History of Great Britain

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1. Great Britain: General Facts


The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) is located on the British Isles. The British Isles consist of two large islands, Great Britain and Ireland, and about five thousand small islands. Their total area is over 244 000 square kilometers. The United Kingdom is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Their capitals are, respectively, London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. Great Britain itself consists of England, Scotland and Wales and does not include Northern Ireland. The capital of UK is London.

London is political, economic, culture and commercial center of the country. Its one of the largest cities in the world and in Europe. The population of London is estimated to be over 8 million inhabitants.

The British isles are separated from the European continent by the North Sea and the English channel. The western coast of Great Britain is washed by the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea.

The landscape of the British Isles varies from plains to mountains. The north of Scotland is mountainous and is called Highlands, while the south, which has beautiful valleys and plains, is called Lowlands. The north and west of England are mountainous, but all the rest - east, center and southeast - is a vast plain.

There are a lot of rivers in GB, but they are not very long. The Severn is the longest river, while the Thames is the deepest and - economically - the most important one.

The total population of the UK is over 57 million and about 80% of it is urban. The UK is highly developed country in both industrial and economical aspects. Its known as one of worlds largest producers and exporters of machinery, electronics, textile, aircraft and navigation equipment.

Politically, the UK is a constitutional monarchy. In law, the Head of State is the Queen, but in practice, the Queen reigns but does not possess real power. The country is ruled by the elected government with the Primer Minister at the head, while the necessary legislative background is provided by the British Parliament which consists of two chambers : the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

2. The History of the Great Britain


Obviously, the history of the Great Britain is not framed within the period from 1558 to nowadays which is surveyed in this paper. Still, due to the limited volume, the author has to leave alone everything that happened by the sixteenth century, starting from the Roman invasion and ending with the pre-Elizabethan period, and describing only those events which seem to be essential for understanding of the general course of development of the country.


2.1. Britain in the reign of Elizabeth


Many researchers believe that there has been no greater period in English history than the reign of Elizabeth, who was proclaimed queen in 1558.

At this time the most critical question in England was that of religion. In 1558 a large proportion of English people were still indifferent in religious matters, and the power of the crown was very great. It was quite possible, therefore, for the ruler to control the form which the religious organisation of the people should take. Elizabeth chose her own ministers, and with then exerted so much pressure over Parliament that almost any laws that she wanted could be carried through.

She and her ministers settled upon a middle course going back in all matters of church government to the system of Henry VIII. To carry out this arrangement two important laws, known as the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity, were passed by Parliament. According to these laws, the regulation of the English Church in matters of doctrine and good order was put into the hands of the Queen, and she was authorized to appoint a minister or ministers to exercise these powers in her name.

Thus the Church of England was established in a form midway between the Church of Rome and the Protestant churches on the continent of Europe. It had rejected the leadership of the Pope, and was not Protestant like other reformed churches. From this time onward the organisation of the English church was strictly national.

The political situation in England was not simple by the time Elizabeth took the throne. England was in close alliance with Spain and at war with France. Elizabeth managed to make peace with France, which was vitally necessary for England: her navy was in bad condition, troops few and poorly equipped, and treasury empty.

One of the most significant internal problems of England during that period was pauperism, since the changes, rebellions and disorders of the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I had left much distress and confusion among people. Many men were out of work, prices were high and wages low, trade irregular. In one field, however, there was a great success. The restoration of the coinage took place; the old debased currency had been recoined to the new standards. This was one of the most beneficial actions of the long reign of Elizabeth. Also, in 1563 a long act for the regulation of labor was passed. It was known as the Statute of Apprentices and settled, among others, an approximate twelve-hour day of labour.

The rivalry among Elizabeth and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots became another chief political affair of sixteenth century, which finally led to Marys long imprisonment and execution. In 1588 the war with Spain broke out. The most significant battle (and of historical meaning) of that conflict was the navy one. On July 30, 1588, the Invincible Armada of the Spanish was almost completely destroyed by much smaller fleet of the British under Lord Howard of Effingham command (although its been assumed that the great deal of success in the battle was brought by the terrible storm that swept away the large part of the Spanish fleet).

The last ten years of Elizabeths reign were a period of more settled conditions and greater interest in the arts of peace, in the progress of commerce, and in the production and enjoyment of works of literature. The reign of Elizabeth revealed several quite gifted and talanted English people who did a lot to widen the influence of England. Probably the most famous of them was Sir Francis Drake. The first one, n\being a corsair and a sea captain in Elizabeths service, leaded a number of sea expeditions, mainly in Atlantic and Pacific oceans, bringing a lot of new knowledge of the world, and discovered a sound, later named after him.

In cultural aspect, the real crown of the age was the Elizabethan literature, with such bright writers as William Shakespeare, Philipp Sidney and Edmund Spencer.

2.2. Britain in the seventeenth century


The period from 1603 to 1640 was the time of the personal monarchy of the Early Stuarts in English history. It is said that James I and Charles I had had to bear the burnt of the rising spirit of independence characteristic of England in the seventeenth century. The growing desire of Parliament for independence, for sharing in the control of government was closely connected with the growth of Puritanism.

The greatest religious question of the sixteenth century had changed from whether England should be Roman Catholic or not to whether it should be Anglican or Puritan.

One of the most bright and well-known illustrations to the fact that the Roman Catholics didnt leave their attempts to gain back their influence on the English church, was the so-called Gunpowder Plot, a failed attempt to blow up the Parliament building and kill both the king and all the members, and to set a Roman Catholic government. The explosion was supposed to take place on 5 November, 1605, but had been discovered on the same day. Since that time 5 November has been widely celebrated in Britain as the Guy Fawkes Day (named so after the executed leader of the Plot).

Along with the religious conflict between the Anglicans and the Puritans, a great political conflict arose a conflict between the unrestricted powers of the king on the one hand and the equal or even superior powers of the people represented by Parliament on the other. The views of Parliament held by James didnt allow to it much power. Finally, the discord between James and the Parliament led to the disease and the soon death of the king in 1625.

James I did a lot in order to unite Scotland and England during his reign, but was unsuccessful. In foreign affairs James shoved a tendency to establish peaceful relations with other countries. He brought the long war with Spain to a close, and avoided a temptation to take part in the Thirty Years War.

If the reign of Elizabeth had been the wonderful time of exploration and sea expeditions, the reign of James became a period of settlement, when Englishmen began to found colonies in America, West India, and in the East Indies.

Charles I, the son of James I, started his reign with launching a new war against Spain with no logical reason and mainly due to the personal ambitions. Soon England drifted into the one more war with France which brought no positive effect for any of the confronting parts.

The middle of the seventeenth century was marked by the formation of the political parties. The earliest parties were informal groups supporting powerful members of Parliament. By the year 1640 there were two parties in Parliam