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History of the British Isles

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Part of a series on the
History of the British Isles

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.

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.

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).

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  • ✪ History of Britain in 20 Minutes
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  • ✪ BBC - Seven Ages of Britain 1/7 Age of Conquest
  • ✪ History of England - Documentary
  • ✪ Genetic Ancestry and the People of the British Isles


the United Kingdom is a nation located in the British Isles made up of England Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland thousands of years ago the Isles were inhabited by long-forgotten pre-celtic people known as the beaker culture named for their distinctive pottery beakers little is known of them but it has been suggested that these people laid the foundations for the mysterious stonehenge a series of heavy standing stones which were transported from 150 miles away and arranged to form a calendar marking the days of the summer and winter solstice over time waves of Celtic speaking people arrived from the European continent who soon came to form the brittonic Gaelic and Pictish people these people were not a unified people but were rather many tribes who shared a similar pagan religion language and culture the Romans invaded conquering what's now England and Wales but failed to conquer the Pictish tribes to the north the Romans launched several campaigns into this land they called Caledonia however their fortifications were soon overrun and abandoned and they retreated to Hadrian's Wall their conquered lands were incorporated into the Roman Empire becoming the province of Britannia they brought Roman customs and laws improved infrastructure and connected many towns and cities with Roman roads when the Romans left there was a great migration of Germanic tribes these were the Jutes Angles and Saxons with their language Old English their settlement pushed many Britons to areas in Wales Brittany and a kingdom known as Domino Nia while Scotland eventually evolved into four kingdoms thus most of these were the Scots who were originally from Ireland the Britons of Strathclyde the anglo-saxon kingdom of Benicia and the pics of Alba for unknown reasons the Jutes disappeared from history but the Angles and Saxons eventually formed Seven Kingdoms Wessex Sussex Kent Essex East Anglia Murcia and Benicia became Northumbria after the collapse of Domino Nia the remaining territory of Cornwall fought against the powerful kingdom of Wessex corn will eventually fall under the control of Wessex but it managed to keep its own culture Wales at this point was also made up of several separate kingdoms the largest being Gwynedd in the North poets in the East and differed to the south the British Isles soon saw numerous Norse raiders from Scandinavia these were the Vikings and they began settlement on many of the Scottish Isles the Isle of Man and they even founded the city of Dublin in Ireland the Scots in the pics then decided to unite under Kenneth MacAlpine to form the Kingdom of Alba the kingdom of albergue grew strong over the years and eventually Strathclyde was bought into the fault meanwhile Danish Vikings arrived in the Anglo Saxon kingdoms for conquest after fighting the king of Wessex Alfred the Great the Danelaw was formed a land where the laws of the Danes held influence over the anglo-saxons controlling the region and its affairs the anglo-saxons eventually defeated the last Viking king of York Erich blood acts and Athelstan became the first king of the English although the newly formed Kingdom of Denmark would conquer England and even found a short-lived Danish dynasty under Knut the Norseman had a dramatic impact on the Isles so it's no wonder some words in the English language have Norse origin after defeating formidable sea Raiders from Ireland the Western Isles Scandinavia and anglo-saxon forces from Murcia were fed up Llewellyn's subdued his rivals in southwest Wales Llewellyn became the only Welsh King ever to rule over the entire territory of Wales he was defeated by the English Earl Harold Godwinson and killed by his own men leading to the Welsh kingdoms splitting apart once more at the death of Edward the Confessor there was a succession dispute between four claimants Harold Godwinson was elected as king and managed to defend England from an invasion by the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada however Howard had semaj his army south to defend against yook William of Normandy who could cross the English Channel according to tradition at the Battle of Hastings Harald was killed by an arrow to the eye and the Norman invaders were victorious the new King William defeated a number of rebellions built a new design of castles called moats and Bailey's and introduced a number of reforms like trial by combat and the Domesday book the Norman dynasty invaded into South Wales and parts of Ireland creating the lordship of Ireland at court Nobles spoken conducted sessions in the anglo-norman language which endured for centuries and left an incredible mark in development of modern English after a brief Civil War henry ii would marry Eleanor of Aquitaine establishing the Angevin Empire beginning a long rivalry against France Richard the Lionheart defended much of this territory and also became a central Christian commander during the Third Crusade achieving considerable victories against his Muslim counterparts Saladin under king john heavy taxes were imposed on his barons in order to pay for his expensive Foreign Wars the Baron's rebelled and forced John to sign the Magna Carta a charter that established the principle that everyone was subject to the law even the king guaranteeing the rights of individuals the right to justice and the right to a fair trial most of North Wales remained independently ruled by several Welsh princes until twelve sixteen when Llewellyn the Great became the ruler of the Principality of Wales this would be the case until it but the first who conquered Wales in 1284 effectively becoming parts England at the death of King Alexander the third Scotland was left with 14 rivals for succession to prevent civil war the Scottish magnates asked Edward the first of England to elect a claimant John Balliol was elected King but was constantly undermined by Edward who opposed Scottish independence Edward decided to launch several campaigns to conquer Scotland and depose King John to which he acquired the nickname hammer of the Scots under a brave Scottish Knight William Wallace the Scots mounted resistance against the English defeating them at the Battle of Stirling Bridge Edward marched north in person and defeated Wallace in battle but Wallace managed to escape he was later captured and executed but his efforts allowed Robert the Bruce to rise up and defeat the English securing Scottish independence when the King of France died without an heir Edward the third was technically eligible to the crown through his mother the French Court denied his claim and instead installed Philip of Valois Edward paid homage to Philip as he owned the lands of Gascony and was essentially a vassal to the King of France due to disagreements Edward reasserted his claim to the throne and invaded France beginning the Hundred Years War the English achieved notable victories at the Battle of Crecy Poitiers and Agincourt thanks to the technical superiority of the longbow but was unable to conquer the French with the appearance of Joan of Arc who lifted the French spirit and turned the tide of the war upon the death of Edward the third an entire generation was skipped in the line of succession which prompted bitter rivalry between several claimants most notably were the houses of York and Lancaster tensions were high until a bloody age of warfare erupted between these two factions in the Wars of the Roses it's so in-depth and complicated this period would likely become a video of its own the wars ended with the arrival of the Tudor dynasty Henry the eighth wanting a divorce split with the church creating his own Church of England this ultimately led to a series of religious differences between future English monarchs in between his six wives and naval adventures Henry gave Wales representation in Parliament and created the kingdom of Ireland but realistically he only controlled an area known as the pale in addition Henry's paranoia and suspicion amounted to tens of thousands of executions including his friends and wives during the 16th century the largest of most powerful Empire was Spain under king philip ii england under Elizabeth the first were helping Dutch rebels reject Spanish rule and many English privateers were also intercepting Spanish silver on its journey back from the new world this angered the spanish king and the final straw came when Elizabeth had Mary Queen of Scots executed because she did not want Scotland falling under Catholicism the Spanish Armada consisting of 130 ships was deployed to invade England at the Battle of Gravelines and English victory forced the Spanish fleet to sail around the British Isles before storms in the north of Scotland destroyed the remaining ships in metallian the english led by Sir Francis Drake amassed their own Armada to invade Spain but this too became a failed endeavor born in this period William Shakespeare became a renowned poet playwright and actor who contributed significantly to English literature when Queen Elizabeth of England died without an heir her closest male relative was James the sixth of Scotland James was elected as King of England and Scotland in a personal Union although the country's remain separate political entities as the first monarch to rule the entire island of Great Britain several assassination attempts were made by Catholic conspirators one such assassination attempt was the Gunpowder Plot by Guy Fawkes who tried to blow at Parliament's after a failed colony known as Roanoke England established a successful colony known as Jamestown which would eventually evolved into the 13 colonies at first expeditions to the new world were mainly driven by religious motives which were predominantly to convert the natives to their faith but colonies became more profitable as demand for new world crops like tobacco and sugar increased British ships also made a monopoly on the transportation of captive African slaves that crossed the Atlantic to the Americas millions of Africans were shipped in cramped horrific conditions to work on brutal plantation in the Americas and essentially became property to their masters for 300 years this practice continued in the British Empire until it was fully abolished in 1833 this period also saw a wave of plantations in Ireland where Irish lands were confiscated and given to English and Scottish settlers tensions would rise between Charles the first and Parliament following disagreements conflicts between Royal and parliamentary authority within England led to the English Civil War the country became divided between parliamentarians known as the Roundheads and Royalists known as the Cavaliers under Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army the parliamentarians defeated Charles and executed him for treason cromwell became Lord Protector and dissolved the monarchy but shortly after his death it was restored under charles ii charles ii married Catherine of Braganza and when she arrived from Portugal she introduced the greatest beverage of all the time TEA Tea had been used by China for centuries but its arrival in the 17th century captured the interest of the English aristocracy and soon captivated every other Englishman in 1685 a catholic James ii became king in a largely Protestant nation James's daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William would both Protestant and many Nobles unhappy with the Catholic King invited William to become King William found considerable support when he invaded and he was soon crowned King William the third in what became known as the Glorious Revolution although Williams supporters dominated the government there remained a significant following for James ii in the scottish highlands clan MacDonald of Glencoe was one such group who had not been prompt in pledging allegiance to the new monarch for this reason alone 38 members of the clan were murdered in what became known as the massacre of Glencoe after Scotland's failed colonial endeavours in Nova Scotia and Panama and an economic crisis in the 1690s there was a union between England and Scotland forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain the House of Stuart's had ruled Britain for just over a century but ended with the death of Queen Anne Sophia of Hanover the granddaughter of James the first and her son George became King Great Britain soon found itself drawn into several European Wars most notable being the war of the Spanish Succession and the Seven Years War victories in these Wars resulted in territory for the Empire particularly in North America although it resulted in considerable debts in order to make up for this debt King George the third ordered heavy taxes be placed on the thirteen colonies this among other reasons culminated into the American War of Independence and with financial help from France and Spain the Americans were victorious the East India Company which was founded by Elizabeth the first had grown rapidly and even operated its own military and controlled a sizable amount of territory the company had set up fortified warehouses where they traded with many India rulers acquiring important luxuries like textiles and spices one of the most important cities of all was Bengal as it had a large taxable population the governor of Bengal robert clive ordered that the population grow opium to export to China instead of growing food as it proved to be a great source of income however when a famine struck it resulted in the deaths of millions of people meanwhile Captain James Cook arrived at New Zealand and the southeast coast of Australia although he wasn't the first to discover the area because of past Portuguese and Dutch explorers however unlike the Dutch of Portuguese Britain claimed as their new penal colony known as New South Wales with the first convicts arriving in 1778 a new threats had emerged from France French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte Music Napoleon had come to dominate most of Europe but Britain's advantage was that she was an island and the Royal Navy had become a major force at sea invasion of Britain was near impossible and in a series of coalition's Napoleon was defeated by the end of the Napoleonic Wars Britain was growing rapidly into a superpower based on their supremacy of naval engineering furthermore in Ireland the great famine struck a disease killing potato plants Ireland which had merged with Britain relied heavily on this crop for food but the British government forced Ireland to export what little food they had to other areas without any aid or food Ireland's population plummeted by half due to starvation and emigration to countries like the United States things weren't looking so great in India either as India was rebelling against company rule the East India Company had employed many Indian soldiers known as sepoys who were under the command of British soldiers these sepoys grew increasingly unhappy and a revolt soon occurred yet it quickly failed due to a lack of unity between Indians after the rebellion the British government took direct control with Queen Victoria being declared Empress of India during the 19th century the world was forever changed by the Industrial Revolution society was transformed by technological advances and increasing mechanization and would launch Britain to global dominance some of the greatest innovations and inventions were the sewing machine the fire extinguisher steam powered engines and turbines the electric motor and photography The Telegraph was also a major invention as a message could now be sent from Britain to India in a matter of hours the establishment of railways and trains also transformed transport forever instead of travelling days by horse and carriage it now only took a matter of hours by train engineering and communication advance is not only United the Empire they triggered a manufacturing boom like no other people flocked from rural areas to city centres for jobs productivity reached an all-time high but the consequences of mass migration resulted in extremely cramped and polluted cities however with these problems that were generated it resulted in an improved sewage system Newcastle focused on shipbuilding Manchester the cotton industry Liverpool became a major trading centre Middlesbrough fixated itself on iron and steel works the presence of iron ore limestone and large coal deposits in the West Midlands and southeast Wales prompted the establishment of ironworks and Scotland boomed in the linen industry the Victorian era also saw a major change in society as families from the poorest backgrounds gained access to education although it was much stricter than today's standards the 1860s also saw the rise of the greatest food combination ever fish and chips towards the end of the 19th century European powers came together at the Berlin conference to divide Africa between them a group in South Africa known as the Boers who originally Dutch settlers proved difficult for the British the Boers lived in two nations the free orange states and the Republic of Transvaal and both resisted British rule using guerilla warfare to counter this the British placed many women and children in their tens of thousands into concentration camps when many died from starvation and disease Britain became a major player in the First World War and many men proudly volunteered to serve and protect their country the Great War as it was called saw the use of new technology such as dreadnoughts warplanes artillery machine guns grenades chemical weapons bolt-action rifles and the first use of the tank many faced horrific conditions in the trenches and witness groups of battles millions died and many returned home shell shocked by what they had seen the Empire reached its territorial heights in 1921 after gaining territory from Germany and the crumbling Ottoman Empire the Empire now ruled over 400 million people and controlled one quarter of the world's land mass but the reality was Britain could no longer afford to build bases or ships to defend its empire as it had before 19:14 Ireland finally managed to break away from British rule and formed the Irish free states and shortly after became a republic the Second World War was more brutal and horrific than the first most of Europe had fallen under German occupation and under Prime Minister Winston Churchill Britain stood strong during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz Britain were extremely successful at intercepting and decoding enemy communications with the likes of Alan Turing who cracked the German Enigma code the war ended with an allied victory but many nations within the Empire felt a desire for independence and it was clear the Empire was about to break India was one such nation who were ready to declare their independence Mohandas Gandhi practiced a nonviolent approach and this proved successful are shortly after India gained independence the Commonwealth of Nations was formed to improve relations and economic ties with former colonies this still remains today with 53 members united by language history culture and shared values of democracy the British Empire officially ended with Hong Kong Britain's last colony being handed over to China in 1997 the Empire committed many atrocities on many different people imposing their culture and civilization while often wiping out native ones on the other hand this brought about globalization and the uniting of the modern world and without such innovations and industrialization the world might have been a very different place the United Kingdom suffered a small economic recession in 2008 but has since recovered it is a multicultural society with each region retaining a presence of its history and culture if you ever visit look out for the Welsh cake the haggis the whiskey the Chelsea bun the par mo the Cumberland sausage the Yorkshire pudding or the Cornish pasty the UK remains a member of NATO United Nations and the World Trade Organization and uses the pound currency in 2016 a referendum resulted in 51.9% of voters in favor to leave the European Union although the countries within the United Kingdom became divided on the matter leading to the many questions of its future unity thank you for watching let us know your thoughts in the comments like subscribe follow us on Twitter support us on patreon have a good one



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.


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

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

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

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 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.[3]
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.[3]

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 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]


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 (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


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., 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.


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.


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.


Timeline history of the British Isles

Date States/Peoples Events
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
410 Brythons Anglo-Saxon England Hen Ogledd  
638   Kingdom of Strathclyde Viking raids
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
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  
1660 Kingdom of England Kingdom of Scotland Kingdom 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




See also


  1. ^ Copeland, Tim (2014). Life in a Roman Legionary Fortress. Amberley Publishing Limited. p. 14.
  2. ^ Roy Adkins, Nelson's Trafalgar: The Battle That Changed the World (2006)
  3. ^ Auguste Mayer's picture as described by the official website of the Musée national de la Marine (in French) Archived 2010-05-26 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ David A. Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It (2007)
  5. ^ J. M. Thompson, Napoleon Bonaparte: His rise and fall (1951) pp 235-40
  6. ^ R.E. Foster, Wellington and Waterloo: The Duke, the Battle and Posterity 1815-2015 (2014)
  7. ^ Jeremy Black, The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon (2009)
  8. ^ Kenneth Baker, "George IV: a Sketch," History Today 2005 55(10): 30–36.
  9. ^ Brock, Michael (2004) "William IV (1765–1837)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004) doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/29451
  10. ^ Jeremy Black, A military history of Britain: from 1775 to the present (2008), pp. 74–77
  11. ^ William W. Kaufmann, British policy and the independence of Latin America, 1804–1828 (1967)
  12. ^ Will Kaufman and Heidi Slettedahl Macpherson (eds). Britain and the Americas: culture, politics, and history (2004), pp. 465–68
  13. ^ a b E. L. Woodward, The Age of Reform, 1815–1870 (1938), pp. 325–30
  14. ^ Malcolm Chase. Chartism: A New History (2007)
  15. ^ E. L. Woodward. The Age of Reform, 1815–1870 (1938), pp. 354–57[ISBN missing]
  16. ^ Bernard Semmel, The Rise of Free Trade Imperialism (Cambridge University Press, 1970) ch 1
  17. ^ David McLean. "Finance and "Informal Empire" before the First World War", Economic History Review (1976) 29#2 pp. 291–305, at
  18. ^ Roman Golicz. "The Russians Shall Not Have Constantinople", History Today (2003) 53#9, pp. 39–45
  19. ^ Orlando Figes. The Crimean War: A History (2012)
  20. ^ Richard Millman, Britain and the Eastern Question 1875–1878 (1979)
  21. ^ Amanda Foreman. A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War (2012)
  22. ^ Frank J. Merli; David M. Fahey (2004). The Alabama, British Neutrality, and the American Civil War. Indiana U.P. p. 19. ISBN 0253344735.
  23. ^ A. J. P. Taylor. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848–1918 (1953), Chapter 12[ISBN missing]
  24. ^ Denis Judd. Boer War (2003)
  25. ^ Christine Kinealy. This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845–52, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1994; ISBN 0-7171-1832-0, p. 354
  26. ^ Cecil Woodham-Smith. The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845–1849 (1962), London, Hamish Hamilton: 31
  27. ^ Clodfelter, Micheal (2017). Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492-2015, 4th ed. McFarland. p. 441. ISBN 978-0786474707.

Further reading

External links

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