Prehistoric period. 2000 years ago there was an Iron Age Celtic culture throughout the British Isles. It seems that the Celts, who had been arriving from Europe from the eighth century BC onwards, intermingled with the peoples who were already there. This period is characterized by the astonishing monumental architecture – Silbury Hill, the largest burial mound in Europe and Stonehenge. Stonehenge is a megalithic monument on the Salisbury Plain in Southern England.
The Roman Period (43-410).The Roman province of Britannia covered most of present-day England and Wales. It was during this time that a Celtic tribe called the Scotts migrated from Ireland to Scotland, where they became allies of the Picts (another Celtic tribe) and opponents of the Romans. This division of the Celts into those who experienced direct Roman rule (the Britons in England and Wales) and those who did not (the Gaels in Ireland and Scotland) may help to explain the development of two distinct branches of the Celtic group of languages.
The Romans left very little behind. Most of their villas, baths and temples, roads, the cities they founded, including Londinium (London), were soon destroyed or fell into disrepair. Almost the only reminder of them are places like Chester, Lancaster and Gloucester, which include variants of the Roman word castra (a military camp).
The Germanic invasions (410-1066).The Romanoccupation had been a matter of colonial control rather than large-scale settlement. During the 5th century, a number of tribes from the north-western European mainland invaded and settled in large numbers. Two of these tribes were the Angles and the Saxons. These Anglo-Saxons soon had the south-east of the country in their grasp. In the west of the country their advance was temporarily halted by an army of (Celtic) Britons under the command of the legendary King Arthur. By the end of the 6th century Anglo-Saxons predominated in nearly all of England and in parts of Southern Scotland. They had a great effect on the countryside and founded the thousands of villages which formed the basis of English society for the next thousand or so years. The Anglo-Saxons were pagan when they came to Britain. Christianity spread throughout Britain from two different directions during the 6th and 7th centuries – from Rome and from Ireland (into Scotland and Northern England).
Britain experienced another wave of Germanic invasions in the 8th century. These invaders, known as Vikings, Norsemen or Danes, came from Scandinavia. Their conquest of England was halted when they were defeated by King Alfred of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex. This resulted in an agreement which divided England between Wessex, in the south and west, and “Danelaw” in the north and east. The cultural differences between Anglo-Saxons and Danes were comparatively small. They led roughly the same way of life and spoke two varieties of the same Germanic tongue (which combined to form the basis of modern English). By the end of the 10th England was one kingdom with a Germanic culture throughout. Most of modern-day Scotland was also united by this time, at least in name, in a (Celtic) Gaelic kingdom.
The medieval period (1066-1485).The successful Norman invasion of England in 1066 (invading army fromNormandy defeated the English at the battle of Hastings) brought Britain into the mainstream of western European culture. The battle of Hastings was close and bloody. King Harold and most of the best warriors of England were dead. On Christmas day that year the Norman leader, Duke William of Normandy, was crowned king of England. He is known in popular history as William the Conquerror.
Throughout this period the English kings also ruled over areas of land on the continent and were often at war with French kings in disputes over ownership. 1337-1453 the Hundred Years' Warwas a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France for control of the French throne.
The Norman invasion was small-scale (unlike the Germanic one). The Norman soldiers were given the ownership of land and the people living on it. A strict feudal system was imposed. The peasants were the English-speaking Saxons. The lords and the barons were the French-speaking Normans. This was the beginning of the English class system. The Anglo-Norman kingdom was the most powerful political force in the British Isles. The authority of the English monarch gradually extended to the other parts of these islands in the next 250 years. By the end of the 13th century, a large part of eastern Ireland was controlled by Anglo-Norman lords in the name of the English king and the whole Wales was under his direct rule. Scotland managed to remain politically independent. 250 years after the Norman Conquest, it was a Germanic language (Middle English) and not the Norman (French) which had become the dominant one in all classes of society in England. The Anglo-Saxon concept of common law (not Roman) formed the basis of the legal system. Northern and central Wales was never settled in great numbers by Saxon or norman. The (Celtic) Welsh language and culture remained strong.
It was the period that Parliament began its gradual evolution into the democratic body. The word “parliament” (French parler – speak) was first used in England in the 13th century.
The sixteenth century.The power of the English monarch increased. The strength of the great barons had been greatly weakened by the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485). Bubonic plague (began in the middle of the 14th century and continued to reappear for another 300 years) contributed to the reduction of their power.
The Tudor dynasty (1485-1603) established a system of government departments, staffed by professionals who depended for their position on the monarch. As a result, the feudal barons were no longer needed for implementing government policy. Parliament was traditionally split into two Houses. The House of Lords consisted of the feudal aristocracy and the leaders of the church; the House of Commons consisted of representatives from the towns and the less important landowners in rural areas. Henry VIII is one of the most well-known monarchs in English history, during his reign the reformation took place. There was a rise of Protestantism which took a form known as Anglicanism. The country lost any realistic claims to lands in France.
The seventeenth century.When James I became the first English king of the Stuart dynasty, he was already king of Scotland, so the crowns of these two countries were united. Religion and politics were inextricably linked. This was the context in which, during the century, Parliament established its supremacy over the monarchy in Britain. Anger grew in the country at the way that the Stuart monarchs raised money without the agreement of the House of Commons. In addition, ideological Protestantism, especially Puritanism regarded many of the practices of the Anglican church as immoral. They were also fiercely anti-Catholic and suspicious of the apparent sympathy towards Catholicism of the Stuart Monarchs. This conflict led to the Civil War, which ended (1645) with the complete victory for the parliamentary forces. The king Charles I was captured and became the first monarch in Europe to be executed. The leader of the parliamentary army, Oliver Cromwell, became Lord Protector of a republic with a military government which, after he had brutally crushed resistance in Ireland, effectively encompassed the whole of the British Isles. After his death the son of the executed king was asked to return and take the throne.
The “Glorious Revolution” took place, in which Prince William of Orange, ruler of the Netherlands, and his Stuart wife Mary, accepted parliament’s invitation to become king and queen. It was established that a monarch could rule only with the support of parliament.
The eighteenth century.Politically, this century was stable. Monarch and Parliament got on quite well together. In the Parliament two vaguely opposed groups were formed – the Whigs (supported protestant values) and the Tories (supported monarchy and the Anglican Church). It was the beginning of the party system. At the beginning of the century, by agreement, the Scottish Parliament joined with the English and Welsh Parliament at Westminster in London. However, Scotland retained its own system of law, more similar to continental European systems than to that of England. It does so to this day.
The only part of Britain to change radically as a result of political forces was the highland area of Scotland. This area twice supported failed attempts to put a (Catholic) Stuart monarch back on the throne by force. After the second attempt, many inhabitants of the highlands were killed or sent away from Britain and wearing of highland dress (the tartan kilt) was banned.
The nineteenth century.When the century began, the country was locked in a war with France, during which an invasion by a French army was a real possibility. Soon after the end of the century, Britain controlled the biggest empire the world had ever seen. One section of the empire was Ireland. Another part of the empire was made up of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where settlers from the British Isles formed the majority of the population. These countries had complete internal self-government but recognized the overall authority of the British government. Another was India. Britain imposed British institutions and methods of government on this country. Large parts of Africa also belonged to the empire. Except for South Africa, where there was some British settlement, most of Britain’s African colonies started as trading bases on the coast and were only incorporated into the empire at the end of the century. The British came to see themselves as having a duty to spread this culture and civilization around the world. Being the rulers of an empire was therefore a matter of moral obligation. It was known as the white man’s “burden”.
The British established a set of values which emphasized hard work, thrift, religious observance, family life, an awareness of one’s duty, absolute honesty in public life and extreme respectability in sexual matters. This is the set of values which they now call Victorian.
Queen Victoria (1837-1901). During her reign the modern powerlessness of the monarch was confirmed.
The nature of the new industrial society forced many people to live and work in very unpleasant conditions.
The twentieth century.The first twenty years of the century was a period of extremism in Britain. There was a problem in the north of Ireland – some sections of the army appeared ready to disobey the government, the government’s introduction of new types and levels of taxation was opposed.
From the beginning of this century the urban working class began to make its voice heard. In Parliament, the labor party replaced the Liberals (the descendants of the Whigs) as the main opposition to the Conservatives (the descendants of the Tories). In 1926 trade unions managed to organize a General Strike.
Although Britain had increased military spending and funding prior to 1939 in response to the increasing strength of Nazi Germany, its forces were still weak by comparison - especially the British Army. Only the Royal Navy was of a greater strength than its German counterpart.
On the 3rd of September 1939, the British government under Neville Chamberlain, issued an ultimatum to Germany demanding the immediate withdrawal of German troops from Poland. This ultimatum expired on the same day at which point warwas declared by Great Britain and France.
The “Battle of Britain” is famous because it was an extremely important battle of World War II. It was the first "turning point" in World War II, the first time since Hitler began overrunning Europe, seemingly unstoppable, that Germany had suffered a major military defeat. The Battle of Britain was the military campaign in which the German Air Force (the Luftwaffe) tried to overcome Britain's Royal Air Force and air defense system, with the intention of either forcing Britain to surrender or if it did not, making it possible for the Germans to invade. Bombing by the Germans began on July 7, 1940 and continued until May 16, 1941. The Nazis did not succeed in either objective. The plans to invade Britain were scrapped. As a secondary benefit, opinion in the US shifted as those who had said that Britain could not survive, and therefore should not be helped, were proved wrong.
In 1945 Britain was among the victorious allies. However, it was much reduced financially and many leading countries in the British Empire were demanding independence quickly. In 1947-49 the following all gained independence: India, Pakistan, what is now Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Israel/Palestine.
In the 1945 General Election there was a sharp swing to the Left with the Labour victory. (It was a very different Labour Party from the present one). Many key industries were nationalized, a national health service established and a welfare state that was supposed to care for everyone from 'the cradle to the grave'.
Timeline. World War II
Hitler invades Poland on 1 September. Britain and France declare war on Germany two days later.
Rationing starts in the UK.
German 'Blitzkrieg' overwhelms Belgium, Holland and France.
Churchill becomes Prime Minister of Britain.
British Expeditionary Force evacuated from Dunkirk.
British victory in Battle of Britain forces Hitler to postpone invasion plans.
Hitler begins Operation Barbarossa - the invasion of Russia.
The Blitz continues against Britain's major cities.
Allies take Tobruk in North Africa, and resist German attacks.
Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, and the US enters the war.
Germany suffers setbacks at Stalingrad and El Alamein.
Singapore falls to the Japanese in February - around 25,000 prisoners taken.
American naval victory at Battle of Midway, in June, marks turning point in Pacific War.
Mass murder of Jewish people at Auschwitz begins.
Surrender at Stalingrad marks Germany's first major defeat.
Allied victory in North Africa enables invasion of Italy to be launched.
Italy surrenders, but Germany takes over the battle.
British and Indian forces fight Japanese in Burma.
Allies land at Anzio and bomb monastery at Monte Cassino.
Soviet offensive gathers pace in Eastern Europe.
D Day: The Allied invasion of France. Paris is liberated in August.
Guam liberated by the US Okinawa, and Iwo Jima bombed.
Auschwitz liberated by Soviet troops.
Russians reach Berlin: Hitler commits suicide and Germany surrenders on 7 May.
Truman becomes President of the US on Roosevelt's death, and Attlee replaces Churchill.
After atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrenders on 14 August.
The real dismantling of the empire took place in the twenty-five years following the Second World War and with the loss of empire went a loss of power and status. These days, Britain 's armed forces can no longer act unilaterally, wi hout reference to the international community.
The dismantling of the British empire took place comparatively peacefully, so that good relations between Britain and the newly independent countries were established. As a result. and with the encouragement of Queen Elizabeth II, an international organization called the Commonwealth, composed of the countries that used to be part of the empire, has continued to hold annual meetings. Some countries in the Commonwealth have even kept the British monarch as head of state. There are no formal economic or political advantages involved in belonging to the Commonwealth, but it has helped to keep cultural contacts alive, and does at least mean that every year the leaders of a sixth of the world's population sit down and talk together. Until quite recently it did have economic importance, with special trading agreements between members. But since Britain became a full member of the EEC, all but a few of these agreements have gradually been discontinued.
Over the centuries, Great Britain has evolved politically from three independent states (England, Scotland, and Wales) through two kingdoms with a shared monarch (England and Scotland), a single all-island Kingdom of Great Britain, to the situation following 1801, in which Great Britain together with the whole island of Ireland constituted the larger United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (UK).