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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 The Romans ruled Britain until 410 AD, when the legions were finally withdrawn because of more pressing needs closer to home.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
Product Description:
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.

Modern Britain, 1750 to the Present (Cambridge History of Britain)

By James Vernon

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS
Paperback (588 pages)

Modern Britain, 1750 to the Present (Cambridge History of Britain)
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  • CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS
Product Description:
This wide-ranging introduction to the history of modern Britain extends from the eighteenth century to the present day. James Vernon's distinctive history is weaved around an account of the rise, fall and reinvention of liberal ideas of how markets, governments and empires should work. The history takes seriously the different experiences within the British Isles and the British Empire, and offers a global history of Britain. Instead of tracing how Britons made the modern world, Vernon shows how the world shaped the course of Britain's modern history. Richly illustrated with figures and maps, the book features textboxes (on particular people, places and sources), further reading guides, highlighted key terms and a glossary. A supplementary online package includes additional primary sources, discussion questions, and further reading suggestions, including useful links. This textbook is an essential resource for introductory courses on the history of modern Britain.

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

By Rebecca Fraser

Fraser, Rebecca
Paperback (848 pages)

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

A History of Modern Britain

By Andrew Andrew Marr

PAN
Paperback (736 pages)

A History of Modern Britain
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This engaging volume tells the story of how the great political visions and idealisms of Victorian Britain came to be defeated by a culture of consumerism, celebrity, and self-gratification. It explains how in each decade, political leaders found themselves confounded by the British people, who always turned out to be harder to herd than predicted. Historically Britain has been a country on the edge—first of invasion, then of bankruptcy, then on the vulnerable front line of the Cold War, and later in the forefront of the great opening up of capital and migration. This history follows all the political and economic stories of the modern era as well as with such social trends as comedy, cars, the war against homosexuals, oil-men and punks, Margaret Thatcher’s wonderful good luck, political lies, and the true heroes of British theater.

Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy

By Alison Weir

imusti
Released: 2009-01-06
Paperback (400 pages)

Britain s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy
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A unique book on Britain’s royal families by this well established popular historian.

Britain’s Royal Families is a unique reference book providing, for the first time in one volume, complete genealogical details of all members of the royal houses of England, Scotland and Great Britain from 800AD to the present. Drawing on countless authorities, both ancient and modern, Alison Weir explores the royal family tree in unprecedented depth and provides a comprehensive guide to the heritage of today’s royal family.

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.

The History of the Kings of Britain [Illustrated]

By Geoffrey of Monmouth

Released: 2010-01-22
Kindle Edition (330 pages)

The History of the Kings of Britain [Illustrated]
 
Product Description:
The History of the Kings of Britain, by Geoffrey of Manmouth, with introduction by J. A. Giles. Illustrated with 10 unique illustrations.

The Historia Regum Britanniae (English: The History of the Kings of Britain) is a pseudohistorical account of British history, written around 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It chronicles the lives of the kings of the Britons in a chronological narrative spanning a time of two thousand years, beginning with the Trojans of Homer's Iliad founding the British nation and continuing until the Anglo-Saxons assumed control of Britain around the 7th century. It is one of the central pieces of the Matter of Britain.

A History of Britain, Vol. 2: The Wars of the British, 1603-1776

By Simon Schama

Miramax
Released: 2001-10-17
Hardcover (544 pages)

A History of Britain, Vol. 2: The Wars of the British, 1603-1776
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Inside these pages lies the bloody epic of liberty, the British Iliad.

The second volume of Simon Schama's A History of Britain brings the histories of Britain's civil wars -- full of blighted idealism, shocking carnage, and unexpected outcomes -- startlingly to life. These conflicts were fought unsparingly between the nations of the islands -- Ireland, England, and Scotland -- and between parliament and the crown. Shattering the illusion of a "united kingdom," they cost hundreds of thousands of lives: a greater proportion of the population than died in the First World War.

When religious passion gave way to the equally consuming passion for profits, it became possible for the pieces of Britain to come together as the spectacularly successful business enterprise of "Britannia Incorporated." And in a few generations that business state expanded in a dizzying process that transformed what had been an obscure, off-shore footnote to Europe's great powers into the main event -- the most powerful empire in the world.

Yet somehow, it was the "wrong empire." The British considered it a bastion of liberty, yet it was based on military force and the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Africans. In America, the emptiness of British claims to protect "freedom" was thrown back into the teeth of colonial governors and redcoat soldiers, while the likes of Sam Adams and George Washington inherited the mantle of Cromwell.

Simon Schama grippingly evokes the horror of the battle, famine, and plague; the flames of burning cities; the pathos of broken families, with fathers and sons forced to choose opposing sides. But he also captures the intimacies of palace and parliament and the seductions of profit and pleasure. Geniuses like John Milton, Thomas Hobbes, and Benjamin Franklin stalk vividly through his pages, but so do Scottish clansmen, women pamphleteers, and literate, eloquent African slaves like Olaudah Equiano.

British History For Dummies

By Se?n Lang

For Dummies
Paperback (436 pages)

British History For Dummies
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  • For Dummies
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This book is a riotous, irreverent account of the people and events that have shaped Britain. Always getting those kings and queens confused? Never sure what happened when? Then you need this book. Inside you'll find rip-roaring stories of power-mad kings, executions, invasions, high treason, global empire building, and forbidden love — not bad for a nation of stiff upper lips!
  • Revised and expanded to include the historical parliamentary elections of 2010 and the British mission in Afghanistan
  • Accompanied by access to a timeline and 'Who's Who in British History' section on dummies.com
  • This new edition contains an 8-page color insert so you can see who, what and where the ensuing historical action takes place


 
 
 

 
 
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