England is the largest and most populous constituent country of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and is located to the north-west of mainland Europe. Its inhabitants account for more than 82 percent of the total population of the United Kingdom.
England is often mistakenly considered the same as the United Kingdom, or the same as the island of Great Britain, which consists of England, Scotland, and Wales. However, England no longer officially exists as an administrative or political unit-as do Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which have varying degrees of self-government in domestic affairs.
England became a unified state during the tenth century and takes its name from the Angles, one of a number of Germanic tribes who settled in the territory during the fifth and sixth centuries.
England ranks among the world's most influential centers of cultural development. It is the place of origin of the English language and the Church of England, and English law forms the basis of the legal systems of many countries. The nation was the center of the British Empire, and the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. England is home to the Royal Society, which laid the foundations of modern experimental science. England was the world's first parliamentary democracy and consequently many constitutional, governmental and legal innovations that had their origin in England have been widely adopted by other nations.
The Kingdom of England was a separate state until May 1, 1707, when the Acts of Union resulted in a political union with the Kingdom of Scotland to create the Kingdom of Great Britain.
GeographyA satellite image showing the geography of England.
The mainland territory of England occupies most of the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west. Elsewhere, it is bordered by the North Sea, Irish Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and English Channel.
England comprises the central and southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain, plus offshore islands of which the largest is the Isle of Wight. It is bordered to the north by Scotland and to the west by Wales. It is closer to continental Europe than any other part of Britain, and is only 24 miles (52 km) from France. The Channel Tunnel, near Folkestone, directly links England to the European mainland. The English/French border is halfway along the tunnel.
England's land area is 50,319 square miles (130,325 square kilometers), or slightly smaller than Louisiana in the United States.
Most of England consists of rolling hills, but it is more mountainous in the north with a chain of low mountains, the Pennines, dividing east and west. The dividing line between terrain types is usually indicated by the Tees-Exe line. There is also an area of flat, low-lying marshland in the east, the Fens, much of which has been drained for agricultural use.
The highest point in England is Scafell Pike, which at 3208 feet (978 meters) is part of the Cumbrian Mountains in North West England. Other mountain ranges and hills in England include the Chilterns, Cotswolds, Dartmoor, Lincolnshire Wolds, Exmoor, Lake District, Malvern Hills, Mendip Hills, North Downs, Peak District, Salisbury Plain, South Downs, Shropshire Hills, and Yorkshire Wolds.Until 1998, the Humber Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world.
England has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round. Temperatures rarely fall below 23°F (-5°C) or rise above 86°F (30°C), although they can be quite variable. The prevailing wind is from the south-west, bringing mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean. It is driest in the east and warmest in the south, which is closest to the European mainland. Snowfall can occur in winter and early spring.
England's best-known river is the Thames, which flows through London. At 215 miles (346km), it is the longest river in England. The River Severn is the longest in total, but it flows from the mountains of Wales, and the parts which run through England are shorter than the Thames. Other rivers include the Trent, Humber, Tyne, Tees, Ribble, Ouse, Mersey, Dee, and Avon.
The largest natural harbor is at Poole, on the south-central coast.English countryside on a fine summer's day.
Originally, oak forests covered the lowlands, while pine forests and patches of moorland covered the higher or sandy ground. Much forest has been cleared for cultivation, so that by 2007, only about 9 percent of the total surface was wooded-in east and north of Scotland and in southeast England. Oak, elm, ash, and beech are the most common trees in England, while pine and birch are common in Scotland. Heather, grasses, gorse, and bracken predominate on the moorlands.
Wolves, bears, boars, and reindeer are extinct, but red and roe deer are protected for sport. Foxes, hares, hedgehogs, rabbits, weasels, stoats, shrews, rats, and mice are common, otters are found in many rivers, and seals appear along the coast. The chaffinch, blackbird, sparrow, and starling are the most numerous of the 230 species of birds there, and another 200 are migratory. Game birds-pheasants, partridges, and red grouse-are protected. The rivers and lakes contain salmon, trout, perch, pike, roach, dace, and grayling.
Agriculture is intensive, highly mechanized, and efficient by European standards, producing about 60 percent of food needs with only one percent of the labor force. It contributes around two percent of GDP. Around two thirds of production is devoted to livestock, and one third to arable crops.
As part of the United Kingdom, England is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It has met Kyoto Protocol target of a 12.5 percent reduction from 1990 levels and intends to meet the legally binding target of a 20 percent cut in emissions by 2010. The government aims to reduce the amount of industrial and commercial waste disposed of in landfill sites to 85 percent of 1998 levels and to recycle or compost at least 25 percent of household waste, increasing to 33 percent by 2015.The City of Birmingham
The capital city of England is London, which is the largest city in Great Britain, and the largest city in the European Union by most measures. The Greater London Urban Area has a population of 8,278,251. The ancient City of London still retains its tiny medieval boundaries; but the name "London" has long applied more generally to the whole metropolis which has grown up around it. An important settlement for around two millennia, London is today one of the world's leading business, financial and cultural centers, and its influence in politics, education, entertainment, media, fashion, and the arts all contribute to its status as one of the major global cities.
Birmingham is the second largest, both in terms of the city itself and its urban conurbation. A number of other cities, mainly in central and northern England, are of substantial size and influence. These include: Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Bristol, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham, and Hull.
Prehistoric EnglandStonehenge, a Neolithic and Bronze Age megalithic monument in Wiltshire, thought to have been erected c.2000-2500 B.C.E.
Cro-Magnons (the first anatomically modern humans) are believed to have arrived in Europe about 40,000 years ago, and lived in the region that was to become England by 27,000 years ago. Up to around 6000 B.C.E., England was connected to Europe, and was easily accessible by nomadic hunter-gatherers. Around 4000 B.C.E., Neolithic immigrants brought agriculture, used stone tools, buried their dead in communal graves of stone or mounds of earth, and conducted rituals at henge monuments. From around 2300 B.C.E., Beaker folk, who buried their dead in individual graves, often with a drinking vessel, arrived from the Low Countries and middle Rhine. These people knew how to work copper and gold. Wessex chieftains dominated trade, and ensuing prosperity enabled these chieftains to build the large bluestone monoliths known as Stonehenge.
The CeltsPrincipal sites in Roman Britain, with indication of the Celtic tribes.
From the eighth century B.C.E., Celts arrived, and hill forts began to appear. A succession of migrations took place from 700 B.C.E. to 400 B.C.E. Settlements had a traditional round house, and farming was characterized by small fields, and storage pits for grain. Iron daggers were made, then swords, and with increasing pressure on resources, increasing numbers of hill forts were built.
The first Roman invasion of the British Isles was led by Julius Caesar in 55 B.C.E.; the second, a year later in 54 B.C.E. Although no territory was taken for the Roman Empire on either occasion, this was the start of the Roman settlement of Britain. The Romans had many supporters among the Celtic tribal leaders, who agreed to pay tributes to Rome in return for Roman protection. The Romans returned in 44 C.E., led by Claudius, this time establishing control, and establishing a province Britannia. Initially an oppressive rule, gradually the new leaders gained a firmer hold on their new territory which at one point stretched from the south coast of England to Wales and as far away as Scotland (though they did not hold the latter for long). Hadrian's Wall, built on the Solway-Tyne isthmus (122 C.E.-130 C.E.) marked the frontier of Roman civilization.
Over the approximately 350 years of Roman occupation of Britain, the majority of settlers were soldiers garrisoned on the mainland. It was with constant contact with Rome and the rest of Romanized Europe through trade and industry that the native Britons themselves adopted Roman culture and customs.
Christianity is thought to have come from three directions-from Rome (via Roman merchants and soldiers), and from Scotland and Ireland. Christianity made little headway until the late fourth century, initially among wealthy villa owners. By the end of Roman rule, in 410 C.E., Christian leaders followed the teachings of the Briton Pelagius (354-420), considered heretical, because he denied the doctrine of original sin, and emphasized the importance of the human will over divine grace in attaining salvation. This philosophy of self-reliance is a British characteristic. St Augustine (who died in 604) was the first Archbishop of Canterbury. The Synod of Whitby in 685 ultimately led to the English Church being fully part of Roman Catholicism.
Anglo-Saxon EnglandAn Anglo-Saxon helmet found at Sutton Hoo.
The history of Anglo-Saxon England covers the history of early medieval England from the end of Roman Britain and the establishment of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the fifth century until the Conquest by the Normans in 1066. It is speculated that the first Germanic immigrants to Britain arrived at the invitation of the Roman rulers. The traditional division into Angles, Saxons and Jutes is first seen in the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum by Bede, however historical and archaeological research has shown that a wider range of Germanic peoples from the coast of Frisia, Lower Saxony, Jutland, and Southern Sweden moved to Britain in this era. After the withdrawal of the last legions in the early fifth century, the number of newcomers increased, and it is speculated that relations with the ruling Romanized Britons became strained.
By about 449, open conflict had broken out, and the immigrants began to establish their own kingdoms in what would eventually become the Heptarchy, the seven petty kingdoms which eventually merged to become the Kingdom of England: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Wessex. As early as the time of Ethelbert of Kent (560-616), one king could be recognized as Bretwalda ("Lord of Britain"). The title fell in the seventh century to the kings of Northumbria, in the eighth to those of Mercia, and finally, in the ninth, to Egbert of Wessex, who in 825 defeated the Mercians at the Battle of Ellendun. In the next century his family came to rule all England.
The earliest Viking raid on Britain was 789 when, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Portland was attacked. A more reliable report dates from June 8, 793, when the monastery at Lindisfarne on the east coast of England was pillaged. These raiders, whose expeditions extended well into the ninth century, were gradually followed by settlers who brought a new culture and tradition markedly different from that of the prevalent Anglo-Saxon society. These enclaves expanded, and soon Viking warriors established areas of control that could be described as kingdoms. Viking conquest of large parts of England established the Danelaw, a name given to northern and eastern England in which the laws of the Danes held predominance over those of the Anglo-Saxons.
The Kingdom of EnglandStatue of Alfred the Great at Winchester.
Originally, England (or Angleland) was a geographical term to describe the territory of Britain which was occupied by the Anglo-Saxons, rather than a name of an individual nation-state. During the ninth century, the southern Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex came to dominate other kingdoms in England (especially as a result of the extinction of rival lines in England during the First Viking Age). Alfred the Great (849-899), who was king of Wessex from 871 to 899, defeated the Viking Guthrum at the Battle of Edington in 878.
England was unified in 927 by Athelstan. For several hundred years, the Kingdom of England would fall in and out of power between several Wessex and Danish kings. For over half a century, the unified Kingdom of England became part of a vast Danish empire under Canute the Great (995-1035), before regaining independence for a short period under the restored West-Saxon lineage of Edward the Confessor(1004-1066).
The Kingdom of England (including Wales) continued to exist as an independent nation-state right through to the Acts of Union and the Union of Crowns. However the political ties and direction of England were changed forever by the Norman Conquest in 1066.
Norman conquestThe Bayeux Tapestry depicts the Battle of Hastings and the events leading to it.
William the Conqueror (Duke of Normandy) landed in England in September 1066 to assert his claim to the throne. The Saxon king Harold II had just destroyed an invading Norwegian Viking army under King Harald Hardråda, ending the Viking age. William's success at the Battle of Hastings (October 14, 1066), in which the Saxon king Harold II was killed, resulted in the Norman control of England. William ordered the compilation of the Domesday Book, a survey of the entire population and their lands and property for tax purposes. The Norman conquest was a pivotal event in English history for a number of reasons. This conquest linked England more closely with Continental Europe through the introduction of a Norman aristocracy, thereby lessening Scandinavian influence. It created one of the most powerful monarchies in Europe and engendered a sophisticated governmental system. 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 conquest changed the English culture, and set the stage for rivalry with France, which would continue intermittently until the twentieth century. It has an iconic role in English national identity as the last successful military conquest of England.
The Middle AgesFifteenth-century miniature depicting the English victory over France at the Battle of Agincourt (1415), part of the Hundred Years War.
The English Middle Ages, which lasted from 1066 until conflicts over the English throne between the Houses of Lancaster and York, known as the Wars of the Roses, ended in 1487, were characterized by civil war, international war, occasional insurrection, and widespread political intrigue among the aristocratic and monarchic elite. England was an important part of expanding and dwindling empires based in France, with the "King of England" being a subsidiary title of a succession of French-speaking Dukes of territories in what became France. English kings used England as a source of troops to enlarge their personal holdings in France for the duration of the Hundred Years' War (1337 to 1453). In fact the English crown did not relinquish its last foothold on mainland France until Calais was lost during the reign of Mary Tudor (the Channel Islands remain crown dependencies).
The Principality of Wales, under the control of English monarchs from the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284, became part of the Kingdom of England by the Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542. Wales shared a legal identity with England as the joint entity originally called "England" and later "England and Wales."
Magna CartaThe signing of the Magna Carta (1215).
The signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, had lasting impact. King John (1166 - 1216) suffered the loss of Normandy and numerous other French territories following the disastrous Battle of Bouvines in 1214. He managed to antagonize 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 required the king to renounce certain rights, respect certain legal procedures and accept that "the will of the king could be bound by law." It established that the king may not levy or collect any taxes (except the feudal taxes to which they were hitherto accustomed) without the consent of a council. Magna Carta was the most significant early influence on the long historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law.
The Black Death
An epidemic of catastrophic proportions, the Black Death first reached England in the summer of 1348. The Black Death is estimated to have killed between a third and two-thirds of Europe's population. England alone lost as many as 70 percent of its population, which passed from seven million to two million in 1400. The plague repeatedly returned to haunt England throughout the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries. The Great Plague of London in 1665-1666 was the last plague outbreak.
The English ReformationPortrait of John Wycliffe.
During the English Reformation, the external authority of the Roman Catholic Church in England was abolished and replaced with a Church of England, outside the Roman Catholic Church, under the Supreme Governance of the English monarch. The English Reformation differed from its European counterparts in that it was a political, rather than purely theological, dispute at root.
John Wycliffe (c. 1320-1384), an English theologian and early proponent of reform in the Roman Catholic Church, worked tirelessly on an English translation of the Bible in one complete edition. Since his beliefs and teachings seemed to compare closely with Luther, Calvin, and other reformers, historians have called Wycliffe "The Morning Star of the Reformation." The itinerant preachers, called Lollards, Wycliffe sent throughout England, created a spiritual revolution. Intense persecution, from both the religious and secular authorities, cracked down on the Lollards sending the movement underground.
John Wycliffe denied the doctrine of transubstantiation, which holds that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist changes in substance into the body and blood of Jesus. He was condemned in a Papal Bull in 1410, and all his books were burned. The seeds of reform that Wycliffe planted were not to blossom until a couple hundred years later.
The TudorsKing Henry VIII of England.
The relatively unknown Henry Tudor, Henry VII, won the final conflict in the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, where the Yorkist Richard III was killed, thus beginning the Tudor period, which lasted until the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603.
King Henry VIII (1491-1547) 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. 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.
Henry VIII had one legitimate child and two illegitimate children who survived him. Edward VI of England, Henry's legitimate heir, was only a boy of 10 when he took the throne in 1547. When Edward VI lay dying of tuberculosis in 1553, Mary I (1516-1558) took the throne amidst popular demonstration in her favor in London. Mary, a devout Catholic, also known as Bloody Mary, tried to re-impose Catholicism, which 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 resentment around Court. Mary died at the age of 42, to be succeeded by her half-sister, who became Elizabeth I.Queen Elizabeth I of England.
The reign of Elizabeth restored a sort of order to the realm. The religious issue, which had divided the country since Henry VIII, was put to rest by the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, which created the Church of England in much the same form we see it today. The Act of Supremacy of 1559 re-established the English church's independence from Rome, with parliament conferring on Elizabeth the title Supreme Governor of the Church of England, while the Act of Uniformity of 1559 set out the form the English church would take, including establishing the Book of Common Prayer, and phrasing the delicate issue of transubstantiation. Much of Elizabeth's success was in balancing the interests of the Puritans (radical Protestants) and "die-hard" Catholics.
The slave trade that established Britain as a major economic power can be attributed to Elizabeth, who granted John Hawkins the permission to commence trading in 1562. The number of Africans transported to England was so great due to the slave trade that by 1596, Elizabeth complained. She tried unsuccessfully to expel them via a Proclamation in 1601.
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, following the Union of the Crowns, became King James I of England. 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. James survived a number of assassination attempts, 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 was stoked up and served as further fuel for antipathy in England towards the Catholic faith.
Plantations in Ireland, from 1608, formed a pattern for establishing colonies, and several people involved in those projects also had a hand in the early colonization of North America-Humphrey Gilbert, Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake and Ralph Lane. In 1607, England built an establishment in Virginia (Jamestown), in what was to become the United States of America. This was the beginning of English colonization. Many English settled in North America for religious or economic reasons. While the first party religious pilgrims left for the New World in 1620, in the second half of the seventeenth century, those numbers increased dramatically, as these religious pilgrims sought a land where they could worship freely.
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 colonization accrued fortunes equal to those of great aristocratic landowners in England, and their money, which fueled the rise of the middle class, permanently altered the balance of political power.
The empire took shape during the early seventeenth century, with the English settlement of the eastern colonies of North America, which would later become the original United States, as well as Canada's Atlantic provinces, and the colonization of the smaller islands of the Caribbean such as Saint Kitts, Barbados and Jamaica. The sugar-producing colonies of the Caribbean, where slavery became central to the economy, were at first England's most important and lucrative colonies.
Civil warCromwell at Dunbar. Oliver Cromwell united the whole of the British Isles by force and created the Commonwealth of England.King Charles I, who was beheaded in 1649.
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations which took place between Parliamentarians and Royalists from 1642 until 1651. 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 handed over to the English Parliament in early 1647. He escaped and the Second English Civil War began, although it was to be only 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. The Civil War ended with the Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651. The English monarchy was replaced with the Commonwealth of England (1649-1653) and then with a Protectorate (1653-1659), under the personal rule of Oliver Cromwell. After a brief return to Commonwealth rule, in 1660 The Crown was restored and Charles II accepted parliament's invitation to return to England.
During this period from 1649-1660, known as the "interregnum," the monopoly of the Church of England on Christian worship in England came to an end, and the victors consolidated the already-established Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Constitutionally, the wars established a precedent that British monarchs could not govern without the consent of Parliament although this would not be cemented until the Glorious Revolution later in the century.
In 1665, the plague, swept through London, and in 1666, the Great Fire raged for five days, destroying approximately 15,000 buildings.
The death of Charles II in 1685 meant his Catholic brother was crowned King James II & VII. 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. On February 13, 1689, parliament passed the Declaration of Right, in which it deemed that James, by attempting to flee on December 11, 1688, had abdicated the government of the realm, thereby leaving the Throne vacant. William and Mary were crowned together at Westminster Abbey on April 11, 1689.
William III of England encouraged the passage of the Act of Toleration 1689, which guaranteed religious toleration to certain Protestant nonconformists. It did not, however, extend toleration to Roman Catholics or those of non-Christian faiths. Thus the Act was not as wide-ranging as James II's Declaration of Indulgence, which attempted to grant freedom of conscience to people of all faiths.
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 being the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692. Jacobite rebellions continued on into the mid-eighteenth 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 resoundingly defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
United Kingdom formedParliamentary Union of England and Scotland 1707, painting by Walter Thomas Monnington.
Under the Acts of Union 1707, England (including Wales) and Scotland, which had been in personal union since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, agreed to a political union in the form of a unified Kingdom of Great Britain. The Act of Union 1800 united the Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland, which had been gradually brought under English control between 1541 and 1691, to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801.
Since 1707, England, while ceasing to exist as an independent political entity, has remained highly dominant in what is now the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Due to her geographic size and large population, the dominant political and economic influence in the UK stems from England. London has remained the capital city of the UK and has built upon its status as the economic and political center of the UK.
Britain was an important part of the Age of Enlightenment with philosophical and scientific input and a literary and theatrical tradition. Over the next century England played an important role in developing Western ideas of parliamentary democracy, partly via the emergence of a multi-party system, as evidenced in the rise of the Whig and Tory political parties. There were significant contributions to literature, the arts and science. But, like other Great Powers, England was involved in colonial exploitation, including the infamous Atlantic slave trade, until the passing of the 1807 Slav