Littell p.
Reflections of Common Life
While epics such as Beowulf gave
Anglo-Saxons a taste of glory,
scops also sang shorter, lyric
poems, such as “The Seafarer,”
that reflected a more everyday
reality: the wretchedness of a
cold, wet sailor clinging to his
storm-tossed boat; the misery and
resentment of his wife, left alone
for months or years, not knowing
if her husband would ever return.
McDougall Littell p.
Some of these poems mourn loss and death in the
mood of grim fatalism typical of early AngloSaxon times; others, written after the advent of
Christianity, express religious faith or offer moral
instruction.
A manuscript known as
the Exeter Book, produced
by a single scribe around
a.d. 950, contains many of
the surviving Anglo-Saxon
lyrics, including nearly 100 riddles, religious verse,
and a heroic narrative. It is the largest collection of
.
McDougall Littell p98.
Old English poetry in existence.
Early Authors
Most Old English poems are anonymous. One of the
few poets known by name was a monk called
Caedmon, described by the Venerable Bede in his
famous history of England. Like most scholars of his
day, Bede wrote in Latin, the language of the church.
It was not until the reign of Alfred the Great that
writing in English began to be widespread; in addition
to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which was written in
the language of the people, Alfred encouraged English
translations of the Bible and other Latin works.
McDougall Littell p98
As England moved into the Middle Ages, its
literature continued to capture the rhythms of
everyday life. The medieval period was one of
social turbulence and unrest, and several
works give modern readers a glimpse of
the individual hopes and fears of people of the
time. Margery Kempe, for
example, describes a crisis of faith brought on
by childbirth; the letters of
Margaret Paston and her family mainly deal
with issues of marriage and
managing the family estate.
McDougall Littell p98
A Short History of Our
Language
—or—
“How English got to be so hard to study,
but is still so beautiful to hear and read”
www.classjump.com/.../
Quick History of English Language



Old English (OE) dates from approximately*
400 A.D. to 1066
Middle English (ME) dates from approximately
1066-1485
They are quite different to the eye and ear. Old
English is nearly impossible to read or
understand without studying it much like and
English speaker today would study French,
Latin, or Chinese
*The dating of the beginnings of OE is difficult; scholars only have written texts in OE
beginning in around 700 A.D., but peoples in England must have been speaking a version
of OE prior to works being written in the vernacular (as opposed to Latin)
www.classjump.com/.../
Just as Britain’s fifth-century invaders
eventually united into a nation called
England, their closely related Germanic
dialects evolved over time into a
distinct language called English—
today called Old English to distinguish
it from later forms of the language.
McDougall Littell p98
A Different Language:
Old English was very different from the language
we know today. Though about half of our basic
vocabulary comes from the Anglo-Saxon language,
a modern English speaker would find the harsh
sounds impossible to understand.
Some words can still be recognized in writing,
though the spelling is a little unfamiliar: for
instance, sc¯oh (shoe), hunig (honey), milc (milk),
and faeder (father). Other words have disappeared
entirely, such as hatheart (angry) and gleowian (joke).
Another Way of Looking at the History of
English
Old English
400-1066
Beowulf
(from
Beowulf!)
“Gaæþ a wyrd swa hio scel” (OE)
=
“Fate goes ever as it must” (MnE)
Middle English 1066-1485
Chaucer
(from CT)
“Whan that Aprille with his shoures
soote . . . ” (ME) =
“When that April with its sweet
showers . . .” (MnE)
Early Modern
English
1485-1800
Shakespeare “Sir, I loue you more than words
can weild ye matter” (EMnE) =
(from KL)
“Sir, I love you more than word can
wield the matter” (MnE)
Modern
English
1800present
Austen
(from P&P)
It is a truth universally acknowledged,
that a single man in possession of a
good fortune must be in want of a wife.
OE=Old English ME=Middle English EMnE=Early Modern English MnE=Modern English
A page from the manuscript of Beowulf, reproduced from William J. Long, English Literature: Its History and Its
Significance for the Life of the English Speaking World (Boston: Ginn and Co, 1919; repr. as The Project Gutenberg EBook of
English Literature, by William J. Long (Project Gutenburg, 2004),
http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/0/6/0/10609/10609-h/10609-h.htm#el003)
Whan that Apryll with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tender croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
its showers sweet
drafts
vine (root) such liquid
West Wind also
gover and field
young sun (Spring sun)
Ram (Aries) his course has run
small fowls (little birds)
sleep
open eye
pricks (spurs) spirits
Then
palmers (pilgrims) strange shores
famous halls? foreign shrines? known in
(distant) lands
And specially from every shires ende
shire (country)
Of Engeland to Cauterbury they wende,
wend (go)
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
martir (martyr) seke (seek
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke. Holpen (helped) seeke (sick)
Grammatically, the language was
more complex than modern English,
with words changing form to indicate
different functions, so that word order
was more flexible than it is now.
McDougall Littell p98
The Growth of English
The most valuable characteristic of Old English,
however, was its ability to change and grow, to
adopt new words as the need arose. While
Christianity brought Latin words such as cloister,
priest, and candle into the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary,
encounters with the Vikings brought skull, die,
crawl, and rotten. The arrival of the Normans in
1066 would stretch the language even farther, with
thousands of words from the French.
McDougall Littell p98
English = ?
Celtic (from 1700 or 400 B.C. to 55 B.C.) +
Latin (from 55 B. C. to 410 A. D.) +
German (from 410 A.D. to 1066 A.D.) +
French (from 1066 A.D. to 1485 A.D.) =
OLD ENGLISH and MIDDLE ENGLISH
VERY DIFFICULT LANGUAGE, BUT ONE
PERFECT FOR LIMITLESS AND
BEAUTIFUL EXPRESSION
Transition to Beowulf
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We study English history to understand the context of the epic,
Beowulf; and we study Beowulf to understand the world which was
Old England.
It is the story of a Scandinavian (Geat) “thane” (warrior or
knight) who comes to help a neighboring tribe, the Danes, that is
being attacked by a monster.
According to Venerable Bede, the Britons called the Romans for
help when the Picts and Scots were attacking them (B.C.).
Hundreds of years later, the Britons called the Saxons to help
them when the Romans couldn’t. The Saxons came “from parts
beyond the sea” (qtd. in Pyles and Algeo 96).
This journey of Germanic peoples to England “from parts
beyond the sea” is the prototypical story for the first millennium
of England’s history. It formulates much of their cultural
mindset and clearly influences their stories. Be sure to consider
how it plays a role in Beowulf.
Bibliography
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Abrams, M. H., and Stephen Greenblatt, Eds. Introduction. The Norton
Anthology of English Literature, seventh ed., vol. 1. New York: W.W.
Norton, 2000. 1-22, 29-32.
Anderson, Robert, et al. Eds. Elements of Literature, Sixth Course, Literature
of Britain. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1993. 2-42.
Burrow, J. A. “Old and Middle English Literature, c. 700-1485.” The Oxford
Illustrated History of English Literature. Ed. Pat Rogers. Oxford: Oxford UP,
1987.
Grant, Neil. Kings and Queens. Glasgow: Harper Collins, 1999.
Hollister, C. Warren. The Making of England, 55 B.C. to 1399. 6th ed.
Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath, 1988
McDougall Littell, Literature. Houghton Miflin. 2009.
Pyles, Thomas and John Algeo. The Origins and Development of the English
Language. 4th Ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1993.

Anglo-Saxon & Old English History and Literature