The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the sovereign state comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The state began to take its present shape with the Acts of Union in 1707, which united the separate countries of England (including Wales) and Scotland into a united Kingdom of Great Britain under a single parliament.
A further Act of Union in 1800 added the Kingdom of Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
In 1922, the territory of what is now the Republic of Ireland gained independence, leaving Northern Ireland as a continuing part of the United Kingdom. As a result, in 1927 the United Kingdom changed its formal title to "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", usually shortened to "the United Kingdom", "the UK" or "Britain".
The United Kingdom is the most recent of a number of political states that have been established in the British Isles at different periods in history, in different combinations and under a variety of polities. The history of the constituent countries before the UK can be found under England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland. Earlier periods can be found in the article The British Isles.
In 1155 Pope Adrian IV issued the papal bull Laudabiliter giving the Norman King Henry II of England lordship over Ireland. The bull granted Henry the right to invade Ireland in order to reform Church practices, which he acted on in 1171, claiming sovereignty over the island. In 1282, Edward I conquered the last remaining native Welsh principalities in north and west Wales. The Statute of Rhuddlan formally established Edward's rule over Wales two years later although Welsh law continued to be used. The political and administrative union of England and Wales was completed with the Laws in Wales Act 1535 which annexed Wales to the legal system of England. Over time, the English-controlled area of Ireland had shrunk back to the Pale, a fortified area around Dublin and by the end of the 15th century, central English authority in Ireland had all but disappeared. In 1536, Henry VIII decided to re-conquer Ireland so the island would not become a base for future rebellions or foreign invasions of England. In 1541, he upgraded Ireland from a lordship to a full kingdom and was proclaimed King of Ireland at a meeting of the Irish Parliament. The re-conquest was completed during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, after several bloody conflicts. Attempts at converting the Catholic Irish to the Protestant religion were unsuccessful and the brutal methods used to pacify the country heightened resentment of English rule. From the mid-16th and into the early 17th century, Scottish and English Protestants were sent to the provinces of Munster, Ulster and the counties of Laois and Offaly, a policy of colonisation known as Plantations.
In August 1503 James IV, King of Scots, married Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII of England. Almost 100 years later, when Elizabeth I was in the last decade of her reign, it was clear to all that James of Scots, the great-grandson of James IV and Margaret Tudor, was the only generally acceptable heir to the English throne. Elizabeth died on March, 24 1603 and James was proclaimed king in London later the same day. Despite sharing a monarchy, Scotland and England continued as separate countries with separate parliaments for over 100 more years. Ruling over diverse kingdoms proved difficult for James and his successor Charles I of England, particularly when they tried to impose religious uniformity. He attempted to enforce Anglican practices by introducing a Book of Common Prayer and his confrontation with the Scots came to a head in 1639, when he tried and failed to coerce Scotland by military means. Charles I's adherence to the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings fuelled a vicious battle for supremacy between king and Parliament. A small group of Irish conspirators launched the Irish Rebellion of 1641, ostensibly in support of the "King's Rights" but the rising was marked by assaults on the Protestant communities in Ireland, sometimes culminating in massacres. Rumours spread that the killings had the King's sanction and, as a result, the English Parliament refused to pay for a royal army to put down the rebellion and instead raised its own armed forces. The King did likewise, rallying those Royalists (some of them members of Parliament) who believed that loyalty to the Legitimate King was the most important political principle.
The English Civil War broke out in 1642. The Scottish Covenanters, as the Presbyterians called themselves, sided with the English Parliament, joined the war in 1643, and played a major role in the English Parliamentary victory. The King's forces were ground down by the efficiency of Parliament's New Model Army - backed by the financial muscle of the City of London. In 1646, Charles I surrendered. After failing to come to compromise with Parliament, he was arrested and executed in 1649. In Ireland, the rebel Irish Catholics formed their own government - Confederate Ireland with the intention of helping the Royalists in return for religious toleration and political autonomy. Troops from England and Scotland fought in Ireland, and Irish Confederate troops mounted an expedition to Scotland in 1644, sparking the Scottish Civil War. In Scotland, the Royalists had a series of victories in 1644-45, but were crushed with the end of the first English Civil War and the return of the main Covenanter armies to Scotland. After the end of the second English Civil War, the victorious Parliamentary forces, now commanded by Oliver Cromwell, invaded and completed the conquest of Ireland in 1649. Their alliance with the Scottish Covenanters had also broken down, and the Scots crowned Charles II as king. Cromwell therefore embarked on a conquest of Scotland in 1650-51. By the end of the wars, the Three Kingdoms were a unitary state called the English Commonwealth. When Cromwell died in 1658, the Commonwealth fell apart, without major violence and Charles II was restored as King of England, Scotland and Ireland. Under the English Restoration, the political system returned to the constitutional position of before the wars. Scotland and Ireland were returned their Parliaments. However, the issues that had caused the wars - religion, the power of Parliament and the relationship between the Three Kingdoms had not been resolved, only postponed and they would be fought over again in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It was only after this point that the features of modern Britain that were seen in the Civil Wars - a Protestant constitutional monarchy with England dominant and a strong standing army - emerged permanently.
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When Charles II died his Catholic brother James inherited the throne as James II of England and VII of Scotland. When he had a son, the parliament of England decided to depose him in the Glorious Revolution in 1688. He was replaced not by his Roman Catholic son, James Stuart, but by his Protestant daughter and son-in-law, Mary II and William III, who became joint rulers in 1689. James made one serious attempt to recover his crowns, when he landed in Ireland in 1689. After his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in the summer of 1690, James returned to France, living out the rest of his life under the protection of his cousin and ally, King Louis XIV. Supporters of James in Scotland, known as Jacobites, were prepared to resist what they saw as an illegal coup by force of arms. An uprising occurred in support of James in Scotland in 1689, the first Jacobite rebellion but was defeated. Many, particularly in Ireland and Scotland continued to see the Stuarts as the legitimate monarchs of the three kingdoms, and there were further French sponsored Jacobite rebellions in 1715 and 1745.
The first step towards political unification occurred on May 1st, 1707, shortly after the parliaments of Scotland and England had approved Acts of Union combining the two parliaments and the two royal titles. Deeper political integration had been a key policy of Queen Anne (reigned 1702-14), the last Stuart monarch of England and Scotland and the only Stuart monarch of the Kingdom of Great Britain). Under the aegis of the Queen and her advisors a Treaty of Union was drawn up, and negotiations between England and Scotland began in earnest in 1706. The circumstances surrounding Scotland's acceptance of the Bill are to some degree disputed. Scottish proponents of union believed that failure to accede to the Bill would result in the imposition of union under less favourable terms. Months of fierce debate on both sides of the border followed. In Scotland the debate on occasion dissolved into civil disorder, most notably by the notorious 'Edinburgh Mob'. Financial incentives to Scottish parliamentarians also played their part in the vote.
The Acts of Union received royal assent in 1707, thereby abolishing the Parliament of the Kingdom of England and the Parliament of the Kingdom of Scotland to create a unified Kingdom of Great Britain with a single Parliament. Anne became formally the first occupant of the unified British throne and Scotland sent 45 MPs to the new parliament at Westminster. Perhaps the greatest single benefit to Scotland of the Union was that Scotland could enjoy free trade with England and her colonies overseas. For England's part, a possible ally for European states hostile to England had been neutralised while simultaneously securing a Protestant succession to the British throne. The Acts of Union provided for the renaming of Scotland and England as 'North Britain' and 'South Britain' respectively. However, the change failed to take hold and fell into disuse fairly quickly. In England and abroad the terms 'England' and 'Britain' often continue to be used interchangeably, though this error is not mirrored in Scotland. However, certain aspect of the former independent kingdoms remained separate. Examples of Scottish and English institutions which were not merged into the British system include: Scottish and English law which remain separate, as do Scottish and English banking systems, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and Anglican Church of England also remained separate as did the systems of education and higher learning.
The major Jacobite Risings were called the Jacobite Rebellions by the ruling governments. The "First Jacobite Rebellion" and "Second Jacobite Rebellion" were known respectively as "The Fifteen" and "The Forty-Five", after the years in which they occurred (1715 and 1745). Although each Jacobite Rising has unique features, they all formed part of a larger series of military campaigns by Jacobites attempting to restore the Stuart kings to the thrones of Scotland and England (and after 1707, Great Britain) after James VII of Scotland and II of England was deposed in 1688 and the thrones claimed by his daughter Mary II jointly with her husband, the Dutch born William of Orange. The risings continued, and even intensified, after the House of Hanover succeeded to the British Throne in 1714. They continued until the last Jacobite Rebellion ("the Forty-Five"), led by Charles Edward Stuart (the Young Pretender), was soundly defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, ending any realistic hope of a Stuart restoration.
The Flag of the United Kingdom is based on the flags of England, Scotland and IrelandMain article: Act of Union 1800 The second stage in the development of the United Kingdom took effect on January, 1st, 1801, when the Kingdom of Great Britain merged with the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
Events that culminated in the union with Ireland had spanned the previous several centuries. In the early 17th century, large-scale settlement of the province of Ulster by Protestant settlers from both Scotland and England began. Since the time of the first Norman invaders from England, Ireland has been subject to control and regulation, firstly by England then latterly by Great Britain.
The legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland was completed under the Act of Union 1800, changing the country's name to "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". The Act was passed in the British and therefore unrepresentative Irish Parliament with substantial majorities achieved in part (according to contemporary documents) through bribery, namely the awarding of peerages and honors to critics to get their votes. Under the terms of the merger, the separate Parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland were abolished, and replaced by a united Parliament of the United Kingdom. Ireland thus became part of an extended United Kingdom.
Hostilities between Great Britain and France recommenced on May 18, 1803. The Coalition war-aims changed over the course of the conflict: a general desire to restore the French monarchy became closely linked to the struggle to stop Bonaparte. The series of naval and colonial conflicts, including a large number of minor naval actions, resembled those of the French Revolutionary Wars and the preceding centuries of European warfare. Conflicts in the Caribbean, and in particular the seizure of colonial bases and islands throughout the wars, could potentially have some effect upon the European conflict. The Napoleonic conflict had reached the point at which subsequent historians could talk of a "world war". Only the Seven Years' War offered a precedent for widespread conflict on such a scale.
In 1806, Napoleon issued the series of Berlin Decrees, which brought into effect the Continental System. This policy aimed to eliminate the threat of the United Kingdom by closing French-controlled territory to its trade. The United Kingdom's army remained a minimal threat to France; the UK maintained a standing army of just 220,000 at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, whereas France's strength peaked at over 1,500,000 in addition to the armies of numerous allies and several hundred thousand national guardsmen that Napoleon could draft into the military if necessary. The Royal Navy, however, effectively disrupted France's extra-continental trade both by seizing and threatening French shipping and by seizing French colonial possessions but could do nothing about France's trade with the major continental economies and posed little threat to French territory in Europe. In addition France's population and agricultural capacity far outstripped that of the United Kingdom. However, the United Kingdom possessed the greatest industrial capacity in Europe, and its mastery of the seas allowed it to build up considerable economic strength through trade. That sufficed to ensure that France could never consolidate its control over Europe in peace. However, many in the French government believed that cutting the United Kingdom off from the Continent would end its economic influence over Europe and isolate it. Though the French designed the Continental System to achieve this, it never succeeded in its objective.
The Victorian era marked the height of the British Industrial Revolution and the apex of the British Empire. Although commonly used to refer to the period of Queen Victoria's rule between 1837 and 1901, 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 Reform Act 1832. The era was preceded by the Regency era and succeeded by the Edwardian period. The latter half of the Victorian era roughly coincided with the first portion of the Belle Époque era of continental Europe and other non-English speaking countries.
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 under lawyer and politician Daniel O'Connell, and the death of George III, led to the concession of Catholic Emancipation in 1829, allowing Catholics to sit in Parliament. O'Connell then mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the Repeal of the Act of Union. When potato blight hit the island in 1846, much of the rural population was left without food.
The end of the Second World War also saw a landslide General Election victory for Clement Atlee and the Labour Party. They were elected on a manifesto of social justice and left wing policies such as the creation of a National Health Service and the provision of council housing. The UK at the time was poor, relying heavily on loans from the United States of America (which were finally paid off in February 2007) to rebuild its damaged infrastructure. Rationing and conscription dragged on into the post war years, and the country suffered one of the worst winters on record. Nevertheless, morale was boosted by events such as the marriage of Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and the Festival of Britain. As the 1950s wore on, the UK had lost its place as a superpower and could no longer maintain its large Empire. This led to decolonization, and a withdrawal from almost all of its colonies by 1970. Events such as the Suez Crisis showed that the UK's status had fallen in the world. The 1950s and 1960s were, however, relatively prosperous times after the Second World War, and saw the beginning of a modernization of the UK, with the construction of its first motorways. Though the 1970s and 1980s saw the UK's integration to the European Economic Community and a strict modernization of its economy, they were also a time of high unemployment as deindustrialization saw the end of much of the country's manufacturing industries.
On September 11th, 1997, (on the 700th anniversary of the Scottish victory over the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge), a referendum was held on establishing a devolved Scottish Parliament. This resulted in an overwhelming 'yes' vote both to establishing the parliament and granting it limited tax varying powers. Two weeks later, a referendum in Wales on establishing a Welsh Assembly for was also approved but with a very narrow majority. The first elections were held, and these bodies began to operate, in 1999.
Chartism is thought to have originated from the passing of the 1832 Reform Bill, which gave the vote to the majority of the middle classes, but not to the 'working class'. Many people made speeches on the 'betrayal' of the working class and the 'sacrificing' of their 'interests' by the 'misconduct' of the government. In 1838, six members of Parliament and six workingmen formed a committee, which then published the People's Charter. Victorian attitudes and ideals continued into the first years of the 20th century, and what really changed society was the start of World War I. The army was traditionally never a large employer in the nation, and the regular army stood at 247,432 at the start of the war. By 1918, there were about five million people in the army and the fledgling Royal Air Force, newly formed from the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) , was about the same size of the pre-war army. The almost three million casualties were known as the "lost generation", and such numbers inevitably left society scarred; but even so, some people felt their sacrifice was little regarded in Britain, with poems like Siegfried Sassoon's Blighters criticising the ill-informed jingoism of the home front. Conscription brought people of many different classes, and also people from all over the empire, together and this mixing was seen as a great leveller which would only accelerate social change after the war. The social reforms of the last century continued into the 20th with the Labour Party being formed in 1900. Labour did not achieve major success until the 1922 general election. A short lived post-war boom soon led to a depression that would be felt worldwide. Particularly hardest hit were the north of England and Wales, where unemployment reached 70% in some areas. The General Strike was called during 1926 in support of the miners and their falling wages, but little improved, the downturn continued and the Strike is often seen as the start of the slow decline of the British coal industry. In 1936, 200 unemployed men walked from Jarrow to London in a bid to show the plight of the industrial poor, but the Jarrow March, or the 'Jarrow Crusade' as it was known, had little impact and it would not be until the coming war that industrial prospects improved.
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