Icons of England
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1300-1500

The Middle Ages continue: The Hundred Years War, plague, martyrdom and a ferry across the Mersey

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07 Feb 1301: First Prince of Wales

Edward I invests his son as the first Prince of Wales

23 Aug 1305: William Wallace executed

Sir William Wallace of Elerslie was a hero of Scotland. His desire for peace and freedom united the clans, gained the loyalty of the people and struck fear into his English enemies. Mel Gibson's film Braveheart gives a dramatic although not totally accurate account of his exploits. He was betrayed by one of his own men and Edward I had him hanged, drawn and quartered at Smithfield where there is still a memorial to him. His head was put on a spike at Traitor's Gate on London Bridge.

25 Mar 1306: Robert the Bruce inspired by spider

Robert the Bruce declares himself King of Scotland on this day. Despite numerous set backs in battles with the English, he is inspired to keep fighting by the example of a plucky spider who is trying to build a tricky bit of its web in the corner of a cave, and keeps trying until it succeeds.

1307: Edward I succeeded by Edward II

Edward II was the son of Edward I but inherited none of his natural strength and authority. His reign was marked by a successive losing of power and influence, most notably in Scotland.

19 Jun 1312: Piers Gaveston executed

Gaveston was the King's favourite, and lover, upon whom Edward lavished gifts, money, land and inappropriate titles. As you can imagine, he was highly unpopular!

1314: First attempt to ban football

Edward II issues an edict to ban the game in the knowledge that young men were wasting valuable time and energy playing ball when they should have been practising their bow and arrow skills! War with France was threatening (see 100 Years War).

The FA Cup

23 Jun 1314: Battle of Bannockburn

Robert the Bruce routs the English at the Battle of Bannockburn, ensuring Scottish independence from England until 1707.

25 Jan 1327: Edward II forced to abdicate

Parliament forced Edward's abdication and he was then held prisoner in Berkeley Castle. Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II dramatises his murder with a red hot poker in gruesome fashion.

1330: Mersey Ferry service begins

The very first Ferry across the Mersey is operated by Benedictine monks.

13 Nov 1330: Edward III becomes King of England

Only 14 when he took over the throne from his unfortunate father, Edward instigated a rebellion to wrest power from his mother and her lover, Roger Mortimer, just three years later.

24 May 1337: 100 Years War begins with France

Edward III declares himself King of France, provoked by attacks on his territories in France. The resulting wars lasted slightly more than 100 years but there was not continuous fighting for that time.

05 Oct 1338: French pillage Southampton

The French King Philip IV launches a series of raids against England, starting with Southampton. The attack is devastating, and accompanied by rape, pillage, murder and looting.

June 1348: Black Death sweeps England

A ship carrying rats infected with the bubonic plague (popularly known as the "Black Death" after the colour of the swellings on the skin) arrived in Melcombe in Dorset and the disease spread throughout England. By 1351 a third of the English population was dead. The high death toll had a huge effect on society and the economy.

1356: Black Prince wins at Poitiers

The Black Prince was considered the flower of English chivalry, famous for his military prowess and love of jousting. The nickname "Black Prince" seems to have been coined about 200 years after his death and its origin is obscure. James Purefoy plays him in the movie A Knight's Tale.

c.1375: Sir Gawain And The Green Knight

Alliterative poem that tells the famous story of King Arthur's honourable knight, Sir Gawain, and his encounter with the mysterious Green Knight. A great tale for Christmas!

1377: Piers Plowman completed

This major alliterative poem took Langland over 20 years to compose, revise and complete. It is structured as 8 visions of the narrator and contains the first printed reference to Robin Hood.

21 Jun 1377: Edward III succeeded by Richard II

Due to the untimely death of the Black Prince, Edward is succeeded by his grandson, Richard II.

14 Jun 1381: The Peasants' Revolt

The revolt of peasants from Essex and Kent was led by Wat Tyler. On this day the young King Richard rides out to meet the rebels and hear their demands at Mile End. He agrees to their demands presented in a petition (but never fulfils his promises). The revolt was primarily in response to the introduction of a poll tax and issues over the feudal system. The following day, Richard meets the rebels - this time in London, where they have taken the Tower, and leads them peacefully away.

1382: Early version of Wyclif's Bible

John Wyclif was an Oxford professor, scholar and theologian who believed that the Bible, rather than the Church, should be man's supreme spiritual authority - he therefore tried to spread knowledge of the text as widely as possible. One way was to translate it into English from Latin so that it could be directly understood by everyone. He was condemned by the Church in 1380 and many of his followers, the Lollards, were executed in the first quarter of the 15th century. See 1414

The King James Bible

1397: Turn again, Whittington...

Dick Whittington, from Gloucestershire, becomes Lord Mayor of London, with or without the support of his cat. He was, however, a real person and was actually elected Mayor four times, not three as the legend has it. The first play to tell his story was performed in 1814.

30 Sep 1399: Richard II renounces the throne

Coming out of exile to reclaim his father, John of Gaunt's, estates, Bolingbroke seems to have swept to power almost by accident. He becomes Henry IV, founding the House of Lancaster. Shakespeare's portrayal of these events form the plot of his play, Richard II.

1400: Chaucer dies

Geoffrey Chaucer dies without completing his ground-breaking mammoth work The Canterbury Tales. The collection of poems describes the journey of a group of pilgrims travelling to Canterbury, each one telling a story to pass the time. The stories are varied in tone and content, reflecting the personalities of the characters who tell them, and are a marvellous insight into the life of Medieval England. You can read them in translation or the original Middle English.

1413: Henry IV succeeded by Henry V

Shakespeare's Henry IV plays paint a playful portrait of the exploits of the Prince before he becomes King, accompanied by the drunken Falstaff and his gang from Cheapside.

09 Jan 1414: Lollard plot unsuccessful

The Lollards were the followers of John Wyclif, who believed that the Bible was the supreme authority over man, rather than the Church. The leaders of the rebellion were executed.

The King James Bible

25 Oct 1415: Battle of Agincourt won by Henry V

A famous battle in military history because the English were heavily outnumbered by the French (by how much is disputed by historians) but still emerged victorious. Legend has it that the "two finger salute" was invented as a gesture of defiance at this time by the English archers who had managed to hold on to their bow fingers, proudly displaying them to the conquerored French who were in the habit of mutilating captives by cutting them off. The St Crispin's Day speech Henry V delivers to his men on the eve of Agincourt in Shakespeare's play is considered a masterpiece of English patriotism. See 1944.

1422: The Paston Family start writing

The Paston Letters were written between members of the wealthy Paston family, who were based in Norfolk. The letters (1422-1504) give an invaluable insight into the domestic, social and political life of the 15th century.

1422: Henry V succeeded by Henry VI

30 May 1431: Joan of Arc burned at stake

Joan of Arc was only 19 when she died but had courageously led the French to victory against the English. Some say that her inspiration is what led the French to eventually oust the English from France almost completely. In the short term, the English increased their hold of the country with Henry VI declaring himself King of France later this year.

31 Oct 1448: Earliest reference to Morris Dance

There is a description of a tapestry handing in Caistor Castle, Norfolk, depicting what is obviously a morris dance.

17 Jul 1453: English defeat at Castillon

This defeat marks the end of the 100 Years War. Calais is the only English possession left in France.

23 Feb 1455: Gutenberg Bible printed

Johann Gutenberg prints the first book in Europe - the Bible in Latin. It marks the beginning of the mass production of books which revolutionised European culture. See Caxton 1476.

The King James Bible

22 May 1455: Beginning of the Wars of the Roses

This was a civil war between the rival houses of Lancaster (represented by a red rose) and York (a white rose) for the English crown. The Lancastrians were direct descendents of Henry IV who had usurped the crown from Richard II. The Yorks also traced their ancestry from John of Gaunt's sons but considered their claim, based on two links to that family rather than just one, to be the more justified.

1461: Henry VI deposed by Edward IV

House of York defeats the House of Lancaster.

1470: Edward IV deposed by Henry VI

And back again! The House of Lancaster defeats the House of York.

1476: Caxton sets up his printing press

Capitalising on the techniques he had learned while living in Bruges, Caxton set up a press at Westminster. His first dated printed book is The Dictes Or Sayengis Of The Philosophres. For the first time in England, books were able to be mass produced, which transformed the cultural landscape. He used eight founts of type and began to incorporate woodcut illustrations in the books from about 1380.

30 Apr 1483: Yorkist Edward to be King

After the murder of Henry VI, the House of York are once again in the ascendant. The young Edward V is on his way to his coronation when he is put into the Tower of London by his hunch-backed uncle, Richard of Gloucester.

06 Jul 1483: Richard crowned King of England

Richard was the brother of Yorkist King Edward IV. Having disposed of Edward's two sons, the Princes in the Tower, and marrying the widow of Henry VI's son, Richard was in a strong position to ascend the throne himself.

1485: Beefeaters invented by Henry VII

Henry VII invented this military order to be his personal bodyguards. The Beefeaters, with their distinctive red and gold uniforms, are now the guardians of the Tower of London.

1485: Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur

Malory's lengthy cycle of stories is the ultimate telling of the Arthurian legends. Or is that TH White's 20th century version The Once And Future King? It is certainly the main source of all our current ideas about this mythical English King, his Round Table and the Holy Grail.

22 Aug 1485: Richard III succeeded by Henry VII

Richard III dies in battle, crying "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!"

23 Jan 1487: Lambert Simnel crowned as Edward VI

Simnel was crowned in Dublin as part of Yorkist Revolt which was quickly crushed.

01 Dec 1494: Poyning's Law

This law marks the beginning of England's official rule over Ireland.

06 Aug 1497: Cabot returns from Newfoundland

Italian John Cabot, exploring on behalf of the English, discovered the island of Newfoundland and everyone thought he had found a new, shorter route to Asia. On his return he is rewarded with a pension of £10 by Henry VII.

23 Nov 1499: Perkin Warbeck hanged

Yet another unsuccessful Yorkist revolt!