The United Kingdom is a country with a rich history whose cultural legacy is widespread. For the visitor, it's packed full of attractions; gorgeous landscapes, historic cities, world-class museums, and iconic landmarks such as Stonehenge, the Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace.
The country is home to several world-renowned universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, whose cities are also major tourist attractions.
History of the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has played a major role in shaping the world that we see today. How did a small country on the edge of Europe grow to be the largest empire in history and at one time control 23% of the world population and almost a quarter of its land mass? That's a long story but as is often the case, the Romans get a mention.
The ancient Britons were made up of many tribes who were conquered by the Romans beginning in 43AD. After 400 years of Roman protection, Roman Britain was left to fend for itself as the Roman legions were withdrawn to Gaul. This led to a period of political instability called the Dark Ages and opened the way for Germanic Anglo-Saxons invaders, leading to the fragmentation of Britain into various kingdoms. The Britons representing what was left of Roman culture migrated west into modern day Wales and Cornwall.
Viking incursions in the 9th century led to East Anglia and Northumbria becoming Viking kingdoms. Constant warfare with the Anglo Saxons only ended in 1066 when another Viking invasion by Harald Hadrada, King of Norway was defeated by the Saxon Harold Godwinson, the disputed successor to Edward the Confessor, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. However, a near simultaneous invasion by the Normans led to the defeat of Harold a few weeks a later at the Battle of Hastings by William the Conqueror.
In the 13th century, England experienced a period of great political and social change. The Magna Carta, a document that limited the power of the king, was signed in 1215. The Black Death, a deadly plague, killed millions of people in England and throughout Europe. And the Hundred Years' War, a long and bloody conflict between England and France, began in 1337 over English claims to the French throne and despite some famous English victories, ended in 1453 after many of England's possessions were lost, leaving Calais as the only English possession, and was finally lost in 1558.
Only two years after the end of the Hundred Years War, a devastating civil war followed called the War of the Roses, fought over the English throne. Starting in 1455, it ended in 1487 resulting in the Tudors inheriting the throne.
In the 15th century, England experienced a period of religious turmoil. The Protestant Reformation, a movement that challenged the authority of the Catholic Church, began in Germany in 1517. Henry VIII, the king of England, broke with the Catholic Church in 1534 and established the Church of England. This led to a period of religious persecution, as many Catholics were forced to flee England or face imprisonment.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, England experienced a period of civil war. The English Civil War began in 1642 and ended in 1649 with the execution of King Charles I. The war was fought between the Royalists, who supported the king, and the Parliamentarians, who wanted to limit the power of the monarchy. The war resulted in the establishment of a republic, known as the Commonwealth of England, which was ruled by Oliver Cromwell. Upon his death in 1658, the political crisis resulted in the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy and the son of Charles I, become King Charles II.
England annexed Wales in 1284, but formed a union in 1536.In 1707 the kingdoms of England and Scotland entered union to create Great Britain Finally in 1801 an act of union with Ireland created the Union of Great Britain and Ireland.
In the 18th century, Britain experienced a period of great economic and social change. The Industrial Revolution, a period of rapid economic growth, began in England in the late 1700s. The Industrial Revolution led to the growth of cities, the rise of a new middle class, and the improvement of living standards for many people. It also formed the platform from which Britain could become a global power.
The British Empire, was built on the strength of the British Navy and the British Industrial Revolution. The British Empire brought with it British culture, language, and law to many parts of the world. The British Empire can be divided into two; the First British Empire focused on North America and the West Indies. With the loss of the American colonies, attention was shifted to Asia, the Pacific and Africa.
In the 20th century, Britain experienced two world wars. The First World War, which lasted from 1914 to 1918, was a global conflict that pitted Britain against Germany and its allies. The Second World War, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, was a global conflict that pitted Britain against Germany and its allies again. Both wars had a devastating impact on Britain, both in terms of human life and economic damage.
The war hastened the end of the British Empire as formerly subject peoples called for independence, and the age of imperialism was replaced with self-determination. Britain joined the European Union in 1973 but left after a referendum in January 2020, to become a fully independent nation again.