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 The Romans ruled Britain until 410 AD, when the legions were finally withdrawn because of more pressing needs closer to home.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

By DK

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

History of Britain and Ireland: The Definitive Visual Guide
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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.

Behind the Throne: A Domestic History of the British Royal Household

By Adrian Tinniswood

Basic Books
Released: 2018-10-02
Hardcover (416 pages)

Behind the Throne: A Domestic History of the British Royal Household
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An upstairs/downstairs history of the British royal court, from the Middle Ages to the reign of Queen Elizabeth II

Monarchs: they're just like us. They entertain their friends and eat and worry about money. Henry VIII tripped over his dogs. George II threw his son out of the house. James I had to cut back on the alcohol bills.

In Behind the Throne, historian Adrian Tinniswood uncovers the reality of five centuries of life at the English court, taking the reader on a remarkable journey from one Queen Elizabeth to another and exploring life as it was lived by clerks and courtiers and clowns and crowned heads: the power struggles and petty rivalries, the tension between duty and desire, the practicalities of cooking dinner for thousands and of ensuring the king always won when he played a game of tennis.

A masterful and witty social history of five centuries of royal life, Behind the Throne offers a grand tour of England's grandest households.

National Geographic The British World: An Illustrated Atlas

By Tim Jepson

National Geographic Society
Released: 2015-11-03
Hardcover (352 pages)

National Geographic The British World: An Illustrated Atlas
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Spanning wars, religious controversies, revolutions, and more, The British World is a visual jewel illuminating the history of this fascinating land—and an essential reference to be treasured by history lovers young and old. The authoritative content, unearthed across thousands of years, immerses you in the full sweep of British history—from prehistory to the Romans, Saxons and Normans, the Medieval Age, Tudor Britain, the Stuarts, the Georgian and Victorian eras, and the modern age. The lush reference is interwoven with intriguing facts and insights into the fabric of British life, from literary highlights to social amusements to trends of the day. Sidebars examine significant people, as well as key cultural and artistic events. Featured quotes give voice to unforgettable characters such as Henry VIII, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Sir Francis Drake, Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher. You’ll discover time lines of key events in each chapter, and family trees trace the line of descent of the monarchy to the present. Blending compelling narrative, stunning photographs and artwork, and dozens of specially commissioned maps, The British World takes you on a fascinating journey through time and place to tell the story of the British Isles.

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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Product Description:
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.

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

By Rebecca Fraser

W. W. Norton & Company
Released: 2006-11-17
Kindle Edition (848 pages)

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

“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.

Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women's Lives, 1540–1740

By Sara Read

Pen & Sword History
Released: 2019-02-20
Kindle Edition (224 pages)

Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women s Lives, 1540–1740
 
Product Description:
A broad-ranging exploration of the everyday lives of women—from social calls to medical needs—during one of English history’s most fascinating periods.
 
Maids, wives, and widows were the official classifications of women according to English law in the early modern era, immediately following the medieval period. In this fascinating study of the time, historian Sara Read shows “how varied, rich, joyous, and sociable early modern women’s lives were, not to mention just how busy or difficult they could be” (Read, from the introduction).
 
Read delves into how these women filled their days, including vivid details of what they liked to eat and drink, what jobs they held, and how they raised their children. With chapters devoted to beauty regimes, fashion, and literature, the book examines the cultural and domestic aspects of life, as well as how women understood and dealt with their monthly periods and what it was like to give birth in a time before modern obstetric care was available.

 
Maids, Wives, Widows also highlights key moments in women’s history such as the 1671 publication of the first midwifery guide by Jane Sharp; the turmoil caused by the Civil Wars of the 1640s; the various new religious sects in which women participated to a surprising extent; and many others. Also scrutinized are cases of notorious criminals such as murderer Sarah Malcolm and confidence trickster Mary Toft who pretended to give birth to rabbits.

Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors

By Peter Ackroyd

Thomas Dunne Books
Released: 2012-10-16
Kindle Edition (520 pages)

Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors
 
Product Description:

The first book in Peter Ackroyd's history of England series, which has since been followed up with two more installments, Tudors and Rebellion.

In Foundation, the chronicler of London and of its river, the Thames, takes us from the primeval forests of England's prehistory to the death, in 1509, of the first Tudor king, Henry VII. He guides us from the building of Stonehenge to the founding of the two great glories of medieval England: common law and the cathedrals. He shows us glimpses of the country's most distant past--a Neolithic stirrup found in a grave, a Roman fort, a Saxon tomb, a medieval manor house--and describes in rich prose the successive waves of invaders who made England English, despite being themselves Roman, Viking, Saxon, or Norman French.

With his extraordinary skill for evoking time and place and his acute eye for the telling detail, Ackroyd recounts the story of warring kings, of civil strife, and foreign wars. But he also gives us a vivid sense of how England's early people lived: the homes they built, the clothes the wore, the food they ate, even the jokes they told. All are brought vividly to life in this history of England through the narrative mastery of one of Britain's finest writers.

The Story of Britain from the Norman Conquest to the European Union

By Patrick Dillon

Candlewick Press
Released: 2011-02-22
Hardcover (352 pages)

The Story of Britain from the Norman Conquest to the European Union
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Stunningly illustrated by P.J. Lynch, Patrick Dillon’s accessible narrative brings the dramatic history of a nation to life.

(Ages 10 & Up)


The history of Britain is a thrilling story of kings and queens, battles and truces, discoveries and inventions, expansion and diplomacy. From William the Conqueror’s arrival in 1066 to the end of the twentieth century, The Story of Britain celebrates the rich diversity of a people and culture, as well as the events, good and bad, that have shaped Britain — and the world — over the past thousand years. Royals, commoners, warriors, and scientists have all had parts to play, and each of their stories is told here in lively, lucid language appropriate for a young audience. Timelines summarize each era in a quick-view format between each section, while bite-size chapters and full-color plates make this history easy to pick up and hard to put down.
Back matter includes a time line, an index, and a list of monarchs

Black and British: A Forgotten History

By David Olusoga

Pan Macmillan
Paperback (592 pages)

Black and British: A Forgotten History
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Drawing on new genetic and genealogical research, original records, expert testimony and contemporary interviews, Black and British reaches back to Roman Britain, the medieval imagination and Shakespeare's Othello. It reveals that behind the South Sea Bubble was Britain's global slave-trading empire and that much of the great industrial boom of the 19th century was built on American slavery. It shows that Black Britons fought at Trafalgar and in the trenches of World War I. Black British history can be read in stately homes, street names, statues and memorials across Britain and is woven into the cultural and economic histories of the nation. Unflinching, confronting taboos and revealing hitherto unknown scandals, this book describes how black and white Britons have been intimately entwined for centuries.

The British in India: A Social History of the Raj

By David Gilmour

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Released: 2018-11-13
Hardcover (640 pages)

The British in India: A Social History of the Raj
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An immersive portrait of the lives of the British in India, from the seventeenth century to Independence

Who of the British went to India, and why? We know about Kipling and Forster, Orwell and Scott, but what of the youthful forestry official, the enterprising boxwallah, the fervid missionary? What motivated them to travel halfway around the globe, what lives did they lead when they got there, and what did they think about it all?

Full of spirited, illuminating anecdotes drawn from long-forgotten memoirs, correspondence, and government documents, The British in India weaves a rich tapestry of the everyday experiences of the Britons who found themselves in “the jewel in the crown” of the British Empire. David Gilmour captures the substance and texture of their work, home, and social lives, and illustrates how these transformed across the several centuries of British presence and rule in the subcontinent, from the East India Company’s first trading station in 1615 to the twilight of the Raj and Partition and Independence in 1947. He takes us through remote hill stations, bustling coastal ports, opulent palaces, regimented cantonments, and dense jungles, revealing the country as seen through British eyes, and wittily reveling in all the particular concerns and contradictions that were a consequence of that limited perspective. The British in India is a breathtaking accomplishment, a vivid and balanced history written with brio, elegance, and erudition.



 
 
 

 
 
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