Scroll back and forth through the dates in the timeline below using the arrows either side. You can then read more about each time period, see images and even play videos.
Start of the ‘Old English’ period
What is known as the ‘Early Old English’ period runs from c. 450 to c. 850.
Caedmon, often described as the first English poet, composes his Hymn, a short, alliterative poem in Old English.
Illuminated Latin manuscripts of the four gospels of the New Testament are produced on Lindisfarne in Northumbria.
Bede’s Ecclesiastical History
Bede writes his account of the Anglo-Saxon invasions of Britain in the 400s (Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum or Ecclesiastical History of the English People).
Composition of the anonymous Old English epic poem Beowulf.
Start of the ‘Later Old English’ period
The ‘Later Old English’ period runs from c. 850 to c. 1100.
The collection of Old English writings chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons are first composed. They are originally compiled on Alfred’s orders.
Old English glosses added to Lindisfarne Gospels
Glosses in Old English are added to the Lindisfarne Gospels by Aldred the Scribe. These are the oldest surviving English version of the gospels.
William of Normandy defeats Harold Godwin at Hastings. Norman French is introduced as the language of the nobility in Britain.
Start of the ‘Middle English’ period
The ‘Middle English’ period runs from c. 1100 to c. 1450.
Invasion of Ireland
Henry II (r. 1154–1189) invades Ireland and creates the ‘Lordship of Ireland’. English and Norman French are introduced into the island.
Robert the Bruce defeats English at Bannockburn
Robert the Bruce defeats Edward II, thus re-asserting Scottish Independence following wars between the Kingdoms of Scotland and England from the late thirteenth century onwards.
English first used in Parliament
In addition to being used in Parliament for the first time, English becomes the official language of the courts of law, replacing French.
Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible
John Wycliffe translates the Vulgate (Latin) version of the Bible into English.
John Trevisa’s English translation of Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon, a chronicle originally written in Latin. Trevisa notes that children are leaving the learning of French in schools, and shifting to English.
Accession of Henry IV
Henry IV (r. 1399–1413) becomes the first king in England since the Norman invasion to speak English as a first language.
Growth of Chancery Standard
Government documents begin to be written in English rather than French. The dialect chosen for them is that used by clerks in the Chancery at Westminster.
The start of the ‘Early modern English’ period
The ‘Early modern English’ period runs from c. 1450 to c. 1750.
Caxton prints first English book
William Caxton produces the first English printed book, History of Troy, while living in Bruges. He later returns to England where his first publication is Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in 1478.
Caxton publishes an English translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, titled Eneydos.
Tyndale’s translation of Bible
The first publication of William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament.
Henry VIII breaks with the Roman Catholic Church.
First Act of Union between England and Wales
The ‘Act of Union’ of 1536 creates a single state by annexing Wales to England. It makes English the only language of administration and the legal system in Wales.
Henry VIII declares himself King of Ireland
The ‘Crown of Ireland Act’ of 1542 establishes that the king of England is also ‘King of Ireland’. This title replaces the ‘Lordship of Ireland’.
Book of Common Prayer
Publication of the first prayer book with the forms of service written in English. This comes to be viewed as one of the major works of English literature.
The plantation of Ireland
From 1560 to 1650, English, and later Scottish, settlers begin colonising Ireland. English is established throughout the island.
Hawkins starts British slave trade
Sir John Hawkins takes slaves from the coast of West Africa to the Caribbean, marking the beginnings of the British slave trade.
William Shakespeare (1554-1616), who in later centuries become canonised as the greatest writer in the English language, is born in Stratford-upon-Avon.
William Bullokar writes the first English grammar book, Pamphlet for Grammar.
Puttenham’s Arte of English Poesie
George Puttenham publishes his style guide, The Arte of English Poesie.
East India Company chartered
The East India Company is granted a Royal Charter by Elizabeth I on 31 December 1600.
Union of the English and Scottish crowns
King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) unites the crowns of England and Scotland.
Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall
Robert Cawdrey publishes his A Table Alphabeticall, the first monolingual dictionary in the English language.
English settlement at Jamestown
Establishment of the Jamestown colony in Virginia. This is the first permanent English settlement in the New World.
Publication of the Authorised Version
James I authorises the use of this bible translation in both his kingdoms. Known as the Authorised Version or the King James version, for centuries this remains the standard English-language bible throughout the world.
Pilgrim Fathers found Plymouth Colony
Plymouth Colony is founded in Massachusetts by the Pilgrim Fathers, who arrived in the New World in The Mayflower.
Shakespeare’s first folio
The first folio of Shakespeare’s plays is published.