History of the United Kingdom

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The United Kingdom is the sovereign state or realm that covers England, Scotland, Wales (the island of Great Britain) and Northern Ireland and which for over one hundred years included the whole of the island of Ireland.

The state actually began to take its present shape with the Acts of Union 1707, which united the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland to create a unified "Kingdom of Great Britain". Subsequently, the Act of Union 1800 joined the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to create the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland".

In 1922 , the Irish Free State gained independence, leaving Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. As a result, since 1927 Britain's formal title has been "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".[1] It is usually shortened to "Britain" or "the UK".

Conquests and unions before 1800

England's conquest of Wales

Mediaeval Wales was rarely united but was under the rule of various native principalities. When the land-hungry Normans invaded England, they naturally started pushing into the relatively weak Welsh Marches, setting up a number of lordships in the Eastern part of the country and the border areas. In response, the usually fractious Welsh, who still retained control of the north and west of Wales, started to unite around leaders such as Llywelyn the Great, who is known to have described himself as "prince of all North Wales" by 1199.[2]

In 1282, King Edward I of England (1272–1307) finally conquered the last remaining native Welsh principalities in north and west Wales[3] (an area roughly corresponding to the present day counties of Anglesey, Caernarfonshire, Merionethshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire). The Statute of Rhuddlan formally established Edward's rule over Wales two years later. To appease the Welsh, Edward's son (later Edward II), who had been born in Wales, was made Prince of Wales on 7 February 1301. Wales therefore took the status of Principality, which it held officially between 1284 and 1536. The tradition of bestowing the style 'Prince[ess] of Wales' on the heir of the British Monarch continues to the present day.

Between 1284 and 1536, the Crown only had indirect control over the principality, as the Marcher lords (ruling over independent lordships in the east and south of Wales) were independent from direct Crown control. The power of the Marcher lords was ended in 1535, when the political and administrative union of England and Wales was completed. The Laws in Wales Act 1535 annexed Wales to the legal system of England, and partitioned the Marches into the counties of Brecon, Denbigh, Monmouth, Montgomery and Radnor while adding parts to Gloucester, Hereford and Salop. (The subsequent Laws in Wales Act of 1542 made no mention of Monmouthshire, which has led to ambiguity about its status as part of England or Wales.) The Act also extended the Law of England to both England and Wales, and made English the only permissible language for official purposes. This excluded most native Welsh people from formal office. Wales was also now represented in Parliament at Westminster.

English conquest of Ireland

The conquest of Ireland began in 1169 under Henry II (1154–89). At first, it was not strictly an English conquest, as it was launched by a small group of Normans who were neither English nor acting on behalf of the English Crown. A dispossessed Norman baron from Wales, Richard fitzGilbert de Clare ('Strongbow') teamed up with the exiled Irish king, Diarmuid MacMorrough, to help him recover his kingdom of Leinster. The Normans consequently gained a territorial foothold in Ireland, capturing Dublin in 1170. The success of Strongbow alarmed Henry II, who was worried that he was becoming too powerful. Henry invaded Ireland himself in 1171. Dublin and the surrounding area came under his control.

In 1541, the Irish Parliament was ordered to change the status of Ireland to a kingdom, with King Henry VIII (1509–47) as its monarch; Henry, regarding the way he styled himself as beyond the law of Parliament, and began to style himself as King of Ireland the next year. This created a union of the Crowns. For the remainder of the 16th century, the Tudor monarchs expanded their control over Ireland from the small Pale around Dublin to control over the whole island by 1603. The Tudor re-conquest of Ireland saw large-scale violence, culminating in the Desmond Rebellions and the Nine Years War. Another feature of the sixteenth century was the creation of English Plantations of Ireland, which attempted to extend English influence further into Ireland by confiscating land from Irish landowners and "planting" colonies of English settlers in their place.

Union of Crowns

Scotland was, (until 1707), an independent kingdom that for centuries had sought to resist English attempts to interfere in her domestic and foreign affairs. Because of her climate, physical geography and population density, the Kingdom of Scotland tended to be economically and militarily inferior to her southern neighbour, the Kingdom of England. However, Scotland's "Auld Alliance" with France had been a cause of grave concern for successive English governments and monarchs and the perceived need to isolate Scotland from Roman Catholic France was one of the driving forces in English foreign policy towards Scotland, particularly during the Scottish Reformation.

The Scottish Reformation saw a clash between the old religion (Roman Catholicism) and the new (Calvinism). The controversial Catholic Queen of Scotland, Mary I, (known popularly as 'Mary, Queen of Scots'), was forced to abdicate following what was in effect a coup de'état and fled to England, leaving her infant son and heir, James, in the care of Protestant Guardians. Mary was a figure of intrigue who, because of doubts among English Catholics about the legality of Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn, was seen by many as a more legitimate heir to the English throne than her Protestant cousin Elizabeth I of England. (Mary's great-grandfather was Elizabeth's own grandfather Henry VII by an earlier marriage alliance between England and Scotland). Queen Elizabeth I put her cousin Mary under house arrest and eventually, amid rumours of a Catholic plot to overthrow her, had her executed on charges of treason. Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 , without a direct heir to her throne.

James, now King of Scots in his own right, succeeded his cousin Elizabeth to the throne of England in 1603 and assumed the title King James I of England alongside his existing title of James VI, King of Scots. King James, often referred to simply as James I & VI, now established the Royal House of Stuart as the royal family of "Great Britain"2, although the two realms continued to maintain separate parliaments. The Union of the Crowns had begun the eventual unification of the two kingdoms. However, in the ensuing 100 years, strong religious and political differences continued to divide the kingdoms, and common royalty could not prevent occasions of internecine warfare.

Republican Rule 1649

The accession of James VII's son, Charles I, in 1625 marked the beginning of an intense schism between King and Parliament. Charles's adherence to the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings fuelled a vicious battle for supremacy between king and Parliament. The crisis culminated in the English Civil War (1642–49), saw Charles's execution and ushered in a period of rule as a parliamentary Commonwealth (1649–53) followed by a period of personal rule under the Parliamentarian veteran Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector. The new regime remained unpopular, however, and Cromwell's death left a political void which could not be filled, even by his son Richard who ruled from 1658–59 before a tentative reversion to the system prior to Cromwell's Protectorate. Ultimately, the will for political stability impelled Parliament to negotiate the restoration of the monarchy in the person of Charles's son, Charles II. The period from the earliest crises between Charles I and Parliament in the 1620s until the Restoration in 1660 is now increasingly referred to by historians as the English Revolution.

The Commonwealth period also saw Ireland and Scotland annexed by England and their legislative autonomy abolished. Ireland in particular was permanently altered by the civil war period, as its native Irish Catholic landowning class was dispossessed after the Cromwellian conquest and replaced with a British Protestant ruling class. Both Ireland and Scotland had their nominal autonomy from London restored after the Restoration. Nevertheless, the era of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms went a long way towards establishing English primacy over the other two Kingdoms in the Stuart monarchy.

Acts of Union 1707

Deeper political integration was a key policy of Queen Anne, (1702–14), who succeeded to the throne in 1702 as the last Stuart monarch of Great Britain and Ireland. Under the aegis of the Queen and her advisors a Bill of Union was drawn up and in 1706 negotiations between England and Scotland began in earnest. The circumstances of Scotland's acceptance of the Bill are to some degree disputed. Scottish proponents believed that failure to accede to the Bill would result in the imposition of Union under less favourable terms and months of fierce debate on both sides of the border were to follow, particularly in Scotland where debate could often dissolve into civil disorder, most notably by the notorious 'Edinburgh Mob'. The prospect of a Union of the kingdoms was deeply unpopular among the Scottish population at large[citation needed], however following the financially disastrous Darien Scheme, the near-bankrupt Parliament of Scotland did, albeit reluctantly, accept the proposals. (The small matter of financial incentives to Scots parliamentarians and English army maneuvers[citation needed] in the North of England also playing their part in the decision).

In 1707, the Acts of Union received their Royal assent, thereby abolishing the Parliament of the Kingdom England and Parliament of the Kingdom of Scotland to create a unified Kingdom of Great Britain with a single Parliament of Great Britain. Anne became formally the first occupant of the unified British throne and Scotland sent 45 MPs to the new parliament at Westminster. Perhaps the greatest single benefit to Scotland of the Union was that Scotland could enjoy free trade with England and her colonies overseas. For England's part, a possible ally for European states hostile to England been neutralised while simultaneously securing a Protestant succession to the British throne.

However, certain aspect of the former independent kingdoms remained separate. Examples of Scottish and English institutions which were not merged into the British system include; Scottish and English law which remain separate, as do Scottish and English banking systems, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and Anglican Church of England also remained separate as did the systems of education and higher learning. However, one particular provision of the Acts of Union, the renaming of Scotland and England as 'North Britain' and 'South Britain' respectively, failed to take hold and fell into disuse fairly quickly. (In England however, the terms 'England' and 'Britain' often continue to be used interchangeably. A situation not repeated in Scotland however).

United Kingdom

Act of Union 1800

The Flag of the United Kingdom is based on the flags of England, Scotland and Ireland

Main article: Act of Union 1800

Invasions from England by the ruling Normans from 1170 led to centuries of strife in Ireland. Successive Kings of England sought both to conquer and pillage Ireland, imposing their rule by force throughout the entire island. In the early 17th century, large-scale settlement of the province of Ulster by Protestant settlers from both Scotland and England began, which saw the displacement of many of the native Catholic Irish inhabitants of this part of Ireland. Since the time of the first Norman invaders from England, Ireland has been subject to control and regulation, firstly by England then latterly by Great Britain.

Possibly influenced by the War of American Independence (1775–1783), a united force of Irish volunteers used their influence to campaign for greater independence for the Irish Parliament. This was granted in 1782, giving free trade and legislative independence to Ireland. However, the French revolution had encouraged the increasing calls for moderate constitutional reform. The Society of United Irishmen, made up of Presbyterians from Belfast and both Anglicans and Catholics in Dublin, campaigned for an end to British domination. Their leader Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763–98) worked with the Catholic Convention of 1792 which demanded an end to the penal laws. Failing to win the support of the British government, he travelled to Paris, encouraging a number of French naval forces to land in Ireland to help with the planned insurrections. These were slaughtered by government forces, but these rebellions convinced the British under Prime Minister William Pitt that the only solution was to end Irish independence once and for all.

The legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland was completed on 1 January 1801, in both the Irish and the British parliaments, under the Act of Union 1800, changing the country's name to "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". Ireland now sent around 100 MPs to the House of Commons3 at Westminster and 28 peers to the House of Lords, elected from among their number by the Irish peers themselves (Catholics were not permitted peerage).

19th century

Queen Victoria was the longest reigning monarch in the United Kingdom (1837–1901)

Political history:
Prime Ministers: William Pitt the Younger | Lord Grenville | Duke of Portland | Spencer Perceval | Lord Liverpool | George Canning | Lord Goderich | Duke of Wellington | Lord Grey | Lord Melbourne | Sir Robert Peel | Lord John Russell | Lord Derby | Lord Aberdeen | Lord Palmerston | Benjamin Disraeli | William Ewart Gladstone | Lord Salisbury | Lord Rosebery
Periods: Georgian era - Victorian era - Edwardian period

Social history: History of British society


Part of the agreement which led to the 1800 Act of Union stipulated that the Penal Laws in Ireland were to be repealed and Catholic Emancipation granted. However King George III blocked emancipation, arguing that to grant it would break his coronation oath to defend the Anglican Church. A campaign under lawyer and politician Daniel O'Connell, and the death of George III, led to the concession of Catholic Emancipation in 1829, allowing Catholics to sit in Parliament. O'Connell then mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the Repeal of the Act of Union.

When potato blight hit the island in 1846, much of the rural population was left without food. Unfortunately, British politicians such as the Prime Minister Robert Peel were at this time wedded to the economic policy of laissez-faire, which argued against state intervention of any sort. While enormous sums were raised by private individuals and charities (American Indians sent supplies, while Queen Victoria personally gave the present-day equivalent € 70,000) British government inaction (or at least inadequate action) caused the problem to become a catastrophe. The class of cottiers or farm labourers was virtually wiped out in what became known as the Irish Potato Famine.

Most Irish people elected as their MPs Liberals and Conservatives who belonged to the main British political parties (note: the poor didn't have a vote at that time). A significant minority also elected Unionists, who championed the cause of the maintenance of the Act of Union. A former Tory barrister turned nationalist campaigner, Isaac Butt, established a new moderate nationalist movement, the Home Rule League, in the 1870s. After Butt's death the Home Rule Movement, or the Irish Parliamentary Party as it had become known, was turned into a major political force under the guidance of William Shaw and in particular a radical young Protestant landowner, Charles Stewart Parnell. The Irish Parliamentary Party dominated Irish politics, to the exclusion of the previous Liberal, Conservative and Unionist parties that had existed. Parnell's movement proved to be a broad church, from conservative landowners to the Land League which was campaigning for fundamental reform of Irish landholding, where most farms were held on rental from large aristocratic estates.

Parnell's movement campaigned for 'Home Rule', by which they meant that Ireland would govern itself as a region within the United Kingdom, in contrast to O'Connell who wanted complete independence subject to a shared monarch and Crown. Two Home Rule Bills (1886 and 1893) were introduced by Liberal Prime Minister Gladstone, but neither became law, mainly due to opposition from the House of Lords. The issue divided Ireland, for a significant minority (largely though by no means exclusively based in Ulster), opposed Home Rule, fearing that a Catholic-Nationalist parliament in Dublin would discriminate against them and would also impose tariffs on industry; while most of Ireland was primarily agricultural, six counties in Ulster were the location of heavy industry and would be affected by any tariff barriers imposed.

In 1912, a further Home Rule bill passed the House of Commons but was defeated in the House of Lords, as was the bill of 1893, but by this time the House of Lords had lost its veto on legislation and could only delay the bill by two years - until 1914. During these two years the threat of civil war hung over Ireland with the creation of the Unionist Ulster Volunteers and their nationalist counterparts, the Irish Volunteers. These two groups armed themselves by importing rifles and ammunition and carried out drills openly. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 put the crisis on the political backburner for the duration of the war. The Unionist and Nationalist volunteer forces joined the British army in their thousands and suffered crippling losses in the trenches.

Until 1918, the Irish Parliamentary Party remained the dominant Irish party, though it had in the late 19th Century been divided by the O'Shea Divorce Case, when it was revealed that Parnell, nicknamed the 'Uncrowned King of Ireland' for his popularity, had been living with the wife of one of his fellow MPs for many years and was the father of a number of her children. When the scandal broke, religious nonconformists in Britain, who were the backbone of the pro-Irish Liberal Party, forced leader W. E. Gladstone to abandon support for the Irish cause as long as the 'adulterer' Parnell remained in charge. The Party and the country split between pro- and anti-Parnellites, who fought each other in elections.

A unilaterally declared "Irish Republic" was proclaimed in Dublin in 1916 during the Easter Rising. The uprising was quelled swiftly by British forces, and most of the leaders were shot. This led to a major increase in support in Ireland for the uprising, and in the declaration of independence was ratified by Dáil Éireann, the self-declared Republic's parliament in 1919. An Anglo-Irish War was fought between Crown forces and the Army of the Irish Republic between January 1919 and June 1921.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, negotiated between teams representing the British and Irish Republic's governments, and ratified by three parliaments,4 established the Irish Free State, which was initially a British Empire Dominion in the same vein as Canada or South Africa, but subsequently left the British Commonwealth and became a republic after World War II, without constitutional ties with the United Kingdom. Six northern, predominantly Protestant, Irish counties (Northern Ireland) have remained part of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland was created by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, enacted by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland parliament in 1921. Faced with divergent demands from Irish nationalists and Unionists over the future of the island of Ireland (the former wanted an all-Irish home rule parliament to govern the entire island, the latter no home rule at all), and the fear of civil war between both groups, the British Government under David Lloyd George passed the Act, creating two home rule Irelands, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. Southern Ireland never came into being as a real state and was superseded by the Irish Free State in 1922. That state is now known as the Republic of Ireland.

Having been given self government in 1920 (even though they never sought it, and some like Sir Edward Carson were bitterly opposed) the Northern Ireland government under successive prime ministers from Sir James Craig (later Lord Craigavon) practiced a policy of wholesale discrimination against the nationalist/ Roman Catholic minority. Northern Ireland became, in the words of Nobel Peace Prize joint-winner, Ulster Unionist Leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland David Trimble, a "cold place for Catholics." Towns and cities were gerrymandered to rig local government elections to ensure Protestant control of town councils. Voting arrangements which gave commercial companies votes and minimum income regulations also helped achieve this end.

In the 1960s, moderate unionist Prime Minister Terence O'Neill (later Lord O'Neill of the Maine) tried to reform the system, but was met with wholesale opposition from extreme Protestant leaders like the Rev. Ian Paisley. The increasing pressures from nationalists for reform and from extreme unionists for No surrender led to the appearance of the civil rights movement under figures like John Hume, Austin Currie and others. Clashes between marchers and the Royal Ulster Constabulary led to increased communal strife. The British army was originally sent to Northern Ireland in 1969 by British Home Secretary James Callaghan to protect nationalists from attack, and was warmly welcomed. However, the murder of thirteen unarmed civilians in 1972 in Londonderry by British Paratroopers ("Bloody Sunday") inflamed the situation and turned northern nationalists against the British Army. The appearance of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), a breakaway from the increasingly Marxist Official IRA, and a campaign of violence by loyalist terror groups like the Ulster Defence Association and others, brought Northern Ireland to the brink of Civil War. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, extremists on both sides carried out a series of brutal mass murders, often on innocent civilians. Among the most notorious outrages were the Le Mon bombing and the bombings in Enniskillen and Omagh.

Some British politicians, notably former British Labour minister Tony Benn advocated British withdrawal from Ireland, but this policy was opposed by successive Irish governments, who called their prediction of the possible results of British withdrawal the Doomsday Scenario, with widespread communal strife, followed by the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children as refugees to their community's 'side' of the province; nationalists fleeing to western Northern Ireland, unionists fleeing to eastern Northern Ireland. The worst fear was of a civil war which would engulf not just Northern Ireland, but the neighbouring Republic of Ireland and Scotland both of whom had major links with either or both communities. Later, the feared possible impact of British Withdrawal came to be called the Balkanisation of Northern Ireland after the violent break-up of Yugoslavia and the chaos it unleashed.

In the early 1970s, the Parliament of Northern Ireland was prorogued after the province's Unionist Government under the premiership of Brian Faulkner refused to agree to the British Government demand that it hand over the powers of law and order, and Direct Rule was introduced from London starting on March 24, 1972. New systems of governments were tried and failed, including power-sharing under Sunningdale, Rolling Devolution and the Anglo-Irish Agreement. By the 1990s, the failure of the IRA campaign to win mass public support or achieve its aim by British Withdrawal, and in particular the public relations disaster that was the Enniskillen, along with the replacement of the traditional Republican leadership of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh by Gerry Adams, saw a move away from armed conflict to political engagement. These changes were followed the appearance of new leaders in Dublin Albert Reynolds, London John Major and in unionism David Trimble. Contacts initiatively been Adams and John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, broadened out into all party negotiations, that in 1998 produced the 'Good Friday Agreement' which was approved by a majority of both communities in Northern Ireland and by the people of the Republic of Ireland, where the constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann was amended to replace a claim it allegedly made to the territory of Northern Ireland with a recognition of Northern Ireland's right to exist, while also acknowledging the nationalist desire for a united Ireland.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, properly known as the Belfast Agreement, a new Northern Ireland Assembly was elected to form a Northern Irish parliament. Every party that reaches a specific level of support is entitled to name a member of its party to government and claim a ministry. Ulster Unionist party leader David Trimble became First Minister of Northern Ireland. The Deputy Leader of the SDLP, Seamus Mallon, became Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, though he was subsequently replaced by his party's new leader, Mark Durkan. The Ulster Unionists, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Sinn Féin and Democratic Unionist Party each had ministers by right in the power-sharing assembly. The Assembly and its Executive are both currently suspended over unionist threats over the alleged delay in the Provisional IRA implementing its agreement to decommission its weaponry, and also the alleged discovery or an IRA spy-ring operating in the heart of the civil service (this later turned out to be false due to the fact that Denis Donaldson, the person in possession of the incriminating files which pointed to an IRA spy-ring actually worked for the British intelligence). Government is now once more run by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain and a British ministerial team answerable to him.

United Kingdom and the Commonwealth

Britain's control over its Empire loosened during the interwar period. Nationalism became stronger in other parts of the empire, particularly in India and in Egypt.

Between 1867 and 1910, the UK granted Australia, Canada, and New Zealand "Dominion" status (near complete autonomy within the Empire). They became charter members of the British Commonwealth of Nations (known as the Commonwealth of Nations since 1949), an informal but closely-knit association that succeeded the British Empire. Beginning with the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the remainder of the British Empire was almost completely dismantled. Today, most of Britain's former colonies belong to the Commonwealth, almost all of them as independent members. There are, however, 13 former British colonies — including Bermuda, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, and others — which have elected to continue their political links with London and are known as British Overseas Territories.

Although often marked by economic and political nationalism, the Commonwealth offers the United Kingdom a voice in matters concerning many developing countries, and is a forum for those countries to raise concerns. Notable non-members of the Commonwealth are Ireland, the USA and the former middle-eastern colonies and protectorates. In addition, the Commonwealth helps preserve many institutions deriving from British experience and models, such as Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, in those countries.

War and depression

Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom 1900–1945

Marquess of Salisbury | Arthur Balfour | Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman | Herbert Henry Asquith | David Lloyd George | Andrew Bonar Law | Stanley Baldwin | Ramsay MacDonald | Stanley Baldwin | Ramsay MacDonald | Stanley Baldwin | Neville Chamberlain | Winston Churchill

Social history

Victorian attitudes and ideals continued into the first years of the 20th century, and what really changed society was the start of World War I. The army was traditionally never a large employer in the nation, and the regular army stood at 247,432 at the start of the war[4]. By 1918, there were about five million people in the army and the fledgling Royal Air Force, newly formed from the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), was about the same size of the pre-war army. The almost three million casualties were known as the "lost generation", and such numbers inevitably left society scarred; but even so, some people felt their sacrifice was little regarded in Britain, with poems like Siegfried Sassoon's Blighters criticising the ill-informed jingoism of the home front. Conscription brought people of many different classes, and also people from all over the empire, together and this mixing was seen as a great leveller which would only accelerate social change after the war.

The social reforms of the last century continued into the 20th with the Labour Party being formed in 1900. Labour did not achieve major success until the 1922 general election. Lloyd George said after the First World War that "the nation was now in a molten state", and his Housing Act 1919 would lead to affordable council housing which allowed people to move out of Victorian inner-city slums. The slums, though, remained for several more years, with trams being electrified long before many houses. The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave women householders the vote, but it would not be until 1928 that equal suffrage was achieved.

A short lived post-war boom soon lead to a depression that would be felt worldwide. Particularly hardest hit were the north of England and Wales, where unemployment reached 70% in some areas. The General Strike was called during 1926 in support of the miners and their falling wages, but little improved, the downturn continued and the Strike is often seen as the start of the slow decline of the British coal industry. In 1936, 200 unemployed men walked from Jarrow to London in a bid to show the plight of the industrial poor, but the Jarrow March, or the 'Jarrow Crusade' as it was known, had little impact and it would not be until the coming war that industrial prospects improved. George Orwell's book The Road to Wigan Pier gives a bleak overview of the hardships of the time.

For the history of the United Kingdom during World War II see: Military history of the United Kingdom during World War II.

Second Half of the 20th century

The end of the Second World War also saw a landslide General Election victory for Clement Atlee and the Labour Party. They were elected on a manifesto of social justice and left wing policies such as the creation of a National Health Service and the provision of council housing. The UK at the time was poor, relying heavily on loans from the United States of America (which were finally paid off in February 2007) to rebuild its damaged infrastructure. Rationing and conscription dragged on into the post war years, and the country suffered one of the worst winters on record. Nevertheless, morale was boosted by events such as the marriage of Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and the Festival of Britain.

As the country headed into the 1950s, rebuilding continued and a number of immigrants from the remaining British Empire were invited to help the rebuilding effort. As the 1950s wore on, the UK had lost its place as a superpower and could no longer maintain its large Empire. This led to decolonization, and a withdrawal from almost all of its colonies by 1970. Events such as the Suez Crisis showed that the UK's status had fallen in the world. The 1950s and 1960s were, however, relatively prosperous times after the Second World War, and saw the beginning of a modernization of the UK, with the construction of its first motorways.

Though the 1970s and 1980s saw the UK's integration to the European Economic Community and a strict modernization of its economy, they were also a time of high unemployment as deindustrialization saw the end of much of the country's manufacturing industries. The miners' strike of 1984-1985 saw the end of the UK's coal mining, thanks to the\the discovery of North Sea gas. This was also the time that the IRA took the issue of Northern Ireland to Great Britain, maintaining a prolonged bombing campaign on the island.

After the difficult 70s and 80s and a low point of Black Wednesday under the John Major government, the rest of the 1990s saw the beginning of a period of continuous economic growth that has to date lasted over 15 years. The Good Friday Agreement saw what many believe to be the beginning of the end of conflict in Northern Ireland; since this event, there has been very little armed violence over the issue.

Recent history

Tony Blair

Since 2000, Tony Blair's premiership has been defined by his decision to follow the United States in the War on Terror. British troops have since served in Afghanistan and, more controversially, Iraq, whilst Islamist terrorists have attacked London. This has come alongside an almost complete end to terrorist attacks in the UK from the IRA. Blair also went on to be the only Labour Prime Minister to win three consecutive elections. However, on 7th September 2006, suffering plummeting public support over Iraq, as well as a growing number of Labour MP's calling for his resignation, Blair announced that he would not serve a fourth term in office. His successor was chancellor Gordon Brown, who became Prime Minister on 27th June 2007.

Despite continuous economic growth, other policies such as the proposed introduction of ID cards and education reforms have led to a drop in Labour's popularity. The 2000s also saw the announcement of the 2012 Olympics, which will be held in London.


  1. ^ https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/uk.html
  2. ^ p.239, Davies, R. R. 1987. Conquest, coexistence and change: Wales 1063-1415 Clarendon Press, University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-19-821732-3
  3. ^ Michael Prestwich, Edward I (London: Methuen, 1988, updated edition Yale University Press, 1997 ISBN 0-300-07209-0)
  4. ^ The Great War in figures.

See also

Constitutional documents and events relevant to the status of the United Kingdom and its constituent countries
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Treaty of Union1706
Acts of Union1707
Wales and Berwick Act1746
Irish Constitution1782
Acts of Union1800
Parliament Act1911
Government of Ireland Act1920
Anglo-Irish Treaty1921
Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act1927
Statute of Westminster1931
United Nations Act1946
Parliament Act1949
EC Treaty of Accession1972
NI (Temporary Provisions) Act1972
European Communities Act1972
Local Government Act1972
Local Government (Scotland) Act1973
NI Border Poll1973
NI Constitution Act1973
Referendum Act1975
EC Membership Referendum1975
Scotland Act1978
Wales Act1978
Scottish Devolution Referendum1979
Welsh Devolution Referendum1979
Local Government (Wales) Act1994
Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act1994
Referendums (Scotland & Wales) Act1997
Scottish Devolution Referendum1997
Welsh Devolution Referendum1997
Good Friday Agreement1998
Northern Ireland Act1998
Government of Wales Act1998
Human Rights Act1998
Scotland Act1998
Government of Wales Act2006
Northern Ireland Act2009
Welsh Devolution Referendum2011
European Union Act2011
Fixed-term Parliaments Act2011
Scotland Act2012
Edinburgh Agreement2012
Scottish Independence Referendum2014
Wales Act2014
European Union Referendum Act2015
EU Membership Referendum2016
Scotland Act2016
Wales Act2017
EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Act2017
Invocation of Article 502017
European Union (Withdrawal) Act2018
EU (Withdrawal) Act2019

Military history

Constituent nations' histories


¹ The term "United Kingdom" was first used in the 1707 Act of Union. However it is generally seen as a descriptive term, indicating that the kingdoms were freely united rather than through conquest. It is not seen as being actual name of the new United Kingdom, which was the "Kingdom of Great Britain". The "United Kingdom" as a name is taken to refer to the kingdom that emerged when the Kingdom of Great Britain and Kingdom of Ireland merged on 1 January 1801.

² The name "Great Britain" (then spelt "Great Brittaine") was first used by James VI/I in October 1604, who indicated that henceforth he and his successors would be viewed as Kings of Great Britain, not Kings of England and Scotland. However the name was not applied to the state as a unit; both England and Scotland continued to be governed independently. Its validity as a name of the Crown is also questioned, given that monarchs continued using separate ordinals (e.g., James VI/I, James VII/II) in England and Scotland. To avoid confusion, historians generally avoid using the term "King of Great Britain" until 1707 and instead to match the ordinal usage call the monarchs kings or queens of England and Scotland. Separate ordinals were abandoned when the two states merged with the Act of Union 1707, with subsequent monarchs using ordinals apparently based on English not Scottish history (it might be argued that the monarchs have simply taken the higher ordinal, which to date has always been English). One example is Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, who is referred to as being "the Second" even though there never was an Elizabeth I of Scotland or Great Britain. Thus the term "Great Britain" is generally used from 1707.

³ The number changed several times between 1801 and 1922.

4 The Anglo-Irish Treaty was ratified by (i) The British Parliament (Commons, Lords & Royal Assent), (ii) Dáil Éireann, and the (iii) the House of Commons of Southern Ireland, a parliament created under the British Government of Ireland Act 1920 which was supposedly the valid parliament of Southern Ireland in British eyes and which had an almost identical membership of the Dáil, but which nevertheless had to assemble separately under the Treaty's provisions to approve the Treaty, the Treaty thus being ratified under both British and Irish constitutional theory.

Further reading

  • Vernon Bogdanor: The British constitution in the twentieth century, (Oxford : Oxford University Press 2005)
  • Norman Davies The Isles: A History (Macmillan, 1999)
  • Frank Welsh The Four nations: a history of the United Kingdom (Yale, 2003)
  • Jeremy Black A history of the British Isles (Macmillan, 1996)
  • Hugh Kearney The British Isles: a history of four nations (Cambridge, 1989)
  • The Short Oxford History of the British Isles (series)
  • G. Williams Wales and the Act of Union (1992)
  • S. Ellis & S. Barber (eds) Conquest and Union: Fashioning a British State, 1485–1725 (1995)
  • Linda Colley Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven, 1992)
  • R.G. Asch (ed) Three Nations: A Common History? England, Scotland, Ireland and British History c.1600–1920 (1993)
  • S.J. Connolly (ed) Kingdoms United? Great Britain and Ireland since 1500 (1999)

External links

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