43—420: Roman invasion and occupation of Britain
450: Anglo-Saxon Conquest
597: St. Augustine arrives in Kent; beginning of Anglo-Saxon conversion to Christianity
871—899: Reign of King Alfred
1066: Norman Conquest
1154—1189: Reign of Henry II
1200: Beginnings of Middle English literature
1360—1400: Geoffrey Chaucer; Piers Plowman; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
1485: William Caxton’s printing of Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur, one of the first books printed in England
The Middle Ages was a vast literary time period.
i) It stretches from the collapse of the Roman Empire in Britain (450) to the beginning of the Renaissance (1485).
ii) It was also a period of enormous historical, social, and linguistic change, despite the continuity of the Roman Catholic Church.
The period is subdivided into three parts:
I. Anglo-Saxon literature,
II. Anglo-Norman literature,
III. Middle English literature.
The word “medieval” comes from the Latin: medium (middle) and aevum (age).
There are two trends in scholarship concerning the Middle Ages: Some scholars view the Middle Ages as the beginning of ideas that continued developing well into the sixteenth century; others feel the Middle Ages were “created” by sixteenth-century writers who wanted to emphasize the originality of their contributions to literary culture.
i) Old English – was spoken by the Germanic invaders of Britain;
ii) Old French or Anglo-Norman – was spoken in Britain after the Norman Conquest of 1066;
iii) Middle English, which appeared in the twelfth century – displaced French as Britain’s official language by the end of the fourteenth century.
Monasteries and other religious houses were the major producers of books until they were dissolved by King Henry VIII in the 1530s at which point the king assured the nobility’s loyalty to himself by giving them much of the former monastic houses’ lands and assets. Commercial book-making enterprises began around the fourteenth century.
Religious houses were the major consumers of books during the Middle Ages. Nobles began purchasing and commissioning books during the Anglo-Norman period; later, in the fourteenth century, wealthy urbanites also entered the book market.