A BRIEF BRITISH HISTORY

The British Isles have a rich history going back thousands of years. They have witnessed intermittent periods of competition and cooperation between the people that occupy the various parts of Great Britain, Ireland, and the smaller adjacent islands, which together make up the British Isles.

stonehenge01Stonehenge

1. PREHISTORIC BRITAIN

Prehistory is the story of man before written records began. The most impressive prehistoric remains are hill figures, hill forts, and stone circles. During this period various peoples came to settle in Britain, of which the most important were the Celts, who came in the 5th century B.C. Different forms of their language are still spoken today : Welsh in parts of Wales, and Gaelic in parts of Scotland and Ireland.

A magic circle :

The most famous of the prehistoric stone circles is STONEHENGE, built between 1800 and 1500 B.C. The biggest stones are seven metres high with a further three metres underground. Some of the stones were brought from South West Wales;imagine how difficult it was to transport these huge blocks of stone in those early days. It is thought that Stonehenge and the other stone circles were built on lines of magnetic power that cross the surface of the earth. Exactly why it was built is not known for certain; it may have been a temple for sun worship or a calendar for showing the movements of the sun and the planets.

2. ROMAN BRITAIN (55 BC – 400 AD)

The recorded history of Britain began in 55 B.C., when the first Romans arrived under Julius Caesar. They made a full invasion about 100 years later and they stayed in Britain for over 350 years. The Romans were great builders and Britain has many Roman remains, such as roads, villas, public baths, and fortifications.In about 400 AD the Romans were forced to leave Britain and return to Rome, to defend it against the attacks of Germanic tribes.

A Great Wall :

The most impressive of the Roman remains is a wall, built right across the north of England. In the second century A.D. the Emperor Hadrian built this wall as the most northern frontier of the Roman Empire. It was very heavily fortified with a small fort every mile and larger forts as well. Its purpose was to protect Roman Britain against the warlike tribes that lived north of the wall, in what is now Scotland.

hadrian-wall

3. THE ANGLO-SAXON, DANISH, AND NORMAN INVASIONS (400 – 1066)

Soon after the Romans left, Britain was also attacked by Germanic tribes, mainly Angles and Saxons. At first, they only raided but eventually they settled and colonised much of Britain. But the peace did not last. First the warlike vikings attacked from Denmark. They started their raids in the 8th Century and made their first full-scale invasion in 865. Indeed, Britain was even under Danish rule for a while, from 1016 to 1042. Then, the Anglo-Saxons had only just regained the throne when the Normans arrived under William the Conqueror. William defeated the Anglo-Saxons under King Harold at the battle of Hastings in 1066, and so he became King William I of England.

king-arthur-winchester-round-table-closeup-webKing Arthur

 

A King Out Of Legend :  

When the Romans left Britain, the land was unprotected against the invading Angles, Saxons and Jutes. They found conquest easy until a king called Arthur united the British and defeated the invaders in many battles. The result was that the Anglo-Saxon advance was halted for about 50 years. Little more than this is known about Arthur except for a powerful legend of magical powers. This legend later became the story of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, a legend full of medieval chivalry and Christian symbols but also some of the earlier magic. But the story does not belong only to Britain; medieval French and German poets also wrote about King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.

A Naked Lady :

One of the most colourful stories to come out of Saxon England is that of Lady Godiva. She lived in the 11th century and was the wife of Earl Leofric. According to the legend, when her husband demanded high taxes from the people of Coventry, she took their side. Her husband then dared her to ride naked through the streets of Coventry, promising her to lower the taxes if she did so. She agreed. When she rode naked through the town, all the grateful people of Coventry stayed indoors with their windows shut – all, that is, except a certain tailor called Tom who peeped through his window and was struck blind for daring to look. He became known as "Peeping Tom", which is now an expression in the English language.

lady_godiva_john_collier_c-_1897Lady Godiva

medival2

4. MEDIEVAL ENGLAND (1066 – 1485)
A new era began with the Norman conquest. William and his descendants introduced the feudal system and strengthened the rule of the King and the Church. During this period, England conquered Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and held a lot of land in France. The most dramatic events in these years were :
 
1095: The first of nine Crusades to the Holy Land. The final one was in 1271.
1170: The murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral as a result of a quarrel between the king and the church.
1215: The Magna Carta : The English nobles forced King John to sign a document that limited his power and extended the rights of his subjects.
1337: Start of the Hundred Years War with France.
1348: Start of the terrible plague known as the Black Death.
1455: Start of the War of the Roses, a struggle for the Throne of England between the House of York ( white rose ) and the House of Lancaster ( red rose ). It ended in 1485 when Henry Tudor became Henry VII.
 

5. THE TUDORS (1485 – 1603)

The Tudor age was a very lively period in English history, a time of new learning, trade and expansion. The most interesting of the Tudor monarchs are Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. Henry is best known for having 6 wives and for establishing the Church of England. Elizabeth's reign was a long and golden one. It is famous for sea exploration and naval victories, especially the sinking of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Elizabethan England was also a great age for literature – it was then that Shakespeare lived.

A Royal Divorce :

One of the most colourful of all English Kings was Henry VIII (1509 – 1547). He was married to his first wife for quite a long time, but he only had one daughter. He wanted a son and he wanted to marry the beautiful Anne Boleyn. But at that time, England was a Roman Catholic country and the Pope refused to give Henry a divorce. So Henry asked his archbishop, Cardinal Wolsey, to help him. When Wolsey failed, Henry broke away from Rome and established The Church of England, which has been independent from Rome ever since. Wolsey tried to get friendly with the King again by giving him his own palace, Hampton Court as a present. Henry accepted it but never forgave Wolsey. Henry VIII used his power as head of the new Church to get a divorce whenever he wanted one. He was married 6 times in all, but he did not need a divorce every time. Two of his Queens had their heads chopped off!

 

henryviiiHenry VIII

guyfawkesGuy Fawkes

6. THE STUARTS (1603 – 1714) 
The 17th century was a time of great conflict between Parliament and the Kings over who should rule the country. The conflict came to a head in the reign of Charles I (1625-1649). A civil war was fought between the King and the parliamentarians under Oliver Cromwell. The parliamentarians won and Charles was beheaded. For about ten years Cromwell ruled England : the only decade in a thousand years that England has had no monarch. The Stuarts returned when Cromwell died, but the role of Parliament was firmly established.
 
Guy Fawkes, an early terrorist:
The Gunpowder plot was an attempt by English Catholics to blow up the King as he opened Parliament on November 5th 1605. But the conspiracy was discovered before November 5th because one Member of Parliament received a letter warning him not to attend Parliament on that day. The Houses of Parliament were secretly searched and in one of the cellars, 36 barrels of gunpowder were found. When Guy Fawkes entered the cellar on November 5th to blow up the Houses of Parliament, soldiers were waiting there to arrest him. Nowadays, November 5th is called Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night. The night is celebrated all over England with fireworks and bonfires on which "guys" – effigies of Guy Fawkes – are burnt.
 
 
The Early Americans 
In 1620 a ship left Plymouth, bound for America. It was called The Mayflower and carried as its passengers the Pilgrims Fathers. They were a group of 44 Puritans who disliked the Church of England and English society. So they decided to set up a colony, a new society based on their own religion, in the New World. They were among the first of many millions to make a similar journey.
 
7. THE HANOVERIANS (1714 – 1901)
The 18th and 19th centuries were a period of major growth for Britain in three areas. Firstly there was the gradual growth of the power of Parliament at the expense of the monarchy.Secondly there was the Industrial Revolution, a dynamic economic change which began in the late 18th century and transformed Britain into the first modern industrial society. Linked with the new industrialism was the third area of growth, the growth of the British Empire.The British Empire had started as early as the 16th century but it expanded dramatically in the 18th and 19th century until it reached its peak in the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), the longest-reigning monarch in British history.Under Victoria, Britain was the most important industrial, commercial and political power in the world, with an Empire which included a quarter of the world's population and area.
 
Two Famous Fighters :
The early years of the 19th century produced two great British military leaders : one a soldier, the other a sailor. The soldier was the duke of Wellington. After campaigns in Europe and India, Wellington became Commander-in-Chief of the British and allied armies against Napoleon. His most famous victory was Waterloo, which ended the Napoleonic Wars.While Wellington was fighting the French on land, Admiral Nelson was fighting them at sea. In one battle he lost an eye; in another he lost his right arm. He also suffered badly from sea-sickness, and his love affair with Lady Hamilton caused many scandals. His finest hour was also his last. At the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 he gained the decisive naval victory of the war, but he was killed during the battle. The man and his victory are commemorated by Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square in London.
 

nelson6Admiral Nelson

churchillh07Winston Churchill

8. THE 20th CENTURY
The 20th century has seen Britain's involvement in two World Wars. The British Empire has almost disappeared, but it has been replaced by the British Commonwealth, a Federation of independent countries whose head is Queen Elizabeth II. Also, in 1971 Britain joined the Common Market and so made new alliances with other European countries. At home, the century has seen the gradual expansion of the Welfare State. But the biggest growth has been outside Britain; the spread of the English Language, that strange mixture of German, Scandinavian, Latin, French, Greek and Celtic, the result of its varied history.
 
A legend in his own lifetime :
Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was one of the great men of the 20th century. By the time the century opened he had already fought as a soldier and was an elected politician. Yet his real moment of history did not come for a further 40 years. In 1940 he became Prime Minister and led Britain throughout the Second World War. His energy, oratory and stubbornness helped the allies to resist and finally defeat Hitler in 1945. In his life he was many things : army officer, journalist, politician, admiral, historian, and painter. He was born in mid-Victorian times before the invention of the motor car, and he died at the age of 91 after the Beatles had had their first hit.
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