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Travel Guide 2   >   Europe   >   UK   >   History

   
 

British History


Members of the genus Homo have lived in Britain for hundreds of thousands of years, and Homo sapiens for tens of thousands. Although it is possible that that the islands were temporarily depopulated during the glacial periods that occurred during the ice ages.

Stonehenge:
Stonehenge

By the first century BC, Britain had developed a sophisticated culture with farming, iron-working, coinage, and trade (principally of metals, especially tin, mined within the British Isles) with mainland Europe. It is also known that during this period, there was an influx of refugees from Gaul (France and Belgium) known as the Belgae, who had been displaced by the growth of the Roman Empire.

Britain was not unknown to the classical civiliations of the Mediterranean. Greeks and Carthaginians are known to have visited Britain as early as the 4th century BC. However, the first major contacts with the classical world were in 55 BC and 54 BC when Julius Caesar launched two military raids on southern England, as he believed the Britons were helping the resistance to his campaigns in Gaul.

After Julius Caesar's raids, Rome settled into a pattern of trade and diplomacy with the Britons, which was to last almost a hundred years. While some consideration was given to invading Britain, the Romans did not actually do so until 43 AD during the reign of Emperor Claudius. The Romans were eventually able to conquer all of England and Wales, and parts of southern Scotland. The Romans ruled Britain until 410 AD, when the legions were finally withdrawn because of more pressing needs closer to home. During the period of Roman occupation, many buildings were constructed in the country including villas, bath-houses, ampitheaters, and fortifications, including, of course, Hadrian's Wall.

Ruins of Hadrian's Wall:
Ruins of Hadrian's Wall

After the fall of the Roman Empire, various German tribes (the Angles, Saxons and Jutes) arrived in southern Britain. These tribes eventually became the English, and either assimilated the indigenous Celtic peoples of England, or displaced them into into Cornwall, Wales and southwestern Scotland. They in turn faced Viking invasions, and finally the Norman conquest of 1066, which introduced a French ruling nobility who eventually were to become assimilated with the English.

Harold Godwinson killed at Hastings from the Bayeux Tapestry:
Harold Godwinson killed at Hastings from the Bayeux Tapestry

During the Middle Ages, England's rulers conquered Wales, campaigned extensively in Ireland, held huge lands in France, and also tried, but failed, to conquer Scotland. England and Scotland did not finally unite until 1604, when James VI of Scotland (James I of England) declared himself "'King of Great Brittaine, France and Ireland" (the claim to the French throne, while maintained by British monarchs for some time, was not actively enforced since the French had their own ideas about who should be their monarch). Initially this combination was a personal union, by virtue of having the same monarch, and it was not until the 1707 Act of Union that England and Scotland combined their parliaments. In 1801, a second Act of Union made Ireland part of the country, the state now officially became named the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland".

Britain was the first country to industrialize, and this, together with its financial dominance, powerful navy, and victory in the Napoleonic Wars, allowed it to become the most powerful country in the world during the 19th and early 20th century. As a result of its position, Britain was able to establish an extensive colonial empire overseas, that eventually was to become the largest empire in history.

British Empire in 1921:
British Empire in 1921

By the late 19th century, new powers had arisen and became powerful rivals to the British Empire: the United States and Germany, both outstripped Britain economically, and in the case of Germany, became involved involved in a naval building race with Britain.

HMS Dreadnought:
HMS Dreadnought

In the last decades of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century, extensive thought was given to granting "home rule" to Ireland, however a final decison on what policy to adopt had not been made when war broke out. In 1916, while World War I was still raging, Irish nationalists launched a rebellion against British rule in Ireland, seizing control of strategic points in Dublin. Although this rebellion was relatively easily defeated miitarily, it did succeed in bringing about a sea change in Irish political opinion. As a result, in 1922, most of Ireland became a separate country, the Irish Free State - the forerunner of today's Republic of Ireland. The United Kingdom retained control of six northern counties on the island of Ireland, and henceforth became officially known as the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".

The 20th century saw a relative decline in Britain's position in the world, as the country was virtually bankrupted by the costs of fighting two World Wars, especially World War II. Although, unlike many other countries, Britain was never occupied by the Nazis, World War II has nevertheless less a deep imprint on the British national psyche: Winston Churchill, Dunkirk, "their finest hour", the Battle of Britain, El Alamein, the Spitfire, and other details of World War II are very much engrained on the national consciousness.

Winston S. Churchill:
Winston S. Churchill

Following the end of World War II, the British Empire was gradually wound-up, because of financial difficulties, pressure from Americans, and increasing nationalism in the colonies. Although there were some conflicts during the retreat from empire, such as the 1956 Suez Crisis, on the whole, disengagement was surprisingly peaceful. Britain retains good relations and cultural links with many of its former colonies, and most (but not all) are members of the Commonwealth of Nations. In the immediate post war period and the Cold War with the USSR that followed, Britain was also an important ally (perhaps the most important ally) of the United States of America, and a leading member in the NATO alliance.

As already noted, during the post-war period Britain faced extensive economic problems. These were not helped by antiquated labour and industrial policies, numerous strikes and high inflation. In the 1980s however, Britain embarked in a new free market direction under the leadership of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: union power was restricted, inflation was brought under control, free enterprise encouraged, and subsidized state-owned industries either sold off ("privatization") or closed. These changes were not without pain, including for a time, massive unemployment, but eventually they succeeded in reviving the faltering economy. The increased prosperity that was brought about through these changes, the 1981 Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, and victory in the 1982 Falklands War, brought a new mood of optimism to the country.

Margaret Thatcher:
Margaret Thatcher

While not as powerful as she once was, Britain is nevertheless still a leading economic, political, cultural and military power, with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security council. Britain remains a close ally of the United States of America and has forces fighting in both Iraq and engaged in Afghanistan.

Below are some books about the history of Britain.


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Books about British History


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History of Britain and Ireland

By DK Publishing

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

History of Britain and Ireland
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  • History of Britain Ireland The Definitive Visual Guide
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From the Roman conquest of 43 CE to the Norman conquest of 1066, and from the Elizabethan age to the Iraq and Afghan wars of the 21st century, DK's History of Britain and Ireland traces the key events that have shaped Great Britain and Ireland from earliest times to the present day.

British History For Dummies

By Se?n Lang

Lang Sean
Paperback (436 pages)

British History For Dummies
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  • British History for Dummies By Lang Sean
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This book is a riotous, irreverent account of the people and events that have shaped Britain. Always getting those kings and queens confused? Never sure what happened when? Then you need this book. Inside you'll find rip-roaring stories of power-mad kings, executions, invasions, high treason, global empire building, and forbidden love — not bad for a nation of stiff upper lips!
  • Revised and expanded to include the historical parliamentary elections of 2010 and the British mission in Afghanistan
  • Accompanied by access to a timeline and 'Who's Who in British History' section on dummies.com
  • This new edition contains an 8-page color insert so you can see who, what and where the ensuing historical action takes place

History of Britain, A - Volume III: The Fate of the Empire 1776 - 2000 (History of Britain (Talk Miramax))

By Simon Schama

Brand: Miramax
Released: 2002-12-18
Hardcover (576 pages)

History of Britain, A - Volume III: The Fate of the Empire 1776 - 2000 (History of Britain (Talk Miramax))
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Simon Schama’s dramatic, broad-ranging, and immensely readable epic history of Britain reaches its triumphant conclusion in this third and final volume, which stretches from the American Revolution to the present.

The Fate of Empire tells the eventful and exhilarating story of Britain’s rise and fall as an imperial power, from the political turmoil of the 1770s to the struggle of present day leaders to find a way to make a different national future. The volume also examines the Romantic generation, the role of women in Victorian England, industrialization, and the liberal empire from Ireland to India, which promised material improvement, but delivered coercion and famine. As in the previous volumes, Schama vividly portrays the lives of extraordinary personalities – Queen Victoria, Churchill, Dickens, and “ordinary” individuals including the author of the first British travel guide, and Elizabeth Anderson, the first woman doctor.

Finally, Schama asks an essential question: what kind of Britain can hold together when its island isolation and its imperial dominion have both vanished? An examination of the legacy of the British ideal of freedom is at the heart of this entertaining and well-researched book. With The Fate of Empire, Simon Schama has proven himself, again, as a masterful writer of narrative history.

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

By Simon Schama

BBC Books
Hardcover (544 pages)

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

A History of Britain

By Richard Dargie

Arcturus Publishing Ltd
Paperback (208 pages)

A History of Britain
 
Product Description:
Fully illustrated, information-packed exploration of British history from Neolithic times to the present day. Arranged in eight self-contained sections, each dealing with a major historical period, making it extremely accessible. A pleasure to dip into and simple to look up any subject that interests you from stone circles to the Battle of Britain.

Timelines provide helpful chronological reference and are a handy addition to the text. Conveniently arranged in eight sections, each dealing with a major historical period - chapters include: Prehistoric Britain; Roman Britain; Invaders and Settlers; Medieval Britain; Early Britain; Georgian Britain; Victorian Britain; The Twentieth Century and Beyond.

Covers both well-known historical events such as the Norman invasions and the execution of Charles I, and lesser-known details like the uprisings in Dark Age Wales and the birth of tabloid newspapers in Victorian Britain. More than 150 illustrations and photographs bring the text to life.

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

By Rebecca Fraser

Fraser, Rebecca
Paperback (848 pages)

The Story of Britain: From the Romans to the Present: A Narrative History
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“A beautifully written story, a box of delights, a treasure trove: final proof of truth’s superiority over fiction.”―Andrew Roberts

A sparkling anecdotal account with the pace of an epic, about the men and women who created turning points in history. Rebecca Fraser's dramatic portrayal of the scientists, statesmen, explorers, soldiers, traders, and artists who forged Britain's national institutions is the perfect introduction to British history.

Just as much as kings and queens, battles and empire, Britain's great themes have been the liberty of the individual, the rule of law, and the parliamentary democracy invented to protect them. Ever since Caractacus and Boudicca surprised the Romans with the bravery of their resistance, Britain has stood out as the home of freedom. From Thomas More to William Wilberforce, from Gladstone to Churchill, Britain's history is studded with heroic figures who have resisted tyranny in all its guises, whether it be the Stuart kings' belief in divine right, the institution of slavery, or the ambitions of Napoleon and Hitler. 154 illustrations

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

By Peter Ackroyd

Brand: St. Martin's Griffin
Released: 2013-09-10
Paperback (496 pages)

Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors
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"An extraordinary book . . . Peter Ackroyd is arguably the most talented and prolific writer working in Britain today." ―Daily Express (UK)

In Foundation, acclaimed historian Peter Ackroyd tells the epic story of England itself. He takes us from the primeval forests of England's prehistory to the death, in 1509, of the first Tudor king, Henry VII. He guides us from the building of Stonehenge to the founding of the two great glories of medieval England: common law and the cathedrals. He describes the successive waves of invaders who made England English, despite being themselves Roman, Viking, Saxon, or Norman French.

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

The History of the Kings of Britain (Penguin Classics)

By Geoffrey of Monmouth

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

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

A History of Britain, Vol. 2: The Wars of the British, 1603-1776

By Simon Schama

Miramax
Released: 2001-10-17
Hardcover (544 pages)

A History of Britain, Vol. 2: The Wars of the British, 1603-1776
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Inside these pages lies the bloody epic of liberty, the British Iliad.

The second volume of Simon Schama's A History of Britain brings the histories of Britain's civil wars -- full of blighted idealism, shocking carnage, and unexpected outcomes -- startlingly to life. These conflicts were fought unsparingly between the nations of the islands -- Ireland, England, and Scotland -- and between parliament and the crown. Shattering the illusion of a "united kingdom," they cost hundreds of thousands of lives: a greater proportion of the population than died in the First World War.

When religious passion gave way to the equally consuming passion for profits, it became possible for the pieces of Britain to come together as the spectacularly successful business enterprise of "Britannia Incorporated." And in a few generations that business state expanded in a dizzying process that transformed what had been an obscure, off-shore footnote to Europe's great powers into the main event -- the most powerful empire in the world.

Yet somehow, it was the "wrong empire." The British considered it a bastion of liberty, yet it was based on military force and the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Africans. In America, the emptiness of British claims to protect "freedom" was thrown back into the teeth of colonial governors and redcoat soldiers, while the likes of Sam Adams and George Washington inherited the mantle of Cromwell.

Simon Schama grippingly evokes the horror of the battle, famine, and plague; the flames of burning cities; the pathos of broken families, with fathers and sons forced to choose opposing sides. But he also captures the intimacies of palace and parliament and the seductions of profit and pleasure. Geniuses like John Milton, Thomas Hobbes, and Benjamin Franklin stalk vividly through his pages, but so do Scottish clansmen, women pamphleteers, and literate, eloquent African slaves like Olaudah Equiano.

A History of Britain: 1945 to Brexit

By Jeremy Black

Indiana University Press
Paperback (276 pages)

A History of Britain: 1945 to Brexit
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In 2016, Britain stunned itself and the world by voting to pull out of the European Union, leaving financial markets reeling and global politicians and citizens in shock. But was Brexit really a surprise, or are there clues in Britain’s history that pointed to this moment? In A History of Britain: 1945 to the Brexit, award-winning historian Jeremy Black reexamines modern British history, considering the social changes, economic strains, and cultural and political upheavals that brought Britain to Brexit. This sweeping and engaging book traces Britain’s path through the destruction left behind by World War II, Thatcherism, the threats of the IRA, the Scottish referendum, and on to the impact of waves of immigration from the European Union. Black overturns many conventional interpretations of significant historical events, provides context for current developments, and encourages the reader to question why we think the way we do about Britain’s past.



 
 
 

 
 
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