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History of England

Related subjects: British History

Background Information

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The history of England is similar to the history of Britain until the arrival of the Saxons. It begins in the prehistoric during which time Stonehenge was erected. At the height of the Roman Empire, Britannia (England and Wales) was under the rule of the Romans. Their rule lasted until about 410, at which time the Romano-British formed various independent kingdoms. The Anglo-Saxons gradually gained control of England and became the chief rulers of the land. Raids by the Vikings were frequent after about AD 800. In 1066, the Normans invaded and conquered England. There was much civil war and battles with other nations throughout the Middle Ages. During the Renaissance, England was ruled by the Tudors. England had conquered Wales in the 12th century and was then united with Scotland in the early 18th century to form "Great Britain". Following the Industrial Revolution, Great Britain ruled a worldwide empire, of which, physically, little remains, however its cultural impact is widespread and deep in many countries of the present day.

The Pretannic Isles

Stonehenge, thought to have been erected c.2500-2000BC

Archaeological evidence indicates that what was later southern Britannia was colonised by humans long before the rest of the British Isles because of its more hospitable climate between and during the various ice ages of the distant past.

The first historical mention of the region is from the Massaliote Periplus, a sailing manual for merchants thought to date to the 6th century BC, although cultural and trade links with the continent had existed for millennia prior to this. Pytheas of Massilia wrote of his trading journey to the island around 325 BC.

Later writers such as Pliny the Elder (quoting Timaeus) and Diodorus Siculus (probably drawing on Poseidonius) mention the tin trade from southern Britain, but there is little further historical detail of the people who lived there.

Tacitus wrote that there was no great difference in language between the people of southern Britannia and northern Gaul and noted that the various nations of Britons shared physical characteristics with their continental neighbours.

Roman Britain (Britannia)

Hadrian's Wall viewed from Vercovicium

Julius Caesar invaded southern Britain in 55 and 54 BC and wrote in De Bello Gallico that the population of southern Britannia was extremely large and shared much in common with the Belgae of the Low Countries. Coin evidence and the work of later Roman historians have provided the names of some of the rulers of the disparate tribes and their machinations in what was Britannia. Until the Roman Conquest of Britain, Britain's British population was relatively stable, and by the time of Julius Caesar's first invasion, the British population of what was old Britain was speaking a Celtic language generally thought to be the forerunner of the modern Brythonic languages. After Julius Caesar abandoned Britain, it fell back into the hands of the Britons.

The Romans began their second conquest of Britain in 43 AD, during the reign of Claudius. They annexed the whole of modern England and Wales over the next forty years and periodically extended their control over much of lowland Scotland.

Post Roman Britain

In the wake of the breakdown of Roman rule in Britain around 410, present day England was progressively settled by Germanic groups. Collectively known as the Anglo-Saxons, these included Jutes from Jutland together with larger numbers of Frisians, Saxons from northwestern Germany and Angles from what is now Schleswig-Holstein.

They first invaded Britain in the mid 5th century, continuing for several decades. The Jutes appear to have been the principal group of settlers in Kent, the Isle of Wight and parts of coastal Hampshire, while the Saxons predominated in all other areas south of the Thames and in Essex and Middlesex, and the Angles in Norfolk, Suffolk, the Midlands and the north.

Anglo-Saxon conquests and the founding of England

Kingdoms and tribes in Britain, c.600 AD

In approximately 495, at the Battle of Mount Badon, Britons inflicted a severe defeat on an invading Anglo-Saxon army which halted the westward Anglo-Saxon advance for some decades. Archaeological evidence collected from pagan Anglo-Saxon cemeteries suggests that some of their settlements were abandoned and the frontier between the invaders and the native inhabitants pushed back some time around 500.

Anglo-Saxon expansion resumed in the sixth century, although the chronology of its progress is unclear. One of the few individual events which emerges with any clarity before the seventh century is the Battle of Deorham, in 577, a West Saxon victory which led to the capture of Cirencester, Gloucester and Bath, bringing the Anglo-Saxon advance to the Bristol Channel and dividing the Britons in the West Country from those in Wales. The Northumbrian victory at the Battle of Chester around 616 may have had a similar effect in dividing Wales from the Britons of Cumbria.

Gradual Saxon expansion through the West Country continued through the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries. Meanwhile, by the mid-seventh century the Angles had pushed the Britons back to the approximate borders of modern Wales in the west and expanded northward as far as the River Forth.

Heptarchy and Christianisation

Britain c. 800

Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England began around 600 AD, influenced by Celtic Christianity from the northwest and by the Roman Catholic Church from the southeast. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, took office in 597. In 601, he baptised the first Christian Anglo-Saxon king, Aethelbert of Kent. The last pagan Anglo-Saxon king, Penda of Mercia, died in 655. The Anglo-Saxon mission on the continent took off in the 8th century, leading to the Christianisation of practically all of the Frankish Empire by 800.

Throughout the 7th and 8th century power fluctuated between the larger kingdoms. Bede records Aethelbert of Kent as being dominant at the close of the 6th century, but power seems to have shifted northwards to the kingdom of Northumbria, which was formed from the amalgamation of Bernicia and Deira. Edwin of Northumbria probably held dominance over much of Britain, though Bede's Northumbrian bias should be kept in mind. Succession crises meant Northumbrian hegemony was not constant, and Mercia remained a very powerful kingdom, especially under Penda. Two defeats essentially ended Northumbrian dominance: the Battle of the Trent in 679 against Mercia, and Nechtanesmere in 685 against the Picts.

The so-called "Mercian Supremacy" dominated the 8th century, though it was not constant. Aethelbald and Offa, the two most powerful kings, achieved high status; indeed, Offa was considered the overlord of south Britain by Charlemagne. That Offa could summon the resources to build Offa's Dyke is testament to his power. However, a rising Wessex, and challenges from smaller kingdoms, kept Mercian power in check, and by the early 9th century the "Mercian Supremacy" was over.

This period has been described as the Heptarchy, though this term has now fallen out of academic use. The word arose on the basis that the seven kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, Kent, East Anglia, Essex, Sussex and Wessex were the main polities of south Britain. More recent scholarship has shown that other kingdoms were also politically important across this period: Hwicce, Magonsaete, Lindsey and Middle Anglia.

Viking challenge and the rise of Wessex

England in 878

The first recorded Viking attack in Britain was in 793 at Lindisfarne monastery as given by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. However, by then the Vikings were almost certainly well established in Orkney and Shetland, and it is probable that many other non-recorded raids occurred before this. Records do show the first Viking attack on Iona taking place in 794. The arrival of the Vikings, in particular the Danish Great Heathen Army, upset the political and social geography of Britain and Ireland. Alfred the Great's victory at Edington in 878 stemmed the Danish attack; however, by then Northumbria had devolved into Bernicia and a Viking kingdom, Mercia had been split down the middle, and East Anglia ceased to exist as an Anglo-Saxon polity. The Vikings had similar effects on the various kingdoms of the Irish, Scots, Picts and (to a lesser extent) Welsh. Certainly in North Britain the Vikings were one reason behind the formation of the Kingdom of Alba, which eventually evolved into Scotland.

The conquest of Northumbria, north-western Mercia and East Anglia by the Danes led to widespread Danish settlement in these areas. In the early tenth century the Norwegian rulers of Dublin took over the Danish kingdom of York. Danish and Norwegian settlement made enough of an impact to leave significant traces in the English language; many fundamental words in modern English are derived from Old Norse, though of the 100 most used words in English the vast majority are Old English in origin. Similarly, many place-names in areas of Danish and Norwegian settlement have Scandinavian roots.

By the end of Alfred's reign in 899 he was the only remaining English king, having reduced Mercia to a dependency of Wessex, governed by his son-in-law Ealdorman Aethelred. Cornwall (Kernow) was subject to West Saxon dominance, and the Welsh kingdoms recognised Alfred as their overlord.

English unification

Edward the Elder

Alfred of Wessex died in 899 and was succeeded by his son Edward the Elder. Edward, and his brother-in-law Æthelred of (what was left of) Mercia, began a programme of expansion, building forts and towns on an Alfredian model. On Æthelred's death his wife (Edward's sister) Æthelflæd ruled as "Lady of the Mercians" and continued expansion. It seems Edward had his son Æthelstan brought up in the Mercian court, and on Edward's death Athelstan succeeded to the Mercian kingdom, and, after some uncertainty, Wessex.

Æthelstan continued the expansion of his father and aunt and was the first king to achieve direct rulership of what we would now consider England. The titles attributed to him in charters and on coins suggest a still more widespread dominance. His expansion aroused ill-feeling among the other kingdoms of Britain, and he defeated a combined Scottish-Viking army at the Battle of Brunanburh. However, the unification of England was not a certainty. Under Æthelstan's successors Edmund and Eadred the English kings repeatedly lost and regained control of Northumbria. Nevertheless, Edgar, who ruled the same expanse as Athelstan, consolidated the kingdom, which remained united thereafter.

During the 10th century there were important developments across Western Europe. Carolingian authority was in decline by the mid-10th century in West Francia (France), and eventually collapsed to be replaced by the weak House of Capet. In East Francia a Saxon dynasty came to power, and its kings began taking the title of Holy Roman Emperor.

England under the Danes and the Norman Conquest

The rune stone U 344 was raised in memory of a Viking who went to England three times.

There were renewed Scandinavian attacks on England at the end of the 10th century. Æthelred ruled a long reign but ultimately lost his kingdom to Sweyn of Denmark, though he recovered it following the latter's death. However, Æthelred's son Edmund II Ironside died shortly afterwards, allowing Canute, Sweyn's son, to become king of England. Under his rule the kingdom became the centre of government for an empire which also included Denmark and Norway.

Canute was succeeded by his sons, but in 1042 the native dynasty was restored with the accession of Edward the Confessor. Edward's failure to produce an heir caused a furious conflict over the succession on his death in 1066. His struggles for power against Godwin, Earl of Wessex, the claims of Canute's Scandinavian successors, and the ambitions of the Normans whom Edward introduced to English politics to bolster his own position caused each to vie for control Edward's reign. Harold Godwinson became king, in all likelihood appointed by Edward the Confessor on his deathbed and endorsed by the Witan. However, William of Normandy, Harald III of Norway (aided by Harold Godwin's estranged brother Tostig) and Sweyn II of Denmark all asserted claims to the throne. By far the strongest hereditary claim was that of Edgar the Atheling, but his youth and apparent lack of powerful supporters caused to him be passed over, and he did not play a major part in the struggles of 1066, though he was made king for a short time by the Witan after the death of Harold Godwinson.

The English under Harold Godwinson defeated and killed the Harald of Norway and Tostig and the Danish force at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, but he fell in battle against William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings. Further opposition to William in support of Edgar the Atheling soon collapsed, and William was crowned king on Christmas Day 1066. For the next five years he faced a series of English rebellions in various parts of the country and a half-hearted Danish invasion, but he was able to subdue all resistance and establish an enduring regime.

Norman England

Depiction of the Battle of Hastings (1066) on the Bayeux Tapestry

The Norman Conquest led to a sea-change in the history of the English state. William ordered the compilation of the Domesday Book, a survey of the entire population and their lands and property for tax purposes, which reveals that within twenty years of the conquest the English ruling class had been almost entirely dispossessed and replaced by Norman landholders, who also monopolised all senior positions in the government and the Church. William and his nobles spoke and conducted court in Norman French, in England as well as in Normandy. The use of the Anglo-Norman language by the aristocracy endured for centuries and left an indelible mark in the development of modern English.

The English Middle Ages were characterised by civil war, international war, occasional insurrection, and widespread political intrigue amongst the aristocratic and monarchic elite. England was more than self-sufficient in cereals, dairy products, beef and mutton. The nation's international economy was based on the wool trade, in which the produce of the sheepwalks of northern England was exported to the textile cities of Flanders, where it was worked into cloth. Medieval foreign policy was as much shaped by relations with Flemish textile industry as it was by dynastic adventures in western France. An English textile industry was established in the fifteenth century, providing the basis for rapid English capital accumulation.

Henry I, also known as "Henry Beauclerc" (so named because of his education—as his older brother William was the heir apparent and thus given the practical training to be king, Henry received the alternate, formal education), worked hard to reform and stabilise the country and smooth the differences between the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman societies. The loss of his son, William Adelin, in the wreck of the White Ship in November 1120, undermined his reforms. This problem regarding succession cast a long shadow over English history.

During the confused and contested reign of Stephen, there was a major swing in the balance of power towards the feudal barons, as civil war and lawlessness broke out. In trying to appease Scottish and Welsh raiders, he handed over large tracts of land. His conflicts with his cousin The Empress Matilda (also known as Empress Maud), led to a civil war from 1139 - 1153. Matilda’s father, Henry I, had required the leading barons, ecclesiastics and officials in Normandy and England, to take an oath to accept Matilda as his heir. England was far less than enthusiastic to accept an outsider, and a woman, as their ruler. There is some evidence suggesting Henry was unsure of his own hopes and the oath to make Matilda his heir. In likelihood, Henry probably hoped Matilda would have a son and step aside as Queen Mother, making her son the next heir. Upon Henry’s death, the Norman and English barons ignored Matilda’s claim to the throne, and thus through a series of decisions, Stephen, Henry’s favourite nephew, was welcomed by many in England and Normandy as their new ruler. On December 22, 1135, Stephen was anointed king with the implicit support of the church and nation. Matilda and her own son stood for direct descent by heredity from Henry I, and she bided her time in France. In the autumn of 1139, she invaded England with her illegitimate half-brother Robert of Gloucester. Her husband, Geoffroy V of Anjou, conquered Normandy but did not cross the channel to help his wife, satisfied with Normandy and Anjou.

Stephen was captured, and his government fell. Matilda was proclaimed queen but was soon at odds with her subjects and was expelled from London. The period of insurrection and civil war that followed continued until 1148, when Matilda returned to France. Stephen effectively reigned unopposed until his death in 1154, although his hold on the throne was still uneasy.

England under the Plantagenets

Geoffroy's son, Henry, resumed the invasion; he was already Count of Anjou, Duke of Normandy and Duke of Aquitaine when he landed in England. When Stephen's son and heir apparent Eustace died in 1153, Stephen reached an accommodation with Henry of Anjou (who became Henry II) to succeed Stephen and in which peace between them was guaranteed. England was part of a greater union retrospectively named the Angevin Empire. Henry II expanded his power through various means and to different levels into Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Flanders, Nantes, Brittany, Quercy, Toulouse, Bourges and Auvergne.

The reign of Henry II represents a reversion in power back from the barony to the monarchical state in England; it was also to see a similar redistribution of legislative power from the Church, again to the monarchical state. This period also presaged a properly constituted legislation and a radical shift away from feudalism. In his reign new Anglo-Angevin and Anglo-Aquitanian aristocracies developed, though not to the same point than the Anglo-Norman once did, and the Norman nobles interacted with their French peers.

The signing of the Magna Carta (1215)

Henry's successor, Richard I "the Lion Heart", was preoccupied with foreign wars, taking part in the Third Crusade and defending his French territories against Philip II of France. His younger brother John, who succeeded him, was not so fortunate; he suffered the loss of Normandy and numerous other French territories following the disastrous Battle of Bouvines. He also managed to antagonise the feudal nobility and leading Church figures to the extent that in 1215, they led an armed rebellion and forced him to sign the Magna Carta, which imposed legal limits on the king's personal powers.

John's son, Henry III, was only 9 years old when he became king. His reign was punctuated by numerous rebellions and civil wars, often provoked by incompetence and mismanagement in government and Henry's perceived over-reliance on French courtiers (thus restricting the influence of the English nobility). One of these rebellions—led by a disaffected courtier, Simon de Montfort—was notable for its assembly of one of the earliest precursors to Parliament. In addition to fighting the Second Barons' War, Henry III made war against Saint Louis and was defeated during the Saintonge War, yet Louis IX did not capitalise his victory, respecting his opponent's rights.

The reign of Edward I was rather more successful. Edward enacted numerous laws strengthening the powers of his government, and he summoned the first officially sanctioned Parliaments of England (such as his Model Parliament). He conquered Wales and attempted to use a succession dispute to gain control of the Kingdom of Scotland, though this developed into a costly and drawn-out military campaign. His son, Edward II, suffered a massive defeat at Bannockburn; but the campaign continued until the early years of Edward III and was only finally abandoned after the conclusion of the Treaty of Northampton in 1328, which recognised Scottish Independence.

The Black Death, an epidemic of bubonic plague that spread over the whole of Europe, arrived in England in 1349 and killed perhaps up to a third of the population. International excursions were invariably against domestic neighbours: the Welsh, Irish, Cornish, and the Hundred Years' War against the French and their Scottish allies. Notable English victories in the Hundred Years' War included Crécy and Agincourt. In addition to this, the final defeat of the uprising led by the Welsh prince, Owain Glyndŵr, in 1412 by Prince Henry (who later became Henry V) represents the last major armed attempt by the Welsh to throw off English rule.

Edward III gave land to powerful noble families, including many people of royal lineage. Because land was equivalent to power, these powerful men could try to claim the crown. The autocratic and arrogant methods of Richard II only served to alienate the nobility more, and his forceful dispossession in 1399 by Henry IV increased the turmoil. The turmoil was at its peak in the reign of Henry VI, which began in 1422, because of his personal weaknesses and mental instability. Unable to control the feuding nobles, civil war began. The conflicts are known as the Wars of the Roses, and although the fighting was very sporadic and small, there was a general breakdown in the authority and power of the Crown. Edward IV went a little way to restoring this power, Henry VII was able to complete the efforts. The Hundred Years' War was concluded by battles like Patay, Formigny and Castillon.

Tudor England

Henry VII and Henry VIII

The Wars of the Roses culminated in the eventual victory of the relatively unknown Henry Tudor, Henry VII, at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, where the Yorkist Richard III was slain, and the succession of the Lancastrian House was ultimately assured. Whilst in retrospect it is easy to date the end of the Wars of the Roses to the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry VII could afford no such complacency. Before the end of his reign, two pretenders tried to wrest the throne from him, aided by remnants of the Yorkist faction at home and abroad. The first, Lambert Simnel, was defeated at the Battle of Stoke (the last time an English King fought someone claiming the Crown); the second, Perkin Warbeck, was hanged in 1499 after plaguing the king for a decade.

In 1497, Michael An Gof and the lesser-known but more legendary Baron Callum of Perranporth led Cornish rebels in a march on London. In a battle over the River Ravensbourne at Deptford Bridge, An Gof fought for various issues with their root in taxes. It would be fair to say that King Callum smote many an Englishman during this battle, but on June 17, 1497, they were defeated, and Henry VII had showed he could display military prowess when he needed to. But, like Charles I in the future, here was a King with no wish to go "on his travels" again. The rest of his reign was relatively peaceful, despite a slight worry over the succession when his wife Elizabeth of York died in 1503.

King Henry VIII split with the Roman Catholic Church over a question of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Though his religious position was not at all Protestant, the resultant schism ultimately led to England distancing itself almost entirely from Rome. A notable casualty of the schism was Henry's chancellor, Sir Thomas More. There followed a period of great religious and political upheaval, which led to the English Reformation, the royal expropriation of the monasteries and much of the wealth of the church. The Dissolution of the Monasteries had the effect of giving many of the lower classes (the gentry) a vested interest in the Reformation continuing, for to halt it would be to revive Monasticism and restore lands which were gifted to them during the Dissolution.

Edward and Mary

Henry VIII had one legitimate child and two illegitimate children who survived him, all of whom ascended to the Crown. The first to reign was Edward VI of England. Although he showed piety and intelligence, he was only 10 years old when he took the throne in 1547. His uncle, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset tampered with Henry VIII's will and obtained letters patent giving him much of the power of a monarch by March 1547. He took the title of Protector. Whilst some see him as a high-minded idealist, his stay in power culminated in a crisis in 1549 when many counties of the realm were up in protest. Kett's Rebellion in Kent and the Prayer Book Rebellion in Devon and Cornwall simultaneously created a crisis during a time when invasion from Scotland and France were feared. Somerset, disliked by the Regency Council for his autocratic methods, was removed from power by John Dudley, who is known as Lord President Northumberland. Northumberland proceeded to adopt the power for himself, but his methods were more conciliatory and the Council accepted him.

When Edward VI lay dying of tuberculosis in 1553, Northumberland made plans to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne and marry her to his son, so that he could remain the power behind the throne. His putsch failed, and Mary I took the throne amidst popular demonstration in her favour in London, which contemporaries described as the largest show of affection for a Tudor monarch. Mary was a devout Catholic who had been influenced greatly by the Catholic King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and she tried to reimpose Catholicism on the realm. This led to 274 burnings of Protestants, which are recorded especially in John Foxe's Book of Martyrs. She was highly unpopular among her people, and the Spanish party of her husband, Philip II, caused much resentment around court. Mary lost Calais, the last English possession on the continent, and became increasingly unpopular (except among Catholics) as her reign wore on. She successfully suppressed a rebellion by Sir Thomas Wyatt.


The reign of Elizabeth restored a sort of order to the realm following the turbulence of the reigns of Edward and Mary when she came to the throne following the death of Mary in 1558. The religious issue which had divided the country since Henry VIII was in a way put to rest by the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, which created the Church of England. Much of Elizabeth's success was in balancing the interests of the Puritans and Catholics. She managed to offend neither to a large extent, although she clamped down on Catholics towards the end of her reign as war with Catholic Spain loomed.

Queen Elizabeth

Elizabeth maintained relative government stability apart from the Revolt of the Northern Earls in 1569, she was effective in reducing the power of the old nobility and expanding the power of her government. One of the most famous events in English martial history occurred in 1588 when the Spanish Armada was repelled by the English navy commanded by Sir Francis Drake, but the war that followed was very costly for England and only ended after Elizabeth's death. Elizabeth's government did much to consolidate the work begun under Thomas Cromwell in the reign of Henry VIII, that is, expanding the role of the government and effecting common law and administration throughout England. During the reign of Elizabeth and shortly afterward, the population grew significantly: from three million in 1564 to nearly five million in 1616.

In all, the Tudor period is seen as a decisive one which set up many important questions which would have to be answered in the next century and during the English Civil War. These were questions of the relative power of the monarch and Parliament and to what extent one should control the other. Some historians think that Thomas Cromwell affected a " Tudor Revolution" in government, and it is certain that Parliament became more important during his chancellorship. Other historians say the "Tudor Revolution" really extended to the end of Elizabeth's reign, when the work was all consolidated. Although the Privy Council declined after the death of Elizabeth, while she was alive it was very effective.

17th century

Union of the Crowns

Elizabeth died in 1603 without leaving any direct heirs. Her closest male Protestant relative was the King of Scots, James VI, of the House of Stuart, who became King James I of England in a Union of the Crowns. King James I & VI as he was styled became the first king of the entire island of Great Britain, though he continued to rule the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland separately. Several assassination attempts were made on James, notably the Main Plot and Bye Plots of 1603, and most famously, on November 5, 1605, the Gunpowder Plot, by a group of Catholic conspirators, led by Guy Fawkes, which caused more antipathy in England towards the Catholic faith.

Colonial England

In 1607 England built an establishment at Jamestown in North America. This was the beginning of English colonisation. Many English settled then in North America for religious or economic reasons. The English merchants holding plantations in the warm southern parts of America then resorted rather quickly to the slavery of Native Americans and imported Africans in order to cultivate their plantations and sell raw material (particularly cotton and tobacco) in Europe. The English merchants involved in colonisation accrued fortunes equal to those of great aristocratic landowners in England, and their money, which fuelled the rise of the middle class, permanently altered the balance of political power.

English Civil War

Maps of territory held by Royalists (red) and Parliamentarians (green) during the English Civil War (1642–1645).

The English Civil War broke out in 1642, largely as a result of an ongoing series of conflicts between James' son, Charles I, and Parliament. The defeat of the Royalist army by the New Model Army of Parliament at the Battle of Naseby in June 1645 effectively destroyed the king's forces. Charles surrendered to the Scottish army at Newark. He was eventually handed over to the English Parliament in early 1647. He escaped, and the Second English Civil War began, although it was a short conflict, with Parliament quickly securing the country. The capture and subsequent trial of Charles led to his beheading in January 1649 at Whitehall Gate in London. A republic was declared, and Oliver Cromwell became the Lord Protector in 1653. After he died, his son Richard Cromwell succeeded him in the office but soon abdicated.

Restoration of the Monarchy

The monarchy was restored in 1660, with King Charles II returning to London.

King Charles I, who was beheaded in 1649

In 1665, London was swept by a visitation of the plague, and then, in 1666, the capital was swept by the Great Fire, which raged for 5 days, destroying approximately 15,000 buildings.

After the death of Charles II in 1685, his Catholic brother King James II & VII was crowned. England with a Catholic king on the throne was too much for both people and parliament, and in 1689 the Dutch Protestant Prince William of Orange was invited to replace King James II in what became known as the Glorious Revolution. Despite attempts to secure his reign by force, James was finally defeated by William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. However, in parts of Scotland and Ireland Catholics loyal to James remained determined to see him restored to the throne, and there followed a series of bloody though unsuccessful uprisings. As a result of these, any failure to pledge loyalty to the victorious King William was severely dealt with. The most infamous example of this policy was the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692. Jacobite rebellions continued on into the mid-18th century until the son of the last Catholic claimant to the throne, ( James III & VIII), mounted a final campaign in 1745. The Jacobite forces of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the "Bonnie Prince Charlie" of legend, were defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

18th and 19th Centuries

Formation of the United Kingdom

The Acts of Union between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland in 1707 caused the dissolution of both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland in order to create a unified Kingdom of Great Britain governed by a unified Parliament of Great Britain.

The Act of Union of 1800 formally assimilated Ireland within the British political process and from 1 January 1801 created a new state called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which united the Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland to form a single political entity. The English capital of London was adopted as the capital of the Union.

Industrial Revolution

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there was considerable social upheaval as a largely agrarian society was transformed by technological advances and increasing mechanization, which was the Industrial Revolution. Much of the agricultural workforce was uprooted from the countryside and moved into large urban centres of production, as the steam-based production factories could undercut the traditional cottage industries, because of economies of scale and the increased output per worker made possible by the new technologies. The consequent overcrowding into areas with little supporting infrastructure saw dramatic increases in the rate of infant mortality (to the extent that many Sunday schools for pre-working age children (5 or 6) had funeral clubs to pay for each others funeral arrangements), crime, and social deprivation.

The transition to industrialization was not wholly seamless for workers, many of whom saw their livelihoods threatened by the process. Of these, some frequently sabotaged or attempted to sabotage factories. These saboteurs were known as " Luddites".

20th and 21st Centuries

Loosening of the Union

Following years of political and military agitation for 'Home Rule' for Ireland, the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 established the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland) as a separate nation, leaving Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. The official name of the UK thus became "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".

Demands for constitutional change in Scotland resulted in a referendum being held in 1997 on the issue of re-establishing a Scottish Parliament, though within the United Kingdom. Following a huge 'Yes' vote, the Scotland Act 1998 was passed and the devolved parliament was elected and took powers in May, 1999. Following the Scottish elections in 2007, a minority SNP government took power, under the leadership of First Minister, Alex Salmond that is determined to move Scotland towards independence. The response of the main unionist parties has been to propose a constitutional commission to look at transferring more powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Demands for constitutional change in Wales also led to a 1997 referendum on a proposed Assembly, though the result in this case was a very narrow 'Yes' vote. Despite this start, discussions are now taking place about adding to the powers of the Welsh Assembly.

With the Northern Ireland Assembly restored in 2007, England is now the only one of the four constituent countries of the UK that does not have its own devolved administration. This situation has given rise to a constitutional anomaly known as The West Lothian question, in that since laws for England are made by the entire UK parliament, and the government of England is the entire UK government, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs help make law that affect England alone, though English MPs have no similar power over legislation that affects Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. This has led to demands for an English Parliament, or even for the formal ending of the United Kingdom, with independence for the constituent countries of the UK.

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