History of England
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|History of England|
The territory that now constitutes England, a country within the United Kingdom, was inhabited by ancient humans more than 800,000 years ago as the discovery of flint tools and footprints at Happisburgh in Norfolk has revealed. The earliest evidence for early modern humans in North West Europe is a jawbone discovered in Devon at Kents Cavern in 1927, which was re-dated in 2011 to between 41,000 and 44,000 years old. Continuous human habitation dates to around 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last glacial period. The region has numerous remains from the Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Bronze Age, such as Stonehenge and Avebury. In the Iron Age, England, like all of Britain south of the Firth of Forth, was inhabited by the Celtic people known as the Britons, but also by some Belgae tribes (e.g. the Atrebates, the Catuvellauni, the Trinovantes, etc.) in the south east. In AD 43 the Roman conquest of Britain began; the Romans maintained control of their province of Britannia until the 5th century.
The end of Roman rule in Britain enabled the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, which is often regarded as the origin of England and the English people. The Anglo-Saxons, a collection of various Germanic peoples, established several kingdoms that became the primary powers in what is now England and parts of southern Scotland. They introduced the Old English language, which displaced the previous British language. The Anglo-Saxons warred with British successor states in Wales, Cornwall, and the Hen Ogledd (Old North; the Brythonic-speaking parts of northern England and southern Scotland), as well as with each other. Raids by the Vikings were frequent after about AD 800, and the Norsemen took control of large parts of what is now England. During this period several rulers attempted to unite the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, an effort that led to the emergence of the Kingdom of England by the 10th century.
In 1066, the Normans invaded and conquered England. The Norman Dynasty established by William the Conqueror ruled England for over half a century before the period of succession crisis known as The Anarchy. Following the Anarchy, England came to be ruled by the House of Plantagenet, a dynasty which also had claims to the Kingdom of France; a succession crisis in France led to the Hundred Years Wars, a series of conflicts involving the peoples and leaders of both nations. Following the Hundred Years Wars, England became embroiled in its own succession wars; the War of the Roses pitted two branches of the House of Plantagenet against one another, the House of York and the House of Lancaster. Henry Tudor ended the War of the Roses and established the Tudor dynasty.
Under the Tudors and later Stuart dynasty, England became a world colonial power. During the rule of the Stuarts, England fought the English Civil War, which resulted in the execution of King Charles I and the establishment of a series of republican governments, first a Parliamentary republic known as the Commonwealth of England, then as a military dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell known as The Protectorate. The Stuarts were restored to the throne in 1660, though continued questions over religion resulted in the deposition of another Stuart king, James II, in the Glorious Revolution. England, which had conquered Wales in the 13th century, was united with Scotland in the early 18th century to form a new sovereign state called Great Britain. Following the Industrial Revolution, Great Britain ruled a worldwide Empire, the largest in recorded history. Following a process of decolonisation in the 20th century the vast majority of the empire became independent; however, its cultural impact is widespread and deep in many countries of the present day.
- 1 Prehistory
- 2 Roman Britain
- 3 The Anglo-Saxon invasion
- 4 Heptarchy and Christianisation
- 5 Viking challenge and the rise of Wessex
- 6 English unification
- 7 England under the Danes and the Norman conquest
- 8 Norman England
- 9 England under the Plantagenets
- 10 14th century
- 11 15th century -- Henry V and the Wars of the Roses
- 12 Tudor England
- 13 17th century
- 14 Formation of the United Kingdom
- 15 Modern England, 18th–19th centuries
- 16 20th and 21st centuries
- 17 See also
- 18 References
- 19 Further reading
The time from Britain's first inhabitation until the last glacial maximum is known as the Old Stone Age, or Palaeolithic. Archaeological evidence indicates that what was to become England was colonised by humans long before the rest of the British Isles because of its more hospitable climate between and during the various glacial periods of the distant past. This earliest evidence, from Happisburgh in Norfolk, includes the oldest human footprints found outside Africa and points to dates of more than 800,000 BP. These earliest inhabitants were hunter-gatherers, who made their living from hunting game and gathering edible plants. Low sea-levels meant that Britain was still attached to the continent for much of this earliest period of history, and varying temperatures over tens of thousands of years meant that it was not always inhabited at all.
The last Ice Age ended around 10,000 BCE, and England has been inhabited ever since. This marks the beginning of Middle Stone Age, or Mesolithic. Rising sea-levels cut Britain off from the continent for the last time around 6500 BCE. The population by this period were exclusively of our own species of the genus Homo, Homo sapiens sapiens, and the evidence would suggest that their societies were increasingly complex and they were manipulating their environment and their prey in new ways, possibly selective burning of the then omnipresent woodland to create clearings where the herds would gather to make them easier to hunt. Simple projectile weapons would have been the main tools of the hunt, such as the javelin and possibly the sling. The bow and arrow was also known in Western Europe from at least 9000 BCE. The climate continued to improve and it is likely the population was on the rise.
The New Stone Age, or Neolithic, begins with the introduction of farming, ultimately from the Middle East, around 4000 BCE. It is not known whether this was caused by a substantial folk movement or native adoption of foreign practices, nor are these two models mutually exclusive. People began to cultivate crops and rear animals, and overall lead a more settled lifestyle. Monumental collective tombs were built to house the dead in the form of chambered cairns and long barrows, and towards the end of the period other kinds of monumental stone alignments begin to appear, such as Stonehenge, their cosmic alignments betraying a preoccupation with the sky and planets. Flint technology also developed, producing a number of highly artistic pieces as well as purely pragmatic. More extensive woodland clearance took place to make way for fields and pastures. The Sweet Track in the Somerset Levels is one of the oldest timber trackways discovered in Northern Europe and among the oldest roads in the world, dated by dendrochronology to the winter of 3807–3806 BCE; it too is thought to have been a primarily religious structure.
The Bronze Age begins around 2500 BC with the first appearance of bronze objects in the archaeological record. This coincides with the appearance of the characteristic Beaker culture; again it is unknown whether this was brought about primarily by folk movement or by cultural assimilation, and again it may be a mixture of both. The Bronze Age sees a shift of emphasis from the communal to the individual, and the rise to prominence of increasingly powerful elites, whose power was enshrined in the control of the flow of precious resources, to manipulate tin and copper into high-status bronze objects such as swords and axes, and their prowess as hunters and warriors. Settlement became increasingly permanent and intensive. Towards the end of the period, numerous examples of extremely fine metalwork begin to be found deposited in rivers, presumably for ritual reasons and perhaps reflecting a progressive shift of emphasis away from the sky and back to the earth, as a rising population increasingly put the land under greater pressure. England largely also becomes in this period bound up with the Atlantic trade system, which created something of a cultural continuum over a large part of Western Europe. It is possible that the Celtic languages developed or spread to England as part of this system; by the end of the Iron Age at the very least there is ample evidence that they were spoken across the whole of England, as well as the Western parts of Britain.
The Iron Age is conventionally said to begin around 800 BC. The Atlantic system had by this time effectively collapsed, although England maintained contacts across the Channel with France, as the Hallstatt culture became widespread across the country. The overall picture of continuity suggests this was not accompanied by any substantial movement of population; crucially, only a single Hallstatt burial is known from Britain, and even here the evidence is inconclusive. On the whole burials largely disappear across England, the dead being disposed of in a way which is archaeologically invisible: excarnation is a widely cited possibility. Hillforts were known since the Late Bronze Age, but a huge number were constructed in the period 600–400 BC, particularly in the South; after about 400 however new ones largely cease to be built and a large number cease to be regularly inhabited, while a smaller number of others become more and more intensively occupied, suggesting a degree of regional centralisation. It is around this time that the earliest mentions of Britain begin to appear in the annals of history. The first historical mention of the region is from the Massaliote Periplus, a sailing manual for merchants thought to date to the 6th century BC, and Pytheas of Massilia wrote of his exploratory voyage to the island around 325 BC. Both of these texts are now lost; although quoted by later writers, not enough survives to inform the archaeological interpretation to any significant degree.
Contact with the continent was generally at a lower point than in the Bronze Age, although it was not insignificant. Continental goods continued to make their way into England throughout the period, although with a possible hiatus from around 350–150 BC. Numerous armed invasions of hordes of migrating Celts are no longer considered to be realistic, although there are two known invasions. Around 300 BC, it appears that a group from the Gaulish Parisii tribe took over East Yorkshire, establishing the highly distinctive Arras culture; and from around 150–100 BC, groups of Belgae began to control significant parts of the South. These invasions would have constituted movements of a relatively small number of people who established themselves as a warrior elite at the top of pre-existing native systems, rather than any kind of total wipeout. The Belgic invasion was on a much larger scale than the Parisian settlement, however the continuity of pottery style demonstrates clearly that the native population basically remained in place under new rulers. All the same, it was accompanied by significant socio-economic change. Proto-urban, or even urban settlements, known as oppida, begin to eclipse the old hillforts, and an elite whose position is based on battle-prowess and the ability to manipulate resources re-appears much more distinctly.
In 55 and 54 BC, Julius Caesar, as part of his campaigns in Gaul, invaded Britain and claimed to have scored a number of victories, but he never penetrated further than Hertfordshire and was unable to establish a province. However, his invasions do mark a turning-point in British history. Control of trade, the flow of resources and prestige goods, became ever more important to the elites of Southern Britain; as the provider of relatively limitless wealth and patronage, Rome steadily became the biggest player in all their dealings. In such a system, with retrospect it is clear that a full-scale invasion and ultimate annexation was inevitable.
Genetic history of the English
The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in his Agricola, completed in 98 AD, that the various groupings of Britons shared physical characteristics with continental peoples. The Caledonians, inhabitants of what is now Scotland, had red hair and large limbs, indicating a Germanic origin; the Silures, inhabitants of what is now South Wales, were swarthy with curly hair, indicating a link with the Iberians of the Roman provinces of Hispania, in what is now Portugal and Spain; and the Britons nearest the Gauls of mainland Europe resembled the Gauls. This is a gross oversimplification which nonetheless holds fairly true to the present day. Indeed, numerous archaeologists and geneticists now dismiss the long-held assumption that the invading Anglo-Saxons wiped out the native Britons in England when they invaded, pointing instead to the possibility of a more limited folk movement bringing a new language and culture which the natives gradually assimilated.
Debate however is ongoing surrounding the ultimate origins of the people of the British Isles. In 2003 and 2006 respectively, Bryan Sykes and Stephen Oppenheimer both championed the idea of continuity ever since the Mesolithic period, with a substantial input from the East during the Neolithic. More recently this view has been contested, by pointing out that the haplotypes which Sykes and Oppenheimer associated with Spain hailed ultimately from Asia Minor. This might be more consistent with some kind of Neolithic wipeout, however it is impossible to date this gene flow. Other theories have proposed an even more substantial input in the Early Bronze Age than was previously thought. Ultimately, the genetics have in fact not yet told us anything new; all these theories were well in place amongst archaeologists long before attempts were made to identify historical population movements with genetics. There is still no consensus; what does seem to be in agreement however is that the bulk of England's contemporary native population was already in place by the beginning of written history in this part of the world.
After Caesar's expeditions, the Romans began their real attempt to conquer Britain in 43 AD, at the behest of the Emperor Claudius. They landed in Kent, and defeated two armies led by the kings of the Catuvellauni tribe, Caratacus and Togodumnus, in battles at the Medway and the Thames. Togodumnus was killed, and Caratacus fled to Wales. The Roman force, led by Aulus Plautius, then halted as Plautius sent for Claudius to come and finish the campaign. When Claudius arrived he led the final march on the Catuvellauni capital at Camulodunum, before returning to Rome again for his triumph. The Catuvellauni at this time held sway over the most of the southeastern corner of England; eleven local rulers surrendered, a number of client kingdoms were established, and the rest became a Roman province with Camulodunum as its capital.
Over the next four years, the territory was consolidated and the future emperor Vespasian led a campaign into the Southwest where he subjugated two more tribes. By 54 AD the border had been pushed back to the Severn and the Trent, and campaigns were underway to subjugate Northern England and Wales. In 60 AD however, under the leadership of the warrior-queen Boudicca, the tribes rose in revolt against the Romans. Camulodunum was burned to the ground, as well as Londinium and Verulamium, there is some archaeological evidence that the same happened at Winchester as well, and the Second Legion Augusta, stationed at Exeter, refused to move for fear of revolt among the locals there as well. The governor however, Suetonius Paulinus, marched back from his campaign in Wales to face Boudicca in battle. There was a substantial engagement, somewhere along the line of Watling Street, at the end of which Boudicca was utterly defeated. The province was pacified once more.
Over the next twenty years the borders expanded but little, but the governorship of Agricola saw the last pockets of independence in Wales and Northern England finally incorporated into the province. He also led a campaign into Scotland, but from these conquests he was recalled by the Emperor Domitian, and the border gradually solidified along the line of the Stanegate in Northern England. Hadrian's Wall was built along this line in 138 AD; apart from a number of temporary forays into Scotland, this was now the border. The Romans, and their culture, were here to stay; over the course of their three hundred and fifty years in charge, England's landscape would become ubiquitously impregnated with traces of their presence.
The Anglo-Saxon invasion
In the wake of the breakdown of Roman rule in Britain from the middle of the fourth century, present day England was progressively settled by Germanic groups. Collectively known as the "Anglo-Saxons", these were Angles and Saxons from what is now the Danish/German border area and Jutes from the Jutland peninsula. The entire region was referred to as, "Hwicce" and settlements throughout the south were called Gewisse. The Battle of Deorham was a critical battle that established the Anglo-Saxon rule in 577. Saxon mercenaries had been present in Britain since before the late Roman period, but the main influx of population is thought to have taken place after the fifth century. The precise nature of these invasions has not been fully determined, with doubts being cast on the legitimacy of historical accounts due to a lack of archaeological finds. Gildas Sapiens’ De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, composed in the 6th century, states that when the Roman army departed the Isle of Britannia in the 4th century CE, the indigenous Britons were invaded by Picts, their neighbours to the north (now Scotland) and the Scots (now Ireland). The Britons then invited the Saxons into the island, hoping to repel the invading armies of the north. To their dismay, the Saxons themselves turned against the Britons after vanquishing the Scots and Picts.
Seven Kingdoms are traditionally identified as being established by these Saxon migrants. Three were clustered in the South east: Sussex, Kent and Essex. The Midlands were dominated by the kingdoms of Mercia and East Anglia. The Monarchs of Mercia's lineage was determined to reach as far back as the early 500's. To the north was Northumbria which unified two earlier kingdoms, Bernicia and Deira. The development of these kingdoms led to the eventual domination by Northumbria and Mercia in the 7th century, Mercia in the 8th century and then Wessex in the 9th century. Northumbria extended its control north into Scotland and west into Wales. It also subdued Mercia whose first powerful King, Penda, was killed by Oswy in 655. Northumbria's power began to wane after 685 with the defeat and death of its king Aegfrith at the hands of the Picts. Mercian power reached its peak under the rule of Offa, who from 785 had influence over most of Anglo-Saxon England. From Offa's death in 796 the supremacy of Wessex was established under Egbert who extended his control west into Cornwall before defeating the Mercians at the Battle of Ellendun in 825. Four years later he received submission and tribute from the Northumbrian king, Eanred.
The sequence of events of the fifth and sixth centuries is particularly difficult to access, peppered with a mixture of mythology, such as the characters of Hengist and Horsa, and legend, such as St Germanus's so-called "Alleluia Victory" against the Heathens, and half-remembered history, such as the exploits of Ambrosius Aurelianus and King Arthur. However, the belief that the Saxons simply wiped or drove out all the native Britons from England has been widely discredited by a number of archaeologists since the 2000s. At any rate, the Anglo-Saxons, including Saxonified Britons, progressively spread into England, by a combination of military conquest and cultural assimilation, until by the eighth century some kind of England really had emerged.
Heptarchy and Christianisation
Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England began around 600 AD, influenced by Celtic Christianity from the northwest and by the Roman Catholic Church from the southeast. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, took office in 597. In 601, he baptised the first Christian Anglo-Saxon king, Aethelbert of Kent. The last pagan Anglo-Saxon king, Penda of Mercia, died in 655. The last pagan Jutish king, Arwald of the Isle of Wight was killed in 686. The Anglo-Saxon mission on the continent took off in the 8th century, leading to the Christianisation of practically all of the Frankish Empire by 800.
Throughout the 7th and 8th century power fluctuated between the larger kingdoms. Bede records Aethelbert of Kent as being dominant at the close of the 6th century, but power seems to have shifted northwards to the kingdom of Northumbria, which was formed from the amalgamation of Bernicia and Deira. Edwin of Northumbria probably held dominance over much of Britain, though Bede's Northumbrian bias should be kept in mind. Succession crises meant Northumbrian hegemony was not constant, and Mercia remained a very powerful kingdom, especially under Penda. Two defeats essentially ended Northumbrian dominance: the Battle of the Trent in 679 against Mercia, and Nechtanesmere in 685 against the Picts.
The so-called "Mercian Supremacy" dominated the 8th century, though it was not constant. Aethelbald and Offa, the two most powerful kings, achieved high status; indeed, Offa was considered the overlord of south Britain by Charlemagne. That Offa could summon the resources to build Offa's Dyke is testament to his power. However, a rising Wessex, and challenges from smaller kingdoms, kept Mercian power in check, and by the early 9th century the "Mercian Supremacy" was over.
This period has been described as the Heptarchy, though this term has now fallen out of academic use. The word arose on the basis that the seven kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, Kent, East Anglia, Essex, Sussex and Wessex were the main polities of south Britain. More recent scholarship[by whom?] has shown that other kingdoms were also politically important across this period: Hwicce, Magonsaete, Lindsey and Middle Anglia.
Viking challenge and the rise of Wessex
The first recorded landing of Vikings took place in 787 in Dorsetshire, on the south-west coast. The first major attack in Britain was in 793 at Lindisfarne monastery as given by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. However, by then the Vikings were almost certainly well-established in Orkney and Shetland, and many other non-recorded raids probably occurred before this. Records do show the first Viking attack on Iona taking place in 794. The arrival of the Vikings (in particular the Danish Great Heathen Army) upset the political and social geography of Britain and Ireland. In 867 Northumbria fell to the Danes; East Anglia fell in 869. Though Wessex managed to contain the Vikings by defeating them at Ashdown in 871, a second invading army landed, leaving the Saxons on a defensive footing. At much the same time, Æthelred, king of Wessex died and was succeeded by his younger brother Alfred. Alfred was immediately confronted with the task of defending Wessex against the Danes. He spent the first five years of his reign paying the invaders off. In 878, Alfred's forces were overwhelmed at Chippenham in a surprise attack.
It was only now, with the independence of Wessex hanging by a thread, that Alfred emerged as a great king. In May 878 he led a force that defeated the Danes at Edington. The victory was so complete that the Danish leader, Guthrum, was forced to accept Christian baptism and withdraw from Mercia. Alfred then set about strengthening the defences of Wessex, building a new navy—60 vessels strong. Alfred's success bought Wessex and Mercia years of peace and sparked economic recovery in previously ravaged areas.
Alfred's success was sustained by his son Edward, whose decisive victories over the Danes in East Anglia in 910 and 911 were followed by a crushing victory at Tempsford in 917. These military gains allowed Edward to fully incorporate Mercia into his kingdom and add East Anglia to his conquests. Edward then set about reinforcing his northern borders against the Danish kingdom of Northumbria. Edward's rapid conquest of the English kingdoms meant Wessex received homage from those that remained, including Gwynedd in Wales and Scotland. His dominance was reinforced by his son Æthelstan, who extended the borders of Wessex northward, in 917 conquering the Kingdom of York and leading a land and naval invasion of Scotland. These conquests led to his adopting the title 'King of the English' for the first time.
The dominance and independence of England was maintained by the kings that followed. It was not until 978 and the accession of Æthelred the Unready that the Danish threat resurfaced. Two powerful Danish kings (Harold Bluetooth and later Sweyn, his son) both launched devastating invasions of England. Anglo-Saxon forces were resoundingly defeated at Maldon in 991. More Danish attacks followed, and their victories were frequent. Æthelred's control over his nobles began to falter, and he grew increasingly desperate. His solution was to pay the Danes off: for almost 20 years he paid increasingly large sums to the Danish nobles in an attempt to keep them from English coasts. Known as Danegelds, these payments slowly crippled the English economy and eventually became too expensive.
Æthelred then made an alliance with Normandy in 1001, through marriage to the Duke's daughter Emma, in the hope of strengthening England. He then made a great error: in 1002 he ordered the massacre of all the Danes in England, which had serious consequences. It angered Sweyn, who unleashed a decade of devastating attacks on England. Northern England, with its sizable Danish population, sided with Sweyn. By 1013, London, Oxford, and Winchester had fallen to the Danes. Æthelred fled to Normandy and Sweyn seized the throne. Sweyn suddenly died in 1014, and Æthelred returned to England, confronted Sweyn's successor, Cnut. However, in 1016, Æthelred also suddenly died. Cnut swiftly defeated the remaining Saxons, killing Æthelred's son Edmund in the process. Cnut seized the throne, crowning himself King of England.
Alfred of Wessex died in 899 and was succeeded by his son Edward the Elder. Edward, and his brother-in-law Æthelred of (what was left of) Mercia, began a programme of expansion, building forts and towns on an Alfredian model. On Æthelred's death his wife (Edward's sister) Æthelflæd ruled as "Lady of the Mercians" and continued expansion. It seems Edward had his son Æthelstan brought up in the Mercian court, and on Edward's death Athelstan succeeded to the Mercian kingdom, and, after some uncertainty, Wessex.
Æthelstan continued the expansion of his father and aunt and was the first king to achieve direct rulership of what we would now consider England. The titles attributed to him in charters and on coins suggest a still more widespread dominance. His expansion aroused ill-feeling among the other kingdoms of Britain, and he defeated a combined Scottish-Viking army at the Battle of Brunanburh. However, the unification of England was not a certainty. Under Æthelstan's successors Edmund and Eadred the English kings repeatedly lost and regained control of Northumbria. Nevertheless, Edgar, who ruled the same expanse as Athelstan, consolidated the kingdom, which remained united thereafter.
England under the Danes and the Norman conquest
There were renewed Scandinavian attacks on England at the end of the 10th century. Æthelred ruled a long reign but ultimately lost his kingdom to Sweyn of Denmark, though he recovered it following the latter's death. However, Æthelred's son Edmund II Ironside died shortly afterwards, allowing Canute, Sweyn's son, to become king of England. Under his rule the kingdom became the centre of government for an empire which also included Denmark and Norway.
Canute was succeeded by his sons, but in 1042 the native dynasty was restored with the accession of Edward the Confessor. Edward's failure to produce an heir caused a furious conflict over the succession on his death in 1066. His struggles for power against Godwin, Earl of Wessex, the claims of Canute's Scandinavian successors, and the ambitions of the Normans whom Edward introduced to English politics to bolster his own position caused each to vie for control Edward's reign.
Harold Godwinson became king, in all likelihood appointed by Edward the Confessor on his deathbed and endorsed by the Witan. William of Normandy, Harald Hardråde (aided by Harold Godwin's estranged brother Tostig) and Sweyn II of Denmark all asserted claims to the throne. By far the strongest hereditary claim was that of Edgar the Ætheling, but his youth and apparent lack of powerful supporters caused him to be passed over, and he did not play a major part in the struggles of 1066, though he was made king for a short time by the Witan after the death of Harold Godwinson.
In September 1066, Harald III of Norway landed in Northern England with a force of around 15,000 men and 300 longships (50 men in each boat). With him was Earl Tostig, who had promised him support. Harold Godwinson defeated and killed Harald III of Norway and Tostig and the Norwegian force at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
On 28 September 1066, William of Normandy invaded England with a force of Normans, in a campaign known as the Norman Conquest. On 14 October, after having marched his exhausted army all the way from Yorkshire, Harold fought the Normans at the Battle of Hastings, where England's army was defeated and Harold was killed. Further opposition to William in support of Edgar the Ætheling soon collapsed, and William was crowned king on Christmas Day 1066. For the next five years he faced a series of English rebellions in various parts of the country and a half-hearted Danish invasion, but he was able to subdue all resistance and establish an enduring regime.
The Norman Conquest led to a profound change in the history of the English state. William ordered the compilation of the Domesday Book, a survey of the entire population and their lands and property for tax purposes, which reveals that within twenty years of the conquest the English ruling class had been almost entirely dispossessed and replaced by Norman landholders, who also monopolised all senior positions in the government and the Church. William and his nobles spoke and conducted court in Norman French, in England as well as in Normandy. The use of the Anglo-Norman language by the aristocracy endured for centuries and left an indelible mark in the development of modern English.
Upon being crowned, on Christmas Day 1066, William immediately began consolidating his power. By 1067 he faced revolts on all sides and spent four years systematically crushing each one. He then went about imposing his superiority over Scotland and Wales, forcing each to recognise him as overlord.
The English Middle Ages were characterised by civil war, international war, occasional insurrection, and widespread political intrigue amongst the aristocratic and monarchic elite. England was more than self-sufficient in cereals, dairy products, beef and mutton. The nation's international economy was based on the wool trade, in which the produce of the sheepwalks of northern England was exported to the textile cities of Flanders, where it was worked into cloth. Medieval foreign policy was as much shaped by relations with the Flemish textile industry as it was by dynastic adventures in western France. An English textile industry was established in the 15th century, providing the basis for rapid English capital accumulation.
Henry I, the fourth son of William I the Conqueror, succeeded his elder brother William II as King of England in 1100. Henry was also known as "Henry Beauclerc" (because of his education—as his older brother William was the heir apparent and thus given the practical training to be king, Henry received the alternate, formal education), worked hard to reform and stabilise the country and smooth the differences between the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman societies. The loss of his son, William Adelin, in the wreck of the White Ship in November 1120, undermined his reforms. This problem regarding succession cast a long shadow over English history.
Henry I, had required the leading barons, ecclesiastics and officials in Normandy and England, to take an oath to accept Matilda (also known as Empress Maud, Henry I's daughter) as his heir. England was far less than enthusiastic to accept an outsider, and a woman, as their ruler.
There is some evidence suggesting Henry was unsure of his own hopes and the oath to make Matilda his heir. In likelihood, Henry probably hoped Matilda would have a son and step aside as Queen Mother, making her son the next heir. Upon Henry’s death, the Norman and English barons ignored Matilda’s claim to the throne, and thus through a series of decisions, Stephen, Henry’s favourite nephew, was welcomed by many in England and Normandy as their new ruler.
On 22 December 1135, Stephen was anointed king with the implicit support of the church and nation. Matilda and her own son stood for direct descent by heredity from Henry I, and she bided her time in France. The following civil war from 1139–1153 is known as the Anarchy. In the autumn of 1139, she invaded England with her illegitimate half-brother Robert of Gloucester. Her husband, Geoffroy V of Anjou, conquered Normandy but did not cross the channel to help his wife, satisfied with Normandy and Anjou. During this breakdown of central authority, the nobles ran amok building adulterine castles (i.e. castles erected without government permission).
Stephen was captured, and his government fell. Matilda was proclaimed queen but was soon at odds with her subjects and was expelled from London. The period of insurrection and civil war that followed continued until 1148, when Matilda returned to France. Stephen effectively reigned unopposed until his death in 1154, although his hold on the throne was still uneasy. As soon as he regained power, he began the process of demolishing the adulterine castles, which were hated by the peasants due to their being employed as forced labor to build and maintain them. Stephen kept a few castles standing however, which put him at odds with his heir. During the confused and contested reign of Stephen, there was a major swing in the balance of power towards the feudal barons, as civil war and lawlessness broke out. In trying to appease Scottish and Welsh raiders, he handed over large tracts of land.
England under the Plantagenets
Empress Matilda and Geoffroy's son, Henry, resumed the invasion; he was already Count of Anjou, Duke of Normandy and Duke of Aquitaine when he landed in England. When Stephen's son and heir apparent Eustace died in 1153, the king reached an accommodation with Henry of Anjou (who became Henry II) to succeed Stephen and in which peace between them was guaranteed. England was part of a greater union, retrospectively named the Angevin Empire. Henry destroyed the remaining adulterine castles and expanded his power through various means and to different levels into Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Flanders, Nantes, Brittany, Quercy, Toulouse, Bourges and Auvergne.
The reign of Henry II represents a reversion in power back from the barony to the monarchical state in England; it was also to see a similar redistribution of legislative power from the Church, again to the monarchical state. This period also presaged a properly constituted legislation and a radical shift away from feudalism. In his reign new Anglo-Angevin and Anglo-Aquitanian aristocracies developed, though not to the same point as the Anglo-Norman once did, and the Norman nobles interacted with their French peers.
Henry's successor, Richard I "the Lion Heart" (also known as "The absent king"), was preoccupied with foreign wars, taking part in the Third Crusade and defending his French territories against Philip II of France.
Facing internal disorder, in 1212 John made the Kingdom of England a tribute-paying vassal of the Holy See, which it remained until the 14th century when the Kingdom rejected the overlordship of the Holy See and re-established its sovereignty. From 1212 onwards, John had a constant policy of maintaining close relations with the Pope, which partially explains how he persuaded the Pope to reject the legitimacy of the Magna Carta.
Richard's younger brother John, who succeeded him, was not so fortunate; he suffered the loss of Normandy and numerous other French territories following the disastrous Battle of Bouvines (1214) after having failed to get help from King Mohammed el-Nasir of Morocco. The defeat forced the king to accept an unfavourable peace with France.
Over the course of his reign a combination of higher taxes, unsuccessful wars and conflict with the Pope had made King John unpopular with his barons, and in 1215 some of the most important decided to rebel against him. He met their leaders along with their French and Scot allies at Runnymede, near London on 15 June 1215 to seal the Great Charter (Magna Carta in Latin), which imposed legal limits on the king's personal powers. Because he had sealed under duress, however, John received approval from the Pope to break his word as soon as hostilities had ceased, provoking the First Barons' War and an invited French invasion by Prince Louis of France (whom the majority of the English barons had invited to replace John on the throne and had him proclaimed king in London in May 1216). John travelled around the country to oppose the rebel forces, directing, among other operations, a two-month siege of the rebel-held Rochester Castle.
John's son, Henry III, was only 9 years old when he became king (1216–1272). He spent much of his reign fighting the barons over the Magna Carta and the royal rights, and was eventually forced to call the first "parliament" in 1264. He was also unsuccessful on the Continent, where he endeavoured to re-establish English control over Normandy, Anjou, and Aquitaine.
His reign was punctuated by numerous rebellions and civil wars, often provoked by incompetence and mismanagement in government and Henry's perceived over-reliance on French courtiers (thus restricting the influence of the English nobility). One of these rebellions—led by a disaffected courtier, Simon de Montfort—was notable for its assembly of one of the earliest precursors to Parliament. In addition to fighting the Second Barons' War, Henry III made war against Saint Louis and was defeated during the Saintonge War, yet Louis IX did not capitalise on his victory, respecting his opponent's rights.
The reign of Edward I (reigned 1272–1307) was rather more successful. Edward enacted numerous laws strengthening the powers of his government, and he summoned the first officially sanctioned Parliaments of England (such as his Model Parliament). He conquered Wales and attempted to use a succession dispute to gain control of the Kingdom of Scotland, though this developed into a costly and drawn-out military campaign.
His son, Edward II, proved a disaster. A weak man who preferred to engage in activities like thatching and ditch-digging rather than jousting, hunting, or the usual entertainments of kings, he spent most of his reign trying in vain to control the nobility, who in return showed continual hostility to him. Meanwhile, the Scottish leader Robert Bruce began retaking all the territory conquered by Edward I. In 1314, the English army was disastrously defeated by the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn. Edward also showered favours on his companion Piers Gaveston, a knight of humble birth. While it has been widely believed that Edward was a homosexual because of his closeness to Gaveston, there is no concrete evidence of this. The king's enemies, including his cousin Thomas of Lancaster, captured and murdered Gaveston in 1312.
Edward's downfall came in 1326 when his wife,Queen Isabella, travelled to her native France and then, along with her lover Roger Mortimer, invaded England. Despite their tiny force, they quickly rallied support for their cause. The king fled London, and his companion since Piers Gaveston's death, Hugh Despenser, was publicly tried and executed. Edward was eventually captured and charged with breaking his coronation oath. He was deposed and remained imprisoned in Gloucestershire until he was murdered some time in the autumn of 1327, presumably by agents of Isabella and Mortimer.
Edward III, son of Edward II, was crowned at age fourteen after his father was deposed by his mother and her consort Roger Mortimer. At age seventeen he led a successful coup against Mortimer, the de facto ruler of the country, and began his personal reign. Edward III reigned 1327–1377, restored royal authority and went on to transform the Kingdom of England into the most efficient military power in Europe. His reign saw vital developments in legislature and government—in particular the evolution of the English parliament—as well as the ravages of the Black Death. After defeating, but not subjugating, the Kingdom of Scotland, he declared himself rightful heir to the French throne in 1338, but his claim was denied due to the Salic law. This started what would become known as the Hundred Years' War. Following some initial setbacks the war went exceptionally well for England; victories at Crécy and Poitiers led to the highly favourable Treaty of Brétigny. Edward's later years, however, were marked by international failure and domestic strife, largely as a result of his inactivity and poor health.
In 1373, England signed an alliance with the Kingdom of Portugal, which is claimed to be the oldest alliance in the world still in force.
The Black Death, an epidemic of bubonic plague that spread over the whole of Europe, arrived in England in 1348 and killed as much as a third to half the population. Military conflicts during this period were usually with domestic neighbours such as the Welsh, Irish and Scots, and included the Hundred Years' War against the French and their Scottish allies. Notable English victories in the Hundred Years' War included Crécy and Agincourt. The final defeat of the uprising led by the Welsh prince, Owain Glyndŵr, in 1412 by Prince Henry (who later became Henry V) represents the last major armed attempt by the Welsh to throw off English rule.
Edward III gave land to powerful noble families, including many people of royal lineage. Because land was equivalent to power, these powerful men could try to claim the crown. The autocratic and arrogant methods of Richard II only served to alienate the nobility more, and his forceful dispossession in 1399 by Henry IV increased the turmoil.
15th century -- Henry V and the Wars of the Roses
Henry V succeeded to the throne in 1413. He renewed hostilities with France and began a set of military campaigns which are considered a new phase of the Hundred Years War, referred to as the Lancastrian War. He won several notable victories over the French, including at the Battle of Agincourt. In the Treaty of Troyes, Henry V was given the power to succeed the current ruler of France, Charles VI of France. The Treaty also provided that he would marry Charles VI's daughter, Catherine of Valois. They married in 1421. Henry died of dysentery in 1422, leaving a number of unfulfilled plans, including his plan to take over as King of France. (Another unfulfilled plan was to lead a new crusade to retake Jerusalem from the Muslims.) His son, Henry VI, became king in 1422 as an infant. His reign was to be marked by constant turmoil due to his political weaknesses. While he was growing up, England was ruled by the Regency Government of England 1422–37.
The Regency Council attempted to install Henry VI as the King of France, as provided by the Treaty of Troyes signed by his father Henry V, and led English forces to take over areas of France. It appeared they might succeed due to the poor political position of the son of King Charles VI, who had claimed to be the rightful king as King Charles VII of France. However, in 1429, Joan of Arc began to lead a military effort by the French to prevent the English from gaining control of France. With her help, the French forces were able to push the English forces back and to regain control of French territory.
In 1437, Henry VI came of age and began to actively rule as king. In an attempt to forge peace, he married a French noblewoman, Margaret of Anjou in 1445, as provided in the Treaty of Tours. Hostilities resumed with France in 1449. When England lost the Hundred Years' War in August 1453, Henry fell into a period of mental breakdown that lasted until Christmas 1454. With his inability to control the feuding nobles, civil war began in 1455.
The conflicts are known as the Wars of the Roses (1455–1485), and although the fighting was very sporadic and small, there was a general breakdown in the authority and power of the Crown. Henry's cousin, who deposed him in 1461 and became Edward IV, went a little way to restoring this power. Edward defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross. He was briefly expelled from the throne in 1470–1471 when Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, brought Henry back to power. Six months later, Edward defeated and killed Warwick in battle and reclaimed the throne. Henry was imprisoned in the Tower of London and died there.
Edward died in 1483, only 40 years old. His eldest son and heir Edward V, aged 13, would have succeeded him, but the king's brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester declared his marriage to be bigamous and invalid, making all his children illegitimate. Edward V and his 10-year old brother Richard were imprisoned in the Tower of London and their uncle made himself king as Richard III. The two princes were never seen again and presumably died in the Tower. It was widely believed that Richard had them murdered, although their exact fate remains a mystery. Regardless of what really happened, the king was reviled as a treacherous fiend who murdered his own nephews to gain the throne. This hatred of Richard obscured his able governance during his brief reign. In the summer of 1485, Henry Tudor, the last Lancastrian male, landed in England from his exile in France. He defeated and killed Richard in battle at Bosworth Field on 22 August of that year and became king as Henry VII.
With Henry VII's accession to the throne in 1485, the Wars of the Roses came to an end, and Tudors would continue to rule England for 118 years. Traditionally, the Battle of Bosworth Field is considered to mark the end of the Middle Ages in England, although Henry did not introduce any new concept of monarchy, and for most of his reign his hold on power was tenuous. He claimed the throne by conquest and God's judgement in battle. Parliament quickly recognized him as king, but the Yorkists were far from defeated. Nonetheless, he married Edward IV's eldest daughter Elizabeth in January 1486, thereby uniting the houses of York and Lancaster.
Most of the European rulers did not believe Henry would survive long, and were thus willing to shelter claimants against him. The first plot against him was the Stafford and Lovell Rebellion of 1486, which presented no serious threat. But Richard III's nephew John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, hatched another attempt the following year. Using a peasant boy named Lambert Simnel, who posed as Edward, Earl of Warwick (the real Warwick was locked up in the Tower of London), he led an army of 2,000 German mercenaries paid for by Margaret of Burgundy into England. They were defeated and de la Pole killed at the difficult Battle of Stoke, where the loyalty of some of the royal troops to Henry was questionable. The king, realizing that Simnel was merely a dupe, employed him in the royal kitchen.
A more serious menace was Perkin Warbeck, a Flemish youth who posed as Edward IV's son Richard. Again enjoying the support of Margaret of Burgundy, he invaded England four times from 1495–1497 before he was finally captured and put in the Tower of London. Both Warbeck and the Earl of Warwick were too dangerous to keep around even in captivity, and Henry had to execute them in 1499 before Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain would allow their daughter Catherine to come to England and marry his son Arthur.
In 1497, Henry defeated Cornish rebels marching on London. The rest of his Henry VII's reign was relatively peaceful, despite worries concerning succession after the death of his wife Elizabeth of York in 1503.
Henry VII's foreign policy was a peaceful one. He had formed an alliance with Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, but in 1493, when they went to war with France, England was dragged into the conflict. With his crown impoverished and his hold on power insecure, Henry had no desire to go to war. He quickly reached an understanding with the French and renounced all claims to their territory except the port of Calais, realizing also that nothing could be done to stop them from incorporating the Duchy of Brittany. In return, the French agreed to recognize him as king and stop sheltering pretenders. Shortly afterwards, they became preoccupied with adventures in Italy and turned their attention away from England. Henry also reached an understanding with Scotland, agreeing to marry his daughter Margaret to that country's king James IV.
Upon becoming king, Henry inherited a government severely weakened and degraded by the Wars of the Roses. The treasury was empty, having been drained by Edward IV's Woodville in-laws after his death. Through a tight fiscal policy and sometimes ruthless tax collection and confiscations, Henry managed to refill the treasury by the time of his death. He also effectively rebuilt the machinery of government.
In 1501, the king's son Arthur, having married Catherine of Aragon, died of an illness at the age of 15, leaving his younger son Henry, Duke of York, as his heir. When the king himself died in 1509, the position of the Tudors was secure at last, and his son succeeded him unopposed.
Henry VIII began his reign with a high degree of optimism. The handsome, athletic young king stood in sharp contrast to his wary, miserly father. Henry's lavish court quickly drained the treasury of the fortune he had inherited. He married the widowed Catherine of Aragon, and they had several children, but none survived infancy except a daughter, Mary.
In 1512, the young king embarked on a war in France. Although England was an ally of Spain, one of France's principal enemies, the war was mostly about Henry's desire for personal glory, regardless of the fact that his sister Mary was married to the French king Louis XII. The war accomplished little. The English army suffered badly from disease, and Henry was not even present at the one notable victory, the Battle of the Spurs. Meanwhile, James IV of Scotland (despite being Henry's other brother-in-law), activated his alliance with the French and declared war on England. While Henry was dallying in France, Catherine, who was serving as regent in his absence, and his advisers were left to deal with this threat. At the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513, the Scots were completely and totally defeated. Most of the Scottish nobility were killed along with James himself. When Henry returned from France, he was given credit for the victory even though he had nothing to do with it.
Eventually, Catherine was no longer able to have any more children. The king became increasingly nervous about the possibility of his daughter Mary inheriting the throne, as England's one experience with a female sovereign, Matilda in the 12th century, had been a catastrophe. He eventually decided that it was necessary to divorce Catherine and find a new queen. The Church would not simply grant this favour, so Henry cited the passage in the Book of Leviticus where it said, "If a man taketh his brother's wife, he hath committed adultery; they shall be childless." However, Catherine insisted that she and Arthur had never consummated their brief marriage and that the prohibition did not apply here. The timing of Henry's case was very unfortunate; it was 1527 and the Pope had been taken prisoner by the emperor Charles V, Catherine's nephew and the most powerful man in Europe, for siding with his archenemy Francis I of France. As there was no possibility of getting a divorce in these circumstances, Henry decided to simply secede from the Church, in what became known as the English Reformation.
The newly established Church of England amounted to little more than the existing Catholic Church, but with the king rather than the Pope as its head. It took a number of years for the separation from Rome to be completed, however, and many were executed for resisting the king's religious policies.
In 1530, Catherine was banished from court and spent the remainder of her life (until her death in 1536) alone in an isolated manor home, barred from any contact with Mary (although her ladies-in-waiting helped the two maintain a secret correspondence). Their marriage was declared invalid, making Mary an illegitimate child. Henry married Anne Boleyn in secret in 1531, just as his divorce from Catherine was finalised. After this, they had a second, public wedding. Anne soon became pregnant and may have already been when they wed. But on 7 September 1533, she gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. The king was devastated at his failure to obtain a son after all the effort it had taken to remarry. Gradually, he came to develop a disliking of his new queen for her strange behaviour. In 1536, when Anne was pregnant again, Henry was badly injured in a jousting accident. Shaken by this, the queen gave birth prematurely to a stillborn boy. By now, the king was convinced that his marriage was hexed, and having already found a new queen, Jane Seymour, he put Anne in the Tower of London on charges of witchcraft. Afterwards, she was beheaded along with five men (her brother included) accused of adultery with her. The marriage was then declared invalid, so that Elizabeth, just like her half sister, became a bastard.
Henry immediately married Jane Seymour, who became pregnant almost as quickly. On 12 October 1537, she gave birth to a healthy boy, Edward, which was greeted with huge celebrations. The king's quest for a son was finally over, so long as Edward could be kept healthy. However, the queen died of puerperal sepsis ten days later. Henry genuinely mourned her death, and at his own passing nine years later, he was buried next to her.
The king married a fourth time in 1540, to the German Anne of Cleves for a political alliance with her Protestant brother, the Duke of Cleves. He also hoped to obtain another son in case something should happen to Edward. Anne proved a dull, unattractive woman and Henry declined to consummate the marriage. He quickly divorced her, and she remained in England as a kind of adopted sister to him. So he married again, to a 19-year old named Catherine Howard. But when it became known that she was neither a virgin at the wedding, nor a faithful wife afterwards, she ended up on the scaffold and the marriage declared invalid. His sixth and last marriage was to Catherine Parr, more a nursemaid to him than anything else, as his health was failing (it had declined ever since the jousting accident in 1536).
In 1542, the king embarked on a new campaign in France, but unlike in 1512, he only managed with great difficulty. The war netted England the city of Boulogne, but nothing else, and the French retook it in 1549. Scotland also declared war and at Solway Moss was once again totally defeated.
Henry's paranoia and suspicion worsened in his last years. The total number of executions during his 38-year reign numbered in the tens of thousands. He died in January 1547 at the age of 55 and was succeeded by his son, Edward VI.
Edward VI and Mary I
Although he showed piety and intelligence, Edward VI was only nine years old when he took the throne in 1547. His uncle, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset tampered with Henry VIII's will and obtained letters patent giving him much of the power of a monarch by March 1547. He took the title of Protector. Whilst some see him as a high-minded idealist, his stay in power culminated in a crisis in 1549 when many counties of the realm were up in protest. Kett's Rebellion in Norfolk and the Prayer Book Rebellion in Devon and Cornwall simultaneously created a crisis during a time when invasion from Scotland and France were feared. Somerset, disliked by the Regency Council for his autocratic methods, was removed from power by John Dudley, who is known as Lord President Northumberland. Northumberland proceeded to adopt the power for himself, but his methods were more conciliatory and the Council accepted him. It was during Edward's reign that England became a Protestant nation as opposed to a Catholic one in schism from Rome.
Edward was beginning to show great promise when he fell violently ill with tuberculosis in 1553 and died that August two months short of his 16th birthday.
Northumberland made plans to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne and marry her to his son, so that he could remain the power behind the throne. His plot failed in a matter of days, Jane Grey was beheaded, and Mary I (1516–1558) took the throne amidst popular demonstration in her favour in London, which contemporaries described as the largest show of affection for a Tudor monarch. Mary had never been expected to hold the throne, at least not since Edward was born. She was a devoted Catholic who believed that she could turn the clock back to 1516, before the Reformation began.
Returning England to Catholicism led to the burnings of 274 Protestants, which are recorded especially in John Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Mary then married her cousin Philip, son of Emperor Charles V, and King of Spain when Charles abdicated in 1556. The union was a difficult one, since Mary was already in her late 30s and Philip was a Catholic and a foreigner, and so not very welcome in England. This wedding also had the effect of provoking the hostility of the French, already at war with Spain and now alarmed at the prospect of being completely encircled by the Habsburgs. Calais, the last English outpost on the Continent, was then taken by France. King Philip (1527–1598) had very little power, although he did protect Elizabeth. He was not popular in England, and spent little time there. Mary eventually became pregnant, or at least believed herself to be. In reality, she may have had uterine cancer. Her death in November 1558 was greeted with huge celebrations in the streets of London.
The reign of Elizabeth I restored a sort of order to the realm following the turbulence of the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I when she came to the throne following the latter's death in 1558. The religious issue which had divided the country since Henry VIII was in a way put to rest by the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, which re-established the Church of England. Much of Elizabeth's success was in balancing the interests of the Puritans and Catholics. She managed to offend neither to a large extent, although she clamped down on Catholics towards the end of her reign as war with Catholic Spain loomed.
Despite the need for an heir, Elizabeth declined to marry, despite offers from a number of suitors across Europe, including the Swedish king Erik XIV. This created endless worries over her succession, especially in the 1570s when she nearly died of smallpox. It has been often rumoured that she had a number of lovers (including Francis Drake), but there is no hard evidence.
Elizabeth maintained relative government stability apart from the Revolt of the Northern Earls in 1569, she was effective in reducing the power of the old nobility and expanding the power of her government. Elizabeth's government did much to consolidate the work begun under Thomas Cromwell in the reign of Henry VIII, that is, expanding the role of the government and effecting common law and administration throughout England. During the reign of Elizabeth and shortly afterwards, the population grew significantly: from three million in 1564 to nearly five million in 1616.
The queen ran afoul of her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, who was a devoted Catholic and had been forced to abdicate her throne as a consequence (Scotland had recently become Protestant). She fled to England, where Elizabeth immediately had her arrested. Mary spent the next 18 years in confinement, but proved too dangerous to keep alive, as the Catholic powers in Europe considered her, not Elizabeth, the legitimate ruler of England. She was eventually tried for treason and sentenced to death, being beheaded in February 1587.
The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign (1558–1603). Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history. The symbol of Britannia was first used in 1572 and often thereafter to mark the Elizabethan age as a renaissance that inspired national pride through classical ideals, international expansion, and naval triumph over the hated Spanish foe. In terms of the entire century, the historian John Guy (1988) argues that "England was economically healthier, more expansive, and more optimistic under the Tudors" than at any time in a thousand years.
This "golden age" represented the apogee of the English Renaissance and saw the flowering of poetry, music and literature. The era is most famous for theatre, as William Shakespeare and many others composed plays that broke free of England's past style of theatre. It was an age of exploration and expansion abroad, while back at home, the Protestant Reformation became more acceptable to the people, most certainly after the Spanish Armada was repulsed. It was also the end of the period when England was a separate realm before its royal union with Scotland.
The Elizabethan Age is viewed so highly largely because of the periods before and after. It was a brief period of largely internal peace between the English Reformation and the battles between Protestants and Catholics and the battles between parliament and the monarchy that engulfed the seventeenth century. The Protestant/Catholic divide was settled, for a time, by the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, and parliament was not yet strong enough to challenge royal absolutism.
England was also well-off compared to the other nations of Europe. The Italian Renaissance had come to an end under the weight of foreign domination of the peninsula. France was embroiled in its own religious battles that would only be settled in 1598 with the Edict of Nantes. In part because of this, but also because the English had been expelled from their last outposts on the continent, the centuries long conflict between France and England was largely suspended for most of Elizabeth's reign.
The one great rival was Spain, with which England clashed both in Europe and the Americas in skirmishes that exploded into the Anglo-Spanish War of 1585–1604. An attempt by Philip II of Spain to invade England with the Spanish Armada in 1588 was famously defeated, but the tide of war turned against England with an unsuccessful expedition to Portugal and the Azores, the Drake-Norris Expedition of 1589. Thereafter Spain provided some support for Irish Catholics in a debilitating rebellion against English rule, and Spanish naval and land forces inflicted a series of reversals against English offensives. This drained both the English Exchequer and economy that had been so carefully restored under Elizabeth's prudent guidance. English commercial and territorial expansion would be limited until the signing of the Treaty of London the year following Elizabeth's death.
England during this period had a centralised, well-organised, and effective government, largely a result of the reforms of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Economically, the country began to benefit greatly from the new era of trans-Atlantic trade.
In foreign policy Elizabeth played against each other the major powers of France and Spain, as well as the papacy and Scotland. These were all Catholic and each wanted to end Protestantism in England. Elizabeth was cautious in foreign affairs and only half-heartedly supported a number of ineffective, poorly resourced military campaigns in the Netherlands, France and Ireland. She risked war with Spain by supporting the "Sea Dogs," such as Walter Raleigh, John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake, who preyed on the Spanish merchant ships carrying gold and silver from the New World. The major war came with Spain, 1585–1603. When Spain tried to invade and conquer England it was a fiasco, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 associated Elizabeth's name forever with what is popularly viewed as one of the greatest victories in English history. Her enemies failed to combine and Elizabeth's foreign policy successfully navigated all the dangers.
End of Tudor era
In all, the Tudor period is seen as a decisive one which set up many important questions which would have to be answered in the next century and during the English Civil War. These were questions of the relative power of the monarch and Parliament and to what extent one should control the other. Some historians think that Thomas Cromwell affected a "Tudor Revolution" in government, and it is certain that Parliament became more important during his chancellorship. Other historians say the "Tudor Revolution" really extended to the end of Elizabeth's reign, when the work was all consolidated. Although the Privy Council declined after the death of Elizabeth, while she was alive it was very effective.
Union of the Crowns
Elizabeth died in 1603 at the age of 69. Her closest male Protestant relative was the King of Scots, James VI, of the House of Stuart, who became King James I of England in a Union of the Crowns. King James I & VI as he was styled became the first monarch to rule the entire island of Great Britain, although it was merely a union of the English and Scottish crowns, and both countries remained separate political entities. Several assassination attempts were made on James, notably the Main Plot and Bye Plots of 1603, and most famously, on 5 November 1605, the Gunpowder Plot, by a group of Catholic conspirators, led by Sir Robert Catesby, which caused more antipathy in England towards the Catholic faith. Upon taking power, James immediately made peace with Spain, and for the first half of the 17th century, England remained largely inactive in European politics.
In 1607 England built an establishment at Jamestown. This was the beginning of colonialism by England in North America. Many English settled then in North America for religious or economic reasons. Approximately 70% of English immigrants to North America who came between 1630–1660 were indentured servants. By 1700, Chesapeake planters transported about 100,000 indentured servants, who accounted for more than 75% of all European immigrants to Virginia and Maryland. The English merchants holding plantations in the warm southern parts of America then resorted rather quickly to the slavery of Native Americans and imported Africans in order to cultivate their plantations and sell raw material (particularly cotton and tobacco) in Europe. The English merchants involved in colonization amassed fortunes equal to those of great aristocratic landowners in England, and their money, which fuelled the rise of the middle class, permanently altered the balance of political power. The American colonies did not prove profitable to the mother country in the end. Pennsylvania and Delaware were home to a large population of self-sufficient farmers from various parts of Europe, especially Germany. New York traded with pirates and smugglers, and the colonies of New England consistently frustrated the government's attempts to utilize the area's forests for shipbuilding. Only Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay area produced a useful cash crop, tobacco, but it quickly wore the soil out. By the end of the 18th century, the tobacco industry in Virginia had been completely ruined by soil exhaustion and low prices. Indeed, the small sugar-growing islands in the Caribbean were worth more than all of the thirteen colonies put together.
The English colonies did not have an independent foreign policy, but otherwise were mostly left to manage their own affairs. This was very different from the authoritarian control France and Spain held over their colonies. It was the gradual infringement on the rights of the colonies starting in the 1760s that would lead to the American War of Independence. Nothing of the sort would have been possible in the French and Spanish colonies.
English Civil War
The First English Civil War broke out in 1642, largely as a result of an ongoing series of conflicts between James' son, Charles I, and Parliament. The defeat of the Royalist army by the New Model Army of Parliament at the Battle of Naseby in June 1645 effectively destroyed the king's forces. Charles surrendered to the Scottish army at Newark. He was eventually handed over to the English Parliament in early 1647. He escaped, and the Second English Civil War began, although it was a short conflict, with the New Model Army quickly securing the country. The capture and subsequent trial of Charles led to his beheading in January 1649 at Whitehall Gate in London, making England a republic. The trial and execution of Charles by his own subjects shocked the rest of Europe (the king argued to the end that only God could judge him) and was a precursor of sorts to the beheading of Louis XVI 145 years later.
The New Model Army, under the command of Oliver Cromwell, then scored decisive victories against Royalist armies in Ireland and Scotland. Cromwell was given the title Lord Protector in 1653, making him 'king in all but name' to his critics. After he died in 1658, his son Richard Cromwell succeeded him in the office but he was forced to abdicate within a year. For a while it looked as if a new civil war would begin as the New Model Army split into factions. Troops stationed in Scotland under the command of George Monck eventually marched on London to restore order.
Restoration of the monarchy
The monarchy was restored in 1660, with King Charles II returning to London.
In 1665, London was swept by a visitation of the plague, and then, in 1666, the capital was swept by the Great Fire, which raged for 5 days, destroying approximately 15,000 buildings. After the Restoration, there was an overall reduction in the power of the crown, and by the 18th century England rivaled the Netherlands for being one of the freest countries in Europe.
In 1680, the Exclusion crisis occurred due to widespread objections to a Catholic serving as the King of England, since James was the heir presumptive to Charles, who was the king at that time. After the death of Charles II in 1685, his Catholic brother King James II & VII was crowned. From that point, there were various factions pressing for his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband, Prince William III of Orange, to replace him in what became known as the Glorious Revolution.
In November 1688, William landed in England with an invading force, and succeeded in being crowned king. After this, James attempted to retake the throne by force in the Williamite War, and was finally defeated by William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
In December 1689, one of the most important constitutional documents in English history, the Bill of Rights, was passed. The Act, which restated and confirmed many provisions of the earlier Declaration of Right, established restrictions on the royal prerogative. It provided, amongst other things, that the Sovereign could not suspend laws passed by Parliament, levy taxes without parliamentary consent, infringe the right to petition, raise a standing army during peacetime without parliamentary consent, deny the right to bear arms to Protestant subjects, unduly interfere with parliamentary elections, punish members of either House of Parliament for anything said during debates, require excessive bail or inflict cruel and unusual punishments. William was opposed to the imposition of such constraints, but he chose not to engage in a conflict with Parliament and agreed to abide by the statute.
In parts of Scotland and Ireland, Catholics loyal to James remained determined to see him restored to the throne, and there followed a series of bloody though unsuccessful uprisings. As a result of these, any failure to pledge loyalty to the victorious King William was severely dealt with. The most infamous example of this policy was the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692. Jacobite rebellions continued on into the mid-18th century until the son of the last Catholic claimant to the throne, (James III & VIII), mounted a final campaign in 1745. The Jacobite forces of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the "Bonnie Prince Charlie" of legend, were defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Formation of the United Kingdom
The Acts of Union between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland were a pair of Parliamentary Acts passed by both parliaments in 1707, which dissolved them in order to form a Kingdom of Great Britain governed by a unified Parliament of Great Britain according to the Treaty of Union. The Acts joined the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland (previously separate states, with separate legislatures but with the same monarch) into a single Kingdom of Great Britain.
The two countries had shared a monarch since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne from his double first cousin twice removed, Queen Elizabeth I. Although described as a Union of Crowns, until 1707 there were in fact two separate Crowns resting on the same head. There had been three attempts in 1606, 1667, and 1689 to unite the two countries by Acts of Parliament, but it was not until the early 18th century that the idea had the will of both political establishments behind them, albeit for rather different reasons.
The Acts took effect on 1 May 1707. On this date, the Scots Parliament and the English Parliament united to form the Parliament of Great Britain, based in the Palace of Westminster in London, the home of the English Parliament. Hence, the Acts are referred to as the Union of the Parliaments. On the Union, historian Simon Schama said "What began as a hostile merger, would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world ... it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history."
In 1714 the reign of Queen Anne ended. Anne was the last monarch of the House of Stuart. She was succeeded by her second cousin, George I, of the House of Hanover, who was a descendant of the Stuarts through his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth, daughter of James VI & I. A series of Jacobite rebellions broke out in an attempt to restore the Stuart monarchy, but all ultimately failed. Several Planned French Invasions were attempted, also with the intention of placing the Stuarts on the throne.
The Act of Union of 1800 formally assimilated Ireland within the British political process and from 1 January 1801 created a new state called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which united the Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland to form a single political entity. The English capital of London was adopted as the capital of the Union.
Modern England, 18th–19th centuries
Following the formation of the United Kingdom, the history of England is no longer the history of a sovereign nation, but rather the history of one of the countries of the United Kingdom.
During the late 18th century and early 19th century, there was considerable social upheaval as a largely agrarian society was transformed by technological advances and increasing mechanization, which was the Industrial Revolution. Much of the agricultural workforce was uprooted from the countryside and moved into large urban centres of production, as the steam-based production factories could undercut the traditional cottage industries, because of economies of scale and the increased output per worker made possible by the new technologies. The consequent overcrowding into areas with little supporting infrastructure saw dramatic increases in the rate of infant mortality (to the extent that many Sunday schools for pre-working age children (5 or 6) had funeral clubs to pay for each other's funeral arrangements), crime, and social deprivation.
The transition to industrialization was not wholly seamless for workers, many of whom saw their livelihoods threatened by the process. Of these, some frequently sabotaged or attempted to sabotage factories. These saboteurs were known as "Luddites".
The Local Government Act of 1888 was the first systematic attempt to impose a standardised system of local government in England. The counties of England at the time (today known as the historic counties, since the major boundary changes of 1974) were used as the basis of the system. A second Act in 1894 (Local Government Act 1894) also created a second tier of local government. Henceforth, all administrative counties and county boroughs would be divided into either rural or urban districts, allowing more localised administration.
By 1888, it was clear that the piecemeal system that had developed over the previous century in response to the vastly increased need for local administration could no longer cope. The sanitary districts and parish councils had legal status, but were not part of the mechanism of government. They were run by volunteers; often there was no-one who could be held responsible for the failure to undertake the required duties. Furthermore, the increased "county business" could not be handled by the Quarter Sessions, nor was it appropriate to do so. Finally, there was a desire to see local administration performed by elected officials, as in the reformed municipal boroughs. The Local Government Act was therefore the first systematic attempt to impose a standardised system of local government in England.
The counties of England at the time (now known as the historic counties, since the major boundary changes of 1974) were used as the basis of the system. The counties themselves had undergone some boundary changes in the preceding 50 years, mainly to remove enclaves and exclaves. The act called for the creation of statutory counties, based on the ancient/historic counties, but completely corrected for enclaves and exclaves, and adjusted so that all settlements were completely within a single county. These statutory counties were to be used for non-administrative functions: "sheriff, lieutenant, custos rotulorum, justices, militia, coroner, or other". With the advent of elected councils, the offices of lord lieutenant and sheriff became largely ceremonial.
The statutory counties formed the basis for the so-called 'administrative counties'. However, it was felt that large cities and primarily rural areas in the same county could not be well administered by the same body. Thus 59 "counties in themselves", or 'county boroughs', were created to administer the urban centres of England. These were part of the statutory counties, but not part of the administrative counties.
A second Act in 1894 (Local Government Act 1894) also created a second tier of local government. Henceforth, all administrative counties and county boroughs would be divided into either rural or urban districts, allowing more localised administration. The municipal boroughs reformed after 1835 were brought into this system as special cases of urban districts. The urban and rural districts were based upon, and incorporated the sanitary districts which had been created in 1875 (with adjustments, so that districts did not overlap two counties).
The Act also provided for the establishment of civil parishes. The 1894 Act formed an official system of civil parishes, separated from the ecclesiastical parishes, to carry on some of these responsibilities (others being transferred to the district/county councils). However, the civil parishes were not a complete third-tier of local government. Instead, they were 'community councils' for smaller, rural settlements, which did not have a local government district to themselves. Where urban parish councils had previously existed, they were absorbed into the new urban districts.
20th and 21st centuries
A prolonged agricultural depression in Britain at the end of the 19th century, together with the introduction in the 20th century of increasingly heavy levels of taxation on inherited wealth, put an end to agricultural land as the primary source of wealth for the upper classes. Many estates were sold or broken up, and this trend was accelerated by the introduction of protection for agricultural tenancies, encouraging outright sales, from the mid-20th century.
General history and political issues
Following years of political and military agitation for 'Home Rule' for Ireland, the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 established the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland) as a separate state, leaving Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. The official name of the UK thus became "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".
There is a movement in England to create a devolved English Parliament. This would give England a local Parliament like those already functioning for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. This issue is referred to as the West Lothian question.
Political history and local government
A Local Government Commission was wound up in 1966, and replaced with a Royal Commission (known as the Redcliffe-Maud commission). In 1969 it recommended a system of single-tier unitary authorities for the whole of England, apart from three metropolitan areas of Merseyside, Selnec (Greater Manchester) and West Midlands (Birmingham and the Black Country), which were to have both a metropolitan council and district councils. This report was accepted by the Labour Party government of the time despite considerable opposition, but the Conservative Party won the June 1970 general election, and on a manifesto that committed them to a two-tier structure.
The reforms arising from the Local Government Act of 1972 resulted in the most uniform and simplified system of local government which has been used in England. They effectively wiped away everything that had gone before, and built an administrative system from scratch. All previous administrative districts – statutory counties, administrative counties, county boroughs, municipal boroughs, counties corporate, civil parishes – were abolished.
The aim of the act was to establish a uniform two tier system across the country. Onto the blank canvas, new counties were created to cover the entire country; many of these were obviously based on the historic counties, but there were some major changes, especially in the north.
This uniform two-tier system lasted only 12 years. In 1986, the metropolitan county councils and Greater London were abolished. This restored autonomy (in effect the old county borough status) to the metropolitan and London boroughs. The Local Government Act (1992) established a commission (Local Government Commission for England) to examine the issues, and make recommendations on where unitary authorities should be established. It was considered too expensive to make the system entirely unitary, and also there would doubtlessly be cases where the two-tier system functioned well. The commission recommended that many counties be moved to completely unitary systems; that some cities become unitary authorities, but that the remainder of their parent counties remain two-tier; and that in some counties the status quo should remain.
The rate-capping rebellion was a campaign within English local councils in 1985 which aimed to force the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher to withdraw powers to restrict the spending of councils. The campaign's tactic was that councils whose budgets were restricted would refuse to set any budget at all for the financial year 1985–86, requiring the Government to intervene directly in providing local services, or to concede. However, all 15 councils which initially refused to set a rate eventually did so, and the campaign failed to change Government policy. Powers to restrict council budgets have remained in place ever since.
In 1997, the Lieutenancies Act was passed. This firmly separated all local authority areas (whether unitary or two-tier), from the geographical concept of a county as high level spatial unit. The lieutenancies it established became known as ceremonial counties, since they were no longer administrative divisions. The counties represent a compromise between the historic counties and the counties established in 1974.
While the 1997 Labour government devolved power to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, it refused to created a devolved Assembly or parliament for England, planning instead to introduce eight regional assemblies around England to devolve power to the regions. In the event, only a London Assembly (and directly elected Mayor) was established. Rejection in a referendum of a proposed North-East Assembly in 2004 effectively scrapped those plans. A pre-condition of having a regional assembly was for the whole area to move to unitary authority status. Since the 2005 general election the government has floated the idea of voluntary mergers of local councils, avoiding a costly reorganisation but achieving desired reform. For instance, the guiding principles of the government's "New Localism" demand levels of efficiency not present in the current over-duplicated two-tier structure.
In 2009, new changes to local government were made whereby a number of new unitary authorities were created in areas which previously had a 'two-tier' system of counties and districts. In five shire counties the functions of the county and district councils were combined into a single authority; and in two counties the powers of the county council were absorbed into a significantly reduced number of districts.
The abolition of regional development agencies and the creation of Local enterprise partnerships were announced as part of the June 2010 United Kingdom budget. On 29 June 2010 a letter was sent from the Department of Communities and Local Government and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to local authority and business leaders, inviting proposals to replace regional development agencies in their areas by 6 September 2010.
On 7 September 2010, details were released of 56 proposals for local enterprise partnerships that had been received. On 6 October 2010, during the Conservative Party Conference, it was revealed that 22 had been given the provisional 'green light' to proceed and others may later be accepted with amendments. 24 bids were announced as successful on 28 October 2010.
Related historical overviews
- Commonwealth of Nations
- History of the British constitution
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- History of the United Kingdom
- History of Scotland
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- Politics of the United Kingdom
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- List of articles about local government in the United Kingdom
- Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics
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Overviews of significant historical eras
Note: Be sure to check the box in the upper right corner of this entry, providing a list of all notable eras within the history of England.
Related English history topics
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- The Anglo-Saxons, BBC – History
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- Union with England Act 1707, Article II
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- Stephen Oppenheimer, The Origins of the British, 2006
- Bryan Sykes, Blood of the Isles, 2003
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- Anglo-Saxon Chronicles
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- "Africans, Slavery, and Race". Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
- "Leaving England: The Social Background of Indentured Servants in the Seventeenth Century", The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
- Van der Kiste, 114–115
- Davies, Norman, The Isles: A History (1999) ISBN 0-19-513442-7, p.614.
- Troost, 212–214
- Welcome parliament.uk. Retrieved 7 October 2008.
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- "1833 Factory Act". The National Archives. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
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- "Local enterprise partnerships". Department of Communities and Local Government. 29 June 2010. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
- Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (7 September 2010). "New Local Enterprise Partnerships criss-cross the country". News Distribution Service. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
- Supporting economic growth through local enterprise partnerships and enterprise zones, gov.uk, accessed 4/30/13.
- Allister Hayman (6 October 2010). "LEPs: 22 bald men fighting over a comb?". Local Government Chronicle. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
- "Live blog: Sub-national economic growth white paper". 28 October 2010. Retrieved 28 October 2010.
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- Connected Histories
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- English historical documents London: Methuen; 12 vol to 1957; reprinted 2011
- Wiener, Joel H. ed. Great Britain: the lion at home; a documentary history of domestic policy, 1689–1973 (4 vol)
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