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Travel Guide 2   >   Europe   >   UK   >   History

   
 

British History


Members of the genus Homo have lived in Britain for hundreds of thousands of years, and Homo sapiens for tens of thousands. Although it is possible that that the islands were temporarily depopulated during the glacial periods that occurred during the ice ages.

Stonehenge:
Stonehenge

By the first century BC, Britain had developed a sophisticated culture with farming, iron-working, coinage, and trade (principally of metals, especially tin, mined within the British Isles) with mainland Europe. It is also known that during this period, there was an influx of refugees from Gaul (France and Belgium) known as the Belgae, who had been displaced by the growth of the Roman Empire.

Britain was not unknown to the classical civiliations of the Mediterranean. Greeks and Carthaginians are known to have visited Britain as early as the 4th century BC. However, the first major contacts with the classical world were in 55 BC and 54 BC when Julius Caesar launched two military raids on southern England, as he believed the Britons were helping the resistance to his campaigns in Gaul.

After Julius Caesar's raids, Rome settled into a pattern of trade and diplomacy with the Britons, which was to last almost a hundred years. While some consideration was given to invading Britain, the Romans did not actually do so until 43 AD during the reign of Emperor Claudius. The Romans were eventually able to conquer all of England and Wales, and parts of southern Scotland. The Romans ruled Britain until 410 AD, when the legions were finally withdrawn because of more pressing needs closer to home. During the period of Roman occupation, many buildings were constructed in the country including villas, bath-houses, ampitheaters, and fortifications, including, of course, Hadrian's Wall.

Ruins of Hadrian's Wall:
Ruins of Hadrian's Wall

After the fall of the Roman Empire, various German tribes (the Angles, Saxons and Jutes) arrived in southern Britain. These tribes eventually became the English, and either assimilated the indigenous Celtic peoples of England, or displaced them into into Cornwall, Wales and southwestern Scotland. They in turn faced Viking invasions, and finally the Norman conquest of 1066, which introduced a French ruling nobility who eventually were to become assimilated with the English.

Harold Godwinson killed at Hastings from the Bayeux Tapestry:
Harold Godwinson killed at Hastings from the Bayeux Tapestry

During the Middle Ages, England's rulers conquered Wales, campaigned extensively in Ireland, held huge lands in France, and also tried, but failed, to conquer Scotland. England and Scotland did not finally unite until 1604, when James VI of Scotland (James I of England) declared himself "'King of Great Brittaine, France and Ireland" (the claim to the French throne, while maintained by British monarchs for some time, was not actively enforced since the French had their own ideas about who should be their monarch). Initially this combination was a personal union, by virtue of having the same monarch, and it was not until the 1707 Act of Union that England and Scotland combined their parliaments. In 1801, a second Act of Union made Ireland part of the country, the state now officially became named the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland".

Britain was the first country to industrialize, and this, together with its financial dominance, powerful navy, and victory in the Napoleonic Wars, allowed it to become the most powerful country in the world during the 19th and early 20th century. As a result of its position, Britain was able to establish an extensive colonial empire overseas, that eventually was to become the largest empire in history.

British Empire in 1921:
British Empire in 1921

By the late 19th century, new powers had arisen and became powerful rivals to the British Empire: the United States and Germany, both outstripped Britain economically, and in the case of Germany, became involved involved in a naval building race with Britain.

HMS Dreadnought:
HMS Dreadnought

In the last decades of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century, extensive thought was given to granting "home rule" to Ireland, however a final decison on what policy to adopt had not been made when war broke out. In 1916, while World War I was still raging, Irish nationalists launched a rebellion against British rule in Ireland, seizing control of strategic points in Dublin. Although this rebellion was relatively easily defeated miitarily, it did succeed in bringing about a sea change in Irish political opinion. As a result, in 1922, most of Ireland became a separate country, the Irish Free State - the forerunner of today's Republic of Ireland. The United Kingdom retained control of six northern counties on the island of Ireland, and henceforth became officially known as the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".

The 20th century saw a relative decline in Britain's position in the world, as the country was virtually bankrupted by the costs of fighting two World Wars, especially World War II. Although, unlike many other countries, Britain was never occupied by the Nazis, World War II has nevertheless less a deep imprint on the British national psyche: Winston Churchill, Dunkirk, "their finest hour", the Battle of Britain, El Alamein, the Spitfire, and other details of World War II are very much engrained on the national consciousness.

Winston S. Churchill:
Winston S. Churchill

Following the end of World War II, the British Empire was gradually wound-up, because of financial difficulties, pressure from Americans, and increasing nationalism in the colonies. Although there were some conflicts during the retreat from empire, such as the 1956 Suez Crisis, on the whole, disengagement was surprisingly peaceful. Britain retains good relations and cultural links with many of its former colonies, and most (but not all) are members of the Commonwealth of Nations. In the immediate post war period and the Cold War with the USSR that followed, Britain was also an important ally (perhaps the most important ally) of the United States of America, and a leading member in the NATO alliance.

As already noted, during the post-war period Britain faced extensive economic problems. These were not helped by antiquated labour and industrial policies, numerous strikes and high inflation. In the 1980s however, Britain embarked in a new free market direction under the leadership of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: union power was restricted, inflation was brought under control, free enterprise encouraged, and subsidized state-owned industries either sold off ("privatization") or closed. These changes were not without pain, including for a time, massive unemployment, but eventually they succeeded in reviving the faltering economy. The increased prosperity that was brought about through these changes, the 1981 Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, and victory in the 1982 Falklands War, brought a new mood of optimism to the country.

Margaret Thatcher:
Margaret Thatcher

While not as powerful as she once was, Britain is nevertheless still a leading economic, political, cultural and military power, with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security council. Britain remains a close ally of the United States of America and has forces fighting in both Iraq and engaged in Afghanistan.

Below are some books about the history of Britain.


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Books about British History


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History of Britain and Ireland

By DK Publishing

DK Publishing Dorling Kindersley
Released: 2013-12-23
Paperback (400 pages)

History of Britain and Ireland
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  • DK Publishing Dorling Kindersley
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From the Roman conquest of 43 CE to the Norman conquest of 1066, and from the Elizabethan age to the Iraq and Afghan wars of the 21st century, DK's History of Britain and Ireland traces the key events that have shaped Great Britain and Ireland from earliest times to the present day.

A History of Britain

By Richard Dargie

Arcturus Publishing Ltd
Paperback (208 pages)

A History of Britain
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Fully illustrated, information-packed exploration of British history from Neolithic times to the present day. Arranged in eight self-contained sections, each dealing with a major historical period, making it extremely accessible. A pleasure to dip into and simple to look up any subject that interests you from stone circles to the Battle of Britain.

Timelines provide helpful chronological reference and are a handy addition to the text. Conveniently arranged in eight sections, each dealing with a major historical period - chapters include: Prehistoric Britain; Roman Britain; Invaders and Settlers; Medieval Britain; Early Britain; Georgian Britain; Victorian Britain; The Twentieth Century and Beyond.

Covers both well-known historical events such as the Norman invasions and the execution of Charles I, and lesser-known details like the uprisings in Dark Age Wales and the birth of tabloid newspapers in Victorian Britain. More than 150 illustrations and photographs bring the text to life.

The Story of Britain: From the Romans to the Present: A Narrative History

By Rebecca Fraser

Fraser, Rebecca
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The Story of Britain: From the Romans to the Present: A Narrative History
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“A beautifully written story, a box of delights, a treasure trove: final proof of truth’s superiority over fiction.”―Andrew Roberts

A sparkling anecdotal account with the pace of an epic, about the men and women who created turning points in history. Rebecca Fraser's dramatic portrayal of the scientists, statesmen, explorers, soldiers, traders, and artists who forged Britain's national institutions is the perfect introduction to British history.

Just as much as kings and queens, battles and empire, Britain's great themes have been the liberty of the individual, the rule of law, and the parliamentary democracy invented to protect them. Ever since Caractacus and Boudicca surprised the Romans with the bravery of their resistance, Britain has stood out as the home of freedom. From Thomas More to William Wilberforce, from Gladstone to Churchill, Britain's history is studded with heroic figures who have resisted tyranny in all its guises, whether it be the Stuart kings' belief in divine right, the institution of slavery, or the ambitions of Napoleon and Hitler. 154 illustrations

The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

By Ashley Jackson

Brand: Oxford University Press, USA
Paperback (144 pages)

The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
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From the eighteenth century until the 1950s, the British Empire was the largest and most far-flung political entity in the world, holding sway at one time over one fifth of the world's population. The territories forming this colossus ranged from tiny islands to vast segments of the world's major continental land masses, and included Australia, South Africa, India, and Canada. This vast empire left its mark on the world in a multitude of ways, many of them permanent.

In this Very Short Introduction, Ashley Jackson introduces and defines the British Empire, shedding light on a series of key questions, reviewing how it evolved into such a force, and looking at the legacy it left behind.

About the Series:

Oxford's Very Short Introductions series offers concise and original introductions to a wide range of subjects--from Islam to Sociology, Politics to Classics, Literary Theory to History, and Archaeology to the Bible. Not simply a textbook of definitions, each volume in this series provides trenchant and provocative--yet always balanced and complete--discussions of the central issues in a given discipline or field. Every Very Short Introduction gives a readable evolution of the subject in question, demonstrating how the subject has developed and how it has influenced society. Eventually, the series will encompass every major academic discipline, offering all students an accessible and abundant reference library. Whatever the area of study that one deems important or appealing, whatever the topic that fascinates the general reader, the Very Short Introductions series has a handy and affordable guide that will likely prove indispensable.

History of Britain, A - Volume III: The Fate of the Empire 1776 - 2000 (History of Britain (Talk Miramax))

By Simon Schama

Brand: Miramax
Released: 2002-12-18
Hardcover (576 pages)

History of Britain, A - Volume III: The Fate of the Empire 1776 - 2000 (History of Britain (Talk Miramax))
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Simon Schama’s dramatic, broad-ranging, and immensely readable epic history of Britain reaches its triumphant conclusion in this third and final volume, which stretches from the American Revolution to the present.

The Fate of Empire tells the eventful and exhilarating story of Britain’s rise and fall as an imperial power, from the political turmoil of the 1770s to the struggle of present day leaders to find a way to make a different national future. The volume also examines the Romantic generation, the role of women in Victorian England, industrialization, and the liberal empire from Ireland to India, which promised material improvement, but delivered coercion and famine. As in the previous volumes, Schama vividly portrays the lives of extraordinary personalities – Queen Victoria, Churchill, Dickens, and “ordinary” individuals including the author of the first British travel guide, and Elizabeth Anderson, the first woman doctor.

Finally, Schama asks an essential question: what kind of Britain can hold together when its island isolation and its imperial dominion have both vanished? An examination of the legacy of the British ideal of freedom is at the heart of this entertaining and well-researched book. With The Fate of Empire, Simon Schama has proven himself, again, as a masterful writer of narrative history.

Britain Begins

By Barry Cunliffe

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Britain Begins
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The last Ice Age, which came to an end about 12,000 years ago, swept the bands of hunter gatherers from the face of the land that was to become Britain and Ireland, but as the ice sheets retreated and the climate improved so human groups spread slowly northwards, re-colonizing the land that had been laid waste. From that time onwards Britain and Ireland have been continuously inhabited and the resident population has increased from a few hundreds to more than 60 million.

Britain Begins is nothing less than the story of the origins of the British and the Irish peoples, from around 10,000BC to the eve of the Norman Conquest. Using the most up to date archaeological evidence together with new work on DNA and other scientific techniques which help us to trace the origins and movements of these early settlers, Barry Cunliffe offers a rich narrative account of the first islanders - who they were, where they came from, and how they interacted one with another. Underlying this narrative throughout is the story of the sea, which allowed the islanders and their continental neighbours to be in constant contact.

The story told by the archaeological evidence, in later periods augmented by historical texts, satisfies our need to know who we are and where we come from. But before the development of the discipline of archaeology, people used what scraps there were, gleaned from Biblical and classical texts, to create a largely mythological origin for the British. Britain Begins also explores the development of these early myths, which show our ancestors attempting to understand their origins. And, as Cunliffe shows, today's archaeologists are driven by the same desire to understand the past - the only real difference is that we have vastly more evidence to work with.

English History Made Brief, Irreverent, and Pleasurable

By Lacey Baldwin Smith

Brand: Chicago Review Press
Paperback (275 pages)

English History Made Brief, Irreverent, and Pleasurable
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  • A history to delight, amuse, entertain, and inform the armchair traveler, tourist--or anyone interested in history and/or great britain. The in-text illustrations are delightful, witty.
Product Description:
Here at last is a history of England that is designed to entertain as well as inform and that will delight the armchair traveler, the tourist or just about anyone interested in history. No people have engendered quite so much acclaim or earned so much censure as the English: extolled as the Athenians of modern times, yet hammered for their self-satisfaction and hypocrisy. But their history has been a spectacular one.
 
The guiding principle of this book's heretical approach is that "history is not everything that happened, but what is worth remembering about the past.. . .". Thus, its chapters deal mainly with "Memorable History" in blocks of time over the centuries. The final chapter "The Royal Soap Opera," recounts the achievements, personalities and idiocies of the royal family since the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066. Spiced with dozens of hilarious cartoons from Punch and other publications, English History will be a welcome and amusing tour of a land that has always fascinated Anglophiles and Anglophobes alike.

A Brief History of British Sea Power: How Britain Became Sovereign of the Seas (Brief Histories)

By David Howarth

Robinson Publishing
Paperback (480 pages)

A Brief History of British Sea Power: How Britain Became Sovereign of the Seas (Brief Histories)
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The British did not take to water like ducks, for centuries doing little but cling to coastal waters. The Romans and Vikings knocked spots of us as seamen, and the English upper classes saw seafaring as mercantile and beneath them. Britain's success at sea began with Elizabeth I and the defeat of the Armada, thanks to superior gunnery and seamanship. Elizabeth employed practical seamen like Hawkins and Drake - and they repaid her trust. Howarth reconstructs the expansion of trade routes and the great 18th - century days of the line of battle ships. With Napoleon's fall, the British were free to expand, and their prestige rose so high that sea warfare almost ceased as British ships patrolled the oceans. In the 20th century, the British navy was twice as big as any other. Full of anecdote, erudition and humour, this is a classic account.

British History in 50 Events: From First Immigration to Modern Empire (English History, History Books, British History Textbook) (History in 50 Events Series) (Volume 11)

By James Weber

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Paperback (96 pages)

British History in 50 Events: From First Immigration to Modern Empire (English History, History Books, British History Textbook) (History in 50 Events Series) (Volume 11)
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Do you want to know how the small British Isles became one of the most important empires in world history?

Read about the 50 most important events in British History, from the first immigration to the post World War 2 Era.

This book will give you a comprehensive overview of the British history. Author James Weber did the research and compiled this huge list of events that changed the course of this nation forever. Some of them include: - Stonehenge is completed (2,000 B.C.) - Romans Invade Britain (43 A.D.) - The Declaration of Arbroath (1320) - The Battle of Hastings (1066) - The Defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588) - The Glorious Revolution (1688) - Act of Union between England and Scotland (1707) - Queen Victoria Ascends to the Throne (1837) - British Broadcasting Corporation is established (1927) - Good Friday Agreement (1998) and many many more The book includes pictures and explanations to every event, making this the perfect resource for students and anyone wanting to broaden their knowledge in histoy.

Download your copy now!

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Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World

By Niall Ferguson

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Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World
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Once vast swathes of the globe were coloured imperial red and Britannia ruled not just the waves, but the prairies of America, the plains of Asia, the jungles of Africa and the deserts of Arabia. Just how did a small, rainy island in the North Atlantic achieve all this? And why did the empire on which the sun literally never set finally decline and fall? Niall Ferguson's acclaimed Empire brilliantly unfolds the imperial story in all its splendours and its miseries, showing how a gang of buccaneers and gold-diggers planted the seed of the biggest empire in all history - and set the world on the road to modernity. 'The most brilliant British historian of his generation ...Ferguson examines the roles of "pirates, planters, missionaries, mandarins, bankers and bankrupts" in the creation of history's largest empire ...he writes with splendid panache ...and a seemingly effortless, debonair wit' Andrew Roberts 'Dazzling ...wonderfully readable' New York Review of Books 'A remarkably readable precis of the whole British imperial story - triumphs, deceits, decencies, kindnesses, cruelties and all' Jan Morris 'Empire is a pleasure to read and brims with insights and intelligence' Sunday Times


 
 
 

 
 
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