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United Kingdom Information - Page 2
History
At the end of the last Ice Age Britain was still part of the Continent of Europe but as the sea level rose (around 5000 BC) it became separated by the English Channel and the North Sea. The first inhabitants, hunters and gatherers, crossed before the seas rose. They were followed by farming people who built camps such as Windmill Hill in Wiltshire as tribal centres and then by metalworking peoples.

The Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD and conquered all of England and Wales, but did not subdue Scotland. In 122 AD the Emperor Hadrian built the wall that carries his name to separate settled England from the wild Scots and Picts.

By the fifth century Rome could no longer provide an army to garrison Britain and the country was left to defend itself. Invading Angles and Jutes from Denmark and Saxons from Germany took over most of the south and east of the country - despite the efforts of British warrior chiefs.

In time the Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity and became the dominant force in England. Wales and Scotland remained separate. King Offa built Offa's Dyke in 779 to stop Welsh raids into England. In 843 Kenneth MacAlpine united the Scots (immigrants from Ireland) and the Picts and was crowned the first King of Scotland.

The next invaders, the Danes, were successfully resisted for a time by King Alfred and confined to the North and East of England (the region was called the Danelaw). But wars and raids continued until in 1016 the Danish King Canute, was accepted as King of England (he was also King of Norway). Later in the eleventh century, control of England passed to the Normans - descendants of Vikings who had settled in France.

The links between England and France were strong. Henry II, the first of the Plantagenets, married Eleanor of Acquitaine and also ruled much of France. Their son, Richard I (Coeur de Lion), joined the third Crusade. Richard's brother John ruled in his absence eventually becoming King. In his reign most of the French possessions were lost. His quarrels with the powerful barons led to their compelling him to sign the Great Charter (Magna Carta) in 1215 - the first attempt at limiting the power of the monarchy.

Henry II had invaded Ireland in the twelfth century; between 1277-88 the English conquered Wales (in 1284 the Statute of Rhuddlan declared a union between the two countries). In Scotland William Wallace fought against Edward I but was eventually defeated. Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scotland in 1306 but it was not until 1328 that England recognized Scotland's independence.

In 1337 the Hundred Years war began between England and France.

In 1348 the bubonic plague, known as the Black Death reached Britain as well as the rest of Europe reducing the population dramatically. The economic disruption it caused was one factor in the unrest which followed. 1381 saw the Peasant's Revolt.

From 1455 the great families of York and Lancaster fought for the throne - the Wars of the Roses. This period ended with the accession of Henry.

Henry VII (1485-1558), the first of the Tudor rulers, reestablished England's economic stability. His son, Henry VIII is remembered for his six wives, but his most significant act was to break with the Pope and Rome and make himself head of the Church of England.

Henry's daughter, Mary, tried in her reign to reintroduce Catholicism. She was succeeded in 1538 by her sister Elizabeth who was to reign for forty-five years.

During the Elizabethan Age Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world; an invading Spanish Armada was defeated and England's power and prestige increased enormously. The first major flowering of English Literature, with the poems and plays of Marlowe, Shakespeare and others took place in Elizabeth's reign.

During Elizabeth's reign a number of expeditions were sent to put down rebellion in Ireland. In Scotland religious disputes between the Catholic Queen Mary and her Protestant people led to Mary's exile to England, where she was eventually executed in 1603 and Mary Stuart's son, reigning as James VI of Scotland became James I of England. In 1605 there was a plot to blow up the King and his government: the Gunpowder Plot as it was called was discovered and the participants, including Guy Fawkes, were executed for treason.

Religious unrest continued, with the more extreme Protestants, also known as Puritans, subject to mistrust and persecution. In 1620 a group of them, along with others hoping for a new life, sailed on the Mayflower to America. Called the Pilgrim Fathers they established the first successful British colony in North America.

Following an Irish rebellion based in Ulster, James I divided up the land and gave it to over 1,500 Scottish and English Protestant settler families.

Disputes between the King and Parliament began with James I and grew worse during the reign of his son Charles I, until Civil War broke out (1642-1649) between the Royalists (the King's army) and the Roundheads led by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell's army were the victors and Charles I was beheaded. Charles' son tried to continue the fight but Cromwell defeated him in Scotland and put down an Irish rebellion with great cruelty.

After Cromwell's death the monarchy was restored and Charles II was crowned king. During his reign The Great Plague of London broke out in 1665; this was followed in 1666 by the Great Fire of London.

James II, Charles' successor, was an unpopular king as he had converted to Catholicism and appeared to favour the Catholics. In 1689 William of Orange was invited to become king and defeated James' army at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland. In 1707 the Act of Union - Scotland and England (and Wales) - formed Great Britain.

George I of Hanover in Germany became King of Britain in 1714 on the death of Queen Anne. Supporters of the Stuarts raised a rebellion in 1715 and again in 1745 but both failed. In the second Prince Charles Edward (Bonnie Prince Charlie) was defeated at the Battle of Culloden.

Meanwhile conflict between France and England spread to India and Canada where the British under Clive and Wolfe were victorious. Wolfe's victory removed the threat of France to Britain's American colonies and was one of the factors that led to the American War of Independence.

Between 1793 and 1815, ending with the Battle of Waterloo, Britain was more or less continuously at war with France which was under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte.

In the eighteenth century a succession of inventions (the steam engine, cast iron smelting, developments in the textile industry) laid the foundations of the Industrial Revolution. By the middle of the nineteenth century more than one-third of the world's total industrial output was produced by Britain.

The expansion of the canal system and then the introduction of the railways made the bulk transport of goods and materials fast and reliable, thus accelerating development.

The new mills and factories needed workers to man their machines; the industrial towns of the North grew rapidly.

In 1837 Victoria was crowned Queen, reigning until 1901. During her reign the wealth and power of Britain and her overseas Empire reached their greatest extent. Nevertheless, Britain was not invincible, as her difficulties in the Crimean War and war in South Africa against the Boers (descendants of Dutch settlers) showed.

In 1914 the assassination in Sarajevo of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne led to the First World War in which the UK lost around 750,000 men. Victory came in 1918 and the war proved a great accelerator to social change. In 1918 women over thirty were given the vote; in 1928 this was extended to those over 21. Ireland won her independence, though Protestant Ulster remained part of the UK.

The Great Depression of the 1930s and the harsh terms imposed on Germany at the end of the war were among the reasons for the Second World War, which began in 1939.

Shortly before the war, in 1936 Edward VIII who had been king for less than a year, abdicated so that he could marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee.

The Second World War ended in 1945. Again it was followed by substantial changes, for example, the Labour Government of 1945. In 1947 India was granted independence and in time the Empire changed to the Commonwealth - a grouping of independent nations rather than colonies.

In 1953 Queen Elizabeth II was crowned. During the 1950s and 60s the retreat from Empire continued, summarized in Prime Minister Macmillan's famous "Winds of Change" speech in South Africa. The sixties were marked by creativity in the theatre, music and the arts and by great social change. The industrial unrest which followed in the 70s paved the way for Mrs Thatcher's years in power and a marked shift to the right in public policy. Eventually a New Labour government was elected led by Tony Blair.

Economy
Britain's wealth was founded not only on its own natural resources such as coal and iron which made the Industrial Revolution possible but more recently on commerce and trade around the world. Merchant venturers and then the trading companies such as Hudson's Bay and the East India Company laid down the routes and trading posts that eventually grew into the British Empire.

Manufacturing industries were world leaders: for example the shipbuilding industry which built such ships as the Cutty Sark, the Great Eastern and the Queen Elizabeth.

The banking system (Bank of England 1694, the Bank of Scotland 1696), the Stock Exchange (officially founded in 1801 with beginnings in 1698) and new company structures were important developments in commerce that helped make possible the rise of the British economy to the point at which, in Victorian times, it was called the Workshop of the World.

During the twentieth century, particularly in the postwar years, the British economy changed dramatically.

Nowadays less than a fifth of the labour force is employed in industry: oil, natural gas, coal, metals, electric power equipment, automation equipment, railroad equipment, shipbuilding, aircraft, motor vehicles, machine tools, electronics, communications equipment, chemicals, paper, textiles and food processing. The highly mechanized agriculture industry only provides a very small percentage of employment.

The service industries such as finance, media, leisure, transport and healthcare employ the highest percentage of the work force.

Tourism has become an important contributor to the national economy. Overseas visitors are particularly attracted to London and by the heritage and legends of historic Britain. Canterbury, a cathedral town, is a good example of what Britain has to offer the tourist and the beaches and countryside of Cornwall are well worth a visit.

Fashion and pop music are also important export earners for the UK.

Since 1973 the main influence on the UK economy has been membership of the European Union.

The UK government greatly reduced public ownership from the 1990s but on 13 October 2008 the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, promised to inject 37 billion into major banks in order to recapitalize the banking system hit by the global financial crisis. In January 2009, in an attempt to alleviate consequences of the recession, the Bank of England cut interest rates to the lowest level in its history.

Arts
The UK's main strengths in the arts has been in literature, the theatre and music.

Painting styles have run from the Lindisfarne Gospels, with their Celtic decorations to the classic painters such as Constable, Gainsborough and Reynolds and then Blake and Turner and through the Victorians such as Millais, Burne-Jones, and Morris to the moderns such as David Hockney and Bridget Riley. In sculpture, Henry Moore is undoubtedly the UK's most significant artist.

English has become the world's most successful international language, a fact that has given writers in the language a world audience: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and the Bronte sisters are probably the best known classical novelists. In Scotland, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson and in Wales Dylan Thomas are the major names.

In the theatre it is, of course, Shakespeare who outshines all his contemporaries such as Christopher Marlowe to the more recent playwrights such as Osborne and Pinter.

Shakespeare is as respected for his poetry as for his plays. Other leading poets include Spenser, from Shakespeare's time, Alexander Pope, and Dryden and then Byron, Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth. Kipling is the best known Victorian poet. In this century, the "war poets" Owen and Sassoon were followed by the poets of the thirties such as Auden and Spender. Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin have been among the leading poets in recent years.

The UK's musical heritage, at the beginning of the 1960s, was best known for classical composers such as Elgar and for the light opera of Gilbert and Sullivan. Then came the explosion of British pop music, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Finally, in cinema and television - art forms of the twentieth century, the UK has played a major role with Alfred Hitchcock the UK's most celebrated film director.

Sport
Sport has long been important in the UK. The public school system placed particular emphasis on sporting endeavour.

Golf was invented in Scotland, cricket and tennis in England. Fives and squash were started at public schools, as was Rugby Football (at Rugby School).

Many sports had their first official rules laid down in the UK. For example, the rules of modern boxing were drawn up by the Marquess of Queensbury.

The UK's most popular sport is football. England won the World Cup in 1966. The second major winter game is rugby (in two forms: league and union). England won the Rugby World Cup in Sydney in 2003.

Cricket is the major summer sport and, like football, has been adopted around the world. In particular it has been popular in the countries of the former British Empire, for example, Australia, India, South Africa and the West Indies.

Horse racing and show jumping are major spectator sports. Racing is a favourite pastime with the Queen and members of the royal family while Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, has represented the UK in show jumping at the Olympics.

Athletics, because of indoor facilities, is now an all-year-round sport. The UK staged the Olympics in 1908 and 1948; the London marathon is among the world's most important marathons. Some UK events in other sports are also of world importance: for example Wimbledon in tennis and Henley Regatta in rowing.

Motor sports which include rallying, speedway and Formula One are very popular spectator sports.

Holidays
The United Kingdom celebrates the major Christian festivals (Christmas and Easter) and New Year. Ethnic minorities observe their religious obligations, festivals and New Year celebrations. On 5 November the traditional Guy Fawkes celebrations with bonfires and fireworks remember the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The Edinburgh Festival, held every summer, is the UK's most important arts festival. The main cultural festival of Wales is the Eisteddfod.

News
The UK has an unusually large number of national daily newspapers. News from the UK can be found in Newslink.

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