Aston Villa Football Club were formed in March 1874, by members of the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel in Handsworth which is now part of Birmingham. The four founders of Aston Villa were Jack Hughes, Frederick Matthews, Walter Price and William Scattergood. Aston Villa's first match was against the local Aston Brook St Mary's team. As a condition of the match, the Villa side had to agree to play the first half under Rugby rules and the second half under Association rules. After moving to the Wellington Road ground in 1876, Villa soon established themselves as one of the best teams in the Midlands, winning their first honour, the Birmingham Senior Cup in 1880, under the captaincy of Scotsman George Ramsay.
The club won their first FA Cup in 1887 with captain Archie Hunter becoming one of the game's first household names. Aston Villa were one of the dozen teams that competed in the inaugural Football League in 1888 with one of the club's directors, being the league's founder. Aston Villa emerged as the most successful English club of the Victorian era, winning no fewer than five League titles and three FA Cups by the end of Queen Victoria's reign. In 1897, the year Villa won , they moved into their present home, the Aston Lower Grounds. Supporters coined the name "Villa Park"; no official declaration listed the ground as Villa Park.
Aston Villa won their sixth FA Cup in 1920, soon after though the club began a slow decline that led to Villa, at the time one of the most famous and successful clubs in world football, being relegated in 1936 for the first time to the . This was largely the result of a dismal defensive record: they conceded 110 goals in 42 games, 7 of them coming from Arsenal's Ted Drake in an infamous 1–7 defeat at Villa Park. Like all English clubs, Villa lost seven seasons to the Second World War, and that conflict brought several careers to a premature end. The team was rebuilt under the guidance of former player Alex Massie for the remainder of the 1940s. Aston Villa's first trophy for 37 years came in the 1956–57 season when another former Villa player, Eric Houghton led the club to a then record seventh FA Cup Final win, defeating the 'Busby Babes' of Manchester United in the final. The team struggled in the league though and were relegated two seasons later, due in large part to complacency. However, under the stewardship of manager Joe Mercer Villa returned to the top-flight in 1960 as Second Division Champions. The following season Aston Villa became the first team to win the .
Mercer's forced retirement from the club in 1964 signalled a period of deep turmoil. The most successful club in England was struggling to keep pace with changes in the modern game, with Villa being relegated for the third time, under manager in 1967. The following season the fans called for the board to resign as Villa finished 16th in the Second Division. With mounting debts and Villa lying at the bottom of Division Two, the board sacked Tommy Cummings (the manager brought in to replace Taylor), and within weeks the entire board resigned under overwhelming pressure from fans. After much speculation, control of the club was bought by London financier Pat Matthews, who also brought in Doug Ellis as chairman. However, new ownership could not prevent Villa being relegated to the Third Division for the first time at the end of the season. However, Villa gradually began to recover under the management of former club captain Vic Crowe. In the they returned to the Second Division as Champions with a record 70 points. In 1974, Ron Saunders was appointed manager. His brand of no-nonsense man-management proved effective, with the club winning the League Cup the following season and, at the end of season 1974–75, he had taken them back into the First Division and into Europe.
The 1982 European Cup winning squad celebrate the 25th anniversary of their win.
Villa were back among the elite as Saunders continued to mould a winning team. This culminated in a seventh top-flight league title in . To the surprise of commentators and fans, Saunders quit halfway through the season, after falling out with the chairman, with Villa in the quarter final of the European Cup. He was replaced by his softly-spoken assistant manager who guided the club to a 1–0 victory over Bayern Munich in the European Cup final in Rotterdam courtesy of a Peter Withe goal. The following season Villa were crowned European Super Cup winners, beating Barcelona in the final. This marked a pinnacle though and Villa's fortunes declined sharply for most of the 1980s, culminating in relegation in 1987. This was followed by promotion the following year under and a runners-up position in the First Division in the 1989–90 season.
Villa were one of the founding members of the Premier League in 1992, and finished runners-up to Manchester United in the inaugural season. For the rest of the Nineties however Villa went through three different managers and their league positions were inconsistent, although they did win two League Cups and regularly achieved UEFA Cup qualification. Villa reached the FA Cup final in 2000 but lost 1–0 to Chelsea in the last game to be played at the old Wembley Stadium. Again Villa's league position continued to fluctuate under several different managers and things came to a head in the summer of 2006 when David O'Leary left in acrimony. After 23 years as chairman and single biggest shareholder (approximately 38%), Doug Ellis finally decided to sell his stake in Aston Villa due to ill-health. After much speculation it was announced the club was to be bought by American businessman Randy Lerner, owner of franchise the Cleveland Browns.
The arrival of a new owner in Lerner and of manager Martin O'Neill marked the start of a new period of optimism at Villa Park and sweeping changes occurred throughout the club including a new badge, a new kit sponsor and team changes in the summer of 2007. The first Cup final of the Lerner era came in 2010 when Villa were beaten 2–1 in the . Villa made a second trip to Wembley in that season losing 3–0 to Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinal. Just five days before the opening day of the , O'Neill resigned as manager, and after one year with Gérard Houllier in charge, Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish, despite numerous protests from fans against his appointment; this was the first time that a manager had moved directly between the two rivals. McLeish's contract was terminated at the end of the 2011–12 season after Villa finished in 16th place, and he was replaced by Paul Lambert. In February 2012, the club announced a financial loss of £53.9 million, and Lerner put the club up for sale three months later, with an estimated value of £200 million. With Lerner still on board, in the 2014–15 season Aston Villa scored just 12 goals in 25 league games, the lowest in Premier League history, and Lambert was sacked in February 2015. Tim Sherwood succeeded him, and steered the club away from relegation while also leading them to the 2015 FA Cup Final, but he was sacked in the 2015–16 season, as was his successor Rémi Garde, in a campaign ended with Villa relegated for the first time since 1987.
In June 2016, Chinese businessman Tony Xia bought the club for £76 million. Roberto Di Matteo was appointed as the club's new manager before the new season, and was sacked after 12 games, to be replaced by former Birmingham manager Steve Bruce.