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Parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland


FLAG: The Union Jack, adopted in 1800, is a combination of the banners of England (St. George's flag: a red cross with extended horizontals on a white field), Scotland (St. Andrew's flag: a white saltire cross on a blue field), and Ireland (St. Patrick's flag: a red saltire cross on a white field). The arms of the saltire crosses do not meet at the center.

ANTHEM: God Save the Queen.

MONETARY UNIT: The pound sterling (£) is a paper currency of 100 pence. Before decimal coinage was introduced on 15 February 1971, the pound had been divided into 20 shillings, each shilling representing 12 pennies (p) or pence; some old-style coins are still in circulation. Under the new system, there are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 pence and 1 and 2 pounds, and notes of 5, 10, 20, and 50 pounds. £1 = $1.85185 (or $1 = £0.54) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: Although the traditional imperial system of weights and measures is still in use (sample units: of weight, the stone of 14 pounds equivalent to 6.35 kilograms; of length, the yard equivalent to 0.914 meter; of capacity, a bushel equivalent to 36.37 liters), a changeover to the metric system is in progress.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Good Friday; Easter Monday (except Scotland); Late Summer Holiday, last Monday in August or 1st in September (except Scotland); Christmas, 25 December; and Boxing Day, 1st weekday after Christmas. Also observed in Scotland are bank holidays on 2 January and on the 1st Monday in August. Northern Ireland observes St. Patrick's Day, 17 March; and Orangeman's Day, 12 July, commemorating the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.



The United Kingdom is situated off the northwest coast of Europe between the Atlantic Ocean on the n and nw and the North Sea on the e, separated from the Continent by the Strait of Dover and the English Channel, 34 km (21 mi) wide at its narrowest point, and from the Irish Republic by the Irish Sea and St. George's Channel. Its total area of 244,820 sq km (94,526 sq mi) consists of the island of Great Britain—formed by England, 130,439 sq km (50,363 sq mi); Wales, 20,768 sq km (8,018 sq mi); and Scotland, 78,783 sq km (30,418 sq mi)—and Northern Ireland, 14,120 sq km (5,452 sq mi), on the island of Ireland, separated from Great Britain by the North Channel. Comparatively, the area occupied by the United Kingdom is slightly smaller than the state of Oregon.

There are also several island groups and hundreds of small single islands, most of them administratively part of the mainland units. The United Kingdom extends about 965 km (600 mi) n–s and about 485 km (300 mi) e–w. Its total boundary length is 12,789 km (7,947 mi), of which 12,429 km (7,723 mi) is coastline. The Isle of Man, 588 sq km (227 sq mi), and the Channel Islands, comprising Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark, with a combined area of 194 sq km (75 sq mi), are not part of the United Kingdom but are dependencies of the crown. The 0°meridian of longitude passes through the old Royal Observatory, located at Greenwich in Greater London. The United Kingdom's capital city, London, is located in the southeast part of Great Britain.


England is divided into the hill regions of the north, west, and southwest and the rolling downs and low plains of the east and southeast. Running from east to west on the extreme north Scottish border are the Cheviot Hills. The Pennine Range runs north and south from the Scottish border to Derbyshire in central England. The rest of the countryside consists mainly of rich agricultural lands, occasional moors, and plains. South of the Pennines lie the Midlands (East and West), a plains region with low, rolling hills and fertile valleys. The eastern coast is low-lying, much of it less than 5 m (15 ft) above sea level; for centuries parts of it have been protected by embankments against inundation from gales and unusually high tides. Little of the south and east rises to higher than 300 m (1,000 ft).

The highest point in England is Scafell Pike (978 m/3,210 ft) in the famed Lake District of the northwest. The longest of the rivers flowing from the central highlands to the sea are the Severn (about 340 km/210 mi) in the west and the Thames (about 320 km/200 mi) in the southeast. Other rivers include the Humber, the Tees, the Tyne, and the Tweed in the east, the Avon and Exe in the south, and the Mersey in the west.

Scotland has three distinct topographical regions: the Northern Highlands, occupying almost the entire northern half of the country and containing the highest point in the British Isles, Ben Nevis (1,343 m/4,406 ft), as well as Loch Ness, site of a fabled "monster"; the Central Lowlands, with an average elevation of about 150 m (500 ft) and containing the valleys of the Tay, Forth, and Clyde rivers, as well as Loch Lomond, Scotland's largest lake; and the Southern Uplands, rising to their peak at Merrick (843 m/2,766 ft), with moorland cut by many valleys and rivers.

Wales is largely mountainous and bleak, with much of the land suitable only for pasture. The Cambrian Mountains occupy almost the entire area and include Wales's highest point, Mt. Snowdon (1,086 m/3,563 ft). There are narrow coastal plains in the south and west and small lowland areas in the north, including the valley of the Dee.

Northern Ireland consists mainly of low-lying plateaus and hills, generally about 150 to 180 m (500–600 ft) high. The Mourne Mountains in the southeast include Slieve Donard (852 m/2,796 ft), the highest point in Northern Ireland. In a central depression lies Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom's long and rugged coastline, heavily indented, has towering cliffs and headlands and numerous bays and inlets, among them the deep and narrow lochs and the wide firths of Scotland. Many river estuaries serve as fine harbors.


Despite its northern latitude, the United Kingdom generally enjoys a temperate climate, warmed by the North Atlantic Drift, a continuation of the Gulf Stream, and by southwest winds. Mean monthly temperatures range (north to south) from 3°c to 5°c (37–41°f) in winter and from 12°c to 16°c (54–61°f) in summer. The mean annual temperature in the west near sea level ranges from 8°c (46°f) in the Hebrides to 11°c (52°f) in the far southwest of England. Rarely do temperatures rise in summer to over 32°c (90°f) or drop in winter below -10°c (14°f).

Rainfall, averaging more than 100 cm (40 in) throughout the United Kingdom, is heaviest on the western and northern heights (over 380 cm/150 in), lowest along the eastern and southeastern coasts. Fairly even distribution of rain throughout the year, together with the prevalence of mists and fogs, results in scanty sunshine—averaging from half an hour to two hours a day in winter and from five to eight hours in summer.

In the spring of 1997 there was an intense drought in southern and western England; the previous two years were the driest in England and Wales since reliable record-keeping began in 1767.


With its mild climate and varied soils, the United Kingdom has a diverse pattern of natural vegetation. Originally, oak forests probably covered the lowland, except for the fens and marsh areas, while pine forests and patches of moorland covered the higher or sandy ground. Over the centuries, much of the forest area, especially on the lowlands, was cleared for cultivation. Fairly extensive forests remain in east and north Scotland and in southeast England. Oak, elm, ash, and beech are the most common trees in England. Pine and birch are most common in Scotland. Almost all the lowland outside the industrial centers is farmland, with a varied seminatural vegetation of grasses and flowering plants. Wild vegetation consists of the natural flora of woods, fens and marshes, cliffs, chalk downs, and mountain slopes, the most widespread being the heather, grasses, gorse, and bracken of the moorlands. There are over 1,600 plant species in the country.

The fauna is similar to that of northwestern continental Europe, although there are fewer species. Some of the larger mammals—wolf, bear, boar, and reindeer—are extinct, but red and roe deer are protected for sport. Common smaller mammals are foxes, hares, hedgehogs, rabbits, weasels, stoats, shrews, rats, and mice; otters are found in many rivers, and seals frequently appear along the coast. There are at least 50 species of mammal native to the region. There are few reptiles and amphibians. Roughly 230 species of birds reside in the United Kingdom, and another 200 are migratory. Most numerous are the chaffinch, blackbird, sparrow, and starling. The number of large birds is declining, however, except for game birds—pheasant, partridge, and red grouse—which are protected. With the reclamation of the marshlands, waterfowl are moving to the many bird sanctuaries. The rivers and lakes abound in salmon, trout, perch, pike, roach, dace, and grayling. There are more than 21,000 species of insects.


Government officials and agencies with principal responsibility for environmental protection are the Department of the Environment, the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland, and the secretaries of state for Scotland and Wales. The National Trust (for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty), an organization of more than 1.3 million members, has acquired some 750 km (466 mi) of coastline in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. In addition, 127 km (79 mi) of coastline in Scotland are protected under agreement with the National Trust of Scotland. Two countryside commissions, one for England and Wales and one for Scotland, are charged with conserving the beauty and amenities of rural areas. By 1982, the former had designated 10 national parks, covering 13,600 sq km (5,250 sq mi), or 9% of the area of England and Wales. An additional 36 areas of outstanding beauty have been designated, covering 17,000 sq km (6,600 sq mi). Scotland has 40 national scenic areas, with more than 98% of all Scottish lands under the commission's jurisdiction. Northern Ireland has eight designated areas of outstanding natural beauty, seven country parks, and one regional park. There are also seven forest parks in Great Britain and nine in Northern Ireland. England and Wales have 600,000 hectares (1,500,000 acres) of common land, much of which is open to the public. The Nature Conservancy Council manages 214 national nature reserves in Great Britain and 41 in Northern Ireland.

Air pollution is a significant environmental concern for the United Kingdom. In 1992 the nation had the world's eighth-highest level of industrial carbon dioxide emissions, which totaled 566.2 million metric tons, a per capita level of 9.78 metric tons. In 2000, the total of carbon dioxide emissions was at 567.8 million metric tons. In addition, its sulphur contributes to the formation of acid rain in the surrounding countries of Western Europe. Air quality abatement has improved greatly in the United Kingdom as a result of the Control of Pollution Act of 1974 and other legislation. London is no longer densely smog-ridden, and winter sunlight has been increasing in various industrial cities.

Water pollution from agricultural sources is also a problem. The nation has 145 cubic km of water of which 3% of annual withdrawals is used for farming activity and 77% for industrial purposes. The United Kingdom's cities produce an average of 22 million tons of solid waste per year. Pollution of the Thames has been reduced to one-quarter of its level in the 1950s, and more than 80% of the population is served by sewage treatment plants.

The Food and Environment Protection Act of 1985 introduced special controls over dumping and marine incineration in response to the problems of regulation of oil and gas development and of large-scale dumping at sea.

As of 2003, 20.9% of the United Kingdom's total land area is protected, including 163 Ramsar wetland sites and 5 natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 10 types of mammals, 10 species of birds, 12 species of fish, 2 types of mollusks, 8 species of other invertebrates, and 13 species of plants. The European otter, Atlantic sturgeon, Atlantic ridley, Eskimo curlew, and Spengler's freshwater mussel are classified as endangered. The great auk has become extinct.


The population of United Kingdom in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 60,068,000, which placed it at number 22 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 16% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 18% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 96 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 2005–10 was expected to be 0.2%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 64,687,000. The overall population density was 245 per sq km (635 per sq mi); in England there were 371 persons per sq km (961 per sq mi), with 4,233 persons per sq km (10,968 per sq mi) in Greater London.

The UN estimated that 89% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 0.36%. The capital city, London, had a population of 7,619,000 in that year. Other major metropolitan areas in England, with estimated populations, were Birmingham, 2,215,000; Manchester, 2,193,000; Leeds, 1,402,000; and Liverpool, 975,000. Other large English towns include Sheffield, 516,000; Bradford, 478,800; Bristol, 406,500; and Coventry, 300,844. The major cities in Scotland are Glasgow (1,099,400) and Edinburgh (460,000). Belfast, the major city in Northern Ireland, had a population of 287,500; and Cardiff, in Wales, 305,000.


From 1815–1930, the balance of migration was markedly outward, and well over 20 million persons left Britain, settling mainly within the British Empire and in the United States. Since 1931, however, the flow has largely been inward. From 1931–40, when emigration was very low, there was extensive immigration from Europe, including a quarter of a million refugees seeking sanctuary; during the 1950s, immigration from the Commonwealth, especially from the Caribbean countries, India, and Pakistan, steadily increased. The net influx of some 388,000 people (chiefly from the Commonwealth) during 1960–62 led to the introduction of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962, giving the government power to restrict the entry of Commonwealth citizens lacking adequate prospects of employment or means of self-support. Effective 1 January 1983, a new law further restricted entry by creating three categories of citizenship, two of which—citizens of British Dependent Territories and "British overseas citizens"—entail no right to live in the United Kingdom. Those in the last category, consisting of an estimated 1.5 million members of Asian minorities who chose to retain British passports when Malaysia and Britain's East African lands became independent, may not pass their British citizenship to their children without UK government approval.

Immigration is now on a quota basis. From 1986–91, 1,334,000 persons left the United Kingdom to live abroad, and 1,461,000 came from overseas to live in the United Kingdom, resulting in a net in-migration of 127,000. The total number of foreign residents in the United Kingdom was about 1,875,000 in 1990. Of these, more than one-third were Irish (638,000). Indians were second (155,000) and Americans third (102,000). Between the 1990s and 2002, net migration in the United Kingdom rose from 50,000 per year to 172,000. In spite of guest worker programs, the number of unauthorized foreigners grew to around 500,000 in 2003. In addition to these increases, "failed" asylum seekers who were subject to "removal" were a burden, with estimates at 155,000 to 283,000 in the United Kingdom in 2004. In that same year, Prime Minister Tony Blair declared that immigration had reached a "crunch point." Migration became a political issue of the 5 May 2005 elections. Conservative Party leader Michael Howard declared that if he were elected the United Kingdom would stop recognizing the 1951 UN Conventions on Refugees and an annual limit of 20,000 would be placed on immigration. The Labour Party stayed in power and Prime Minister Tony Blair proposed a tiered point system to control immigration. In July 2005 the Home Office estimated that there were 570,000 unauthorized foreigners. A five-tiered guest worker system was introduced: tier one, for highly skilled migrants and investors; tier two, for skilled workers in shortage occupations; tier three, for unskilled workers via accredited recruiters, and tier four, for foreign students, and tier five, for cultural exchange workers. After the death of 52 people in the 2 July 2005 bombings in London tubes and buses by British-born South Asians, tension increased and the far-right British National Party called for revamped laws to restrict immigration.

In response to the Kosovo crisis in 1999, the United Kingdom received 4,346 Kosovar refugees from Macedonia under the UNHCR/IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme. As of 1999, the United Kingdom had the second-largest number of asylum applications in Europe, but by 2004 it ranked seventh. In 2004, there were 9,800 asylum seekers. Main countries of origin among 47 countries included Somalia, India, Sri Lanka, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and the DROC. However, in 2004 the United Kingdom hosted refugees in larger numbers, 289,059 refugees from, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Serbia and Montenegro, Iran, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and DROC. The net migration rate in 2005 was estimated as 2.18 migrants per 1,000 population.


The present-day English, Welsh, Scots, and Irish are descended from a long succession of early peoples, including Iberians, Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, and Normans, the last of whom invaded and conquered England in 1066–70. According to the 2001 census, about 83.6% of UK residents are English. The Scottish form about 8.6% of the population, Welsh account for 4.9%, and the Northern Irish make up 2.9%. About 1.8% of the population are Indian, and 1.3% are Pakistani. There are about 300,000 persons who belong to a group known as Travellers, a blend of Roma, Irish, and other ethnic groups who maintain an itinerant lifestyle.


Spoken throughout the United Kingdom and by over 456 million people throughout the world, English is second only to Mandarin Chinese in the number of speakers in the world. It is taught extensively as a second language and is used worldwide as a language of commerce, diplomacy, and scientific discourse. In northwestern Wales, Welsh, a form of Brythonic Celtic, is the first language of most of the inhabitants.

Approximately 26% of those living in Wales speak Welsh (up from 19% in 1991). Some 60,000 or so persons in western Scotland speak the Scottish form of Gaelic (down from 80,000 in 1991), and a few families in Northern Ireland speak Irish Gaelic. On the Isle of Man, the Manx variety of Celtic is used in official pronouncements; in the Channel Islands some persons still speak a Norman-French dialect. French remains the language of Jersey for official ceremonies.


There is complete religious freedom in the United Kingdom. All churches and religious societies may own property and conduct schools. Established churches are the Church of England (Anglican) and the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). The former is uniquely related to the crown in that the sovereign must be a member and, on accession, promise to uphold the faith; it is also linked with the state through the House of Lords, where the archbishops of Canterbury and York have seats. The archbishop of Canterbury is primate of all England. The monarch appoints all officials of the Church of England. The established Church of Scotland has a Presbyterian form of government: all ministers are of equal status and each of the congregations is locally governed by its minister and elected elders.

About 71.6% of the population belong to one of the four largest Christian denominations in the country: the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland, and the Methodist Church in Britain (originally established as a type of revival movement by the Church of England minister John Wesley, 1703–91). Many immigrants have established community religious centers in the United Kingdom. Such Christian groups include Greek, Russian, Polish, Serb-Orthodox, Estonian and Latvian Orthodox, and the Armenian Church; Lutheran churches from various parts of Europe are also represented. A total of about 2% of the population are Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists, or Unitarians. The Anglo-Jewish community, with an estimated 300,000 members, is the second-largest group of Jews in Western Europe. There are also sizable communities of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists.

In Northern Ireland, about 53% of the population are nominally Protestants and 44% are nominally Catholics; only about 30–35% of all Northern Irish are active participants in religious services. The Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland tend to live in self-segregated communities.


In Great Britain, railways, railway-owned steamships, docks, hotels, road transport, canals, and the entire London passenger transport system—the largest urban transport system in the world—were nationalized on 1 January 1948 under the control of the British Transport Commission (BTC). In 1962, the BTC was replaced by the British Railways Board, the London Transport Board, the British Transport Docks Board, and the British Waterways Board. Under the 1968 Transport Act, national transport operations were reorganized, with the creation of the National Freight Corp., the Freight Integration Council, and the National Bus Co. Organization of public transport in Northern Ireland is autonomous.

In 2003, Great Britain had 392,931 km (244,403 mi) roadway, all of it paved, including 3,431 km (2,134 mi) of express motorways. Licensed motor vehicles in Great Britain numbered 32,576,891 as of 2003, including 29,007,820 passenger cars and 3,569,071 commercial vehicles. The Humber Bridge, the world's longest singlespan suspension bridge, with a center span of 1,410 m (4,626 ft), links the city of Hull with a less developed region to the south. Eurotunnel, a British-French consortium, recently built two high-speed 50-km (31-mi) rail tunnels beneath the seabed of the English Channel. The project, referred to as the "Chunnel," links points near Folkestone, England (near Dover), and Calais, France. The Channel Tunnel is the largest privately financed construction project to date, with an estimated cost (in 1991) of $15 billion; it also has the longest tunnel system (38 km/24 mi) ever built under water. In November 1996, a truck aboard a freighter entering the tunnel caught fire, causing serious damage to the tunnel but no loss of life. Partial operations were resumed within a few weeks, and all repairs were completed by May 1997.

There were 17,274 km (10,727 mi) of standard and narrow gauge railway in Great Britain in 2004, including 5,296 km (3,289 mi) of electrified track. Standard gauge accounts for nearly all of the nation's railway system at 16,814 km (10,441 mi). Underground railway systems operate in London, Glasgow, and Liverpool. In London, the Underground consists of some 3,875 cars that operate over about 408 km (254 mi) of track, 167 km (104 mi) of which is underground. The Underground, the oldest part of which dates to 1863, operates 20 hours per day and is comprised of 248 stations on 11 lines that provide 2.7 million rides per day. In early 1997 the government proposed privatizing London's subway system because of lack of funds needed to restore the aging network. Capital investment has been diminished since the 1960s, resulting in increasing failures of signals and rolling stock and the deterioration of stations and track.

Great Britain has about 3,200 km (1,988 mi) of navigable inland waterways, mainly canals dating back to the pre-railroad age, of which as of 2004, some 620 km (386 mi) are still in commercial use. Great Britain has some 300 ports, including the Port of London, one of the largest in the world. Other major ports are Liverpool, Southampton, Hull, Clydeport (near Glasgow), the inland port of Manchester, and Bristol. The British merchant fleet, privately owned and operated, consists of 429 ships of 1,000 GRT or more, totaled 9,181,284 GRT in 2005. In an effort to curb the flagging of British merchant ships to less regulatory foreign nations, a British offshore registry program was initiated in the late 1980s. Under this program, merchant ships registered to the Isle of Man, Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands are entitled to fly the Red Ensign as if under the administration of the United Kingdom.

The Civil Aviation Authority was created in 1971 as an independent body responsible for national airline operations, traffic control, and air safety. In 2004, there were an estimated 471 airports. As of 2005 a total of 334 had paved runways, and there were also 11 heliports. International flights operate from London's Heathrow; Gatwick, London's second airport; Glasgow, in Scotland; Ringway (for Manchester); Aldergrove (for Belfast); and Elmdon (for Birmingham). The two government-owned airlines, British European Airways and British Overseas Airways Corp., were amalgamated in 1974 to form British Airways (BA). In 1984, BA was reestablished as British Airways PLC, a public limited company under government ownership, soon thereafter to be sold wholly to the public. There are a number of privately operated airlines, some of which operate air taxi services. British Caledonian, which maintained scheduled flights on both domestic and international routes, merged with British Airways in 1988. The Concorde, a supersonic jetliner developed jointly in the 1960s by the United Kingdom and France at a cost exceeding £1 billion, entered service between Heathrow and the United States in 1976. In 2003, the United Kingdom's airlines performed 5,251 million freight ton-km of freight service, and carried 76.377 million passengers on domestic and international flights.


The earliest people to occupy Britain are of unknown origin. Remains of these early inhabitants include the stone circles of Avebury and Stonehenge in Wiltshire. Celtic tribes from the Continent, the first known settlers in historical times, invaded before the 6th century bc. The islands were visited in ancient times by Mediterranean traders seeking jet, gold, pearls, and tin, which were being mined in Cornwall. Julius Caesar invaded in 55 bc but soon withdrew. In the 1st century ad, the Romans occupied most of the present-day area of England, remaining until the 5th century.

With the decline of the Roman Empire and the withdrawal of Roman troops (although many Romans had become Britonized and remained on the islands), Celtic tribes fought among themselves, and Scots and Picts raided from the north and from Ireland. Early raids by Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from the Continent soon swelled into invasions, and the leaders established kingdoms in the conquered territory while the native Celts retreated into the mountains of Wales and Cornwall. Although the Welsh were split into a northern and a southern group, they were not permanently subdued. In the 10th century, a Welsh king, Howel the Good (Hywel Dda), united Wales, codified the laws, and encouraged the Welsh bards.

Among the new English kingdoms, that of the West Saxons (Wessex) became predominant, chiefly through the leadership of Alfred the Great, who also had to fight a new wave of invasions by the Danes and other Norsemen. Alfred's successors were able to unify the country, but eventually the Danes completed their conquest, and King Canute (II) of Denmark became ruler of England by 1017. In 1042, with the expiration of the Scandinavian line, Edward the Confessor of Wessex became king. At his death in 1066, both Harold the Saxon and William, duke of Normandy, claimed the throne. William invaded England and defeated Harold in the Battle of Hastings, beginning the Norman Conquest (1066–70).

William I instituted a strong government, which lasted through the reigns of his sons William II and Henry I. The latter's death in 1135 brought a period of civil war and anarchy, which ended with the accession of Henry II (1154), who instituted notable constitutional and legal reforms. He and succeeding English kings expanded their holdings in France, touching off a long series of struggles between the two countries.

The Magna Carta

Long-standing conflict between the nobles and the kings reached a climax in the reign of King John with the victory of the barons, who at Runnymede in 1215 compelled the king to grant the Magna Carta. This marked a major advance toward the parliamentary system. Just half a century later, in 1265, Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, leader of the barons in their opposition to Henry III, summoned the first Parliament, with representatives not only of the rural nobility but also of the boroughs and towns. In the late 13th century, Edward I expanded the royal courts and reformed the legal system; he also began the first systematic attempts to conquer Wales and Scotland. In 1282, the last Welsh king, Llewellyn ap Gruffydd, was killed in battle, and Edward I completed the conquest of Wales. Two years later, the Statute of Rhuddlan established English rule. The spirit of resistance survived, however, and a last great uprising against England came in the early 15th century, when Owen Glendower (Owain ap Gruffydd) led a briefly successful revolt.

Scotland was inhabited in early historic times by the Picts and by roaming bands of Gaels, or Celts, from Ireland. Before the Romans left Britain in the 5th century, Scotland had been converted to Christianity by St. Ninian and his disciples. By the end of the following century, four separate kingdoms had been established in Scotland. Norsemen raided Scotland from the 8th to the 12th century, and some settled there. Most of the country was unified under Duncan I (r.1034–40). His son, Malcolm III (r.1059–93), who gained the throne after defeating Macbeth, the murderer of his father, married an English princess, Margaret (later sainted), and began to anglicize and modernize the lowlands.

Scotland United

Under David I (r.1124–53), Scotland was united, responsible government was established, walled towns (known as burghs) were developed, and foreign trade was encouraged. William the Lion (r.1165–1214) was captured by Henry II of England in 1174 and forced to accept the Treaty of Falaise, by which Scotland became an English fief. Although Scotland purchased its freedom from Richard I, the ambiguous wording of the agreement allowed later English kings to revive their claim.

When Alexander III died in 1286, Edward I of England, who claimed overlordship of Scotland, supported the claims of John Baliol, who was crowned in 1293. Edward began a war with Philip of France and demanded Scottish troops, but the Scots allied themselves with Philip, beginning the long relationship with France that distinguishes Scottish history. Edward subdued the Scots, put down an uprising led by William Wallace, executed Wallace in 1305, and established English rule. Baliol's heir was killed by Robert the Bruce, another claimant, who had himself crowned (1309), captured Edinburgh, and defeated Edward II of England decisively at Bannockburn in 1314. In 1328, Edward III signed a treaty acknowledging Scotland's freedom.

Under Edward III, the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) with France was begun. Notable victories by Edward the Black Prince (son of Edward III), Henry IV, and Henry V led to no permanent gains for England, and ultimately the English were driven out of France. The plague, known as the Black Death, broke out in England in 1348, wiping out a third of the population; it hastened the breakdown of the feudal system and the rise of towns. The 14th century was for England a time of confusion and change. John Wycliffe led a movement of reform in religion, spreading radical ideas about the need for churchly poverty and criticizing many established doctrines and practices. A peasant rebellion led by Wat Tyler in 1381 demanded the abolition of serfdom, monopolies, and the many restrictions on buying and selling.

In 1399, after 22 years of rule, Richard II was deposed and was succeeded by Henry IV, the first king of the house of Lancaster. The war with France continued, commerce flourished, and the wool trade became important. The Wars of the Roses (1455–85), in which the houses of Lancaster and York fought for the throne, ended with the accession of Henry VII, a member of the Tudor family, marking the beginning of the modern history of England.

The Tudors

Under the Tudors, commerce was expanded, English seamen ranged far and wide, and clashes with Spain (accelerated by religious differences) intensified. Earlier English dominance had not had much effect on Wales, but the Tudors followed a policy of assimilation, anglicizing Welsh laws and practices. Finally, under Henry VIII, the Act of Union (1536) made English the legal language and abolished all Welsh laws "at variance with those of England." In 1531, Henry separated the Anglican Church from Rome and proclaimed himself its head. After his death (1547), the succession to the throne became a major issue during the reigns of Edward VI (1547–53), Mary I (1553–58), and Elizabeth I (1558–1603).

In Scotland, James I (r.1406–37) had done much to regulate Scottish law and improve foreign relations. His murder in 1437 began a century of civil conflict. James IV (r.1488–1513) married Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VII of England, a marriage that was ultimately to unite the crowns of England and Scotland.

French influence in Scotland grew under James V (r.1513–42), who married Mary of Guise, but the Scottish people and nobility became favorably inclined toward the Reformation, championed by John Knox. After James's death, Mary ruled as regent for her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, who had married the dauphin of France, where she lived as dauphiness and later as queen. By the time Mary returned to Scotland (1561), after the death of her husband, most of the Scots were Protestants. A pro-English faction had the support of Queen Elizabeth I against the pro-French faction, and Mary, who claimed the throne of England, was imprisoned and executed (1587) by Elizabeth. Under Elizabeth, England in 1583 acquired its first colony, Newfoundland, and in 1588 defeated the Spanish Armada; it also experienced the beginning of a golden age of drama, literature, and music, among whose towering achievements are the plays of William Shakespeare.

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