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The UK: England - Scotland - Wales - Northern ireland
London: History - Places to Visit - Transport
Britain has not been invaded since the Normans came from France in 1066, but it was invaded many times before that. The invaders included Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings . The Romans first came in 55 BC and Britain was part of the Roman Empire for almost 400 years.
Liberty has been important in Britain since the English King John was forced to sign Magna Carta (Latin for Great Charter) in 1215. Magna Carta said that even the king had to obey the law. And in 1783 Britain gave birth to the United States, whose laws, government and many other institutions were based on those of Britain.
Britain has always been ready to stand up to dictators, alone if necessary. In the early 1800s the British defeated the Frenchman Napoleon. In the 20th century they fought Hitler and his Nazis.
Between the sixth and the third century BC, the British Isles were invaded by Celtic tribes who settled in southern England. They originally came from central Europe. Their culture goes back to about 1200 BC. Between 500 and 250 BC, they were the most powerful people north of Alps. Originally they were pagan, with priests known as Druids. They later converted to Christianity. It was Celtic missionaries who spread the Christian religion through Scotland and Northern England.
The Celts were famous artists, known for their sophisticated designs, which are found in their elaborate jewellery, decorated crosses and illuminated manuscripts.
Gorgon's Head from Bath Temple
In AD 43, the Romans invaded southern Britain. It became a Roman colony called Britannia. The Romans set up their capital in London and built major cities in Bath, Chester and York. The cities contained beautiful buildings, squares and public baths. Fine villas were built for Celtic aristocrats who accepted Roman rule.
The Roman invasions was not completely peaceful. In AD 60, the Iceni, the tribe led by Queen Boudicca, destroyed three cities, including London. The Romans stopped the rebellion brutally and Boudicca killed herself.
The tribes of Scotland never completely surrendered to the Romans. As a result, in AD 122, Emperor Hadrian built a long wall to defend the border between England and Scotland. Hadrian's Wall was overrun several times by Scottish tribes and was finally abandoned in AD 383. By then, the Roman Empire was collapsing and the Roman legions had left Britain to fight the tribes on the continent.
Here's another great website about the Romans in Britain
The Saxons, Jutes and Angles
Anglo-Saxon helmet and mask
From about AD 350, Germanic tribes began invading south-east England. The tribes came from what is now northern Germany, Holland and Denmark. The first to come were the Saxons, joined later by the Jutes and Angles. The Angles gave England its name. Britain had the protection of only a few Roman legions. The native people could not stop the new enemy, known as the Anglo-Saxons. The Celts fled north and west taking their ancient arts and languages with them. Celtic languages have disappeared from most of Europe, but are still spoken in parts of Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Celtic Christians later returned to England from Scotland and Ireland as missionaries. The Anglo-Saxons in southern England were converted to Christianity following the arrival of Saint Augustine of Rome in AD 597. As Christianity spread, churches and monasteries were built all over England.
Click here for more great information about the Anglo-Saxons
About AD 790, the Vikings started to invade England. The Norsemen, who came from Norway, mainly settled in Scotland and Ireland. The north and east of England were settled by the Danes. The Vikings were excellent traders and navigators. They traded in silk and furs as far as Russia. In 1016, England became part of the Scandinavian empire under King Cnut.
In 1066, England was again facing invasions from the north and the south. In September, King Harold II marched north to defeat his half-brother, the king of Norway, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Just three weeks later, he himself was defeated and killed at Hastings by another invader of Viking origin, William Duke of Norway, from northern France.
Here's a great website about the Vikings
The Duke of Normandy, known as William the Conqueror, now became king of England, establishhing a new Anglo-Norman state. England became a strong, centralised country under military rule. Castles appeared all over England to enforce Norman rule. England has never been invaded since 1066. William was a harsh ruler: he destroyed many villages to make sure the English people did not rebel. The Normans' power was absolute and the language of the new rulers, Norman-French, has held a lasting effect on English.
Click here for more great information about the Normans.
The Middle Ages
Skipton Castle, Yorkshire
The time between William the Conqueror's invasion in 1066 and the first Tudor king in 1485 is called the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages the King and the nobles lived in castles they built as headquarters for ruling the country and for attacking each other.
Here are some fun websites that will tell you more about castles
William the Conqueror's grandson, Henry II, married Eleanor of Aquitaine, who brought more French land to Britain. Henry was a strong king, but thought that the church was getting too powerful. Because of this Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in his cathedral at Canterbury. The church made Becket a saint, St Thomas of Canterbury.
Signing the Magna Carta
Henry II's son, King John, got on very badly with the nobles, so they rebelled and forced him to sign Magna Carta in 1215. Magna Carta is Latin for Great Charter. Magna Carta said that even the king had to obey the law.
In 1337 John's great-great-grandson, King Edward III, who already ruled a large part of France, said that he was entitled to be king of all of France as well as king of England. This caused a war that lasted on and off until 1453, and is called the Hundred Years War. Scotland helped France in this war. There were famous battles at Crécy (1346) and Agincourt (1415) in France, both won by the English. But when Joan of Arc started to lead the French armies in 1429 the tide turned, and when the war ended in 1453 the English had lost all their French territory except for Calais on the coast.
During the Middle Ages there were also fierce contests for the English crown. In 1455 civil wars later called the Wars of the Roses began. A white rose was the badge of the Yorkists, and their opponents the Lancastrians came to be symbolised by a red rose. Both sides' leaders were descended from King Edward III, and both sides said their candidate should be king. Most English nobles took one side or the other. The wars ended in 1485 when the Yorkist King Richard III was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth, and the Welshman Henry VII, the first of the Tudors, came to the throne of England.
Did you know that Madoc, a Welsh prince, is said to have discovered America in the 12th century, long before Columbus?
Portrait of Henry VIII after Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543)
The Royal Collection © 2003, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
The Wars of the Roses ended when the Welshman Henry Tudor united both sides and became Henry VII, the first Tudor king of England. Monarchs usually needed parliament to raise funds for them, but Henry became very rich by forcing the nobles to give him money. That way he did not need to bother with parliament, and weakened the power of the nobility at the same time.
Henry's son, King Henry VIII, came to the throne when his father died in 1509. Henry VIII also wanted a son to succeed him, and when his wife Catherine of Aragon did not produce one he tried to divorce her. The pope would not give him a divorce, so Henry made himself the head of a new church called the Anglican Church, or the Church of England, and got his divorce that way. Henry had six wives, one after the other.
Henry had defeated the Scots at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, and James IV, The Scottish king, was killed. But James was married to Henry's sister, so later on a Scottish king sat on the English throne and ruled both kingdoms.
Henry finally had a son, who succeeded him as King Edward VI in 1547. But the protestant Edward died when he was only 15, and he was succeeded by Queen Mary I, his catholic half-sister.
Mary married Philip II of Spain and wanted to make England a Roman Catholic country again. She persecuted protestants just as Edward had persecuted catholics.
Mary didn't have any children, so when she died in 1558 Elizabeth, Henry VIII's second daughter, became queen.
Elizabeth I was one of England's greatest monarchs, and during her reign sailors went on amazing voyages of exploration and the first colonies were founded in North America. Many great writers lived during Elizabeth's reign, including William Shakespeare, who is still known as the world's greatest playwright.
Elizabeth was an Anglican, but she said that she would not "make windows into men's souls" and was a bit more tolerant than most monarchs in those days. In 1588 Spain sent an Armada, or fleet of warships, to invade England, but it was defeated before it could reach the British coast.
Elizabeth never married, and was known as the Virgin Queen. The state of Virginia is named after her.
What was life like in Tudor Britain? Check out these great websites:
The Stuarts and the Civil War
James VI and I by Paul van Somer
Because Queen Elizabeth I had no children, her cousin, King James VI of Scotland succeeded her in 1603. That way he became King James I of England as well, and was the first king of the whole of Great Britain.
It was during his reign, in 1620, that the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for New England aboard the Mayflower.
In 1605 the government said that Roman Catholics terrorists were plotting to blow up the King and parliament. This was called the Gunpowder Plot, and is still remembered in England on November 5th, its anniversary.
James believed that monarchs were appointed by God, and could rule as they pleased. This was called The Divine Right of Kings and led to trouble with parliament, whose approval the king needed to raise money. These disagreements with parliament became worse in the reign of James's son, who succeeded him as King Charles I in 1625.
Eventually a Civil War broke out between armies supporting parliament and those loyal to the king.
Parliament won, and after putting King Charles on trial for treason cut off his head in 1649. So Britain became a republic, under the rule of Oliver Cromwell. But Cromwell died in 1658, and in 1660 Charles's son returned from abroad and became King Charles II. He was less rigid than his father and grandfather, and willing to share some of his power with parliament.
In 1665 there was a great Plague, and this was followed by the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Though Charles II, known as The Merry Monarch, had many mistresses, he had no surviving children by his wife. So the next king was his brother, who became King James II. James had New York named after him when he was Duke of York.
But James was a Roman Catholic, and nearly everyone else in Great Britain was now protestant. Parliament and the people didn't want religious strife and persecution again, so they forced James to leave the country and replaced him by a King and Queen, William III and Mary II, Anglicans who both had good claims to the throne. This was called the Glorious Revolution. A law was passed saying no Roman Catholic could ever sit on the throne again.
After the deaths of William and Mary, Mary's sister Anne became queen. Ann gave birth to 17 children, but none of them lived for very long, so when she died the throne went to a German who was a descendant of King James I's daughter.
The Hanoverians and American Independence
George III, portrait by Johann Zoffany (1733/4-1810)
The Royal Collection © 2003, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Anne died without children, so the throne went to the ruler of Hanover in Germany, because he was the great-grandson of King James I. The new king became George I, and his line was known as the Hanoverians. But some people still supported the exiled son and grandson of King James II, who could not succeed to the throne because they were Roman Catholics. These people, called Jacobites, rebelled in 1715 and 1745.
The great-grandson of George I was King George III. He is the king who was forced to give the United States of America its independence.
British people had been settling in North America since the time of Queen Elizabeth I, and by 1760 there were 13 British Colonies there. More Europeans lived under British rule in North America than lived anywhere else outside Britain.
But the colonists were becoming more and more fed up with high-handed laws from London, like the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townsend Acts of 1767. These laws put taxes on goods such as tea. And lots of British people, including many Members of Parliament, supported the colonists.
The first casualties of the American War of Independence died in the Boston Massacre of 1770, when British troops shot at demonstrators. In 1773 protestors disguised as Native Americans dumped over 300 chests of imported tea into Boston harbour. This was called the Boston Tea Party. In 1775 fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord, and the Americans invaded Canada. In the same year George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the American forces. The Declaration of Independence was issued in 1776, but Washington's troops suffered defeat after defeat by the British.
The turning point came with the brilliant American victory at the Battle of Saratoga Springs in 1777. After this, France entered the war on the American side. Before long the British were on the run, and they surrendered at Yorktown in 1781. In 1783, the when Peace of Versailles was signed, George III recognised the independence of the USA. In return Britain kept Canada and got back its territories in the West Indies.
America declared war on Britain again in the War of 1812. Britain was fighting the French dictator Napoleon, and the US was annoyed by British treatment of US ships and sailors, who were supposed to be neutral. Britain's support for Native Americans in the American west and Canadians' loyalty to Britain were also sore points.
During the war Britain captured Maine and the US invaded Canada. The British also sailed up the Potomac and captured Washington, burning government buildings. The treaty that ended the war in 1814 returned things to the way they had been in 1812.
In 1811 George III became too ill to rule, so his son took over, as Prince Regent. The Prince Regent built a fantastic palace called Brighton Pavilion. He became King George IV in 1820, and after him his brother, William IV, reigned from 1830 until 1837.
During the reigns of the Hanoverian kings the monarchy became weaker, and parliament more powerful. In 1832 the Reform Act gave more people the vote and made the House of Commons more representative of the population. As time went on, more and more people were given the vote, but it was not until 1928 that everyone in Britain over 21 was included.
Queen Victoria and the British Empire
William IV had no children by his wife, so his niece Victoria became queen in 1837. Queen Victoria was only 18 when she came to the throne. When she died in 1901 Victoria had reigned for over 63 years, longer than any other British king or queen. She was heartbroken when her husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861 and shut herself away for many years. But by the time she died Victoria had become one of the best-loved monarchs in Britain's history.
During her reign the British Empire grew to include a quarter of the world's population, and became the greatest trading empire the world had ever known. India was called "The Jewel in the Crown" of the British Empire, and Queen Victoria was given the title Empress of India in 1876. Though the American colonies were no longer part of the British Empire, it came to include Canada, Australia, New Zealand and much of Africa and the Middle and Far East.
Slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833. The British Empire was generally humanely governed, especially compared to the overseas empires of other European countries. Many of its administrators genuinely believed that they were helping the people they ruled, and the empire has left a legacy of education, sport, law and democracy to the countries it governed. But historians and others still debate whether the British Empire was good for its member nations in the long run.
Britain had led the Industrial Revolution, so more people were working in factories and fewer on the land. Before the Industrial Revolution everything was made by hand, not by machine, as most things are today. The Industrial Revolution also meant that more people lived in cities. In Victoria's reign London became the largest city in the world.
Britain was the world leader in most fields during Victoria's reign, but only at the cost of terrible living and working conditions for many of the population, including children.
Though Queen Victoria still had some say in ruling the country, during her reign it was parliament that was really in charge.
Here are other great websites about Victorian Britain:
The Twentieth Century and the Two World Wars
Festival of Britain Poster 1951
Queen Victoria was succeeded by her eldest son, who became King Edward VII and gave his name to the Edwardian era. The present Queen, Elizabeth II, is the great-granddaughter of King Edward VII.
Britain entered the First World War in 1914. By the time it ended in 1918 over 8 million people had died; 996,230 of them were from Britain and the British Empire. During that war Britain had its first taste of bombs dropped from the air, by huge German airships called Zeppelins.
British working people had begun fighting for their rights in Queen Victoria's reign. They became more determined after the First World War, and Britain's first Labour government came to power in 1924.
Since then Conservative and Labour have been the two main political parties in Britain.
After centuries of discord, southern Ireland separated from the United Kingdom in 1922, and finally became a republic in 1949.
In the 1930s millions became unemployed in Britain because of the Great Depression, which started with the New York stock market crash of 1929. Recovery from the Depression had only just started when the Britain began fighting the German Nazis and their allies in September 1939, at the beginning of the Second World War.
In the Second World War Britain was led by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who belonged to the Conservative Party. His mother was American, and Churchill was one of Britain's greatest leaders. British cities, including London, were badly bombed during the Second World War.
If the British people in the armed forces and on the home front were lion-hearted, Churchill was the roar of the lion. He called the time in 1940 when the country stood alone against Hitler, Britain's "Finest Hour". In the Battle of Britain the Royal Air Force defeated Nazi planes and put a stop to Hitler's plans to invade.
Here are two great websites about British kids during the Second World War:
Children of World War 2
Britain voted for a Labour government after the War, and the National Health Service was introduced. This gave free health care even to the poorest, and was paid for from taxation. It was part of the Welfare State, that looked after those who could not look after themselves. The Labour government also took charge of major industries and services, such as coal, electricity and the railroads, but later Conservative governments privatized them.
Starting with India in 1947, the countries of the British Empire have all become independent. But most of them choose to remain associated with Britain in an organisation called the Commonwealth. People from many of the countries of the Commonwealth have come to live in Britain, making it the vibrant multicultural society it has become. In 1973 Britain joined the European Union, so as to expand trade in Europe.
Margaret Thatcher, who led the Conservative party, became Britain's first-ever woman Prime Minister in 1979. In 1982 she sent troops to defeat the Argentine dictator General Galtieri when he invaded the Falkland Islands. Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister until 1990, and in 1997 Tony Blair, who is Prime Minister today, was elected.
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