History of the British Isles

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History of the British Isles
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The British Isles have witnessed intermittent periods of competition and cooperation between the people that occupy the various parts of Great Britain, the Isle of Man, Ireland, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the Bailiwick of Jersey and the smaller adjacent islands.

British Isles Group of islands in northwest Europe

The British Isles are a group of islands in the North Atlantic off the north-western coast of continental Europe that consist of the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Hebrides and over six thousand smaller isles. They have a total area of about 315,159 km2 and a combined population of almost 72 million, and include two sovereign states, the Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The islands of Alderney, Jersey, Guernsey, and Sark, and their neighbouring smaller islands, are sometimes also taken to be part of the British Isles, even though, as islands off the coast of France, they do not form part of the archipelago.

Great Britain island in the North Atlantic off the north-west coast of continental Europe

Great Britain is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of continental Europe. With an area of 209,331 km2 (80,823 sq mi), it is the largest of the British Isles, the largest European island, and the ninth-largest island in the world. In 2011, Great Britain had a population of about 61 million people, making it the world's third-most populous island after Java in Indonesia and Honshu in Japan. The island of Ireland is situated to the west of Great Britain, and together these islands, along with over 1,000 smaller surrounding islands, form the British Isles archipelago.

Isle of Man British Crown dependency

The Isle of Man, often referred to simply as Mann, is a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann and is represented by a lieutenant governor. Defence is the responsibility of the United Kingdom.

Contents

Today, the British Isles contain two sovereign states: the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. There are also three Crown dependencies: Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. The United Kingdom comprises England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, each country having its own history, with all but Northern Ireland having been independent states at one point. The history of the formation of the United Kingdom is very complex.

Republic of Ireland Country in Europe on the island of Ireland

Ireland, also known as the Republic of Ireland, is a country in north-western Europe occupying 26 of 32 counties of the island of Ireland. The capital and largest city is Dublin, which is located on the eastern side of the island. Around a third of the country's population of 4.8 million people resides in the greater Dublin area. The sovereign state shares its only land border with Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom. It is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the Celtic Sea to the south, St George's Channel to the south-east, and the Irish Sea to the east. It is a unitary, parliamentary republic. The legislature, the Oireachtas, consists of a lower house, Dáil Éireann, an upper house, Seanad Éireann, and an elected President who serves as the largely ceremonial head of state, but with some important powers and duties. The head of government is the Taoiseach, who is elected by the Dáil and appointed by the President; the Taoiseach in turn appoints other government ministers.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Crown dependencies Self-governing possessions of the British crown

The Crown dependencies are three island territories off the coast of Great Britain that are self-governing possessions of the Crown: the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Isle of Man. They do not form part of either the United Kingdom or the British Overseas Territories. Internationally, the dependencies are considered "territories for which the United Kingdom is responsible", rather than sovereign states. As a result, they are not member states of the Commonwealth of Nations. However, they do have relationships with the Commonwealth, the European Union, and other international organisations, and are members of the British–Irish Council. They have their own teams in the Commonwealth Games. They are not part of the European Union (EU), although they are within the EU's customs area. The Isle of Man is within the EU's VAT area.

The British monarch was head of state of all of the countries of the British Isles from the Union of the Crowns in 1603 until the enactment of the Republic of Ireland Act in 1949, although the term "British Isles" was not used in 1603. Additionally, since the independence of most of Ireland, historians of the region often avoid the term British Isles due to the complexity of relations between the peoples of the archipelago (see: Terminology of the British Isles ).

A head of state is the public persona who officially represents the national unity and legitimacy of a sovereign state. Depending on the country's form of government and separation of powers, the head of state may be a ceremonial figurehead or concurrently the head of government. In a parliamentary system, the head of state usually has mostly ceremonial powers, with a separate head of government, although in some parliamentary systems, such as Botswana, the head of state is also the head of government. Likewise, in some parliamentary systems the head of state is not the head of government, but still has significant powers, for example Morocco. In contrast, a semi-presidential system, such as France, has both heads of state and government as the leaders de facto of the nation. Meanwhile, in presidential systems such as the United States, the head of state is also the head of government.

The Union of the Crowns was the accession of James VI of Scotland to the thrones of England and Ireland, and the consequential unification for some purposes of the three realms under a single monarch on 24 March 1603. The Union of Crowns followed the death of Elizabeth I of England, the last monarch of the Tudor dynasty, who was James's unmarried and childless first cousin twice removed.

Archipelago A group of islands

An archipelago, sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster or collection of islands, or sometimes a sea containing a small number of scattered islands.

Prehistoric

Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods

The Palaeolithic and Mesolithic, also known as the Old and Middle Stone Ages, were characterised by a hunter-gatherer economy and a reliance on stone tool technologies.

Mesolithic Prehistoric period, second part of the Stone Age

In Old World archaeology, Mesolithic is the period between the Upper Paleolithic and the Neolithic. The term Epipaleolithic is often used synonymously, especially for outside northern Europe, and for the corresponding period in the Levant and Caucasus. The Mesolithic has different time spans in different parts of Eurasia. It refers to the final period of hunter-gatherer cultures in Europe and Western Asia, between the end of the Last Glacial Maximum and the Neolithic Revolution. In Europe it spans roughly 15,000 to 5,000 BP; in Southwest Asia roughly 20,000 to 8,000 BP. The term is less used of areas further east, and not at all beyond Eurasia and North Africa.

Hunter-gatherer human living in a society in which most or all food is obtained by foraging (collecting wild plants and pursuing wild animals)

A hunter-gatherer is a human living in a society in which most or all food is obtained by foraging. Hunter-gatherer societies stand in contrast to agricultural societies, which rely mainly on domesticated species.

Palaeolithic

The Lower Palaeolithic period in the British Isles saw the region's first known habitation by early hominids, specifically the extinct Homo heidelbergensis.

Several species of humans have intermittently occupied Britain for almost a million years. The Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD is conventionally regarded as the end of Prehistoric Britain and the start of recorded history in the island, although some historical information is available from before then.

<i>Homo heidelbergensis</i> Extinct species of the genus Homo

Homo heidelbergensis is an extinct species or subspecies of archaic humans in the genus Homo, which radiated in the Middle Pleistocene from about 700,000 to 300,000 years ago, known from fossils found in Southern Africa, East Africa and Europe. African H. heidelbergensis has several subspecies. The subspecies are Homo heidelbergensis heidelbergensis, Homo heidelbergensis daliensis, Homo rhodesiensis, and Homo heidelbergensis steinheimensi. The derivation of Homo sapiens from Homo rhodesiensis has often been proposed, but is obscured by a fossil gap from 400–260 kya. The species was originally named Homo heidelbergensis due to the skeleton's first discovery near Heidelberg, Germany.

One of the most prominent archaeological sites dating to this period is that of Boxgrove Quarry in West Sussex, southern England.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Mesolithic (10,000 to 4,500 BC)

By the Mesolithic, Homo sapiens , or modern humans, were the only hominid species to still survive in the British Isles. British Isles were linked to continental Europe by a territory named Doggerland.

Neolithic and Bronze Ages (4500 to 600 BC)

In the British Isles, the Neolithic and Bronze Ages saw the transformation of British and Irish society and landscape. It saw the adoption of agriculture, as communities gave up their hunter-gatherer modes of existence to begin farming.

Iron Age (1200 BC to 600 AD)

As its name suggests, the British Iron Age is also characterised by the adoption of iron, a metal which was used to produce a variety of different tools, ornaments and weapons.

In the course of the first millennium BC, and possibly earlier, some combination of trans-cultural diffusion and immigration from continental Europe resulted in the establishment of Celtic languages in the islands, eventually giving rise to the Insular Celtic group. What languages were spoken in the islands before is unknown, though they are assumed to have been Pre-Indo-European.

Classical period

End of Roman rule in Britain, 383-410 End.of.Roman.rule.in.Britain.383.410.jpg
End of Roman rule in Britain, 383–410

In 55 and 54 BC, Roman general and future dictator Gaius Julius Caesar launched two separate invasions of the British Isles, though neither resulted in a full Roman occupation of the island.

In 43 AD, southern Britain became part of the Roman Empire. On Nero's accession Roman Britain extended as far north as Lindum (Lincoln). Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, the conqueror of Mauretania (modern-day Algeria and Morocco), then became governor of Britain, where he spent most of his governorship campaigning in Wales. Eventually in 60 AD he penned up the last resistance and the last of the druids in the island of Mona (Anglesey). Paulinus led his army across the Menai Strait and massacred the druids and burnt their sacred groves. At the moment of triumph, news came of the Boudican revolt in East Anglia.

The suppression of the Boudican revolt was followed by a period of expansion of the Roman province, including the subjugation of south Wales. Between 77 and 83 AD the new governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola led a series of campaigns which enlarged the province significantly, taking in north Wales, northern Britain, and most of Caledonia (Scotland). The Celts fought with determination and resilience, but faced a superior, professional army, and it is likely that between 100,000 and 250,000 may have perished in the conquest period. [1]

Medieval period

Early medieval

The Early medieval period saw a series of invasions of Britain by the Germanic-speaking Saxons, beginning in the 5th century. Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were formed and, through wars with British states, gradually came to cover the territory of present-day England. Around 600, seven principal kingdoms had emerged, beginning the so-called period of the Heptarchy. During that period, the Anglo-Saxon states were Christianised (the conversion of the British ones had begun much earlier). In the 9th century, Vikings from Denmark and Norway conquered most of England. Only the Kingdom of Wessex under Alfred the Great survived and even managed to re-conquer and unify England for much of the 10th century, before a new series of Danish raids in the late 10th century and early 11th century culminated in the wholesale subjugation of England to Denmark under Canute the Great. Danish rule was overthrown and the local House of Wessex was restored to power under Edward the Confessor for about two decades until his death in 1066.

Late Medieval

Bayeux Tapestry depicting events leading to the Norman conquest of England, which defined much of the subsequent history of the British Isles Bayeux Tapestry WillelmDux.jpg
Bayeux Tapestry depicting events leading to the Norman conquest of England, which defined much of the subsequent history of the British Isles

In 1066, William, Duke of Normandy said he was the rightful heir to the English throne, invaded England, and defeated King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings. Proclaiming himself to be King William I, he strengthened his regime by appointing loyal members of the Norman elite to many positions of authority, building a system of castles across the country and ordering a census of his new kingdom, the Domesday Book. The Late Medieval period was characterised by many battles between England and France, coming to a head in the Hundred Years' War from which France emerged victorious. The monarchs throughout the Late Medieval period belonged to the houses of Plantaganet, Lancaster and York.

Early modern period

Major historical events in the early modern period include the English Renaissance, the English Reformation and Scottish Reformation, the English Civil War, the Restoration of Charles II, the Glorious Revolution, the Treaty of Union, the Scottish Enlightenment and the formation of the First British Empire.

19th century

1801 to 1837

Union of Great Britain and Ireland

The Kingdom of Ireland was a settler state; the monarch was the incumbent monarch of England and later of Great Britain. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland headed the government on behalf of the monarch. He was assisted by the Chief Secretary of Ireland. Both were responsible to the government in London rather than to the Parliament of Ireland. Before the Constitution of 1782, the Irish parliament was also severely fettered, and decisions in Irish courts could be overturned on appeal to the British House of Lords in London.

Ireland gained a degree of independence in the 1780s thanks to Henry Grattan. During this time the effects of the penal laws on the primarily Roman Catholic population were reduced, and some property-owning Catholics were granted the franchise in 1794; however, they were still excluded from becoming members of the Irish House of Commons. This brief period of limited independence came to an end following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which occurred during the British war with revolutionary France. The British government's fear of an independent Ireland siding against them with the French resulted in the decision to unite the two countries. This was brought about by legislation in the parliaments of both kingdoms and came into effect on 1 January 1801. The Irish had been led to believe by the British that their loss of legislative independence would be compensated for with Catholic Emancipation, i.e. by the removal of civil disabilities placed upon Roman Catholics in both Great Britain and Ireland. However, King George III was bitterly opposed to any such Emancipation and succeeded in defeating his government's attempts to introduce it. [ citation needed ]

Napoleonic Wars

During the War of the Second Coalition (1799–1801), Britain occupied most of the French and Dutch overseas possessions, the Netherlands having become a satellite state of France in 1796, but tropical diseases claimed the lives of over 40,000 troops. When the Treaty of Amiens ended the war, Britain agreed to return most of the territories it had seized. The peace settlement was in effect only a ceasefire, and Napoleon continued to provoke the British by attempting a trade embargo on the country and by occupying the city of Hanover, capital of the Electorate, a German-speaking duchy which was in a personal union with the United Kingdom. In May 1803, war was declared again. Napoleon's plans to invade Britain failed, chiefly due to the inferiority of his navy, and in 1805 Lord Nelson's Royal Navy fleet decisively defeated the French and Spanish at Trafalgar, ending any hopes Napoleon had to wrest control of the oceans away from the British. [2]

The British HMS Sandwich fires to the French flagship Bucentaure (completely dismasted) into battle off Trafalgar. The Bucentaure also fights HMS Victory (behind her) and HMS Temeraire (left side of the picture). In fact, HMS Sandwich never fought at Trafalgar, it is a mistake from Auguste Mayer, the painter. Trafalgar-Auguste Mayer.jpg
The British HMS Sandwich fires to the French flagship Bucentaure (completely dismasted) into battle off Trafalgar. The Bucentaure also fights HMS Victory (behind her) and HMS Temeraire (left side of the picture). In fact, HMS Sandwich never fought at Trafalgar, it is a mistake from Auguste Mayer, the painter.

In 1806, Napoleon issued the series of Berlin Decrees, which brought into effect the Continental System. This policy aimed to eliminate the threat from the British by closing French-controlled territory to foreign trade. The British Army remained a minimal threat to France; it maintained a standing strength of just 220,000 men at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, whereas France's armies exceeded a million men—in addition to the armies of numerous allies and several hundred thousand national guardsmen that Napoleon could draft into the French armies when they were needed. Although the Royal Navy effectively disrupted France's extra-continental trade—both by seizing and threatening French shipping and by seizing French colonial possessions—it could do nothing about France's trade with the major continental economies and posed little threat to French territory in Europe. France's population and agricultural capacity far outstripped that of Britain. [4]

Top French leaders argued that cutting the British off from the European mainland would end their economic hegemony, but the United Kingdom possessed the greatest industrial capacity in the world, and its mastery of the seas allowed it to build up considerable economic strength through trade to its possessions from its rapidly expanding new Empire. In terms of economic damage to Britain, the blockade was largely ineffective. As Napoleon realized that extensive trade was going through Spain and Russia, he invaded those two countries. He tied down his forces in Spain, and lost very badly in Russia in 1812. [5] The Spanish uprising in 1808 at last permitted Britain to gain a foothold on the Continent. The Duke of Wellington and his army of British and Portuguese gradually pushed the French out of Spain, and in early 1814, as Napoleon was being driven back in the east by the Prussians, Austrians, and Russians, Wellington invaded southern France. After Napoleon's surrender and exile to the island of Elba, peace appeared to have returned, but when he escaped back into France in 1815, the British and their allies had to fight him again. The armies of Wellington and Blucher defeated Napoleon once and for all at Waterloo. [6]

Signing of the Treaty of Ghent With the United States (1814), by A. Forestier Signing of Treaty of Ghent (1814).jpg
Signing of the Treaty of Ghent With the United States (1814), by A. Forestier

Simultaneous with the Napoleonic Wars, trade disputes and British impressment of American sailors led to the War of 1812 with the United States. A central event in American history, it was little noticed in Britain, where all attention was focused on the struggle with France. The British could devote few resources to the conflict until the fall of Napoleon in 1814. American frigates also inflicted a series of embarrassing defeats on the British navy, which was short on manpower due to the conflict in Europe.

A stepped-up war effort that year brought about some successes such as the burning of Washington, D.C., but the Duke of Wellington argued that an outright victory over the U.S. was impossible because the Americans controlled the western Great Lakes and had destroyed the power of Britain's Indian allies. A full-scale British invasion was defeated in upstate New York. Peace was agreed to at the end of 1814, but unaware of this, Andrew Jackson won a great victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815 (news took several weeks to cross the Atlantic before the advent of steam ships). The Treaty of Ghent subsequently ended the war with no territorial changes. It was the last war between Britain and the United States. [7]

George IV and William IV

Britain emerged from the Napoleonic Wars a very different country than it had been in 1793. As industrialisation progressed, society changed, becoming more urban and less rural. The postwar period saw an economic slump, and poor harvests and inflation caused widespread social unrest. Europe after 1815 was on guard against a return of Jacobinism, and even liberal Britain saw the passage of the Six Acts in 1819, which proscribed radical activities. By the end of the 1820s, along with a general economic recovery, many of these repressive laws were repealed and in 1828 new legislation guaranteed the civil rights of religious dissenters.

A weak ruler as regent (1811–20) and king (1820–30), George IV let his ministers take full charge of government affairs, playing a far lesser role than his father, George III. His governments, with little help from the king, presided over victory in the Napoleonic Wars, negotiated the peace settlement, and attempted to deal with the social and economic malaise that followed. [8] His brother William IV ruled (1830–37), but was little involved in politics. His reign saw several reforms: the poor law was updated, child labour restricted, slavery abolished in nearly all the British Empire, and, most important, the Reform Act 1832 refashioned the British electoral system. [9]

There were no major wars until the Crimean War (1853–56). [10] While Prussia, Austria, and Russia, as absolute monarchies, tried to suppress liberalism wherever it might occur, the British came to terms with new ideas. Britain intervened in Portugal in 1826 to defend a constitutional government there and recognising the independence of Spain's American colonies in 1824. [11] British merchants and financiers, and later railway builders, played major roles in the economies of most Latin American nations. [12]

Whig reforms of the 1830s

The Whig Party recovered its strength and unity by supporting moral reforms, especially the reform of the electoral system, the abolition of slavery and emancipation of the Catholics. Catholic emancipation was secured in the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which removed the most substantial restrictions on Roman Catholics in Great Britain and Ireland. [13]

The Whigs became champions of Parliamentary reform. They made Lord Grey prime minister 1830–1834, and the Reform Act of 1832 became their signature measure. It broadened the franchise and ended the system of "rotten borough" and "pocket boroughs" (where elections were controlled by powerful families), and instead redistributed power on the basis of population. It added 217,000 voters to an electorate of 435,000 in England and Wales. The main effect of the act was to weaken the power of the landed gentry, and enlarge the power of the professional and business middle-class, which now for the first time had a significant voice in Parliament. However, the great majority of manual workers, clerks, and farmers did not have enough property to qualify to vote. The aristocracy continued to dominate the government, the Army and Royal Navy, and high society. [13] After parliamentary investigations demonstrated the horrors of child labour, limited reforms were passed in 1833.

Chartism emerged after the 1832 Reform Bill failed to give the vote to the working class. Activists denounced the "betrayal" of the working classes and the "sacrificing" of their "interests" by the "misconduct" of the government. In 1838, Chartists issued the People's Charter demanding manhood suffrage, equal sized election districts, voting by ballots, payment of Members of Parliament (so that poor men could serve), annual Parliaments, and abolition of property requirements. The ruling class saw the movement as pathological, [ clarification needed ] so the Chartists were unable to force serious constitutional debate. Historians see Chartism as both a continuation of the 18th century fight against corruption and as a new stage in demands for democracy in an industrial society. [14] In 1832 Parliament abolished slavery in the Empire with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. The government purchased the slaves for £20,000,000 (the money went to rich plantation owners who mostly lived in England), and freed the slaves, especially those in the Caribbean sugar islands. [15]

Leadership

Prime Ministers of the period included: William Pitt the Younger, Lord Grenville, Duke of Portland, Spencer Perceval, Lord Liverpool, George Canning, Lord Goderich, Duke of Wellington, Lord Grey, Lord Melbourne, and Sir Robert Peel.

Victorian era

Queen Victoria (1837-1901) Queen Victoria by Bassano.jpg
Queen Victoria (1837–1901)

The Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria's rule between 1837 and 1901 which signified the height of the British Industrial Revolution and the apex of the British Empire. Scholars debate whether the Victorian period—as defined by a variety of sensibilities and political concerns that have come to be associated with the Victorians—actually begins with the passage of the Reform Act 1832. The era was preceded by the Regency era and succeeded by the Edwardian period. Victoria became queen in 1837 at age 18. Her long reign saw Britain reach the zenith of its economic and political power, with the introduction of steam ships, railroads, photography, and the telegraph. Britain again remained mostly inactive in Continental politics. [ citation needed ]

Foreign policy

Free trade imperialism

The Great London Exhibition of 1851 clearly demonstrated Britain's dominance in engineering and industry; that lasted until the rise of the United States and Germany in the 1890s. Using the imperial tools of free trade and financial investment, [16] it exerted major influence on many countries outside Europe, especially in Latin America and Asia. Thus Britain had both a formal Empire based on British rule as well as an informal one based on the British pound. [17]

Russia, France and the Ottoman Empire

One nagging fear was the possible collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It was well understood that a collapse of that country would set off a scramble for its territory and possibly plunge Britain into war. To head that off Britain sought to keep the Russians from occupying Constantinople and taking over the Bosporous Straits, as well as from threatening India via Afghanistan. [18] In 1853, Britain and France intervened in the Crimean War against Russia. Despite mediocre generalship, they managed to capture the Russian port of Sevastopol, compelling Tsar Nicholas I to ask for peace. [19]

The next Russo-Ottoman war in 1877 led to another European intervention, although this time at the negotiating table. The Congress of Berlin blocked Russia from imposing the harsh Treaty of San Stefano on the Ottoman Empire. [20] Despite its alliance with the French in the Crimean War, Britain viewed the Second Empire of Napoleon III with some distrust, especially as the emperor constructed ironclad warships and began returning France to a more active foreign policy. [ citation needed ]

American Civil War

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), British leaders favoured the Confederacy, a major source of cotton for textile mills. Prince Albert was effective in defusing a war scare in late 1861. The British people, however, who depended heavily on American food imports, generally favoured the Union. What little cotton was available came from New York, as the blockade by the US Navy shut down 95% of Southern exports to Britain. In September 1862, Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation. Since support of the Confederacy now meant supporting the institution of slavery, there was no possibility of European intervention. [21] The British sold arms to both sides, built blockade runners for a lucrative trade with the Confederacy, and surreptitiously allowed warships to be built for the Confederacy. The warships caused a major diplomatic row that was resolved in the Alabama Claims in 1872, in the Americans' favour. [22]

Empire expands

In 1867, Britain united most of its North American colonies as Canada, giving it self-government and responsibility for its own defence, but Canada did not have an independent foreign policy until 1931. Several of the colonies temporarily refused to join the Dominion despite pressure from both Canada and Britain; the last one, Newfoundland, held out until 1949. The second half of the 19th century saw a huge expansion of Britain's colonial empire, mostly in Africa. A talk of the Union Jack flying "from Cairo to Cape Town" only became a reality at the end of the Great War. Having possessions on six continents, Britain had to defend all of its empire and did so with a volunteer army, the only great power in Europe to have no conscription. Some questioned whether the country was overstretched.

The rise of the German Empire since its creation in 1871 posed a new challenge, for it (along with the United States), threatened to usurp Britain's place as the world's foremost industrial power. Germany acquired a number of colonies in Africa and the Pacific, but Chancellor Otto von Bismarck succeeded in achieving general peace through his balance of power strategy. When William II became emperor in 1888, he discarded Bismarck, began using bellicose language, and planned to build a navy to rival Britain's. [23]

Ever since Britain had wrested control of the Cape Colony from the Netherlands during the Napoleonic Wars, it had co-existed with Dutch settlers who had migrated further away from the Cape and created two republics of their own. The British imperial vision called for control over these new countries, and the Dutch-speaking "Boers" (or "Afrikaners") fought back in the War in 1899–1902. Outgunned by a mighty empire, the Boers waged a guerrilla war (which certain other British territories would later employ to attain independence). This gave the British regulars a difficult fight, but their weight of numbers, superior equipment, and often brutal tactics, eventually brought about a British victory. The war had been costly in human rights and was widely criticised by Liberals in Britain and worldwide. However, the United States gave its support. The Boer republics were merged into the Union of South Africa in 1910; this had internal self-government, but its foreign policy was controlled by London and it was an integral part of the British Empire. [24]

Ireland and the move to Home Rule

Part of the agreement which led to the 1800 Act of Union stipulated that the Penal Laws in Ireland were to be repealed and Catholic emancipation granted. However King George III blocked emancipation, arguing that to grant it would break his coronation oath to defend the Anglican Church. A campaign by the lawyer Daniel O'Connell, and the death of George III, led to the concession of Catholic Emancipation in 1829, allowing Roman Catholics to sit in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. But Catholic Emancipation was not O'Connell's ultimate goal, which was Repeal of the Act of Union with Great Britain. On 1 January 1843 O'Connell confidently, but wrongly, declared that Repeal would be achieved that year. When potato blight hit the island in 1846, much of the rural population was left without food, because cash crops were being exported to pay rents. [25] [26]

British politicians such as the Prime Minister Robert Peel were at this time wedded to the economic policy of laissez-faire, which argued against state intervention. While funds were raised by private individuals and charities, lack of adequate action let the problem become a catastrophe. Cottiers (or farm labourers) were largely wiped out during what is known in Ireland as the "Great Hunger". A significant minority elected Unionists, who championed the Union. A Church of Ireland former Tory barrister turned nationalist campaigner, Isaac Butt, established a new moderate nationalist movement, the Home Rule League, in the 1870s. After Butt's death the Home Rule Movement, or the Irish Parliamentary Party as it had become known, was turned into a major political force under the guidance of William Shaw and a radical young Protestant landowner, Charles Stewart Parnell. [ citation needed ]

Parnell's movement campaigned for "Home Rule", by which they meant that Ireland would govern itself as a region within the United Kingdom. Two Home Rule Bills (1886 and 1893) were introduced by Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, but neither became law, mainly due to opposition from the Conservative Party and the House of Lords. The issue was a source of contention throughout Ireland, as a significant majority of Unionists (largely but not exclusively based in Ulster), opposed Home Rule, fearing that a Catholic Nationalist ("Rome Rule") Parliament in Dublin would discriminate or retaliate against them, impose Roman Catholic doctrine, and impose tariffs on industry. While most of Ireland was primarily agricultural, six of the counties in Ulster were the location of heavy industry and would be affected by any tariff barriers imposed. [ citation needed ]

20th century to present

1900–1945

At the turn of the century, Britain was involved in the Second Boer War in South Africa.

Queen Victoria, who had reigned since 1837, died in 1901 and was succeeded by her son, Edward VII, who, in turn, was succeeded by George V in 1910.

In 1914, Britain entered the First World War by declaring war on Germany. Nearly a million Britons were killed in the war, which lasted until Germany's surrender on 11 November 1918.

Home Rule in Ireland, which had been a major political issue since the late 19th century but put on hold by the war, was somewhat resolved after the Irish War of Independence brought the British Government to a stalemate in 1922. Negotiations led to the formation of the Irish Free State. However, in order to appease Unionists in the north, the north-eastern six counties remained as part of the U.K., forming Northern Ireland with its own Parliament at Stormont in Belfast.

Having been in power for much of the early 20th century under Prime Ministers Campbell-Bannerman, Asquith and Lloyd George, the Liberal party suffered a sharp decline from 1922; the newly formed Labour party, whose leader Ramsay MacDonald led two minority governments, swiftly became the Conservatives' main opposition, and Britain's largest party of the left.

King Edward VIII succeeded his father George V in January 1936, but was quickly met with difficulties due to his love affair with Wallis Simpson, an American who had already been married twice. In December, he decided to abdicate in order to be able to marry Simpson, and his brother George VI was crowned king.

In order to avoid another European conflict, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempted to appease German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, who was expanding his country's territory across Central Europe. Despite proclaiming that he has achieved "peace for our time", Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, following Hitler's invasion of Poland two days earlier. The U.K. thus joined the Allied forces in opposition to the Axis forces of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. For the first time, civilians were not exempt from the war, as London suffered nightly bombings during the Blitz. Much of London was destroyed, with 1,400,245 buildings destroyed or damaged. [27] At the war's end in 1945, however, the U.K. emerged as one of the victorious nations.

1945–1997

Winston Churchill, who had been leader of the wartime coalition government, suffered a surprising landslide defeat to Clement Attlee's Labour party in 1945 elections. Attlee created a Welfare State in Britain, which most notably provided free healthcare under the National Health Service. By the late 1940s, the Cold War was underway, which would dominate British foreign policy for another 40 years.

In 1951, Churchill and the Tories returned to power; they would govern uninterrupted for the next 13 years. King George VI died in 1952, and was succeeded by his eldest daughter, Elizabeth II.

Churchill was succeeded in 1955 by Sir Anthony Eden, whose premiership was dominated by the Suez Crisis, in which Britain, France and Israel plotted to bomb Egypt after its President Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal. Eden's successor, Harold Macmillan, split the Conservatives when Britain applied to join the European Economic Community, but French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed the application.

Labour returned to power in 1964 under Harold Wilson, who brought in a number of social reforms, including the legalisation of abortion, the abolition of capital punishment and the decriminalisation of homosexuality. In 1973, Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath succeeded in securing U.K. membership in the European Economic Community (EEC), what would later become known as the European Union. Wilson, having lost the 1970 election to Heath, returned to power in 1974; however, Labour's reputation was harmed by the winter of discontent of 1978-9 under Jim Callaghan, which enabled the Conservatives to re-take control of Parliament in 1979, under Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first female Prime Minister.

Although Thatcher's economic reforms made her initially unpopular, her decision in 1982 to retake the Falkland Islands from invading Argentine forces, in what would become known as the Falklands War, changed her fortunes and enabled a landslide victory in 1983. After winning an unprecedented third election in 1987, however, Thatcher's popularity began to fade and she was replaced by former chancellor John Major in 1990.

Tensions between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland came to a head in the late 1960s, when nationalist participants in a civil rights march were shot by members of the B Specials, a reserve police force manned almost exclusively by unionists. From this point the Provisional Irish Republican Army, also known as the Provos or simply the IRA, began a bombing campaign throughout the U.K., beginning a period known as The Troubles, which lasted until the late 1990s.

Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Elizabeth's eldest son married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981; the couple had two children, William and Harry, but divorced in 1992, during which year Prince Andrew and Princess Anne also separated from their spouses, leading the Queen to call the year her 'annus horribilis'. In 1997, Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris, leading to a mass outpouring of grief across the United Kingdom, and indeed the world.

On the international stage, the second half of the 20th century was dominated by the Cold War between the Soviet Union and its socialist allies and the United States and its capitalist allies; the U.K. was a key supporter of the latter, joining the anti-Soviet military alliance NATO in 1949. During this period, the U.K. became involved in several Cold War conflicts, such as the Korean War (1950–1953). In contrast, the Republic of Ireland remained neutral and provided troops to U.N. peace-keeping missions.

1997–present

In 1997, Tony Blair was elected prime minister in a landslide victory for the so-called 'New Labour', economically following 'Third Way' programmes. Blair won re-election in 2001 and 2005, before handing over power to his chancellor Gordon Brown in 2007. After a decade of prosperity both the U.K. and the Irish Republic were affected by the global recession, which began in 2008. In 2010, the Conservative party formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, with Tory leader David Cameron as Prime Minister. In 2015 polling suggested a hung parliament was the most likely outcome in the General Election; however the Conservatives secured a slim majority.

After the September 11 Attacks, the U.K. supported the U.S. in their "War on Terror", and joined them in the War in Afghanistan (2001–present) and the invasion of Iraq. London was attacked in July 2005. The U.K. also took a leading role in the 2011 military intervention in Libya. In a referendum in 2016, the U.K. voted to leave the European Union.

After becoming Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party shortly after David Cameron’s resignation following the Brexit result, an election, called by the incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May (the former Home Secretary) in 2017, breaking the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, in an attempt to gain a larger majority for Brexit negotiations and also as an advantage, as the Labour Party were doing badly in the polls, the Conservative Party lost their majority despite winning a record number of votes, and were restricted to forming a "supply and confidence" deal, yet not a formal coalition with the Northern Irish unionist party, the DUP in order to have a working majority in the House of Commons.

Periods

Timeline history of the British Isles

DateStates/PeoplesEvents
pre-6th c. BC Prehistoric Britain, Prehistoric Ireland  
6th to 1st c. BC British Iron Age, Iron Age tribes in Britain, Insular Celtic  
Gauls Brythons Picts Gaels  
51 BC Gallia Lugdunensis (Roman province)    
43 AD Britannia (Roman province) Roman conquest of Britain
410Brythons Anglo-Saxon England Hen Ogledd  
638  Kingdom of Strathclyde Viking raids
843   
845 Kingdom of Brittany   
878 Danelaw  
911 Duchy of Normandy  
927 Kingdom of England  
1054 Kingdom of Alba Norman conquest of England
1079 Kingdom of Mann and the Isles   
1098 Cymru   Kingdom of Norway   Norman invasion of Ireland
1171 Lordship of Ireland   
1204   Magna Carta
Treaty of York
1266  
1282  Wars of Scottish Independence
1333 Bailiwick of Guernsey Bailiwick of Jersey Isle of Man   
1469 Kingdom of Scotland Poynings' Law
1541  Scottish Reformation
Tudor conquest of Ireland
Union of the Crowns
1607 Kingdom of Ireland Flight of the Earls
Plantation of Ulster
Wars of the Three Kingdoms
1641  Confederate Ireland  
1649 Commonwealth of England Cromwellian conquest of Ireland
1653 Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland  
1660Kingdom of EnglandKingdom of ScotlandKingdom of Ireland Penal Laws
Revolution of 1688
Battle of the Boyne
1707 Kingdom of Great Britain Acts of Union 1707
Battle of Culloden
Irish Rebellion of 1798
1801 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland   Act of Union 1800
Catholic Emancipation
Irish Potato Famine
1919 Irish Republic Irish War of Independence
Partition of Ireland
1921/2 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Irish Free State  
1937 Ireland The Emergency
Battle of Britain
The Troubles
Celtic Tiger
1999 Wales   Scotland Good Friday Agreement

Geographic

States

Supranational

See also

Related Research Articles

History of Europe History of Europe from the beginnings of recorded history

The history of Europe covers the peoples inhabiting Europe from prehistory to the present. During the Neolithic era and the time of the Indo-European migrations Europe saw human inflows from east and southeast and subsequent important cultural and material exchange. The period known as classical antiquity began with the emergence of the city-states of ancient Greece. Later, the Roman Empire came to dominate the entire Mediterranean basin. The fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476 traditionally marks the start of the Middle Ages. Beginning in the 14th century a Renaissance of knowledge challenged traditional doctrines in science and theology. Simultaneously, the Protestant Reformation set up Protestant churches primarily in Germany, Scandinavia and England. After 1800, the Industrial Revolution brought prosperity to Britain and Western Europe. The main powers set up colonies in most of the Americas and Africa, and parts of Asia. In the 20th century, World War I and World War II resulted in massive numbers of deaths. The Cold War dominated European geo-politics from 1947 to 1989.

Tory A conservative political philosophy

A Tory is a person who holds a political philosophy known as Toryism, based on a British version of traditionalism and conservatism, which upholds the supremacy of social order as it has evolved in the English culture throughout history. The Tory ethos has been summed up with the phrase "God, Queen, and Country". Tories generally advocate monarchism, and were historically of a high church Anglican religious heritage, opposed to the liberalism of the Whig faction.

History of the United Kingdom History of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom

The Act of Union 1800 added the Kingdom of Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The Whigs were a political faction and then a political party in the parliaments of England, Scotland, Great Britain, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Between the 1680s and 1850s, they contested power with their rivals, the Tories. The Whigs' origin lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute monarchy. The Whigs played a central role in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and were the standing enemies of the Stuart kings and pretenders, who were Roman Catholic. The Whigs took full control of the government in 1715 and remained totally dominant until King George III, coming to the throne in 1760, allowed Tories back in. The Whig Supremacy (1715–1760) was enabled by the Hanoverian succession of George I in 1714 and the failed Jacobite rising of 1715 by Tory rebels. The Whigs thoroughly purged the Tories from all major positions in government, the army, the Church of England, the legal profession and local offices. The Party's hold on power was so strong and durable, historians call the period from roughly 1714 to 1783 the age of the Whig Oligarchy. The first great leader of the Whigs was Robert Walpole, who maintained control of the government through the period 1721–1742 and whose protégé Henry Pelham led from 1743 to 1754.

William Pitt the Younger 18th/19th-century British statesman

William Pitt the Younger was a prominent British Tory statesman of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. He became the youngest UK Prime Minister in 1783 at the age of 24. He left office in 1801, but served as Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer for all of his time as Prime Minister.

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Historical sovereign state from 1801 to 1921

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was a sovereign state established by the Acts of Union 1800, which merged the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland.

Kingdom of Great Britain Constitutional monarchy in Western Europe between 1707 and 1801

The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially called Great Britain, was a sovereign state in western Europe from 1 May 1707 to 1 January 1801. The state came into being following the Treaty of Union in 1706, ratified by the Acts of Union 1707, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single kingdom encompassing the whole island of Great Britain and its outlying islands, with the exception of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The unitary state was governed by a single parliament and government that was based in Westminster. The former kingdoms had been in personal union since James VI of Scotland became King of England and King of Ireland in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I, bringing about the "Union of the Crowns". Since its inception the kingdom was in legislative and personal union with Ireland and after the accession of George I to the throne of Great Britain in 1714, the kingdom was in a personal union with the Electorate of Hanover.

Acts of Union 1800 Acts of the Parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland which united those two Kingdoms

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Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool 18th/19th-century British politician

Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, was a British statesman and Prime Minister (1812–1827). As Prime Minister, Liverpool called for repressive measures at domestic level to maintain order after the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. He dealt smoothly with the Prince Regent when King George III was incapacitated. He also steered the country through the period of radicalism and unrest that followed the Napoleonic Wars. He favoured commercial and manufacturing interests as well as the landed interest. He sought a compromise of the heated issue of Catholic emancipation. The revival of the economy strengthened his political position. By the 1820s he was the leader of a reform faction of "Liberal Tories" who lowered the tariff, abolished the death penalty for many offences, and reformed the criminal law. By the time of his death in office, however, the Tory Party was ripping itself apart. John Derry says he was:

a capable and intelligent statesman, whose skill in building up his party, leading the country to victory in the war against Napoleon, and laying the foundations for prosperity outweighed his unpopularity in the immediate post-Waterloo years.

Catholic emancipation or Catholic relief was a process in the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland, and later the combined United Kingdom in the late 18th century and early 19th century, that involved reducing and removing many of the restrictions on Roman Catholics introduced by the Act of Uniformity, the Test Acts and the penal laws. Requirements to abjure (renounce) the temporal and spiritual authority of the pope and transubstantiation placed major burdens on Roman Catholics.

Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 United Kingdom legislation

The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, passed by Parliament in 1829, was the culmination of the process of Catholic Emancipation throughout the United Kingdom. In Ireland it repealed the Test Act 1672 and the remaining Penal Laws which had been in force since the passing of the Disenfranchising Act of the Irish Parliament of 1728. Its passage followed a vigorous campaign that threatened insurrection led by Irish lawyer Daniel O'Connell. The British leaders, starting with the Prime Minister the Duke of Wellington and his top aide Robert Peel, although personally opposed, gave in to avoid civil strife. Ireland was quiet after the passage.

1830 United Kingdom general election

The 1830 United Kingdom general election was triggered by the death of King George IV and produced the first parliament of the reign of his successor, William IV. Fought in the aftermath of the Swing Riots, it saw electoral reform become a major election issue. Polling took place in July and August and the Tories won a plurality over the Whigs, but division among Tory MPs allowed Earl Grey to form an effective government and take the question of electoral reform to the country the following year.

History of Ireland (1691–1800) aspect of history

The history of Ireland from 1691–1800 was marked by the dominance of the Protestant Ascendancy. These were Anglo-Irish families of the Anglican Church of Ireland, whose English ancestors had settled Ireland in the wake of its conquest by England and colonisation in the Plantations of Ireland, and had taken control most of the land. Many were absentee landlords based in England, but others lived full-time in Ireland and increasingly identified as Irish.. During this time, Ireland was nominally an autonomous Kingdom with its own Parliament; in actuality it was a client state controlled by the King of Great Britain and supervised by his cabinet in London. The great majority of its population, Roman Catholics, were excluded from power and land ownership under the penal laws. The second-largest group, the Presbyterians in Ulster, owned land and businesses but could not vote and had no political power. The period begins with the defeat of the Catholic Jacobites in the Williamite War in Ireland in 1691 and ends with the Acts of Union 1800, which formally annexed Ireland in a United Kingdom from 1 January 1801 and dissolved the Irish Parliament.

History of Western civilization

Western civilization traces its roots back to Europe and the Mediterranean. It is linked to the Roman Empire and with Medieval Western Christendom which emerged from the Middle Ages to experience such transformative episodes as the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, scientific revolution, and the development of liberal democracy. The civilizations of Classical Greece and Ancient Rome are considered seminal periods in Western history; a few cultural contributions also emerged from the pagan peoples of pre-Christian Europe, such as the Celts and Germans, as well as some significant religious contributions derived from Judaism and Hellenistic Judaism stemming back to Second Temple Judea, Galilee, and the early Jewish diaspora; and some other Middle Eastern influences. Christianity and Roman Catholicism has played a prominent role in the shaping of Western civilization, which throughout most of its history, has been nearly equivalent to Christian culture.. Western civilization has spread to produce the dominant cultures of modern Americas and Oceania, and has had immense global influence in recent centuries in many ways.

History of the formation of the United Kingdom

The formation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has involved personal and political union across Great Britain and the wider British Isles. The United Kingdom is the most recent of a number of sovereign states that have been established in Great Britain at different periods in history, in different combinations and under a variety of polities. Norman Davies has counted sixteen different states over the past 2,000 years.

Outline of the United Kingdom Overview of and topical guide to the United Kingdom

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; a sovereign state in Europe, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK), or Britain. Lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland, it includes the island of Great Britain—a term also applied loosely to refer to the whole country—the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands

History of Ireland History of the island and its population, from 12000 years ago to the present

The first evidence of human presence in Ireland dates to about 12,500 years ago, shortly after the receding of the ice after the younger Dryas cold phase of the Quaternary ended around 9700 BC, and heralds the beginning of Prehistoric Ireland, which includes the archaeological periods known as the Mesolithic, the Neolithic from about 4000 BC, the Copper and Bronze Age from about 2300 BC and Iron Age beginning about 600 BC. Ireland's prehistory ends with the emergence of "protohistoric" Gaelic Ireland in the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC.

The history of the foreign relations of the United Kingdom covers British foreign policy from about 1500 to 2000. For the current situation since 2000 see Foreign relations of the United Kingdom.

The issue of Ireland was a major one in British politics off and on for centuries. Britain's attempts to control and administer the country had at times significant consequences for British politics, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. Although nominally autonomous until the end of the 18th century, Ireland became part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801.

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Further reading