Neolithic Isle of Wight
During the last Ice Age, sea levels were lower and the Solent was part of a river flowing south east from current day Poole Harbour towards mid-Channel. As sea levels rose, the river valley became flooded, and the chalk ridge line west of the Needles breached to form the island. The Isle of Wight is first mentioned in writing in Geography by Ptolemy.
Bronze and Iron Age Isle of Wight
Bronze Age Britain had large reserves of tin in the areas of Cornwall and Devon and tin is necessary to smelt bronze. At that time the sea level was much lower and carts of tin were brought across the Solent at low tide for export, possibly on the Ferriby Boats. Anthony Snodgrass suggests that a shortage of tin, as a part of the Bronze Age Collapse and trade disruptions in the Mediterranean around 1300 BC, forced metalworkers to seek an alternative to bronze. During Iron Age Britain, the Late Iron Age, the Isle of Wight would appear to have been occupied by the Celtic tribe, the Durotriges - as attested by finds of their coins, for example, the South Wight Hoard, and the Shalfleet Hoard. South eastern Britain experienced significant immigration that is reflected in the genetic makeup of the current residents. As the Iron Age began the value of tin likely dropped sharply and this likely greatly changed the economy of the Isle of Wight. Trade however continued as evidenced by the remarkable local abundance of European Iron Age coins.
Roman Isle of Wight
Julius Caesar reported that the Belgae took the Isle of Wight in about 85 BC, and recognised the culture of this general region as "Belgic", but made no reference to Vectis. The Roman historian Suetonius mentions that the island was captured by the commander Vespasian. The Romans built no towns on the island, but the remains of at least seven Roman villas have been found, indicating the prosperity of local agriculture. First-century exports were principally hides, slaves, hunting dogs, grain, cattle, silver, gold, and iron. Ferriby Boats and later Blackfriars Ships likely were important to the local economy.
Early Medieval Period
Starting in AD 449 (according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicles) the 5th and 6th centuries saw groups of Germanic speaking peoples from Northern Europe crossing the English Channel and setting up home. Bede's (731) Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum identifies three separate groups of invaders: of these, the Jutes from Denmark settled the Isle of Wight and Kent. From then onwards, there are indications that the island had wide trading links, with a port at Bouldnor, evidence of Bronze Age tin trading, and finds of Late Iron Age coins.
During the Dark Ages the island was settled by Jutes as the pagan kingdom of Wihtwara under King Arwald. In 685 it was invaded by Caedwalla, who tried to replace the inhabitants with his own followers. In 686 Arwald was defeated and the island became the last part of English lands to be converted to Christianity, added to Wessex and then becoming part of England under King Alfred the Great, included within the shire of Hampshire.
It suffered especially from Viking raids, and was often used as a winter base by Viking raiders when they were unable to reach Normandy. Later, both Earl Tostig and his brother Harold Godwinson (who became King Harold II) held manors on the island.
High Medieval Period
The Norman Conquest of 1066 created the position of Lord of the Isle of Wight; the island was given by William the Conqueror to his kinsman William FitzOsbern. Carisbrooke Priory and the fort of Carisbrooke Castle were then founded. Allegiance was sworn to FitzOsbern rather than the king; the Lordship was subsequently granted to the de Redvers family by Henry I, after his succession in 1100.
For nearly 200 years the island was a semi-independent feudal fiefdom, with the de Redvers family ruling from Carisbrooke. The final private owner was the Countess Isabella de Fortibus, who, on her deathbed in 1293, was persuaded to sell it to Edward I. Thereafter the island was under control of the English Crown and its Lordship a royal appointment.
Late Medieval Period
The island continued to be attacked from the continent: it was raided in 1374 by the fleet of Castile, and in 1377 by French raiders who burned several towns, including Newtown, and laid siege to Carisbrooke Castle before they were defeated.
Early modern period
Under Henry VIII, who developed the Royal Navy and its Portsmouth base, the island was fortified at Yarmouth, Cowes, East Cowes, and Sandown.
The French invasion on 21 July 1545 (famous for the sinking of the Mary Rose on the 19th) was repulsed by local militia.
During the English Civil War, King Charles fled to the Isle of Wight, believing he would receive sympathy from the governor Robert Hammond, but Hammond imprisoned the king in Carisbrooke Castle.
During the Seven Years' War, the island was used as a staging post for British troops departing on expeditions against the French coast, such as the Raid on Rochefort. During 1759, with a planned French invasion imminent, a large force of soldiers was stationed there. The French called off their invasion following the Battle of Quiberon Bay.
In the 1860s, what remains in real terms the most expensive ever government spending project saw fortifications built on the island and in the Solent, as well as elsewhere along the south coast, including the Palmerston Forts, The Needles Batteries and Fort Victoria, because of fears about possible French invasion.
The future Queen Victoria spent childhood holidays on the island and became fond of it. When queen she made Osborne House her winter home, and so the island became a fashionable holiday resort, including for Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Charles Dickens (who wrote much of David Copperfield there), as well as the French painter Berthe Morisot and members of European royalty. Until then, the island had been rural, with most people employed in farming, fishing or boat-building. The boom in tourism, spurred by growing wealth and leisure time, and by Victoria's example, led to significant urban development of the island's coastal resorts.
The world's first radio station was set up by Marconi in 1897, during her reign, at the Needles Battery, at the western tip of the island. In 1898 the first paid wireless telegram (called a "Marconigram") was sent from this station, and the island was for some time the home of the National Wireless Museum, near Ryde.
Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on 22 January 1901, aged 81.
During the Second World War the island was frequently bombed. With its proximity to German-occupied France, the island hosted observation stations and transmitters, as well as the RAF radar station at Ventnor. It was the starting-point for one of the earlier Operation Pluto pipelines to feed fuel to Europe after the Normandy landings.
The Needles Battery was used to develop and test the Black Arrow and Black Knight space rockets, which were subsequently launched from Woomera, Australia.
The Isle of Wight Festival was a very large rock festival that took place near Afton Down, West Wight in 1970, following two smaller concerts in 1968 and 1969. The 1970 show was notable both as one of the last public performances by Jimi Hendrix and for the number of attendees, reaching by some estimates 600,000. The festival was revived in 2002 in a different format, and is now an annual event.