Who did what first?
This is a list of "famous firsts" firsts in discovery, exploration, travel and
transportation, science, medicine, philosophy, religion, politics, sports,
culture, literature, music and the other arts. We also have an extensive
Timeline of famous firsts that follows some of our favorite capsules, which
appear immediately below in a compressed format.
In the timelines below, some dates are approximations or "educated guesses."
We have tended to use the oldest dates provided by experts, but please keep in
mind that the experts sometimes disagree by hundreds of thousands of years on
important subjects like the the development of the first human languages
(estimated from 350,000 BC to 150,000 BC). Considerable information was extracted from wiki and other public web pages (we
do not claim everything here to be stunningly original).
Our top ten most important inventions: tools/weapons, fire/cooking/smelting,
language/writing/teaching, clothing, buildings/settlements, agriculture/animal
domestication, medicine, the wheel/transportation, pottery,
Our top ten most important discoveries: Newton's laws of motion and gravity,
Einstein's special and general theories of relativity,
Our top ten most important aspects of human culture: poetry/literature, theater,
music, visual arts, dance, history, philosophy, science, architecture,
In 1620, Francis Bacon mentioned three inventions that had "changed the whole
face and state of things throughout the world." Those inventions were the
magnetic compass, paper and gunpowder. All three were critical to the far-flung
British Empire, upon which the sun famously (or infamously) never set. The
compass allowed ships to sail far from land without losing their bearings. Paper
allowed governments and merchants to keep track of their transactions and
holdings, and to communicate information and directions. Gunpowder allowed the
"more advanced" nations to impose their will on less advanced nations.
Timeline of Important Milestones
was the first human ancestor to create stone tools, circa 2,500,000 BC.
Homo Erectus was the first human ancestor to control fire, circa
The first human languages develop, circa 350,000 BC.
The first clothing, circa 170,000 BC.
Neanderthals had fashion sense, creating jewelry circa 133,00 BC.
The earliest known drawing, made with a red ocher "crayon," and the first
figurative art, circa 71,000 BC.
Paleolithic bone flutes appear to be the oldest musical instruments, circa
Cave paintings were the first human art circa 39,000 BC.
The oldest figurines/statues circa 38,000 BC. (Please note that three major art
forms appeared almost simultaneously!)
The first weaving circa 36,000 BC.
The first signs of human agriculture circa 21,000 BC.
The first permanent human settlements circa 10,000 BC.
The first alcoholic beverage (mead) circa 7,000 BC.
The first smelting of metal (lead) circa 6,500 BC.
The first wheel is invented circa 4,000 BC.
The first writing circa 3,500 BC.
The first paper (papyrus) is used in Egypt circa 3,000 BC.
The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh appears to be the earth's oldest extant
major poem and the first great work of literature, circa 2,100 BC.
The first musical notation in Sumer, circa 2,000 BC. Also the first chariots and
the first use of glass.
The first alphabet, circa 1,700 BC, in Phoenicia (modern Lebanon).
The first coins, circa 1,500 BC, in Phoenicia (modern Lebanon).
The ancient Greek poet Homer writes The Odyssey and The Iliad,
circa 800 BC.
The first Olympic Games take place in 776 BC.
The first attempts to introduce concepts of democracy on a significant scale in
ancient Greece, e.g. the democratic reforms of Cleisthenes, circa 508 BC.
Alexander the Great crossed the Indus and waged war in India in 326 BC, but his
army refused to cross the Ganges, so he explored the Persian Gulf instead.
The first compass is created in China, using lodestone, circa 200 BC.
Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon and becomes the dictator of Rome in 45 BC.
Caesar Augustus becomes the first Roman emperor in 27 BC.
Jesus Christ, the first Christian, is born circa 4 BC.
All dates from this point forward are AD.
Hero of Alexandria, born circa 10 AD, invents the first steam turbine, the first
syringe, the first windwheel, and the first coin-operated vending machine!
The first reference to gunpowder appears in China during the Eastern Han
Dynasty, in 142.
In 476, the last of the Roman emperors in the west, Romulus, is overthrown by
barbarians and the Pax Romana is no more.
The prophet Muhammad begins his dictation of the Koran circa 625.
Leif Erikson probably discovered North America circa 1000.
The First Crusade is launched in 1096, under the direction of Pope Urban.
The fire-lance, a bamboo tube filled with gunpowder and a precursor of the
firearm, is first used in China, in 1132.
The English document known as the Magna Carta established the legal principle
of habeas corpus, in 1215.
Marco Polo, born in 1254, traveled extensively in Asia and was the first
westerner to meet Kublai Khan.
The first cannon on record was used by the Mamluks (Muslim knights) against the
Mongols in 1260.
The oldest surviving personal firearm is a Chinese
hand cannon, dated to 1288.
Hand cannons or "hand gonnes" (hand guns such as the arquebus, an early musket)
were being used in Europe, circa 1350.
Johannes Gutenberg produced the first typeset book in 1440.
Christopher Columbus discovered, or rediscovered, the Americas in 1492.
Virginia Dare was the first child born in the American colonies, in 1587.
The Dutch East India Company, formed in 1602, was the first major joint-stock
Jamestown, the first major American colony, is founded in 1607.
Galileo makes his first observations of the stars with a telescope in 1609 and
soon concludes that the earth moves around the sun.
The first reflecting telescope was invented by Sir Isaac Newton in 1668.
Sir Isaac Newton publishes his laws of motion and gravity in 1686.
Ben Franklin conducted the first electrical experiment when he flew a kite
during a thunderstorm in 1752.
Captain James Cook was the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle in 1773.
The American Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, led to the creation
of the first modern democracy.
Marquis dArlandes and Pilatre de Rozier were the first men to fly in a hot-air
balloon (20 minutes), in 1783.
George Washington is elected the first president of the United States, in 1789.
Charles Babbage, born in 1791, has been called the father of the computer. The
first ten amendments to the American Constitution become known as the Bill of
Ada Lovelace, born in 1815, has been called the first computer
programmer for devising the first algorithm for
Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine. The computer language Ada was named after her.
The first telegraph is invented in 1844.
Edgar Allan Poe's 1848 poem
Eureka posited a singularity that produces the Big
Bang, an expanding universe and black holes!
James Maxwell took the first color photograph, in 1861.
DNA is discovered in 1868.
The first Transcontinental Railroad is created, connecting America's east and
west, in 1869.
Alexander Graham Bell patents the first telephone in 1876.
Thomas Edison invents the first viable light bulb in 1879.
In 1885-1886, Karl Benz built and tested the worlds first automobile powered by
an internal combustion engine.
The Wright brothers are the first human beings to achieve powered flight in an
airplane, in 1903 at Kitty Hawk.
Albert Einstein publishes his special theory of relativity, in 1905.
Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole in 1911. Also Marie
Curie became the first person ever to win two Nobel Prizes
Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the North Pole in 1926.
In 1927, Al Jolson was the star of the first talking movie, The Jazz Singer.
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, in
1928. Alexander Fleming discovers the first super-drug, penicillin.
The first atomic bombs are dropped, ending World War II. The United Nations was
created in an attempt to avoid a third world war.
The bikini was first worn in public on July 5, 1946, by Micheline Bernardini,
a dancer for the Casino de Paris.
In 1947, Chuck Yeager was the first pilot to fly faster than the speed of sound
(670 mph) in a Bell X-1 rocket.
The first McDonald's was opened in 1948. Also the first universal declaration of
human rights was adopted by the United Nations.
Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay were the first men to
climb Mt. Everest in 1953.
Roger Bannister became the first human being to run a four-minute mile, in 1954.
The first satellite, Sputnik I, was launched in 1957.
Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut, was the first man in space, in 1961.
Valentina Tereshkova was the first first woman in
space, in 1963.
Indira Gandhi was the first elected female head of state of a major nation,
India, in 1966.
Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, in 1969.
George Carlin was the first host of Saturday Night Live, in 1975.
Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister of Great Britain, in
Dolly, a lamb, was the first cloned mammal, in 1996.
Barack Obama becomes the first African-American president, in 2008.
Prehistoric or Pre-History (all dates are BCE)
2,500,000 BC Homo Habilis
is the first human ancestor to create stone tools; thus begins the Early Stone Age and
the Lower Paleolithic Era.
1,500,000 Homo Erectus is the first human ancestor to control fire.
300,000 The first fossil evidence of Homo Sapiens coincides with
ochre works at Olorgesailie, Kenya, where ochre continues to be used by natives
for adornment and art.
168,000 Humans begin to wear clothing, but nothing too stylish yet ... the
emergence of clothing, intentional burials and possible concepts of an afterlife
mark the Middle Paleolithic Era.
133,000 Neanderthals had fashion sense, as jewelry made from eagle
talons has been discovered at a Neanderthal cave at Krapina, Croatia.
108,000 Beads made from shells of Nassarius sea
snails, found at the Skhul cave in Israel, are the first known jewelry made by
humans, who are finally catching up to Neanderthals!
71,000 The earliest known drawing, made with a red ocher "crayon," is found at Blombos,
South Africa. The drawing looks like a #hashtag!
68,000 Stones with crosshatch markings found at Blombos, South
Africa, may be the first abstract or symbolic art. The Middle
Paleolithic Era concludes with modern human behavior.
50,000 The "great leap forward" includes abstract and symbolic thinking,
long-term planning, cooperative labor, trade, music, hearths, elaborate graves,
fishing and blade technology.
40,000 Paleolithic flutes made from
bones and mammoth ivory appear to be the oldest
musical instruments. Increasing organization and advancing art mark the Upper
39,000 The Altamira Cave cave paintings, near El Castillo, Spain, may be the
earth's oldest paintings and the earliest carbon-dated examples of human figurative
38,000 The Lφwenmensch figurine, aka the Lion Man of the Hohlenstein
Stadel, and the Venus of Hohle Fels may be the earth's oldest statues.
26,000 The earliest known pottery was used not as crockery, but for art: the Venus of Dolnν
Věstonice, Moravia (in the modern-day Czech Republic).
21,000 Evidence of the seeding, cultivation and grinding of grains at the
Ohalo II settlement in Israel mark the dawn of human agriculture.
10,000 The first permanent settlements and emergence of full-scale agriculture
and domesticated animals pave the way for more advanced art forms to come ...
The Dawn of Writing, Literature and History (all dates are BCE)
5000 The inventions of the wheel, the kiln, smelting (tin, lead and copper) and
set the stage for the coming Bronze Age and the dawn of poetry and other forms
3500 The Stone Age winds down; the Bronze Age revs up with metal tools and
weapons; nations form; writing develops in Sumer (Iraq); thus begins what
we call "history."
3000 Sumerian temple hymns and laments; Egyptian pyramid and
coffin texts (early epigrams); invention of paper (papyrus); the first smaller henges
are dug out locally at Stonehenge.
2700 The Egyptian physician Merit-Ptah appears to be the first woman named in
the fields of medicine and science. Her portrait appears in a
Valley of Kings tomb.
2690 A Seth-Peribsen tomb seal has the first known complete
sentence: "The golden one of Ombos has unified the two realms for his son, the
king of Lower and Upper Egypt, Peribsen."
2650 The Egyptian polymath Imhotep has
been called the first architect, engineer and physician; he designed the first
pyramid, got promoted to a god, and was worshipped by a
2500 The oldest known lyres were discovered in the tombs of the royal family
of Ur (a lyric was originally a poem sung or chanted to the strumming of a
2500 The Sumerian Kesh Temple Hymn and Instructions of uruppak
may be the earth's oldest surviving literature. This may be the approximate beginning point of literature and songwriting.
2500 Major work
takes place on Stonehenge and the Great Sphinx of Giza.
Enheduanna, daughter of King Saragon the Great,
may be the first named poet in
human history for prayers and hymns such as
The Exaltation of Inanna.
2100 The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh appears to be the earth's oldest
extant major poem and the first great work of literature.
2000 The earth's oldest love poem may be the Sumerian
Love Song of Shu-Sin. Early Minoan culture on Crete. The first
libraries in Egypt. Abraham of Ur becomes the first monotheist.
1800 The Babylonian/Akkadian Enuma Elis, Atra-Hasis and Eridu
1600 The Egyptian Book of the Dead. The Rigveda, a collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, may be the
oldest religious text still in use today.
1400 A Hurrian Cult Song from Ancient Ugarit (aka Hurrian Hymn 6) has the first
musical score and the oldest
playable melody. The first written legal codes are those of Hammurabi.
1200 The Bronze Age evolves into the Iron Age. Iron artifacts dating to
this time have been found in Anatolia (Turkey), Egypt, Jordan,
Sumer (Iraq) and Greece.
1100 The Tale of Two Brothers and The Story of Wenamun (Egypt);
Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda (Sanskrit/Indian);
Avesta of Zoroastrianism (Avestan/Persian).
1000 The first
Native American poetry such as Mayan and Aztec; early
Oriental poetry; possible birth date for Homer, author of the epic poems Odyssey and
Iliad; the Iron Age begins.
900 I Ching manual of divination (China); the Brahmanas and
early Upanishads (Sanskrit/Indian).
750 Birth of Hesiod; Celts
reach England; Hebrew proverbs; oldest Chinese poems in the
Shi Jing; Lycurgus of Sparta; first Olympic games; Rome is founded;
Nineveh's library has 22,000 clay tablets.
668 One of the most ancient extant poems was found in the oldest surviving
royal library, that of Ashurbanipal (668-630).
600 Possible date for the Bible's poetic book of Job.
600 The births of Archilochus (680), Solon (640), Sappho
of Lesbos (630) from whom we derive our terms "lesbian" and "sapphic," Aesop
(620), Lao-tse (604).
600 The ancient Greeks developed the classic forms of drama, music and poetry,
including the ode, epic, lyric, tragedy, and comedy. This became the basis of
500 Possible date for the Bible's
Song of Solomon and the Sanskrit epics
Ramayana and Mahabharata.
500 The births of Pericles (500), Sophocles
(497), Euripides (484), Socrates (470), Plato (428), Aristotle (384).
484 Aeschylus wins first prize for tragedy at the City Dionysia in
Athens. Sophocles wins in 468, Euripides in 441, Aristophanes in 425. Talk about
100 The births of Julius Caesar (100), Lucretius (99), Cato the Younger (95), Catullus (84), Virgil (70), Horace (65),
Plutarch (47), Ovid
(43), Martial (43), Lucan (39).
37 Virgil's reputation is established by his Eclogues.
23 The first three books of Horace's Odes are published.
16 A collection of witty erotic love poems, Amores, brings Ovid
success while still in his twenties. He is best known today for his
60 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the first comprehensive history of the Anglo-Saxons
composed during the reign of King Alfred the Great, has the year 60 BC as its
first dated entry.
55 Julius Caesar invades England,
creating a Roman beachhead on the coast of Kent. At this time the primary language of
the native Britons is a Celtic dialect known as Brittonic. The Britons had no
form of writing, so in that sense they remained prehistoric and their poetry was
oral. The following year, 54 BC, Julius Caesar invades again, this time using
diplomacy to bring England within the Roman sphere of influence, but conquering
no territory and leaving no Roman troops behind. However, Latin would become the
language of business, commerce and politics.
Current Era (all dates from this point forward are AD)
9 The "invincible" Roman legions suffer their bloodiest
defeat in the Battle of Teutoburg Forest and suddenly don't seem so invincible,
26 Pontius Pilate is appointed Prefect of Judea, where another revolution (and
new major religion) are percolating.
28 John the Baptist is executed by Herod Antipas in Judaea.
32 Jesus Christ is crucified in Jerusalem. The Christian religion will have
tremendous implications for the world.
43 Claudius invades England and Roman rule is
established. The first major Roman city in England, Londinium (London), is
56 Birth of Tacitus (c.56 - c.120), whose Latin histories would be a primary source of
info about the early Britons. Tacitus favorably
contrasted the liberty of Britons with the tyranny and corruption of the
60 ABCs written on a wood-and-wax tablet found in London suggest that a school
may have existed there soon after the Roman conquest.
70 The destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman legions of Titus. This will
eventually result in the diaspora of the Jews.
122 The Roman Emperor Hadrian visits England. Construction of Hadrian's Wall
127 Juvenal writes his Satires, which will influence English writers
like Samuel Johnson.
181 The stoic Meditations of Marcus Aurelius are published
posthumously. He would influence English writers like John Stuart Mill and
368 Attacks by Picts and Saxons force the Romans to abandon Hadrian's Wall.
383 Magnus Maximus launches a
bid for imperial power. He
rules Gaul and Britain as Augustus. This is the last date for
evidence of a major Roman military presence in Britain.
400 Saint Augustine writes his Confessions.
405 Saint Jerome finishes his translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible. Some of
Jerome's translation errors would end up in English translations such as the
King James Bible.
407 Constantine rallies the remaining Roman troops in Britain, leads them
across the Channel into Gaul, and establishes himself as
Emperor. Romano-Britons, having
suffered early Saxon raids, soon expel
410 Rome is sacked by the Visigoths under King Alaric. The vaunted Roman
Empire is falling apart.
430 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says
"This year Patricius [Saint Patrick] was sent ... to preach baptism to the
Scots." Patrick's Confessio (Confession), written in Latin, survives.
444 The Huns unite under Attila who sets his sights on Rome.
449 Around this time Anglo-Saxons are invading England with considerable
477 The birth of Boethius (477-524) in Rome. His Consolation of
Philosophy, called a "golden volume" by Edward Gibbon, would greatly influence
early English poets like John Gower and
500 The birth of Gildas (c.500-570), perhaps the first notable English writer we
know by name (although he was born in Scotland and wrote in Latin).
521 The birth of Saint Columba (521597), who founded the important abbey on Iona
and has been credited with three
medieval Latin hymns.
537 The Battle of Camlan has been suggested as the one where King Arthur
570 The birth of Mohammed, the first great prophet of Islam, and presumably
596 Pope Gregory makes Saint Augustine a missionary to England, where he
first Archbishop of Canterbury and baptizes Ethelbert, the first English
king to convert to Christianity.
600 Possible date for early Irish saga literature.
620 Vikings begin invasions of Ireland and will eventually take it over.
627 The birth of Adomnαn (c.627704), whose Vita
Columbae ("Life of Columba") is the first biography written in Britain.
634 The monastery at Lindisfarne is founded by Saint Aidan. Also the birth of Cuthbert, who would become Bishop of
Lindisfarne (see the entry for 685).
639 The birth of Aldhelm (c.639-709), an Anglo-Saxon aristocrat, scholar,
abbot and bishop who composed "enigmas" or riddles in Latin. If he
wrote poems in English, they have been lost.
founds the first English monastery, Whitby Abbey. Hilda is considered
to be a patron saint of learning and culture due to her
patronage of Cζdmon (see the entry for 658).
658 Caedmon's Hymn
is the first extant English poem. According to the Venerable
Bede, Caedmon was an illiterate herdsman of the Whitby monastery who was given
the gift of poetic composition by an angel.
664 During the Synod of Whitby, the Whitby Abbey aligns with the Roman
Catholic Church. This heralds a decline of the Celtic Church in England.
673 The birth of Bede (c.672-735), the great English scholar who came to be
known as the Venerable Bede and the "Father of English History."
680 Possible date for the composition of the epic Anglo-Saxon poem
Beowulf and the shorter poem Widsith, the "Far
685 Cuthbert becomes Bishop of Lindisfarne. An anonymous life of Cuthbert
written at Lindisfarne may be the oldest extant English historical writing.
700 Runic extracts from The Dream of the
Rood, the first dream poem in the English language, are carved on the Ruthwell Cross, establishing the poem's
735 Bede's death and Death Song.
757 Offa becomes King of Mercia and constructs a gigantic defensive earthwork between Mercia and Wales
called Offa's Dyke.
771 The birth of Egbert of Wessex (c. 771-839), who may have been the first
king of a somewhat united England.
778 An attack on Charlemagne's army at the pass of Roncesvalles
in the Pyrenees inspires the Chanson de Roland ("Song of
789 Viking attacks begin against the northeast English
800 Pope Leo III crowns Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor of the West.
829 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described Egbert as a
bretwalda, meaning "wide-ruler" or "Britain-ruler." Thus Egbert may have
been the first king of a united Anglo-Saxon England.
830 Ono no Komachi
wrote tanka (also known as waka), a traditional form of Japanese lyric poetry
that, along with haiku, would influence English modernists like Ezra Pound and
T. S. Eliot.
842 Vikings raid London, Rochester, and Southampton.
853 Viking invaders take over Ireland.
849 The birth of King Alfred the Great (c. 849-899), one of England's greatest kings (as
his appellation suggests). Alfred was one of the first known writers of English
871 Alfred the Great unites the Anglo-Saxons, defeats the Danes and becomes
the first king of a united England.
874 Iceland is settled by Norsemen.
875 Norsemen attack Paris, are awarded Normandy and become known as
the Normans (who would later invade and conquer England under William the Conqueror).
886 King Alfred the Great captures London from the Danes.
890 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the first comprehensive attempt at an English
history. It has been called "the single most important source for the history of
England in Anglo-Saxon times."
900 Deor, a scop, is writing poems such as
950 A possible first extant English poem written by a woman is
Wulf and Eadwacer; another contender is
The Wife's Lament.
975 St. Aethelwold's Regularis Concordia is the first evidence of
dramatic activity in England.
985 Eric the Red begins the Norse colonization of
Greenland. His son Leif Ericsson would discover North America and winter in
Canada almost 500 years before Columbus.
1000 The first known limerick ("The lion is wondrous strong") appears
1028 The birth of William of Normandy, also known as the Bastard and the
Conqueror. He was of Norse stock, the descendant of Vikings.
1031 The Book of Life was an earthly prequel to the heavenly
Day of Judgment.
1040 Macbeth kills Duncan at the battle at Elgin and rules as King of Scots.
Shakespeare would write one of his most famous plays about the goings-on.
1042 King Edward the Confessor reigns as king of all England.
1048 The birth of Omar Khayyαm, a Persian polymath, scholar,
mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and poet who is widely considered to be
one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages.
1054 The Great Schism of the Roman Catholic Church.
1066 Edward the Confessor dies and Harold Godwinson inherits his
throne. William the Conqueror defeats him at the Battle of Hastings,
becoming King William I of England; this Norman Conquest of England marks the end of the Anglo-Saxon or Old
Anglo-Norman or Middle English Period (1066-1332)
1068 The chansons de geste ("songs of heroic deeds"), performed by
professional minstrels in castles and manors, celebrate the exploits of
Charlemagne―the greatest of French kings―and his paladins.
1085 The birth of Orderic Vitalis (1075c. 1142), an English historian who wrote a chronicle of Anglo-Norman England. He called himself Angligena ("English-born"). Thus we see the "Angle" in
1086 William I orders surveys of his English holdings, recorded in
the Domesday Book, and notifies the Pope that England owes no allegiance to Rome, the
first British rift with the Vatican. Possible date for The
Song of Roland.
1095 The First Crusade.
1096 There is evidence of teaching at Oxford, which would become home to the
first English university (see the entry at 1117).
1100 Henry I reigns.
1117 The first English university, Oxford, is founded. It has
a "growth spurt" when King Henry II bans English students from attending the
University of Paris in 1167.
1130 Possible date for the birth of the Archpoet.
1189 Richard I, aka Richard Cur de Lion ("Richard the Lionheart") reigns; he
joins the Third Crusade while his brother John acts as regent.
1199 King John reigns after Richard I dies in France.
How Long the Night
("Myrie it is while sumer
ylast") is one of the great early rhyming poems of the Middle English period; it
remains largely understandable to modern readers.
1207 Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī
(12071273), was a Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, and Sufi mystic. Rumi has been described as the "most popular poet" in the United States.
1208 The University of Cambridge is founded when violence between Oxford
townspeople and students makes another campus seem like a good idea.
1215 The Magna Carta forces
King John to grant liberties and rights to English nobles in return for taxation
(although the document was drafted in French).
1216 Henry III reigns.
1219 The birth of Roger Bacon (c. 12191292), the Doctor Mirabilis
Sumer is icumen in came with a musical score and instructions
for singing it in rounds, although the instructions were written in Latin!
Considered a rondel because it is "round" or cyclical in form, it is one of the oldest
lyrics that can
still be sung to its original melody. Other early rhyming poems that may predate the first major
English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, include
Fowles in the Frith,
am of Irlaunde ("I am of Ireland"),
Now Goeth Sun Under Wood,
Pity Mary, Ubi Sunt Qui Ante Nos Fuerunt? ("Where are now those
who lived before us?") and Alison. While Germanic, French and
Latin influences remain, the robust English language is coming into its own and
is about to claim primacy. Meanwhile, a new form of poetry is being written
in northern Italy: the dolce stil nuovo
("sweet new style").
1263 Balliol College is founded at Oxford.
1265 The birth of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), generally considered to be one of the
world's greatest poets, comparable to Homer and Shakespeare. Simon de Montfort summons the first
directly-elected English Parliament.
1272 Edward I ("Longshanks") reigns, and is crowned upon his return from the
Ninth Crusade (the last major crusade).
1277 Roger Bacon is exiled for heresy.
1292 Dante's Vita Nuova ("New Life") explores his love for Beatrice,
which appears to have been unrequited.
1295 The "Model Parliament" is England's first representative parliament
(i.e., giving ordinary citizens a voice in their government).
1296 Edward I defeats the Scots, seizes the throne, and removes the
Stone of Scone to Westminster.
1304 The birth of Francesco Petrarch, the creator of
the sonnet ("little song"). Petrarch would be a major influence on early
modern English poets like Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard.
1305 William Wallace is executed for treason.
1306 Robert Bruce is crowned King of Scotland; Edward I dies on his way north
to invade Scotland.
1307 Edward II reigns. Dante begins his Divina Commedia ("Divine Comedy").
1317 Dante's Inferno.
1320 The Birth of John Wyclif or Wycliffe aka Doctor Evangelicus. He would be an
important translator of the Bible into English. Wycliffe has been
called "England's first European mind."
1328 The Scots win independence from England.
1332 English replaces French in the British Parliament and courts, heralding the
end of the Anglo-Norman era. From this point forward the most important English
poets―Chaucer, Gower, Langland, Skelton, Dunbar, et al―will write in some form
of native English, or in multiple languages. For instance, Gower wrote in
English, French and Latin.
Late Medieval or Chaucerian Period (1340-1486)
1340 The birth of Geoffrey Chaucer.
before Shakespeare, Chaucer would create unforgettable characters like
the Wife of Bath. These are the first "developed"
literary characters in English literature. John Dryden called Chaucer the
"father of English poetry."
1341 Petrarch is crowned Poet Laureate in Rome.
1342 The birth of Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), an English anchorite whose
visions would influence T. S. Eliot's "Four Quartets." She would become the
English language's first published writer.
1348 The Black Death kills one-third of the population of England; the
Chronicle of the Black Death records the horror.
1350 Boccaccio's Decameron. Around this time there is an
"Alliterative Revival" in England, with the Gawain/Pearl poet and others
employing the methods of the Anglo-Saxon scops.
1356 Edward III's eldest son, the Black Prince, is
victorious in France; England now controls most of southwest France.
1357 Geoffrey Chaucer becomes a page to Elizabeth de Burgh, the Countess of Ulster. Chaucer's future wife, Philippa
Pan, is also a member of the household.
1369 The birth of the English poet Thomas Hoccleve, an early confessional poet
and one of the first English poets to leave manuscripts written in his own
1370 The birth of the English poet John Lydgate, a penner of devotional
poems; he was one of the earliest English poets known to have worn spectacles.
1376 The first record of the York mystery plays; these were English verse
plays acted out on pageant wagons with moveable stages.
Wycliffe is brought on charges of heresy before William Courtenay, the Bishop of
London, on February 19, 1377.
1378 The "Western Schism" results in three different popes being elected
1379 Chaucer begins The House of Fame, written in rhyming
1380 The Pope charges John Wycliffe with heresy.
1381 Watt Tyler and the poet John Ball lead the Peasants' Revolt in response
to a poll tax and march on London.
1382 John Wycliffe translates the Bible into English, introducing
over 1,000 new words into the language..
1384 John Wycliffe suffers a stroke during mass and dies; his writings
would establish the basis of Puritanism.
1385 Chaucer's Troilus and Criseydet has been called "the first
modern novel" although it was written in rhyming verse. It appears to be the
first major English poem to be written in iambic pentameter.
1387 Chaucer begins work on his masterpiece The Canterbury Tales,
the first major work of still-largely-readable English literature.
1388 Juliana Berners (1388-?) is the first English woman verse writer whose
name and work we know today. She was a prioress who wrote
about hawking, hunting and fishing.
1390 The first English cookbook, the Forme of Cury ("Form of
Cookery"). John Gower completes his Confessio
Amantis, the first English translated into continental languages.
1394 Charles D'Orleans (1394-1465), a grandson of Charles V of France, is born; a master
of the ballade and rondeau, he would write poetry in French and
1395 Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love is the first
book in the English language by a female author.
1400 The alliterative Morte Arthure ("Death of Arthur"). Chaucer is the first
poet to be buried in the "Poet's Corner" of Westminster Abbey.
1403 Sir Henry Percy, aka Sir Harry Hotspur, is slain at the
Battle of Shrewsbury.
Hotspur would become one of Shakespeare's best-known characters.
1409 The Pope orders John Wycliffe's books to be burned.
1429 Joan of Arc, a French peasant girl, begins her campaign to drive
the English from France, with considerable success.
1430 A "haunting riddle-chant" from this era is
I Have a Yong Suster. A similar haunting poem is the
Corpus Christi Carol.
1431 Joan of Arc is burned at the stake as a witch; Henry VI is crowned King
of France in Paris.
1440 Eton College is founded. Duke Humphrey donates a library of 600 books to
1450 Robin Hood and the Monk is one of the earliest popular ballads.
1455 The Guttenberg Bible
is the first book printed with moveable
1473 William Caxton prints the first typeset English book, his
History of Troy.
Caxton would also publish the first book by an Englishwoman,
The Moral Proverbs of Christine de Pisan.
1476 William Caxton prints Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
1477 The first and oldest surviving Valentine's letter in the English language
was written by Margery Brews to her fiancι John Paston in February 1477.
1478 The birth of Sir Thomas More, author of Utopia.
1484 William Caxton prints Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde.
1485 Henry Tudor defeats and kills Richard III in the
last major battle of the Wars of the Roses; Henry Tudor becomes
King Henry VII. Thus begins the Tudor Period, which marks the
end of the Middle Ages in England.
1486 Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York, uniting the houses of Lancaster and
York and cementing the Tudor dynasty.
Early Modern English: the English Renaissance and the Tudor and Elizabethan Periods (1486-1618)
1492 Columbus discovers the Americas.
1497 John Cabot discovers Newfoundland.
1503 The birth of Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542), called
"the Father of English Poetry." William
Sweet Rose of Virtue.
1504 Leonardo Da Vinci paints the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo finishes
his masterpiece David.
1508 Michelangelo begins to paint the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. William Dunbar's
Lament for the Makaris .
1509 Henry Tudor marries Catherine of Aragon and reigns as King Henry VIII.
1515 William Tyndale, despite being a student of theology, a subdeacon and
possessing a Master of Arts, is not allowed to read the Bible! He will risk his
life to change that.
1516 Sir Thomas More's Utopia is published by Erasmus.
1517 Martin Luther, a professor of moral theology at Wittenberg, publishes his 95 theses against the Roman Catholic Church,
kick-starting the Protestant Reformation.
1518 Henry VIII, although better known today for beheading his wives, is a musician and
composer who creates a royal songbook.
1519 John Skelton, a "renegade humanist," attacks the powerful Cardinal Wolsey
in Collyn Clout. Wolsey would send Skelton to prison for his
1521 Martin Luther's protestant writings hit England. Pope Leo X declares King Henry VIII the Fidei Defensor
(Defender of the Faith) for attacking Luther's theology.
1522 John Skelton's A Ballade of the Scottysshe Kynge may be the
first printed English ballad.
1525 William Tyndale is working on his English translation of the New
Testament, possibly in Wittenberg (where Martin Luther started the Protestant
1526 Thomas Wyatt travels to Italy and returns with a passion for the sonnets
of Petrarch; he begins to translate Petrarch and Horace into
1527 Henry VIII seeks the Pope's permission to divorce
Catherine of Aragon but is refused, leading to Henry's
subsequent "divorce" from the Roman Catholic Church.
1529 Henry VIII declares himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England.
The "Reformation Parliament" passes legislation that will lead to the English
1533 Henry VIII marries Anne Boleyn; Pope Clement
VII excommunicates Henry. Thomas Wyatt's sonnet
Whoso List to Hunt
may have been written with Boleyn in mind.
1534 Around this time, Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard introduce the English
sonnet, modeled after the Petrarchan sonnet.
1535 Sir Thomas More is executed for refusing to recognize Henry VIII as the
head of the Church of England. Thomas Cromwell
begins to seize the Roman Catholic Church's assets.
1536 Anne Boleyn is beheaded; Henry VIII marries his third wife, Jane Seymour.
Thomas Wyatt, imprisoned in the Tower of London for his alleged affair with
Boleyn, may have written
Whoso List to Hunt
around this time.
Howard develops the first English blank verse in his translation of the Aeneid. Half a
century later, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare would employ blank
verse in their most famous plays.
1539 The Prayer Book Rebellion occurs when Catholics object to
the imposition of teachings of the Protestant Reformation.
1540 Henry VIII marries his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, but the
marriage is annulled and Henry
marries his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Thomas Cromwell is executed for
1542 Catherine Howard is executed for treason. James V of Scotland dies and is
succeeded by his six-day-old daughter Mary (later, Mary Queen of Scots). Sir
Thomas Wyatt dies.
1543 Henry VIII marries Catherine Parr, his sixth and last
1545 The approximate birth of Isabella Whitney (1545?-1573?), the first
Englishwoman to publish her verses.
1546 Henry Howard is arrested and charged with high treason.
1547 Henry Howard is beheaded on the order of Henry VIII, who dies the same
year. Thomas Warton called Howard the first classical English poet. King Edward VI reigns at age nine, but is sickly.
The birth of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), who has been
suggested as the "real" Shakespeare by a number of "Oxfordians."
1553 Edward VI dies; his will appoints Lady Jane Grey as his
successor; his sister Mary deposes her and reigns as Mary I.
1554 Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger leads a revolt to depose Mary I, who was
Catholic and considering a marriage to the Catholic Philip of Spain; the revolt
is crushed and Wyatt and Lady Jane Grey are executed.
1555 "Bloody Mary" begins her brutal persecution of Protestants; she has 283
religious dissenters killed, most of them burned at the stake, including the
Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer.
1557 Henry Howard's translation of the Aeneid is published. Tottel's Miscellany, perhaps the first modern English
anthology, includes poems by Howard and the elder
1558 Mary I dies childless; Queen Elizabeth I reigns; thus begins the
1559 The birth of the English poet George Chapman, who would author more than
twenty plays and translate Homer. Chapman has been suggested as the "rival poet"
mentioned by Shakespeare in his work.
1560 The birth of
Sir John Harington (1560-1612), an English poet and
inventor of the flush toilet!
1561 The birth of the English poet Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke
(1561-1621), translator of the Psalms, the first notable female English poet,
and the sister of Philip Sidney.
1564 The births of the English poets and playwrights Christopher Marlowe and
William Shakespeare. The birth of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).
1565 Sir Walter Raleigh, a poet and explorer, is the first European to bring potatoes and tobacco back from
the New World.
1566 Isabella Whitney's Sweet Nosegay is the first volume of verses
published by an Englishwoman.
1568 Mary, Queen of Scots, flees to England and is imprisoned by Elizabeth.
1569 The birth of the English poet Emilia Lanyer
(1569-1645), who has been proposed as Shakespeare's mistress.
1578 Sir Philip Sidney writes a
masque in Elizabeth's honor and begins work on his popular Old Arcadia,
the most popular English prose narrative of its period.
1579 Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender
has been called "the first
work of the English literary Renaissance."
1583 Sir Philip Sidney marries the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham.
1584 Walter Ralegh founds the first American colony, names it Virginia after
Elizabeth I (the "Virgin Queen"), and is knighted.
1587 Mary, Queen of Scots, is executed at Fotheringhay Castle on charges of
treason. Sir Walter Ralegh is appointed captain of the Queen's guard.
1588 England defeats a Spanish Armada of 130 ships; the
resulting English dominance of the seas greatly enhances the prospects of the
British Empire. Christopher Marlowe writes Doctor Faustus.
1589 William Shakespeare's first play may have been The Two Gentlemen of
Verona. Walter Ralegh visits Edmund Spenser and helps him publish the first three books of
The Faerie Queene.
1590 Shakespeare's plays The Taming of the Shrew, Henry VI, Titus
Andronicus, Richard III, Edward III, The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labor Lost,
and Romeo and Juliet may have been written around 1590.
1591 Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella is the first major
sonnet sequence in the English language.
Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd share lodgings in London.
1592 Shakespeare is called an "upstart crow" by Robert Greene.
1593 Christopher Marlowe is murdered. Sir Walter Ralegh is released from the Tower of London and
becomes a member of Parliament.
1594 Richard Burbage assembles a group of actors called the Lord Chamberlain's
Men: members include his son Richard Burbage and
William Shakespeare. Edmund Spenser
1595 Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream.
1596 Shakespeare's plays King John and The Merchant of Venice. Edmund Spenser's
Prothalamion, a nuptial song he wrote for the double marriage of the
daughters of the Earl of Worchester.
1597 Shakespeare's plays Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Francis Bacon's Essays; John Dowland's The First Booke of
Songes or Ayres; George Chapman's translation of Homer's Illiad.
1598 Shakespeare's plays Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing. Shakespeare acts in Ben Jonson's play Sejanus.
The Lord Chamberlain's Men dismantle The Theatre and
use its beams to construct The Globe.
1599 Shakespeare's plays Julius Caesar, As You Like It and
Twelfth Night. The Globe Theater opens; William Shakespeare owns 12.5% of
1601 The first performance of Shakespeare's play Hamlet.
1602 The first major joint-stock company, the Dutch East India Company is
1603 The death of Queen Elizabeth I; James VI of Scotland becomes King James I of
England; thus begins the Jacobean Period. Sir Walter Ralegh is sent to the Tower of
London on charges of treason.
1604 Shakespeare is granted a coat of arms; Othello is first
performed and includes one of the earliest English limericks; James I becomes a
patron of Shakespeare's acting company.
1605 Shakespeare's plays King Lear and Macbeth.
1606 John Donne contemplates suicide and writes
Biathanotos, an early justification of suicide.
birth of John Harvard (1607-1638), who would found Harvard University.
1608 The birth of the English poet John Milton (1608-1674). John Donne
begins to write his Holy Sonnets.
1609 Shakespeare publishes his Sonnets.
1610 Galileo claims the earth moves around the sun.
Shakespeare employs limerick meter in Stephanos drinking song in The
1611 The King James Bible is published in still-readable English.
Emilia Lanyer's words attributed to Eve have been called "the first clear
glimmer of English feminism in verse."
1612 Heretics are burned at the stake in England for the last time.
1613 The Globe Theatre burns during a performance of Shakespeare's late play Henry
VIII, which may have been co-written with John Fletcher.
1614 Sir Walter Ralegh's History of the World. It was composed while
he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on charges of treason.
1616 The death of William Shakespeare. George Chapman's complete translations
of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey
Poets at War with Each Other: The Cavaliers, the
Reformation and the Restoration (1617-1675)
1617 Sir Walter
Ralegh is released from the Tower of London and sets sail in search of El Dorado,
the fabled city of gold.
1618 Sir Walter Ralegh fails in his last expedition to find El Dorado and upon
his return to England is executed on trumped-up charges of treason.
1620 The Pilgrims set sail for America in the Mayflower; they land at Cape Cod
and found the New Plymouth colony.
1623 Shakespeare's First Folio, a
collection of his plays, is published by a syndicate. Ben Jonson had a financial stake
in the folio and wrote an elegy for Shakespeare (one of poetry's first blurbs?).
1627 Robert Herrick is appointed Dean Prior of Devon. John Donne preaches the
funeral sermon for George Herbert's mother.
1628 Ann Dudley marries, becoming Anne Bradstreet. The birth of the English poet and writer John Bunyan,
best known for his allegorical novel Pilgrim's Progress.
1629 John Milton composes his first important poem, On the Morning of Christ's Nativity,
while still a student at Cambridge.
1630 Sir John Suckling, a Cavalier poet, is knighted. Suckling is credited
with inventing cribbage. He was said to have been the most skilled card player
and bowler in England.
1637 Charles I authorizes an Anglican Booke of Common Prayer. The
prayer book caused riots which led to the Bishop's War of 1639 and the Puritan
Revolution of 1645. In the end Charles lost his crown, and his head.
1639 Charles I raises an army of 20,000 troops and invades Scotland in an
attempt to impose his will (and prayer book) on the Scots.
Behn (1640-1689) would become England's first female professional writer. The Bay Psalm Book
is the first book printed in North America.
1641 The first English domestic news publication is
Diurnalls, followed by Weekly Accounts, Mercuries and
1642 The birth of Isaac Newton, on Christmas Day. Galileo Galilei dies
under house arrest by the Roman Catholic inquisition.
1644 The birth of the Japanese haiku master,
Matsuo Bashō. Haiku would
have a tremendous influence on English modernists like Ezra Pound and T. S.
Eliot; they prized its conciseness, imagery and lack of ornamentation.
1645 Under the influence of Puritans like Oliver Cromwell, Parliament bans
Christmas celebrations, including caroling.
1647 Charles I attempts to escape from captivity on the Isle of Wight.
1649 Charles I is found guilty of high treason by the Rump Parliament, is
sentenced to death, then executed by beheading. John Milton publishes an explicit defense of the regicide.
1650 Anne Bradstreet's The Vanity of All Worldly Things is the first
notable poem by an American poet.
1652 John Milton publishes a defense of the English people in Latin. He also
publishes a sonnet dedicated to Oliver Cromwell ("Cromwell, our chief of men
1653 Oliver Cromwell is made England's Lord Protector and Regent.
1658 Oliver Cromwell's death throws England back into chaos. As the republic
begins to disintegrate, John Milton continues to write treatises in favor of a
1660 King Charles II is handed the British crown and throne in the
1665 While King Charles II holds court in Oxford to avoid the
plague, the first newspaper is published: the Oxford Gazette. When
Charles returns to London it becomes the London Gazette.
1666 The Great Fire of London destroyed
many of the city's presses. Book and ballad prices skyrocket due to the laws of
supply and demand.
1667 John Milton's masterpiece Paradise Lost
is published in ten books.
1670 Aphra Behn becomes the first
Englishwoman to make a living by writing; her first play The Forc'd Marriage
1671 John Milton's Paradise Regained and Samson
Agonistes are published.
The Augustan or Metaphysical Period (1675-1749)
1681 Andrew Marvell's To His Coy Mistress, his best-known poem,
is published in a collection three years after his death.
1682 John Dryden's satirical poem Mac Flecknoe is published.
1688 The birth of the English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1784). Pope, described
as a "delicate precocious boy," suffered from Pott's disease, which stunted his
growth and left him with a severe hunchback.
1689 The birth of the English poet
Mary Wortley (Lady Mary Wortley Montagu). Denied a classical
education because of her sex, she was educated at home and taught herself Latin
in her father's library.
1694 The birth of the highly influential French writer and philosopher
This is a rough beginning time for the first American negro spirituals,
which would lead to gospel music, the blues, jazz and eventually rock'n'roll.
1704 Jonathan Swift's A Tale of a Tub satirizes the abuses of
1707 England and Scotland are―finally!―officially united as the Kingdom of
Great Britain. At this time Ireland is not included.
1711 Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele publish the Spectator, a
1717 Franηois-Marie Arouet is sent to the Bastille for writing scandalous
poems. While in prison or soon thereafter he adopts the name "Voltaire."
1718 Alexander Pope makes a handsome living from his translations of Homer and
is able to buy a villa with a grotto and gardens in Twickenham.
1719 Daniel Defoe's The Life and Strange
Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe has been called the first
1726 Jonathan Swift's
Gulliver's Travels is published.
1744 The early limerick "Hickory Dickory Dock" appears in Tom Thumb's Pretty
Songbook. Alexander Pope dies.
1746 Samuel Johnson contracts to produce his landmark Dictionary of the
The Romantic Era (1750-1824)
1750 The French Romantic philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau becomes famous for his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences.
Rousseau is a deist, a free thinker and a heretic.
1751 Denis Diderot's Encyclopaedia is published between 1751 and 1772
(in 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of engravings).
1752 Birth of the English poet
called the "marvellous boy" by William Wordsworth in his poem "Resolution and
1753 Phillis Wheatley, the first notable African-American poet, is born
somewhere in Africa, perhaps in Senegal.
1755 Samuel Johnson publishes the first major English dictionary,
A Dictionary of the English Language.
1757 The birth of the English romantic poet William Blake,
the son of a haberdasher. Blake was perhaps the greatest of the
English Romantic poets and one of England's greatest visual artists and engravers.
1758 Voltaire completes Candide,
or Optimism. It lampoons the ideas that "this is the best of all possible
worlds," that "things work out for the best" and that "God is in control."
1759 The birth of the Scottish romantic poet
generally considered to be the greatest Scottish poet of all time and notable
for his "lucid pathos."
1760 The beginning of the Industrial Revolution, a significant influence on
the Romantic and Modernist movements. The first publication of
Mother Goose's Melodies includes limericks like "Hickory Dickory Dock."
1763 Around the tender age of ten, Thomas Chatterton
writes his first poem, On the Last Epiphany, or Christ Coming to
Judgment. It appeared in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal on Jan. 8,
1764 Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto has been called an early
Romantic work and the first gothic novel.
1773 Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral
is the first book of poetry by an Afro-American slave; her poetry was praised by
George Washington and John Hancock.
1774 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe publishes The Sorrows of Young Werther,
perhaps the first major work of German Romanticism; it has been called the first
best-seller and made Goethe a celebrity.
1775 British troops sing "Yankee Doodle" to mock American colonists; the
colonists defiantly adopt the song as their own.
1776 The American colonies declare independence with words
written in ringing iambic pentameter by Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin: "We
hold these truths to be self-evident ..."
1786 Robert Burns has the poems "To a Mouse," "To a Louse," "A Winter Night" and "To a
Mountain Daisy" published in Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect.
1788 The birth of George Gordon, Lord Byron
(1788-1824). Goethe called Byron "undoubtedly the greatest genius of our
century." Byron invented the Byronic hero, patterned after himself.
1789 Start of the French Revolution. The upheavals in France would
greatly influenced the artists and writers of the Romantic Movement.
1791 Thomas Paine's Rights
of Man. Voltaire's remains are brought to Paris for entombment in the
Pantheon; the procession is attended by a million people.
1792 The birth of Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792-1822). Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women.
Percy Bysshe Shelley would marry Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter.
1794 William Blake's Songs of Experience is published; Blake's "The
Tyger" is the most anthologized poem in the English language.
1798 Lyrical Ballads, written primarily by William
Wordsworth with contributions by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is published. It
would greatly influence the Romantic and Modernist movements.
1803 The Napoleonic Wars begin when Great Britain declares war on France.
1804 William Blake begins working on
Milton and Jerusalem. Blake is accused of high treason after
giving a soldier a hard time, but is acquitted.
Byron leaves England, swims the Hellespont, and begins composing the first two
cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Percy Bysshe Shelley enters
University College, Oxford.
1812 The U.S. and Great Britain fight the War of 1812. The birth of Charles
Dickens (1812-1870), "the first great writer to tackle the essentially modern
problem of the discontents of an urban civilization."
1814 Oxford University expels the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley for writing a
tract on the necessity of atheism.
1815 Napoleon escapes from Elba and raises an army, but loses at Waterloo and
surrenders. This marks the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
1815 The birth of Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate child of Lord Byron. She
may have has the first computer
programmer because she formulated the first algorithm for
Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine. The computer language Ada was named after her.
1817 New Orleans designates "Congo Square" as an official site for slave music
and dance. Was this a step toward the blues and jazz?
1818 The novel Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is a
landmark Gothic/Romantic work, but also an early work of science fiction,
with electricity being harnessed to create life.
1821 John Keats dies at age twenty-five; Percy Bysshe Shelley writes the long
poem Adonias as a tribute to him.
1822 Percy Bysshe Shelley drowns in a boating accident at age thirty, on the
Don Juan, with a book of Keats' poems in his pocket.
1830 Walt Whitman, age eleven, drops out of school but never stops reading.
The birth of the early modernist American poet Emily
1835 Edgar Allan Poe's The Unparalled
Adventure of One Hans Pfaall is an early example of science fiction about a
balloon trip to the moon. Poe may thus be called a father of science fiction.
1836 Charles Dickens has success with the serial publication of The
The Victorian Era and Pre-Modernism (1837-1901)
1837 Queen Victoria takes the throne of the United Kingdom, leading to what
has become known as tame and staid Victorianism. Charles Dickens publishes
1841 Edgar Allan Poe invents the
first modern detective story with The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
1843 The Christy Minstrels form; they perform in blackface and are very
popular. The group pays Stephen C. Foster $15,000 for exclusive rights to his
song "Old Folks at Home."
1844 The birth of the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). Hopkins
is notable for his eclectic style and use of "sprung rhythm."
1845 Edgar Allan Poe writes and publishes his most famous poem, The Raven.
It becomes a "popular sensation" and makes Poe a household name.
1846 Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning secretly marry at St.
Marylebone Church in London: they would become poetry's first "super
couple." Adolphe Sax invents the saxophone.
1847 Emily Bronte publishers her dark gothic
masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Her sister Charlotte Bronte publishes
Jane Eyre under the pseudonym "Currer Bell."
1848 The German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
publish The Communist Manifesto.
1848 Edgar Allan Poe's poem
Eureka posits a singularity that produces the Big
Bang (a theory that didn't achieve mainstream acceptance until more than a
century later, in the 1960s). Poe
also predicts an expanding universe and black holes.
David Thoreau delivers a lecture on civil disobedience, a concept that would
appeal to Leo Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
1849 Edgar Allan Poe dies. Poe was a pioneer of the "art for art's sake"
movement, the symbolist movement, science fiction, the detective story, and the
1851 Stephen Foster writes "Old Folks at Home" for a minstrel show; it is
published in sheet music. Herman Melville publishes
Moby Dick, which he dedicates to Nathaniel Hawthorne.
1854 Henry David Thoreau publishes his
best-known work, Walden. Robert Frost later wrote: "In one book ... he
surpasses everything we have had in America."
1855 Walt Whitman self-publishes his revolutionary book of free verse poems,
Leaves of Grass.
1859 Charles Darwin publishes
On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, intensifying what has
been called the "Victorian crisis of faith."
1860 Charles Dickens publishes Great Expectations.
1861 The Confederates attack Fort Sumter, starting the Civil War.
Jules Verne works on his first science fiction
novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon.
1862 Emily Dickinson's "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers" is published; hers
is one of the first and most unique voices of modernism.
1863 Samuel Langhorne Clemens uses the penname "Mark Twain" for the first
1865 The Civil War ends. Slavery is abolished by the Thirteenth
Amendment. Abraham Lincoln is assassinated. Walt Whitman publishes his elegy
for Lincoln, "When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd."
1867 Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach has been called a masterpiece of
Early Modernism, employing irregular rhyme and form, skepticism, pessimism, and
exhibiting a crisis of faith in both God and mankind.
1875 Gerard Manley Hopkins resumes writing poetry with his long poem "The
Wreck of the Deutschland."
1876 George Eliot publishes Daniel Deronda.
1878 Carl Sandburg, an American poet, is born. Henry James's novel The
1879 Wallace Stevens, an American poet, is born. E. M.
Forster, an English novelist, is born.
1880 Ten years after the death of Charles Dickens, George Eliot dies. Thus the
High Victorian era lapses into the Late Victorian.
1881 Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman were among the first
gay poets to "come out of the closet." Tony Pastor creates what we now call
Henry James's novel A Portrait of a Lady.
birth of the English modernist writer Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). William Butler Yeats writes his first poems around
1883 Alfred Tennyson accepts a peerage, becoming Lord Alfred Tennyson. He was
the first British subject to be made a lord for his writing. William Carlos
Williams, an American poet, is born.
1884 Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn takes a strong stand against
racism and slavery. Huck says he would rather go to hell then turn in his friend
Jim, the escaped slave.
1885 Ezra Pound, an American modernist poet and critic, is born. William Butler Yeats's
first poems are published in the Dublin University Review.
1886 H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), an American modernist poet, is born. Robert Louis Stevenson's novels Kidnapped
and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
1888 T. S. Eliot, perhaps the greatest of the modernist poets, is born. Columbia Records, the first major
American record label, is founded.
1890 Emily Dickinson's poems are published posthumously.
William James publishes Principles of Psychology, a book that would
influence the Modernists.
1892 Wakt Whitman prepares the final edition of Leaves of Grass,
known as the "Deathbed Edition." Tommy Turpin's "Harlem Rag" is the first known
1893 The birth of the great English war (or anti-war) poet Wilfred Owen
(1893-1918). William Butler Yeats publishes The Rose and The Celtic Twilight.
1894 E. E. Cummings, an American poet, is born. William Butler Yeats has an
affair with Olivia Shakespear. Rudyard Kipling writes The Jungle Book.
1895 Scott Joplin publishes ragtime. Buddy Bolden has been credited with the
countermelody of jazz. H. G. Wells writes the early science fiction
novel The Time Machine.
1896 The first radio
technology. Thomas Hardy's last novel, Jude the
Obscure, is considered "shocking" and he turns to poetry for the last 30
years of his life.
1897 Scott Joplin popularizes ragtime, giving birth to the popular music industry. Jimmie
Rogers, the "father of country music," is born. H. G. Wells writes The Invisible Man.
1898 Thomas Hardy's Wessex Poems. Oscar Wilde's long poem The Ballad of
Reading Gaol. H. G. Wells writes The War of the Worlds.
1899 Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" is published and becomes the first
ragtime hit with over 100,000 copies sold. Duke Ellington is born.
1900 Thomas Hardy pens "The
Darkling Thrush" and dates it December 31, 1900, which he considers to be the
last day of the old century. Queen Victoria died a few days later, marking the
end of the Victorian Era. Sigmund Freud publishes Interpretation of Dreams,
which became an important influence on the Modernists.
Early Modernism and the Edwardian Period (1901-1910)
1901 Sears, Roebuck and Co. is selling record players to the public, setting
the stage for the coming explosion of record sales. Edward VII assumes the British throne,
beginning the Edwardian Period.
1902 Victor Records issues the first known recording of
black music. Pianist Jelly Roll Morton claims
to have invented jazz this year. Buddy Bolden creates a fusion
of blues and ragtime.
1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright fly the first airplane at Kitty Hawk. W.
C. Handy sees a bluesman playing a guitar with a knife (the first "pick"?).
1905 Albert Einstein presents his Special Theory of Relativity. Time
and space were no longer infinite or absolute; everything was suddenly relative.
1907 James Joyce's Chamber Music. The first wireless broadcast of
classical music is produced in New York.
1908 Ezra Pound leaves America for London. Alcohol is banned in North Carolina and Georgia,
1909 Two T. E Hulme poems launch the early modernist movement called Imagism. Hulme forms the Secession Club
and Ezra Pound soon joins. Robert Peary reaches the North Pole.
1910 Rudyard Kipling writes his most famous poem, "If." The NAACP is
founded. Marie Curie, the first great female scientist, isolates radium. King George V assumes the British
throne, beginning the Georgian Period. Virginia Woolf writes
that "in or about December 1910, human character changed." The change became
known as "modernism" (one aspect of modernism is that the
"complexity of modern urban life must be reflected in literary form.")
The Georgian Period (1910-1936), World War I and the Modernists
1911 Ezra Pound's Canzoni is published in London.
Irving Berlin completes his first hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band." The birth of the American playwright Tennessee Williams.
1912 Harriet Munroe founds the literary journal Poetry with Ezra
Pound contributing. The Titanic sinks, inspiring Thomas Hardy's "The Convergence
of the Twain." W. C. Handy is playing the blues.
1913 Ezra Pound's Imagist manifesto and
anthology Des Imagistes. The word "jazz" first appears in print. Igor
Stravinsky's avant-garde musical composition and ballet The Rite of Spring.
1914 Great Britain enters World War I by declaring war on Germany. The Panama
Canal opens to commercial traffic. T. S. Eliot meets Ezra Pound for the first
time, in London.
1915 The last issue of Blast includes the first poems of T. S. Eliot
to be published in England. Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity.
1916 James Joyce publishes his
autobiographical modernist novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia will have worldwide repercussions.
1917 The U.S. enters World War I and begins to dominate international affairs.
1918 Wilfred Owen writes his graphic anti-war poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est." He
dies just one week before the armistice that ends WWI.
1919 George Gershwin's first and biggest hit is "Swanee." Physicist
Ernest Rutherford, known as the father of nuclear physics, discovers a way to
1920 Jazz is made popular by musicians like Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll
Morton. The first
blues record is recorded on Valentine's Day by Mamie
Smith, "Crazy Blues."
1921 Adolf Hitler is elected leader of the Nazi Party in Germany.
1922 T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" (perhaps the major poem of English modernism).
James Joyce publishes Ulysses (perhaps the major novel of English modernism). The first country music
1923 Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, the defining performers of classic blues,
make their recording debuts. Hiram King "Hank" Williams is born in Olive,
1925 In Nashville the Grand Ole Opry begins radio broadcasts,
bringing country and western music to the masses.
1926 The birth of the American poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), the author of
"Howl" and perhaps the
greatest and most influential of the Beat poets. Langston Hughes' The Weary Blues.
1927 Show Boat becomes the first hugely popular American
musical comedy. Jimmie Rogers, the "father" of country music,
appears on a radio station for the first time.
Virginia Woolf publishes her gender-bending novel Orlando. D. H.
Lawrence publishes Lady Chatterly's Lover in Italy; the racy book is
1929 The Great Depression cripples the American economy, hurting the sales of
books, phonographs and records. Virginia Woolf publishes her
book-length essay A Room of One's Own.
1931 E. E. Cummings writes the first great modernist anti-war poem "i sing of Olaf
glad and big."
1934 Adolf Hitler becomes dictator of Germany.
1936 Debut of the electric guitar.
Legendary Delta bluesman Robert Johnson begins his short recording career.
King George V dies, ending the Georgian Period.
World War II, the Cold War, Modernism and Postmodernism (1937-Present)
1939 Great Britain enters World War II. Eddie Durham records the first music featuring the
electric guitar; it will influence the blues and rock'n'roll.
1941 The debut of FM radio stations.
Alan Lomax records McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, at
Stovall's Farm in Mississippi.
1942 The first award of a gold
record for a million-selling hit went to Glenn Miller for "Chatanooga
1945 The end of World War II.
1947 Bluesman T-Bone Walker plays electric
guitar on the recording of his standard "Call it Stormy Monday."
1948 Columbia Records introduces the LP ("long playing") vinyl
record, or album. Allen Ginsberg has his "auditory vision" of William Blake;
Ginsberg would become the foremost Beat poet.
Hank Williams Sr. makes his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Jerry Wexler, an editor
at Billboard magazine, coins the term "rhythm and blues" as a substitute for the
older term "race records."
1950 Nat King Cole hits the charts with "Mona Lisa." Little Richard is an
1951 Cleveland disc jockey
Alan Freed uses the term "rock 'n' roll" to promote rhythm and blues to white
audiences. Muddy Waters is the king of the blues singers.
1953 John F.
Kennedy marries Jacqueline Lee Bouvier; the American Camelot has its royal
1954 Bill Haley and the Comets have the first rock hit with "Rock Around the
Clock." Elvis Presley records his first commercial record, "That's All
Right, Mama," at Sun Studios in Memphis.
1955 Black artists, sometimes employing racy lyrics, begin to hit the pop
charts. Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" is a precursor
of rap and modern performance poetry.
1956 Elizabeth Bishop wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
Elvis "the Pelvis" performs on the Milton Berle TV show, gyrating his
hips and causing girls in the audience to scream and swoon.
1957 San Francisco book publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti is arrested for
publishing Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl."
1958 Buddy Holly
appears on the Ed Sullivan show. Billboard introduces its Hot 100 chart. Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool" is the first
number one record.
1959 Berry Gordy Jr. founds the Motown record label; its future stars will
include the Miracles, Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.
1960 Sam Cooke scores big
with "Chain Gang." Muddy Waters performs at the Newport Jazz Festival
to tremendous acclaim.
1961 The Motown record label has its first number one hit with "Please Mr.
Postman" by the girl group The Marvelettes.
1962 James Brown records "Live At The Apollo." Browns drummer Clayton Fillyau
introduces the break beat, which would later inspire the b-boy movement, and
1963 Bob Dylan becomes
famous for folk songs and protest songs like "Blowin' in the Wind."
1964 The Beatles top the American charts for the first time with "I Want To Hold Your
Hand" and Beatlemania has begun.
1965 Bob Dylan has a major hit with "Like a Rolling Stone" and goes electric
at the Newport Folk Festival (receiving boos from the audience and producers).
Beatles, Monkees, Beach Boys, Supremes, Rolling Stones, Petula Clark and Frank
and Nancy Sinatra somehow manage to coexist on the popular charts.
1967 Anne Sexton wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Lulu, Englebert
Humperdink, the Sinatras, the Doors and the Rolling Stones incongruously top the
1968 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated.
1969 Woodstock features folk and rock poets Arlo Guthrie; Joan Baez; John
Fogerty; Sly Stone; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
1970 William Stafford is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
The Moody Blues, ELO and Pink Floyd invent "art rock."
1972 The earliest rap musical events are held in the Bronx.
1973 Great Britain joins the European Union. American Graffiti is the first major movie about rock
1974 The debut of disco music.
1975 Queen releases the single "Bohemian Rhapsody" which features surreal,
Patti Smith is the pioneer of punk music with "Horses."
1977 The movie Saturday Night Fever popularizes disco
and makes the Bee Gees major stars.
Sony introduces the Walkman and the concept of personal, portable music. The
debut of hip-hop music, which is very close to poetry and rap. The debut of
1979 The Sugarhill Gangs "Rapper's Delight" is released; it becomes the first
rap/hip-hop song/poem to reach the Billboard's Top 40.
1980 Blondie has the first white rap/hip-hop hit with "Rapture."
1981 MTV debuts with innovative music videos.
1982 Sylvia Plath wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her collected poems.
1983 Compact discs begin to replace vinyl records. Michael
Jackson wows the MTV world with his first public moonwalk during a live
performance of "Billie Jean."
1984 Madonna becomes a pop star with "Like a Virgin."
Freddy Mercury and Queen steal the show at Live Aid.
1991 Nirvana's first single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," makes grunge cool.
Who's rock opera Tommy debuts on Broadway. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana have
an epic moment on MTV Unplugged.
1996 Rap poet Eminem releases his debut album, Infinite.
Apple releases the first iPod, a portable MP3 player.
2016 Great Britain leaves the European Union in a movement known as "Brexit."
Donald Trump is elected president of the United States in a shocking upset.
And who can guess what the future will hold? ...
Related Pages in Chronological Order:
Song of Amergin,
Bede's Death Song,
Wulf and Eadwacer,
The Wife's Lament,
Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings,
How Long the Night,
Sumer is Icumen in,
Fowles in the Frith,
Ich am of Irlaunde,
Tom O'Bedlam's Song,
Now Goeth Sun Under Wood,
Sweet Rose of Virtue,
Lament for the Makaris