I.Geography , climate
Great Britain is situated on the British Isles lying off the north- west coast of Europe. It is separated from the Continent of Europe by the North Sea and the English Channel. It covers an area of about 244 thousand square kilometres and thus occupies less than 2% of the world’s land area. It lies between 50º North and 60 º North latitude, and the prime meridian of 0º passes through the old observatory at Greenwich. No point in the country is more than 121 km from the sea.
Besides the largest – Great Britain and Ireland- ( the northern part of which belongs to the United Kingdom) we should mention the Isle of Weight, Isles of Scilly, Anglessey, the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. Western Scotland is surrounded by numerous islands – The Hebridies- and to the far north the Orkneys and the Shetlands. We must not forget the Channel Island near the French coast.
The island of Great Britain can be divided into the lowland area (southern and eastern England) and the highland area (comprises Scotland, most of Wales, the central upland known as the Pennines, and the Lake District with Cumbrian Mountains ) . We can mention also the Cornish Heights on Cornwall peninsula , Cambrian mountain in Wales or Cheviot hills on the border of England and Scotland. The highest mountains are Ben Nevis (1,342 m) in the Scottish Highland and Snowdown in the Cambrian in Wales.
The rivers are not very long but they are deep. The largest rivers are: the Thames, the Severn, the Trent. Important river ports are: London on the Thames , Liverpool on the Mersey, Newcastle on the Tyne, Bristol on the Avon. The largest lakes are in the Lake District ( Lake Windermere, Derentwater ) and in Scotland where they are called lochs. (Loch Lomond, Loch Ness)
Britain has a mild and equable (mierne a vyrovnané) climate, it’s determined by the climate of the eastern Atlantic and by the warm current of the Gulf Stream. During the normal summer the temperature rises above 27º C, winter temperatures seldom falls below zero. So it usually snows only in Scotland.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has population of 57 900 000 people ( 1996 ) . The density is one of the highest in the world – 232 people to one square kilometre. About 92.5 % inhabitans live in urban areas. The majority of people speaks English. There are minority languagues which are of Celtic origin – Welsh, Scottish and Irish Gaelic.
In Britain we could find the following etnic groups: English ( 81.5 %) , Scottish ( 9.6%) , Irish (2.4. % ) , Ulster ( 1.8.) , Indian, Pakistan, Jews, Italian, Chinese, Carribeans and others.
London is the capital of both England and the United Kingdom. Cardiff is the capital of Wales, Edinburgh is the Scottish capital and the capital of the Northern Ireland is Belfast.Other important towns and cities according to population are Birmingam ( almost 1 mil. ) , Leeds ( more than 700,0000) , Glasgow ( 689,000) , Sheffield ( 520,000) , Liverpool ( 475,000) and others.
III.Government and political system
Britain is a constitutional monarchy. It means that the head of state is the Queen but she can act only on the advice of her ministers. The country is governed in her name by the Government, who are responsible to Parliament. The Constitution of the UK is unwritten. It is based on custom, tradition and common law.
The supreme law- making body in the country is Parliament. It consists of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Members of the House of Commons are elected by the voters of 650 constituences. A general election must be held every 5 years.The winner is the candidate who gets more votes. The leader of the party with most seats becomes Prime Minister Voting is not compulsory and is from the age of 18. Members of the House of Lords are not elected. About 70% of the are “heriditary peers” the other 30% are “life peers”- officialy appointed by the Queen, on the advice of the Government. The Palace of Westminster is the seat of both houses.
Functions of parliament are: making laws, examining government, providing money through taxation, debating political questions
The leader of the party with most seats in Parliament becomes the Prime Minister, (is appointed by the Sovereign) , the second party forms “Shadow cabinet” . The Prime Minister appoints a team of main ministers as the Cabinet ( e.g.The Chancelor of Exchequer ,The Foreign Secretary) altogether about 20p.
She has a central role in state affairs through her ceremonial function. But she also meets the Prime Minister every week and receives copies of all Cabinet papers. But she is expected to be impartial. The crown is heriditary and is passed on to the sovereign. Her functions and duties: Head of the Commonwealth,opening and closing Parliament,Head of the Church of England,appointment of the Prime Minister Commander in Chief of the armed forces,giving her Royal Assent giving honours peerages, knighthoods, medals..
The Celts belong to the first inhabitans of Great Britain. They came to the British Isles from the northern Europe before the 6th century B.C. In A.D. 43 the Romans began an invasion which resulted in the Roman occupation of Britain. The Romans fought with Britons and they built Hadrian’s wall (in 122 y.) and the Wall of Antonius ( in 142 year). To prevent attacks from the north.They built towns, roads and centralized administration. In the early 5th century the Roman army was needed at home and left the British Isles.
The Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded Britain in the 5th century. Gradually the Anglo – Saxons divided into kingdoms and by 800 England was split into 7 kingdoms. Britons had to take refuge in the western part of the country .
At the beginning of the 9th century the Danes and the Norsemen attacked England. King Alfred the Great was successful in stoping their influence. For many reasons, a new kind of society – feudalism- gradually arose.
In 1066 the Norman army led by Wiliam the conqueror invaded the country. After a terrible battle 14, 1066 at Hastings, he defeated king of Englandand the hegemony of Normans began. There were several Saxon revolts, but all of them failed. An important event in 1215 was the signing of Magna Charta by king John. It was the document which established a basis for the supremacy ( nadvláda ) of law over the king and for parliamentary government.
In 1337 the war between England and France began which lasted till 1453. It’s known as a hundred years war. It began as a war between kings, but later it became a war between two nations. The French, led by Joan of Arc, won and the English practically lost their power in France.( except Calais).
The Hundred years war was followed by wars for English throne between the houses of the York and the Lancasters (led by Henry IV), also known as the War of Roses. The battles lasted nearly 85 years. This war ended in 1485 when the king, Richard III was killed and Henry Tudor became King Henry VII. ( 1485 – 1905). He married Elizabeth of York , and thus joined the two houses.
His son, Henry VIII ( 1509 – 1547) is known as a king who had six wives. During his reign the English Church separated from Rome and he himself became the head of the Church of England. He had 3 children – Mary ( by Catharine of Aragon), later Mary I, called Bloody Mary ( 1553 – 1558 ) , Elizabeth I ( by Anne Boleyn ) – the English Queen between 1558 – 1603 and Edward VI ( by Jane Seymour) (1547 – 1553). Elizabeth I is the most important of successors of Henry VIII. In her age – called Elizabethan era - England prospered in many ways. Spanish army was defeated and England became the leading power on the sea, which led to colonial development of the English power in America and East India. Trade prospered. When Elizabeth I died in 1603, England was a European power.
With the accession of James I (1603 – 1625 ) – a Stuart king on the English throne – the personal union of England and Scotland became reality. During his reign Pilgrim Fathers escaped to America.
Charles I had to oppose the growing power of the Parliament. He tried to arrest some of leathers of the Parliament. It was the beginning of civil war. It was won by the Parliament and Charles I was executed.
During the following period England was ruled by Oliver Cromwell as the Lord Protector. ( 1653-1685). After his death his son proved to be unable to follow his father. As there was no other suitable candidate to govern England, Charles II was welcomed to England and becane the king. As the years passed, the power of the Parliament increased. The Bill of rights (1689) put the power definitely into the hands of the Parliament. The 18th century was marked by the growing power of Britain in world policy and by Industrial revolution). Britain strengthened its position in Mediterranean and received e.g.Canada, Florida, Dominica, Tobago..) Scotland became a part of E. in 1707. At the end of 18th century England became the richest country in the world. It was transformed from an agricultural to a manufacturing country.
The 19th century started with Napoleonic War. Admiral Nelson defeated the French at Trafalgar and later Wellington with the Prussian general Blücher defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
Gradually Britain controlled a great deal of Africa, Australia and New Zealand. In 1877 Queen Victoria became Empress of India. Britain dominated the world indusrtially, commercially and militarily. This period ended with WWI, economic crises and WWII in which Britain suffered conciderably.
Since 1945 Britain has been trying to come to terms with American world domination, the importance of united Europe, the loss of empire and immigration from former colonies. Above all Britain has had to face the problem of a slow decline of economy, unemployment, crime. In 1945 20% of the economy was nationalized by Labour government, who introduced free health care and education. Since 1979 the Conservatives tried to make Britain more competitive by privatising industry and reducing welfare payments. During the decades after WWII Britain had to recognize the independence of the majority of its colonies – mainly in 1960s. But most of them remained members of the Commonwealth.
The last war which Britain had to fight was in 1982 when Argentina occupied the Falkland islands.