The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was established in 927 as the Kingdom of England. In 1707, Scotland joined the union to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. In 1801, Ireland was added, creating the modern nation of the United Kingdom.
Before the arrival of the Romans, England was inhabited by the Britons. The Britons have traditionally been considered Celtic, but recent scholarship suggests that they were in fact Germanic. Scotland was inhabited by the Picts, who were unambiguously Celtic. Not much is known about Pre-Roman Britain due to the lack of a written language.
The legions of Imperial Roman first arrived at the British Isles in the first century AD. The Celtic tribes put up a fight, but they were unable to resist Roman rule. The boundary of Roman Britain was established at Hadrian's Wall. Londinium was made the capital, and Roman aristocratic families moved in. As time wore on, it became increasing unfeasible to continue to protect Britain, so in 410 the legions withdrew, leaving characteristic ruins and some vestiges of Christianity and the Latin language.
In the seventh century, a large wave of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes sailed to England from northern Germany. They brought with them a Germanic tongue now known as Old English. They established rival kingdoms, including the Kingdom of Mercia, the Kingdom of Northumbria, and the Kingdom of Wessex.
Towards the end of the 9th century, Wessex became the dominant kingdom in England under Alfred the Great. In 927, Æthelred was declared Rex Anglorum, or King of England. However, the Anglo-Saxon lords had to compete with Viking raiders from across the North Sea. Canute the Great conquered England, as well as Sweyn Forkbeard in 1013.
In 1066, Normans under William the Conqueror crossed the English Channel and invaded southern England. The reigning king, Harold Godwinson, having just defeated Tostig, a pretender to the throne in the north, rode south with his housecarls, gathering soldiers as he went. By the time he reached Hastings he outnumbered the Normans. The Normans won the battle at Hastings and William the Conqueror became the King of England. The English upper-class adopted French as their new language and formed an Anglo-Norman culture. William put down several revolts, including the infamous Harrying of the North.
In the early thirteenth century, the lords of England led a revolt against King John. They won, and forced him to sign the Magna Carta, a document limited the power of the king. This document was the first step towards constitutional monarchy.
Hundred Years' WarEdit
In the thirteenth and fourteenth century, the Kingdom of England acquired large territories in France, including much of Aquitaine, Brittany, and Normandy. Edward I also defeated the Kingdom of Scotland in the north. In 1337, Edward III asserted his right to the French throne, and the two nations went to war.
The English quickly won the battles of Sluys, Crecy, and the siege of Calais. England won peace on favorable terms. War broke out again shortly, and once again England dominated, although not as completely as before. The final stage of the war, beginning in 1415, was won by the French. The inspirational leadership of Joan of Arc led to a French victory in the Siege of Orleans. By 1453, England was almost entirely pushed off the continent.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, England alternated between Catholicism and Protestantism. Under Elizabeth I, Protestantism was established as the official religion while Catholicism was tolerated. Elizabeth was known as a great patron of the arts; she funded William Shakespeare's theater company. She also defeated the Spanish Armada sent to invade England, and supported Dutch rebels against Spanish rule.
After being pushed entirely off the continent, England directed her attention overseas. The first successful English colony was established by John Smith at Jamestown, Virginia, under the sponsorship of James II. Other colonies were quickly built in Massachusetts, Maryland, and New York, which was captured from the Dutch. The Atlantic and Caribbean islands of Bermuda, Jamaica, and the Bahamas were also colonized.
English Civil WarEdit
The English Civil War broke out between parliamentary and royalist forces. The parliamentary forces, led by Oliver Cromwell, won, and he went on to conquer Ireland. However, he died in 1659, and his son Richard Cromwell was unable to retain control. The monarchy was reestablished shortly after.
Kingdom of Great BritainEdit
Throughout the eighteenth century, Great Britain opposed any European country that threatened the balance of power. In the War of Spanish Succession, they faced off against the potential of a French-Spanish alliance.
However, in 1776, the United States declared independence. British regulars were unable to put down the revolt, and in 1783 the Treaty of Paris recognized American sovereignty. Anglo-American relations were quickly restored, although they soured again in the War of 1812.
The rise of Napoleon Bonaparte alarmed the British. British naval superiority was confirmed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, when Admiral Horatio Nelson triumphed over the combined French and Spanish fleets.
After the truce ended in 1805, the two nations were locked in combat. The United Kingdom could not challenge French land power, while the French could not operate on the high seas. This gridlock was broken in 1807, when the British fomented revolt in Spain and Portugal. This Peninsular War drained French resources, and Napoleon was forced to retreat after his unsuccessful invasion of Russia in 1812.
In 1814, a combined Austrian, Prussian, and British force deposed Napoleon and sent him off to exile on the island of Elba. However, Napoleon escaped and rallied his troops, quickly overthrowing the restored king. A hundred days later, Napoleon was once again defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and permanently exiled to Saint Helena.
The improvement of the steam engine to the point of practicality was achieved by Robert Watts in the 1770s. In the nineteenth century, it was put to good use: first in the textile mills, and then in all sectors of the economy. Coal began to be used as a fuel instead of wood. Factory towns, or more accurately slums, were built around new centers of manufacturing. By 1850, the United Kingdom had become the world's first industrialized nation.
Soon, the natural resources of the small island nation ran low, and the United Kingdom was forced to search elsewhere. In particular, Africa was targeted due to its lack of organized government and rich, untapped reserves.
In 1859, the sepoys led a revolt against the British East India Company. The government seized upon this opportunity to establish national rule over India. The British Raj was created, and Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India.
In 1885, the Berlin Conference divided up Africa among the European powers. The United Kingdom received Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, as well as most of southern Africa. Additionally, during this period the United Kingdom conquered or made protectorates of Burma, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the Trucial States.
Several regions in the British Empire were granted limited autonomy. These included Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Ireland. However, they did not achieve full independence until after World War II.
World War IEdit
The British Expeditionary Force was sent to France to halt the German advance. It succeeded at the First Battle of the Marne, and the war ground to a bloody stalemate. The use of poison gas, trench warfare, and machine guns characterized this war.
Various attempts to break the German line, such as the Battle of the Somme, which was the bloodiest single day in British history, and the Battle of Verdun, failed spectacularly. The German submarine fleet devastated marine shipping, which particularly affected the United Kingdom, being an island nation. However, the only major surface fleet engagement of the war, the Battle of Jutland, resulted in a tie, and the German High Seas Fleet mostly remained in port.
Finally, in 1917, the United States entered the war, and the Allies were able to push German troops back into their own territory. Facing a mutiny of the navy and insurrection at home, Germany signed an armistice on November 11, 1918.
The Great Depression deeply affected the United Kingdom's mainly industrial economy. The desire for peace led Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to pursue a policy of appeasement against Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler. At the Munich Conference, he allowed Hitler to take over Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, on the condition that no other annexations take place. Hitler annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia six months later.
World War IIEdit
World War II began on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. The United Kingdom and France immediately declared war, but took no action. The next move was made by Germany, when they invaded France. The lightning fast German advance through the supposedly impassable Ardennes caught the French by surprise, and the British were forced back at Dunkirk. Within a few weeks France was under German control.
The United Kingdom was next on Hitler's list. The Luftwaffe began an aerial campaign against the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain, but they were unable to gain air superiority. Next, they tried civilian bombing, but this also failed to shake British morale. Under the steely leadership of Winston Churchill, the United Kingdom stood firm.
In 1942, the Allies landed troops in North Africa to oppose Erwin Rommel and to establish a stepping stone to mainland Europe. Although Rommel's skilled Afrika Corps initially got the better of the British, under Bernard Montgomery, the severing of Rommel's supply lines spelled his doom. The Germans were finally defeated in the Battle of El-Alamein.
In 1944, the United Kingdom served as a gathering point for Allied troops waiting to land in Normandy. On June 6, 1944, their plans came to fruition, and 144,000 troops spilled out onto the beaches of Normandy. They quickly liberated France and the Low Countries.
The Germans tried one last, desperate offensive in the fall of 1944. Called the Battle of the Bulge because of the bulge it created on maps of the front line, it was initially successful, but as soon as the Allies gained air superiority it was over.
Finally, in April of 1945, with the Soviets knocking on Hitler's door, he committed suicide, and Germany surrendered unconditionally the next month.
In the 1970s and 1980s, British power began to wane. The Falkland War demonstrated the difficulty of maintained a disparate empire, and Thatcherism transfer economic power from the government into private hands. The acceptance of the United Kingdom into the European Union was also controversial.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom remained close allies with the United States. They participated in the Gulf War, as well as the War on Terror. The United Kingdom herself suffered serious terrorist attacks in 2005, and has made the second biggest contribution to the War on Terror.