TIMELINE OF ENGLISH LITERATURE - Old English Literature (upto 1300)


Birth of English:

Stage 1.Tribal Germanic peoples from northwest Germany (Saxons and Angles) and Jutland (Jutes) invaded Eastern England around the fifth century AD and the language spoken by them became the origin of English.

Stage 2. Their Old English or Anglo - Saxon language survived and evolved until the Normans conquered the island in 1066. The Norman conquest of England in 1066 greatly influenced the evolution of the language. For about 300 years after this, the Normans used Anglo-Norman, which was close to Old French, as the language of the court, law and administration.

Stage 3. By the latter part of the fourteenth century,  English had replaced French as the language of law and government. However, there remained considerable Anglo-Norman borrowings integrated into the language.

History / Event


(up to Old English / Anglo Saxon) Anglo Norman period
597- Landing of Augustine & his monks. Conversion to Christianity started.

867-901 Alfred, King of Wessex.

1042- Edward the confessor.

1066- Norman Conquest
          Battle of Hastings
          Battle of Stamford
          Death of Edward
          William of Normandy begins his reign. The Norman conquest of England in 1066 greatly influenced the evolution of the language.

1215- Magna Charta signed.

1249- University College, Oxford founded.

1306- Robert Bruce crowned.

1321- Dante died.

1337- Hundred years’ War with France started.

1348- First outbreak of plague in Britain.
673-735 Bede

about 700 Beowulf

about 750 Cynewulf poems

1205 Laymon’s Brut.

1215 Orm’s Ormulum.

1220 The Owl and The Nightingale.

991 Last known poem of Anglo Saxon period, The Battle of Maldon.

Poets’ Biography:

CYNEWULF (about 750). —An Anglo-Saxon poet--a Northumbrian or a Mercian not certain. His literary outputs are contained in the Exeter Book and the Vercelli Book (they are named from the places where they were found.). His earlier poems enjoy a joyous and poetical nature, rejoicing in the beauty of the world. His other poems are philosophical and meditative and Christian.

These poems are signed

Juliana-- the legend of a virgin-martyr indicates a transition in his spiritual life; sorrow and repentance are its predominant notes.
The Crist (Christ), C—it has passed through the clouds to an assured faith and peace.
The Fates of the Apostles and Elene –on the Christian theme of sacrifice and the legend of St. Helena .

These poems are unsigned

The Phœnix, and the second part of Guthlac, the Andreas and The Dream of the Roode have controversial authorship.

ÆLFRED (849-901). —King of the West Saxons, son of Ethelwulf.
He subsides the Danish invasion and installs a peaceful civil government.
He favours scholars and the intellectual resource. His active desire for learning begets a handful of literary assets.

As a writer and translator:   He translated or edited
 (1) The Handbook, a collection of extracts on religious subjects
 (2) The Cura Pastoralis, or Herdsman's book of Gregory the Great, with a preface by himself which is the first English prose
 (3) Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English
 (4) The English Chronicle, which, already brought up to 855, he continued up to the date of writing; it is probably by his own hand. It is also known as Anglo Saxon Chronicle.
(5) Orosius's History of the World, which he adapted for English readers with many historical and geographical additions
 (6) the De Consolatione Philosophiæ of Boethius
(7) a translation of some of the Psalms
(8) a law book

For his literary contribution particularly of prose he is attributed the title of the father of English prose writing

ÆLFRIC (955-c. 1022). —Historical authenticity of the person is disputed. However, by this name the literary works include:
Books of homilies (990-94), a Grammar, Glossary, Passiones Sanctorum (Sufferings of the Saints), translations of parts of the Bible. These books are important for the study of the doctrine and practice of the early Church in England.they are also important en route developing English prose.

English Rulers (Old English Period)

Alfred, King of Wessex
William I
William II
Henry I
Henry II
Richard I
Henry III
Edward I
Edward II

       I.      Why are the year 1066 and 1215 important?

Ans: 1066 is the date of Norman Conquest of England and the beginning of Anglo – Norman literature in England. The Norman conquest of England in 1066 greatly influenced the evolution of the language. For about 300 years after this, the Normans used Anglo-Norman, which was close to Old French, as the language of the court, law and administration. By the latter part of the fourteenth century, when English had replaced French as the language of law and government, Anglo-Norman borrowings had contributed roughly 10,000 words to English, of which 75% remain in use.
And 1215 is important because Magna Carta was signed by King John. It is the first charter of rights submitted before the king. it is the first step to the democratic process in England.

    II.      To which country did King Alfred belong? Name one of his prose works?

Ans: Alfred belonged to the ninth century he was the king of Wessex (871).

Alfred is actually noted for his translation works. He translated or got translated Pastoral Care of Pope Gregory.

 III.      Name two war poems in the Anglo – Saxon period that have different conclusions.

Ans: The Battle of Brunanburg is based on true war fought between the Saxons and Scots in which Saxons were Victorian.
          The Battle of Maldon has for its theme the battle which took place in 993 and in which the old Chief of the East-Saxons met his death and the poem ends in sorrow.

IV.      What is meant by Kennings? Give two examples.

Ans: Kennings mean picturesque compounds used by the Old English poets. They have metaphorical quality. kennings, in modern terms, are similar to euphemisms, or periphrases. For example, the term whale-paths indicates the oceans, wave-rider is a boat or ship, ring-giver, folk-friend, or friend to the people stands for a king, and a word-hoard simply means a vocabulary. This usage is evocative of the subject as the writer conceived it—in this way, kennings often indicate an opinion about a noun as well as identifying it. A king, for instance, is one who gives objects of worth or treasure to his supporters; this is the role that the author indicates a king should fulfill. Through the Old English kennings, the idea that the word represents became the word itself. In addition, kennings, because of their multi-syllabic nature, allowed poets to choose phrases that would best fit the verse structure of the poem.

   V.      Name two poems attributed to Cynewulf.

Ans: Poems attribtuted to Cynewulf are Andreas, the Dreams of the Rood, Phoenix and

VI.      To which century did Alfred belong? What are his principle works?

Ans: Alfred belonged to the nineth century. He was the king of Wessex (871). He translated or got translated Postoral Care of Pope Gregory, the History  of the World of Orsius, the Ecclesiostical History of Bide, The consolation of Philosophy by          and the Soliloquies of St. Augustine. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle inspired and Sponsored by Alfred was his greater achievement.

VII.      Name two Metrical Romance relating to the matter of England.

Ans: King Horn and The Guy of Warwick are two metrical romances relating to the matter England i.e. Saxon kings.

VIII.      Name the four manuscripts in which the surviving Old English poetry is preserved.

Ans: The manuscripts of Old English poetry are four in number and dated late-
a)     Beowulf MS (dated 1000)
b)    Junius MS (containing Caedmon poems, dated 1655)
c)     Exeter Book (dated 1050)
d)    Vercelli Book (containing Cynewulf poems dated 1560)

IX.      When was England converted to Christianity?

Ans: The most significant landmark in Anglo – Saxon history is the conversion of the people to Christianity. The work began in 597 with Augustine’s mission and was completed in the period upto 605.

   X.      Why is the year 1066 important?

Ans: Norman Conquest (by William of Normandy) of England.

XI.      From which country did the Saxons come to England?

Ans: The Saxons came to England from Germany.

XII.      Who is John Wycliffe? Give some name of his works?

Ans: John Wycliffe is a popular figure as a translator Bible into English. He further issues many pamphlets in English. He contributes Latin too. His Latin books consist of revolutionary opinions and ideals.

XIII.      Name the first Anglo – Saxon love poem?

Ans: Wife’s complaint – It has more personal tone. It is of a woman who has been falsely accused and banished from her husband’s presence.

Husband’s message – Here the husband delivers his message on wooden piece and sends it to his beloved. Here is unpretentious and sincere feeling.

These two poems are the early stress of Anglo Saxon love poems.

XIV.      Name one of the four poems, which contain the signature of Cynewulf in runic characters.

Ans: Four poems that contain the signature of Cynewulf in rumic characters are Juliana, Elene, The Fates of the Apostle, and Christ.

XV.      What is the Latin title of Bede’s work Ecclesiastical History of English Race?

Ans: The original title of Bede’s work is Historia Ecclesiastica.

XVI.      To what race did Beowulf belong? Whom did he help from a monster?

Ans: Beowulf belongs to the pagan race of Geats. He comes to extend his martial help to king of Danes Hrothger, and after a prolonged battle kills the monster Grendel and Grendel’s mother.

XVII.      Name two Anglo – Saxon elegies that have stanza pattern and refrain.

Ans: Deor’s Lament and Wulf and Eadwacer are two Old English poems with stanza and refrain.

XVIII.      Name two war poems in the Anglo Saxon period that have different conclusions.

Ans: The battle of Maldan which recounts the war in 993 has a sad end where the old chief of the East Saxons breates his last.
          On the other hand, The Battle of Brunanburg relates the actual war between the Saxons and Scots. The poem is a victory song for Saxon’s win.

XIX.      What is ‘Kennings’? Give two examples.

Ans: In the old English poetry we often find some picturesque compounds which are metaphorical and sometimes, symbolical. These compounds are called ‘Kennings’.

          For example ‘sea wood’ is used for ship, ‘picture-tomb’ for urn, ‘peace-weaver’ for women etc.

XX.      Name two verse chronicles of the Anglo-Norman period?

Ans: Written about 1205, Layamon Brut popularizes the Arthurian legend in English. Here is the collection of the stories related Leir, Kinbelin, Cloten, Arviragus etc. the rhyming is here alliterative with assonance.

          Another chronicle, Robert of Gloucester’s written about 1300 introduces long lines instead of two half lines of old English poems.

XXI.      What is the historical importance of 1327 in England?

Ans: In 1327 the hundred years’ war with France begins in the Reign of Edward III. The historical importance of this war is that.

XXII.      What is the period of the middle ages? What are the sources of information about the middle ages?

Ans: Roughly speaking, the middle age refers to the period of 1066 to 1485 (Norman Conquest of England to the end of the wars of Roses).

          The middle age is briefly reflected in Doomsdays Book, pipe Rolls, Court Rolls, chancery records and account books.

XXIII.      What is the theme of Beowulf ? Who is the poet?   
  Ans: The author of Beowulf is unknown, as is the date of its original composition
—although some suppose that the saga was written sometime in the 7th or 8th 
century. Numerous recitations likely embellished the story and its
characters with fantastic elements and exaggerated character traits, including godlike wisdom, intelligence, and nearly superhuman strength and abilities. The poem was most assuredly part of the previous oral tradition of story telling.


References: 1.History of English Literature by Edward Albert


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