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History of Great Britain

History of Great Britain

4000BC - 1500BC Man migrated to Britain whilst it was still joined to the rest of Europe by a land bridge. Stonehenge and Avebury Ring are the most spectacular monuments from this period, but there are others. Stone Age man possessed great skills, but left behind only his archeology 1500BC - 43 AD As the Stone Age progressed to the Bronze Age and Iron Age, more tools became available. Farming became n economic proposition. Extended families lived in hill forts that they could defend. They could trade with Europe. Then the Romans arrived. 43AD - 410AD The Romans invaded Britain in force, quelled the odd rebellion and by 122 AD started building Hadrians Wall. They set up the network of roads that are still the backbone of Britain today. You can still see parts of Hadrian's Wall, Roman villas and many artifacts 410 AD - 1066 After the Romans left central rule disappeared. Angles and Saxons invaded from Europe and pushed the Celts to the fringes of Britain. Competing Anglo Saxon kingdoms and a mighty Viking presence led eventually to the Norman invasion in 1066
With the Normans, England became a unified country for the first time since the Romans left 600 years earlier. The Norman kings consolidated their hold on England, then took control of Wales and Ireland.
There followed a long period during the Middle Ages of squabbling over the throne, culminating with the Wars of the Roses, the house of Lancaster against the house of York. The Battle of Bosworth on 1485 saw the end of these wars with the victory of Henry VII.
The rule of the Tudors, including Henry VIII (he of the wives) and Mary and Elizabeth I, represented a period of rising English influence on the world - a series of continental wars and the age of the British navy. Colonisation of the Americas began.
The death of Elizabeth left no immediate successor, and the throne of England was offered to the Scottish King James. He was James VI of Scotland and became James I of England. This united England and Scotland for the first time in history though the official Act of parliament, the Act of Union was not passed for another hundred years.
The Stuart kings believed that they had a divine right to govern, and in a world that even then was starting to become democratic, this view caused increasing resentment. The struggle for supremacy between Parliament and the King as to who really ruled the country led to Civil War in 1641.

The king, Charles I was defeated, and executed in 1649. Oliver Cromwell became head of state, and Britain continued with this form of government only for a brief period. Cromwell died, his son became head of state, but was not a popular choice. Parliament invited the son of the dead king to re-take the throne. So Britain resumed a monarchy under Charles II in 1660
This period cover the restoration of the monarchy - Charles II, James II , William III and Anne. With the succession of the German House of Hanover, parliamentary rule became properly established. The basis of our modern political parties came into being with the Whigs and the Tories. Britain prospered, with the creation of her Empire (though the American Colonies were lost). The industrial revolution brought about a more urban society. Little money had to be spent on debilitating wars, until Europe slid into World War I
Republicanism had failed, the monarchy restored, Charles II fell out with parliament, James II was overthrown
On Anne's death the country choose a distant Protestant relation to succeed. George of Hanover and his descendants ruled for the next century
Another historically glorious period. Britain was a world force, the British Empire spanned the globe, Victoria was on the throne
The twentith century has seen Britain fight two world wars at considerable human and crippling economic cost. It has seen also the largely peaceful dismantling of the British Empire. The result has been that Britain has struggled to come to terms with its new place in the world order. It has been, and still is, unclear as to whether her role would be in a united Europe, or as a separate state on the perifery of Europe.
On the social front votes came to women in the late 1920s and to all people over 18 in the 1980s. Like many countries we played with socialism - nationalised railways, coal mines, telephones, health, etc. And have now led the way in dismantling state control, though we still do have a National Health Service (just)
A war fought on an epic scale for no good reasons.

A whole generation died, and social attitudes changed
The loss of Ireland, the General Strike, Votes for Women - a period of social adjustment
The war against Hitler - surely one of the just wars of history, but economically it crippled the copuntry
Britain gives up Empire, joins Europe, is this the endof the nation state?


A complex series of wars and diplomatic maneuvers in the period from 500 AD to 1000 AD resulted in Malcolm II becoming king of a Scotland that apart from a few disputes about the Highlands and Islands was basically in its modern form. Border wars with the English continued. Edward I had succeeded conquering most of Scotland, but Robert the Bruce had then won back most of the English gains. Only Stirling Castle remained in English hands
An English army arrived to relieve the Scots siege of Stirling (above). Bruce (above left) defeated the English army under Edward II, who was lucky to escape with his life. The Scots victory at the Battle of Bannockburn secured complete Scots independence. Scotland stayed relatively clear of the English until the consequences of Henry VIII's sister marrying the King of Scotland, coupled with the failure of any of Henry VIII's own children to produce an heir, led to the installation of James VI of Scotland as James I of England. Even with James and his successors on both the English and Scots thrones, the two countries were treated as separate kingdoms. When James II fled England into exile and William III became king, many of the highland Scots remained loyal to James II. In an effort to head off open rebellion William insisted that every clan must swear an oath of loyalty to him, or suffer reprisals. Among the reprisals was the massacre at Glencoe of the MacDonalds by English soldiers who were mainly Campbells. Williams harsh handling of the Scots contributed to the continuing support of the Stuart kings in exile, and to Scots support of the 1715 and 1745 Stuart rebellions. Another result of the treatment of the Scots by the English was the passing by the Scottish parliament of an Act giving Scotland the right to an independent army. To head off a war between the two nations the English pushed through a Union between the two nations, closing the Scottish Parliament and giving Scots representation in Westminster. Though the Scottish legal system remained, and still remains today. was ratified in 1707 The Act of Union
Scotland became industrialised with the exploitation of the Scottish coalfields and mill like the Lanarkshire mills on the left. In recent times coal has been replaced by oil from the North Sea, and then there is the debate as to whether this oil is Scottish oil or British oil. In 1997 a referendum in Scotland voted to institute a Scottish parliament with "tax varying powers". It remains to be seen as to whether Scotland will in the future drift further from the Union or remain firmed tried to it.


The Celts had fled westwards under sustained invasions from Romans, Vikings and Anglo-Saxons.

The Anglo Saxon English kings had not ruled Wales, and at the Norman invasion was a collection of small kingdoms. It took the Normans some 200 years to gain control of the whole of Wales. The 8 royal castles like Harlech (left) kept a lid on rebellion in the meantime. The last major Welsh uprising was by Owain Glyndwr between 1400 and 1408
Finally the Act of Union in 1536 "incorporated, united and annexed" Wales to England. Since then English law and government has rules in Wales. A solution that appears to have satisfied most Welsh people. Until the middle of the 18th century Wales remained a rural backwater. Population was sparse, and the topography meant that farming was not a viable proposition on any scale.Then the exploitation of coal and iron brought the Industrial revolution to Wales
The need for labour in the south Wales coalfields brought an influx of English into this area which brought about an erosion of the Welsh language, though Welsh continued to be spoken extensively in North Wales. Today the mining of Welsh coal has all but disappeared, but the language continues to be spoken reasonably widely as a second language.
Wales has been governed from London via the Welsh Office, under a cabinet minister. Following the referendum on limited devolution in 1997, the Welsh were seen to be virtually equally spilt on the subject, with the more rural "Welsh" areas being for devolution, and the more industrial areas being against it.


The Normans invaded Britain in 1066, they landed in Ireland a century later in 1169. For most of the Middle Ages Ireland was ruled as a separate kingdom under the British Crown. Although the area they controlled was not the whole country, just the eastern part shown in dark red on the left. Gradually they extended their control, but it was not till 1603 that a victory over the Irish in Ulster allowed Britain complete control of Ireland
To ensue continuing control over the troublesome province of Ulster, the land was confiscated and given to small Scottish farmers. The idea being to ensue that they remained there and did not sell the land back to the native Irish. The success of this policy is the foundation of the problem of Northern Ireland today. But it is worth remembering that the Ulster Protestants have been there longer than the settlers in North America.
There next major event was the Cromwellian army's campaign in Ireland immediately after the English Civil War.

Cromwell was short of cash to pay his troops at the end of the war, and confiscated 80% of the land (coloured orange above) for his troops in lieu of money. The dispossessed landowners were offered poor quality land in Connaught in exchange
During the 18th century the British tried to govern an Ireland that sparked periodic unrest. This culminated in the 1798 French invasion of Ireland shown on the left. The next British attempt to solve the "Irish Problem" was the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland in 1801. A solution that pleased nobody in Ireland, the protest ruling class did not want to lose their independence, and the Catholics felt betrayed when George III refused to grant Catholic emancipation
Within a United Kingdom, Ireland started to struggle for reform. O'Connell and his Catholic Association founded in 1823 led the struggle for Catholic emancipation. Then the Potato Famine in the years 1845 to 1848 caused enormous upheavals as the population of Ireland fell from 9 Million to 3 million through famine and emigration. It is clear that a London government would not have let this tradgedy happen in mainland Britain. Further unrest followed the famine in Ireland, and Gladstone became British prime minister in 1868 declaring "my mission is to pacify Ireland", but failed to deliver safety for tenants from high rents and eviction. The Irish were now led by Parnell whose Irish Party held the balance of power in the British House of Commons. However the Home Rule Bills of 1885 and 1893 were defeated, but the 1912 Home Rule Bill was passed by the Commons and the delaying powers of the Lords were limited to two years. It should have become law in 1914, but the First World War started and it never made the statute book. A small rebellion - the Easter Rising of 1916 - was put down quickly by the government. Crass mishandling by the British resulted in many of the leaders of the Easter Rising being shot by firing squad, and the extremists acquired the status of martyers. In the election in 1918 73 of the 106 Irish seats went to Sinn Fein, who refused to go to Westminster and set up a provisional government in Ireland. There then followed 3 years of bitter guerilla war with atrocities on both sides, before a truce was finally signed in 1921, which led to the "final solution of the Irish Problem " with partition. The Irish Free State in the South and the continuation of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.
It is clear today that the Irish problem has not been solved - whether it ever can be is the question.

Northern Protestants feel they have a right to determine their own future democratically on the basis of being in the majority. Northern Catholics feel they have the right to be part of a united Ireland. Whilst both sides are suspicious of the other, it is unlikely that a lasting solution can be found. Wherever in the world ethnic divisions exist (Bosnia, Ruanda, Kashmir, Timor, Chetchin. Lebanon).

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