Intro to British History
through the Middle Ages (Medieval Period)
800 B.C. – 1485 A.D.
The first invaders of Britain,
around 800 BC, were the Celts.
These invaders came from southern Europe
and called themselves Brythons
Typical Celtic building
Iron Age Celtic warrior
Celtic Society and Culture
They were fierce warriors!
They were organized into many small, tightly
knit clans.
Each clan had its own chieftain (king), to
whom clan members were fiercely loyal
Celts were farmers and hunters.
They followed a pagan religion
based on worship of nature.
Their priests were called Druids.
The second invaders arrived in 55 B.C.
They were the Roman legions of Julius
Caesar from Italy.
They occupied and ruled Britain from 50 A.D. – 407 A.D.
How did the Romans contribute to cultural development?
1. The Romans brought a more advanced level of culture.
2. Their Latin language and greater vocabulary formed the
basis for much of the developing English language. Latin
became the language of law and religion.
3. Their camps grew into the first towns.
4. They built a system of roads.
5. They introduced Christianity to the Celts around 300 A.D.
The Romans abandoned Britain in 407 A.D. to go to the defense of Rome,
which was under attack from the Vandals.
The third invaders were the AngloSaxons, who arrived in 449 A.D.
They came from Germany.
How did British culture change?
The invaders’ Germanic language blended with the Latin and Celtic Languages.
King Ethelbert became the first Christian king in Britain when he converted in 597.
A Roman Catholic priest, Saint Augustine, founded the first monastery at Canterbury,
which became the religious center of England.
The Church counseled rulers, settled quarrels, and promoted peace. It helped to unify
the English people
The fourth invaders were
the Vikings from
Denmark. They raided,
plundered, and settled
England from 793-871
These Vikings were ferocious warriors, skilled
seafarers, explorers, traders, and feared pirates
known for their brutality. By 850 they controlled all of
northeastern England.
In 886, an Anglo-Saxon king signed a treaty with the Vikings. For
this, he became a hero and was called King Alfred the Great. The
“Dane Law” divided England in half and established peace.
The last Anglo-Saxon king of England was Edward the
Confessor, who died in 1066, ending the Anglo-Saxon era.
The final invaders were the Normans from France.
Edward the
Confessor, King of England, died without an heir. English lords chose Harold as
their new king.
William of Normandy invaded England in 1066 and killed
King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.
William “the Conqueror”
became the first Norman king of England.
How did the Norman Conquest shape British
history and culture?
1. French culture and language were introduced.
2. Anglo-Saxons were oppressed; their lands were confiscated and given
to Williams’s knights.
3. Most importantly, French FEUDALISM was introduced and became the
new structure of medieval English society.
Feudalism was a social system based on an
oath of loyalty to the king. All land and property
belonged to the king, who would give lands and
castles to noble lords who pledged their loyalty,
armies, and support.
Structure of Feudal Society
Formed a pyramid of
power with the king at
the top
The Royal House of Plantagenet
Norman domination of England began its decline in 1154
when Henry Plantagenet became King Henry II, founding
the Plantagenet royal line.
Henry involved himself deeply in legal affairs of the
country, which had formerly been generally controlled by
the Catholic Church and the Pope. This brought him in
conflict with the Church.
In 1170, Henry’s knights tried to please him by murdering
the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket (head of
the English church), in Canterbury Cathedral.
King Henry made a pilgrimage (holy journey) to Becket’s
tomb in Canterbury to atone for his guilt over Becket’s
murder, establishing Canterbury pilgrimages as a way to
show religious devotion.
The next Plantagenet king, Richard the Lionheart,
spent much of his reign on crusades in the Holy
Lands, running up huge debts for England before he
Richard’s brother, King John, later tried to pay these debts
by raising taxes, enraging the nobles and almost starting a
civil war. To restore peace, King John was forced to
sign a document, the Magna Carta (Great Charter) in
The Magna Carta said the king could not tax land
without first meeting with his nobles.
This first limitation of a king’s power marked the first step
toward a constitutional government in England.
War of the Roses
House of York
House of Lancaster
1399 – The last Plantagenet king died and the House of Lancaster took the
throne. However, this started a power
struggle between the House
of Lancaster and the House of York.
War for the throne started in 1455 and raged for 30 years.
In 1485, Richard III (House of York) was king of England. He was killed in
battle by Henry Tudor, a relative of the House of Lancaster.
Henry Tudor became King Henry VII, founder of the Tudor
dynasty. To end the War of the Roses, Henry married Richard III’s niece.
Henry VII’s reign marks the end of the Middle
Ages/Medieval Period.
It also marks the end of the declining feudal
Reasons for the decline of feudalism
1. The Black Death in 1348-1349 caused labor shortages.
2. Labor shortages made peasants’ work more valuable.
3. Landowners began paying workers in cash.
4. Money gave peasants a taste of freedom; this led to a demand for rights.
5. 1381 Peasants revolted against heavy taxes and harsh laws for serfs. The
revolt was crushed, but discontent did not end.
6. Feudalism did not end suddenly. It gradually evolved over the next 100 years
into a free peasant class.

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