Heritage Schools
Content by
Dr. Charles Kightly
Enquiry questions by Heritage Schools Teachers
The Heritage Schools Timeline is a PowerPoint
presentation, which will provide you with a
basic framework of events from 100BC –
It can be used as an interactive classroom
resource and adapted by teachers and pupils to
include their local heritage and events.
Here is a demonstration of how it works
In ‘Slide Show’ each of the 21 top-slides represent 100
years, from 100BC - 2000.
You can scroll forwards and backwards using the red
buttons on the bottom right-hand of each slide.
Clicking on each event
will reveal a drop-down
The drop-down slide has
more information about
the event, an image and an
enquiry question.
1st Century BC
(55 BC/54BC)
Julius Caesar's
Raids »
(100 BC)
Tribal Britain »
(72 BC)
Metal Out
Wine In »
(47 BC)
Britain »
(35 BC)
First British Coins »
(10 BC)
Influence of
Rome »
1st Century AD
(AD 60)
Revolt »
(AD 10)
Cunobelinus »
(AD 47) The
Roman Army »
(AD 43)
Invasion »
(AD 51)
Captured »
(AD 80-100)
Development of
Roman Roads »
(AD 83)
Roman Rule
Expands »
2nd Century AD
(AD 122)
Hadrian’s Wall »
(AD 100)
Roman Forts
Rebuilt in Stone »
(AD 155)
Verulamium Rebuilt
(Roman Towns
Develop) »
(AD 158)
Fort Fully
Re-Occupied »
(AD 180)
Benwell Roman
Temple Built
Religion) »
(AD 180)
Uprisings »
3rd Century AD
(AD 208)
Emperor Severus
in Britain »
(AD 270)
Silchester Walled »
(AD 212)
Citizenship Extended »
(AD 209)
St. Alban
Martyred »
(AD 250)
Great Witcombe
Villa Built »
(AD 296)
for Rome »
(AD 276)
Saxon Shore Forts »
4th Century AD
(AD 306)
Emperor »
(AD 313)
of Christians
Ends »
(AD 340)
Britain »
(AD 369)
Order »
(AD 367)
Conspiracy »
(AD 391)
Outlawed »
(AD 383)
Maximus Takes
Troops from
Britain »
5th Century AD
(AD 410)
Britain Breaks
with Rome »
(AD 442)
Advance »
(AD 429)
(Hengist and
Horsa) »
(AD 446)
Last Appeal
to Rome »
(AD 460)
Fights Back »
(AD 470)
Massacre at
Pevensey »
(AD 495)
Battle of
Badon »
6th Century AD
(AD 515)
and ‘King
Arthur’ »
(AD 552)
Conquests »
(AD 545)
Plague »
(AD 580)
The First
Kingdoms »
(AD 560)
Saxon Farms
and British
Rivers »
(AD 597)
Conversion to
Christianity »
(AD 600)
Battle of
Catraeth »
7th Century AD
(AD 617)
King Edwin
Converted »
(AD 635)
Founded »
(AD 625)
Sutton Hoo »
(AD 642)
Battle of
Oswestry »
(AD 664)
The Synod of
Whitby (Rome
or Ireland?) »
(AD 699)
Produced »
(AD 680)
Caedmon »
8th Century AD
(AD 731)
Bede and
the Idea of
‘England’ »
(AD 700)
The Ruthwell
Cross »
(AD 720)
The Tribal
Hideage »
(AD 757)
King Offa
of Mercia »
(AD 787)
First Viking
Raids »
(AD 780)
Beowulf »
9th Century AD
(AD 800)
The Law of
the Land »
(AD 850)
Viking Raiders
Invaders »
(AD 825)
Kingdoms »
(AD 878)
Defeated at
Edington »
(AD 865)
Viking Great
Army Lands »
(AD 899)
the Great
Dies »
(AD 891)
Chronicle »
10th Century AD
(AD 900)
Burhs »
(AD 937)
The First
King of all
England »
(AD 970)
English Art
Revived »
(AD 924)
Reconquest »
(AD 954)
The Danelaw »
(AD 978)
Aethelred the
Unready »
(AD 991)
Battle of
Maldon »
11th Century AD
(AD 1066)
Godwinson »
(AD 1016)
King Cnut »
(AD 1042)
Edward the
Confessor »
(AD 1071)
The First
Castles »
(AD 1066)
Battle of
Hastings »
(AD 1069)
The Harrying
of the North »
(AD 1087)
Book »
12th Century
Death of
Rufus »
Thomas Becket »
Rievaulx Abbey
Founded »
Stephen and
Matilda »
Stone Castles
(Rochester Castle
Keep Begun) »
Henry II »
Richard I
and the
Crusades »
13th Century
King John and
the Church »
Develops »
The Last
Invasion »
Carta »
Friars Arrive »
Edward I
Scotland »
Edward I
Wales »
14th Century
Bannockburn »
Hundred Years
War Begins »
Edward II
Murdered »
Black Death »
The Peasants’
Revolt »
John Wycliffe
Dies »
Tales »
Richard II
Deposed »
The New World
Newfoundland »
15th Century
Wars of the
Roses Begin »
Henry IV’s
Troubles »
Agincourt and
the Conquest
of France »
Battle of Bosworth »
Printing Begins
in England »
Guilds and
Mystery Plays »
Richard III and
the Princes in
the Tower »
16th Century
Tudor Monarchs
(a New Kind of
Government) »
Henry VIII
(Renaissance Hero
to Savage Tyrant) »
Royal Supremacy and
the Dissolution of
the Monasteries »
Elizabeth I
Queen »
Reformation »
Feather Bed
and Flushing
Everyday Life) »
Armada »
Drake Sails
Round the World »
Globe Theatre
Opens »
17th Century
James I and the
Gunpowder Plot »
Authorised Bible
Published »
America and
India (The
Beginnings of
Empire) »
Charles I (Kind by
Divine Right?) »
Becomes Lord
Protector »
The Civil
Wars Begin »
Charles I
(The English
Republic) »
Charles II
Restored »
Pepys’s Diary »
The Glorious
Revolution »
18th Century
Act of Union
with Scotland »
The First
Hanoverian Kings »
Dick Turpin and
John Wesley »
Captain Cook
Explores the
Pacific »
The Seven
Years War
Begins »
‘Bonnie Prince
Charlie’ and the
Jacobite Rising »
Vaccine »
American War of
Begins »
The Industrial
Revolution 1:
Steam Engines
and Canals »
The Industrial
Revolution 2:
Iron and Factories »
19th Century
Revolutionary and
Napoleonic Wars »
Regency Period
Begins »
Abolition of the
Slave Trade »
Origin of Species
Published »
Reform Act
Passed »
Queen Victoria
Begins her Reign »
First Passenger
Train Runs »
Exhibition »
First Board Schools
Founded »
Jubilee »
20th Century
Votes for
Women »
Period Begins »
Second World War »
Radio and
Television »
First World War »
Uneasy Decades »
Pop Revolution »
Indian Independence
and the end of Empire »
Computers and
Mobile Phones »
Consumer Boom »
(1947-89) Cold War »
Welfare State and the
National Health Service »
(100 BC) Tribal Britain
In the period before the Roman Conquest, the
people of Britain were divided into over 30 tribes
with different names. For example, the Catuvellauni
(meaning 'battle experts') lived in modern
Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire; the Ordovices
('hammer-fighters') occupied Mid-Wales; and the
Brigantes (either 'hill-dwellers' or 'mighty ones')
dominated northern England. The meanings of their
tribal names sometimes give hints about how they
saw themselves, or how others saw them.
Archaeology shows that their ways of life differed
widely. Some southern and eastern tribes, including
quite recent arrivals from mainland Europe, built
town-like trading centres. Further west and north,
tribal power centred on strongly defended 'hill forts'.
None were primitive 'cavemen'. Excavated examples
of their homes show that they could be well-built
huts, equal in ground area to a modern bungalow.
Reconstruction of a British Iron Age hut at Maiden Castle hill fort.
[© Paul Birkbeck. English Heritage Photo Library]
Were the people living at this time
(72 BC) Metal Out Wine In
Archaeology, including evidence from the cargoes of
wrecked prehistoric ships found by divers, proves
that Britain was trading with foreign lands long
before the Romans came. Among its most valued
exports was tin from Cornwall and Devon, a metal
rare in Europe but vital for making bronze.
One of the most important British trading posts was
Hengistbury Head in Dorset, where locally-produced
iron, copper and silver were exchanged for luxury
goods (including figs, glass, tools and weapons, and
especially wine) from Italy, Gaul (France) and even
further away.
Wine came in distinctively shaped pointed jars called
'amphorae‘. More of these have been found at
Hengistbury than in all the other prehistoric sites in
southern England put together.
Roman pottery jar (amphora), which once contained imported wine,
found at Richborough Castle Roman Fort.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
What does this particular object tell us
about the way people lived at this time?
(55 BC/54BC) Julius Caesar's Raids
The first Roman attacks on Britain were led by Julius
Caesar, an ambitious general and politician who
claimed that the Britons were helping his enemies in
Gaul (France). His first raid in 55 BC was disastrous:
British shoreline resistance and storm damage to his
ships soon made him turn back.
However, in 54 BC Caesar landed again in Kent with
about 25,000 soldiers and, despite resistance led by
Cassivellaunus, a British chieftain, and attacks by
British chariots, he penetrated as far as
Hertfordshire. Some British tribal chieftains
surrendered and became allies of Rome, allowing
Caesar to claim a victory. But it was clear that
Britain was not easily conquered, and after two
months he withdrew. Britain would remain outside
the Roman Empire for nearly another century.
British two-horse chariot with driver and warrior, from a Roman silver
'denarius' coin, c.48 BC.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Were the Romans only interested in
(47 BC) Caesar Describes Britain
The oldest written descriptions of Britain, by Ancient
Greek authors, describe a land of magical wonders
beyond the known world. Although he had visited
only south-east England, Julius Caesar gives a slightly
more realistic account. Writing in about 47 BC,
perhaps to impress Roman readers, he described the
Britons as fierce barbarian warriors who shaved
their bodies and dyed them blue with woad, but
wore long hair and moustaches. He also wrote that
they would not eat hares, cockerels or geese but
kept them as pets.
Caesar thought the south-eastern tribes, some of
whom had only recently come from France, were
the most civilised Britons. He declared that those
living further inland grew no crops, ate only meat
and dairy products and wore animal skins.
Archaeology proves he was wrong!
Celtic warrior, with characteristic 'spiky hair', from a Roman silver
'denarius' coin, c.48 BC.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Can Julius Caesar’s description of
Britain be trusted?
(35 BC) First British Coins
Caesar says that the Britons used bronze or iron
rings as currency (money). However, gold and silver
coins had already existed for hundreds of years in
Asia, Greece and Rome, and by about 150 BC they
had reached Britain. The first coins were imports
from France.
Not long after Caesar's raids, tribal rulers in
southern and eastern Britain began producing
('minting') coins of their own. These were made by
hammering an iron punch (or dye) engraved with a
pattern onto discs of precious metal. Soon some
British coins included the name of the ruler who
ordered them. Among the earliest of these were
made for Commios, at first an ally and then an
enemy of the Romans, who ruled in the HampshireWest Sussex region.
British silver coin of Commios, King of the Atrebates tribe, c.50 BC.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Are coins important sources of evidence
of life in past times?
(10 BC) The Influence of Rome
Though Britain was still independent, the influence of
the Roman Empire, which now extended to the
coast of France, was very strong. Feuding British
rulers turned to Rome for support in their quarrels,
or fled there as refugees if defeated. Some adopted
the Roman title 'rex' (meaning 'king') and imitated
Roman styles for their coins.
Trade with the Roman Empire also increased and
Roman luxury goods, like those found in Lexden
Tumulus (the burial mound of a powerful British
ruler at Colchester), were valued as 'status symbols'
by wealthy Britons. It is even possible that some
Britons took to wearing fashionable Roman clothing.
Roman 'galley' ship, from a coin of Mark Antony, c.30 BC.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Did all the people of Britain want to be
like the Romans?
(AD 10) Cunobelinus
Cunobelinus, whose name means 'the Hound of
Belinus' ('the Shining One', a British god) was the
most powerful British ruler in the decades before
the Roman Conquest. He was the leader of the
Catuvellauni tribe, which had headed the resistance
to Julius Caesar, from about AD 10. He extended his
rule over all south-eastern Britain, from Kent to the
Wash, and the Romans thought him 'King of (all) the
Britons'. His 'capital' was Camulodunum (now
Cunobelinus remained friendly with Rome
throughout his long reign. British corn, cattle, gold,
silver, iron, pearls, slaves and hunting dogs were
traded for Roman luxuries like ivory and amber
jewellery, glass and wine. However, after his death in
about AD 42, his sons adopted policies which helped
encourage Roman invasion.
British coin of Cunobelinus depicting an ear of barley – perhaps suggesting
that British barley beer was better than Roman wine?
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Did trading with Rome prevent or
encourage invasion?
(AD 43) Roman Invasion
In AD 43 the Romans landed at Richborough in Kent
with an army of about 40,000 soldiers. They defeated
the Britons (led by Caratacus and Togodumnus, sons
of Cunobelinus) on the River Medway, and then
fought their way over the Thames. The Emperor
Claudius joined them for a triumphal entry into
Colchester, the British 'capital', accompanied by the
first elephants seen in Britain.
However, Britain was far from fully conquered. One
Roman legion marched northwards from Colchester
towards Lincoln, another into the Midlands, and a
third fought its way into the south-west, besieging
and capturing many British hill forts on the way. By
AD 47 all Britain south of a line from Devon to the
Humber was under Roman control.
Gold Roman coin of the Emperor Claudius, AD 43, showing a triumphal
arch proclaiming the conquest of Britain.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Was the Roman invasion good or bad
for Britain?
(AD 47) The Roman Army
The Roman army that conquered Britain was a wellequipped, uniformed and highly disciplined force. Its
most effective soldiers were 'legionaries', tough
armoured foot-soldiers equipped with short swords,
throwing spears and big shields. Each of the four
legions in Britain had about 5,000 men, divided into
'centuries' of about 80 soldiers, commanded by
centurions. Legionaries were also engineers, building
Roman forts and roads.
Legionaries were recruited from Roman citizens, but
their 'auxiliaries' (meaning 'helpers') were 'cohorts‘
(regiments) from many different parts of the Empire.
Some were spear-armed infantry, others bowmen,
and others made up cavalry regiments of 500 or
1000 men. There were usually more auxiliaries than
legionaries in Britain. The Romans also used
'artillery‘ – machines for throwing big stones or
shooting arrow-headed darts at the enemy.
Model of a Roman legionary soldier from Corbridge Roman Town
showing his armour, shield, throwing spear (pilum) and camping gear.
[© English Heritage]
Was Britain conquered because the
Romans had better weapons than the
(AD 51) Caratacus Captured
Caratacus, son of Cunobelinus, headed the British
resistance to the Roman invasion in AD 43 and,
although he was defeated, he refused to give up. He
moved west to lead the fierce Silures tribe of South
Wales in eight years of successful guerrilla warfare
against the invaders. His acceptance by this 'foreign'
tribe suggests that Caratacus had a powerful
personality: his name means 'the beloved one'.
Eventually, in AD 51, he was defeated again
somewhere on the Welsh borders and he fled to
northern England, to Queen Cartimandua of the
Brigantes tribe. She handed him over to the Romans
and he was put on show in Rome as a trophy of
victory. However, his dignity impressed the Romans
so much that Caratacus and his family were
British coin of Caratacus.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Was Caratacus well liked?
(AD 60) Boudica's Revolt
In AD 60 Queen Boudica (Boadicea) came close to
destroying Roman rule in Britain. Her tribe, the Iceni
of East Anglia, had been friendly with Rome, but
when her husband died the Romans not only seized
their land, they also brutally ill-treated Boudica and
her daughters. While the Roman governor and his
troops were away fighting in North Wales, Boudica
united many tribes in a fierce revolt. They destroyed
Colchester, Verulamium (St. Albans) and London,
massacring all their inhabitants. Tens of thousands of
people were tortured and killed.
Racing back, the Roman governor defeated Boudica's
much larger army, and she took poison rather than
fall into enemy hands. After taking savage revenge,
the Romans eventually realised that less harsh rule in
Britain would prevent further risings.
Skulls found in the Wallbrook stream, London, dating from AD 60. They
may well be the severed heads of Boudica’s Roman victims.
[© Museum of London]
Would Boudica be as well remembered
if she had been a man?
(AD 80-100) Development of Roman
Roman Britain could not have operated without the
network of Roman roads that linked cities and
military bases. Many of their routes are still used as
modern roads today. Unlike the dirt tracks that
preceded them, Roman roads were built in stone,
usually by legionary soldiers. They were paved,
drained, well maintained, and they could be used in
all weathers. Their routes were carefully planned by
engineers, usually in long straight stretches, which
sometimes changed direction on hilltops. However,
in mountainous areas they took the easiest route
along valleys.
Map showing the main Roman roads in Britain.
[Roman Roads in Britain by my work is licensed under (Wikipedia Commons) CC BY-SA 3.0
Villas (country houses) and small towns developed
along the road network and the Roman government
operated a system of roadside inns and stables.
These helped the Roman officials to travel as quickly
as possible throughout Britain.
Were Roman roads such a big deal?
(AD 83) Roman Rule Expands
The spread of Roman rule over Britain, temporarily
halted by Boudica's rising, began again with the
conquest of northern England (AD 70-1) and Wales
(AD 74-8). Then the great Roman governor Agricola
invaded Scotland, totally defeating the 'Caledonian'
tribes at the Battle of Mons Graupius (probably near
Inverness) in AD 83. His Roman fleet sailed right
round Britain, proving it was an island.
Agricola's victory, completing the conquest of
Britain, marked the greatest extent of Roman rule.
However, soon afterwards troops were pulled out
to deal with trouble elsewhere in Britain. The
Romans gradually abandoned Scotland and the
northern frontier of Roman Britain was eventually
finalised on Hadrian's Wall.
Tombstone of Flavinus, standard-bearer of a Roman cavalry regiment. He
rides in triumph over a naked 'barbarian'. From Hexham Abbey.
[Tombstone of Flavinus, Roman Standard Bearer by Mike Quinn is licensed under (Wikipedia
Commons) CC BY-SA 2.0
What evidence is there of Roman rule
near where you live?
(AD 100) Roman Forts Rebuilt in
Roman forts secured the conquest of Britain. Roman
armies were said to 'carry a walled town in their
packs', and even fortified the temporary 'marching
camps' where they halted when in enemy territory.
Forts were more permanent army bases, controlling
the surrounding area. At first they were defended by
ditches and timber stockades, but from about AD
100 they were often rebuilt with stone walls.
Nearly always rectangular with rounded corners
('playing-card shaped') forts varied greatly in size.
Most were occupied by 'auxiliary' regiments of 500
or 1,000 infantry or cavalry. Among the bestpreserved are those on Hadrian's Wall, including
Housesteads. Legionary 'fortresses', each housing a
whole legion of 5,000 soldiers, were much bigger.
Those at Caerleon, Chester and York remained
important centres of military power until the end of
Roman Britain.
Aerial view of Hardknott Roman Fort, showing the remains of the
defences, headquarters building (centre), commander's house and corn
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Were forts important to Roman rule?
(AD 122) Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall was begun on the orders of the
Emperor Hadrian in AD 122. It is among the most
famous Roman monuments in the world. It stretches
73 miles from coast to coast, across one of the
narrowest parts of Britain. The 4m-high stone wall
was set with small forts ('milecastles') a mile apart,
with turrets between them. It was part of a wide
band of defences including ditches to front and rear,
outpost forts, and 15 big 'backup' forts for
The wall complex was a barrier against enemies
raiding from the north, and a means of stopping
them uniting with possibly hostile tribes further
south. It may also have been a springboard for future
Roman advances into Scotland. However, by AD 158
this policy was abandoned, and the wall became the
permanent northern frontier of Roman Britain for
nearly 250 years.
Remains of a central section of Hadrian’s Wall. The wall originally stood
4m high.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Did Hadrian’s Wall serve its purpose?
(AD 155) Verulamium Rebuilt (Roman
Towns Develop)
The biggest change the Romans made in Britain was
to introduce towns and cities. The Romans thought
the best way to 'civilise' (which means 'townify') the
Britons was to focus their lives on imitations of
Rome. The towns built in Britain had Roman-style
'forums' (squares where public events took place)
and 'basilicas' (courtrooms and town halls). They also
had 'amphitheatres' for gladiators, public baths for
exercise and steam baths for gossip.
Towns varied in size and origin. Some, like
Verulamium (now St. Albans), which was rebuilt in
AD 155 after an accidental fire, were the 'capitals' of
Romanised British tribes. Others (like Colchester,
Lincoln and York) started as settlements for retired
soldiers or (like Wroxeter in Shropshire) developed
from forts. Country people visiting such towns could
see and imitate 'citizens' dressing and behaving in
Roman ways.
Reconstruction of a busy street in Roman Wroxeter (Viriconium).
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
What evidence of Roman towns can be
found where you live – or near where
you live?
(AD 158) Housesteads Fort Fully
When Hadrian's Wall became the permanent
frontier of Roman Britain in about AD 158, its forts
like Birdoswald, Chesters and Housesteads were
fully garrisoned. The soldiers at Housesteads came
from what is now Belgium, but other garrisons came
from warmer parts of the Roman Empire, and may
have had trouble coping with the harsh weather of
northern England.
To make them more bearable, forts contained not
only barracks for soldiers and a house for the
commander, but also 'comforts' such as bath houses
with saunas, which were also soldiers' club-rooms.
Some forts even had amphitheatres. Of course they
also needed toilets, as in the famous example at
Housesteads. At many forts, like Housesteads, a
village for traders, pub-keepers, retired soldiers and
their families, grew up outside the walls.
The Roman communal toilets at Housesteads Roman Fort. Sponges on
sticks, washed in the central running-water channel, were used as 'toilet
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Was life in a Roman fort good?
(AD 180) Benwell Roman Temple
Built (Roman Religion)
Like almost all the world's peoples at this time, the
Romans worshipped many gods. Apart from the gods
and goddesses they brought with them (such as
Jupiter, King of the Gods, and Minerva, Goddess of
Wisdom) the Romans also adopted local gods. For
example, they sometimes merged British war gods
with their own war god, Mars. The temple at
Benwell, built in about AD 180, was dedicated to the
purely British god Antenociticus, but its altars were
given by Roman officers from the nearby Hadrian's
Wall fort.
'Official' Roman religion also included worship of the
Emperor, but individual regiments and even families,
often also had their own private gods. As long as
their worship did not conflict with loyalty to Rome,
nobody minded. However, those following
supposedly anti-Roman religions, like Druidism and
later Christianity, were persecuted.
A trio of mother goddesses from a house outside Housesteads Roman
Fort. They wear hooded capes, a famous product of Roman Britain.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Did people respect different spiritual
beliefs in Roman times?
(AD 180) Uprisings
Though Britain had the largest occupying Roman
army of any province in the Roman Empire, it was
not always able to control the British tribes to the
north and south of Hadrian's Wall. In addition, the
size of the army sometimes tempted Roman
governors to use it to make themselves Emperor –
with disastrous results.
In about AD 180 'Pictish' invaders from Scotland
defeated a Roman legion and may have broken
through Hadrian's Wall. There was more trouble
around AD 197, when governor Clodius Albinus
stripped Britain of troops in order to support his
unsuccessful bid for imperial power. During his
absence hostile tribes in Yorkshire and Wales
rebelled, and some Roman forts were destroyed.
Perhaps because of these troubles, at about this
time, Roman cities defended themselves with
earthwork banks and ditches.
Aerial view of the Roman fort at Bainbridge, Wensleydale, Yorkshire, one
of those attacked during the risings.
[© R White/YDNPA]
Did everyone accept Roman rule at this
(AD 208) Emperor Severus in Britain
In the early 200s, rebellions and invasions in
northern Britain had got so bad that in AD 208 the
Emperor Severus (elderly, but a famous soldier)
came with a large army to restore order. For the
next three years the whole Roman Empire was ruled
from Britain. Severus marched deep into Scotland to
punish hostile tribes, but achieved little there before
his death at York in 211.
However, in his time, many northern Roman forts,
including some on Hadrian's Wall, were
strengthened or rebuilt. Severus also divided Britain
into two provinces: Upper Britain ruled from
London and Lower Britain ruled from York. This
made individual governors less powerful and less
likely to rebel against Rome. For the next 70 years,
Roman Britain was relatively peaceful.
Statue of the Emperor Severus, who originated from North Africa.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Was the Roman invasion more
beneficial for the Romans or Britons?
(AD 209) St. Alban Martyred
By AD 200, a few people in Britain were already
Christians, but they had to worship in secret. The
government thought their refusal to worship the
'official' Roman gods (which Christians regarded as
'idols') or 'divine’ emperors made them traitors to
Rome. If discovered, they were often killed.
History suggests that in AD 209, Alban, a Roman
citizen of Verulamium, sheltered a fleeing Christian
priest, changing clothes with him to help him escape.
Alban was himself beheaded, becoming the first
known British Christian 'martyr'. His (probably) true
story became surrounded by fantastic legends, and
much later a great abbey church was built on the
supposed site of his execution. Verulamium then
became 'St. Albans'.
A 13th-century manuscript painting of the martyrdom of St. Alban. The
executioner’s eyes are shown dropping out.
[© The Board of Trinity College Dublin]
How reliable is the evidence which
surrounds the story of St. Alban?
(AD 212) Citizenship Extended
Before AD 212 there was a big distinction between
Roman 'citizens', who had many rights and privileges,
and other people within the Roman Empire.
However, from that year all 'free' men (those who
were not slaves) throughout the Empire were made
citizens and all free women given the same rights as
Roman women. From then on there was less and
less distinction between 'Britons' and 'Romans'.
Many Romans from other parts of the Empire,
merchants and administrators, as well as soldiers,
also lived in Britain, which was a really international
community. Though they came from places such as
North Africa, Syria or the Balkans, these people
were also 'Romans'. The different races mixed freely.
Regina, a former British slave from the Hertfordshire
area, married her master Barathes, a Roman Syrian
living in South Shields.
Tombstone of Regina, a British-born slave who married her Roman Syrian
master. From South Shields (Arbeia) Roman fort.
[© Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums/Bridgeman Images]
Was life better for Roman citizens?
(AD 250) Great Witcombe Villa Built
Wealthy Roman citizens, including some who were
British-born, owned country houses called 'villas'.
Many of these have been found within reach of
Roman towns, and in prosperous farming areas like
the Cotswolds. Some villas (such as Great
Witcombe Roman Villa – built in about AD 250 –
and Lullingstone Roman Villa) were luxurious
mansions, with underfloor 'central heating', one or
more 'bath-suites', shrines to local gods, and floors
covered with colourful and expensive mosaics.
Others were more akin to farmhouses, and most
were the centres of large farming estates. These
were the homes of communities, including not only
the owner's extended family, but also his servants,
farm workers and slaves.
Villas were at their wealthiest peak during the
relatively peaceful 200s and 300s. Along with their
comfortable lifestyle, they declined towards the end
of Roman Britain.
Reconstruction of Great Witcombe Roman villa.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
What would you like or dislike about
living in a Roman villa?
(AD 270) Silchester Walled
Most Roman towns had defences, originally ditches
and stockades. However, by around AD 200 larger
cities like London were given much stronger stone
walls. Later in the century, towns such as Silchester
in Hampshire (known as 'Calleva Atrebatum'),
originally the tribal capital of the local British
Atrebates tribe, also had their defences rebuilt in
Unlike most Roman cities, Silchester never
developed into a modern town, and its Roman walls
remain very complete today. They are about 4.5m
high, but originally they were around 7.8m tall, with
battlements and seven gateways. About 150,000
cartloads of stone were needed to build them. This
included decorative stone, brought from as far away
as Bath. So perhaps Silchester's walls were originally
as much about showing off as defence.
Reconstruction of Roman Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum). The
amphitheatre is in the foreground, outside the walls.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Are towns with stone walls better
examples of how the Romans influenced
urban development than those without
(AD 276) Saxon Shore Forts
Though inland Britain remained largely peaceful, its
eastern and south-eastern coasts faced a new threat
from outside. Seaborne raiders came from northeastern Europe, including the peoples later called
Anglo-Saxons. These 'pirates' often penetrated up
rivers and estuaries to launch hit-and-run attacks,
escaping before Roman ships could catch them.
After serious raids in about AD 276, more and much
bigger forts were added to those defending eastcoast harbours and estuaries, many with new-style
towered walls like medieval castles. Some even
mounted stone-throwing 'catapults' to bombard
pirate ships. Their garrisons were mainly cavalry,
which could move quickly to attack raiders who
landed, and forts could support each other in serious
trouble. Because the coast they defended was
threatened mainly by Saxons, the Romans called it
'the Saxon Shore'.
Map of the Saxon Shore forts.
[© English Heritage]
Was Roman Britain an easy target for
sea raiders at this time?
(AD 296) Britain Regained for Rome
Carausius, a low-born Belgian sailor who rose to
command the Roman North Sea fleet, scored
spectacular successes against the pirates. However,
the Roman Emperor accused him of keeping their
loot for himself, and he ordered his execution. But,
in about AD 287 Carausius proclaimed himself
independent Emperor of Britain and northern
France, with strong local support. He called himself
'Restorer of Britain'.
In AD 293, Carausius was murdered by his own
finance minister and in AD 296 a Roman army, led by
the Emperor Constantius, invaded. They saved
London from barbarian mercenaries, and regained
Britain for the Roman Empire. Perhaps to avoid
further independence bids, Britain was now subdivided into four smaller provinces, with capitals in
London, Cirencester, Lincoln and York.
Gold medallion commemorating the re-conquest of Britain. A figure
representing London [right] kneels before Constantius. A Roman galley is
shown at bottom left.
[© The Roman Society]
Who were the ‘goodies ‘and ‘baddies’ at
this time?
(AD 306) Constantine Proclaimed
Constantius, who had regained Britain for Rome in
AD 296, returned in AD 306 and won a great victory
against the Picts north of Hadrian's Wall, which he
also strengthened. When he died in York, his army
there proclaimed his son, Constantine, as Emperor.
Though it took Constantine nearly 20 years to gain
full control of the Empire, he became one of the
most successful Roman rulers – he was known as
'Constantine the Great'. He was also the first
Christian Emperor. His mother, Helena, claimed to
have discovered in Jerusalem the actual 'True Cross'
on which Christ was crucified. Constantinople (now
Istanbul), which Constantine founded as a new
capital of the Roman Empire, was named after him.
Modern statue of Constantine outside York Minster, near the place where
he was proclaimed Emperor.
[© Charles Kightly]
Did Constantine deserve to be called
(AD 313) Persecution of Christians
Though not actually baptised a Christian until just
before his death in AD 337, Constantine was always
sympathetic to Christianity. In AD 313, after a vision
of the Cross brought him a victory, he decreed that
Christians were free to practise their religion
without persecution, and that all property seized
from them should be restored. There were at least
four Christian bishops in Britain by AD 314.
At this time, however, Christianity was not the only
'legal' religion. Many people still worshipped the old
gods, and some Christians were, at first, cautious
about declaring their faith. Wall paintings in a 'house
church' within Lullingstone Roman Villa, are the
oldest surviving evidence of Christianity in Britain
and date from about AD 350. However, some
experts believe that a neighbouring room there was
still being used as a pagan temple!
Wall painting of Roman Christian worshippers shown praying with
outstretched arms, c.AD 350. From Lullingstone Roman Villa.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
What were the differences and
similarities in different religious beliefs
at this time?
(AD 340) Prosperous Britain
The earlier 300s were the 'golden age' of Roman
Britain. By now, there was really no difference
between 'Britons' and 'Romans'. Away from the
troubled northern frontier and pirate-threatened
east coast, the land was peaceful and prosperous.
Indeed, Britain was one of the richest provinces in
the whole Roman Empire. Farming especially
flourished, so that Britain could export corn to
Europe. The waterproof hooded cloaks and saddlerugs produced by the British woollen industry were
famous throughout the Roman world.
Especially in the south-west, country villas were built
or enlarged, and small towns prospered. In bigger
towns, like Wroxeter, the fourth largest town in
Britain, richly decorated public baths and other grand
public buildings proclaimed the wealth of Roman
Reconstruction of the luxurious Roman public baths at Wroxeter Roman
City (Viriconium).
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Did prosperity make people more
peaceful in Roman Britain at this time?
(AD 367) Barbarian Conspiracy
In AD 367 'barbarian' peoples from outside the
Roman Empire attacked its borders in many places,
all at the same time. Britain was simultaneously
invaded by Picts from beyond Hadrian's Wall, raiders
from Ireland and Saxons who attacked along the east
coast. The Roman commander in Britain and the
general in charge of the Saxon Shore were both
killed in battles. Some Roman soldiers deserted to
the enemy, forts were destroyed, and plunderers
roamed about stealing and killing, so 'Britain was
reduced to the verge of ruin’.
Before now, the attackers of Britain had acted
independently and in small groups. This pre-planned
attack by a ‘conspiracy' of barbarians working
together was something new, and also very
A Pictish warrior carved on a standing stone at Collessie, Fife, Scotland.
[© RCAHMS (Tom and Sybil Gray Collection). Licensor
Is it fair to describe those attacking
Britain at this time as barbarians?
(AD 369) Theodosius Restores Order
Though the raiders who attacked Britain in AD 367
preferred to go home with their plunder rather than
stay as permanent conquerors, it took the Romans
two years to restore order. This was eventually
achieved by the general, Theodosius. He drove out
the invaders, rebuilt damaged forts, and strengthened
defences in the west against the Irish. He also made
alliances with friendly tribes to help defend Britain's
To give warning against further attacks by Saxon
pirates, he also built a series of fortified watch
towers along the north-east coast, from Hadrian's
Wall down through Yorkshire. Protected by all these
defences, Britain regained some of its prosperity, but
it was never really secure again.
Reconstruction of the Roman signal station on the site of Scarborough
Castle. The beacon gave warning of Saxon raiding ships
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Was Theodosius good at his job?
(AD 383) Maximus Takes Troops
from Britain
Magnus Maximus, the Spanish-born Roman
commander in Britain, defeated a new Pictish attack,
but could not resist the temptation to declare
himself Emperor of Rome. In AD 383 he invaded
Europe, taking many troops from Britain with him.
He was eventually defeated and killed in 388, and the
troops never returned. Many Roman forts were now
deserted, but Hadrian's Wall was still held, and after
a while Roman imperial rule was re-established.
Though his actions weakened Britain, Maximus was
clearly popular there, perhaps because he
encouraged British frontier tribes to take over from
Roman soldiers against raiders from outside. He
passed into legend as a hero and was later claimed as
an ancestor by Dark Age Welsh princes.
Gold coin of Magnus Maximus, showing him as joint-emperor of Rome.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Was Magnus Maximus a hero?
(AD 391) Paganism Outlawed
In AD 391 the Emperor Theodosius made
Christianity the official state religion of the whole
Roman Empire. The worship of other gods was
outlawed and their temples closed. Despite protests
against abandoning the traditional gods of Rome,
even their worship behind closed doors was soon
forbidden. Magistrates and other officials had to be
Christians, and from now on Christian churchmen
exercised great power in the Roman Empire.
The 'new' eastern god Mithras, who was particularly
favoured by soldiers, was perhaps a more dangerous
rival to Christianity than the traditional gods. At
about this time, his temple near Carrawburgh Fort
on Hadrian's Wall was attacked and its altars
damaged, probably by Christians.
The god Mithras shown emerging from an egg, surrounded by Signs of the
Zodiac. From Housesteads Roman Fort.
[© Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums/Bridgeman Images]
Was having just one religion across the
Roman Empire a good idea?
(AD 410) Britain Breaks with Rome
The Romans did not suddenly leave Britain. In fact,
after 350 years of Roman rule, all Britons thought of
themselves as Romans. However, by the early 400s
most soldiers had been taken to Europe by generals
trying to make themselves Emperor and were never
replaced. Since the Roman Empire could not protect
them, the 'Romano-Britons' declared independence
from the Empire.
Due to a lack of reliable evidence, experts disagree
on exactly when independence came about. In AD
409, the Britons apparently expelled the Empire's
officials. Then in AD 410, when barbarians sacked
the city of Rome itself, the Emperor Honorius may
have written to tell the Britons to look after their
own defence. Certainly, at about this time, Britain
ceased to be part of the Roman Empire.
Gold coin of Honorius, the last Roman Emperor to rule Britain.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Did Rome abandon Britain or did
Britain reject Rome?
(AD 429) Vortigern (Hengist and
In the 420s, the most dangerous enemies threatening
newly independent Britain were the Picts and the
Irish. According to one story, a Romano-British ruler
called Vortigern (which means 'great lord') asked
two Saxon brothers called Hengist (meaning
'stallion') and Horsa ('mare') to bring their followers
to help him defend eastern England against these
enemies. In return he would pay them and give them
land in Kent to live in.
About a century later, a writer blamed Vortigern's
actions for starting off the Saxon conquest of Britain.
However, the Roman army had been employing
Saxons and other Germanic soldiers for some time
before this date, and archaeology shows that some
were already living in eastern England.
Anglo-Saxon belt-buckle from Mucking, Essex.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Is archaeological evidence more reliable
than a writer's account of the past?
(AD 442) Saxons Advance
According to the legend, Hengist and Horsa kept
demanding more money and land from Vortigern.
When they did not get them, they decided to
conquer England for themselves, bringing allies over
from the Saxon homeland to help them. There is
historical evidence that in about AD 442 large
numbers of Saxons, Jutes and Angles advanced into
eastern and south-eastern England.
A chronicler, writing in France, even believed that
the Saxons conquered the whole country at this
time, though this was not yet true. Others reported
widespread attacks and massacres by the Saxons.
Archaeology shows that Roman-style civilised life in
south-east England, ended abruptly about now.
Blade of an Anglo-Saxon seax knife from Sittingbourne, Kent.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Is the object above evidence that the
Anglo-Saxons were all brutal killers?
(AD 446) Last Appeal to Rome
In about AD 446 the Romano-Britons desperately
appealed for help to the Roman general, Aetius, who
was fighting in France. They claimed that, 'The
barbarians drive us to the sea, but the sea drives us
back to the barbarians; between these two kinds of
death, we are either killed or drowned'. By
'barbarians' they probably meant the Saxons, but
they might have meant the Picts and Irish as well.
This plea was called 'the Groans of the Britons‘.
However, the Roman general was too busy fighting
Attila the Hun to send help, and the Britons had to
manage alone. This was probably the last time they
appealed for Roman help
Map showing the European origins of the Anglo-Saxon peoples.
[Anglo-Saxon Migration in the 5th century by my work is licensed under (Wikipedia
Commons) CC BY-SA 3.0
Can the 'Groans of the Britons' be
interpreted in different ways?
(AD 460) Ambrosius Fights Back
The Romano-Britons fought hard against the Saxons,
and for a long time prevented them from invading
central, western and northern England. Among their
most successful leaders was Ambrosius Aurelianus,
who was called 'the last of the Romans'. This may
mean he used Roman-style tactics and armoured
cavalry against the Saxons, who fought on foot.
Archaeological evidence also shows that other
British leaders, whose names we do not know,
defended local territories against the invaders. For
instance at Birdoswald Roman Fort on Hadrian's
Wall, the last Roman commander probably became
an independent 'warlord' and built himself a big
timber house within the fort's stone walls.
Reconstruction of the post-Roman hall built within Birdoswald Roman
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Were old Roman forts of any use to
anyone one at this time?
(AD 470) Massacre at Pevensey
Because very few written records survive from this
period, it is difficult to know exactly what happened
to the British population when the Saxons attacked.
One record says that they massacred all the Britons
who took refuge in Pevensey Roman fort. However,
archaeology shows that towns including Verulamium
(St. Albans) and Wroxeter continued to be lived in,
while others became deserted. Roman civilisation
collapsed, and people stopped using coins and even
It used to be thought that the Saxons killed or drove
out all the Britons from the areas they conquered.
However, 'genetic' research into the ancestry of
modern people suggests instead that most ordinary
Britons stayed where they were, adopting the
lifestyle and language of their new Saxon rulers.
The gateway of the Roman fort, Pevensey Castle.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Were the Romans more civilised than
the Saxons?
(AD 495) Battle of Mount Badon
In about AD 495 the Romano-Britons won a great
victory over the Saxon invaders at Mount Badon.
Where this battle took place is uncertain, but it was
probably in south-west England. Some historians
believe that 'Mount Badon' was Liddington Castle hill
fort, near Badbury in Wiltshire, others that it was
near Bath.
It is also uncertain who the British commander was
at this time. Some think it was Ambrosius
Aurelianus, others that it was 'King Arthur'. Though
the legend of King Arthur did not become popular
until many centuries later, some believe that he was
based on a real British 5th-century hero. Quite
certainly, however, the British victory halted the
Saxon conquest for over 50 years.
A 14th-century manuscript painting of King Arthur, as imagined in
medieval times.
[© The British Library Board, Royal 20 A. II, f.4r]
Are the stories about King Arthur fact
or fiction?
(AD 515) Tintagel and 'King Arthur'
Independent British kingdoms survived longest in the
west and north of England, furthest from the Saxon
invaders. They were ruled by Christian princes who
still thought of themselves as 'Romans'. Tintagel on
the north coast of Cornwall was an important
settlement of the Romano-British kingdom of
'Dumnonia' (now Devon and Cornwall). Objects
found there by archaeologists, like containers for
Italian wine, and fine pottery and glass from Spain,
Turkey and North Africa, show that in the 500s its
people were still trading with the Roman Empire.
Much later on, Tintagel was believed to be the
birthplace of 'King Arthur'. Other stories say that
Arthur was killed in about AD 515, possibly in battle
with rival British rulers.
Reconstruction of the Tintagel settlement in about 700. A trading ship is
entering the harbour [right].
[© English Heritage (drawing by Liam Wales)]
Do the objects found at Tintagel tell us
about life in other parts of the world at
this time?
(AD 545) Plague
A terrible epidemic of bubonic plague swept across
Europe during the 540s, and reached Britain in about
AD 545. One of the symptoms was swellings or
'buboes' under the armpits and elsewhere. Many
people died of it, including some rulers of the
northern and western Romano-British kingdoms.
The deaths of farmers and craftsmen, people who
knew how to grow and make things, made civilised
life even harder for the survivors.
The Saxons who ruled eastern England were not so
badly affected as they did not trade with plagueridden southern Europe, and the Romano-Britons
would have nothing to do with them. Therefore few,
apparently, caught the disease.
Mosaic depicting the Emperor Justinian who ruled over eastern Europe
when the epidemic broke out. It is also know as the Plague of Justinian.
[© World History Archive/Alamy]
Did everyone suffer from the impact of
the plague at this time?
(AD 552) Renewed Saxon Conquests
The Romano-British victory at Mount Badon stopped
the Saxon advance for 50 years. There may have
been a peace treaty dividing the country between
Saxons and Britons, and there is evidence that some
towns in British-held areas continued to thrive.
However, from AD 552 (when they captured
Salisbury) the Saxons started attacking from their
south-eastern strongholds again. They pushed the
Britons westwards and northwards, and in AD 571
they took Bedford.
The Britons fought back hard, and sometimes
temporarily defeated the Saxons, but more and more
of England came under Saxon control.
Finely decorated Anglo-Saxon brooch from West Heslerton.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Was it easy for the Anglo-Saxons to
conquer Britain?
(AD 560) Saxon Farms and British
As the Saxons conquered England, they gave names
in their own language to the places they lived in. This
Anglo-Saxon language is related to German and is
the ancestor of the English we speak today.
However, if we heard a Saxon speaking now, we
wouldn't be able to understand him.
Many Saxon place names end in 'ham' (meaning a
village) or 'ton' (a homestead or farm). Often places
were named after the people who lived there:
'Nottingham', originally spelled 'Snotingaham', means
the village of the followers of a man called 'Snot', the
'Snotings'. However, many rivers kept, and still keep,
the names given to them in the British (Celtic)
language spoken by earlier inhabitants. For instance,
'Avon’ means 'river' in that language.
An Anglo-Saxon plough hauled by oxen, from a manuscript of about 1030.
[© The British Library Board, Cotton Tiberius BV, Part 1, f.3]
Can you find any places in your area
with names of Saxon origin?
(AD 580) The First Ango-Saxon
The 'Anglo-Saxon' conquerors of England were not
yet a united nation. Depending on where they came
from in northern Europe, some were Saxons, some
Angles and some Jutes. As they conquered England,
they divided it into separate and independent
kingdoms, large and small. These included: Kent in
the south-east; Sussex (the land of the South
Saxons); Essex (East Saxons); Wessex (West
Saxons); East Anglia (East Angles); Mercia in the
midlands and Northumbria in the north.
Sometimes an especially powerful or respected
Anglo-Saxon king (like King Ceawlin of Wessex who
reigned in about AD 580) claimed temporary
leadership of all the other Anglo-Saxon rulers. These
men were called 'Bretwaldas', meaning 'wide-ruler'
or perhaps 'sovereign of Britain'.
Map of the major Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
[Source: http://www.edmaps.com]
Was Britain more Anglo-Saxon or
Romano-British at this time?
(AD 597) Conversion to Christianity
When the Anglo-Saxons came to England they were
pagans, worshipping gods like Tiw, Woden, Thor and
Frey, after whom Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
and Friday are still named. The Christian Britons
hated the Saxon invaders so much that they didn’t
want their souls to be 'saved' by Christianity, so they
did nothing to convert them.
Eventually the southern Saxons were converted by
missionaries sent by the Pope from Rome. The
earliest and most famous was St. Augustine, who
converted the King of Kent in AD 597. In northern
England, however, the missionaries came from
Christian Ireland. However, it would take a long time
before all the Anglo-Saxons became Christian.
The remains of St. Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury, founded by the saint
himself in about 597.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Were the missionaries right to convert
people to Christianity?
(AD 600) Battle of Catraeth
In northernmost England, where the Romano-British
kingdoms remained strong, the Anglo-Saxon
conquest was slow. The 'Anglian' invaders of this
part of the country first landed at Bamburgh in
Northumberland, later the site of a famous medieval
castle. In about AD 600, they destroyed a British
army at the Battle of Catraeth, now Catterick, North
We know about this battle from a famous poem
written at the time in the British language, an
ancestor of modern Welsh. It is the oldest surviving
poem in a language still spoken in Britain. It also
includes the earliest known reference to 'King
Medieval Bamburgh Castle, built on the site of the first Anglo-Saxon
stronghold in Northumbria.
[© English Heritage Photo Library/Peter Dunn, English Heritage Graphics
Is this poem reliable evidence?
(AD 617) King Edwin Converted
By AD 604 the Anglo-Saxons had taken York. This
old Roman capital of northern England became the
capital of their kingdom of Northumbria. One of its
most powerful kings was Edwin, who reigned from
AD 617. Originally a pagan, he was baptised a
Christian in about AD 625, probably at the site
where York Minster now stands.
A famous story tells how one night a sparrow flew
through King Edwin's lit feasting hall, from darkness
into darkness. Someone compared it to the life of
pagans, going from one unknown and frightening
place to another. If Christianity could give people
more hope of life after death, Edwin thought he
ought to become a Christian.
A re-erected pillar from the Roman headquarters building in York, near
the place where Edwin was baptised.
[© Charles Kightly]
Did people want to convert to
Christianity at this time?
(AD 625) Sutton Hoo
In 1939, archaeologists made an amazing discovery at
Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. A buried ship full of treasures
was found, which had once surrounded the body of a
very rich and important Saxon ruler. The treasures
included a helmet and sword; Swedish-style
metalwork; coins from all over western Europe, and
even silver spoons from Constantinople. Some of the
treasures suggest that the person buried was a
Christian, but Christians were not usually buried
with objects for the ‘after-life’.
Historians think that this is the tomb of the great
King Redwald of East Anglia, who died in about AD
625. It seems Redwald could not decide whether he
was a pagan or a Christian. He installed a statue of
Christ in his private temple, but also kept statues of
pagan gods there.
The reconstructed helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship burial: it was
probably made in England.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
What does the discovery at Sutton Hoo
tell us about religious beliefs, trade and
craftwork at this time?
(AD 635) Lindisfarne Founded
Many of the first missionaries were monks who were
unmarried men living together in communities,
devoted to prayer and poverty. They believed that
this simple and sometimes hard way of life brought
them closer to God. They often set up their
'monasteries' in lonely places, where they would not
be distracted.
In AD 635 St. Aidan, an Irish monk, founded a
monastery on the lonely island of Lindisfarne, off
Northumberland, later called 'Holy Island'. From
there he journeyed through Northumbria preaching
Christianity. The Anglo-Saxon King Oswald of
Northumbria was his friend and protector.
Afterwards, Lindisfarne became even more famous
as the home of St. Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne
The 9th-century ‘Doomsday’ memorial stone from Lindisfarne Priory.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Did monasteries only influence religion?
(AD 642) Battle of Oswestry
In the 600s many wars were fought in England, as the
different independent kingdoms struggled for
supremacy. The battles were not always between
Saxon and British kingdoms, or between Christians
and pagans. Sometimes Britons allied with Saxons,
and pagans allied with Christians.
In AD 642 the Christian Saxon King Oswald of
Northumbria was killed by an alliance between the
pagan King Penda of Anglo-Saxon Mercia (in the
West Midlands) and Christian Britons from
Shropshire and North Wales. Oswald's body was
chopped up, and his head stuck on a tree or a
wooden cross (‘Oswald’s Tree’). This battle site in
Shropshire is now called Oswestry. Oswald, the
friend of St. Aidan of Lindisfarne, was later himself
regarded as a saint.
Battle scene from the Franks Casket, dating from about 700. The casket
was made in northern England from the bones of a stranded whale.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Did having many kingdoms create more
conflict at this time?
(AD 664) The Synod of Whitby
(Rome or Ireland?)
Some Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were converted by
missionaries from Rome, and some by monks from
Ireland. The Churches of Rome and Ireland had
different ways of doing things, like the haircuts of
their priests. They did not even agree on the date of
Easter, the most important Christian festival, and this
caused problems. King Oswiu of Northumbria,
influenced by Ireland, celebrated Easter at one date,
but his Roman-convert wife at another.
So King Oswiu summoned a 'synod' (church
conference) at the monastery of Whitby to decide
whether the Church in England should follow Roman
or Irish religious rules. After much argument, Oswiu
decided on Rome. This was because he dared not
offend St. Peter, a 'Roman' saint, who was thought to
hold the keys of heaven. For nearly the next nine
centuries, England would be a 'Roman Catholic'
A monk receiving a Roman-style haircut [right] and a monk with Celticstyle haircut [left]].
[© The British Library Board, Cotton Cleopatra C. XI, f.27v.
© The Board of Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland/Bridgeman Images]
Did choosing to follow Roman rules of
Christianity create peace in Britain?
(AD 680) Caedmon
At the time of the Synod of Whitby, the monastery
at Whitby was ruled by the powerful Abbess Hilda, a
Saxon princess. Among her servants was a poor
cowherd called Caedmon. Anglo-Saxons loved
poetry and singing, and the Whitby monks used to
pass round a harp and sing songs to entertain each
other. Caedmon, however, knew no songs, so he
crept off sadly to sleep in the cowshed.
That night, according to legend, an angel appeared to
him, giving him the power to write poetry. He
composed a hymn about the ‘Creation of the World’
and sang it to Abbess Hilda. This was regarded as a
miracle, and Caedmon became an honoured monk.
He died in about AD 680.
'Caedmon's Hymn' still survives, and it is one of the
very earliest poems in the Anglo-Saxon language, the
ancestor of modern English.
Victorian cross commemorating Caedmon in St. Mary’s Churchyard,
[© Charles Kightly]
Are the story and poem of Caedmon
reliable sources of evidence?
(AD 699) Lindisfarne Gospels
The most famous saint of Anglo-Saxon northern
England was Cuthbert, a monk and abbot of
Lindisfarne. He spent a lot of time meditating alone
on the remote Farne islands, and made friends with
otters and seabirds. He died in 687, and nine years
later his body was dug up. It had not rotted away at
all, which convinced the Lindisfarne monks that he
was a powerful saint.
Probably to celebrate St. Cuthbert's re-burial in a
new shrine, a monk called Eadfrith created a
beautifully painted version of the Christian New
Testament Gospels. The Lindisfarne Gospels still
survive. They are the among the finest works of art
produced in Anglo-Saxon England.
The beginning of St. Matthew’s Gospel, a ‘carpet page’ from the
Lindisfarne Gospels manuscript.
[© The British Library Board, Cotton Nero D. IV, f.27]
What do the Lindisfarne Gospels tell us
about life at this time compared with
life today?
(AD 700) The Ruthwell Cross
Before churches were built, Anglo-Saxon Christians
often gathered to worship in the open air in places
marked by tall crosses, made of timber or stone and
often carved and painted. Among the finest survivors
is the Ruthwell Cross.
Five and a half metres high, this cross probably dates
from around AD 700. It is carved all over with
figures of Christ, saints, vines and birds. It also has
carved inscriptions quoting in Latin from the Bible,
and in Anglo-Saxon from a poem called 'The Dream
of the Rood’ ('rood' being the Saxon word for a
cross). These words are the oldest surviving
examples of written Anglo-Saxon. They are carved in
letters called 'runes'.
The head of the Ruthwell Cross. Carved runes can be seen near the
bottom of the picture.
[© Crown Copyright Historic Scotland]
What can you find out about runes?
(AD 720) The Tribal Hideage
The Tribal Hideage is a document listing 34 of the
separate Anglo-Saxon 'tribes' or peoples who lived in
southern and midland England in the 700s, and how
many 'hides' of land each of them owned. A 'hide'
was the amount of farmland necessary to provide
food for a 'household'. A household meant not just a
family, but also the servants and slaves who worked
for them.
Some tribes (such as the West Saxons, the Mercians
of the Midlands and the East Angles) were very large,
including tens of thousands of households. Others,
like the 'Spaldas’ (who lived around Spalding in
Lincolnshire) and the 'Peak dwellers' of Derbyshire,
were much smaller. Some tribes included only about
300 households.
Harvesting with scythes, from an Anglo-Saxon manuscript of about 1030.
[© The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved/Bridgeman Images]
What does The Tribal Hideage tell us
about life in Britain at this time?
(AD 731) Bede and the Idea of
Bede was a monk who lived at Jarrow monastery in
Northumbria, a famous centre of learning. He wrote
about 60 books in Latin, many of which survive. The
most important is the 'History of the English Church
and People', completed in AD 731. This was the
earliest attempt to write a history of England,
especially from the time of the Anglo-Saxon
Bede’s book is a very important milestone in the
history of England because it treated England as a
single united country, rather than a collection of
independent kingdoms and separate tribes. England
would not really be united for another two
centuries, but Bede helped plant the idea that it
should be a single nation.
A medieval depiction of Bede writing. He holds a quill pen in his right hand
and a penknife in his left.
[© The British Library Board, Yates Thompson 26 f2r]
Why is Bede such a significant person in
British history?
(AD 757) King Offa of Mercia
In the later 700s, the Midlands kingdom of Mercia
dominated all southern England. Its greatest ruler
was King Offa (757-96), who was the first to
standardise the silver 'penny' as the coin used for
trade. His power was also respected in Europe: the
Emperor Charlemagne called him 'brother'.
'Mercia' means 'the borderlands', and Offa's greatest
achievement was the construction of a massive
earthwork ditch and bank still called Offa's Dyke.
Stretching over 80 miles from near Chepstow to
Prestatyn, it clearly defined from sea to sea the
boundary between the Anglo-Saxon 'English' and the
Britons of Wales. Many sections of this astonishing
feat of engineering still look impressive today.
A dramatic section of Offa’s Dyke on the Shropshire/Wales border.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Are Offa’s achievements still significant
(AD 780) Beowulf
Beowulf is the oldest surviving Anglo-Saxon 'epic
poem' or adventure story. Some experts think it was
composed in the late 700s, though it tells of events
supposed to have happened much earlier, before the
Anglo-Saxons came to England.
Its hero, Beowulf, kills a man-eating monster called
Grendel, and then Grendel's even fiercer mother.
Later he defeats a dragon, but dies of the wounds he
got while fighting it. Poems like this were not meant
to be read, but to be sung or recited for
entertainment at feasts. So though the poem is over
3,000 lines long, the reciter would be expected to
know it 'off by heart'!
The first page of the only surviving original manuscript copy of Beowulf.
[© The British Library Board, Cotton Vitellius A. XV, f.132]
What does the poem Beowulf tell us
about life at this time?
(AD 787) First Viking Raids
The Vikings were fierce pagan raiders from Norway
and later also from Denmark, who began attacking
England in the late 700s. The English called them
'pirates', or 'heathen men'. Their first raid was on the
Dorset coast in AD 787, but their first serious attack
was on the rich monastery of Lindisfarne in AD 793,
where they slaughtered the monks and stole the
treasures. Soon afterwards they also began raiding
other parts of Europe.
Viking raids at first menaced only coastal areas,
which they plundered before sailing away. But during
the later 800s raiders became invaders, and the
Vikings almost conquered the whole of England.
Battle scene from the 9th-century ‘Viking Stone’ at Lindisfarne Priory.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Why did the Vikings raid, then invade
(AD 800) The Law of the Land
Anglo-Saxon laws protected the rights of free men as
well as setting out their duties, such as serving in the
army in times of war. They also tried to keep the
peace and prevent blood-feuds happening if someone
was killed. Instead, a 'wergild' or ‘man price’ in
money could be paid by the killer or his family to the
dead man's relations, to prevent them taking
vengeance. The 'man price' of a killed king was 12
times that of a nobleman, and a slain nobleman was
worth 6 times more than a wealthy farmer.
Locally, laws were dealt with at 'hundred courts',
where representatives of a hundred households met
in the open air to make decisions.
Medieval manuscript recording the Laws of Aethelbert, first Christian King
of Kent.
[© Rochester Cathedral]
How far have laws changed since AngloSaxon times?
(AD 825) Bigger Kingdoms
In AD 825 the King of the West Saxons defeated the
Mercians at the Battle of Ellendun (near Swindon)
and 'Wessex' became the leading power in southern
England. Smaller kingdoms like Kent, Sussex and East
Anglia still survived, but they were now dominated
by the three big Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex,
Mercia and Northumbria. Although the AngloSaxons now called themselves 'English', England was
not yet a single united country.
In Cornwall and parts of north-west England as well
as in Wales, British kingdoms still survived. The
English called their people 'Welsh' (from a Saxon
word meaning 'foreigners') but they called
themselves 'Cymry’, meaning 'fellow countrymen’ in
their own language. This name is the origin of
'Cymru' (still the Welsh-language name for Wales)
and 'Cumbria'.
Ring of King Aethelwulf of Wessex (839-58), father of King Alfred.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
How have the names of places in
England changed?
(AD 850) Viking Raiders Become
In AD 850, for the first time, a Viking army stayed in
England throughout the winter instead of sailing
home with their plunder, so they were ready to start
raiding again when spring came. This was a very
dangerous development, turning raiders into
invaders. Earlier Viking raiders had come from
Norway, but from this time on, most Vikings who
attacked England came from Denmark.
Sometimes independent English rulers united
together to fight the Vikings, and occasionally they
defeated them. More often the Vikings won. Some
people began to think that it was better to pay the
Vikings to go away, or even to let them take over
their land, than to fight them.
An original Viking boat.
[© Rick Strange/Alamy]
How did different people react to the
Viking raids at this time?
(AD 865) Viking Great Army Lands
In AD 865 a huge Viking army invaded England, led
by two notorious pirate brothers, Ivar the Boneless
and Halfdan the Black. Each following year they
moved on to plunder another part of the country,
taking York in AD 866 and then invading Mercia. In
869 they killed Edmund, King of East Anglia, shooting
him full of arrows and then cutting off his head when
he refused to renounce Christianity.
Only in Wessex did the English keep on resisting the
Vikings. In AD 870 they actually managed to defeat
them at Ashdown (Berkshire), but they lost more
battles than they won. In AD 871 Alfred became
King of Wessex and kept up the fight.
A Viking army preparing to land, from a 10th-century Norwegian
[© Bymuseum, Oslo, Norway/Index/Bridgeman Images]
Was it easy for the Vikings to invade
(AD 878) Vikings Defeated at Edington
Early in AD 878 the Vikings suddenly attacked
Wessex in midwinter. King Alfred was forced to hide
in the marshes of Athelney, and many of his subjects
surrendered and paid 'tribute money' to the Vikings.
But Alfred refused to despair. He gathered a new
army and completely defeated the enemy at the
Battle of Edington (Wiltshire).
This was the first time the Vikings had ever been so
badly beaten in England. Their leader, Guthrum,
agreed to become a Christian, with Alfred acting as
his 'godfather'. He also swore to take his army out of
Wessex. Wessex was saved, but many other parts of
England were now being permanently settled by
Victorian statue of King Alfred at Winchester, the old capital of Wessex.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
What reasons might Guthrum have had
for agreeing to become a Christian?
(AD 891) Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
The Viking invasions did tremendous damage to art,
culture and learning in England. Monasteries had
been centres of knowledge, but many were
destroyed along with their precious books and their
monks. By Alfred's time hardly anyone was left who
understood Latin, the language previously used for
recording information.
So when Alfred wanted to rebuild learning, he had to
write books in the English language, something
nobody had done before. To help him, he gathered
scholars from all over Britain. One of these, the
Welshman Asser, wrote the story of Alfred's life.
Alfred also ordered the making of a history of
England, called the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. He sent
copies to all the main surviving monasteries, with
orders to keep it up to date.
Manuscript of the version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle written at
Abingdon Abbey.
[© The British Library Board, Cotton Tiberius B. I, f.144v]
Did the Viking invasion help or hinder
literacy in England?
(AD 899) Alfred the Great Dies
Alfred is the only English King called 'the Great'. His
resistance had saved England from total conquest by
the Vikings, and as the ruler of the only surviving
Anglo-Saxon kingdom, he was honoured throughout
the whole land. Some even thought of him as the
first King of all England. He was also respected for
trying to revive English learning, and had begun to
build ships to fight the Vikings at sea.
However, at the time of Alfred's death, England was
still not yet a single united country, and much of it
was still occupied by Vikings, who were beginning to
settle down there permanently. Even Wessex itself
was not safe from a renewed Viking attack.
The gold and rock-crystal ‘Alfred Jewel’, part of a pointer sent to a
monastery with copies of Alfred’s books. The figure symbolises sight.
[© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford]
Was King Alfred ‘great’?
(AD 900) Burhs
One reason why the Vikings conquered much of
England so easily was that people had nowhere to
take refuge when attacks came. Castles had not been
invented, and most old Roman fortifications were
So King Alfred and his successors created fortresses
where people could shelter. Local people had to help
dig ditches and banks to protect them, and then
provide part-time soldiers to defend them. These
places of refuge were called 'burhs', and by 900 no
village in Wessex nor its neighbouring areas was
more than 20 miles away from one. Many of these
'burhs' later became prosperous market towns,
today known as 'boroughs’.
Map of ‘burhs’ in southern England.
[Anglo-Saxon burhs by Hel-hama is licensed under (Wikipedia Commons) CC BY-SA 3.0
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAnglo-Saxon_burhs.svg ]
How have people defended their
territory throughout history?
(AD 924) Reconquest
In AD 914 Alfred's son, King Edward of Wessex, and
his sister, Aethelflaed, who ruled in the Midlands and
was called 'the Lady of the Mercians', began
reconquering the lands taken by the Vikings. As they
recaptured territory year after year, they protected
it with new fortresses called ‘burhs’.
The warrior princess Aethelflaed, planning her own
campaigns and leading them herself, marched northwestwards towards Chester, while Edward fought
his way north-eastwards. The Vikings surrendered or
fled, and by the time Edward died in AD 924, all the
country south of the Humber was again under
English rule.
Thirteenth-century manuscript painting of Queen Aethelfleda.
[© The British Library Board, Cotton Claudius B VI f.14r]
Why were Edward and Aethelflaed so
successful in reconquering land from the
(AD 937) The First King of all England
The mighty Aethelstan, Edward's son (Alfred's
grandson), completed the reconquest of southern
England, and pushed on to capture York. He became
the first recognised king of a single united 'England',
whose power was also respected in Wales.
After destroying an attacking coalition of Vikings,
Scots and Britons at the Battle of Brunanburh in AD
937, Aethelstan was also hailed as 'Ruler of All
Britain'. He was the overlord not only of England,
but also of an 'English Empire' that dominated the
whole island of Britain.
Perhaps the greatest of all Anglo-Saxon kings,
Aethelstan was famous for his just laws and for
founding monasteries. His power made him
respected throughout western Europe, whose rulers
sought alliances with him and sent their sons to be
educated at his court.
Manuscript painting of King Aethelstan, shown presenting a book to St.
Cuthbert. Painted c.930 during Aethelstan's lifetime, it is the earliest
known 'portrait' of an English king.
[© By kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi
College, Cambridge]
What does the image above tell us
about King Aethlestan?
(AD 954) The Danelaw
Though the English kings reconquered the lands
taken by the Vikings, they did not drive out the
Vikings who had settled down there as peaceful
farmers. The parts of eastern England where these
retired Vikings lived were called the Danelaw,
because the people there kept their Danish language
and Danish laws. These included the judgement of
law cases by a 'jury' of 12 men, a system the English
took over.
The most important Viking-settled town was York.
This kept its Scandinavian rulers until the last of
them, the violent Erik Bloodaxe, was killed in AD
Map showing the Danelaw and English-held lands.
[England 878 by Hel-hama is licensed under (Wikipedia Commons) CC-BY-SA-3.0
What can the map above tell you about
the area you live in at this time?
(AD 970) English Art Revived
English art and craftsmanship, which had suffered
during the Viking wars, had a great revival in the
more peaceful 900s. Encouraged by the Church and
its famous Archbishop Dunstan (AD 909-88) monks
produced beautiful painted manuscripts such as the
'Benedictional of Aethelwold' (about AD 970). This
was made at Winchester, the royal 'capital' of
southern England.
English craftspeople were also famous for their fine
metalwork, but most of all for their beautiful
embroidery using silk and gold thread. This
fabulously expensive 'English work' was valued all
over Europe for fine royal robes and church
Page from the Anglo-Saxon Benedictional of Aethelwold, a manuscript
painted at Winchester c.970.
[© The British Library Board, Add. MS 49598, f. 45v]
Is there a link between times of peace
and great art and creativity?
(AD 978) Aethelred the Unready
After a long period of peace, things began to go
wrong for England under King Aethelred (AD 9781016). Suspected of murdering his brother to get the
throne, Aethelred proved a weak and foolish ruler
who could not beat off a new outbreak of Viking
attacks. So instead he began bribing the raiders to go
away, making his people pay heavy taxes called
'Danegeld' to provide the money.
People soon nicknamed him 'the Unready'. This
doesn't mean he was not prepared, but comes from
an old word 'unrede', meaning 'bad advice'. So the
Aethelred the Unready meant 'Aethelred the IllAdvised‘ – or just 'the Stupid'.
Thirteenth-century manuscript painting of King Aethelred.
[© The British Library Board, Cotton Claudius B. VI, f.87v]
Did Aethelred the Unready deserve his
(AD 991) The Battle of Maldon
During Aethelred the Unready's reign, a large force
of Vikings landed on an island near Maldon.
Byrhtnoth, the English ealdorman (governor) of
Essex, defended the narrow causeway connecting
the island to the land. Even though they
outnumbered him, he eventually allowed the Vikings
to cross it, so they could fight on fairer terms. The
Vikings won, Byrhtnoth was killed, and all his
companions chose to die with him rather than
retreat or surrender.
We know about this because a famous poem praised
the heroism of the companions, whose honour
bound them to die with their master rather than
saving themselves.
Modern statue of Byrhtnoth at Maldon.
[Byrthnoth statue Maldon by Oxyman (Wikipedia Commons) CC-BY-SA-3.0.
Can poems tell us about the past?
(AD 1016) King Cnut
When Aethelred the Unready died after a troubled
reign, people wanted a strong ruler to restore peace
and order. Many chose Cnut, the commander of an
invading Danish army, who became undisputed King
of England when Aethelred's son died in 1016. Soon
afterwards he inherited the kingship of Denmark,
and later also ruled Norway and parts of Sweden.
Thus during his reign (1016-35) England was part of a
'North Sea Scandinavian Empire'.
Though a harsh king, Cnut (also spelt 'Canute‘) ruled
England wisely, and was a great supporter of the
Church. He protected England from Vikings, united
Danes and Englishmen, and upheld English law.
King Cnut [bottom right] presents a golden cross to Hyde Abbey,
Winchester, from a manuscript compiled there in 1031.
[© The British Library Board, Stowe 944, f6]
Why did the people of England choose a
Danish king?
(AD 1042) Edward the Confessor
Following the short reigns of Cnut's two sons, the
English chose a king of the old royal line, Edward, a
son of Aethelred the Unready. Known as 'Edward
the Confessor' (which in this case means someone
who lives a holy life) he was regarded as a saint by
many of his poor subjects. He had been brought up
in exile in Normandy, and his English and Danish
nobles disliked his preference for Norman ways and
Norman advisers, especially churchmen.
His most famous achievement was founding a great
abbey just west of the old city of London called 'the
West Minster'. Westminster Abbey is still used for
coronations and royal burials today.
The shrine of the sainted King Edward the Confessor in Westminster
[© Angelo Hornak/Alamy]
What did it take to be regarded as a
(AD 1066) Harold Godwinson
Old King Edward died childless on 5th January 1066.
He had always wanted his successor to be his cousin
William, Duke of Normandy. At this time, however,
England was threatened by foreign invaders, so on
his deathbed, he accepted Harold Godwinson
instead. Though not of royal blood, Harold was the
greatest warrior in England, and nobles immediately
chose him as king.
As the last Saxon King of England, Harold prepared
for invasion. In September a big Viking army landed
in Yorkshire, commanded by King Harald Hardrada
('Hard Ruler') of Norway, who claimed to be the
heir of King Cnut. Harold Godwinson rapidly
marched up from London, destroying the Vikings at
the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25th September.
Three days later, the Normans landed on the Sussex
Harold Godwinson, from the Bayeux Tapestry.
[© De Agostini/The British Library Board]
Was choosing a king or queen a fair
process in this period of history?
(AD 1066) Battle of Hastings
Duke William of Normandy landed near Pevensey in
Sussex on 28th September 1066, with an army
including cavalry. He had come to claim the throne
of England, which he believed had been promised to
him by Edward the Confessor.
Harold Godwinson marched 241 miles (386km) from
Yorkshire to oppose him. On 14th October he took
up a defensive position at the place now called
Battle, near Hastings. The English fought on foot with
axes, spears and swords. The Norman army included
bowmen and mounted, armoured knights. Several
times they pretended to run away, drawing the
English from their position and then cutting them
After about nine hours of fighting, Harold was killed
and the English army routed. William 'the
Conqueror' became King of England.
The death of King Harold at Hastings, from the Bayeux Tapestry. Some
people think Harold is the figure shot with an arrow, others the figure cut
down by a knight.
[© Lessing Archive/The British Library Board]
Is the Bayeux Tapestry reliable evidence
of what happened at the Battle of
(AD 1069) The Harrying of the North
After Hastings, not all the English accepted William
as king. In the Fens, Hereward the Wake held out
against the Normans for a long time. But the main
resistance was in the north, where English rebels
were aided by a Viking fleet.
So during the winter of 1069-70, King William
marched his army from the Humber northwards to
the Tees, and then back again via Chester and the
north Midlands. To make sure the rebels would
starve and never resist again, they not only killed all
the rebels they found, but they also destroyed
villages, killed farm animals and burnt crops. Large
parts of Yorkshire were still 'waste land' over 20
years later.
Reconstruction of the early Norman motte and bailey castle at York: now
the site of Clifford’s Tower.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Was it easy for William to conquer
(AD 1071) The First Castles
Two developments helped the Normans to conquer
and control England: the mounted knight and the
castle. Neither had been seen in England before
The first Norman castles were made of earth and
timber, and could be built very quickly, probably
using forced local labour. They consisted of ditched
and banked enclosures (called 'baileys') defended by
wooden stockades. They nearly always also had a
mound ('motte') strongpoint, with its own ditch and
its own stockade, defending the mound top. In
addition, sometimes they had a timber tower (called
a 'keep') on the mound top.
Norman soldiers used these castles to defend
themselves, and soldiers living there could ride out
and control the surrounding country.
Building a motte and bailey castle at Hastings, soon after William the
Conqueror’s landing in 1066. From the Bayeux Tapestry.
[© Hemis/Alamy]
Did the Normans need castles?
(AD 1087) Domesday Book
The Normans controlled England much more tightly
than the Saxon kings. William the Conqueror
wanted to know exactly who owned what land, what
it was worth, and what sort of people and farm
animals lived in each place. Thus he would know
how much he could make his subjects pay in taxes.
So in 1087, William commissioned a detailed survey
of the whole country. His surveyors asked so many
questions that the English compared them to the
questions that Christians expected to answer at the
Last Judgement, or ‘Doomsday’. So they called the
survey 'Domesday Book’.
For us, Domesday Book provides a unique, valuable
and interesting 'snapshot' of early Norman England.
Page from Domesday Book, recording part of Yorkshire.
[© The National Archives, ref. E31/2/2 (316v)]
How far is Domesday Book different
from today’s census?
(1100) Death of William Rufus
On 2nd August 1100, King William Rufus (1087-1100)
was mysteriously killed by an arrow while hunting in
the New Forest. The son of William the Conqueror,
Rufus ('the red') got his nickname from his red face.
He was a vain, violent man who scorned religion.
Many people thought Rufus’s brother, who
succeeded him as Henry I (1100-35), ordered his
murder. Others believed it a punishment for the
Norman kings' creation of 'royal forests', vast private
hunting preserves that eventually covered nearly a
third of all England. Nobody (except those given
permission by the King) was allowed to hunt there.
Brutal 'forest laws' enforced blinding or death on
poachers, and even forest-dwellers' dogs had their
paws mutilated to stop them chasing deer.
Map showing royal forests in England in the 14th century.
[Royal.Forests.1327-1336 by my work is licensed under (Wikipedia Commons) CC-BY-SA3.0
Is there a connection between the
stories of Robin Hood and ‘forest laws’?
(1127) Stone Castles (Rochester
Castle Keep Begun)
The first Norman castles were made of earth and
timber, but in many places their wooden stockades
were soon replaced by stronger stone walls. By the
early 1100s, the most important new castles were
given big stone 'keeps'. These were square or
rectangular stone buildings, with two or more
storeys of rooms inside, where the owner could live
in safety. Often they were surrounded by outer walls
for additional security.
Some keeps, like the one at Rochester Castle in
Kent (begun in about 1127), were very tall, with
turrets at each corner. Their entrances were
extremely well protected. Attackers trying to get in
had to pass through a whole series of defended
doors, staircases, 'portcullises' and drawbridges,
where they could be trapped and killed by the
The keep of Rochester Castle.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Were stone castles better than those
made of timber?
(1132) Rievaulx Abbey Founded
Though there were monks in England before the
Norman Conquest, many more monasteries were
founded afterwards. The first monks were called
'Benedictines' (after their founder, St. Benedict) but
soon other 'orders' of monks developed, living by
even stricter rules.
'Cistercian' monks liked to live in lonely places, and
did physical work as well as praying. They farmed
large areas of land, and often kept thousands of
sheep. Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire is among
the biggest and best preserved Cistercian
monasteries. It was founded in 1132 by a Norman
baron, Walter L'Espec of Helmsley Castle. He
believed that giving land and money to start a
monastery would help him get to heaven.
Reconstruction of Cistercian monks at a service in Rievaulx Abbey church.
[© English Heritage Photo Library/Peter Dunn, English Heritage Graphics
Were monasteries just places of
(1135) Stephen and Matilda
King Henry I, who died in 1135, wanted his only
child, Matilda, to succeed him. But the Norman
barons did not want a woman ruler, and disliked the
haughty Matilda. So instead they crowned Henry's
nephew Stephen, a brave and generous man but a
weak king.
Soon war broke out between the rival supporters of
Stephen and Matilda. Law and order collapsed, and
baronial warlords robbed, killed and extorted money
unchecked for nearly 15 years. A chronicler
reported that, 'they filled all the land with castles ...
and filled them with devils and wicked men ... the
land was ruined, and men said openly that Christ and
His saints slept'. Eventually, Stephen agreed that
Matilda's son should rule after him, as Henry II.
King Stephen, from a 13th-century manuscript.
[© The British Library Board, Royal 14 C. VII, f.8v]
Have the rules about rulers changed
over time?
(1154) Henry II
Henry succeeded Stephen at the age of 21, and
immediately began to restore order in England. An
amazingly energetic man, he wore out his courtiers
by constantly travelling round the 'empire' he gained
by inheritance or marriage. This stretched from the
Scottish borders to Spain, including most of western
France. Though he had tantrums and rolled on the
floor screaming when he lost his temper, Henry was
one of the most powerful and successful medieval
kings of England.
However, he could not rule his own family, which
some called 'the Devil's Brood’. His wife, Eleanor of
Aquitaine, and all his sons often plotted and rebelled
against him, and eventually drove him to his death.
Effigy of Henry II on his tomb in Fontevrault Abbey, Anjou, France.
[Church of Fontevraud Abbey Henry II effigy detail by Adam Bishop (Wikipedia Commons)
Is family more important than power?
(1170) Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket was the very clever son of a London
Norman tradesman. He became the close friend and
Chancellor (effectively 'Prime Minster') of Henry II.
But when Henry made Becket Archbishop of
Canterbury, they quarrelled bitterly about who
should control the Church. In one of his terrible
rages, Henry said he wanted him killed, and four
royal knights cut him down as he prayed in
Canterbury Cathedral on 29th December 1170.
Becket’s murder shocked all Europe and Henry even
allowed himself to be whipped by monks to prove
how sorry he was. Regarded as a martyr, 'Saint
Thomas Becket' became the most famous saint of
medieval England. Thousands of pilgrims journeyed
every year to his shrine in Canterbury Cathedral.
The martyrdom of Thomas Becket, cut down by Henry II’s knights in
Canterbury Cathedral. From an English manuscript, c.1250.
[© The Walters Art Museum]
What impact did the death of Thomas
Becket have?
(1189) Richard I and the Crusades
Richard I, called 'the Lionheart', son of Henry II,
spent only 6 months of his 10-year reign (1189-99) in
England. He was more interested in his European
lands, and above all in 'crusading'.
The Crusades (1095-1272) were a series of Christian
campaigns to capture the 'holy city' of Jerusalem
from the Moslems, and defend it as a Christian city.
In the end they failed. King Richard led the Third
Crusade (1189-92) and had some success against the
Moslem leader Salah ad-Din Yusuf ('Saladin'), but
never reached Jerusalem. Though enemies, Richard
and Saladin respected each other: Richard even
suggested Saladin marry his sister.
On the way home, Richard was captured by his
enemy the German Emperor. His people had to pay
a huge ransom to release him.
Richard I fighting Saladin (shown with a blue face) during the Third
Crusade, from a 14th-century manuscript.
[© The British Library Board, Add. 28681, f.9]
Were the conflicts at this time about
religion or land and money?
(1208) King John and the Church
King John (reigned 1199-1216), younger brother of
Richard the Lionheart, is known as one of the
'baddies' of English history. Though he certainly did
some wicked things, his bad reputation may be partly
due to the reports written by chroniclers, who were
monks and churchmen. John quarrelled with the
Church so much that in 1208 the Pope decreed that
nobody in England could be married, baptised or
buried in a church. Eventually, John submitted in
1213, making the Pope his overlord.
Becoming the Pope's representative strengthened
John against his rebellious barons. The barons
constantly plotted with his arch-enemy, King Philip of
France, to overthrow him.
King John hunting, from a 14th-century manuscript.
[© The British Library Board, Cotton Claudius D. II, f.116]
Was John really such a bad king?
(1215) Magna Carta
In June 1215 King John was forced by his rebellious
barons to sign 'Magna Carta', the Latin for 'Great
Charter'. This laid down that even kings were bound
by the law, and could not do just as they liked. No
free man could be punished without legal trial, and
nobody could be denied the right to justice. Among
many other things, the charter also protected the
rights of the Church, and of merchants to trade
Restricting the powers of rulers and guaranteeing the
legal rights of their subjects, Magna Carta was an
immensely important document. It later inspired
declarations of liberties all over the world, including
the United States Constitution.
An original manuscript of Magna Carta.
[© The British Library Board, Cotton Augustus II.106]
Was Magna Carta really such a big deal?
(1216) The Last Invasion
Despite Magna Carta, John's barons still wanted to
depose him. So they called in their French ally,
Prince Louis, offering to make him king. Louis landed
in May 1216 with a powerful army, and soon
controlled almost all eastern England. Only a few
royal castles resisted: the most important was Dover
Castle, which the French unsuccessfully besieged for
10 months.
After King John's sudden death in October 1216,
support rallied round his nine-year-old son, Henry III
(reigned 1216-72). It was led by a famous knight
called William the Marshal, who defeated the French
at Lincoln in May 1217. A few months later, Louis
gave up and went home.
This was the last time a foreign invader ever gained a
foothold in England.
Reconstruction of the siege of Dover Castle, 1216.
[© English Heritage Photo Library/Peter Dunn, English Heritage Graphics
Why did Prince Louis fail where William
succeeded in conquering England?
(1224) Friars Arrive
In 1224, the first members of a new kind of religious
order arrived in England. These were 'friars‘ (from
the French ‘freres’, meaning 'brothers') inspired by
the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi to live in poverty
while preaching the Christian gospel. Unlike monks,
who stayed in their monasteries, friars moved about
begging and preaching . Because they worked among
the poor, they established bases in the poorest parts
of towns instead of in the countryside. By the end of
the 1200s, most bigger English towns had at least
one 'friary'.
There were four kinds of friars: Franciscans
('Greyfriars'); Dominicans ('Blackfriars'); Carmelites
('Whitefriars') and Austin Friars. Although at first
they were enthusiastically supported, some friars
later developed a reputation for bad behaviour.
A friar and a woman being punished in the stocks, from a 14th-century
[© The British Library Board, Royal 10 E IV f.187r]
Were friars better Christians than
(1265) Parliament Develops
English kings had always chosen councils of advisers,
called whenever they wanted them. However, Henry
III's barons also demanded the automatic right to
advise the king at regular 'parliaments' (meaning
'talking places', from the French 'parler', 'to speak').
When the king refused, war broke out, and in 1265
the victorious baronial leader Simon de Montfort
called the first real parliament. This also included
'knights of the shire' (representing the counties) and
'burgesses' elected by the bigger towns. These later
became the 'House of Commons', while barons and
bishops became 'the House of Lords'.
At first, parliaments met wherever the king was.
Later they settled down at Westminster, where the
'Commons' met in Westminster Abbey's Chapter
The Chapter House at Westminster Abbey, a meeting place of the
'Commons' in early parliaments.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Was the development of parliament a
turning point for the power of
(1282) Edward I Conquers Wales
Edward I (reigned 1272-1307) was a warrior king
who wanted to dominate the whole island of Britain.
Parts of eastern and southern Wales (called 'the
Marches') had already been conquered by Norman
barons, but the rest was ruled by the Welsh Prince
Llywelyn ap Griffith. When Llywelyn refused to
submit, Edward invaded Wales in 1277, and by 1282
he had conquered it. He then declared his son
'Prince of Wales', the title used by the heir to the
throne ever since.
To help control the conquered land, Edward built a
series of very strong and up-to-date new castles,
including Caernarvon, Conway and Harlech.
Edward I creating his son Prince of Wales, from a contemporary
[© The British Library Board, Cotton Nero D. II, f.191v]
Were Edward1’s castles his most
important legacy?
(1296) Edward I Attacks Scotland
After the king of independent Scotland died in 1286
without an obvious heir, Edward I was asked to
choose his successor. When the man he chose, John
Balliol, rebelled against him, Edward decided he
would rule Scotland himself. He invaded it in 1296,
temporarily gaining its submission.
But Scotland would not stay conquered. First
William Wallace led the Scots resistance, defeating
and killing Edward's representative. After Edward
defeated Wallace in 1298, Robert Bruce was
crowned independent King of Scotland in 1306 and
kept up the fight. Edward was about to invade yet
again when he died near the Scottish border in 1307.
Fourteenth-century battle scene, from the Holkham Bible Picture Book.
[© The British Library Board, Add. 47682, f.40]
Was England the neighbourhood bully?
(1314) Bannockburn
Unlike his fierce father Edward I, Edward II (1307-27)
was no soldier. By 1314 King Robert Bruce had
retaken all the English-held castles in Scotland except
Stirling. Attempting to relieve it, Edward was
disastrously defeated at Bannockburn.
Each year after that, the Scots raided into northern
England, burning and destroying as far south as
Yorkshire. In 1322 they nearly captured Edward
himself near Byland Abbey. Despairing of help from
their incompetent king, many northern English paid
the Scots to go away, or made peace with them.
People also blamed Edward for the disastrous
flooding and bad harvests which left many people
Contemporary drawing of the siege of Carlisle by the Scots, 1315, after
the English defeat at Bannockburn.
[© Cumbria County Council]
Why should we remember the Battle of
(1327) Edward II Murdered
Instead of taking advice from his barons, Edward II
preferred to trust and reward his close personal
friends, especially the southern French 'foreigner'
Piers Gaveston, and later the greedy Despenser
family. These 'favourites' were not of noble birth,
and annoyed the barons even more by mocking
Eventually, Edward's wife, Queen Isabella, turned
against him too. With her new partner, Roger
Mortimer, she easily overthrew Edward, and in 1327
had him deposed in favour of his young son Edward
III. But Isabella and Mortimer were the real rulers.
Soon afterwards, Edward II was horribly murdered at
Berkeley Castle. This was the first time a king of
England had ever been deposed by law.
King Edward II, from a contemporary manuscript.
[© The British Library Board, Royal 20 A II, f10]
Do you think Edward 11 would have
been a big disappointment to his father?
(1337) Hundred Years War Begins
The Hundred Years War is the name for the
conflicts between England and France, fought with
intervals of peace between 1337 and 1453. English
kings also claimed to be rightful kings of France,
through descent from Edward III's mother. French
kings claimed that descent through a woman was not
allowed, and confiscated English lands in France.
Edward III (reigned 1327-77) and his son 'the Black
Prince' won great victories at Crecy (1346) and
Poitiers (1356), using archers shooting longbows.
The French retaliated with raids on the English coast
but, up until 1360, the English were overall victors,
doing tremendous damage in France. The wars
would resume in the 1400s, with the Battle of
A longbowman stringing his bow: the size of the arrow is much
[© The British Library Board, Add. 42130, f.56]
Why was the relationship between
England and France so difficult in
medieval times?
(1348) Black Death
The Black Death was 'bubonic plague', named after
its black 'buboes’ or swellings. We now know that
one version was spread by fleas living on rats:
another deadlier kind was spread by coughs and
sneezes. But people then knew nothing about germs,
and thought plague was caused by bad smells, magic,
or even 'foreigners'.
Spreading from China, the plague reached England in
1348-9. Because there are no reliable records, we do
not know exactly how many people died. Estimates
vary between one-fifth and nearly half of the
population. Priests and carers suffered most badly: in
some places at least half died. There was another
bad outbreak in 1361. The drop in population
affected England for over a century.
The burial of Black Death victims, from a directly contemporary
manuscript, 1349.
[© Bridgeman Art Library]
Was the Black Death really a disaster?
(1381) The Peasants' Revolt
The Black Death killed many working people, but
those who survived could demand better wages and
conditions. The government responded by passing a
law against wage increases (1351), and trying to
force 'villeins' to work for nothing for their
landlords. Then, in 1380, a 'poll tax' unfairly
demanded the same amount from everyone, rich or
This tax sparked off serious revolts by poorer
people, first in Kent and Essex, then in East Anglia.
Led by Wat Tyler, the rebels entered London and
killed unpopular government officials. The 14-yearold King Richard II bravely faced them and pretended
to agree to their demands but, after Tyler was killed,
the rebels dispersed and the revolts were savagely
Richard II confronts the Peasants’ Revolt at Smithfield [right] and Wat
Tyler is murdered [left]. From a 15th-century manuscript.
[© The British Library Board, Royal 18 E. I, f.175]
If life was getting better, why did the
peasants revolt?
(1384) John Wycliffe Dies
There was only one religion in medieval England –
everyone was what we would now call a 'Roman
Catholic' Christian.
The rich and powerful Church dominated every
aspect of people's daily lives. Though people might
criticise lazy or greedy churchmen, nobody dared to
question what the Church taught.
Then in the 1370s, an Oxford scholar called John
Wycliffe began to condemn the Church's power and
beliefs. He urged that the Bible should be translated
into English for everyone to read, but the Church
forbade this. However he was not excommunicated
and died while saying Mass 1384. Thirty years after
his death, in 1415, he was declared a heretic, his
body exhumed and his bones burned. His teachings
were banned and his followers were burned at the
Some people hail Wycliffe as the founder of the
'Protestantism' which overthrew the Catholic
Church in Tudor times.
Medieval wall paintings at St. Mary’s Church, Kempley. Ordinary people,
not allowed to read the Bible, learnt about Christianity from paintings like
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Was Wycliffe justified to attack the
(1390) Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
Three languages were used in 1300s England.
Ordinary people spoke English, Latin was used for
church services, and French by the upper classes. By
around 1360, more and more people were starting
to speak English.
Poems and stories also began to be written in
English. Most famous were 'Piers Plowman', which
made fun of landlords and priests, and 'Sir Gawain
and the Green Knight', an exciting adventure story.
The poems of Geoffrey Chaucer were particularly
popular. He was a wine merchant's son who worked
for the king. His most popular book, begun in about
1390, was the 'Canterbury Tales’. In this, a mixed
group of pilgrims, from a knight to a miller and a
loud-mouthed housewife, each tell a romantic,
adventurous or funny story.
Portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer, from a manuscript of one of his poems. He
holds a large 'rosary' ( prayer beads).
[© The British Library Board, Royal 17 D. VI, f.93v]
How useful is Chaucer’s Canterbury
Tales as a piece of evidence about life in
medieval England?
(1399) Richard II Deposed
Edward III's grandson, Richard II reigned from 137799. He became king aged only 10. Clever and artistic,
he developed exaggerated ideas of his own
importance. His barons complained of his bad
government and his extravagant spending on his
friends, many of whom were exiled or executed in
1388. In 1397 Richard took revenge against the
barons. He even ordered his uncle's death and, two
years later, confiscated the vast estates of his cousin,
Henry Bolingbroke.
Bolingbroke returned from exile, and with the
support of the barons and Parliament deposed
Richard for tyranny, seizing the throne as Henry IV.
The imprisoned Richard died mysteriously in 1400.
He may have been starved to death. He was the last
of the 'Plantagenet' kings.
Richard II kneeling before St. John the Baptist. From a stained glass
window of 1393 at Winchester College, where Richard visited that year.
[© Crown Copyright. English Heritage]
Was Richard II a tyrant?
(1403) Henry IV's Troubles
Henry IV (reigned 1399-1413), who had been Duke
of Lancaster before he seized the throne from
Richard II, was the first of the 'Lancastrian' kings.
Because some people thought him an 'usurper', he
had a troubled reign.
The powerful Percy family, who ruled the north of
England almost as kings, kept rebelling, despite many
setbacks. They were defeated at the Battle of
Shrewsbury in 1403, and in 1405 Henry executed the
rebel Archbishop of York. Meanwhile, Owen
Glendower, with French help, temporarily reconquered Wales from the English but, with the aid
of his soldier son Prince Hal (afterwards Henry V),
Henry IV kept his throne.
The keep of Warkworth Castle, Northumberland, a stronghold of the
Percy family.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Were Henry IV’s problems of his own
(1415) Agincourt and the Conquest of
Henry V (reigned 1413-22) was England's most
famous medieval warrior king. In 1415 he invaded
France and, with a small army mostly of archers,
completely defeated a much larger French force at
Agincourt. Some 10,000 French were killed, but only
a few hundred English.
This apparently miraculous victory badly shook the
French, and Henry later conquered much of western
France. In 1420 he married the French king's
daughter, Katherine. It was agreed he would become
King of France when her father died. However, in
1422 Henry died of disease, aged only 35. His heir
was a tiny baby. Henry's brothers conquered even
more of France, until Joan of Arc began to turn the
tide against the English.
The Battle of Agincourt, showing English archers, from a 15th-century
[© De Agostini/The British Library Board]
Were Henry V’s wars necessary?
(1455) Wars of the Roses Begin
Henry VI (reigned 1422-61 and 1470-1) was
considered a weak ruler. Towards the end of his life,
he suffered from mental illness. Rival noblemen
raised private armies to control his kingdom.
Supporters of Henry's wife, Queen Margaret, were
called 'Lancastrians'; those who preferred his cousin
Richard's family were called 'Yorkists'.
Between 1455 and 1485 the crown changed hands
six times during a series of short but savage wars.
The Yorkist victory at Towton near York (1461) was
the bloodiest battle ever fought in England, with
about 28,000 killed. Captured rivals were usually
executed. Eventually the Yorkist Edward IV (reigned
1461-83) won, and Henry was murdered. These
brutal wars were later romantically named 'the Wars
of the Roses’ because of the red rose badge of
Lancaster and the white rose of York.
The execution of a captured nobleman after a battle during the Wars of
the Roses.
[© Ghent University Library]
How far did the Wars of the Roses
affect ordinary people?
(1470) Guilds and Mystery Plays
Despite wars, England in the latter 1400s was
prosperous. The wealthiest merchants sold the
famous English wool cloth. In towns (London,
Bristol, York and Norwich were among the biggest)
trade was controlled by 'guilds’. Only people who
apprenticeships, were allowed to make and sell
things. In York, for example, there were about 60
guilds, from butchers and bakers to embroiderers
and barbers.
Guildsmen were masters of their crafts, so guilds
were also called 'masteries' or 'mysteries'. In big
towns they got together in midsummer to perform
'mystery plays' on waggons that toured the town,
telling the whole story of the Bible. Some of the 50
York plays, written in about 1470, are still
The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, York, built in the 1350s and still in use
by the Guild today.
[© Charles Kightly]
How helpful were guilds for ordinary
(1476) Printing Begins in England
All books and documents in medieval England had to
be written by hand. Often this was done by monks
or professional 'scribes'. Some better-educated
ordinary people had started writing personal letters:
the first English 'Valentine' letter dates from 1477.
In 1476 printing was introduced to England by the
merchant William Caxton, who had learnt about it in
Germany. The first book he produced was Chaucer's
'Canterbury Tales'. Early printing was done with a
hand-operated press, using individual letters made of
lead. Many copies of a printed book could be
produced far more quickly and cheaply than written
books, so information and knowledge spread to a
much greater number of people. As a result more
people learnt to read.
A German printing works, by Jost Amman, 1568. Applying ink to the press
and removing a printed page [foreground], and selecting individual letters
from a rack [background].
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
Was the printing press the most
significant development of this era?
(1483) Richard III and the Princes in
the Tower
Edward IV's successor was his 12-year-old son
Edward V. However, before he could be crowned
his uncle and 'Protector’, Duke Richard of
Gloucester, sent him and his younger brother to the
Tower of London. He then declared the brothers
were not the rightful heirs and seized the throne
himself as Richard III.
When the boys disappeared, some people at the
time thought Richard had ordered their murder.
Two skeletons of boys were found in the Tower in
1674, but it is not certain they are 'the Princes in the
Richard also executed some of Edward IV's friends.
In southern England there was a rebellion against
him, but in Yorkshire (where he was brought up, at
Middleham Castle) Richard was very popular.
Portrait of King Richard III, painted after his death.
[© National Portrait Gallery, London]
Richard III – guilty or not guilty of
murdering the princes?
(1485) Battle of Bosworth
When the Princes in the Tower disappeared, those
who wanted to overthrow Richard III turned to the
exiled Henry Tudor. Tudor was a nobleman of
Welsh descent who, through his mother, was the
heir of the 'Lancastrian' Henry VI. He landed in
Wales and marched into England, gathering
supporters on the way.
When the rival armies clashed at Bosworth in
Leicestershire, some of Richard's soldiers changed
sides, and others refused to fight. Richard charged at
Tudor, but was killed before he reached him. Tudor
was proclaimed King Henry VII on the battlefield.
Soon afterwards he married Elizabeth of York, sister
of the Princes in the Tower. By uniting Yorkists and
Lancastrians, he ended the 'Wars of the Roses'.
Red and white Tudor roses, symbolising the union of Yorkists and
Lancastrians, on a manuscript ordered by Henry VIII in 1516.
[© The British Library Board, Royal 11 E. XI, f2]
Why was the Battle of Bosworth a
significant turning point in history?
(1497) The New World (Cabot
Discovers Newfoundland)
Merchants in Europe wanted to find a way of getting
directly to India and China, where valuable goods
like spices and silk came from. They encouraged
explorers to sail west instead of east to find Asia,
not realising that America lay between. When
Christopher Columbus, working for the Spanish,
found islands off America in 1492, he called them
'the West Indies'.
In 1497 John Cabot, paid by the Bristol merchants
and King Henry VII, crossed the Atlantic further
north. Off the coast of Canada he discovered an
island that had rich fishing grounds; he called it 'New
Found Land’. By this time (1494) the Pope had 'given'
newly discovered America to Spain and Portugal.
This would soon cause trouble.
Replica of John Cabot’s ship, the 'Matthew’.
[© The Matthew of Bristol Trust/Shawn-Spencer Smith]
How ‘new’ was the New World?
(1500) Tudor Monarchs (a New Kind
of Government)
Henry VII (reigned 1485-1509) was the first Tudor
monarch. After the upheavals and wars of the latter
1400s, he wanted to establish firm government
where the king was all-powerful, so he stopped
aristocrats keeping private armies. He would not let
them build castles, and he taxed them very heavily.
Revolts against him were quickly suppressed.
Careful and hard-working, Henry examined every
major government document himself, and appointed
ministers he chose himself, rather than letting
aristocrats influence him. He kept England out of
foreign wars, encouraged the cloth trade and left
England a rich country. Not everyone liked this form
of strong royal government, but few wanted the old
wars to start again.
Portrait of Henry VII.
[© National Portrait Gallery, London]
Was Henry VII a better ruler than the
rulers before him?
(1509) Henry VIII (Renaissance Hero
to Savage Tyrant)
Henry VIII (reigned 1509-47) came to the throne as
a handsome young man, an athlete and a musician.
His glittering royal court brought to England the
European Renaissance (meaning 'rebirth’) – the
fashion for reviving the arts, civilisation and
knowledge of Ancient Greece and Rome.
In later life Henry became overweight and gained a
reputation as a savage tyrant, who executed those
who offended him. Desperate for a son to succeed
him, he divorced his first wife, Katherine of Aragon,
and executed his second, Anne Boleyn, for failing to
produce one. His third wife, Jane Seymour, died
giving birth to Edward VI and Henry then married
three more times. However, his most important
action was creating a new kind of Church in England.
King Henry VIII as a handsome young man [left] and a bad-tempered
middle-aged tyrant [right].
[© National Portrait Gallery, London]
Was Henry VIII a better ruler, husband
or father?
(1533) Royal Supremacy and the
Dissolution of the Monasteries
Henry VIII was married to Katherine of Aragon for
many years, but they had no son. So Henry decided
to divorce her and marry Anne Boleyn. Only the
Pope could grant a king's divorce. When he refused,
in 1533 Henry rejected his authority, and declared
himself head of the Church in England instead. Those
who disagreed with this 'Royal Supremacy' were
Henry next (1536-40) 'dissolved' (closed down) all
English monasteries. Though many now had few
monks, monasteries owned great riches and
immense lands. Henry seized these, and kept them
or sold them to his supporters. His clever minister,
Thomas Cromwell, helped him. In northern England,
a rebellion called the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536-7)
opposed the changes, but was ruthlessly suppressed.
The ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, 'dissolved' (shut down) along with every
other English monastery by Henry VIII.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
What was the most important reason
for the dissolution of the monasteries?
(1547) Reformation
Though Henry VIII rejected the Pope and encouraged
people to read the Bible in English, he would never have
called himself a Protestant. The real changes in English
religion started after his death as part of the Protestant
Reformation. The Reformation was started in Europe by
Martin Luther and John Calvin. 'Protestants' wanted
simpler church services in plainer churches, less power
for priests, and a religion closer to Bible teachings.
Henry's only son, Edward VI (1547-53), was a strong
Protestant. He removed Catholic features, like images of
saints, from churches and enforced services according to
the Book of Common Prayer. His sister, Mary I (1553-8),
was a devout Catholic and reversed the changes that
Edward had made. Her marriage to King Philip of Spain
made her unpopular and her burning of nearly 300
Protestants got her the nickname 'Bloody Mary'.
Eventually, Elizabeth I reached a moderate Protestant
compromise, creating the Church of England that exists
A medieval ‘Catholic’ angel peeps through later over-painted Protestant
text at Binham Priory, Norfolk.
[© Holmes Garden Photos/Alamy]
Did Queen Mary I deserve her
nickname ‘Bloody Mary’?
(1558) Elizabeth I Becomes Queen
Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603) was Henry VIII's
daughter by Anne Boleyn. Aged 25 when she
succeeded, she was very well educated, speaking at
least six languages. During her childhood she was
often in danger and learnt to trust few people.
Though her advisers urged her to marry, she always
refused, claiming instead to be married to her
kingdom. She kept power firmly in her own hands,
and liked to present herself as 'Gloriana, the Virgin
Although Elizabeth could be mean and greedy, and
often changed her mind suddenly, most of her
subjects loved her, and she steered England through
many dangers, including the threat of the Spanish
Armada. She is considered by many to be one of the
wisest and greatest English monarchs.
Queen Elizabeth I, standing on a map of England. 'The Ditchley Portrait' by
Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.
[© National Portrait Gallery, London]
How successfully did Elizabeth I
overcome the problems she faced?
(1580) Drake Sails Round the World
Spain and Portugal claimed the 'New World' of the
Americas as their private property and tried to keep
all other nations out. However, adventurous English
sailors defied them, trading with or attacking Spanish
settlements. Sir John Hawkins and others supplied
African slaves to the Spanish colonies in the West
Indies. Slaves were regarded as valuable property
rather than people. This marked the beginning of the
Atlantic slave trade.
In 1577-80 Francis Drake sailed right round the
world in 'the Golden Hind', plundering Spanish ports
and seizing immense treasures along the way. Queen
Elizabeth's half share in his profits doubled her
income for 1580. Though they were more pirates
than explorers, these adventurers also laid the
foundations of England's international trading empire.
Sir Francis Drake’s fleet attacks the Spanish port of Santa Domingo in the
West Indies, 1586.
[© The Protected Art Archive/Alamy]
British adventurers – pirates, plunderers
or explorers?
(1588) Spanish Armada
Infuriated by English attacks on their American
possessions and support for anti-Spanish rebels in
Europe, Catholic Spain declared war on Protestant
England in 1585. Spain plotted to kill Elizabeth and
replace her with her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.
When Elizabeth reluctantly executed Mary in 1587,
they decided to invade.
A Spanish 'Armada' (fleet) of 130 ships tried to pick
up a powerful invasion army in Belgium, but the
better-designed and better-handled English ships,
using longer range cannon, outmanoeuvred them.
When the Spaniards took refuge in Calais, the
English drove them out with 'fire ships'. Trying to sail
home round Scotland and Ireland, many were
wrecked in storms. The English took the Armada's
defeat as a sign that God was on their side.
English medallion celebrating the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The Latin
and Hebrew inscription round the edge means ‘God blew, and they were
[© The Trustees of the British Museum]
‘The Spanish Armada failed due to bad
luck.’ Do you agree?
(1596) Feather Beds and Flushing
Toilets (Elizabethan Everyday Life)
Especially after the defeat of the Armada, English
people were growing more patriotic and confident,
as well as more prosperous and comfortable.
Wealthy people built big country houses, sometimes
hoping to attract Queen Elizabeth on one of her
New developments also helped merchants,
craftsmen and farmers to live more comfortably.
Chimneys made houses less smoky, and those who
could afford them slept on feather mattresses
instead of straw. They ate and drank from glasses
and pewter plates instead of wooden bowls. Sir John
Harington even invented a flushing toilet in 1596.
However, very few were made and people had to
wait several centuries for proper toilets.
Some people remained very poor. From 1597 'Poor
Laws' ruled that wealthier people had to pay towards
their upkeep.
Diagram of Sir John Harington’s pioneer flushing toilet, 1596.
[© Wellcome Library, London]
Was this a good time to be living in
(1599) Globe Theatre Opens
Theatres and plays – adventure stories, comedies or
tragedies – were a new and very popular feature of
life in Elizabethan England. Bands of travelling actors,
financed by rich people, performed in inns and other
places throughout England. Permanent theatres
began to be built in London in the 1570s. Anyone
who paid could attend, though rich people sat in
comfortable seats, while ordinary people had to
stand. By 1595, over 15,000 people a week were
visiting theatres.
The Globe Theatre, opened in 1599, was the
headquarters of William Shakespeare (1564-1616),
the greatest Elizabethan 'playwright'. The son of a
Stratford-on-Avon tradesman, he had little
education, but his 38 plays became famous
throughout the world and are still often performed
Overhead view of the modern replica of the Globe Theatre, London.
People who could not afford seat-tickets stood in the central space to
watch plays.
[© Steve Vidler/Alamy]
What are the main differences between
Elizabethan and modern theatres?
(1605) James I and the Gunpowder
Queen Elizabeth had no children so her heir was her
cousin James VI of Scotland. James was the first
monarch to rule both kingdoms and became James I
of 'Great Britain' (1603-25). James was the first
'Stuart' monarch of England. He is considered, by
some historians, to have been a cunning and cautious
When persecution of English Catholics increased, a
small group of them decided to blow up James, his
family and his Parliament during the Opening of
Parliament on 5th November 1605. However, on the
night before, Guy Fawkes was found in a cellar under
the Houses of Parliament, ready to set off 36 barrels
of gunpowder. Under torture, he revealed the names
of his fellow conspirators, who were hunted down
and killed or later executed. The failure of the
'Gunpowder Plot' is still celebrated every 'Bonfire
The Gunpowder Plotters, 1605, with Guy Fawkes [third from right].
[© National Portrait Gallery, London]
Was Guy Fawkes a terrorist?
(1607) America and India (The
Beginnings of Empire)
In 1607, the first successful English settlement in
America began at Jamestown in Virginia. A second
in 1620
Massachusetts, founded by about 100 people now
known as the 'Pilgrim Fathers’. They had sailed there
in the 'Mayflower'. They were 'Puritans’ who wanted
freedom to practise their own very plain form of
religious worship, not permitted in England.
Living conditions for the early settlers were tough
and many died as a result. Nevertheless, between
1630 and 1640, some 20,000 more Puritan colonists
from all over England joined them.
Meanwhile, in 1617, English merchants were granted
the right to trade in India by the great Emperor
Jahangir. Before long, they began to force out other
European merchants and take control of land round
their trading posts.
Replica of the Mayflower, which carried the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ to America.
[© Visions of America, LLC/Alamy]
What problems faced the early settlers
as they tried to forge a new life in
(1611) Authorised Bible Published
In 1604 James I ordered a new English translation of
the Bible. Several translations already existed, but
James wanted one which agreed with the beliefs of
the Church of England, rather than the rival
teachings of Catholics or extreme Protestant
Puritans. He also wanted more accurate translations
of the original Old Testament Hebrew and New
Testament Greek.
Forty-seven scholars worked on the translation,
finally published in 1611. Called the 'Authorised' or
'King James' version, it became the most widely
printed book in history and extremely influential on
the development of the English language. Because for
centuries it was the only book some people read,
many of the phrases it used passed into everyday
speech. It is still in use today.
Title page of the first Authorised Version of the Bible, 1611.
[© The British Library Board, C.35.l.11, title page]
How far is it right for a monarch to
impose religious changes?
(1625) Charles I (King by Divine
Charles I (reigned 1625-49) was devoted to
collecting art and to the Church of England. He
thought he was God's direct representative on Earth.
He believed he had a 'Divine Right' to rule as he
wanted and could not be challenged.
Charles disliked Parliaments that criticised him. From
1629 he ruled for 11 years without any Parliament at
all. He raised money by taxes most people thought
illegal, and enforcing Church of England worship. He
imposed a new prayer book on the Scots.
Eventually he had to call a Parliament in 1640 to pay
for the war he had started with the Scots. Parliament
was angry and strongly challenged the king's past
actions. Parliament also insisted on controlling the
army. Neither side would give way, and in 1642 the
Civil Wars between King and Parliament broke out.
Charles I, by Van Dyck.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
How far was Charles to blame for the
start of the Civil Wars?
(1642) The Civil Wars Begin
The Civil Wars (1642-51) between Charles I and
Parliament affected almost every part of England,
Wales, Scotland and Ireland. During this period, a
bigger proportion of their populations died in battle
or of disease and starvation than did so in the First
World War.
Local wars divided communities and even families.
However, there were some general lines of support.
Most people who supported the king were
Catholics, followers of the Church of England and
people living in the north or west of England.
Parliament was mainly supported by Puritans and
people living in the south or east of England.
At first, the King won most of the big battles, but in
1645 Parliament formed a 'New Model Army’ under
Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell. This army
was based on modern organisation and tactics, was
highly disciplined and regularly paid. By 1647, it had
completely defeated the King.
Artist's impression of the destruction of Old Wardour Castle, 1644.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Why did the Parliamentarians win the
Civil Wars?
(1649) Charles I Executed (The English
After his defeat, King Charles was held captive, but
well treated. Parliament did not want to depose him,
but hoped he would comply with their demands.
Instead, he secretly plotted a new war, which
Parliament won in 1648. The leaders of the army
then decided he must be tried. He was publicly
executed in January 1649, still declaring he was
above the law.
Between 1649 and 1660, for the only time in its
history, England then became a Republic or
'Commonwealth'. Parliament ruled, though in fact it
was the army leaders, especially Cromwell, who held
real power. Many revolutionary political and religious
ideas emerged: 'Levellers' wanted all men to be
allowed to vote, and religious movements (like the
'Quakers’) allowed women to preach.
Charles I at his trial, 1649.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
How far did Charles deserve to be
(1653) Cromwell Becomes Lord
Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was a Puritan squire
from Huntingdonshire who became an MP and,
despite having no military training, Parliament's most
successful Civil War general. After defeating English
Royalists, he went on to conquer Scotland and then,
in a war when both sides behaved very cruelly,
In 1653, believing himself guided by God, Cromwell
dismissed Parliament and began ruling as 'Lord
Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland’ – king in
all but name. Loved by some for his high principles,
honesty and fairness, Cromwell was hated by others
as a dictator who ruled by direct military power. His
strong and stable government died with him in 1658.
Cromwell’s son ruled briefly between 1658 and 1659
but, after months of chaos, the monarchy was
restored under Charles II.
Portrait of Oliver Cromwell.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Was Oliver Cromwell a hero or a
(1660) Charles II Restored
Faced with the chaos that followed Cromwell's
death, most people welcomed the restoration of the
monarchy by Charles II (reigned 1660-85). ‘Long a
hunted exile - he once hid in an oak tree from
Cromwell's troops’ – Charles wanted compromise
with old enemies. However, his supporters wanted
revenge. Those who had signed Charles I's death
warrant were executed, the bodies of Cromwell and
others were dug up, and Puritan clergymen were
Reacting against Puritan austerity, Charles's reign
saw re-opened theatres and a loose-living royal
court. It also saw new drinks (such as tea and
coffee), new scientific discoveries (promoted by the
Royal Society) and new fashions in building, especially
Christopher Wren's churches. Some of the most
exciting events of his reign are described in Pepys's
Portrait of King Charles II.
[© National Portrait Gallery, London]
How did life change for people during
the Restoration?
(1660) Pepys's Diary
In the 1600s, people began to write private diaries,
sometimes providing vivid descriptions of everyday
life. The most famous is by Samuel Pepys
(pronounced 'peeps'), an ambitious Londoner who
worked for Charles II's navy. He wrote in shorthand
and sometimes used code. Some think this was
perhaps because he did not want his wife to find out
about his misbehaviour.
Covering the first nine years of Charles II's reign
(1660-69), the diary tells us what Pepys ate and
wore, how he treated his servants, and his opinions
of his bosses and the King. It also gives eye-witness
accounts of major events like the Great Plague
(1665) and Great Fire of London (1666), and the
destructive Dutch raid on the English fleet (1667).
The Great Fire of London, 1666, by a contemporary artist. Old St. Paul's
Cathedral, destroyed in the fire, is in the background.
[© Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection]
How useful is Pepys’s diary in telling us
about events such as the Plague and
Great Fire of London?
(1688) The Glorious Revolution
Charles II's heir was his brother James, who ruled as
James II (reigned 1685-88). Because he was a Roman
Catholic, he was generally disliked by the people of
power in England at the time, most of whom were
Church of England Protestants.
'Monmouth's Rebellion’, in 1685, failed to overthrow
James. However, when the birth of his son
threatened the continuation of a Catholic monarchy,
Parliament decided to replace him. They chose his
Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William
of Orange, ruler of Holland.
James fled abroad soon after William and Mary
landed, and Parliament declared William and Mary
joint monarchs. This 'Glorious Revolution', achieved
with little bloodshed, confirmed that it was now
Parliament that decided who should be monarch of
Portrait of King James II.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
How far is the ‘Glorious Revolution’ an
appropriate term to describe the
changes brought about in 1688?
(1707) Act of Union with Scotland
Although England and Scotland had been ruled by the
same monarchs since 1603, they had remained
independent countries with separate parliaments. In
1706-7 the two parliaments agreed to unite, so that
England (and Wales) and Scotland became the single
country of 'Great Britain', with its parliament in
Many Scots disliked the Union and being ruled from
London. They claimed Scottish MPs had been bribed
to agree to it. Resentment grew even greater when
the originally Scottish Stuart monarchs of Britain
were replaced by the Hanoverian kings. It boiled
over in the Jacobite Risings
Though also ruled by 'British' monarchs, Ireland
remained an independent country until 1801, when it
too joined the 'United Kingdom'.
The Union Flag of 1707, symbolising the union of England and Scotland.
The extra red ‘saltire’ cross in the modern flag, symbolising Ireland, was
not added until 1801.
[Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors) by Hoshie is in the public domain (Wikipedia Commons)
Why did the Scots resent being united
with England?
(1714) The First Hanoverian Kings
Queen Anne, James II's younger daughter, was the
last Stuart monarch (reigned 1701-14). Though she
had 18 children, they all died before her. Rather than
allow her exiled Roman Catholic Stuart brother to
succeed her, Parliament chose her very distant (but
Protestant) cousin George. He was the ruler of the
small German state of Hanover, and could hardly
speak English.
Therefore George I (reigned 1714-27) became the
first 'Hanoverian' king of Great Britain, and the
'Georgian' period began. In 1715, supporters of the
exiled Stuarts, called 'Jacobites' from the Latin for
'James’, rebelled in Scotland. However, their rising
scarcely affected England and they were soon
defeated. The Jacobite Rising of 1745 was a more
serious threat.
A Georgian mansion: Chiswick House and its grounds from the southwest, an 18th-century painting by Rysbrack.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
What were the main characteristics of
Georgian design and architecture?
(1739) Dick Turpin and John Wesley
In 1739 John Wesley was beginning his 50-year-long
career as a preacher. Wesley (1703-91) preached
over 42,000 sermons in factories and open fields as
well as churches.
Wesley established Methodism and thousands of
working people were converted to this
straightforward and ‘pure’ form of Christianity,
which focused on helping those in need. By the end
of the 1700s, Methodist chapels were being built all
over England, and Methodists later played an
important part in the abolition of slavery.
The 1700s were a violent time and the creation of a
police force was still a century away. Travelling by
road was slow and travellers risked being robbed or
murdered by 'highwaymen'. The best known is Dick
Turpin. In 1739 he was executed in York for horse
stealing, though many of his known exploits are likely
to have been the work of fiction.
Bust of John Wesley.
[©Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection]
Why were so many Methodist churches
built in industrial towns in the 19thcentury?
(1745) 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' and the
Jacobite Rising
In 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of
James II, landed in Scotland to claim the British
throne from the Hanoverian King George II. His
'Jacobite' supporters called him 'Bonnie Prince
Charlie' but others called him 'the Young Pretender',
meaning he had no real right to the crown.
Prince Charles quickly conquered southern Scotland,
and decided to invade England with about 5,000 men,
mainly Scottish Highlanders. He believed many
English Jacobites would join him and that the French
would invade to help. But, when neither happened,
he turned back after reaching Derby. Hanoverian
armies chased him into northern Scotland and, in
April 1746, defeated him at the bloody Battle of
This was the last time an enemy actually invaded
An incident in the rebellion of 1745, by David Morier. The artist used
captured Jacobite Highlanders as models for those shown.
[Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014]
Why was Bonnie Prince Charlie unable
to take the throne?
(1756) The Seven Years War Begins
The most powerful European nations wanted to
establish 'colonies' all over the world, in order to
exploit their resources and products, which would
help them get richer. They were prepared to fight
each other and the local populations to get them. In
the Seven Years War (1756-63), Britain fought
France and Spain in America, Africa and India as well
as Europe.
One of its most famous battles was at Plassey in
India in 1757. Here, British and Indian forces, under
Robert Clive, defeated the French and their allies,
who were rebelling against the power of the East
India Company. Another battle was at Quebec, in
1759, when the British General Wolfe defeated the
French in Canada, but died at the moment of victory.
The wars ended with Canada, Florida, and some
West Indies islands added to the growing British
Empire, which also came closer to controlling India.
The Death of General Wolfe at Quebec, 1759, by Benjamin West. The
dying hero is surrounded by his soldiers and Native American allies.
[Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014]
How did colonisation impact on the
different people involved?
(1760) The Industrial Revolution 1:
Steam Engines and Canals
In the late 1700s, Britain led many great changes that
transformed the way things were manufactured. This period
is called 'the Industrial Revolution'. A major change was the
development of steam-powered machinery. Previously,
machinery had been powered by people, horses, windmills or
In 1712 Thomas Newcomen invented a steam-powered
engine to pump flood water out of mines. From the 1770s
more efficient steam engines, developed by James Watt,
began to power industrial processes like grinding, milling and
Steam engines needed coal, which was also vital for making
iron and heating homes. Coal was heavy and expensive to
transport by cart on poorly built roads. In 1760, James
Brindley built a canal to link the Duke of Bridgwater’s coal
mines in Worsley with Manchester. This canal was then
extended to Liverpool. A horse could pull 80 times more
weight in a canal barge than it could in a cart. By 1790,
England had the world's first nationwide canal network,
linking the rivers Severn, Trent, Mersey and Thames, allowing
manufacturers to sell their goods across the world.
A canal barge below Flatford Lock, by John Constable.
[© Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection]
What was the impact of canals on towns
and industries?
(1766) Captain Cook Explores the
James Cook was born in Marton, North Yorkshire
and, unlike most naval officers in the 1700s, came
from a poor family. He learnt navigation the hard
way, as a teenager in the Whitby-London coal trade,
then joined the Royal Navy as a seaman and worked
his way up. He became the most famous British
maritime explorer.
Cook became famous as an expert navigator and
map-maker and charted the St. Lawrence River in
Canada, and the Newfoundland Coast. In 1766 Cook
was commissioned to explore the then almost
unknown Pacific Ocean. During three long voyages
over 12 years he became the first European to sail
round New Zealand and the first to survey the
eastern coastline of Australia. He claimed his new
discoveries for the British Empire. By the time of his
violent death in Hawaii in 1789, Australia was already
being used as a prison colony for convicts
'transported' from Britain.
Portrait of Captain James Cook, by Nathaniel Dance.
[© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital
What was the significance of Cook’s
charting of the Pacific Ocean?
(1775) American War of
Independence Begins
The American War of Independence, from 1775-83,
saw the 13 British colonies on the eastern side of
America throw off British rule. The British
government wanted the American settlers to pay
taxes on imported goods, such as tea, to help fund
the armies protecting them from the French and
Native Americans.
The settlers replied that there should be, 'No
Taxation without Representation’ – since they had
no MP to represent them, they should not pay taxes.
Believing strongly that they should govern
themselves, in 1776 they proclaimed their
'Declaration of Independence'.
After much indecisive fighting, Britain's European
enemies France, Spain and Holland joined in on the
American side with their navies. Britain was forced
to withdraw and recognise the new independent
'United States'. Canada, however, remained British.
Surrender of General Burgoyne’s British army to American forces at
Saratoga, 1777, by John Trumbull.
[© Architect of the Capitol]
How far was the American struggle for
independence from Britain simply a
question of tax?
(1779) The Industrial Revolution 2:
Iron and Factories
The Industrial Revolution depended on iron as well as
coal. In 1709 Abraham Darby I of Coalbrookdale began
to produce 'pig iron' far more cheaply than ever before,
using 'coke' as fuel. Specialised furnaces turned iron into
much stronger steel.
In 1779 Darby's grandson, Abraham Darby III, built the
first iron bridge in the world. Each part had to be cast
individually, and assembled by adapting traditional
woodworking techniques.
'Factories' also began to appear, the earliest being
Richard Arkwright's Cromford 'spinning mill’, established
in Derbyshire in 1771. Previously, most goods had been
manufactured in craftsmen's homes. Now, newly
powered machinery and canals made it necessary to
gather workers into big factories. Working conditions
there were hard and dangerous, especially for poorly
paid women and children. Nevertheless, people flocked
to them. Between 1751 and 1800, the population of
industrial areas tripled.
Coalbrookdale, the ‘cradle of the Industrial Revolution’, lit by blast
furnaces at night. By PJ de Loutherbourg, 1801.
[© Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library]
What was it like to live and work in an
industrial town during this period?
(1796) Jenner Discovers Smallpox
Smallpox was a terrible disease. It infected perhaps
60% of the population in the 1700s, and killed about
20% of these. Survivors were usually affected for life,
especially by ugly 'pockmarks'.
Edward Jenner, a Gloucestershire doctor, noticed
that people who’d had the less dangerous 'cowpox'
didn’t get smallpox. In 1796, he tested his theory on
his gardener's son, James Phipps. He infected James
using pus from the pustules of Sarah Nelmes, a
milkmaid who had caught cowpox from Blossom the
cow. This was called 'vaccination', from the Latin
word ‘vacca’ for cow. When the boy was given a
dose of smallpox, he didn’t develop the disease.
Despite some initial opposition, vaccination proved
effective against smallpox. It was adopted by the
army and navy, and Jenner was honoured and
rewarded. It was said that his discovery 'saved more
lives than the work of any other human'.
Cartoon showing people being vaccinated against smallpox with cowpox
germs: they are turning into cows.
[© Wellcome Library/Wellcome Images]
How much credit does Jenner deserve
for the elimination of smallpox?
(1800) Revolutionary and
Napoleonic Wars
In 1789 the French Revolution shook the world by
overthrowing the monarchy and later guillotining
King Louis XVI.
From 1793 until 1815, with a short interval in 18023, Britain was continuously at war with France. At
first, most of the fighting was at sea, where Britain
relied on her powerful navy. Admiral Nelson's
victory at Trafalgar (1805) finally removed the threat
of French invasion.
From 1799, France was led by the great general
Napoleon Bonaparte. Eventually, the Duke of
Wellington's campaigns in Spain helped bring down
Napoleon in 1814. He returned from exile but
suffered a final defeat by Wellington and his allies at
Waterloo in 1815.
Victory in these wars made the British Empire the
dominant world power for the next century.
The Battle of Waterloo 1815, by Sir William Allen.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Which was more significant – the Battle
of Trafalgar or the Battle of Waterloo?
(1807) Abolition of the Slave Trade
The slave trade had existed since prehistoric times,
but, from the 17th century, it became big business.
The supply of luxury goods, like sugar, tea and
tobacco grown on plantations in America and the
Caribbean, depended on slave labour. British ships
carried more slaves from Africa to the plantations
than those of any other country.
Slaves were regarded as objects, animals or, at best,
children needing firm control. They were often
treated badly. However, from the 1760s, an
increasing number of British people, including
religious Methodists and Quakers, saw slavery as
wicked and campaigned for its abolition. In 1772
slavery was effectively made illegal in England, since
no slave setting foot here could be forced to leave
the country. In 1807 the trade in slaves was
abolished throughout the British Empire, despite
much opposition from slave-owners. Not until 1833
was slavery itself outlawed.
Wedgwood anti-slavery pendant, 1787, showing a chained kneeling slave.
The motto with it was ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Not everyone was in favour of
abolishing slavery. What were the
arguments for and against its abolition?
(1811) Regency Period Begins
'Regency' is the name sometimes used for the period
1795-1837. Strictly though, it applies to the years
between 1811 and 1820 when George Prince of
Wales reigned as 'Prince Regent’. His father, George
III, was suffering from mental illness and was no
longer able to rule.
For some, the Regency was a golden age of art,
literature, architecture and elegant fashions.
Employers grew wealthy from the Industrial
However, this was also a time of political unrest,
particularly when the end of the Napoleonic Wars
brought mass unemployment and demands for the
right to vote. In 1819, a peaceful 'reform' meeting in
St. Peter's Fields, Manchester, was charged by
cavalry. Many were killed. In a sarcastic comparison
with the recent Battle of Waterloo, this was called
'the Peterloo Massacre.'
The Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, 1819, by Richard Carlile.
[© Manchester Libraries, Information & Archives]
Tragedy or triumph? How should the
Peterloo Massacre be remembered?
(1825) First Passenger Train Runs
Steam railways are considered by many to be among
Britain's most life-changing inventions. Horse-drawn
trams running on rails already existed before 1800, as did
fixed steam engines powering Industrial Revolution
machinery. Between 1802 and 1808, however, Richard
Trevithick combined the two. He developed 'locomotive'
steam engines that could pull trucks.
On the 27th September 1825, the world's first passenger
train ran on the Stockton and Darlington Railway. Its 600
passengers travelled at up to 12 mph, hauled by George
Stephenson's steam engine 'Locomotion Number 1'.
Stephenson's 'Rocket’, which could reach 30 mph, later
won him the contract to power the Liverpool and
Manchester Railway (1830). This was the first inter-city
passenger railway entirely operated by steam
locomotives. 'Railway mania' followed and, by 1850,
about 6,000 miles of railway had opened. Ten years later
every major town in Britain was accessible by train.
The opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, 1830, by Isaac
Shaw Jr.
[© Railway Museum/Science & Society Picture Library]
‘Railways transformed Britain.’ Do you
(1832) Reform Act Passed
Before 1832, very few people in England had the right to vote
for MPs and the system of election itself was unfair and
Nearly half the English parliamentary constituencies were
'pocket boroughs’. These were areas in which the MPs who
held the seats were wealthy landowners, usually the relations
of the landlords in the area, or men who had bought the seat
from them. Voting was in public and ordinary people had to
vote as their landlord ordered, or risk losing their homes.
There were also 56 'rotten boroughs‘, like Old Sarum in
Wiltshire. Once important areas, they now had only a handful
of inhabitants, yet they were still allowed to elect two MPs.
Growing industrial towns, such as Manchester, meanwhile,
had no MPs at all.
An incident during a riotous pre-Reform Act election – ‘Chairing the
Member’ by William Hogarth. The elected member, carried by his
supporters, is attacked by his opponents.
[© By courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum]
Fearing a revolution against these injustices, in 1832
Parliament passed the Reform Act. This abolished 'pocket'
and 'rotten' boroughs, and gave many towns their first MPs.
Nevertheless, still only about one-sixth of adult men could
vote. Poorer men and all women still had no suffrage rights.
Did the 1832 Reform Act really make a
difference to the lives of ordinary
(1837) Queen Victoria Begins her
Victoria became Queen in 1837 at the age of 18. She
reigned for over 63 years. She fell madly in love with
her cousin Prince Albert, married him in 1840, and
had nine children with him. When he died, in 1861,
she was heartbroken and wore only black for the
rest of her life.
Victoria's children married into many foreign royal
families. Her direct descendants occupied 10
European thrones, making her 'the Grandmother of
Europe'. She took a great personal interest in her
forces and the British Empire, particularly her Indian
'subjects’. She learnt Hindustani, and took pride in
her title of 'Empress of India' (from 1877).
For many people, the Queen symbolised the
'Victorian virtues' of family life and respectable
behaviour. She was also thought of as brave, honest,
and open-minded. Her Diamond Jubilee in 1897 was
celebrated with great enthusiasm by many.
Queen Victoria and some of her family, 1863. The Queen [front row,
second left] wears deep black mourning for Prince Albert.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
How far did Queen Victoria deserve the
title ‘Empress of India’?
(1851) Great Exhibition
'The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all
Nations' was held in London between May and
October 1851. Despite its name, it was devised by
Prince Albert mainly to proclaim that British
industrial manufacturing and innovation led the
Housed in an immense glass and iron 'Crystal Palace’,
specially built in Hyde Park, the extravagant display
was visited by over six million people. This was the
equivalent to a third of the entire British population
at the time. Entrance prices varied from three
guineas (£3.15) on the opening days, to a shilling (5p)
on special days for the ordinary working people.
They flocked to the exhibition, on special trains,
from all over the country. The profits from the event
were used to found museums, and still fund grants
for industrial research today.
The main hall of the Great Exhibition, 1851.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
What can the Great Exhibition tell us
about the Victorians?
(1859) Origin of Species Published
'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural
Selection’ was written by the scientist Charles
Darwin and published in 1859. In his book, Darwin
suggested that all species, including mankind,
'evolved' over long periods of time by 'natural
selection', rather than being created by God.
Darwin's theory of evolution itself developed
gradually, influenced by his voyage round the world
in 1831-6. He wrote the book at Down House,
where he lived, surrounded by his large family.
The book was translated into 36 languages and read
by millions. However, his questioning of literal
Biblical teachings, and particularly the idea that
humans were descended from apes, shocked many
people. However, his ideas have influenced our
thinking ever since.
Cartoon showing Darwin as a monkey, satirising his declaration that men
were descended from apes.
[© Mary Evans Picture Library/Alamy]
Why were Darwin’s ideas so shocking to
many people in Victorian Britain?
(1870) First Board Schools Founded
During the 1800s, increasing numbers of people
came to believe that all children, not just those
whose parents could afford to pay, should have the
right to an education.
In 1833, the government started to build schools for
some poor children and, in 1870, local school boards
were created to provide 'elementary' (primary)
education for all children aged 5-13. In 1880,
education up to the age of 10 was made compulsory,
though parents still had to pay small sums of money.
From 1891, education was made free.
Not everyone was in favour of education for all
children. While some employers wanted workers
who could read and write, others thought that
educated workers might become rebellious, or didn't
want to lose cheap child labour by sending children
to school.
An arithmetic lesson in a village school, c.1860. The neatly dressed
children probably came from relatively well-off families.
[© Kodak Collection/National Media Museum/Science & Society]
How did the parents of working class
children feel about ‘education for all’?
(1897) Queen Victoria's Diamond
Queen Victoria celebrated her
the 60th year of her reign –
thanksgiving service was held
Cathedral, London, so Victoria
had difficulty walking, did not
Diamond Jubilee –
in 1897. The main
outside St. Paul's
who, by this time,
have to leave her
For many in Britain, the Diamond Jubilee was a
chance to celebrate the might of the Great British
Empire. At its height, the Empire included almost a
quarter of the Earth's total land area, and a fifth of
the world's population.
Many people also honoured Victoria as a symbol of
continuity in a very rapidly changing world. In the
years leading up to the Diamond Jubilee, life-changing
inventions included the telephone (1878) and
modern bicycles running on 'blow-up' tyres (1888).
By 1896 motor cars were allowed to travel at 14
The Diamond Jubilee, 1897. Queen Victoria’s carriage outside St. Paul’s
[© UK Government Art Collection]
How ‘great’ was Great Britain in the
19th century?
(1901) Edwardian Period Begins
Edward VII succeeded his mother Queen Victoria in
1901, at a time when British troops were fighting the
Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa. The poor
health of British recruits highlighted the bad living
Government attempts to help included free school
meals (1906), the first 'old age pensions’ (1908), and
basic health insurance (1911). These were the
beginnings of a 'welfare state'.
Despite these reforms, in 1911 the average English
man died at 50 and woman at 55. There was still a
huge gap between rich and poor. Servants were the
largest class of workers, including almost a third of
all women aged 15-20. Huge numbers served in big
country houses and town mansions, and even
ordinary households employed an overworked
'slavey' maid.
Edwardian maids at Biddlesden Park House.
[© Reproduced by permission of English Heritage/NMR]
How was life different for rich families
and their servants ‘downstairs’ in the
early 1900s?
(1914-8) First World War
The First World War involved more than 70 million
combatants in a ‘World War’ fighting all over the globe.
The British Empire, France, Russia (until 1917), the US
(from 1917) and others fought Germany, AustriaHungary, Turkey and others. At least 16 million people
were killed. Britain suffered nearly one million fatalities,
2.19% of the population. About 50,000 Indian soldiers
were killed as they fought as part of the British Empire.
When war started, Britain relied on a volunteer army
but, from 1916 most fit British men were 'conscripted'
into the forces. Many served in the muddy trenches of
the ‘Western Front'. New war weapons included
aeroplanes and airships, submarines, tanks and poison
British civilians were involved in the war effort as never
before. Over 1.6 women contributed to the war; they
made ammunition, became nurses or replaced men who
had been 'called up'. For the first time, people at home
suffered enemy bombing.
Troops advancing across ‘No Man’s Land’ at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
[© English Heritage]
How appropriate is it to call the First
World War ‘The Great War’?
(1918) Votes for Women
From 1872, some women and men had begun to
argue for women's 'suffrage’: the right to vote.
In 1904, Emmeline Pankhurst established the
‘Women’s Social and Political Union’. Its members
became known as the ‘Suffragettes’. Frustrated with
the lack of progress that had been made in the fight
for suffrage thus far, they took ‘direct action’ to gain
publicity for their cause. Many were imprisoned for
militant actions like starting fires, breaking windows
and chaining themselves to railings. Whilst in prison,
some women went on 'hunger strike’. These women
were forcibly fed; a painful and humiliating treatment.
Though the war halted the Suffragettes, the
contribution of 1.6 million women to the war effort
convinced Parliament, in 1918, to give most women
over 30 the right to vote for MPs in general
elections. From 1928, all women over 21 could vote
on the same terms as men.
Suffragette poster attacking the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’, whereby hunger
strikers were released when ill, and re-arrested when better.
[© Museum of London]
How far was the contribution of women
to the war effort the main reason why
women were given the vote in 1918?
(1922) Radio and Television
Radio (or 'wireless telegraphy') developed gradually
during the Victorian and Edwardian periods, but regular
broadcasts to homes, by the 'British Broadcasting
Company' (later 'Corporation'), began in 1922. By 1930
every second British home had a radio, and 'the wireless'
played an important part in keeping up morale during the
Second World War. Portable 'transistor' radios spread
the 1960s Pop Revolution and, from 1967, BBC, and then
'commercial’, local radio flourished.
Developed by John Logie Baird, the world's first 'high
definition' television was regularly broadcast by the BBC
from 1936. Though halted during the Second World
War, in 1947 400,000 people watched the Queen's
wedding to Prince Philip, and in 1953, some 20 million
tuned in for her Coronation. Many homes got their first
TV specially for this occasion.
'Commercial' TV began in 1955 and colour TV in 1967.
The first recorded television picture: it was made up of 38 lines, as
compared to the modern 625 lines or more.
[© National Media Museum/Science & Society Picture Library]
Which influenced the lives of ordinary
people more – the introduction of radio
or TV?
(1930) Uneasy Decades
The decades between the two World Wars were
troubled for many English people.
For a few, this was a time of wealth and excitement – the
'Roaring Twenties’. The rich enjoyed travel on luxury
ocean liners and aeroplanes, which began regular
international passenger flights from the mid-1920s. Some
young people, living in big cities like London, shocked
their elders by wild parties, short skirts and jazz music.
However, by 1926, there was widespread industrial
unrest and this sparked the General Strike. Things got
worse from 1929, when a worldwide financial recession
(the ‘Great Slump') caused businesses to go bankrupt and
mass unemployment.
In the face of widespread economic depression, some
British people were attracted by extreme political
ideologies such as Communism (like Stalin's Russia), or
Fascism (as in Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany).
Fear of war with these dictators led to government
attempts to 'appease' Hitler, but also to re-arm Britain
from 1938 onwards.
Jarrow marchers passing through Buckinghamshire, 26 th October
1936. The marchers walked to London to draw attention to widespread
unemployment in the north-east.
[© Daily Herald Archive/National Media Museum/Science & Society
Picture Library]
How ‘roaring’ were the ‘Roaring
(1939-45) Second World War
During the Second World War the British Empire,
the USA, the USSR (Russia) and others fought
Germany, Italy, Japan and others. Some 60 million
people died, including about 40 million civilians. This
was the deadliest war in human history.
After the defeat of France and the British Army's
escape from Dunkirk in 1940, Britain stood alone
under the leadership of Winston Churchill, until the
USA and Russia entered the war. The 'D-Day'
landings in France, launched from Britain in 1944,
helped end the war.
At home, though the RAF's defeat of the German air
force in the 'Battle of Britain' (and the strength of the
Royal Navy) prevented enemy invasion, Britain
suffered heavy bombings in London, Coventry and
many other industrial cities. This became known as
the Blitz. Many children were 'evacuated' to safer
areas. Shortages (worsened by German submarine
attacks on merchant ships) meant that many foods
and other goods were 'rationed'.
Children being evacuated from Manchester during the Second World
War, c.1940. They carry boxes containing their gas-masks.
[© Past Pix/Science & Society Picture Library]
How did life change for children in
Britain in the Second World War?
(1947) Indian Independence and the
End of Empire
After the Second World War Britain, victorious but
short of money and troops, began to voluntarily
dismantle her Empire. 'White colonies' like Australia,
Canada and New Zealand, already governed
themselves. In 1947 India, the 'Jewel in the Crown' of
the British Empire, became the new independent
countries of India and Pakistan. Other colonies
gained independence in turn, and most chose to join
'the Commonwealth of Nations', whose honorary
head is the Queen.
In 1948, people from all over the Empire were
invited without restriction into Britain to help
remedy the post-war shortage of workers. The first
groups to enter Britain in large numbers (like those
aboard the 'Empire Windrush' ship) came from the
West Indies, soon followed by many people from
India and Pakistan. By the 1960s, immigration from
her former Empire was changing Britain.
Bridesmaids of Commonwealth origin at a Buckinghamshire wedding,
[© English Heritage/NMR]
How were experiences of immigration
similar and different for groups of
people living in 1960s Britain?
(1947-89) Cold War
The 'Cold War' is the name given to the long period of
confrontation between 'Communist' USSR (Russia) and
'democratic, capitalist' USA and her allies, including
Tensions heightened from 1949, as both camps were, by
this time, armed with nuclear (atomic) weapons, first
used against Japan at Hiroshima in 1945. Each side feared
the other would attack, on land across the 'Iron Curtain'
dividing Europe, or with bombers or (later) guided
missiles. It was hoped that neither would dare use
nuclear weapons, knowing their own country would also
be destroyed – a principle called 'Mutually Assured
Destruction' (MAD). Nevertheless, this was a tense and
dangerous period for people across the world. Britain
prepared by building anti-nuclear 'bunkers' in strategic
places across the country. The Cuban Missile Crisis
(1962) brought the world very close to war.
Hostilities resurfaced in the early 1980s but the collapse
of Communism in 1989 ended the Cold War for the
time being.
The Operations Room at York Cold War Bunker, a sealed unit built in
1961 to monitor atomic fallout in the event of a nuclear war.
[© English Heritage Photo Library]
Why were USSR and the USA enemies?
(1948) Welfare State and the National
Health Service
During the Second World War people had shared
dangers and hardship. Service in the armed forces,
the experience of the Blitz, rationing and the
evacuation of children had brought people together.
As a result, many did not want to return to the
unequal pre-war world and, in 1945, the Labour
party won a massive election victory promising to
tackle the ‘five giants’ that caused poverty and to
care for everyone 'from the cradle to the grave’.
Taxation and 'National Insurance' paid for
unemployment and retirement benefits, but the most
important feature of the new 'Welfare State' was the
National Health Service (1948). This provided free
health care, including hospital treatment, medicines
and dentistry, for all. Later on things like false teeth,
spectacles and prescriptions were charged for, but
the right to free health care remains valued to this
Doctor taking X-Ray of a female patient's head, c.1950s.
[© Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library]
(1957) Consumer Boom
From the late 1950s, the 'austerity' of hard-up postwar Britain gave way to much greater prosperity: in
1957 Prime Minister Harold Macmillan proclaimed,
'most of our people have never had it so good'.
Better wages allowed more and more to afford
'consumer goods' like televisions, refrigerators
(owned by a third of households by 1962) and
washing machines, though some preferred
'launderettes'. Car ownership, previously confined to
the wealthy, quadrupled in London between 195070, and the first 'motorway' opened in 1959.
Supermarkets (an import from the U.S) also began to
appear, though most people still bought from
ordinary shops. More families could also afford
holidays, often choosing 'holiday camps' such as
Butlins and Pontins in the 1950s, before 'package
holidays' to Spain and elsewhere took over in the
late 1960s.
On holiday at Blackpool in the 1950s.
[© Copyright English Heritage/NMR]
How far did consumer goods make life
better for families in the 1950s?
(1962) Pop Revolution
The Pop Music Revolution was powered by
'teenagers’; a newly distinct group of 13- to 19-yearolds for whom a word didn't even exist before the
Second World War. The prosperity of the 1950s
and full employment had given teenagers more
independence and money. Amongst other things,
they bought new products like record-players,
'singles' records and portable transistor radios.
'Rock and roll' music from the USA took Britain by
storm from around 1955. Records (‘discs’) by artists
such as Elvis Presley soon topped the charts. Early
British imitators, including Tommy Steele and Cliff
Richard, also became popular.
With the rise of the Beatles from 1962, a
distinctively British-style pop swept the world.
Record sales of over 600 million made the Beatles
the best-selling band in history. 'Swinging London'
dominated the fashion and art worlds, giving Britain a
new, less stuffy international image.
Two fashion models in 1960s mini dresses. The white patent boots are
trellis style, the black boots are printed with African masks.
[© Manchester Daily Express/Science Museum/Science & Society Picture
What can the Pop Revolution tell us
about society in the 1960s?
(1977) Computers and Mobile Phones
The biggest revolution of the late 20th century is
often considered to be the spread of computers. The
computer age actually began during the Second
World War – massive electronic computers, the size
of a room, were developed in Britain to decode
German secret messages. Smaller 'business'
computers (still weighing over two tons) were
available from 1954. However, the real change came
with the launch of compact microchip 'home
computers' in 1977. By 1980, 30 million had been
sold worldwide and, by 2000, 40% of British homes
had one.
Mobile phones also changed lives. Following the first
mobile phone call in 1973 (on a machine weighing
1.1kgs and measuring 23cms in length), affordable
mobile phones were launched in 1985. By the late
1990s, 'pay as you go' texting was a favourite and,
from 2002, mobile phones could also get internet
Part of the 'Colossus' computer, Bletchley Park, 1943. This computer,
which helped to decode enemy signals, took up a whole large room.
[© Bletchley Park Trust/Science & Society Picture Library]
Was daily life better or worse for a
teenager living in Britain in 2000,
compared with a teenager living in
Britain in 1900?

Slide 1