We analyze the spatio-temporal patterns of temperature variability over Northern Hemisphere land areas, on centennial time-scales, for the last 12 centuries using an unprecedentedly large network of temperature-sensitive proxy records. Geographically widespread positive temperature anomalies are observed from the 9th to 11th centuries, similar in extent and magnitude to the 20th century mean. A dominance of widespread negative anomalies is observed from the 16th to 18th centuries. Though we find the amplitude and spatial extent of the 20th century warming is within the range of natural variability over the last 12 centuries, we also find that the rate of warming from the 19th to the 20th century is unprecedented. The positive Northern Hemisphere temperature change from the 19th to the 20th century is clearly the largest between any two consecutive centuries in the past 12 centuries.