The Celts invaded it in 500 BC. I have no idea who was there before the Celts, but it doesn’t matter anyway. They were polytheistic and had a reputation for being headhunters. They were eventually converted to Christianity.
In 55 BC until about 407 AD, the Romans were in power there. They spoke LATIN.
The Anglo-Saxons moved in beginning in 449 AD. They spoke a GERMANIC dialect.
Starting about 700 AD, the Scandinavians invaded. They were basically Vikings.
Later in 1066—William the Conqueror of (France) the Norman empire invaded. They call this the Norman conquest. You should remember this date and impress your Western Civilization professor in college. This is when French/Latin entered the language.
Historical Background: Old English and Medieval Periods AD 449-1485 Invasion, Settlement, Assimilation Even though the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes were in power, Roman cleric St. Augustine came to the British Isles in 597 to convert people to Christianity. In the 8 th century (700ADs), the Danes came and looted towns and monasteries and then settled the NE area. In 871, Alfred the Great, stopped the Danes, became the first King of England, and converted the Danes to Christianity as they were assimilated into society. 1066—the French, William the Conqueror, invaded and overthrew the English reign.
Feudal Era, 1100-1485 The Normans brought FEUDALISM In 1215, the nobles forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, limiting his powers—this is the beginning of the parliamentary government in England. Still, England had political issues all the time—Edward II and Richard II were both assassinated in the 1300s. The Black Death—killed 1/3 of the population. Then there was a civil war from 1455-1485. After that, Henry the VII unified the nation.
Geography: It’s an island, so the sea is very important. Theme: the sea is a kind of placeless place, a vast nowhere that can separate one from home. Anglo-Saxon poetry contains lots of images of the sea—it tells of exile and separation from home. When monks wrote down the Anglo-Saxon poetry, they altered some of it to have Christian themes about being exiled from God. “Sea road”—the road to fame and honor for seafaring warriors. Mead Hall—not just the name of a bar I want to own. It’s a gathering place and center of society and government. In Beowulf, when the monster Grendel attacks the hall, it’s as if he attacks all of human society.
Literature of the island: Bede (this would be my rapper name)—an 8 th century monk wrote historical prose about the island becoming a nation— it’s some of the oldest known English writing and if I made you read a bunch of it, you would revolt for sure. Geoffrey Chaucer—wrote the Canterbury Tales—the “greatest” medieval poem (only because the pool at that time was pretty shallow). Canterbury is a town where people went on a Christian pilgrimage. In 1170, Thomas á Becket, the Archbishop there, was murdered on the orders of King Henry II because they didn’t agree about church policies. After that, Thomas á Becket was considered a saint and the cathedral was a shrine.
The Hero’s Code: (not 867-5309, that’s Jenny’s number) From the time of Beowulf, when heroes must prove themselves in battle. This code was in decline as, by 1000, merchants, traders, and artisans were becoming the new “middle class”. So, in Beowulf, the poet is sad about the death of the hero and the “death” of the hero’s code as well.
Seriously? More about Chaucer? With The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer provides a pretty good example of England in the 1300s. Evidently, everyone else was too busy dying of the plague to write anything else. But, Chaucer does tell some good stuff about the corruption of the religious order, the Peasant’s Revolt (1381) and the replacement of the feudal system with the new urban middle class.
Thank God, some writers jazzed it up… Writers would often take oral tradition and write it down, adding or changing things to make it more interesting to their readers. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight—uses folk tales about knights to write a story about a knight who must pass a series of tests. Sir Thomas Malory (1400s) wrote about chivalry and used “Morte d’Arthur” as an elegy to the romantic era of the knights. Those dirty monks—they were always copying and changing tales and adding in Christian themes (like Beowulf). They were worse than Disney. Seriously, more Chaucer—so, in 1353, an Italian author, Boccaccio, wrote the “Decameron” in which a group of aristocrats flee to a castle to avoid the plague and agree to tell each other 100 tales. Plagiarize much, Chaucer?
Can we give Chaucer any credit? He changed the story –all levels of society and they are taking a religious pilgrimage. He also created iambic pentameter. From the Exeter Book During this time, most entertainment was skits, plays, songs, or oral stories/poems told by “scops”. There was no Netflix. Dang, how did these people live? So eventually, some monks started writing down these songs, stories and plays. The Exeter Book is a collection of this, probably from the time of Alfred the Great (871-899). It is a mix of pagan and Christian themes.