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England History
England History - TravelPuppy.com
The Romans first conquered and settled the major part of the British mainland between the 1st and 5th centuries AD, their influence was limited in the northern and western regions. After they withdrew (410-442) the island was invaded by Jutes, Saxons and Angles, who established seven kingdoms south of Hadrian's Wall. Scotland and Wales remained Pictish and Celtic. By the early-9th century Wessex had emerged as the dominant kingdom and was the spearhead of resistance to the Danish invasions, mainly during the reign of Alfred the Great.

By the time of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066), England was the most organised state in Europe and this position was consolidated when Norman military feudal organisation was declared by William I and his successors (notably Henry I and Henry II) after 1066.

Dynastic marriage and inheritance had given England control of most of France by the 12th century, and the territorial fights were not settled until the end of the Hundred Years' War in 1453. The constitutional history of England between the 11th and 15th centuries can be seen in terms of the gradual expansion of the powers of the crown and the efficiency and sophistication of the monarch's administration. This was a policy which ran contrary to the interests of the aristocracy and on many occasions, notably during the reigns of Stephen, John, Henry III, Edward II and Richard II, constitutional conflicts arose which checked or reversed the trend; indeed the last two of these were deposed to make way for a leader whom the barons felt would be more amenable to their wishes.

The deposition of Richard II and the accession to the throne of his cousin Henry IV of Lancaster ushered in 60 years of weak government and low royal prestige (notwithstanding Henry V's outstanding victory at Agincourt in 1415 and his conquest of most of France) which culminated in the dynastic conflict known as the Wars of the Roses. The throne changed hands six times between 1461 and 1485, when the Tudor Henry VII defeated Yorkist Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth.

One of the most able monarchs, Henry VII, managed to revive the power and prestige of the crown considerably. In 1509 his son Henry VIII succeeded to a stronger and wealthier state than it had ever been before. Scotland's development during this period was dominated by largely unsuccessful royal attempts at centralisation; nevertheless the kingdom was able to protect its independence in the face of constant English aggression, largely due to the talents of the members of the House of Stuart who preserved some semblance of royal authority, despite the fact that every ruler between 1437 and 1625 came to the throne as a minor. Their rewards came in 1603 when James VI succeeded Elizabeth I of England (see below). Wales remained as a Principality during this time, occasionally united and usually at the mercy of English political ambitions.

The Tudor period in England (1485-1603) went through several important developments: the re-establishment of central power, the break of relations with Rome under Henry VIII, the start of overseas expansion, the union of England and Wales and the flowering of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. Looking back, possibly the most important development was the growth of the power of Parliament. Accustomed to its slightly hazy beginnings in the baronial revolts of the 1260s to representing grievances and - particularly as a consequence of Edward III's urgent need for money to fight the French - granting taxation, the institution acquired a new sense of purpose in the 1530s. Henry VIII used Parliament for passing the Act of Supremacy and other legislation pertaining to the break with Rome, thus giving Parliament the prestige and self-confidence to influence the affairs of state, which it never lost.

Elizabeth I was succeeded by her cousin James VI of Scotland, although the union of the countries was not effected until 1707. The power of Parliament (see above) was to prove a more effective force in curbing the power of the crown than the medieval barons had been, and the English Civil War in the 1640s proved how effective this power had become: the conflict ended with the dramatic and horrific spectacle of the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the establishment of a confused series of republics and protectorates during the English Revolution (1649-1660).

Despite the wealth of political ideas which came about in this period - ranging from the re-establishment of the monarchy under Oliver Cromwell to the creation of an Evangelical Republic to prepare for the expected Second Coming - by 1660 the Revolution had run out of ideas and Charles II was invited back almost on his own terms. Amazingly, within 20 years he almost managed to assert absolutism, although this opportunity disappeared with the abdication and flight of the unpopular (and Catholic) successor, his brother James II. This time, Parliament made no mistake, inviting (this time on their terms) the Protestant William III of Orange to the crown in 1689.

From this date on the powers of the crown became curtailed: his successor, Queen Anne, was the last monarch to refuse the royal assent to an Act of Parliament.

The 18th century saw Great Britain's emergence as a major colonial and industrial power, mainly at the expense of France, in conflicts as the Seven Years' War. The American colonies were lost in 1776, but victory in the Napoleonic Wars confirmed British naval supremacy. By now, Great Britain was one of the world's leading military and industrial powers, having launched techniques in almost every field of production during the Industrial Revolution. While the growth of the colonies provided sources of raw materials, the demographic increase gave the new industries a supply of cheap labour, and the explosion of urban wealth and population was the most dramatic social change since the introduction of feudalism.

Great Britain and Ireland were united in 1801 under the name of the United Kingdom. The long reign of Victoria (1837-1901) is associated with the period of greatest British conquest, involvement, evangelisation and overseas settlement, as well as further domestic economic and demographic growth. At the height of her empire, Britain ruled vast parts of the globe. The legacy of empire still continues today with conflicts worldwide that can be directly attributed to the drawing of national borders, not on ethnic or national lines, but as a result of colonial expansion at the dictate of commercial gain. World War I, in which Britain suffered heavy losses, marked the end of the old system of colonial empires and was followed by a depression, the first signs of a relative economic decline that is still evident today. Relations between Britain and Ireland, never good, flared into civil war in 1916, and all but the six, largely Protestant counties in the northeast became independent in 1921. The colonial possessions were given up after the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II and since then the outlook has been dominated by European concerns, although British influence in the ex-colonies remains strong.

Certain vestiges of the empire, such as the Falkland Islands, Hong Kong and Gibraltar, have caused degrees of friction with other states. After World War II, the empire was effectively finished. With the opposition of the USA, which had now assumed the top of the world's principal power, saw to that. The Liberal Party was challenged, and quickly overtaken, as the main opposition to the Conservative Party by the Labour Party, which had its roots in the labour movement which grew up at the turn of the century. Labour formed its first government under their leader Ramsay MacDonald in 1924. After a wartime coalition government of national unity - with both Conservative and Labour represented under Winston Churchill between 1940 and 1945 - Conservative and Labour have exerted a two-party hold on the government of the UK.

The Labour government of 1945-51 was significant for reforms of the health, housing, education and social service systems. The consensus started to break in the 1970s as economic stagnation, endemic inflation and a growing trade deficit made it clear that the post-war prescriptions were no longer valid or relevant. It was against this background, and the decline of traditional manufacturing industries, that Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979. The 1980s were a decade characterised by changes with radical domestic policies of privatisation and deregulation of state-owned industries and public bodies.

Thatcher went on to win elections in 1983 and 1987. It is said that her finest hour was the military victory over the Argentineans in the South Atlantic War of 1982. Her political demise in November 1990 came not from a decision of the electorate, but from within her own Conservative Party about the electoral consequences of her policies The inheritance of her successor, former Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major, was Thatcher's agreement to participate in the US-led UN coalition to oust the Iraqis from their military occupation of Kuwait. Some 30,000 British service personnel took part in this successful operation in early 1991.

Iraq has been a continuous foreign policy headache for successive British governments (see below). However, more important has been the evolution of Britain's standing in the European Union. The Maastricht agreement of 1992 took European integration far beyond the original conception of a common market, bringing major policies to harmonise legislation in the areas of social policy, immigration, policing and finance. The British were skeptical of some of the elements of the Maastricht package and negotiated exemptions from its provisions.

The Conservatives unexpectedly won another general election victory in April 1992, though with a reduced majority. The Labour Party, despairing at the prospect of 15 years out of office, launched a major overhaul of its policies and public image under the leadership of a new leader - Tony Blair. By 1997, The 'New Labour' was ready. The Conservatives were stale, bereft of ideas and hounded by 'sleaze' - a seemingly endless series of personal and financial scandals. The Labour victory in May 1997 was no surprise but the size of their majority, over 100, was. The Conservative party has since experienced the political wilderness. Wracked by in-fighting and unable to produce a coherent strategy, it was in no better shape after another crushing defeat at the most recent poll in 2001. A new leader, former Home secretary Michael Howard, took over in 2003.

Although the Blair government has run into difficulties it has been sustained by a steady economic performance. Progress on the main domestic policies emphasized by health and education, has been patchy. The Government's failure to tackle the legacy of neglect and under-investment in public services (especially transport) has now becoming a serious problem. And, in a reflection of its Conservative predecessor, the Blair government has suffered through a series of financial scandals. The most important economic decision facing the government - whether or not to join the 'eurozone', which has now been in operation throughout most of the EU for 5 years - has been consistently avoided. By early 2004, having espoused its support for entry when conditions were appropriate, the government has now backed away from any prospect of entry in the near future. If Britain does ever join, it is now likely to be at least 10 years from now.

Among its achievements has been the introduction of a working system of devolution for Wales and Scotland, which now have their own assemblies for a range of domestic powers. The government has also invested time and effort in the Northern Ireland peace process but the mutual hostility between loyalists and nationalists has been exceptionally difficult to overcome. The process is in abeyance after elections in the autumn of 2003 returned the Democratic Unionist Party as the main representative of the protestant/loyalist population and Sinn Fein as the main catholic/nationalist party. For now, the province is being ruled directly from London. What is somewhat certain, however, is that there will be no return to violence which scarred the province for over a quarter of a century.

The foreign policy arena that was causing the greatest problems for the government at the start of 2004. The British allied themselves firmly to the US seeking a means to dispose once and for all of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. With the largest troop deployment since the Second World War, the British invaded and occupied the southern region of Iraq. The nation was deeply divided: the strength of opposition was evident from the largest protests ever seen in Britain, and many feel that the government deliberately over-exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam and his so-called 'weapons of mass destruction'. Additionally, many Labour Party members are unhappy at the close relationship between Blair and US President George Bush. The British-controlled zone of Iraq has proved somewhat more manageable than the American regions in the centre of the country, and British troops have not suffered the level of attacks experienced by their allies.