In the Old English 9th century translation from the Latin by King Alfred of the History of the World by Paulus Orosius, to which the king appended a review of more recent history up to his own day, White Croatia is mentioned, as are the geographical names of Istria and Dalmatia. In the 12th century, contacts were made through King Richard I (Richard the Lionheart), who was thought to have been shipwrecked in the Adriatic on his return from the Holy Land, and to have spent some time in Dubrovnik. Both English and Mediterranean chroniclers recorded these events.
British travellers and pilgrims reported from Croatian lands in the 14th century – the best known such description, by Richard Guilford, was printed in 1511.
Thanks to its well-developed trading network, Dubrovnik held a prominent place in cultural links with Great Britain. There were several distinguished scholars active in the Dubrovnik trading colony in London. In the 15th century, Juraj Dragišić taught theology at Oxford, while in the 16th century, Marin Getaldić, the astronomer and mathematician, joined British colleagues in significant scientific work. In the 17th century, Franjo Biundović from Hvar wrote his History of the English Civil Wars while living in England, for which he was rewarded with an aristocratic title. The Protestant apologist from Rab, Markantun de Dominis, took up a high position at the English court, became the first Croat to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge in 1617, and was appointed Dean of Windsor in 1618. Ruđer Bošković, the greatest Croatian scientist, visited England in 1760. He lectured at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and visited the observatory at Greenwich. Although his stay was short, he met leading British scientists and artists and left a deep impression on them, so much so that he was elected to membership of the Royal Academy of Science in 1761.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, interest on the part of the British people in Croatia increased. They were particularly fascinated by archaeological monuments such as Diocletian’s Palace in Split, which was described in detail by the architect Robert Adam. More and more articles were published on Croatian history and folk customs, as part of a growing interest in southeast Europe in general. At this time, the first translations of poems appeared, such as the Hasanaginica.
In Croatia, contacts with English literature date back to the 18th century, when the first Shakespeare plays were staged, though in German and Italian translations. It was not until the time of the Croatian Revival that English literature became better known, mostly thanks to the efforts of Abbot Ivan Krizmanić of Marija Bistrica. His translations, although preserved only in manuscript form, are considered the first direct translations from English into Croatian. Another person who had a wide knowledge of English literature and a desire to popularise it was Stanko Vraz. More recent Croatian writers extended knowledge of English literature, among whom Ivan Goran Kovačić made a significant contribution to the translation of poetry.
The first chair of Slavonic Studies was established in 1890 in Oxford, and lectures by the first incumbent, William Morfill, who was an associate of Vatroslav Jagić, formed the basis for studies in South Slavic Literature and Languages, including Croatian. A department for Slavonic Studies opened in Cambridge in 1900, and was later headed by Robert Auty, the leading British 20th century Croatian expert, who produced an overview of the development of the Croatian language in 1979. Several classic works of Croatian literature were translated into English, for example Gundulić’s Dubravka and Osman, Mažuranić’s Death of Smail-aga Čengić, Tales of Long Ago by Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić, Ivo Vojnović’s Dubrovnik Trilogy and some of Držić’s works.
At the end of the 19th century, the first English language experts appeared in Croatia. Natalija Wickerhauser opened the first English Language School in Zagreb, Aleksander Lochmer compiled the first English-Croatian dictionary in Senj in 1906, and the English Lectorate was launched in Zagreb, while Vladoje Dukat emerged as the founder of English Studies and the author of the first Croatian overview of English literature. Since then, work has continued systematically in terms of studying and translating literary works, and this has gained in range since the end of the Second World War. Josip Torbarina, a university professor in Zagreb and Zadar, reached the zenith of translation skills in this period, in addition to being a renowned Shakespearian expert and teaching many generations of Croatian students of English language and literature. The British Council, which opened an office in Zagreb in 1946, has made a great contribution to the spread of English studies. Although English has never been historically present in Croatia in the same way as German or Italian, since the 1960s it has become the most influential foreign language, partly due to the effects of popular culture.
In the 20th century, many Croatian artists and scientists lived in or visited England, including the writer Josip Kosor, who spent the longest time there, and whose works were translated into English. In 1915, Ivan Meštrović exhibited in London and a monograph about him was published in 1919. Musicians have also enjoyed considerable success: the operetta Baron Trenk by Srećko Albini was performed in 1911, while Milka Trnina appeared many times at Covent Garden. The theatre director Vlado Habunek received wide acclaim for his production of The Canterbury Tales. The works of Croatian artists are housed in British museums, for example miniatures by Julije Klović, and a list of such works was compiled in 1971 by Vladimir Markotić. Branko Franolić presented a Croatian bibliography to the English public. Many Croatian scholars and scientists have worked at British universities, of whom the most prominent is the philosopher Edo Pivčević at Bristol University, who launched the British-Croatian Review in 1974. The journalist and publicist Krsto Cviić is particularly credited for engendering better understanding of political circumstances in Eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia.
As Croatia joins the European Union, a cultural festival entitled Welcome Croatia is taking place between January and June 2013 in London and other British towns. The programme includes lectures and seminars, and drama and musical performances promoting Croatian culture.