Thursday, June 14, 2012

History of England

Since England has a tremendous amount of History, I am going to write a brief History. If you need more information the Internet is loaded with it.

Prehistory & Antiquity

England has been settled by humans for at least 500,000 years. The first modern humans (homo sapiens) arrived during the Ice Age (about 35,000 to 10,000 years ago), when the sea levels were lower and Britain was connected to the European mainland. It is these people who built the ancient megalithic monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury. Isolated as a island, England remained a pagan society organized around villages until the Celtic tribes arrived.

During the Bronze Age, between 1,500 and 500 BC, Celtic tribes migrated from Central Europe and France to Britain and mixed with the indigenous inhabitants, creating a new culture slightly distinct from the Continental Celtic one.This culture spread through the land that we now know as England, Scotland, and Ireland and the Celtic language is still spoke in pockets of those lands today.

The Romans

In 55 BC, during the reign of Julius Caesar, the Romans tried to invade Britain but failed for a hundred years. Eventually, in 43 AD, the Romans established a foothold in Britain, but continue to be plagued by skirmishes with the Pagan Barbarians from the indigenous population. Later,  in 122 AD, Emperor Hadrian built a wall in the north of Britannia to keep the barbarian at bay. This wall is still standing in the North and can be followed on foot by Hadrians Wall Path or by cycle on National Cycle Route 72. It is the most popular tourist attraction in Northern England. The Romans progressively abandoned Britannia in the 5th century as their Empire was falling apart and legions were needed to protect Rome.

The Anglo-Saxons

With the Romans gone, the Celtic tribes started fighting with each others again, and one of the local chieftain had the not so brilliant idea to request help from the some Germanic tribes from the North of present-day Germany and South of Denmark. These were the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who arrived in the 5th and 6th centuries.

The Vikings

From the second half of the 9th century, the Norse from Scandinavia started invading Europe, the Swedes taking up Eastern Europe, Russia (which they founded as a country) and the Byzantine Empire, the Norwegians raiding Scotland and Ireland, discovering and settling in the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland (and were in fact the first Europeans to set foot in America in 1000 AD), while the Danes wrought havoc throughout Western Europe, as far south as North Africa.

The Normans

The Norse from Scandinavia pushed down into Northern France where they became know as Normans, Normandy, which got its name from the Normans, was the French province which they founded. Here they adopted the French civilization, language and religion, and became the most cultured people of Europe.

In 1066, Duke William of Normandy, William the Great, led the army into England and defeated the English king at the famous Battle of Hastings. (This how my husbands family became Anglicized) England was under Norman rule for 88 years afterwards. William, The Conqueror, used harsh measures and ruled with an iron hand, but with his ability and determination he was able to unite England and gain the respect of his people.

Centuries of internal strife

The English royals after William I had the infamous habit to fight over the throne. William's son, William II was killed while hunting (it is believed that he was murdered, so that William's second son, Henry, could become king). Henry I's succession had to deal with a civil war started by his daughter Matilda and her cousin Stephen (grandson of William I). Although Stephen won, Matilda's son succeeded him as Henry II (1133-1189).

Edward III (1312-1377) succeeded his father at the age of 15 and reigned for 50 years (the second longest King's reign in English history after Henry III). His reign was marked by the beginning of the Hundred Years' War (1337-1416) and "Black Death", which killed one third of England (and Europe's) population.
Edward III was often fighting in France and the government was controlled de facto by his third son John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. John of Gaunt's son, Henry Bolingbroke, took advantage of his cousin Richard II's absence to proclaim himself King Henry IV (1367-1413). Escaping several assassination attempts, Henry also had to deal with the revolt of Owen Glendower, who declared himself Prince of Wales in 1400, then with the rebellion of the Earl of Northumberland.

Henry V (1387-1422), famously defeated the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, but his pious and peace-loving son Henry VI (1421-1471), who inherited the throne at just one year old, was to have a much more troubled reign, losing most of the English possessions in France to a 17-year old girl (Joan of Arc) and in 1455, the War of the Roses broke out. This civil war opposed the House of Lancaster (the Red Rose, supporters of Henry VI) to the House of York (the White Rose, supporters of Edward IV). The Yorks argued that the crown should have passed to Edward III' second son, Lionel of Antwrep, rather than to the Lancasters descending from John of Gaunt.

Henry VIII is remembered in history as one of the most powerful kings of England. Except for getting married six times, desperate for a male heir, Henry changed the face of England, passing the Acts of Union with Wales (1536-1543), thus becoming the first English King of Wales, then changing his title of Lord of Ireland into that of (also first) King of Ireland (1541).

James I (1566-1625) was a Protestant, like Elizabeth and aimed at improving relations with the Catholics. But 2 years after he was crowned, a group of Catholic extremists led by Guy Fawkes attempted to place a bomb at the parliament's state opening, when the king and his entourage would be present, so as to get rid of all the Protestant aristocracy in one fell swoop. The conspirators were betrayed by one of their number just hours before the plan's enactment. The failure of the Gunpowder Plot, as it is known is still celebrated throughout Britain on Guy Fawkes' night (5th November), with fireworks and bonfires burning effigies of the conspirators' leader.

The British Empire

In 1760 a new king came to power in Great Britain named King George III. George III used the powerful British Navy to wage war with France. These wars brought the British Empire vast new territory, including all of Canada, as well as all the land in North America, East of the Mississippi River.

This war, which greatly enlarged the territories of Great Britain proved to be very costly, and nearly bankrupt the national treasury. King George III was, as a result, in desperate need of raising funds to keep his government operating. To do this, he looked to the colonies in the Americas. This pressure led to the famous battle cry in the American Colonies, "No Taxation without Representation" and the American Revolution. However, the British Empire continued to grow. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the leading global power. By 1922 the British Empire held sway over about 458 million people, one-fifth of the world's population at the time, and covered more than 33,700,000 km (13,012,000 sq mi), almost a quarter of the Earth's total land area.

The Postwar Period

After WWII the UK was bankrupt and its industry destroyed. In its weaken state, the British Empire was dismantled little by little, first granting the independence to India and Pakistan in 1947, then to the other Asian, African and Caribbean colonies in the 1950's, 60's, 70's and 80's. Most of these ex-colonies formed the British Commonwealth, now known as the Commonwealth of Nations.

In 1952, Elizabeth II (b. 1926) ascended the throne at the age of 26. Although she somewhat rehabilitated the image of the monarchy, her children did not, regularly making tabloid headlines of unsavory transgressions.

The 60's did see an explosion of English Pop and Rock music with groups like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and Black Sabbath. Political control has moved from Conservatives, famously represented by Margaret Thatcher, to Labor, recently led by Tony Blair, and back again.

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