From legend to history a d 449 1485
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From Legend to History A.D. 449-1485. The Old English and Medieval Periods. The Conquest of Britain. Between 800 and 600 B.C. two groups of Celts from southern Europe, the Brythons and the Gaels, invaded the British Isles. The Brythons settled on the largest island, Britain.

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From Legend to History A.D. 449-1485

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From legend to history a d 449 1485

From Legend to HistoryA.D. 449-1485

The Old English and Medieval Periods

The conquest of britain

The Conquest of Britain

  • Between 800 and 600 B.C. two groups of Celts from southern Europe, the Brythons and the Gaels, invaded the British Isles.

  • The Brythons settled on the largest island, Britain.

  • The Celts were farmers and hunters. They organized themselves into tightly knit clans, each with a fearsome loyalty to its chieftain.

From legend to history a d 449 1485

The next conquerors of Britain were the Romans in 55 B.C. led by General Julius Caesar. This conquest of Britain took nearly a 100 years.

The Roman rule of Britain lasted for more than 300 years and ended only when Roman troops withdrew to protect their homeland in Italy in 407 A.D.

The Romans introduced Christianity to Britain around the 4th century.

This Christianity differed greatly from the paganistic beliefs of the Celts and from the beliefs of a new set of invaders, the Saxons.

The anglo saxon invaders

The Anglo-Saxon Invaders

Saxon invaders

Saxon Invaders

These Germanic tribes were nomadic, seafaring, and warlike.

Valued the individual warrior.

King was essentially greatest warrior of tribe.

Good kings were recognized for their generosity hence the name ring giver.

Tribes were constantly warring with one another.

Warriors owed total loyalty to their king.

Women held little power in this society.

Saxon terminology

Saxon Terminology

  • Mead Hall – Large structure were king’s warriors would gather to feast, drink, and be entertained.

  • Mead- preferred drink of Saxon warriors. It was a strong mix of fermented honey and yeast.

  • Warriors would often gather to hear stories shared by bards and challenge their minds with riddles.

Saxon terminology cont

Saxon Terminology cont…

  • Wergild- The Saxons were extremely motivated by vengeance in their society. This would lead to blood feuds between tribes. Wergilds were established to end these blood feuds. A Wergild was compensation given to a victim’s family when a member of their family or tribe had been killed.

  • Witon- Group of King’s elders or wise men.

  • Mail- flexible body armor made of metal.

The danish invasions

The Danish Invasions

  • In the ninth century, the Norse of Norway and the Danes of Denmark took to the seas. These Vikings carried their piracy to the British Isles.

  • The Viking Invaders sacked and plundered monasteries, destroyed manuscripts, and stole sacred religious objects. They burned entire communities and put villagers to the sword.

The great king king alfred

“The Great King”King Alfred

  • In 871, a king ascended to the Wessex throne who would be the only ruler in England’s history ever to be honored with the epithet “the Great.”

  • King Alfred had earned this title partly by resisting further Danish encroachment.

  • Under a truce concluded in 886, England was formally divided: The Saxons acknowledged Danish rule in the east and the north, and the Danes agreed to respect the Saxon rule in the south. As a result Alfred became a national hero.

Alfred s england

Alfred’s England

  • Alfred’s England took the following look to the right under his truce of 886.

  • Alfred’s achievements went far beyond the battlefield. He encouraged a rebirth of learning and education.

From legend to history a d 449 1485

  • With the death of King Edward “the Confessor” in 1066 and an invasion by the Normans who were descendents of the Vikings, England fell to the Norman Conquest.

  • After a brief struggle for the throne of England between Harold II and William of Normandy. William asserted himself by force to the throne of England.

  • The Normans under William was remade along feudal lines.

The feudal system

The Feudal System

  • The feudal system involved an exchange of property for personal service. In theory, all the land belonged to the king, who parceled it out among his powerful supporters. He gave these supporters noble titles, like Baron, and special privileges. As a vassal of his overlord, each baron paid certain fees, or taxes, and supplied a specified number of knights should the king require them. In return for their services, knights usually received smaller parcels of land, called manors. The peasants who worked these manors were the lowest class in the feudal system , the serfs.

The reign of henry ii

The Reign of Henry II

  • Norman rule ended in 1154 when Henry Plantagenet came to the throne as Henry II.

  • Henry’s concern with legal matters led him into direct conflict with the Church. When the archbishop’s seat at Canterbury fell vacant, he appointed his friend Thomas Becket to the position, expecting Becket to go along with royal policy. Instead, Becket defied the king and appealed to the Pope. The Pope sided with Becket, provoking Henry into a rage.

The martyr

The Martyr

  • Some of Henry’s knights misunderstood the royal wrath. In 1170, four of them murdered Becket in his cathedral. Henry quickly condemned the crime and tried to atone for it by making a holy journey, or pilgrimage, to Becket’s tomb.

  • Thereafter, a pilgrimage to Becket’s shrine at Canterbury became a common English means of showing religious devotion.

King john and the magna carta

King John and the Magna Carta

  • The next king, Richard I spent most of his time staging military expeditions overseas creating a great deal of debt.

  • His successor, King John, inherited these debts.

  • King John tried to raise money by collecting more taxes from barons but they resisted these measures bringing England to the brink of civil war.

  • To avert further trouble, King John at last agreed to certain of the baron’s conditions by putting his seal on the Magna Carta.

  • In the Magna Carta, the King agreed not to tax land without first meeting with the barons.

  • Many historians believe its restrictions on royal power marked the beginning of constitutional government in England.

The black death

The Black Death

  • Between 1348-1349 as the Bubonic Plague swept across England a third of England’s population was wiped out.

  • The results were devastating physically and economically.

  • The short term result was a labor shortage and the long term result would cause the collapse of the feudal structure.

The plague across europe

The Plague across Europe

The dance of death

The Dance of Death

  • The effects of the plague not only ended feudalism but it also impacted the Church and its people and their views of life and death.

  • The Church began to use death as motivational tool to convert sinners and encourage financial support.

  • People begin to recognize with greater degree their own proximity to death.

  • The Italian writer Boccacio often said the plague’s victims “ate lunch with their families and dinner with their ancestors in Paradise.”

Anglo saxon literature

Anglo-Saxon Literature

  • Anglo-Saxon literature began not with books, but with spoken verse and incantations.

  • Anglo-Saxon verse falls into two main categories: heroic poetry, recounting the achievements of warriors, and elegiac poetry, lamenting the deaths ones and the loss of the past.

  • Famous elegiac poems would be “The Seafarer” and “The Wanderer”.

  • Most famous heroic poem: Beowulf.

  • Anglo-Saxon prose before the reign of Alfred the Great all important prose was written in Latin. The monks who transcribed these works regarded the vernacular, the language of the common people, as a “vulgar tongue.” The greatest of England’s Latin scholars was Venerable Bede (673-735), whose History of the English Church and People gives an account of England from the Roman invasion to his own time.

  • Another great prose work from this time is The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Unlike Bede’s History, these records were written in Old English, the earliest form of our own language.

Beowulf the english national epic

Beowulf“The English National Epic”

  • This epic, or long heroic poem, is the story of a great legendary warrior renowned for his courage, strength, and dignity.

  • Like most Anglo-Saxon poets, the author of Beowulf is unknown.

  • Likely recited as early as the 6th century, the text we have today was composed in the eighth century and not written down until the 11th century in Old English.

  • Thus the poem includes many references to Christian ideas.

  • However it is clearly evident the values of Anglo-Saxon warrior society.

What is an epic

What is an epic???

  • Epic characteristics:

  • Call upon the muse

  • Medias res: begins in the midst of things

  • Has a hero with superhuman characteristics.

  • Theme of good vs. evil

  • Presence of gods or semi-divine creatures

  • Story is told in serious manner, often in special, elevated language.

Medieval drama

Medieval Drama

  • During early Norman times the Church often sponsored plays as part of religious services.

  • The earliest dramas were miracle plays, or mystery plays, that retold stories from the Bible.

  • During the 15th century a new kind of drama emerged: the morality play. Morality plays depicted the lives of ordinary people and taught moral lessons.

A new invention

A New Invention

  • In 1454, a German silversmith, Johann Gutenberg, perfected a process of printing from movable type. Printing then spread rapidly throughout Europe, and, in 1476, William Caxton set up the first movable-type press in England.

  • As a result, English literature would no longer need to be hand-copied by church scribes.

Geoffrey chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer

  • Son of a merchant, page in a royal house, soldier, diplomat, and royal clerk, Geoffrey Chaucer saw quite a bit of the medieval world.

  • His varied experiences helped prepare him to write The Canterbury Tales.

The canterbury tales

The Canterbury Tales

  • Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales in his later years. No one knows for certain what prompted him to begin this work. Chaucer’s inspiration may have come from his own participation in a pilgrimage to Canterbury or the fact that he had the opportunity to observe many pilgrims starting their journeys since a window in his London home overlooked a pilgrim road that led to Canterbury.

The canterbury tales1

The Canterbury Tales

  • Chaucer’s plan was to share the pilgrimage of 30 characters to Canterbury. On their way, each pilgrim would share two tales and then on the way back each pilgrim would share two more tales.

  • Chaucer would only complete 22 of the projected 120 tales, but the tales still stand together as a complete working using Chaucer’s framing method.

  • This method may have been modeled after the Italian writer Boccaccio’s method which was used in the Decameron.

The canterbury tales cont

The Canterbury Tales cont…

  • Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is written in Middle English which can be heard in the following reading from The Prologue.

Chaucer s characters

Chaucer’s Characters

  • Chaucer’s characters remain today as some of the most colorful and entertaining characters in all of literature.

  • See character map on page 93 of your literature book.

  • These characters provide insight not only into medieval life and society but into the lives of all humankind.

The wife of bath

The Wife of Bath

  • The Wife of Bath is one of the more colorful characters.

  • Her tale deals with the proposition of what it is that women most desire.

  • She claims to be an expert in the ways of love.

  • Despite being married five times over.

The pardoner

The Pardoner

  • The Pardoner is one of Chaucer’s more corrupt characters.

  • He sells pardons to the highest bidder.

  • He also sells fake holy relics.

  • He preaches on the dangers of greed, but doesn’t practice what he preaches.

  • His tale deals with the saying, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”

Romances lyrics and ballads

Romances, Lyrics, and Ballads

  • Medieval romances were tales describing the adventures of knights. The most popular romances told are about King Arthur and his famed knight’s of the round table.

  • Arthur’s tales are considered to be legend, a blend of fact and fiction.

  • These tales shine light on the concepts of chivalry and courtly love.

Characteristics of the medieval romance

Characteristics of the Medieval Romance

  • Heroic figures and memorable deeds.

  • May have a damsel in distress.

  • Knight usually embarks on a quest.

  • May consist of contests or tournaments.

  • Knight faces a series of tests.


Chivalry is a system of codes followed by knights.

Rule 1: Believe in the church and obey her teachings.

Rule 2: Always obey your feudal overlord as long as those duties do not conflict with the duties to God.

Rule 3: Respect and pity the weak.


Chivalry cont

Rule 4: Love your country.

Rule 5: Refuse to retreat before your enemy.

Rule 6: Be courteous toward women.

Rule 7: Be loyal to the truth and your pledged word.

Rule 8: Be generous.

Rule 9: Champion the right and good against the forces of evil.

Chivalry cont…

Courtly love

Courtly Love

  • Courtly love is an attitude knights would carry in regard to women.

  • Conventions:


    The woman is perfect.

    The woman is unattainable.

    The knight is unworthy.

    The knight only wants a word or a smile.

    The knight is hurt by the body’s cruelty.

    The knight will never give up.

    The woman is exalted.



  • A ballad is a song that tells a story.

  • One example of a ballad is a series of ballads that share the life and adventures of Robin Hood and his band of “merrye” men.

  • Other examples would be “Lord Randall”, “Get Up and Bar the Door”, and “Barbara Allan.”

Literary terms to know

Literary terms to know:

  • Kenning- a metaphor that uses compound words like: “earth’s candle” may represent the sun.

  • Allusion- reference to another literary work or historical event.

  • Frame story- a story within a story.

  • Caesuras- rhythmic breaks in the middle of lines, where poet could pause for breath.

  • Assonance- the repetition of vowel sounds.

  • Alliteration- the repetition of initial consonant sounds.

  • Direct characterization- presents direct statements about a character.

  • Indirect characterization- uses actions, thoughts and dialogue to reveal a character’s personality.

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