A chronology of English
Appendix 1: A chronology of English
A selection of dates associated with the history and spread of the English language from Roman times to 1998.
Roman military expedition to Britain by Julius Caesar.
Roman invasion under the emperor Claudius, beginning 400 years of control over much of the island.
From around this date, with Roman permission, small numbers of settlers arrive from the coastlands of Germany, speaking dialects ancestral to English.
First mention of the Picts of Caledonia, tribes beyond Roman control, well to the north of Hadrian’s Wall.
The Goths sack Rome.
The end of a period of gradual Roman withdrawal. Britons south of the Wall are attacked by the Picts and by Scots from Ireland. Angles, Saxons, and other Germanic settlers come first as mercenaries to help the Britons, then take over more and more territory.
The traditional date for the beginning of Anglo-Saxon settlements.
The first surviving Old English inscriptions, in runic letters.
The Saxon kingdom of Wessex established.
The kingdom of Dalriada established in Argyll by Scots from Ireland.
The Saxon kingdoms of Essex and Middlesex established.
The Angle kingdoms of Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria established.
At the battle of Deorham, the West Saxons drive a wedge between the Britons of Wales and Cornwall.
Aethelberht, king of Kent, welcomes Augustine, and the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons begins.
At the battle of Chester, the Angles of Northumbria drive a wedge between the Britons of Wales and Cumbria.
Edwin of Northumbria takes Lothian from the Britons.
The first manuscript records of Old English from about this time.
Scandinavians begin to raid and settle in Britain, Ireland, and France. In 793, they sack the monastery of Lindisfarne, the centre of Northumbrian scholarship.
The Danes settle in parts of Ireland.
Egbert of Wessex defeats the south-western Britons of Cornwall and incorporates Cornwall into his kingdom.
Egbert of Wessex is hailed as bretwalda (lord of Britain), overlord of the Seven Kingdoms of the Angles and Saxons (the Heptarchy). England begins to emerge.
The Danes raid England.
Kenneth MacAlpin, King of Scots, gains the throne of Pictland.
The Danes occupy Northumbria, establish a kingdom at York, and Danish begins to influence English.
Alfred becomes king of Wessex, translates works of Latin into English, and establishes the writing of prose in English.
The boundaries of the Danelaw are settled.
Charles II of France grants lands on the lower Seine to the Viking (Norman = Northman) chief Hrolf the Ganger (Rollo the Rover). The beginnings of Normandy and Norman French.
The expulsion of Eric Blood-axe, last Danish king of York.
The English invade the northern Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd.
Edgar of England cedes Lothian to Kenneth II, King of Scots. Scotland multilingual: Gaelic dominant, Norse in the north, Cumbric in the south-west, English in the south-east, Latin for church and law.
A treaty between Ethelred of England and the Normans.
The approximate date of the only surviving manuscript of the Old English epic poem Beowulf.
Ethelred the Unready pays danegeld to stop the Danes attacking England. In 1013, however, they take the country and Ethelred flees to Normandy.
The end of Danish rule in Ireland.
The reigns of Canute/Knut and his sons over Denmark, Norway, and England.
Edward the Confessor, King of England, impressed by the Normans and with French-speaking counsellors at his court, names as his heir William, Duke of Normandy, but reneges on his promise before his death.
The Norman Conquest. William defeats Harold Godwin at Hastings, and sets in train the Normanization of the upper classes of the Britain Isles. England multilingual: English the majority language, Danish in the north, Cornish in the far south-west, Welsh on the border with Wales, Norman French at court and in the courts, and Latin in church and school.
The first surviving texts of Middle English.
The closure of the University of Paris to students from England accelerates the development of a university at Oxford.
Henry II invades Ireland and declares himself its overlord, introducing English and Norman French into the island.
King John loses the Duchy of Normandy to France.
The exodus of a number of students from Oxford leads to the establishment of a second university in Cambridge.
The reign of Edward I, who consolidates royal authority in England, and extends it permanently to Wales and temporarily to Scotland.
Death of Llewelyn, last native prince of Wales. In 1301, Edward of England’s son and heir is invested as Prince of Wales.
The Statute of Rhuddlan establishes the law of England in Wales (in French and Latin), but retains the legal use of Welsh.
Robert Bruce re-asserts Scottish independence by defeating Edward II at Bannockburn, an achievement later celebrated in an epic written in Scots.
The outbreak of the Hundred Years War between England and France, which ends with the loss of all England’s French possessions save the Channel Islands.
The life of Geoffrey Chaucer.
English replaces Latin as medium of instruction in schools, but not at Oxford and Cambridge.
The worst year of the Black Death.
Through the Statute of Pleading, written in French, English replaces French as the language of law in England, but the records continue to be kept in Latin.
English is used for the first time in Parliament.
The publication of John Wycliffe’s English translation of the Latin Bible.
The scholar John of Trevisa notes that ‘in all the gramere scoles of Engelond, children leveth Frensche and construeth and lerneth in Englische.’
By this date the Great Vowel Shift has begun.
Printing by movable type invented in the Rhineland.
The first English book printed: The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, translated from French by William Caxton, who printed it at Bruges in Flanders. Caxton sets up the first printing press in England, at Westminster. In 1478, he publishes Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
The Battle of Bosworth, after which the part-Welsh Henry Tudor becomes King of England. Welsh nobles follow him to London.
Christopher Columbus discovers the New World.
Giovanni Caboto (anglicized as ‘John Cabot’), in a ship from Bristol, lands on the Atlantic coast of North America.
The publication of Thesaurus linguae romanae et britannicae (Treasury of the Roman and British Tongues), the first English-to-Latin wordbook, the work of Galfridus Grammaticus (Geoffrey the Grammarian).
The settlement of St John’s on Newfoundland as a shore base for English fisheries.
The German geographer Martin Waldseemüller puts the name America on his map of the world.
The publication of William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament of the Bible.
Jacques Cartier lands on the Gaspé Peninsula in North America and claims it for France.
The Statute of Wales (Acts of Union) unites England and Wales, excluding Welsh from official use.
Henry VIII of England proclaims himself King of Ireland.
The publication of the first version of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, the work in the main of Thomas Cranmer.
The reign of Elizabeth I.
The plantation of Ireland, first by English settlers and after 1603 also by Scots, establishing English throughout the island and Scots in Ulster.
The life of William Shakespeare.
Sir Humphrey Gilbert establishes Newfoundland as England’s first colony beyond the British Isles.
The settlement on Roanoke Island by colonists led by Sir Walter Raleigh. In 1587, Virginia Dare born at Roanoke, first child of English parents in North America. In 1590, the settlers of Roanoke disappear without trace.
The publication of Bishop Morgan’s translation of the Bible into Welsh, serving as a focus for the survival of the language.
English traders establish the East India Company.
The Union of the Crowns under James VI of Scots, I of England.
The publication of Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall, the first dictionary of English.
The Dutch explore northern New Holland (Terra Australis).
The Jamestown colony in Virginia, the first permanent English settlement and the first representative assembly in the New World.
Samuel Champlain founds the city of Quebec in New France.
The publication of the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible, intended for use in the Protestant services of England, Scotland, and Ireland. A major influence on the written language and in adapting Scots towards English.
Bermuda colonized under the charter of the Virginia Company.
Traders of the East India Company establish themselves in Gujarat, India.
King James writes in English to the Moghul Emperor Jehangir, in order to encourage trade with the Orientall Indies’.
At the Jamestown colony in America, the first African slaves arrive on a Dutch ship.
The Mayflower arrives in the New World and the Pilgrim Fathers set up Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts. English is now in competition as a colonial language in the Americas with Dutch, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Publication in London of the first English newspaper, Weekly News.
Publication in London of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays.
An English colony established on Barbados in the Caribbean.
English traders arrive on the coast of China.
The Académie française founded.
An English trading factory established at Madras.
The Bahamas colonized by settlers from Bermuda.
The first Dutch settlers arrive in southern Africa.
England acquires Jamaica from Spain.
The East India Company annexes St Helena in the south Atlantic.
John Dryden expresses his admiration for the Académie française and its work in ‘fixing’ French and wishes for something similar to serve English.
The Royal Society of London receives its charter from Charles II. In 1664, it appoints a committee to consider ways of improving English as a language of science.
The Hudson’s Bay Company founded for fur trading in northern America.
Charles II receives Bombay from the Portuguese in the dowry of Catherine of Braganza and gives it to the East India Company.
Isaac Newton writes Principia Mathematica in Latin: see 1704.
The publication of Oronooko, or the History of the Royal Slave, by Aphra Behn: one of the first novels in English, by the first woman novelist in English, based on personal experience of a slave revolt in Surinam.
A trading factory established at Calcutta in Bengal.
British and French colonists in North America in open conflict.
The Boston clergyman Cotton Mather applies the term American to English-speaking settlers in the New World.
Publication in London of the first regular daily newspaper in English, The Daily Courant.
Isaac Newton writes his second major work, Opticks, in English: see 1687.
The Act of Union, uniting the Parliaments of England and Scotland, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain, but keeping separate the state religions, educational systems, and laws of the two kingdoms.
Jonathan Swift in Dublin proposes an English Academy to ‘fix’ the language and compete adequately with French.
In India, the Moghul Empire begins to decline.
At the Treaty of Utrecht, France surrenders Hudson’s Bay, Acadia, and Newfoundland to the British.
Gibraltar is ceded to Britain by Spain.
The abolition of Law French in England.
The Wales and Berwick Act, by which England is deemed to include Wales and the Scottish town of Berwick is incorporated into England.
The publication of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language.
The East India Company becomes the power behind the government of Bengal.
General James Wolfe takes Quebec for the British.
The life of Robert Burns.
The publication of Robert Lowth’s Short Introduction to English Grammar.
The French cede New France to Britain, retaining only St Pierre and Miquelon (islands off Newfoundland).
The partwork publication in Edinburgh of The Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Captain James Cook takes possession of the Australian continent for Britain.
The life of William Wordsworth.
The life of Sir Walter Scott.
The Quebec Act creates the British province of Quebec, extending to the Ohio and Mississippi.
The Regulating Act places Bombay and Madras under the control of Bengal and the East India Company becomes a kind of state.
The Declaration of Independence by thirteen British colonies in North America and the start of the American War of Independence (1776–83) which created the United States of America, the first nation outside the British Isles with English as its principal language.
Captain James Cook visits and names the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).
British Empire Ioyalists move from the United States to Canada.
In London, the newspaper The Daily Universal Register founded. Renamed The Times in 1788.
Lord Cornwallis is appointed first Governor-General of British India.
A British penal colony is established at Botany Bay in Australia. In 1788, the first convicts arrive there.
The British colonies of Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec) are established.
In London, the newspaper The Observer is founded, the oldest national Sunday newspaper in Britain.
The first Europeans settle in New Zealand.
The publication of Lindley Murray’s English Grammar.
The establishment of the British colonies of Ceylon and Trinidad.
The Act of Union incorporating Ireland into Britain, as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
The Louisiana Purchase, by which the United States buys from France its remaining North American territories, and doubles its size.
The British take control of Cape Colony in southern Africa.
The establishment of the British colony of Sierra Leone.
The British annex Cape Colony.
France cedes to Britain Malta, Mauritius, St Lucia, and Tobago.
The establishment of the British colony of Bathurst (the Gambia).
The establishment of the British colony of Singapore.
The United States purchases Florida from Spain.
Christian missionaries from the United States visit Hawaii.
American settlers arrive in the Mexican territory of Texas.
The publication of Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language.
Australia becomes a British dependency.
The establishment of the colony of British Guiana.
The abolition of slavery in the British Empire.
St Helena becomes a British colony.
Thomas Macaulay writes the Minute on Education whereby the British rulers of India endorse English as a language of education for Indians.
The life of Sam Clemens (Mark Twain).
Texas declares its independence from Mexico.
The first Boer Republic is established in Natal, South Africa, after the Great Trek from the Cape.
The Treaty of Waitangi, by which the Maori of New Zealand cede all rights and powers of government to Britain.
The transportation of convicts to Eastern Australia is ended.
Upper and Lower Canada are brought together as British North America.
New Zealand becomes a British colony.
In London, the founding of the weekly magazine Punch.
The opening of Chinese ports other than Canton to Western traders, after the defeat of China in the Opium War. Hong Kong is ceded by China to Britain as a Crown Colony.
The Philological Society is formed in London.
Texas becomes a state of the United States.
The British annex Natal but recognize the Transvaal and the Orange Free State as autonomous Boer republics.
In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico cedes vast western territories to the US.
Britain takes control of the Bay Islands of Honduras, an English-speaking enclave in Central America.
Legislative councils are established in Australia by British Act of Parliament.
The publication of Roget’s Thesaurus.
Japan is forced by Commander Matthew Perry of the US Navy to open its harbours to Western trade.
The transportation of convicts to Tasmania is ended.
The Government to the colony of New South Wales is established.
The Governments of the colonies of Tasmania and Victoria are established.
The life of George Bernard Shaw.
The Sepoy Rebellion (War of Independence, Indian Mutiny) in India leads to the transfer of British India from the East India Company to the Crown.
The Philological Society passes a resolution calling for a new dictionary of English on historical principles.
Britain cedes the Bay Islands to Honduras.
The establishment of the British colony of Lagos (Nigeria).
The establishment of the colony of British Honduras.
The establishment of the Cambridge Overseas Examinations.
The abolition of slavery in the US, at the end of the Civil War. At the outbreak of the war there were over 4m slaves.
The Dominion of Canada is created, consisting of Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.
Alaska is purchased from Russia by the US.
Transportation of convicts to Western Australia is ended.
In the US, Christopher Latham Sholes and colleagues patent the first successful typewriter.
Rupert’s Land and the Northwest Territories are bought by Canada from the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Basutoland becomes a British protectorate.
Manitoba becomes a province of Canada.
British Columbia becomes a province of Canada.
The formation of the English Dialect Society (dissolved in 1896).
Prince Edward Island becomes a province of Canada.
The establishment of the British colony of the Gold Coast in West Africa.
James A. H. Murray begins editing the Philological Society’s New English Dictionary on Historical Principles.
The life of James Joyce.
The Berlin Conference, in which European powers begin ‘the scramble for Africa’.
Britain declares a protectorate over South East New Guinea.
The French, Germans, and British attempt to annex what shortly becomes the German colony of Kamerun.
Publication of the first fascicle, A-Ant, of Murray’s dictionary (the OED).
The annexation of Burma into British India and the abolition of the Burmese monarchy.
The establishment of British protectorates in Kenya, Uganda, and Zanzibar.
The establishment of the British East African Protectorate, open to white settlers.
The annexation of Hawaii by the US. In 1900, it becomes a US territory.
Spain cedes the Philippines and Puerto Rico to the United States.
Yukon Territory comes under Canadian government control.
The establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia as a dominion of the British Empire.
The first wireless telegraphy messages sent across the Atlantic by Guglielmo Marconi (Cornwall to Newfoundland).
The first film-show in an arcade opened in Los Angeles, California.
A message from US President Theodore Roosevelt circles the world in less than 10 minutes by Pacific Cable.
The life of George Orwell.
Alberta and Saskatchewan become provinces of Canada.
The first cartoon strip, ‘Little Nemo’, appears in The New York Herald.
The formation of the English Association.
The first full-length motion picture, The Story of the Kelly Gang.
The publication of the Fowler brothers’ The Kings’ English.
The establishment of New Zealand as a dominion of the British Empire.
The first regular studio-based radio broadcasts by the De Forest Radio Telephone Company in the US.
The foundation of Hollywood as a film-making centre.
The establishment of the Union of South Africa as a dominion of the British Empire.
The first radio receivers made in kit form for sale in the US.
The publication of the Fowler brothers’ Concise Oxford Dictionary.
The formation of the Society for Pure English.
The first crossword puzzle published, in the New York World.
A third Home Rule Bill for Ireland passed by the British Parliament, but prevented from coming into operation by the outbreak of the First World War.
The German colony of Kamerun invaded by French and British.
The death of Sir James A. H. Murray, aged 78, having finished the section Trink–Turndown in the OED.
The Easter Rising in Dublin, an unsuccessful armed rebellion against the British, during which an Irish Republic is proclaimed.
The technicolor process is first used in the film The Gulf Between, in the US.
The publication of Daniel Jones’s English Pronouncing Dictionary.
The formation of the English-Speaking Union.
The US War Industries Board declares moving pictures an essential industry.
The German colony of Tanganyika ceded to Britain.
The German colony of Kamerun divided between France (Cameroun) and Britain (Cameroon).
The publication of H. L. Mencken’s The American Language.
The Partition of Ireland.
Kenya becomes a British colony.
The first public radio station set up by Marconi in the US.
A treaty between the United Kingdom and the Irish Free State, which accepts dominion status within the British Empire.
The first full-length ‘talkie’ Dream Street produced by United Artists, in the US.
The establishment of the British Broadcasting Company, renamed in 1927 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
The founding in the US of the monthly magazine The Reader’s Digest.
The founding of Time magazine in the US.
The borders of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland established.
Afrikaans gains official status in South Africa.
The founding of the weekly magazine The New Yorker.
The publication of Henry W. Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage.
Fox’s Movietone News, the first sound newsfilm, released in the US.
The first film with dialogue, They’re Coming to Get Me, released in the US.
The publication of Murray’s Dictionary as The Oxford English Dictionary, 70 years after Trench’s proposal to the Philological Society.
C. K. Ogden launches Basic English.
The first television programme with synchronized sight and sound broadcast by the BBC.
The British Commonwealth of Nations formed.
South Africa becomes a dominion of the British Empire.
The Cambridge Proficiency Examination held outside Britain for the first time.
The publication of a supplement to The Oxford English Dictionary.
The British Council created as an arm of British cultural diplomacy and a focus for teaching English as a foreign language.
The Philippines become a self-governing Commonwealth in association with the US.
The publication of the first ten Penguin paperback titles.
The Republic of Ireland severs all constitutional links with Great Britain.
Burma is separated from British India and granted a constitution and limited self-rule.
In Wales, a new constitution for the National Eisteddfod makes Welsh as its official language.
The publication in Japan of The Idiomatic and Syntactic Dictionary of English, prepared before the war by A. S. Hornby, E. V. Gatenby, and H. Wakefield.
Japan is occupied by the Americans on behalf of the Allies.
The Philippines gain their independence from the United States.
The French colony of Cameroun and the British colony of Cameroon become United Nations trusteeships.
British India is partitioned, and India and Pakistan become independent states.
New Zealand gains its independence from Britain.
Burma and Ceylon gain their independence from Britain.
The dictionary of Hornby et al. is brought out by Oxford University Press as A Learner’s Dictionary of Current English.
Newfoundland becomes a province of Canada.
Two New Guinea territories are combined by the United Nations as an Australian mandate: the United Nations Trust Territory of Papua and New Guinea.
The launch of the first two working business computers: the LED in the UK and the UNIVAC in the US.
Puerto Rico becomes a Commonwealth in association with the US.
The Gold Coast becomes independent from Britain as the Republic of Ghana. Robert W. Burchfield is appointed editor of a Supplement to The Oxford English Dictionary.
The British colonies of Malaya and Borneo become independent and unite as Malaysia.
Alaska and Hawaii become states of the US.
Nigeria and French Cameroun become independent.
South Africa becomes a republic, does not remain in the Commonwealth, and adopts Afrikaans and English as its two official languages.
The British colony of Cameroon divides, part joining Nigeria, part joining the ex-French colony to become the Republic of Cameroon.
Sierra Leone and Cyprus gain their independence from Britain.
The publication of Webster’s Third International Dictionary.
Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda gain their independence from Britain.
Kenya gains its independence from Britain.
The first protests in Wales by the Cymdeithas yr laith Gymraeg/Welsh Language Society, aimed at achieving fuller use of Welsh.
Malta, Nyasaland (as Malawi), Tanganyika and Zanzibar (as Tanzania), and Northern Rhodesia (as Zambia) gain their independence from Britain.
The publication in Paris of René Etiemble’s Parlez-vous franglais?
Gambia and Singapore gain their independence from Britain.
Barbados, Basutoland (as Lesotho), Bechuanaland (as Botswana), and British Guiana (as Guyana) gain their independence from Britain.
The Welsh Language Act gives Welsh equal validity with English in Wales, and Wales is no longer deemed to be a part of England.
Mauritius, Swaziland, and Nauru gain their independence from Britain.
Canada becomes officially bilingual, with a commitment to federal services in English and French.
East Pakistan secedes and becomes the Republic of Bangladesh.
Two feminist magazines launched: Ms in the US and Spare Rib in the UK.
The Bahamas gain their independence from Britain.
Cyngor yr laith Gymraeg/Council for the Welsh Language set up to advise the Secretary of State for Wales on matters concerning the language.
Papua New Guinea gains its independence from Australia.
The Bas-Lauriol law is passed in France, requiring the use solely of French in advertising and commerce.
The spacecraft Voyager travels into deep space, its main message to any extra-terrestrials recorded in English by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, an Austrian.
In Quebec, Loi 101/Bill 101 is passed, making French the sole official language of the province, limiting access to English-medium schools, and banning public signs in other languages.
The Government of Northern Territory in Australia is established.
The British government averts a fast to the death by Gwynfor Evans, leader of Plaid Cymru (Welsh National Party), by honouring election pledges to provide a fourth television channel using both Welsh and English.
British Honduras gains its independence as Belize.
The patriation from Great Britain of Canada’s constitution. The Canada Act is the last act of the British Parliament concerning Canadian affairs.
The publication by Penguin of The New Testament in Scots, a translation by William L. Lorimer.
The launch of the Apple Macintosh personal (desktop) computer.
The publication by Longman of A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language.
The publication by Belknap Press of the first volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English.
The launch by Cambridge University Press of the quarterly journal English Today: The International Review of the English Language.
The showing by the BBC in the UK and public television in the US of The Story of English, a television series with both British and American backers, accompanied by a book of the same name, and followed by a radio version on BBC World Service.
The publication of the 2nd edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, blending the first edition and its supplements.
The publication of The Oxford Companion to the English Language by Oxford University Press.
The publication of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language by Cambridge University Press.
The publication of The Oxford English Grammar by Oxford University Press.
Hong Kong ceases to be a British colony and becomes a Special Autonomous Region of China.
The Scots vote by a strong majority for a devolved parliament to be set up in Edinburgh.
The Welsh vote by a slim margin for a Welsh Assembly to be set up.
Publication of the report The Future of English? by the British Council as part of its consciousness-raising campaign entitled English 2000.