Recorded history of Kannur starts with Mooshaka kings who ruled over Chirakkal and Kasargod areas with their capital at Mount Eli (Elimala or Ezhimala which literally translates to Rat Mountain). By 14th century A. D., the kingdom came to be known as Kolathunad and the rulers become known as Kolathiris. Kolathiris became prominent all over the north Kerala and were the rivals of Zamorins of Kozhikode. During that period several Arab scholars visited the places like Baliapatam, Srikantapuram, Dharamadam, Bekal and Ezhimala which they recorded in their travelogue.
The arrival of Vasco Da Gama, the Portuguese navigator changed the history of Kolathiris and India as a whole. Kolathiris were interested to acquire wealth and power with the help of Portuguese in order to compete with their rivals the Zamorins of Kozhikode who used to be aided by Arabs. Portuguese became successful in exploiting the rivalry of the neighbours they were able to erect forts in strategic points. The most important one was the St. Angelo’s Fort in Kannur erected by Francisco De Almedia in 1505. Portuguese were able to intercept ships to Kozhikode thus establishing their supremacy in Indian seas. Later Kolathiris understood their mistake and joined hand with Zamorins to fight against the Portuguese. A common war was fought against Portuguese under Kunjali Marakkar of Kozhikode thus resulting in the seizure of Kannur Fort in 1564. In February 1663 the fort was captured by the Dutch.
English East India Company got its foothold in Kannur towards the end of 17th centuary with the erection of fort and factory in Thalassery. Kolathiris began to lose their power and the English East India company prospered with their trade until the beginning of 18th centuary. In 1725 the French captured Mayyazhi and renamed it as Mahe in honour of their captian Francois Mahe De Labourdonnais. By the second half of the 18th centuary two muslim rulers, Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan invaded and conqured Malabar. Later by the treaty of Sreerangapatanam, Malabar was formally handed over to the British. British entered agreements with the Rajas of Chirakkal, Kottayam and Kadathanad who acknowledged full sovereignty of the Company over their respective territories.
Later a serious revolt started by Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja of the Padinjare Kovilakam of the Kottayam family. The cause of the revolt was the unpopular revenue policy followed by East India Company in Malabar. Pazhassiraja stopped all revenue collections in Kottayam. In 1796 british tried to capture raja in his own palace in Pazhassi but they didn’t succeed. Several conflicts occurred between the Raja and the British and he became a serious head ache for the later. British threatened people to not to help the Raja and proclaimed reward for those who helped them to catch him. Raja fled to the jungles in Wayanad. After several guerilla attacks against the british from the jungle finally Raja was shot dead on November 30, 1805.
Kannur District has played an important role in all the political movements of recent times. Indian National Congress captured the attention of the people in this district. Non-Violent Non Co-operation movement started as a means of achieving Swaraj which led to widespread boycott of foreign goods, courts of law and educational institution in Kannur. Payyannur in Kannur district was the main venue of Salt Sathyagraha in Malabar. The Satyagraha camp at Payyannur was raided and the campers were beaten up. There were widespread demonstrations in Kannur, Thalassery and other parts of the along Congress workers broke salt laws and picketed foreign goods dealers and liquor shops.
Leftist elements in Kerala Provincial Congress were also active in Malabar in late thirties. In 1939 the branch of the Indian communist Party was formally founded in Malabar. In September 15, 1940 as a part of Anti-Imperialist Day severe agitation occurred in Kannur district. There were violent clashes between the people and the police at several places and two young menwere killed in the clash in Morazha. The ‘Quit India’ movement of August 1842 also had its echoes in Kannur district.
After world war in 1945 famine continued and Karivellur in northern most part of present Kannur district made a historic stride in the struggle against poverty and famine. The transporting of paddy from Karivellur to Chirakkal Kovilakam was blocked and distributed to the people of the village. Two men became martyrs in the struggle when police opened fire. Later years witnessed several peasant stuggles in different places like Thillankeri, Manayankunnu, Korom and Paddikkunnu. Kannur district still maintains its high level of political awareness owing to its active participation in several political struggles both in Pre-independence and Post-independence period.