English History Timeline

Simplified timeline of developments in the English language

Here is a list of important dates in the development of the English language. The selection of events is my own, and the dates are approximate in some cases, but it gives at least some idea of the time-scales involved, and puts the developments into some sort of perspective.

  • c. 6000 BC

Britain cut off from continental Europe by English Channel

  • c. 5000 BC

Proto-Indo-Europeans living in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

  • c. 1000 BC

Germanic Indo-European tribes living in parts of modern-day Germany

  • c.500 BC

Celts inhabit much of Europe, and beginning to colonize the British Isles

  • 55 BC

First Roman raids on Britain under Julius Caesar

  • 43 AD

Roman occupation of Britain under Emperor Claudius (beginning of Roman rule of Britain)

  • 410-436

Roman withdrawal from Britain

  • c.450

Anglo-Saxon settlement (Angles, Frisians, Saxons, Jutes) of Britain begins

  • 450-480

Earliest Old English inscriptions

  • 597

St. Augustine arrives in Britain (beginning of Christian conversion of the Anglo-Saxons)

  • c.600

Anglo-Saxon language covers most of modern-day England

  • c.660

“Cædmon’s Hymn” composed in Old English

  • 731

The Venerable Bede writes “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” (in Latin)

  • 792

Viking raids of Britain begin

  • c.800

Old English epic poem “Beowulf” composed

  • 865

The Danes launch full-scale invasion and occupy Northumbria

  • 871

Alfred the Great becomes king of Wessex, encourages English prose and translation of Latin works

  • 871

“The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” is begun

  • 878

Danelaw established, dividing Britain into Anglo-Saxon south and Danish north

  • 911

Charles II of France grants Normandy to the Viking chief Hrolf the Ganger (the beginning of Norman French)

  • c.1000

The oldest surviving manuscript of “Beowulf” dates from this period

  • 1066

The Norman conquest under William the Conqueror

  • 1086

“Domesday Book” compiled

  • c.1100

London becomes de facto capital of England

  • c.1150

The oldest surviving manuscripts in Middle English date from this period

  • 1154

Eleanor of Aquitaine, French wife of Henry II, becomes Queen Consort of England

  • 1154

“The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” discontinued

  • 1167

Oxford University established

  • c.1180

The “Ormulum” text of the monk Orm completed

  • 1204

King John loses the province of Normandy to France

  • 1209

Cambridge University established

  • 1349-50

The Black Death kills one third of the British population

  • 1362

The Statute of Pleading replaces French with English as the language of law (although records continue to be kept in Latin)

  • 1362

English is used in English Parliament for the first time

  • c.1370

William Langland writes “Piers Plowman”

  • 1384

John Wycliffe publishes his English translation of “The Bible”

  • 1385

English replaces Latin as main language in schools (except Universities of Oxford and Cambridge)

  • c.1388

Chaucer begins “The Canterbury Tales”

  • 1399

Henry IV becomes first English-speaking monarch since before the Conquest

  • c.1450

The Great Vowel Shift begins

  • 1476

William Caxton establishes the first English printing press

  • c.1500

Start of English Renaissance

  • 1526

William Tyndale prints his English translation of the New Testament of “The Bible”

  • 1539

“The Great Bible” published

  • 1549

First version of “The Book of Common Prayer” published

  • c.1590

William Shakespeare writes his first plays

  • 1604

Robert Cawdrey publishes the first English dictionary, “A Table Alphabeticall”

  • 1607

Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World, established

  • 1611

The Authorized, or King James Version, of “The Bible” is published

  • 1616

Death of William Shakespeare

  • 1622

Publication of the first English-language newspaper, the “Courante” or “Weekly News”

  • 1623

First Folio of Shakespeare’s works is published

  • 1702

Publication of the first daily English-language newspaper, “The Daily Courant”, in London

  • 1755

Samuel Johnson publishes his “Dictionary of the English Language”

  • 1763

Britain wrests control of Canada from the French

  • 1777

Last native speaker of the Celtic Cornish language dies

  • 1782

George Washington defeats Cornwallis at Yorktown and Britain abandons its American colonies

  • 1788

British penal colony established in Australia

  • 1788

First publication of “The Times” newspaper in London

  • 1788

Noah Webster publishes “The American Spelling Book”

  • 1795

First English settlement at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

  • 1804

Lewis and Clark document exploration of routes to American West

  • 1828

Noah Webster publishes his “The American Dictionary of the English Language”

  • 1834

Abolition of slavery in the British Empire

  • 1840

British colony established in new Zealand

  • 1865

United States ends slavery after Civil War

  • 1922

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) founded

  • 1928

First edition of the “Oxford English Dictionary” is published

  • 1947

India and Pakistan gain independence from Britain

  • 1954

Sir Ernest Gowers’ “The Complete Plain Words” published

  • 1989

Second edition of the “Oxford English Dictionary” is published