From Hobson's Choice
The nation comprising England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, plus sundry other dependencies. Capital, London, was at one time the seat of the largest and most populous empire on earth, and remains a major center of finance, the arts, and all categories of academic research. Because the vast majority of its citizens live on the Island of Britain, it is frequently referred to (without controversy) as Great Britain. Somewhat less frequently, the country is referred to as "England"; this is usually a colloquialism, but not always.
England and Wales were united in 1284; Scotland and England were united under the rule of James VI (oddly, of Scotland; he inherited England on Elizabeth's death) in 1603. In 1707, the autonomous Scottish parliament was dissolved, and the country became a "constituent country" of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Ireland, which had been colonized by England for centuries, was formally integrated with the rest of the UK in 1800. Prior to 1707 there was no UK, although for at least 130 years prior to that date, England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland were effectively interdependent states. In 1921, most of Ireland was detached from the Union as the "Irish Free State," later known as the Irish Republic (1949).
London is also the seat of the Commonwealth, a voluntary association of nations formerly under British rule.
The United Kingdom has perhaps the best documented history of any country in the world. While a decently comprehensive treatment of British history is impossible here, a few remarks will serve for now.
First, the UK emerged (1707) on the eve of its rise to supreme global hegemony. While Britain's performance in the long succession of Continental Wars was mixed, its victory in the Seven Years War was of the greatest possible importance. As a result of this war, India and North America fell under the British sphere of influence. Britain's naval power (which tends to be highly dependent on financial resources of the state) now surpassed that of all other powers. The second most powerful European nation, France, received a minor boost by aiding the independence struggle in the United States, but suffered financial and political collapse (1789).
Second, the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1815) introduced a period during which the Continent was under the control of a single power, while Britain and occasional allies resisted chiefly through naval blockade. During this period, Britain took over the administration of Dutch, French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonies abroad. In 1814, Britain graciously restored them, although the Spanish and Portuguese possessions mostly broke away soon after. The old regimes were indebted to the British government, and largely incapable of considering major wars against each other for the foreseeable future. The result was that the national divisions of Europe were politically far less important than they were before; and the political conflict between potential polities and classes was what mattered. Britain resisted the role as political guardian , but did serve as a sort of reinsurance agent for European imperialism generally.
Britain seems to have been more confident about its social resilience than Continental powers; it did not experience upheavals in 1830 or 1848, as the other nations did, and it had a very long lead in the Industrial Revolution. So it tended to be more forward in the market-oriented social engineering of the 19th century. Hence, its prominence in the field of economics. However, after the 1880's its industry began to fall behind while its imperial expansion surged. By 1902, when John A Hobson published Imperialism, the effects of imperialism on Britain's social and economic character were disastrous.
- BBC Country Profile
- CIA World Fact Book
- EIA Energy Data
- Ethnologue linguistic information
- National Statistics [UK]
- United Nations agencies & bureaux
News & Analysis
- Amnesty International
- The Guardian
- Human Rights Watch
- The Independent'
- New Left Review
- SIPRI Arms Transfer Databases (not country specific)
- British History Online
- BYU Eurodocs primary documents United Kingdom listing
- F Smitha World History site
- Library of Congress UK links
- Terry Abraham, Repositories of Primary Sources, University of Idaho
- The Victorian Web
- World Statesmen listing
- WWW-VL: HISTORY of the United Kingdom
James R MacLean (01:49, 10 September 2007 (PDT))