British History: The Middle Ages After the departure of the Romans in the fifth century, the island of Great Britain was largely controlled by Anglo-Saxon settlers from the north whose various kingdoms unified during the 10th century. In 1066 the Norman king William I, known as William the Conqueror, invaded England, ushering in centuries of rule by monarchs of French origin. The 12th, 13th and 14th centuries saw the development of a distinct English culture and the establishment of a system of law, including the issue in 1215 of the Magna Carta. In the late 1340s, the plague pandemic known as the Black Death devastated England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, killing an estimated one-third of the British population.
British History: The Tudor Period (1485-1603) Following the dynastic struggle known as the Wars of the Roses, Henry VII of the House of Tudor ascended the throne in 1485. His son, Henry VIII, broke with the Roman Catholic Church, appointing himself head of the Church of England and effectively making England a Protestant nation. The 44-year reign of Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch, was marked by a flourishing of British literature, music and theater. Elizabeth also led England during its 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada, an event that weakened the Spanish Empire and paved the way for future British colonization of North America.
British History: The Stuart Period (1603-1714) After the death of his cousin Elizabeth I, James I of the House of Stuart, which had ruled Scotland since the late 14th century, ascended the throne of England, bringing the kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland under a single crown. In 1649, in the midst of the English Civil War, the Stuart dynasty was briefly overthrown when parliamentarians executed Charles I and replaced the monarchy with a republican form of government; it was restored to power with the return of Charles II from exile in 1660. In 1707, the Treaty of Union combined the kingdoms of England, Wales and Scotland, creating the United Kingdom. Perhaps most significantly, the Stuart Period saw the establishment of numerous colonies and trading posts in North America and the Caribbean as the British Empire began to take shape.
British History: The Georgian Era (1714-1837) Born and raised in Germany, George I succeeded his second cousin Anne to the British throne in 1714, becoming the first monarch of the House of Hanover. In the decades that followed, waves of reform and unrest swept the realm, laying the foundation for the modern British political system and inspiring an artistic revolution. Meanwhile, the British Empire continued to expand through trade, exploration and military victories in conflicts such as the Seven Years War and the Napoleonic Wars. It also suffered a major loss in the form of its 13 American colonies, which gained their independence after decades of escalating tensions and a violent eight-year struggle. In the final years of the Georgian Era, Great Britain emerged as the strongest imperial power on the planet, dominating global trade and leading the world in industry and technology.
British History: The Victorian Era (1837-1901) Bolstered by the riches of its territories abroad and rising standards of living at home, most of the United Kingdom enjoyed a period of prosperity and unprecedented population growth during Queen Victoria’s reign; the exception was Ireland, where in the 1840s a severe famine caused a million deaths and spurred a mass exodus. The era was deeply influenced by the Industrial Revolution, which had begun in the late 18th century and reached its zenith under Victoria, and by advances in the scientific realm, including Darwin’s work on evolution. Britain continued to pursue an expansionist agenda during this period and fought in several conflicts, including the Crimean War and the Boer Wars.
British History: The 20th Century The United Kingdom entered the 20th century as the most powerful nation in the world. Within 50 years, it had weathered a violent revolt that culminated in the 1922 secession of the Irish Free State, later known as the Republic of Ireland, and two devastating world wars that upended the global balance of power. The interwar and postwar periods also witnessed the rise and ultimate success of independence movements in many of Britain’s spheres of influence overseas, including India, Sudan, South Africa, Palestine and Hong Kong. The mighty British Empire slowly gave way to a commonwealth of independent nations with shared values and loose cultural ties. On the domestic front, Britain’s social and political institutions underwent a major transformation as women gained the right to vote, immigrants arrived from new corners of the globe and the state became more involved in the lives of its citizens.