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The Old English Period

The Middle Ages

Important Dates

Roman invasion and
occupation of Britain
450 Anglo Saxon Conquest
1066 Norman Conquest
1200 Beginning of Middle English
1485 Caxtons printing of Malory

The Middle Ages

Covers time span

from collapse of
the Roman Empire
to the Renaissance
Time period of
more than 800
1485 end of the
Middle Ages

A Time of Change

Roman Catholic Church

provided continuity
Norman Conquest added
French words to the English
Cross-currents of languages and
literatures during this period
Literature in English was
performed orally,and written
throughout the Middle Ages, but
uniquely English literature does
not exist before the late 14th
English began to displace
French at the end of the 14th
century in Parliament and
courts of law.

Anglo-Saxon England

From 1st to 5th century,

England was province
of Roman Empire
Named Britannia
When the
Romans withdrew
during the fifth century,
island was invaded by
Germanic seafarers
These belonged to
three tribes: the
Angles, the Saxons,
and the Jutes.

Conversion to Christianity

Britons became Christian in the

fourth century
In 597, a Benedictine monk was
sent by Pope Gregory as a
missionary to King Ethelbert of
Kent and missionaries from
Ireland became to preach
Christianity in the north.
Within 75 years, the island was
The first extended written
specimen of Old English (AngloSaxon) language is a code of
England produced many
distinguished Churchmen,
including Bede.

Invasions by the Danes

In the 9th century,

Christian AngloSaxons were
subjected to
invasions by the
They were stopped
by King Alfred.
King Alfred was an
enthusiastic patron of

Old English Poetry

Oral tradition
Literacy was
restricted to men of
the church
Most of Old English
literature is religious
Most of Old English
poetry is contained
in just four

Heroic Values

Heroic values of Germanic

society continued to inspire
clergy and laity in the
Christian era.
Heroic Values - Tribe is ruled
by king who surrounds himself
with a band of retainers. He
leads men to battle and
rewards them with gifts and
treasures. Retainers are
obligated to fight for their lord
to the death
Blood vengeance is a sacred
The best poetry of the period
is both Christian and heroic.

Characteristics of Old English


Harsh world view

Formal speech
Elevated language
Contrast Pagan and
The Past
Values of warrior

Anglo-Norman England

The Normans took

possession of
England in 1066
They adopted French
language and
Christian religion
Henry II, first of
Plantagenet kings


During the Anglo-Norman period,

four languages co-existed: Latin,
French, English, and Celtic.
The Latin Bible provided subject
for Old English poetry and prose
Attraction to Celtic legends
Marie de France and Chrtien de
Troyes wrote romances
King Arthur and his court acquired
immense popularity
Romance involves a knight
proving his worthiness through
nobility of character and brave
Religious literature aimed at
women saints lives, The
Ancrene Riwle.

Middle English Literature in the

14th Century

Old English replaces French in

Thirty Years War
The bubonic plague wiped out
one-third of European population
A time of social unrest
Church becomes target of
resentment because of its wealth
and worldliness
Great European poets of the 14th
century include Dante, Petrarch,
Marie de France, and Boccoccio
English writers of the 14th century
include Chaucer, William
Langland, the Pearl poet, and the
author of Sir Gawain and the
Green Knight

The Fifteenth Century

War of the Roses between

Lancasters and Yorks ended
with King Henry VIIs
ascension to the throne
Performances of mystery
plays and morality plays
Mystical writings Julian of
Norwich and Margery
Caxtons printing press
introduced in 1476.
Caxtons publication of
Malorys Morte Darthur.

Middle English Literature

Religious literature
Popular literature
King Arthur
Authors looked at
themselves as craftsmen
No emphasis on originality
Ptolemaic view of the
universe earth centered
Gothic Church as symbol of
Middle Ages height and