Table of contents
1 Background
2 Subjugation of Wales
3 The Union of Two Crowns
4 Republican Rule 1649
5 The Act of Union 1707
6 Act of Union 1801
7 The United Kingdom and the Commonwealth
8 Recent History
9 Military History
10 Constituent Nations' Histories
11 See Also
12 External Links


The United Kingdom is the realm or kingdom that covers England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and which for over one hundred years included Ireland. The United Kingdom1 was created in the 1801 Act of Union that merged the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland. At its nucleus was a system of government created for the Kingdom of England and which in phases incorporated the Principality of Wales, the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of Ireland. In 1922, the constantly evolving state saw the Irish Free State leave, with just Northern Ireland remaining, hence since 1927 the United Kingdom's modern title, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Subjugation of Wales

Medieval 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, and the usually fractious Welsh started uniting around leaders such as Llywelyn the Great.

The English finally succeeded in conquering Wales in 1282 under Edward I, and the Statute of Rhuddlan established English rule two years later. To appease the Welsh, Edward's son (later Edward II), who had been born in Wales, was made Prince of Wales in 1301. The tradition of bestowing this title on the eldest son of the British Monarch continues today. An act of 1536 completed the political and administrative union of England and Wales.

The Union of Two Crowns

Scotland was an independent kingdom that resisted English rule. Scotland because of her climate and her relatively more despotic government tended to be poorer than her southern neighbour. However, political instability and the "Auld Alliance" with France made succesive English governments very nervous, and the perceived need to separate Scotland from Catholic France was one of the driving forces in the Scottish Reformation.

The Scottish Reformation saw a clash between the old religion (Roman Catholicism) and the new (The Church of Scotland, known as Presbyterianism). The controversial Catholic Queen of Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate and fled to England, leaving her infant son, James VI, to rule Scotland guided by Protestant guardians. She was a figure of intrigue, who because of doubts among adherents to the old religion (Catholicism) in England 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, the occupant of the throne. Mary Queen of Scots's grandfather was Elizabeth's own grandfather Henry VII due to an earlier marriage alliance between England and Scotland. Elizabeth put her cousin under house arrest and eventually, amid rumours of a plot to overthrow her, reluctantly had her executed for treason.

James VI succeeded his cousin Elizabeth I and assumed the title James I of England in 1603. The Stuarts now reigned as the royal family of "Great Britain"2, although they maintained separate parliaments, The Union of the Two Crowns had begun. In the ensuing 100 years, strong religious and political differences continued to divide the kingdoms, and common royalty could not prevent occasions of internecine war.

Republican Rule 1649

The nation had two periods of republican rule in the 17th century between 1649 - 1653 and 1659 - 1660, interspaced with dictatorship under the personal rule of Oliver Cromwell, before the restoration of the monarchy.

The Act of Union 1707

In 1707, England and Scotland were unified as the Kingdom of Great Britain, sharing a single Parliament at Westminster under the Act of Union, 1707.

Act of Union 1801

Ireland's invasion by the Anglo-Normans in 1170 led to centuries of strife. Successive English kings sought to conquer Ireland. In the early 17th century, large-scale settlement of the north from Scotland and England began. After its defeat, Ireland was subjected, with varying degrees of success, to control and regulation by Britain.

The legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland was completed on January 1, 1801, with the 1801 Act of Union, under the name of the "United Kingdom". Ireland elected in or around 100 MPs to the Westminster House of Commons.3 Irish peers elected a limited number of members from their number to sit in the House of Lords. However, armed struggle for independence continued sporadically into the 20th century. A UDI Irish Republic was proclaimed in Dublin in 1916 and 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 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.

The 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.

In 1926, the UK, completing a process begun a century earlier, granted Australia, Canada, and New Zealand "Dominion" status (complete autonomy within the Empire). They became charter members of the British Commonwealth of Nations (now known as The Commonwealth of Nations), 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 United Kingdom Overseas Territories.

Although often marked by economic and political nationalism, the Commonwealth offers the United Kingdom a voice in matters concerning many developing countries. In addition, the Commonwealth helps preserve many institutions deriving from British experience and models, such as Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, in those countries.

Recent History

At its zenith, the British Empire stretched over a quarter of the earth's surface. The first half of the 20th century saw the UK's strength seriously depleted in two World Wars. The second half witnessed the dismantling of the Empire and the UK rebuilding itself into a modern and prosperous European nation. The UK currently is weighing the degree of its integration with continental Europe. A member of the EU, it chose to remain outside of the European Monetary Union (EMU) for the time being.

Constitutional reform is also a significant issue in the UK. The Labour Government of Tony Blair came in with a policy of devolution. In 1999 Scotland saw the restoration of its Parliament, while Wales and Northern Ireland were granted their own assemblies. London was also given back a strategic authority, the Greater London Authority.

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 King 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 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 (eg, James VI/I, James VII/II) in England and Scotland. To avoid confusion, historians generally avoid using the term King of Great Britain 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 1707 Act of Union, with subsequent monarchs using ordinals based on English not Scottish history (eg, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, even though there never was an Elizabeth I of Scotland). Thus the term Great Britain is generally used from 1707.
3 The number fluctuated a number 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.

See Also

External Links