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History of United Kingdom
 
 
 

Early History

Prior to 1707, the history of the British Isles spans Celtic tribes, Roman invasion with Britain south of the Forth broadly incorporated into the Roman Empire; thereafter invasion by the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th and 6th centuries; invasions by the Vikings in the 9th century, through to the Norman conquest of England in 1066; the development of the separate states of England and Scotland from the 9th century, and competition and cooperation between those states. The British Isles faced no further successful military incursion after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, allowing England and Scotland to each develop political, administrative and cultural institutions including representative governance, law systems, and distinguished contributions to the arts and sciences, upon which the United Kingdom was built.

Birth of The United Kingdom in the 18 Century

The United Kingdom of Great Britain came into being on 1 May 1707, as a result of the political union of the Kingdom of England (which included Wales) and the Kingdom of Scotland. The terms of the union had been agreed in the Treaty of Union that was negotiated the previous year and then ratified by the parliaments of Scotland and England each approving Acts of Union.

Though previously separate states, England and Scotland had shared monarchs since 1603 when James VI of Scotland become James I of England on the death of the childless Elizabeth I, an event known as the Union of the Crowns. The Treaty of Union enabled the two kingdoms to be combined into a single, united kingdom with the two parliaments merging into a single parliament of Great Britain. Queen Anne, (reigned 1702-14), who had favoured deeper political integration between the two kingdoms, became the first monarch of the united kingdom of Great Britain.

Though now a united kingdom, certain aspects of the former independent kingdoms remained separate in line with the terms in the Treaty of Union. Scottish and English law remained separate, as did the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the Anglican Church of England, as well as the separate systems of education.

The British Empire

The Seven Years' War, which began in 1756, was the first war waged on a global scale, fought in Europe, India, North America, the Caribbean, the Philippines and coastal Africa. The signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763) had important consequences for Britain and its empire. In North America, France's future as a colonial power there was effectively ended with the ceding of New France to Britain (leaving a sizeable French-speaking population under British control) and Louisiana to Spain. Spain ceded Florida to Britain. In India, the Carnatic War had left France still in control of its enclaves but with military restrictions and an obligation to support British client states, effectively leaving the future of India to Britain. The British victory over France in the Seven Years War therefore left Britain as the world's dominant colonial power.

During the 1760s and 1770s, relations between the Thirteen Colonies and Britain became increasingly strained, primarily because of resentment of the British Parliament's ability to tax American colonists without their consent. Disagreement turned to violence and in 1775 the American Revolutionary War began. The following year, the colonists declared the independence of the United States and with economic and naval assistance from France, would go on to win the war in 1783.

The loss of the United States, at the time Britain's most populous colony, is seen by historians as the event defining the transition between the "first" and "second" empires, in which Britain shifted its attention away from the Americas to Asia, the Pacific and later Africa. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, had argued that colonies were redundant, and that free trade should replace the old mercantilist policies that had characterised the first period of colonial expansion, dating back to the protectionism of Spain and Portugal. The growth of trade between the newly independent United States and Britain after 1783 confirmed Smith's view that political control was not necessary for economic success.

During its first century of operation, the focus of the British East India Company had been trade, not the building of an empire in India. Company interests turned from trade to territory during the 18th century as the Mughal Empire declined in power and the British East India Company struggled with its French counterpart, the La Compagnie française des Indes orientales, during the Carnatic Wars of the 1740s and 1750s. The Battle of Plassey, which saw the British, led by Robert Clive, defeat the French and their Indian allies, left the Company in control of Bengal and a major military and political power in India. In the following decades it gradually increased the size of the territories under its control, either ruling directly or indirectly via local puppet rulers under the threat of force of the Indian Army, 80% of which was composed of native Indian sepoys.


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