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 The Romans ruled Britain until 410 AD, when the legions were finally withdrawn because of more pressing needs closer to home.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

History of Britain and Ireland

By DK Publishing

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

History of Britain and Ireland
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  • History of Britain Ireland The Definitive Visual Guide
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 Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy (Oxford Illustrated Histories)

By John Cannon

Oxford University Press
Hardcover (744 pages)

The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy (Oxford Illustrated Histories)
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The rich pageant of Britain's history emerges nowhere more colorfully than in the story of its kings and queens. This spectacular book offers the most authoritative account of the British monarchy ever published for the general reader. With over 400 illustrations--a third of them in color--it traces the crown's full history from Anglo-Saxon times to the present.
The authors present a vivid picture of the lives of individual monarchs as well as of the monarchy as a political and social force. They begin the story in the fifth century with the rise of recognizable kingdoms in Scotland, Wales, and England and conclude with a discussion of the crown's constitutional role, which emerged in Queen Victoria's reign, and how this has affected the symbolic and popular monarchy of today. Along the way, we gain a clear view of how key traditions evolved: the right of succession, coronations and marriages, oaths of loyalty and military service, the granting of lands and titles, and the propagation of a powerful image of royalty.
The book not only explains the monarch's political struggles and styles of governing; it is filled with fascinating details that give the story life. We learn, for instance, that Elizabeth I's famous journeys to various corners of her realm were not simply to show her off to her subjects: "The standard of Tudor sanitation," the authors note, "meant that the royal palaces became unbearable after several weeks of occupation and the court's absence for several months in the summer gave an opportunity to clean up." We discover that Victoria's coronation was "a splendid mixture of majesty and muddle": when it came time for the Archbishop to bestow the ceremonial ring, the already befuddled cleric placed it on the Queen's wrong finger, "causing considerable delay [and] some pain." And we read George VI's touching wedding message to his daughter (the present queen): "Your leaving us has left a great blank in our lives but do remember that your old home is still yours."
Supporting the text and carefully selected pictures are sidebars on each of the monarchs and on key general themes; color maps; an illustrated section on royal residences and tombs; a consolidated list of monarchs; genealogies; annotated lists of further reading; and a full index with personal dates.

The History of the Kings of Britain (Penguin Classics)

By Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth
Released: 1977-01-27
Paperback (384 pages)

The History of the Kings of Britain (Penguin Classics)
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  • The History of the Kings of Britain
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Completed in 1136, this classic chronicle traces the story of the realm from its supposed foundation by Brutus to the coming of the Saxons some two thousand years later. Vividly portraying legendary and semi-legendary figures such as Lear, Cymbeline, Merlin the magician, and the most famous of all British heroes, King Arthur, it is as much myth as it is history, and its veracity was questioned by other medieval writers. But Geoffrey of Monmouth’s powerful evocation of illustrious men and deeds captured the imagination of subsequent generations, and his influence can be traced through the works of Malory, Shakespeare, Dryden, and Tennyson.
 
Lewis Thorpe’s translation from the Latin brings us an accurate and enthralling version of Geoffrey’s remarkable narrative. His introduction discusses in depth the aims of the author and his possible sources, and describes the impact of this work on British literature.

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.

Kings & Queens of England and Scotland

By Plantagenet Somerset Fry

DK
Released: 2011-03-21
Paperback (96 pages)

Kings & Queens of England and Scotland
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This compact visual guide dramatically conveys the history of Britain's royal heritage through key events and family trees.

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire

By Lawrence James

St. Martin's Griffin
Released: 1997-09-15
Paperback (744 pages)

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire
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Great Britain's geopolitical role has undergone many changes over the last four centuries. Once a maritime superpower and ruler of half the world, Britain now occupies an isolated position as an economically fragile island often at odds with her European neighbors.

In The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, Lawrence James has written a comprehensive, perceptive, and insightful history of the British Empire. Spanning the years from 1600 to the present day, this critically acclaimed book combines detailed scholarship with readable popular history.

“This is a stylish, intelligent and readable book.” ―The New York Times Book Review

The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume I: The Origins of Empire: British Overseas Enterprise to the Close of the Seventeenth Century

Nicholas Canny
Hardcover (560 pages)

The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume I: The Origins of Empire: British Overseas Enterprise to the Close of the Seventeenth Century
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  • The Oxford History of the British Empire Volume I The Origins of Empire British Overseas Enterprise to the Close of the Seventeenth Century
Product Description:
Volume I of the Oxford History of the British Empire explores the origins of empire. It shows how and why England, and later Britain, became involved with transoceanic navigation, trade, and settlement during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The chapters, by leading historians, both illustrate the interconnections between developments in Europe and overseas and offer specialist studies on every part of the world that was substantially affected by British colonial activity. As late as 1630, involvement with regions beyond the traditional confines of Europe was still tentative; by 1690 it had

The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume II: The Eighteenth Century

OUP Oxford
Hardcover (664 pages)

The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume II: The Eighteenth Century
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Volume II of the Oxford History of the British Empire examines the history of British worldwide expansion from the Glorious Revolution of 1689 to the end of the Napoleonic Wars, a crucial phase in the creation of the modern British Empire. This was the age of General Wolfe, Clive of India, and Captain Cook. The international team of experts deploys the latest scholarly research to trace and analyze development and expansion over more than a century. They show how trade, warfare, and migration created an Empire, at first overwhelmingly in the Americas but later increasingly in Asia. Although the Empire was ruptured by the American Revolution, it survived and grew into the British Empire that was to dominate the world during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

About the Series:

The Oxford History of the British Empire is a major new assessment of the Empire in the light of recent scholarship and the progressive opening of historical records. It deals with the interaction of British and non-western societies from the Elizabethan era to the late twentieth century, provides a balanced treatment of the ruled as well as the rulers, and takes into account the significance of the Empire for the peoples of the British Isles. All five of the volumes in this series fully explore economic and social as well as political trends.


 
 
 

 
 
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