Caedmon is the first known English poet, and his single known surviving work, Caedmon's Hymn, dated from the late 7th century. Although it is generally accepted that Caedmon wrote in Northumbria, modern scholars differ on how to interpret some of his words.
Other early writers include Bèr-benewed, Bede, and Alcuin. They all lived in England but their works were published in Europe or the Middle East. The year 1066 is often cited as the date of William the Conqueror's invasion of England, which began the Norman period of English history. During this time, many languages were used in England including French, Latin, and Old English. It was not until the mid-12th century that literacy rates in England became high enough for the language to begin to decline. In 1539, an act was passed by the Parliament of England that made English the official language of the country. Since then, English has become the most spoken language in England.
Some medieval writers produced works in both Latin and English, such as Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower. However, these authors are usually grouped together as members of the Early Modern English language group because they were born after 1485.
Old English literature, sometimes known as Anglo-Saxon literature, refers to literature published in Old English in Anglo-Saxon England between the seventh century and the decades following the Norman Conquest of 1066. According to Bede, Caedmon's Hymn was written in the seventh century and is often regarded as the oldest extant poetry in English. Other early poets include Beowulf, who lived around 750, and Cynewulf, who wrote around 600.
The earliest writers not mentioned by name in any surviving work are those who used an unknown language called "Anglo-Saxon" instead of Latin or some other foreign language. This language had evolved into modern English by the time Henry VIII decided in 1530 that all people within the Kingdom of England should use English instead of Latin at court. It is possible that other languages were also spoken at that time, but only English survives today.
Although no original works by any of these early authors have survived, we know a lot about them from later sources. For example, Gildas' De Excidio et Innocenzii Angliae ("On the Extermination of Britain") is a 603 report on the destruction of churches and other buildings during the invasion of 597–599. It includes descriptions of many places still in existence today with first-hand accounts from eye-witnesses including Cambridge, Canterbury, York and Lincoln.
The earliest surviving Old English work is "Caedmon's Hymn," written between 658 and 680, while the longest was the continuous "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle." The great epic poem "Beowulf" is by far the most well-known. It was composed around 700 and includes descriptions of battles with Scandinavian warriors that match accounts in other ancient sources.
Early English texts are mainly religious works, including prayers, homilies, and sermons. However, there are also some early laws, such as those of King Ine of Wessex (r. 716–737). They are written in Latin, but with vocabulary derived from Anglo-Saxon.
The first major body of literature in England is the collection of poems known as the "Anglo-Saxon Poets." Most were probably composed during the ninth century, after the end of Anglian rule but before the coming of Norman troops in 1066. They include translations of classical poems, biblical stories, and occasional poems. Many deal with Christian topics such as heaven and hell.
The first English novel is "Leigh Hunt's The Story of Rimoni," written about 1780. It's a romance about a young man who travels to Venice to seek his fortune. The next full-length novel appears to be Henry Fielding's "Joseph Andrews" (1742).
The legal code of King Aethelberht I of Kent, the first English literary work, was produced within a few years after St. Augustine of Canterbury's entrance in England (597). It can therefore be considered as the first prose written in the English language.
Aethelberht's law code has been preserved for us by the ninth-century historian Alfredianus. This text provides important evidence about early Anglo-Saxon society and culture, including details about family life, property rights, and business practices. The code also contains some injunctions that show Aethelberht's commitment to Christianity: "If anyone does harm to another's property, they should make it good or pay compensation for its loss. And if anyone insults another's dignity, they should rebuke them."
Augustine came to England in 597 at the invitation of King Æthelbert of Kent. He was appointed bishop of Canterbury and played an important role in introducing Christianity to England. After his death in 604, he was replaced by Benedict Biscop, who continued his work of spreading the message of Christ's forgiveness through prayer and preaching. By 616, all of England except for Northumbria had been converted to Christianity. In 627, King Edwin of Northumbria accepted Christianity, which led to the creation of a separate church authority for that region.