800,000 BC - 10,000 BC

The Palaeolithic period

‘Palaeolithic’ means ‘old Stone Age’ and is the earliest period in human history. In Britain, it begins around 800,000 years ago when Britain is still attached to continental Europe. Several ice ages cover Britain with glaciers and force humans to leave. They only live in Britain during warmer periods. Palaeolithic humans are hunter-gatherers and move over large areas. They make basic flint tools such as hand axes to help them. In Northamptonshire, some Palaeolithic artefacts have been found, showing human activity in the county.

The Palaeolithic period

c. 800,000 BC

Humans first arrive in Britain, but leave periodically due to extreme weather conditions.

c. 400,000 BC

Modern humans (homo sapiens) appear.

10,000 BC - 4,000 BC

The Mesolithic period

‘Mesolithic’ means ‘middle Stone Age’ and begins when the last ice age finishes. As the climate gets warmer and drier, humans can live continuously in Britain. Forests grow across Northamptonshire. Sea levels rise with the melting ice and around 6000 BC, Britain is separated from mainland Europe. Humans are hunter-gatherers, moving with the seasons and following food supplies rather than settling in one place. They develop new flint tools, such as microliths, better suited for hunting forest animals. Microliths are sharpened blades used in spears and arrowheads. Mesolithic tools found in Northamptonshire suggest that human activity is centred on the lower parts of the Nene Valley.

The Mesolithic period

c. 10,000 BC

The last ice age ends and there is continuous human occupation in Britain.

c. 6,000 BC

The English Channel is formed and Britain separates from mainland Europe.

4,000 BC - 2,200 BC

The Neolithic period

​‘Neolithic’ means ‘new Stone Age’ and starts with the introduction of farming to Britain by migrants from continental Europe. The shift from roaming hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled farming communities is one of the most important changes in human history and it is often called the Neolithic Revolution. Neolithic humans begin living in simple houses, producing pottery and more complex tools, and building monuments. In Northamptonshire, several monuments have been excavated and settlements found at Briar Hill and Ecton, along with Neolithic tools.

The Neolithic period

c. 4,000 BC

Farming is introduced to Britain.

c. 3,500 BC

A settlement at Briar hill is founded.

c. 3,000 BC

Enclosed burial grounds are created at Aldwincle, Grendon, and Tansor.

2,200 BC - 800 BC

The Bronze Age

​The Bronze Age is the period in which bronze replaces stone as the main material for tools. Gold was also worked for decorative items. The development of weaponry suggests an increase in conflict and Bronze Age settlements are made up of round houses grouped together for defence. In Northamptonshire, settlements have been excavated at Thrapston and Stanwick. Elaborate ceremonial practices also appear. Early on, monument building continues. Late Bronze Age people begin cremating their dead. Hoarding, the ritual practice of burying metal and precious objects, also emerges. Round barrows (burial mounds) and Bronze Age artefacts have been found across Northamptonshire.

The Bronze Age

800 BC - AD 43

The Iron Age

​The Iron Age is the period in which iron became the main material for tools and weapons. Other advances include the invention of the potter’s wheel and the quernstone for grinding grain. The population increases dramatically and people live on small family farms or in well-defended hillforts. In Northamptonshire, several hillforts have been found, including Hunsbury Hill and Crow Hill, as well as other artefacts. Although the settlements are spread out, there are ties, trading, and conflicts between tribes. Some tribes, including the Corieltauvi in Northamptonshire, begin to use coins as currency.

The Iron Age

55 BC - 54 BC

Julius Caesar leads two attempted invasions of Britain, but the Romans never reach Northamptonshire.

AD 43 - AD 410

Roman Britain

In AD 43, 40,000 Roman soldiers invade Britain. There is resistance in some parts of the country, but tribes in Northamptonshire do not contest Roman rule. As roads, planned towns, and stone villas are built, the county begins to feel Mediterranean. Towns such as Irchester and Lactodorum (now Towcester) act as commercial and administrative centres for the rural population. The Watling Road that runs north-south also connects Northamptonshire to larger urban centres. However, as Britain is repeatedly raided by the Anglo-Saxons and Italy is attacked by ‘barbarians’, the Roman Empire becomes too expensive to maintain. In AD 410, troops withdraw from Britain. Roman artefacts have been found across the county.

Roman Britain

AD 43

The Romans invade Britain and settle in Northamptonshire.

AD 169

A settlement at Duston is established.

c. AD 400

Hamtun settlement (later to become Northampton) is established.

AD 410

Roman troops withdraw from Britain.

AD 410 - AD 1066

The Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods

​​After the Romans leave, the Anglo-Saxon raiders who had plagued the Romans return as settlers. The Anglo-Saxons were not one group, but were made up of several tribes, including the Angles and the Saxons. They spread Christianity and build many churches. By AD 600, England is separated into seven kingdoms that struggle for power. Northamptonshire becomes part of the large, powerful kingdom called Mercia. However, after the Vikings invade, the Anglo-Saxons are pushed into smaller areas. The Viking Danes rule by force in an area called the Danelaw. Northamptonshire is on the border between the two cultures and is repeatedly conquered and reconquered.

The Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods

c. AD 600

An Anglo-Saxon warrior is buried near Wollaston (his grave is excavated in 1997 and includes the helmet pictured above and to the right).

AD 1011

Northamptonshire is first recorded as the county of Ham Tunn.

AD 1066 - AD 1154

The Norman period

​The Norman period begins with the Norman Invasion. William the Conqueror brings new nobles with him from France and establishes a feudal system in England. In this system, nobles receive land for their loyalty to the King. These lords grant land to their own followers and allow peasants to live on the land in return for labour or rent. The origins of the English country house are found here as nobles build manor houses to help them oversee the peasantry. The Normans also build large numbers of castles and churches to show their power and maintain control.

The Norman period

c. AD 1089

Simon de Senlis I becomes Earl of Northampton (he goes on to build Northampton Castle, St Andrew’s Priory, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre).

AD 1131

King Henry I makes his Barons swear their loyalty to his daughter Matilda at Northampton Castle, but they break their oath after Henry I dies.

AD 1135 - AD 1154

A civil war known as 'the Anarchy' is fought over who succeeds King Henry I.

AD 1154 - AD 1485

The Middle Ages

​The Middle Ages are a period of political crisis, war, and natural disaster. Northampton was important in medieval England due to its central location and Parliaments were held at Northampton Castle between 1131 and 1380. Consequently, many key events in the church-state struggle, the conflict between the Barons and the monarchy, and the wars for control over the throne, happen in Northamptonshire. Like elsewhere, the Great Famine and the Black Death decimate the population, and whole villages are wiped out. However, the smaller population allows women to play a larger role in society.

The Middle Ages

AD 1164

The trial of Thomas Becket is held at Northampton Castle.

AD 1189

King Richard I grants Northampton a Royal Charter.

AD 1205

King John moves the Royal Treasury to Northampton Castle.

AD 1349 - AD 1350

The Black Death kills half the population of Northampton and wipes out entire villages.

AD 1380

The Peasants’ Revolt takes place after the last Parliament to be held at Northampton Castle decides to raise taxes.

AD 1455 - AD 1487

The Wars of the Roses are fought.

AD 1485 - AD 1625

The Tudor and Jacobean periods

​The 15th and 16th centuries are marked by religious division and violence. After the Pope refuses to annul his first marriage, King Henry VIII breaks with Rome and creates the Church of England. To reduce the power of the Catholic Church, he dissolves all religious orders and sells their land in what is known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In Northamptonshire, two thirds is bought by local men and a new gentry developed. Decades of religious tension follow and ordinary people are persecuted. England shifts between Protestantism and Catholicism as different monarchs struggle for power. Important national events, such as the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots and the planning of the Gunpowder Plot, take place in Northamptonshire.

The Tudor and Jacobean periods

AD 1536 - AD 1541

King Henry VIII destroys Delapré Abbey, Canons Ashby Priory, and the Priory of St Andrew’s during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

AD 1587

Mary Queen of Scots is executed at Fotheringhay Castle.

AD 1605

The Gunpowder Plot is planned at Ashby St Ledgers.

AD 1607

The Newton rebellion protests enclosures.

AD 1625 - AD 1714

Civil war and revolution

​This period is marked by internal conflict and upheaval. King Charles I is an unpopular ruler because of his religious policies, increased taxes, and disregard for Parliament. In 1642, civil war breaks out between the King’s Royalists and the Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell. Having earlier opposed many of the King’s policies, Northamptonshire is strongly Parliamentarian. In 1645, Charles I is defeated on Northamptonshire soil at the Battle of Naseby. He is imprisoned at Holdenby House before his execution. After further violence, the Commonwealth is installed, but the new political system does not survive Cromwell’s death. Charles I’s son is invited to return to the throne but this does not last. Fearing that King Charles II will return England to Catholicism, English Protestants invite William and Mary of Orange to overthrow him. This becomes known as the Glorious Revolution. The new monarchs ensure a line of Protestant monarchs and unite England and Scotland.

Civil war and revolution

AD 1689

The Glorious Revolution founds the current political system.

AD 1714 - AD 1901

The Hanoverian and Victorian periods

​In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Britain fights in several lengthy, international conflicts. These wars are financed by Britain’s flourishing new empire. The empire exploits colonies and black slaves for international trade, backed up by British sea power. Northamptonshire plays a big role in the history of slavery: many country houses use slaves, but many people fight against slavery in the county. By the end of the period, the British Empire covered a fifth of the world. At home, new manufacturing techniques are invented, factories are built, and transport is developed. This happens later in Northamptonshire than elsewhere. Industrialisation brings social changes too: cities and towns grow rapidly, the New Poor Law is introduced, religious Nonconformity increases, more men can vote, and women have more influence in political matters (but not the vote).

The Hanoverian and Victorian periods

AD 1812

Spencer Perceval, Prime Minister and MP for Northampton, is assassinated.

AD 1832

The Reform Act gives the vote to middle-class men.

AD 1857

Sewing machines are introduced to the boot and shoe trade.

AD 1867

The Great Reform Act gives the vote to urban, working-class men.

AD 1884

The Royal Theatre in Northampton opens.

AD 1901 - AD 2000

The 20th Century

​The 20th century is the bloodiest century in British history, but also one marked by huge social, political, medical, and technological change. Over a million British soldiers die in the First and Second World Wars and thousands die in multiple conflicts since. Northamptonshire plays an important role in the effort towards the world wars, making 50 million pairs of boots for Allied soldiers in the First World War and producing steel tubes used in the Normandy invasion during the Second World War. After 1945, immigration increases, making Britain more diverse. The Labour Party becomes popular and brings in many reforms, including founding the National Health Service and nationalising industries. Women gain the vote early in the century and Britain gets its first female Prime Minister in 1979. Margaret Thatcher reprivatises or closes many industries, provoking strikes such as the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85. The Corby Steel Works are shut down at this time. Northamptonshire’s economy diversifies and the boot and shoe trade is no longer the largest employer.

The 20th Century

AD 1981

Diana Spencer marries Prince Charles and becomes the Princess of Wales.

If you liked this... Then have a look at the interactive and highly-visual Northamptonshire Timeline aimed at children.

Image acknowledgements:

A Palaeolithic flint handaxe, dating 800,000-250,000 BC © Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service, licenced under a Creative Commons licence, cropped

A Mesolithic microlith © Surrey County Council, licenced under a Creative Commons licence, cropped

Neolithic barbed and tanged arrowhead © West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, licenced under a Creative Commons licence, cropped

A middle Bronze Age palstave axe © Northamptonshire County Council

An Iron Age coin; gold stater © West Yorkshire Archaeology Service, licenced under a Creative Commons licence, cropped

Roman Samian ware sherds © Northamptonshire County Council

Pioneer Helmet with boar crest, Anglo-Saxon, about 700 (AL. 226 1)  / Owned by the Gammidge and Minney families

St Peter's Church © Northamptonshire Archives Service

The Battle of Northampton - Loyal Subjects by Graham Turner © Graham Turner, Studio 88

The Reign of King Henry VIII by unknown artist © National Portrait Gallery, licenced under a Creative Commons licence

Charles taken by Colonel Joyce, illustration to Bowyer's edition of Hume's History of England. © the Trustees of the British Museum, licenced under a Creative Commons licence

The Bantam Cock pub, Northampton, c.1900; photo reproduced with the kind permission of Northampton Museums & Art Gallery

The Watford Gap © Public domain