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 The Romans ruled Britain until 410 AD, when the legions were finally withdrawn because of more pressing needs closer to home.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

The English and Their History

By Robert Tombs

Vintage
Released: 2016-11-29
Paperback (1040 pages)

The English and Their History
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  • Vintage
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Named a Book of the Year by the Daily Telegraph, Times Literary Supplement, The Times, Spectator, and The Economist

The English first materialized as an idea, before they had a common ruler and before the country they lived in even had a name. From the armed Saxon bands that descended onto Roman-controlled Britain in the fifth century to the travails of the Eurozone plaguing the prime-ministership of today's multicultural England, acclaimed historian Robert Tombs presents a momentous and challenging history of a people who have a claim to be the oldest nation in existence. 
 
Drawing on a wealth of recent scholarship, Tombs sheds light on the strength and resilience of English governance, the deep patterns of division among the people who have populated the British Isles, the persistent capacity of the English to come together in the face of danger, and not the least the ways the English have understood their own history, have argued about it, forgotten it and yet been shaped by it. Momentous and definitive, The English and Their History is the first single-volume work on this scale for more than half a century.

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

By Rebecca Fraser

W W Norton Company
Paperback (848 pages)

The Story of Britain: From the Romans to the Present: A Narrative History
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  • W W Norton Company
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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 Britain: At the Edge of the World? 3500 B.C. - 1603 A.D.

By Simon Schama

Brand: Talk Miramax / Hyperion
Released: 2000-10-25
Hardcover (416 pages)

A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? 3500 B.C. - 1603 A.D.
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Simon Schama's magesterial new book encompasses over 1,500 years of Britain's history, from the first Roman invasions to the early seventeenth century, and the extraordinary reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Schama, the author of the highly acclaimed Citizens and The Embarrassment of Riches, is one of the most popular and celebrated historians of our day, and in this magnificent work he brings history to dramatic life with a wealth of stories and vivid, colorful detail, reanimating familiar figures and events and drawing them skillfully into a powerful and compelling narrative. Schama's perspective moves from the birth of civilization to the Norman Conquest; through the religious wars and turbulance of the Middle Ages to the sovereignties of Henry II, Richard I and King John; through the outbreak of the Black Death, which destroyed nearly half of Europe's population, through the reign of Edward I and the growth of national identity in Wales and Scotland, to the intricate conflicts of the Tudors and the clash between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. Driven by the drama of the stories themselves but exploring at the same time a network of interconnected themes--the formation of a nation state, the cyclical nature of power, the struggles between the oppressors and the oppressed--this is a superbly readable and illuminating account of a great nation, and its extraordinary history.

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.

Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland

By Bryan Sykes

Sykes, Bryan
Paperback (336 pages)

Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland
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  • W W Norton Company
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From the best-selling author of The Seven Daughters of Eve, a perfect book for anyone interested in the genetic history of Britain, Ireland, and America.

One of the world's leading geneticists, Bryan Sykes has helped thousands find their ancestry in the British Isles. Saxons, Vikings, and Celts, which resulted from a systematic ten-year DNA survey of more than 10,000 volunteers, traces the true genetic makeup of the British Isles and its descendants, taking readers from the Pontnewydd cave in North Wales to the resting place of the Red Lady of Paviland and the tomb of King Arthur. This illuminating guide provides a much-needed introduction to the genetic history of the people of the British Isles and their descendants throughout the world.

Fifty Things You Need To Know About British History

By Hugh Williams

Collins
Released: 2008-11-13
Kindle Edition (419 pages)

Fifty Things You Need To Know About British History
 
Product Description:

What are the 50 key events you need to understand to grasp British history?

If you could choose the 50 things that define British history, events of significance not only in themselves, but in their importance to wider themes running through our past, what would they be? Hugh Williams has made that selection, and the result is a fascinating overview of Britain’s past.

He refines British history into a series of key themes that represent a crucial strand in our history, and pinpoints the seminal events within those strands - Roots, from the Roman invasion to Britain’s entry into the Common Market; Fight, Fight and Fight Again, from the Battle of Agincourt to the Falklands War; The Pursuit of Liberty, from the Magna Carta through the Glorious Revolution to the foundation of the NHS; Home and Abroad, from Sir Francis Drake and Clive of India to the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush; and All Change, from Chaucer and the English language to the invention of the web.

With great clarity, simplicity and a zest for the marvellous stories that underpin many of these events, Hugh Williams explains the linkage between each one and its importance in the progress of British history as a whole. Along the way, he has some fascinating tales to tell, making this a highly enjoyable read as well as a perceptive insight into our shared past, and vital for anyone who wants quickly and enjoyably to grasp the essential facts about Britain’s history.

History of the Kings of Britain

By Geoffrey of Monmouth

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Paperback (148 pages)

History of the Kings of Britain
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Although the list of our Chroniclers mant be considered as complete, without the addition of this work, yet we have thought it worthy of a place in our series for many reasons. It is not for historical accuracy that the book before us is valuable; for the great mass of scholars have come to the decided conclusion that it is full f fables. But it is the romantic character which pervades the narrative, together with its acknowledged antiquity, which make it desireable that the book should not sink into oblivion. Those who desire to possess it as a venerable relic of an early age, will now have an opportunity of gratifying their wish; whilst others, who despise it as valueless, in their researches after historic truth, may, nevertheless, find some little pleasure in the tales of imagination which it contains.

A History of Britain: British Wars, 1603-1776 v.2 (Vol 2)

By Simon Schama

BBC Books
Hardcover (544 pages)

A History of Britain: British Wars, 1603-1776 v.2 (Vol 2)
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To understand what Britain has become it is necessary to know what it has been. The second volume in this history takes the story of Britain from the Civil War to the Enlightenment. Each chapter focuses on a major theme.


 
 
 

 
 
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