- History of the United Kingdom
The history of the United Kingdom as a unified sovereign state began with the political union of the kingdoms of England, which included Wales, and Scotland on 1 May 1707 in accordance with the Treaty of Union, as ratified by the Acts of Union 1707. The Union created the new state of Great Britain, which shared a single constitutional monarch and a single Parliament of Great Britain at Westminster. Prior to this, the kingdoms of England and Scotland had been separate sovereign states, although in personal union following the Union of the Crowns of 1603, each with political, administrative and cultural institutions including representative governance, law systems, and distinguished contributions to the arts and sciences, upon which the institutions of the United Kingdom were later to be built. On the new kingdom, the historian Simon Schama said, "What began as a hostile merger would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world... it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history." A further Act of Union in 1800 added the Kingdom of Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
The early years of the unified kingdom of Great Britain were marked by Jacobite risings which ended with defeat for the Stuart cause at Culloden in 1746. Later, in 1763, victory in the Seven Years War led to the dominance of the British Empire, which was to be the foremost global power for over a century and grew to become the largest empire in history. By 1921, the British Empire held sway over a population of about 458 million people, approximately one-quarter of the world's population. and as a result, the culture of the United Kingdom, and its industrial, political and linguistic legacy, is widespread.
In 1801, Great Britain and Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Ireland effectively seceded from the United Kingdom to become the Irish Free State — later, Ireland or Éire —, a new dominion of the British Empire; a day later, Northern Ireland seceded from the Free State and was confirmed by King George V as part of the United Kingdom. As a result, in 1927 the United Kingdom changed its formal title to the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland," usually shortened to the "United Kingdom", the "UK" or "Britain", but the Style of the British sovereign, as the result of the dissolution of the previous Union, entirely abandoned the term "United Kingdom". It became, and remained until 1953, "By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King/Queen, Defender of the Faith".
Following the Second World War, in which the UK was an allied power, most of the territories of the British Empire became independent. Many went on to join the Commonwealth of Nations, a free association of independent states. Some have retained the British monarch as their head of state to become independent Commonwealth realms. In its capacity as a great power, and as a leading member of the United Nations, European Union and NATO, the United Kingdom remains a strong economic, cultural, military and political influence in the 21st century.
Birth of the Union
The united kingdom of Great Britain came into being on 1 May 1707, as a result of the political union of the Kingdom of England (which included Wales) and the Kingdom of Scotland. The terms of the union had been agreed in the Treaty of Union that was negotiated the previous year and then ratified by the parliaments of Scotland and England each approving Acts of Union.
Although previously separate states, England and Scotland had shared monarchs since 1603 when James VI of Scotland become James I of England on the death of the childless Elizabeth I, an event known as the Union of the Crowns. The Treaty of Union enabled the two kingdoms to be combined into a single kingdom with the two parliaments merging into a single parliament of Great Britain. Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702 to 1714, had favoured deeper political integration between the two kingdoms and became the first monarch of Great Britain. The union was valuable to England from a security standpoint, since it meant that Scotland lost the possibility to choose a different monarch on her death, reducing the chance of a European power using Scotland as a route to invading England.
Although now a single kingdom, certain aspects of the former independent kingdoms remained separate, in line with the terms in the Treaty of Union: Scottish and English law remained separate, as did the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the Anglican Church of England. England and Scotland also continued to have divergent systems of education.
The creation of Great Britain happened during the War of the Spanish Succession, in which just before his death in 1702 William III had reactivated the Grand Alliance against France. His successor, Anne, continued the war. The Duke of Marlborough won a series of brilliant victories over the French, England's first major battlefield successes on the Continent since the Hundred Years War. France was nearly brought to its knees by 1709, when King Louis XIV made a desperate appeal to the French people. Afterwards, his general Marshal Villars managed to turn the tide in favour of France. A more peace-minded government came to power in Great Britain, and the treaties of Utrecht and Rastadt in 1713–1714 ended the war.
Queen Anne died in 1714, and the Elector of Hanover, George Louis, became king as George I. Jacobite factions remained strong however, and they instigated a revolt in 1715–1716. The son of James II planned to invade England, but before he could do so, John Erskine, Earl of Mar, launched an invasion from Scotland, which was easily defeated. George II succeeded to the throne in 1727 and ruled until his death in 1760. During his reign, the rising power of Prussia led to two major conflicts in Europe, the War of the Austrian Succession from 1740 to 1748, and the Seven Years War from 1756 to 1763. Both spilled over into the American colonies, and when the latter ended, Britain gained all of Canada and France was destroyed as a colonial power in North America.
Although British sea power proved decisive in the wars, the French navy had become a serious challenger by the middle of the 18th century and an invasion of Britain nearly took place in 1759. After the death of George II in 1760, his grandson became king as George III at the age of 22. Unlike his two predecessors, he was born in Britain and English was his first language. Frequently reviled by Americans as a tyrant and the instigator of the US War of Independence, he ruled for sixty years. George had fifteen children with his queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg; two of his nine sons became kings themselves. Beginning in the 1780s, he suffered recurrent fits of insanity due to being afflicted with porphyria and became totally insane by the last decade of his life.
South Sea Bubble
The era was prosperous as entrepreneurs extended the range of their business around the globe. The South Sea Bubble was a business enterprise that exploded in scandal. The South Sea Company was a private business corporation set up in London ostensibly to grant trade monopolies in South America. Its actual purpose was to renegotiate previous high-interest government loans amounting to ₤31 million through market manipulation and speculation. It issued stock four times in 1720 that reached about 8000 investors. Prices kept soaring every day, from ₤130 a share to ₤1000, with insiders making huge paper profits. The Bubble collapsed overnight, ruining many speculators. Investigations showed bribes had reached into high places—even to the king. Robert Walpole managed to wind it down with minimal political and economic damage, although some losers fled to exile or committed suicide.
Warfare and finance
From 1700 to 1850, Britain was involved in 137 wars or rebellions. It maintained a relatively large and expensive Royal Navy, along with a small standing army. When the need arose for soldiers it hired mercenaries or financed allied who fielded armies. The rising costs of warfare forced a shift in government financing from the income from royal agricultural estates and special imposts and taxes to reliance on customs and excise taxes and, after 1790, an income tax. Working with bankers in the City, the government raised large loans during wartime and paid them off in peacetime. The rise in taxes amounted to 20% of national income, but the private sector benefited from the increase in economic growth. The demand for war supplies stimulated the industrial sector, particularly naval supplies, munitions and textiles, which gave Britain an advantage in international trade during the postwar years.
The Seven Years' War, which began in 1756, was the first war waged on a global scale, fought in Europe, India, North America, the Caribbean, the Philippines and coastal Africa. The signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763) had important consequences for Britain and its empire. In North America, France's future as a colonial power there was effectively ended with the ceding of New France to Britain (leaving a sizeable French-speaking population under British control) and Louisiana to Spain. Spain ceded Florida to Britain. In India, the Carnatic War had left France still in control of its enclaves but with military restrictions and an obligation to support British client states, effectively leaving the future of India to Britain. The British victory over France in the Seven Years War therefore left Britain as the world's dominant colonial power.
During the 1760s and 1770s, relations between the Thirteen Colonies and Britain became increasingly strained, primarily because of resentment of the British Parliament's ability to tax American colonists without their consent. Disagreement turned to violence and in 1775 the American Revolutionary War began. The following year, the colonists United States Declaration of Independence declared the independence of the United States, thus marking a formal secession. For the first few years, the British populace supported the war, but by 1779 France and Spain had entered on the side of the United States and Britain no longer had secure control of the seas. Its army controlled only a handful of coastal cities. The French and Spanish intervention had the effect of turning the American Revolution into a foreign conflict, which meant that the war itself could not be criticised, only the conduct of it.
1780-81 was a low point for Britain. Taxes and deficits were high, government corruption was pervasive, and the war in America was entering its sixth year with no apparent end in sight. The Gordon Riots erupted in London during the spring of 1781, in response to increased concessions to Catholics by Parliament. In October 1781 Lord Cornwallis surrendered his army at Yorktown, Virginia. The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, formally terminating the war and recognising the independence of the United States. However, the British continued to maintain forts along the Canadian border until 1796 and the Great Lakes remained militarised until 1815.
The loss of the Thirteen Colonies, at the time Britain's most populous colonies, marked the transition between the "first" and "second" empires, in which Britain shifted its attention to Asia, the Pacific and later Africa. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, had argued that colonies were redundant, and that free trade should replace the old mercantilist policies that had characterised the first period of colonial expansion, dating back to the protectionism of Spain and Portugal. The growth of trade between the newly independent United States and Britain after 1783 confirmed Smith's view that political control was not necessary for economic success.
During its first 100 years of operation, the focus of the British East India Company had been trade, not the building of an empire in India. Company interests turned from trade to territory during the 18th century as the Mughal Empire declined in power and the British East India Company struggled with its French counterpart, the La Compagnie française des Indes orientales, during the Carnatic Wars of the 1740s and 1750s. The British, led by Robert Clive, defeated the French and their Indian allies in the Battle of Plassey, leaving the Company in control of Bengal and a major military and political power in India. In the following decades it gradually increased the size of the territories under its control, either ruling directly or indirectly via local puppet rulers under the threat of force of the Indian Army, 80% of which was composed of native Indian sepoys.
On 22 August 1770, James Cook discovered the eastern coast of Australia while on a scientific voyage to the South Pacific. In 1778, Joseph Banks, Cook's botanist on the voyage, presented evidence to the government on the suitability of Botany Bay for the establishment of a penal settlement, and in 1787 the first shipment of convicts set sail, arriving in 1788.
The British government had somewhat mixed reactions to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, and when war broke out on the Continent in 1792, it initially remained neutral. But the following January, Louis XVI was beheaded. This combined with a threatened invasion of the Netherlands by France spurred Britain to declare war. For the next 23 years, the two nations were at war except for a short period in 1802–1803. Britain alone among the nations of Europe never submitted to or formed an alliance with France. Throughout the 1790s, the British repeatedly defeated the navies of France and its allies, but were unable to perform any significant land operations. An Anglo-Russian invasion of the Netherlands in 1799 accomplished little except the capture of the Dutch fleet.
It was not only Britain's position on the world stage that was threatened: Napoleon threatened invasion of Britain itself, and with it, a fate similar to the countries of continental Europe that his armies had overrun.
Union with Ireland
Events that culminated in the union with Ireland had spanned several centuries. Invasions from England by the ruling Normans from 1170 led to centuries of strife in Ireland and successive Kings of England sought both to conquer and pillage Ireland, imposing their rule by force throughout the entire island. In the early 17th century, large-scale settlement by Protestant settlers from both Scotland and England began, especially in the province of Ulster, seeing the displacement of many of the native Roman Catholic Irish inhabitants of this part of Ireland. Since the time of the first Norman invaders from England, Ireland has been subject to control and regulation, firstly by England then latterly by Great Britain.
After the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Irish Roman Catholics were barred from voting or attending the Irish Parliament. The new English Protestant ruling class was known as the Protestant Ascendancy. Towards the end of the 18th century the entirely Protestant Irish Parliament attained a greater degree of independence from the British Parliament than it had previously held. Under the Penal Laws no Irish Catholic could sit in the Parliament of Ireland, even though some 90% of Ireland's population was native Irish Catholic when the first of these bans was introduced in 1691. This ban was followed by others in 1703 and 1709 as part of a comprehensive system disadvantaging the Catholic community, and to a lesser extent Protestant dissenters. In 1798, many members of this dissenter tradition made common cause with Catholics in a rebellion inspired and led by the Society of United Irishmen. It was staged with the aim of creating a fully independent Ireland as a state with a republican constitution. Despite assistance from France the Irish Rebellion of 1798 was put down by British forces.
Possibly influenced by the War of American Independence (1775–1783), a united force of Irish volunteers used their influence to campaign for greater independence for the Irish Parliament. This was granted in 1782, giving free trade and legislative independence to Ireland. However, the French revolution had encouraged the increasing calls for moderate constitutional reform. The Society of United Irishmen, made up of Presbyterians from Belfast and both Anglicans and Catholics in Dublin, campaigned for an end to British domination. Their leader Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763–98) worked with the Catholic Convention of 1792 which demanded an end to the penal laws. Failing to win the support of the British government, he travelled to Paris, encouraging a number of French naval forces to land in Ireland to help with the planned insurrections. These were slaughtered by government forces, but these rebellions convinced the British under Prime Minister William Pitt that the only solution was to end Irish independence once and for all.
The legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland was brought about by the Act of Union 1800, creating the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". The Act was passed in both the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliament of Ireland, dominated by the Protestant Ascendancy and lacking representation of the country's Roman Catholic population. Substantial majorities were achieved, and according to contemporary documents this was assisted by bribery in the form of the awarding of peerages and honours to opponents to gain their votes. Under the terms of the merger, the separate Parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland were abolished, and replaced by a united Parliament of the United Kingdom. Ireland thus became an integral part of the United Kingdom, sending around 100 MPs to the House of Commons at Westminster and 28 representative peers to the House of Lords, elected from among their number by the Irish peers themselves, except that Roman Catholic peers were not permitted to take their seats in the Lords. Part of the trade-off for the Irish Catholics was to be the granting of Catholic Emancipation, which had been fiercely resisted by the all-Anglican Irish Parliament. However, this was blocked by King George III, who argued that emancipating the Roman Catholics would breach his Coronation Oath. The Roman Catholic hierarchy had endorsed the Union. However the decision to block Catholic Emancipation fatally undermined the appeal of the Union.
During the War of the Second Coalition (1799–1801), Britain occupied most of the French and Dutch colonies (the Netherlands had been a satellite of France since 1796), but tropical diseases claimed the lives of over 40,000 troops. When the Treaty of Amiens ended the war, Britain was forced to return most of the colonies. The peace settlement was in effect only a cease fire, and Napoleon continued to provoke the British by attempting a trade embargo on the country and by occupying the German city of Hanover (a fief of the British crown). In May 1803, war was declared again. Napoleon's plans to invade Britain failed due to the inferiority of his navy, and in 1805, Lord Nelson's fleet decisively defeated the French and Spanish at Trafalgar, which was the last significant naval action of the Napoleonic Wars.
The series of naval and colonial conflicts, including a large number of minor naval actions, resembled those of the French Revolutionary Wars and the preceding centuries of European warfare. Conflicts in the Caribbean, and in particular the seizure of colonial bases and islands throughout the wars, could potentially have some effect upon the European conflict. The Napoleonic conflict had reached the point at which subsequent historians could talk of a "world war". Only the Seven Years' War offered a precedent for widespread conflict on such a scale.
In 1806, Napoleon issued the series of Berlin Decrees, which brought into effect the Continental System. This policy aimed to eliminate the threat of the United Kingdom by closing French-controlled territory to its trade. The United Kingdom's army remained a minimal threat to France; the UK maintained a standing army of just 220,000 at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, whereas France's army exceeded a million men — in addition to the armies of numerous allies and several hundred thousand national guardsmen that Napoleon could draft into the military if necessary. The Royal Navy, however, effectively disrupted France's extra-continental trade — both by seizing and threatening French shipping and by seizing French colonial possessions — but could do nothing about France's trade with the major continental economies and posed little threat to French territory in Europe although the dominance of the Royal Navy dispelled any threat of an invasion by Napolean from across the channel. In addition France's population and agricultural capacity far outstripped that of the United Kingdom.
However, the United Kingdom possessed the greatest industrial capacity in Europe, and its mastery of the seas allowed it to build up considerable economic strength through trade to its possessions from its rapidly new expanding Empire. That sufficed to ensure that France could never consolidate its control over Europe in peace or threaten British colonies outside the continent thanks to Britain's naval supremacy. However, many in the French government believed that cutting the United Kingdom off from the Continent would end its economic influence over Europe and isolate it. Though the French designed the Continental System to achieve this, it never succeeded in its objective.
The Spanish uprising in 1808 at last permitted Britain to gain a foothold on the Continent. The Duke of Wellington and his army of British and Portuguese gradually pushed the French out of Spain and in early 1814, as Napoleon was being driven back in the east by the Prussians, Austrians, and Russians, Wellington invaded southern France. After Napoleon's surrender and exile to the island of Elba, peace appeared to have returned, but when he escaped back into France in 1815, the British and their allies had to fight him again. The armies of Wellington and Von Blucher defeated Napoleon once and for all at Waterloo.
Simultaneous with the Napoleonic Wars, trade disputes and British impressment of American sailors led to the War of 1812 with the United States. A central event in American history, it was little noticed in Britain, where all attention was focused on the struggle with France. The British could devote few resources to the conflict until the fall of Napoleon in 1814. American frigates also inflicted a series of embarrassing defeats on the British navy, which was short on manpower due to the conflict in Europe. A stepped-up war effort that year brought about some successes such as the burning of Washington D.C., but many influential voices such as the Duke of Wellington argued that an outright victory over the US was impossible.
Peace was agreed to at the end of 1814, but not before Andrew Jackson, unaware of this, won a great victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815 (news took several weeks to cross the Atlantic before the advent of steam ships). The Treaty of Ghent subsequently ended the war. As a result, the Red River Basin was ceded to the US, and the Canadian border (now fixed at the 49th parallel) completely demilitarised by both countries, although fears of an American conquest of Canada persisted through the 19th century.
Whig reforms of the 1830s
The Whig Party recovered its strength and unity by supporting moral reforms, especially the reform of the electoral system, the abolition of slavery and emancipation of the Catholics. Catholic emancipation was secured in the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which removed the most substantial restrictions on Roman Catholics in Britain.
The Whigs became champions of Parliamentary reform. They made Lord Grey prime minister 1830–1834, and the Reform Act of 1832 became their signature measure. It broadened the franchise and ended the system of "rotten borough" and "pocket boroughs" (where elections were controlled by powerful families), and instead redistributed power on the basis of population. It added 217,000 voters to an electorate of 435,000 in England and Wales. The main effect of the act was to weaken the power of the landed gentry, and enlarge the power of the professional and business middle-class, which now for the first time had a significant voice in Parliament. However, the great majority of manual workers, clerks, and farmers did not have enough property to qualify to vote. The aristocracy continued to dominate the government, the Army and Royal Navy, and high society. After parliamentary investigations demonstrated the horrors of child labour, limited reforms were passed in 1833.
In 1832 Parliament abolished slavery in the Empire with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. The government purchased the slaves for ₤20,000,000 (the money went to rich plantation owners who mostly lived in England), and freed the slaves, especially those in the Caribbean sugar islands.
The Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria's rule between 1837 and 1901 which signified the height of the British Industrial Revolution and the apex of the British Empire. Scholars debate whether the Victorian period—as defined by a variety of sensibilities and political concerns that have come to be associated with the Victorians—actually begins with the passage of Reform Act 1832. The era was preceded by the Regency era and succeeded by the Edwardian period. The latter half of the Victorian era roughly coincided with the first portion of the Belle Époque era of continental Europe and other non-English speaking countries.
Britain emerged from the Napoleonic Wars a very different country than it had been in 1793. As industrialisation progressed, society changed, becoming more urban and less rural. The postwar period saw an economic slump, and poor harvests and inflation caused widespread social unrest. Europe after 1815 was on guard against a return of Jacobinism, and even liberal Britain saw the passage of the notorious Six Acts in 1819, which proscribed radical activities. By the end of the 1820s, along with a general economic recovery, many of these repressive laws were repealed and in 1828 new legislation guaranteed the civil rights of religious dissenters. In 1820, George III died and his son George IV became king until his death in 1830.
The exhaustion of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars kept any major conflicts from occurring for over three decades. Prussia, Austria, and Russia, as absolute monarchies, were committed to a policy of stamping out liberalism and revolution in Europe wherever it might occur, but Britain declined to participate in this, instead intervening in Portugal in 1826 to defend a constitutional government there and recognising the independence of Spain's American colonies in 1824. The British also intervened in 1827 on the side of the Greeks, who had been waging a war of independence against the Ottoman Empire since 1824.
William IV succeeded his brother in 1830 and ruled for seven years. During his reign, Chartism is thought to have originated from the passing of the 1832 Reform Bill, which gave the vote to the majority of the (male) middle classes, but not to the 'working class'. Many people made speeches on the 'betrayal' of the working class and the 'sacrificing' of their 'interests' by the 'misconduct' of the government. In 1838, six members of Parliament and six workingmen formed a committee, which then published the People's Charter.
When William IV died in 1837, his niece Victoria became queen. Her long reign would see Britain reach the zenith of its economic and political power. Exciting new technologies such as steam ships, railroads, photography, and telegraphs appeared, making the world much faster-paced. Britain again remained mostly inactive in Continental politics, and it was not affected by the wave of revolutions in 1848. The Great London Exhibition of 1851 clearly demonstrated the country's preeminence in the world. However, by the middle of the 19th century, the British became fixated on trying to preserve the declining Ottoman Empire. It was well understood that a collapse of that country would set off a scramble for its territory and possibly plunge Europe into war.
Most importantly, Britain wanted at all costs to keep the Russians from occupying Constantinople and taking over the Bosporous Straits. In 1854, war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire broke out (the Crimean War), and under the label of preserving the balance of power, Britain and France intervened. Despite mediocre generalship, they managed to capture the Russian port of Sevastopol, compelling Tsar Nicholas I to ask for peace. A second Russo-Ottoman war in 1877 led to another European intervention, although this time at the negotiating table. The Congress of Berlin saw Russia give up the harsh Treaty of San Stefano it had tried to impose on the Ottoman Empire. Despite its alliance with the French in the Crimean War, Britain viewed the Second Empire of Napoleon III with some distrust, especially as the emperor constructed ironclad warships and began returning France to a more active foreign policy. But after Napoleon's downfall in the Franco-Prussian War, he spent his last years exiled in Britain.
During the American Civil War (1861–1865), British leaders widely favoured the Confederacy, as it had been a major source of cotton for textile mills, but Prince Albert was effective in defusing the Trent episode, and the British people, who depended heavily on American food imports, generally favoured the United States. What little cotton was available came from New York, as the blockade by the US Navy shut down 95% of Southern exports to Britain. In September 1862, during the Confederate invasion of Maryland, Britain (along with France) contemplated stepping in and negotiating a peace settlement, which could only mean war with the United States. But in the same month, US president Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation. Since support of the Confederacy now meant support for slavery, there was no longer any possibility of European intervention.
Meanwhile the British sold arms to the Americans (most notably the Enfield rifle; the Confederates also acquired breech-loading cannons) built blockade runners for a lucrative trade with the Confederacy, and surreptitiously allowed warships to be built for the South. The warships caused a major diplomatic row that was resolved in the Alabama Claims in 1872, in the Americans' favour.
In 1867, Britain united most of its North American colonies as the Dominion of Canada, giving it self-government and responsibility for its own defence, although Canada did not have an independent foreign policy until 1931. Several of the colonies briefly refused to join the Dominion despite pressure from both Canada and Britain; Newfoundland held out until 1949.
The second half of the 19th century saw a huge expansion of Britain's colonial empire in Asia and Africa. In the latter continent, there was talk of the Union Jack flying from "Cairo to Cape Town", which only became a reality at the end of World War I. Having possessions on six continents, Britain had to defend all of its empire with a volunteer army, for it was the only power in Europe to have no conscription. Some questioned whether the country was overstretched, and in 1905 the British foreign minister said that the "empire resembles a huge, gouty giant with its fingers and toes extended all over the globe, which cannot be approached without eliciting a scream." The rise of the German Empire since 1871 posed a new challenge, for it (along with the United States) threatened to take Britain's place as the world's foremost industrial power. Germany acquired a number of colonies in Africa and the Pacific, and when William II became emperor in 1888, he began using bellicose language, talking of building a navy to rival Britain's.
Ever since Britain had taken control of South Africa from the Netherlands in the Napoleonic Wars, it had run afoul of the Dutch settlers there, which led to the Boer (farmer in the Afrikaner language) War in 1899–1902, when the British attempted to consolidate all the local republics into a single colony. The Boers waged a guerilla war, which gave the British regulars a difficult fight, although weight of numbers, superior equipment, and often brutal tactics eventually brought about victory. The war had been costly in human life, and was widely criticised in Europe, the French being among the loudest opponents of Britain's war effort. The Boer republics were thus unified, and in 1910 gave way to the self-governing Union of South Africa.
Prime Ministers of the period included: William Pitt the Younger, Lord Grenville, Duke of Portland, Spencer Perceval, Lord Liverpool, George Canning, Lord Goderich, Duke of Wellington, Lord Grey, Lord Melbourne, Sir Robert Peel, Lord John Russell, Lord Derby, Lord Aberdeen, Lord Palmerston, Benjamin Disraeli, William Ewart Gladstone, Lord Salisbury, and Lord Rosebery.
- Social history: History of British society
Ireland and the move to Home Rule
Part of the agreement which led to the 1800 Act of Union stipulated that the Penal Laws in Ireland were to be repealed and Catholic Emancipation granted. However King George III blocked emancipation, arguing that to grant it would break his coronation oath to defend the Anglican Church. A campaign under lawyer and politician Daniel O'Connell, and the death of George III, led to the concession of Catholic Emancipation in 1829, allowing Catholics to sit in Parliament. O'Connell then mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the Repeal of the Act of Union.
When potato blight hit the island in 1846, much of the rural population was left without food because cash crops were being exported to pay rents. British politicians such as the Prime Minister Robert Peel were at this time wedded to the economic policy of laissez-faire, which argued against state intervention of any sort. While enormous sums were raised by private individuals and charities (American Indians[who?] sent supplies, while Queen Victoria personally gave the present-day equivalent € 70,000), lack of adequate action let the problem become a catastrophe. The class of cottiers or farm labourers was virtually wiped out in what became known in Britain as 'The Irish Potato Famine' and in Ireland as the Great Hunger.
Most Irish people elected as their MPs Liberals and Conservatives who belonged to the main British political parties (note: the poor didn't have a vote at that time). A significant minority also elected Unionists, who championed the cause of the maintenance of the Act of Union. A former Tory barrister turned nationalist campaigner, Isaac Butt, established a new moderate nationalist movement, the Home Rule League, in the 1870s. After Butt's death the Home Rule Movement, or the Irish Parliamentary Party as it had become known, was turned into a major political force under the guidance of William Shaw and in particular a radical young Protestant landowner, Charles Stewart Parnell. The Irish Parliamentary Party dominated Irish politics, to the exclusion of the previous Liberal, Conservative and Unionist parties that had existed. Parnell's movement proved to be a broad church, from conservative landowners to the Land League which was campaigning for fundamental reform of Irish landholding, where most farms were held on rental from large aristocratic estates.
Parnell's movement campaigned for 'Home Rule', by which they meant that Ireland would govern itself as a region within the United Kingdom, in contrast to O'Connell who wanted complete independence subject to a shared monarch and Crown. Two Home Rule Bills (1886 and 1893) were introduced by Liberal Prime Minister Ewart Gladstone, but neither became law, mainly due to opposition from the House of Lords. The issue divided Ireland, for a significant unionist minority (largely though by no means exclusively based in Ulster), opposed Home Rule, fearing that a Catholic-Nationalist parliament in Dublin would discriminate against them and would also impose tariffs on industry; while most of Ireland was primarily agricultural, six counties in Ulster were the location of heavy industry and would be affected by any tariff barriers imposed.
Queen Victoria died in 1901 and her son Edward VII became king, inaugurating the Edwardian Era, which was characterised by great and ostentatious displays of wealth in contrast to the sombre Victorian Era. With the event of the 20th century, things such as motion pictures, automobiles, and aeroplanes were coming into use. The new century was characterised by a feeling of great optimism. The social reforms of the last century continued into the 20th with the Labour Party being formed in 1900. Edward died in 1910, to be succeeded by George V. The Edwardian Era barely lasted longer than its namesake, for it all came crashing down in the summer of 1914, just as Europe was at the zenith of its power in the world.
The era was prosperous but political crises were escalating out of control. Dangerfield (1935) identified the "strange death of liberal England" as the multiple crisis that hit simultaneously in 1910-1914 with serious social and political instability arising from the Irish crisis, labor unrest, the women's suffrage movements, and partisan and constitutional struggles in Parliament. At one point it even seemed the Army might refuse orders dealing with Northern Ireland. No solution appeared in sight when the unexpected outbreak of the Great War in 1914 put domestic issues on hold. After a rough start Britain under David Lloyd George successfully mobilised its manpower, industry, finances, Empire and diplomacy, in league with the French and Americans, to fight off the Germans and Turks.
Lloyd George said after victory that "the nation was now in a molten state", and his Housing Act 1919 would lead to affordable council housing which allowed people to move out of Victorian inner-city slums. The slums, though, remained for several more years, with trams being electrified long before many houses. The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave women householders the vote, but it would not be until 1928 that equal suffrage was achieved. Labour did not achieve major success until the 1922 general election.
Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom from 1900 to 1945: Marquess of Salisbury, Arthur Balfour, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Herbert Henry Asquith, David Lloyd George, Andrew Bonar Law, Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill.
World War I
In June 1914, the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist, leading to war between those two countries. The system of alliances caused a local conflict to engulf the entire continent. The United Kingdom was part of the Triple Entente with France and Russia, while the German Empire, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, so-called Central Powers, were allied. Following the death of the Austrian archduke, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire attacked Serbia allied to Russia. Russia then declared war on the Austrian-Hungarian Empire leading Germany to enter into war against Russia. The western democracy Great Britain and France being allied with Russia, were to be dragged into the war with the German Empire. As the tension was rising, the German Empire first declared war on France. Britain did not enter at first, but in August the Germans invaded Belgium, and as Britain was still bound by an 1839 treaty to protect that country, it declared war on Germany and its allies. The romantic notions of warfare that everyone had expected faded as the fighting in France bogged down into trench warfare.
Along the Western Front the British and French launched repeated assaults on the German trench lines in 1915–1916, which killed and wounded hundreds of thousands, but failed to accomplish anything significant. By 1916, with few still willing to volunteer for the army, the British Army during World War I had to introduce conscription for the first time. The navy continued to dominate the seas, fighting the German fleet to a draw in the great 1916 Battle of Jutland. But a sensational defeat inflicted on a British squadron off the coast of South America by the Germans in November 1914 (battle of Coronel) marked the first time since the War of 1812 that Britain had lost a naval engagement outright. Germany tried basically the same thing as Napoleon a century earlier, which was to break Britain's economy, only they now had submarines for this task rather than privateers and unreliable allies. The waters around Britain were declared a war zone where any ship, neutral or otherwise, was a target. After the liner Lusitania was sunk in May 1915, taking many American passengers with it, protests by the United States led Germany to abandon unrestricted submarine warfare for a while (it was resumed in 1917 after the US entry into the war). A British blockade of Germany also caused widespread food and fuel shortages there.
On other fronts, the British, French, Australians, and Japanese occupied Germany's colonies and Britain fought the Ottoman Empire in Palestine and Mesopotamia. An Allied attempt to capture Constantinople in 1915 (the Gallipoli Campaign) ended in disaster, costing the lives of over 200,000 men. Exhaustion and war weariness were becoming noticeable in 1917, as the fighting in France continued with no end in sight. But that spring, the United States entered the war, and this influx of manpower finally broke the deadlock that had existed since 1915. Meanwhile, Russia's participation in the war was ended by economic turmoil and revolution. In the spring of 1918, Germany could now devote most of its resources to the Western Front. But by then, American troops were pouring into France and throughout the summer and autumn, the Germans were forced back. Germany surrendered on November 11, 1918. The war had been won by Britain and its allies, but at a terrible cost, creating a sentiment that wars should never be fought again. The League of Nations was founded with the idea that nations could resolve their differences peacefully, but these hopes were unfounded. The harsh peace settlement imposed on Germany would leave it embittered and seeking revenge.
Victorian attitudes and ideals that had continued into the first years of the 20th century changed during World War I. The army had traditionally never been a large employer in the nation, with the regular army standing at 247,432 at the start of the war. By 1918, there were about five million people in the army and the fledgling Royal Air Force, newly formed from the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), was about the same size of the pre-war army. The almost three million casualties were known as the "lost generation," and such numbers inevitably left society scarred; but even so, some people felt their sacrifice was little regarded in Britain, with poems like Siegfried Sassoon's Blighters criticising the ill-informed jingoism of the home front.
Following the war, the UK gained the German colony of Tanganyika and part of Togoland in Africa. It also was granted League of Nations mandates over Palestine, which was turned into a homeland for Jewish settlers, and Iraq, created from the three Ottoman provinces in Mesopotamia. The latter became fully independent in 1932. Egypt, which had been a British protectorate since 1882, became independent in 1922, although the British remained there until 1952.
Irish Home Rule, Partition of Ireland and Irish Independence
The 19th century and early 20th century saw the rise of Irish Nationalism especially among the Catholic population. Daniel O'Connell led a successful unarmed campaign for Catholic Emancipation. A subsequent campaign for Repeal of the Act of Union failed. Later in the century Charles Stewart Parnell and others campaigned for self government within the Union or "Home Rule", especially from 1900 John Redmond, the new leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.
In 1912, the Irish Party had a further Home Rule bill passed by the House of Commons but was defeated in the House of Lords, as was the bill of 1893, but by this time the House of Lords had lost its veto on legislation under the 1911 Parliament Act and could only delay the bill by two years: until it was enacted as the Government of Ireland Act 1914. During these two years the threat of civil war hung over Ireland with the creation of the Unionist Ulster Volunteers opposed to the Act and their nationalist counterparts, the Irish Volunteers supporting the Act. These two groups armed themselves by importing rifles and ammunition and carried out drills openly. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 put the crisis on political hold for the duration of the war. With the involvement of Ireland in the Great War the Unionist and Nationalist volunteer forces joined Lord Kitcheners new British Service Army voluntarily in their thousands and suffered crippling losses in the trenches.
A unilaterally declared "Irish Republic" was proclaimed in Dublin in 1916 during the Easter Rising. The uprising was quelled after six days of fighting and most of its leaders were court-martialled by General Maxwell and swiftly executed. This led to a major increase in support in Ireland for the insurgents. An attempt made by David Lloyd George to introduce Home Rule at the close of the 1917-18 Irish Convention, failed due to a dual policy of simultaneously imposing conscription on Ireland. As a result in the December 1918 General Election Sinn Féin won a majority of seats, its MPs refusing to take their seats at Westminster, instead choosing to sit in the First Dáil parliament in Dublin. A declaration of independence was ratified by Dáil Éireann, the self-declared Republic's parliament in January 1919. In 1920 the Government of Ireland Act 1920 enacted the partition of Ireland along the findings of the Irish Convention, into Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, but the latter failed to achieve acceptance. Meanwhile, an Anglo-Irish War was fought between Crown forces and the Irish Republican Army between January 1919 and June 1921.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921, negotiated between teams representing the British and Irish Republic's governments, and ratified by three parliaments,4 established the Irish Free State, which was initially a British Empire Dominion in the same vein as Canada or South Africa. The moribund declared Irish Republic then triggered an Irish Civil War. The Irish Free State subsequently left the British Commonwealth and became the Republic of Ireland after World War II, without constitutional ties with the United Kingdom. Six northern, predominantly Protestant, Irish counties (Northern Ireland) have remained part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland continued in name until 1927 when it was renamed as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland by the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927. Despite increasing political independence from each other from 1922, and complete political independence since 1949, the union left the two countries intertwined with each other in many respects. Ireland used the Irish Pound from 1928 until 2001 when it was replaced by the Euro. Until it joined the ERM in 1979, the Irish pound was directly linked to the Pound Sterling. Decimalisation of both currencies occurred simultaneously on Decimal Day in 1971. Irish Citizens in the UK have a status almost equivalent to British Citizens. They can vote in all elections and even stand for parliament. British Citizens have similar rights to Irish Citizens in the Republic of Ireland and can vote in all elections apart from presidential elections and referendums. People from Northern Ireland can have dual nationality by applying for an Irish passport in addition to, or instead of a British one.
Northern Ireland was created by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, enacted by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland parliament in May 1921. Faced with divergent demands from Irish nationalists and Unionists over the future of the island of Ireland (the former wanted an all-Irish home rule parliament to govern the entire island, the latter no home rule at all), and the fear of civil war between both groups, the British Government under David Lloyd George passed the Act in accordance with the findings of the 1917-18 Irish Convention, creating two home rule Irelands, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. Southern Ireland never came into being as a real state and was superseded by the Irish Free State in 1922. That state is now known as the Republic of Ireland.
Having been given a Government of Northern Ireland in 1921 (even though they never sought self-government, and some like Sir Edward Carson were originally bitterly opposed) the Northern Ireland government under successive prime ministers from Sir James Craig (later Lord Craigavon) presided over discrimination against the nationalist/ Roman Catholic minority. Northern Ireland became, in the words of Nobel Peace Prize joint-winner, Ulster Unionist Leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland David Trimble, a "cold place for Catholics." Some local council boundaries were gerrymandered, usually to the advantage of Protestants. Voting arrangements for local elections which gave commercial companies votes and minimum income regulations also caused resentment.
The period between the two World Wars was dominated by economic weakness known as the 'Great Depression' or the 'Great Slump'. A short-lived postwar boom in 1919–1920 soon led to a depression that would be felt worldwide. The decade of the 1920s would be dominated by economic difficulties. Stanley Baldwin, prime minister from 1924 to 1929, was a modest man who sought compromise among different political factions to solve problems. One of these agreements was a major reduction in the rate of defence spending. By the late '20s, economic performance had stabilised, but the overall situation was disappointing, and Britain had clearly fallen behind the United States and other countries as an industrial power.
Particularly hardest hit by economic problems were the north of England and Wales, where unemployment reached 70% in some areas. The General Strike was called during 1926 in support of the miners and their falling wages, but little improved, the downturn continued and the Strike is often seen as the start of the slow decline of the British coal industry. In 1936, 200 unemployed men walked from Jarrow to London in a bid to show the plight of the industrial poor, but the Jarrow March, or the 'Jarrow Crusade' as it was known, had little impact and it would not be until the coming war that industrial prospects improved. George Orwell's book The Road to Wigan Pier gives a bleak overview of the hardships of the time.
World War II
Britain, along with the dominions and the rest of the Empire, declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939, after the German invasion of Poland. Hostilities with Japan began in December 1941, after it attacked Hong Kong. Britain formed close bonds with the Soviet Union (starting in 1941) and the United States (starting in 1940), with the U.S. giving $40 billion in munitions through Lend Lease; Canada also gave aid. (The American and British aid did not have to be repaid, but there were also loans that were repaid.)
As France collapsed under German onslaught in spring 1940 the British with the thinnest of margins rescued the main British army from Dunkirk (as well as many French soldiers), leaving their munitions and supplies behind. Winston Churchill came to power, promising to fight the Germans to the very end. The Germans threatened an invasion—which the Royal Navy was prepared to repel. First the Germans tried to achieve air supremacy but were defeated by the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain in late summer 1940.
After the failure of the Chamberlain government in 1940, the king preferred Lord Halifax as Prime Minister, rather than Winston Churchill, but appointed Churchill because he had more support. The two worked smoothly together throughout the war. Both the king and queen played major symbolic roles in the war; they were indefatigable in visiting troops, munition factories, dockyards, and hospitals all over the country. All social classes appreciated how the royals shared the hopes, fears and hardships of the people.
The war years also saw great improvements in working conditions and welfare provisions, which arguably paved the way for the postwar welfare state. Infant, child, and maternity services were expanded, while the Official Food Policy Committee (chaired by the deputy PM and Labour leader Clement Attlee) approved grants of fuel and subsidised milk to mothers and to children under the age of five in June 1940. A month later, the Board of Education decided that free school meals should become more widely available. By February 1945, 73% of children received milk in school, compared with 50% in July 1940. Free vaccination against diphtheria was also provided for children at school. In addition, the Town and Country Planning Act 1944 gave consideration to those areas damaged in bombing raids ad enabled local authorities to clear slums, while the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act passed that same year made £150 million available for the construction of temporary dwellings.
The media called it a "people's war" -- a term that caught on and signified the popular demand for planning and an expanded welfare state. The Royal family played major symbolic roles in the war. They refused to leave London during the Blitz and were indefatigable in visiting troops, munition factories, dockyards, and hospitals all over the country. Princess Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS—a part of the army) and repaired trucks and jeeps. All social classes appreciated how the royals shared the hopes, fears and hardships of the people.
The end of World War II saw a landslide General Election victory for Clement Attlee and the Labour Party. They were elected on a manifesto of greater social justice with left wing policies such as the creation of a National Health Service, an expansion of the provision of council housing and nationalisation of the major industries. The UK at the time was poor, relying heavily on loans from the United States of America (which were finally paid off in February 2007) to rebuild its damaged infrastructure. Rationing and conscription dragged on into the post war years, and the country suffered one of the worst winters on record. Nevertheless, morale was boosted by events such as the marriage of Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and the Festival of Britain.
As the country headed into the 1950s, rebuilding continued and a number of immigrants from the remaining British Empire were invited to help the rebuilding effort. As the 1950s wore on, the UK had lost its place as a superpower and could no longer maintain its large Empire. This led to decolonisation, and a withdrawal from almost all of its colonies by 1970. Events such as the Suez Crisis showed that the UK's status had fallen in the world. The 1950s and 1960s were, however, relatively prosperous times after the Second World War, and saw the beginning of a modernisation of the UK, with the construction of its first motorways for example, and also during the 1960s a great cultural movement began which expanded across the world.
The postwar period also witnessed a dramatic rise in the average standard of living, as characterised by a 40% rise in average real wages from 1950 to 1965. Those in traditionally poorly-paid semi-skilled and unskilled occupations saw a particularly marked improvement in their wages and living standards. As summed up by R. J. Unstead,
“Opportunities in life, if not equal, were distributed much more fairly than ever before and\ the weekly wage-earner, in particular, had gained standards of living that would have been almost unbelievable in the thirties.”
The significant real wage increases in the 1950s and '60s led to a rapid increase in working-class consumerism, with British consumer spending rising by 45% between 1952 and 1964. In addition, entitlement to various fringe benefits was improved. In 1955, 96% of manual labourers were entitled to two weeks’ holiday with pay, compared with 61% in 1951. By the end of the 1950s, Britain had become one of the world's most affluent countries. For the young and unattached, there was, for the first time in decades, spare cash for leisure, clothes, and luxuries. In 1959, Queen magazine declared that “Britain has launched into an age of unparalleled lavish living.” Average wages were high while jobs were plentiful, and people saw their personal prosperity climb even higher. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan claimed that “the luxuries of the rich have become the necessities of the poor.” Levels of disposable income rose steadily, with the spending power of the average family rising by 50% between 1951 and 1979, and by the end of the Seventies, 6 out of 10 families had come to own a car.
As noted by Martin Pugh,
“Keynesian economic management enabled British workers to enjoy a golden age of full employment which, combined with a more relaxed attitude towards working mothers, led to the spread of the two-income family. Inflation was around 4 per cent, money wages rose from an average of £8 a week in 1951 to 315 a week by 1961, home-ownership spread from 35 per cent in 1939 to 47 per cent by 1966, and the relaxation of credit controls boosted the demand for consumer goods.”
Between 1950 and 1970, however, Britain was overtaken by most of the countries of the European Common Market in terms of the number of telephones, refrigerators, television sets, cars, and washing machines per 100 of the population (although Britain remained high in terms of bathrooms and lavatories per 100 people. Although the British standard of living was increasing, the standard of living in other countries increased faster. In addition, while educational opportunities for working-class people had widened significantly since the end of the Second World War, a number of developed countries came to overtake Britain in some educational indicators. By the early 1980s, some 80% to 90% of school leavers in France and West Germany received vocational training, compared with 40% in the United Kingdom. By the mid-1980s, over 80% of pupils in the United States and West Germany and over 90% in Japan stayed in education until the age of eighteen, compared with barely 33% of British pupils.
Empire to Commonwealth
Between 1867 and 1910, the UK had granted Australia, Canada, and New Zealand "Dominion" status (near complete autonomy within the Empire). They became charter members of the British Commonwealth of Nations (known as the Commonwealth of Nations since 1949), an informal but close-knit association that succeeded the British Empire. Beginning with the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the remainder of the British Empire was almost completely dismantled. Today, most of Britain's former colonies belong to the Commonwealth, almost all of them as independent members. There are, however, 13 former British colonies, including Bermuda, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, and others, which have elected to continue their political links with London and are known as British Overseas Territories.
Although often marked by economic and political nationalism, the Commonwealth offers the United Kingdom a voice in matters concerning many developing countries, and is a forum for those countries to raise concerns. Notable non-members of the Commonwealth are Ireland, the United States and the former middle-eastern colonies and protectorates. In addition, the Commonwealth helps preserve many institutions deriving from British experience and models, such as Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, in those countries.
From the Troubles to the Belfast Agreement
In the 1960s, moderate unionist Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Terence O'Neill tried to reform the system and give a greater voice to Catholics who comprised 40% of the population of Northern Ireland. His goals were blocked by militant Protestants led by the Rev. Ian Paisley. The increasing pressures from nationalists for reform and from unionists for No surrender led to the appearance of the civil rights movement under figures like John Hume, Austin Currie and others. Clashes escalated out of control as the army could barely contain the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Ulster Defence Association. British leaders feared their withdrawal would give a "Doomsday Scenario," with widespread communal strife, followed by the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees. London shut down Northern Ireland's parliament and began direct rule. By the 1990s, the failure of the IRA campaign to win mass public support or achieve its aim of a British withdrawal led to negotiations that in 1998 produced the 'Good Friday Agreement'. It won popular support and largely ended the Troubles.
The economy in the late 20th century
After the relative prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s, the UK experienced extreme industrial strife and stagflation through the 1970s following a global economic downturn. A strict modernisation of its economy began under the controversial leader Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s, which saw a time of record unemployment as deindustrialisation saw the end of much of the country's manufacturing industries but also a time of economic boom as stock markets became liberalised and State-owned industries became privatised. However the miners' strike of 1984–1985 saw the end of most of the UK's coal mining. The exploitation of North Sea gas and oil brought in substantial tax and export revenues to aid the new economic boom. This was also the time that the IRA took the issue of Northern Ireland to Great Britain, maintaining a prolonged bombing campaign on the British mainland.
After the economic boom of the 1980s a brief but severe recession occurred in 1992 following the economic chaos of Black Wednesday under the John Major government. However the rest of the 1990s saw the beginning of a period of continuous economic growth that lasted over 16 years and was greatly expanded under the New Labour government of Tony Blair following his landslide election victory in 1997.
Common Market (EEC), then EU, membership
Britain's wish to join the Common Market (as the European Economic Community was known in Britain) was first expressed in July 1961 by the Macmillan government, was negotiated by Edward Heath as Lord Privy Seal, but was vetoed in 1963 by French President Charles de Gaulle. After initially hesitating over the issue, Harold Wilson's Labour Government lodged the UK's second application (in May 1967) to join the European Community, as it was now called. Like the first, though, it was vetoed by de Gaulle in November that year.
In 1973, as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister, Heath negotiated terms for admission and Britain finally joined the Community, alongside Denmark and Ireland in 1973. In opposition, the Labour Party was deeply divided, though its Leader, Harold Wilson, remained in favour. In the 1974 General Election, the Labour Party manifesto included a pledge to renegotiate terms for Britain's membership and then hold a referendum on whether to stay in the EC on the new terms. This was a constitutional procedure without precedent in British history. In the subsequent referendum campaign, rather than the normal British tradition of "collective responsibility", under which the government takes a policy position which all cabinet members are required to support publicly, members of the Government (and the Conservative opposition) were free to present their views on either side of the question. A referendum was duly held on 5 June 1975, and the proposition to continue membership was passed with a substantial majority.
The Maastricht Treaty transformed the European Community into the European Union. In 1992, the Conservative government under John Major ratified it, against the opposition of his backbench Maastricht Rebels.
The Treaty of Lisbon introduced many changes to the treaties of the Union. Prominent changes included more qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers, increased involvement of the European Parliament in the legislative process through extended codecision with the Council of Ministers, eliminating the pillar system and the creation of a President of the European Council with a term of two and a half years and a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to present a united position on EU policies. The Treaty of Lisbon will also make the Union's human rights charter, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, legally binding. The Lisbon Treaty also leads to an increase in the voting weight of the UK in the Council of the European Union from 8.4% to 12.4%. In July 2008, the Labour government under Gordon Brown approved the treaty and the Queen ratified it.
Devolution for Scotland and Wales
On 11 September 1997, (on the 700th anniversary of the Scottish victory over the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge), a referendum was held on establishing a devolved Scottish Parliament. This resulted in an overwhelming 'yes' vote both to establishing the parliament and granting it limited tax varying powers. Two weeks later, a referendum in Wales on establishing a Welsh Assembly was also approved but with a very narrow majority. The first elections were held, and these bodies began to operate, in 1999. The creation of these bodies has widened the differences between the Countries of the United Kingdom, especially in areas like healthcare. It has also brought to the fore the so-called West Lothian question which is a complaint that devolution for Scotland and Wales but not England has created a situation where all the MPs in the UK parliament can vote on matters affecting England alone but on those same matters Scotland and Wales can make their own decisions.
War in Afghanistan and Iraq, and terrorist attacks at home
In the 2001 General Election, the Labour Party won a second successive victory, though voter turnout dropped to the lowest level for more than 80 years. Later that year, the September 11th attacks in the United States led to American President George W. Bush launching the War on Terror, beginning with the invasion of Afghanistan aided by British troops in October 2001. Thereafter, with the US focus shifting to Iraq, Tony Blair decided to support the United States in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, despite huge anti-war marches held in London and Glasgow. Forty-six thousand British troops, one-third of the total strength of the British Army's land forces, were deployed to assist with the invasion of Iraq and thereafter British armed forces were responsible for security in southern Iraq in the run-up to the Iraqi elections of January 2005.
The Labour Party won the 2005 general election and a third consecutive term in office despite support dropping to just 35% of those who voted. However the effects of the War on Terror following 9/11 increased the threat of international terrorists plotting attacks against the UK. On 7 July 2005, a series of four suicide bombings struck London's public transport system during the morning rush hour. The four incidents killed a total of 52 commuters, in addition to the four bombers. Later in 2007, Muslim extremists drove a Jeep Cherokee, loaded with propane canisters, into the glass doors of Glasgow International Airport, setting it ablaze. The intention was to drive the vehicle into the airport and have the car explode inside the terminal, but the car was hindered by security bollards, causing no civilian deaths.
Nationalist government in Scotland
2007 saw the first ever election victory for the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) in the Scottish Parliament elections. They formed a minority government with plans to hold a referendum before 2011 to seek a mandate "to negotiate with the Government of the United Kingdom to achieve independence for Scotland." Most opinion polls show minority support for independence, although support varies depending on the nature of the question. The response of the unionist parties was to establish the Calman Commission to examine further devolution of powers, a position that had the support of the Prime Minister.
Responding to the findings of the review, the UK government announced on 25 November 2009, that new powers would be devolved to the Scottish Government, notably on how it can raise tax and carry out capital borrowing, and the running of Scottish Parliament elections. These proposals were detailed in a white paper setting out a new Scotland Bill, to become law before the 2015 Holyrood elections. The proposal was criticised by the UK parliament opposition parties for not proposing to implement any changes before the next general election. Scottish Constitution Minister Michael Russell criticised the white paper, calling it "flimsy" and stating that their proposed Referendum (Scotland) Bill, 2010, whose own white paper was to be published five days later, would be "more substantial". According to The Independent, the Calman Review white paper proposals fall short of what would normally be seen as requiring a referendum.
The 2011 election saw a decisive victory for the SNP which was able to form a majority government intent on delivering a referendum on independence. Within hours of the victory, Prime Minister David Cameron guaranteed that the UK government would not put any legal or political obstacles in the way of such a referendum. Some unionist politicians, including former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish, have responded to the situation by arguing that Scotland should be offered 'devo-max' as an alternative to independence, and First Minister Alex Salmond has signalled his willingness to include it on the referendum ballot paper.
The 2008 economic crisis
In the wake of the global economic crisis of 2008, the United Kingdom economy contracted, experiencing negative economic growth throughout 2009. The announcement in November 2008 that the economy had shrunk for the first time since late 1992 brought an end to 16 years of continuous economic growth. Causes included an end to the easy credit of the preceding years, reduction in consumption and substantial depreciation of sterling (which fell 25% against the euro between January 2008 and January 2009), leading to increased import costs, notably of oil.
On 8 October 2008, the British Government announced a bank rescue package of around £500 billion ($850 billion at the time). The plan comprised three parts.: £200 billion to be made available to the banks in the Bank of England's Special Liquidity Scheme; the Government was to increase the banks' market capitalization, through the Bank Recapitalization Fund, with an initial £25 billion and another £25 billion to be provided if needed; and the Government was to temporarily underwrite any eligible lending between British banks up to around £250 billion. With the UK officially coming out of recession in the fourth quarter of 2009 - ending six consecutive quarters of economic decline - the Bank of England decided against further quantitative easing.
The 2010 coalition government
The United Kingdom General Election of 6 May 2010 resulted in the first hung parliament since 1974, with the Conservative Party winning the largest number of seats, but falling short of the 326 seats required for an overall majority. Following this, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats agreed to form the first coalition government for the UK since the end of the Second World War, with David Cameron becoming Prime Minister and Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister.
Under the coalition government, British military aircraft participated in the UN-mandated intervention in the 2011 Libyan civil war, flying a total of 3,000 air sorties against forces loyal to the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi between March and October 2011. 2011 also saw England suffer unprecedented rioting in its major cities in early August, killing five people and causing over £200 million worth of property damage.
In late October 2011, the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth of Nations voted to grant gender equality in the British royal succession, ending the male-preference primogeniture that was mandated by the 1701 Act of Settlement. The amendment also ended the ban on the monarch marrying a Catholic.
1 The terms "United Kingdom" and "United Kingdom of Great Britain" were used in the Treaty of Union and the 1707 Acts of Union. However,the actual name of the new state was "Great Britain".
2 The name "Great Britain" (then spelled "Great Brittaine") was first used by James VI/I in October 1604, who indicated that henceforth he and his successors would be viewed as Kings of Great Britain, not Kings of England and Scotland. However the name was not applied to the state as a unit; both England and Scotland continued to be governed independently. Its validity as a name of the Crown is also questioned, given that monarchs continued using separate ordinals (e.g., James VI/I, James VII/II) in England and Scotland. To avoid confusion, historians generally avoid using the term "King of Great Britain" until 1707 and instead to match the ordinal usage call the monarchs kings or queens of England and Scotland. Separate ordinals were abandoned when the two states merged in accordance with the 1707 Acts of Union, with subsequent monarchs using ordinals apparently based on English not Scottish history (it might be argued that the monarchs have simply taken the higher ordinal, which to date has always been English). One example is Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, who is referred to as being "the Second" even though there never was an Elizabeth I of Scotland or Great Britain. Thus the term "Great Britain" is generally used from 1707.
3 The number changed several times between 1801 and 1922.
4 The Anglo-Irish Treaty was ratified by (i) The British Parliament (Commons, Lords & Royal Assent), (ii) Dáil Éireann, and the (iii) "at a meeting of members of the Parliament elected for constituencies in Southern Ireland", (though not the House of Commons of Southern Ireland – see this), the Treaty thus being ratified under both British and Irish constitutional theory.
- ^ Union with England Act 1707, Article II
- ^ William E. Burns, A Brief History of Great Britain, p. xxi.
- ^ Uniting the kingdom?, UK: National Archives, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/citizenship/rise_parliament/uniting.htm, retrieved 31 December 2010 .
- ^ The Union of the Parliaments, Learning and Teaching Scotland, 1707, http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/scotlandshistory/unioncrownsparliaments/unionofparliaments/, retrieved 2 September 2010
- ^ "Britannia Incorporated". Simon Schama (presenter). A History of Britain. BBC One. 2001-05-22. No. 10. 3 minutes in.
- ^ Angus Maddison. The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective (p. 98, 242). OECD, Paris, 2001.
- ^ CIA - The World Factbook - United Kingdom
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- ^ Ratification:October 1706 - March 1707 parliament.uk, accessed 15 November 2008
- ^ Julian Hoppit, A Land of Liberty?: England 1689-1727 (2000) pp 334-38
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- ^ John Brewer, The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783 (1990)
- ^ Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1989) pp 80-84
- ^ Anthony, Pagden (2003). Peoples and Empires: A Short History of European Migration, Exploration, and Conquest, from Greece to the Present. Modern Library. pp. 91.
- ^ Niall, Ferguson (2004). Empire. Penguin. pp. 73.
- ^ Anthony, Pagden (1998). The Origins of Empire, The Oxford History of the British Empire. Oxford University Press. pp. 92.
- ^ James, Lawrence (2001). The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. Abacus. pp. 119.
- ^ Knibbs, Sir George Handley; Commonwealth Bureau of Census (1908). Official year book of the Commonwealth of Australia. Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics. p. 52.
- ^ James, Lawrence (2001). The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. Abacus. pp. 152.
- ^ Laws in Ireland for the Suppression of Popery at University of Minnesota Law School
- ^ Alan J. Ward, The Irish Constitutional Tradition p.28.
- ^ Auguste Mayer's picture as described by the official website of the Musée national de la Marine (in French)
- ^ a b E. L. Woodward, The Age of Reform, 1815–1870 (1938), pp 325–30
- ^ E. L. Woodward, The Age of Reform, 1815–1870 (1938), pp 354–57
- ^ Christine Kinealy, This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-52, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1994. ISBN 0-7171-1832-0 p354
- ^ Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845–1849 (1962), London, Hamish Hamilton: 31
- ^ George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England: 1910-1914 (1935)
- ^ The Great War in figures.
- ^ Foundations of the Welfare State by Pat Thane
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