England's origins trace far back in history with the country's development being closely tied to the developing world around it. Archaeological evidence points to southern Britannia being colonised long before the rest of the British Isles as it had a more hospitable climate. It is believed that man lived in the British Isles around 8,000 years ago, before it broke away from the continent of Europe. People immigrated to the area, and then were cut off from mainland Europe by the flooding of the land bridge that is now known as the English Channel.
Wessex Culture helped to shape the land. Earthworks like Silbury Hill(the largest manmade mound in prehistoric Europe) and Stonehenge (world famous horseshoe of large sarsen stones) mark the land and are a visible sign of the country's history.
Julius Caesar's army invaded southern Britain in 55 BC. Caesar espoused admiration for the stable and prosperous people of southern Britannia. Caesar eventually abandoned Britain, allowing it to fall back under control of the Britons and the Belgae. However, a second conquest was begun in 43 AD under Claudius. Modern day England and Wales were annexed and control of lowland Scotland was asserted.
The term Anglo-Saxon refers to Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Britain beginning in the early 5th century. The term also applies to the language, now known as Old English, that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in England. Battles between native Britons and the invading Anglo-Saxons broke out in approximately 495. The Battle of Mount Badon provided success for the Britons and halted the westward Anglo-Saxon advance. This was a significant setback, but Anglo-Saxon expansion resumed in the 6th century. Saxon expansion through the West Country continued through the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries. By the mid-7th century the Angles had pushed the Britons back to the approximate borders of modern Wales in the west, the Tamar in the South west and expanded northward as far as the River Forth.
Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England began around 600 AD. It was 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. By 800, the Frankish Empire was firmly Christianized.
Power shifted between kingdoms during the 6th to 8th centuries. Northumbria, Mercia, Kent, East Anglia, Essex, Sussex and Wessex were the main political powers of south Britain during this time. The term "Mercian Supremacy" was used to describe the dominate powers in the 8th century. Kings Aethelbald and Offa were especially prominent - but alas - by the early 9th century the Mercian Supremacy was over.
In 793, the first recorded Viking attacks in Britain took place. It appears that he Vikings were well established in Orkney and Shetland, but it was not until this time that the arrival of the Vikings upset the political and social geography of Britain and Ireland. It was partly in response to the Vikings that the Kingdom of Alba formed (modern day Scotland).
Other invaders made their impact on Britain known. The Danes conquered Northumbria and settled the area. Norwegian settlements also influenced the nation and it's language. Many fundamental English words are derived from Old Norse. By the end of Alfred's reign in 899, he was the only remaining English king.
Edward the Elder took the throne in 899 and began expanding the kingdom. His wife, Aethelflaed, continued this plan after his death, with his son, Aethelstan, taking up this desire upon his accession to the throne. Aethelstan was the first king to achieve direct rulership of England. The country was moving towards unification, but there were still rivalries. Aethelstan's successors, Edmund and Eadred, endured repeated loss and regained control of Northumbria. It was later ruler - Edgar - who consolidated the kingdom.
Scandinavian attacks began again at the end of the 10th century. Sweyn of Denmark briefly took over rule of the kingdom, although Aethelred took it back. His heir, Edmund II, died shortly after taking the throne leading to 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. Rule passed between nations with failures to produce an heir, conflict, and attacks adding to the uncertainty. On September 28th, 1066 William of Normandy invaded England in the Norman Conquest. By October 14th, England's army was defeated and William was crowned king on Christmas Day 1066. For the next five years he faced a series of English rebellions and a Danish invasion, but was able to endure.
William brought further order to the state, ordering a survey of the population and property for tax purposes. Within 20 years of the conquest, the English ruling class had been almost entirely dispossessed and replaced by Norman landholders. William and his nobles spoke and conducted court in Norman French, leaving a strong impact on the country and language for the future.
War marked the English Middle Ages, but England fared well as a self-sufficient country. International trade of wool led to a close connection with the Flemish textile industry. This changed as an English textile industry was established in the 15th century. The country continued to reform and stabilise under Henry I, the fourth son of William I the Conqueror. He worked to unify the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman societies, but his work was partially undone by the lack of an heir when his son, William Adelin, was lost in the wreck of the White Ship in November 1120. The search for the next king was again contentious and difficult. Civil war and lawlessness wrecked havoc and attempts to appease Scottish and Welsh raiders led to giving up large amounts of land. On December 22nd, 1135, Stephen was anointed king with the implicit support of the church and nation. Matilda, a possible successor took the news gracefully, but appears to have been just in waiting as she attacked in autumn 1139. She invaded England and Stephen was captured. Matilda was proclaimed queen, but victory was short lived. She was soon expelled from London, leading again to insurrection and civil war. Stephen came back into power, reigning unopposed until his death in 1154.
The Kingdom of England was a sovereign state until the reign of Richard I. He made it a nominal vassal of the Holy Roman Empire in 1194, as part of a ransom when he was captured after a crusade. His successor, younger brother John, lost Normandy and numerous other French territories following the disastrous Battle of Bouvines. In 1212, John made the Kingdom of England a tribute-paying vassal of the Holy See. This remained until the 14th century when the Kingdom re-established its sovereignty.
King John was unpopular for his high taxes, unsuccessful wars and conflict with the Pope. To settle those set to rebel against him, he met with leaders to seal the Great Charter (Magna Carta in Latin) near London on June 15th, 1215. This imposed legal limits on the king's personal powers, but because he had sealed under duress, John received approval from the Pope to break his word. This continued to make him unpopular as he sought to oppose rebel forces.
The following kings were intermittently successful and disastrous, but none were as fatal to England as the Black Death. The bubonic plague spread over Europe, arriving in England in 1348. It is believed to have killed as much as a third to half the population.
The Hundred Years's War recorded victories and losses on both sides, but by the end in 1453, the King was determined unfit. Feuding nobles had taken advantage of the situation, resulting in civil war in 1455. Known as the Wars of the Roses, it lasted until 1485. The Tudors would continue to rule England for 118 years. In 1461, Henry was deposed, leading to a breakdown in the authority. A brief struggle for power ensued as Edward IV sought to restore order, eventually imprisoning Henry in the Tower of London. Henry VI never reclaimed the throne, and eventually died imprisoned there.
Though the War of the Roses was over, the government was severely weakened and the treasury empty. Henry VII worked to rebuild the nation's prominence, creating a tight fiscal policy with occasionally ruthless tax collection. It worked, and once again England was prosperous. Sadly, it did not last as Henry VIII did not share his father's economic prowess. He did, however, marry the widowed Catherine of Aragon and had several children, though none survived infancy except his daughter, Mary.
The year 1512 brought a war with France. The war was ill-thought out and without provocation and accomplished very little. The English army suffered and spurred James IV of Scotland to pledge alliance with France and declare war on England. Catherine, Henry's wife, dealt with the threat, defeating the Scots on September 9th, 1513. Despite this act of loyalty and intelligence, Catherine's inability to birth a male heir was worrisome. Henry decided that it was necessary to divorce Catherine and find a new queen. The Church would not permit this to happen, leading Henry VIII to secede from the Church. This was the start of the English Reformation.
The Church of England was established with the king taking the place occupied by Pope in the Catholic Church. A brutal reformation took years to complete and many were executed for resisting the king's religious policies. In the end, Catherine was not spared. In 1530, she was banished from court and spent the remainder of her life alone in the country. The marriage was declared invalid, which made Mary an illegitimate child. Henry tried to establish an heir by marrying Anne Boleyn in secret in 1531. She quickly became pregnant, but the court was disappointed in the arrival of a daughter in 1533, Elizabeth. They tried again in 1536 but a premature birth of a stillborn boy did not help matters. The king decided his marriage was hexed and put Anne in the Tower of London on charges of witchcraft. She was additionally charged with adultery and beheaded. The marriage was declared invalid, and Henry married again to Jane Seymour. She quickly became pregnant and happily delivered a boy in 1537. The son and heir, Edward, was a relief for the king but poor Jane Seymour died 10 days after the birth of puerperal sepsis. Henry's fourth wife was a German, Anne of Cleves. She proved to be a poor match and Henry did not consummate the marriage, but chose to marry again - this time to 19-year old Catherine Howard. This was also unsuccessful and so he married one last time to Catherine Parr. She cared for him as he aged, but it appears his true love was Jane Seymour. Henry mourned her death and was eventually buried next to her.
Mary I took the throne amidst popular demonstration in her favour in London. A devoted Catholic, she was committed to bringing England back to the Church. This was a bloody process, leading to burnings of over 250 Protestants. Mary's marriage to Philip, King of Spain, was difficult personally and for the nation. France, already at war with Spain, attacked at Calais - the last English outpost on the Continent. Troubled, Mary believed she was pregnant, but may have actually developed uterine cancer. She died in November 1558 to the joy of her people.
Elizabeth came to power in 1558 and once again brought order. The issues of religion that had so divided the country were dismissed as Elizabeth re-established the Church of England. A unique character in history, Elizabeth declined to marry. She maintained stability and reduced the power of nobility. England flourished, growing from 3 million in 1564 to nearly 5 million in 1616. Elizabeth died in 1603 at the age of 69. Her heir was the King of Scots, James VI who became King James I of England in a Union of the Crowns. He was the first monarch to rule the entire island of Great Britain.
The 1600s brought greater colonization with 1607 bringing a settlement at Jamestown. The success of plantations led to the need for slaves and the importation of African slaves developed. The English colonies did not have an independent foreign policy, but were allowed to operate independently.
The First English Civil War broke out in 1642. A matter of continuing conflicts between James's son, Charles I, and Parliament, the war led to the defeat of the Royalist army by the New Model Army of Parliament. Charles surrendered in early 1647, but escaped and began the Second English Civil War. The New Model Army won again and Charles was beheaded in January 1649. The end of the war led to the replacement of the monarchy with first, the republicanCommonwealth of England (1649–53), and then with a Protectorate (1653–59) ruled by Oliver Cromwell, a member of the parliament.
In 1666, the London was swept by the Great Fire. It raged for 5 days and destroyed approximately 15,000 buildings.
In December 1689, the Bill of Rights was passed. One of the most important constitutional documents in English history, this established restrictions on royalty. Bloody battles for the throne continued, with religious factions campaigning for different heirs.
The Acts of Union between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland were Parliamentary Acts passed by both parliaments in 1707. These acts formed a Kingdom of Great Britain governed by a unified Parliament of Great Britain according to the Treaty of Union. Furthermore, in 1800 The Act of Union formally assimilated Ireland within the British political process. On January lst, 1801 a new state was created 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. This existed until the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 which established the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland) as a separate state. Northern Ireland was left as part of the United Kingdom and the official name of the UK thus became "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".
The United Kingdom was one of the Allied Powers during World War I (1914–1918). This conflict further developed the UK's role in world politics as it succeeded in defeating the Central Powers (the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Bulgaria). During the war, the British Royal Family dissolved ties with its German relatives and changed its name from the German-sounding House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the British House of Windsor. Patriotic feelings spread throughout the country, diminishing the extent of class barriers of Edwardian England.
Conflicts between European nations once again arouse in the late 1930s. In 1938, Britain attempted to appease Germany and avoid another world war by signing the Munich Pact, giving Germany permission to invade the contested Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. When Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia a few months later, it was clear that this attempt at appeasement had not worked. In March 1939, Britain announced that it would support Poland if Germany invaded it, but Germany invaded anyway. It was official. On September 3, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany marking the beginning of World War II. In May 1940, Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister. The English people suffered under intense German bombing that destroyed much of London and killed thousands of people. In March 1941, the U.S. began giving direct support to the British and after the attack on Pearl Harbor America became directly involved in the war. In January 1942, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to establish a Combined Chiefs of Staff and to the make defeating Germany their first priority. Success was hard fought, but achieved when Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7, 1945. In total, Great Britain lost over 300,000 fighting men and over 60,000 civilians in World War II.
The United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community in 1973, which became the European Union in 1993. The Local Government Commission was created to replace the Royal Commission in 1966. Further reforms were the Local Government Act of 1972. This resulted in a uniform and simplified system of local government. In 1997, the Lieutenancies Act was passed, separating all local authority areas from the geographical area. The Labour party also devolved power to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in 1997.
The country continues to reign as a world power and evolve within itself. Events such as the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Summer Olympics in 2012 continue to celebrate the country's traditions and place in history.
Intensive excavation has revealed surprisingly little about prehistoric settlement in the area. Finds of the Bronze and Iron ages include spearheads and weaponry, indicating the Thames was an important tribal boundary. One of the most significant finds was during a 2002 dig for the Channel 4 series Time Team. They unearthed a series of timbers driven vertically into the ground on the south bank of the Thames, suggesting the presence of a bridge or jetty 3,000 years ago. Roman city remains have been unexcavated, but it is unlikely that the area housed a significant Roman population. It is believed that the city was established as a civilian town by the Romans sometime in mid-40s AD. The settlement was quite small, roughly equivalent to the size of Hyde Park. It was destroyed in AD 60 by the Iceni. The city was quickly rebuilt as a planned Roman town and continued to grow. During the 2nd century, London replaced Colchester as the capital of Roman Britain (Britannia). At this time, the population was around 60,000 inhabitants. Despite this development, political instability and a recession led to the decline of the city from the 3rd century.
Raids on London by Saxon pirates plagued the city from the 3rd century. To defend itself, steep city walls were built, along the river. The wall remained for 1,600 years, marking London's perimeter. The seven city gates are some of the most important Roman ruins. Despite these advancements, the 5th century saw the Roman Empire in rapid decline. In 410 AD the Roman occupation had been abandoned and the city was largely deserted.
Anglo-Saxon settlers arrived as early as the 5th. Outside the Roman walls, settlements appear to be between today's Aldwych and Trafalgar Square. Known as Lundenwic, it was a trading settlement. The area was laid out in an orderly grid pattern with a population of 10-12,000. By the early 7th century, the London area had been incorporated into the kingdom of the East Saxons. The are developed under Christian rule with Mercian control taking over in the 730s.
Viking attacks created difficulty for the city, defining the 9th century. The city was sacked in 842 and again in 851. The Danish "Great Heathen Army" rampaged England and the city was under Danish control until 886. King Alfred the Great of Wessex recaptured the city, developing it under it's own unique local rule. London's size and commercial wealth brought it a steadily increasing importance as a focus of governmental activity. This economic prosperity also brought back the unwanted attention of the Vikings. It was unsuccessfully attacked in 994 by an army under King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark. England eventually collapsed under the pressure of the attacks in 1013, with London establishing the greatest resistance.
In 1042, English rule was restored under Edward the Confessor. Westminster Abbey was established and became more than a house of worship, it was a centre of government. Debate about an heir were disrupted by a Norman advanced on the south bank of the Thames. William succeeded in occupying London, securing him the crown.
The Norman regime established new fortresses, including the Tower of London at the eastern end of the city. The city was further protected by King William granting a charter in 1067 confirming the city's existing rights, privileges and laws. Its growing self-government was consolidated by the election rights granted by King John in 1199 and 1215. Construction of the London Bridge in 1176 established easy transportation across the Thames and remained the only bridge to cross the River Thames until 1739.
A Peasants's Revolt of 1381 allowed a weakened London to be invaded by rebels led by Wat Tyler. A group of peasants stormed the Tower of London and executed the Lord Chancellor, Archbishop Simon Sudbury, and the Lord Treasurer. The city was looted and set afire, but the death of Tyler halted the revolt.
The city continued to establish it's independent character throughout the early 1300s. It's fortuitous location helped establish it as a trade destination during the Middle Ages. Population grew from more than 15,000 in 1100 to roughly 80,000 in 1300. This was halted during the Black Death that caused the city to loose half it's population in the mid-14th century. Trade brought the city back to life and a Lord Mayor of the City was elected.
During the Reformation, London was the principal site of Protestantism. It's connections with the Protestants of northern continental Europe ensured that the trade relation effected the social climate. A large foreign mercantile community and disproportionately large number of literate inhabitants established an exceptional ability to spread new ideas of religious reform. Before the Reformation, more than half of the area of London was the property of religious houses. Henry VIII's "Dissolution of the Monasteries" meant nearly all of this property changed ownership. Starting in the mid 1530s most of the larger monastic houses were abolished.
Along with economic and political growth, the city experienced intellectual enlightenment with the works of great minds like William Shakespeare in the early 17th century. St Paul's Churchyard was the centre of the book trade and Fleet Street was a centre of public entertainment. Under James I rule, the theatre grew further in popularity. Aristocrats began to frequent the West End and an increasing number of families lived in London for part of the year, and spent the rest in the country. This was the beginning of the "London season". The city had been quite compact, but began to expand beyond the boundaries of the City.
A battle between the city and country broke out in 1642. Five members of parliament were to be arrested on orders of the King, but they were given refuge within the City. This led to a civil war in which London took the side of the parliament. Fortifications were built to protect the city including a strong earthen rampart that extended the city's area past the former city walls.
The city was attacked by a practically invisible army, the plague, in 1665. Killing around 60,000 people, this was about one fifth of the population at that time. The plague was thwarted by another catastrophe, the Great Fire on September 2nd, 1666. Started at 1:00 at a bakery in Pudding Lane, the blaze flamed on until Thursday. It destroyed about 60 percent of the City, including Old St Paul's Cathedral, 87 parish churches, 44 livery company halls and the Royal Exchange. Luckily, few lives were lost. The city was rebuilt anew with man places replaced, and many more reimagined in the brave new styles of the late 1660s.
The city was now booming as the Bank of England was founded, the British East India Company was expanding, and Lloyd's of London was begun. In 1700, London handled 80 percent of England's imports and 69 percent of its exports. The city excelled as a trading and redistribution centre as goods were brought to London by England's dominant merchant navy and shipped back out. Sadly, King William III did not care for London. He lived outside of the city in Kensington Palace. This did not impede the speed of growth as London took on the central role of the British Empire.
In 1762, George III acquired Buckingham Palace (then known as "Buckingham House") from the Duke of Buckingham. It was built into a palace over a series of projects expanding over 75 years. The Westminster Bridge was built in 1750, creating another passage over the Thames.
Crime was a detractor of the city in the 18th century. The Bow Street Runners were established in 1750 as a professional police force. Penalties were harsh and included the death penalty. Public hangings were common and feature as popular public events. Violence took on a new face in 1780 with the Gordon Riots. An uprising by Protestants against Roman Catholic emancipation, Lord George Gordon led the outburst and severe damage was caused to Catholic churches and homes with 285 rioters killed. The development of a police force was carried out by then Home Secretary (and future prime minister) Robert Peel in 1829. The Metropolitan Police gained the nickname of "bobbies" or "peelers" after Robert Peel.
The American colonies broke away from British control in the 18th century. This actually brought great change and enlightenment. The city was now firmly the world's largest city and capital of the British Empire. Its population expanded from 1 million in 1800 to 6.7 million a century later. It was an undisputed world power, with global political, financial, and trading importance. The 19th century brought railways and connected the city to outlying areas of England. Travel between cities was never easier and wealthier classes emigrated to the suburbs, leaving the poor to inhabit the inner city areas. A large Irish population settled in the city during the Victorian period, becoming the largest minority group outside of the Jewish community.
In 1888, the new County of London was established, administered by the London County Council. This was the first elected London-wide administrative body. The city entered the 20th century at the height of its influence as the capital of the largest empire in history.
WWI deeply affected the city. London experienced severe bombing raids that locked down the city and inspired terror. The largest explosion occurred during World War I during the Silvertown explosion when a munitions factory containing 50 tons of TNT exploded, killing 73 and injuring 400. However, the city was able to bounce back once the war was won.
The Great Depression of the 1930s led to high levels of unemployment. Extreme parties of both the right and left flourished in this difficult and unhappy environment. Clashes between the right and left culminated in the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, but eventually as the depression eased, so did political tensions. The population of London reached a peak of 8.6 million in 1939.
World War II held extensive bombings for all of England, with some of the worst occurring in London. The city was bombed extensively by the Luftwaffe as part of the Blitz. The heaviest bombing took place between September 7th, 1940 and May 10th, 1941 with 71 separate raids receiving over 18,000 tonnes of high explosive. Though hundreds of thousands of children in London were evacuated to the countryside to avoid the bombing, civilian losses were extensive. By the end of the war, England had been on the winning side but around 30,000 Londoners were killed by the bombing, and over 50,000 were seriously injured.
The city worked to regain pre-war normalcy by hosting the 1948 Summer Olympics. Rebuilding was slow, but the Olympics were a success and marked the city's recovery. The 1951 Festival of Britain continued to show an increasing mood of optimism. Youth culture became the focus of the world with London at the center of it in the mid-1960s. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones reached worldwide prominence and ushered in a new era. London continued to be the site of world trends including the swinging London subculture of Carnaby Street, the trendsetting styles of the 1980s, and the mid-1990s musical revival of Britpop.
The London Plan was published by the Mayor of London in 2004 and predicted the population would reach 8.1 million by 2016. The plan sought to provide for issues of housing, employment, and public transport. The city has continued to strive for improvements and it's success in its bid to host the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics was yet another marker for the city's ability to adapt and grow stronger.
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