Stonehenge ruins

Bronze Age

2500 BCE Jan 1 - 800 BCE
, England

The Bronze Age began around 2500 BC with the appearance of bronze objects. The Bronze Age saw a shift of emphasis from the communal to the individual, and the rise of increasingly powerful elites whose power came from their prowess as hunters and warriors and their controlling the flow of precious resources to manipulate tin and copper into high-status bronze objects such as swords and axes. Settlement became increasingly permanent and intensive. Towards the end of the Bronze Age, many examples of very fine metalwork began to be deposited in rivers, presumably for ritual reasons and perhaps reflecting a progressive change in emphasis from the sky to the earth, as a rising population put increasing pressure on the land. England largely became bound up with the Atlantic trade system, which created a cultural continuum over a large part of Western Europe. It is possible that the Celtic languages developed or spread to England as part of this system; by the end of the Iron Age there is much evidence that they were spoken across all England and western parts of Britain.

Iron Age Hillfort, Southern England

Iron Age

800 BCE Jan 1 - 50
, England

The Iron Age is conventionally said to begin around 800 BC. The Atlantic system had by this time effectively collapsed, although England maintained contacts across the Channel with France, as the Hallstatt culture became widespread across the country. Its continuity suggests it was not accompanied by substantial movement of population. On the whole, burials largely disappear across England, and the dead were disposed of in a way which is archaeologically invisible. Hillforts were known since the Late Bronze Age, but a huge number were constructed during 600–400 BC, particularly in the South, while after about 400 BC new forts were rarely built and many ceased to be regularly inhabited, while a few forts become more and more intensively occupied, suggesting a degree of regional centralisation.

Contact with the continent was less than in the Bronze Age but still significant. Goods continued to move to England, with a possible hiatus around 350 to 150 BC. There were a few armed invasions of hordes of migrating Celts. There are two known invasions.

Celtic tribes invade Britain

Celtic invasions

300 BCE Jan 1
, York

Around 300 BC, a group from the Gaulish Parisii tribe apparently took over East Yorkshire, establishing the highly distinctive Arras culture. And from around 150–100 BC, groups of Belgae began to control significant parts of the South. These invasions constituted movements of a few people who established themselves as a warrior elite atop existing native systems, rather than replacing them. The Belgic invasion was much larger than the Parisian settlement, but the continuity of pottery style shows that the native population remained in place. Yet, it was accompanied by significant socio-economic change. Proto-urban, or even urban settlements, known as oppida, begin to eclipse the old hillforts, and an elite whose position is based on battle prowess and the ability to manipulate resources re-appears much more distinctly.

Julius Caesar's invasions of Britain | ©Angus McBride

Julius Caesar's invasions of Britain

55 BCE Jan 1 - 54 BCE
, Kent

In 55 and 54 BC, Julius Caesar, as part of his campaigns in Gaul, invaded Britain and claimed to have scored a number of victories, but he never penetrated further than Hertfordshire and could not establish a province. However, his invasions mark a turning-point in British history. Control of trade, the flow of resources and prestige goods, became ever more important to the elites of Southern Britain; Rome steadily became the biggest player in all their dealings, as the provider of great wealth and patronage. In retrospect, a full-scale invasion and annexation was inevitable.

Romano-Briton against a Saxon raider

Roman Britain

43 Jan 1 - 410
, London

After Caesar's expeditions, the Romans began a serious and sustained attempt to conquer Britain in AD 43, at the behest of Emperor Claudius. They landed in Kent with four legions and defeated two armies led by the kings of the Catuvellauni tribe, Caratacus and Togodumnus, in battles at the Medway and the Thames. The Catuvellauni held sway over most of the southeastern corner of England; eleven local rulers surrendered, a number of client kingdoms were established, and the rest became a Roman province with Camulodunum as its capital. Over the next four years, the territory was consolidated and the future emperor Vespasian led a campaign into the Southwest where he subjugated two more tribes. By AD 54 the border had been pushed back to the Severn and the Trent, and campaigns were underway to subjugate Northern England and Wales.

But in AD 60, under the leadership of the warrior-queen Boudicca, the tribes rebelled against the Romans. At first, the rebels had great success. They burned Camulodunum, Londinium and Verulamium (modern-day Colchester, London and St. Albans respectively) to the ground. The Second Legion Augusta, stationed at Exeter, refused to move for fear of revolt among the locals. Londinium governor Suetonius Paulinus evacuated the city before the rebels sacked and burned it. In the end, the rebels were said to have killed 70,000 Romans and Roman sympathisers. Paulinus gathered what was left of the Roman army. In the decisive battle, 10,000 Romans faced nearly 100,000 warriors somewhere along the line of Watling Street, at the end of which Boudicca was utterly defeated. It was said that 80,000 rebels were killed, with only 400 Roman casualties.

Over the next 20 years, the borders expanded slightly, but the governor Agricola incorporated into the province the last pockets of independence in Wales and Northern England. He also led a campaign into Scotland which was recalled by Emperor Domitian. The border gradually formed along the Stanegate road in Northern England, solidified by Hadrian's Wall built in AD 138, despite temporary forays into Scotland. The Romans and their culture stayed in charge for 350 years. Traces of their presence are ubiquitous throughout England.

Anglo-Saxons | ©Angus McBride


410 Jan 1
, Lincolnshire

In the wake of the breakdown of Roman rule in Britain from the middle of the fourth century, present day England was progressively settled by Germanic groups. Collectively known as the Anglo-Saxons, these included Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians. The Battle of Badon was credited as a major victory for the Britons, stopping the encroachment of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms for a period. The Battle of Deorham was critical in establishing Anglo-Saxon rule in 577. Saxon mercenaries existed in Britain since before the late Roman period, but the main influx of population probably happened after the fifth century. The precise nature of these invasions is not fully known; there are doubts about the legitimacy of historical accounts due to a lack of archaeological finds. Gildas' De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, composed in the 6th century, states that when the Roman army departed the Isle of Britannia in the 4th century AD, the indigenous Britons were invaded by Picts, their neighbours to the north (now Scotland) and the Scots (now Ireland). Britons invited the Saxons to the island to repel them but after they vanquished the Scots and Picts, the Saxons turned against the Britons.

An emerging view is that the scale of the Anglo-Saxon settlement varied across England, and that as such it cannot be described by any one process in particular. Mass migration and population shift seem to be most applicable in the core areas of settlement such as East Anglia and Lincolnshire, while in more peripheral areas to the northwest, much of the native population likely remained in place as the incomers took over as elites. In a study of place names in northeastern England and southern Scotland, Bethany Fox concluded that Anglian migrants settled in large numbers in river valleys, such as those of the Tyne and the Tweed, with the Britons in the less fertile hill country becoming acculturated over a longer period. Fox interprets the process by which English came to dominate this region as "a synthesis of mass-migration and elite-takeover models."

Heptarchy | ©Angus McBride


500 Jan 1 - 927
, England

Throughout the 7th and 8th centuries, power fluctuated between the larger kingdoms. Due to succession crises, Northumbrian hegemony was not constant, and Mercia remained a very powerful kingdom, especially under Penda. Two defeats ended Northumbrian dominance: the Battle of the Trent in 679 against Mercia, and Nechtanesmere in 685 against the Picts.

The so-called "Mercian Supremacy" dominated the 8th century, though it was not constant. Aethelbald and Offa, the two most powerful kings, achieved high status; indeed, Offa was considered the overlord of south Britain by Charlemagne. His power is illustrated by the fact that he summoned the resources to build Offa's Dyke. However, a rising Wessex, and challenges from smaller kingdoms, kept Mercian power in check, and by the early 9th century the "Mercian Supremacy" was over.

This period has been described as the Heptarchy, though this term has now fallen out of academic use. The term arose because the seven kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, Kent, East Anglia, Essex, Sussex and Wessex were the main polities of south Britain. Other small kingdoms were also politically important across this period: Hwicce, Magonsaete, Lindsey and Middle Anglia.

Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England

Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England

600 Jan 1
, England

The Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England was a process which began around 600 AD, influenced by Celtic Christianity from the northwest and the Roman Catholic Church from the southeast. It was essentially the result of the Gregorian mission of 597, which was joined by the efforts of the Hiberno-Scottish mission from the 630s. From the 8th century, the Anglo-Saxon mission was, in turn, instrumental in the conversion of the population of the Frankish Empire.

Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, took office in 597. In 601, he baptised the first Christian Anglo-Saxon king, Æthelberht of Kent. The decisive shift to Christianity occurred in 655 when King Penda was slain in the Battle of the Winwaed and Mercia became officially Christian for the first time. The death of Penda also allowed Cenwalh of Wessex to return from exile and return Wessex, another powerful kingdom, to Christianity. After 655, only Sussex and the Isle of Wight remained openly pagan, although Wessex and Essex would later crown pagan kings. In 686 Arwald, the last openly pagan king was slain in battle and from this point on all Anglo-Saxon kings were at least nominally Christian (although there is some confusion about the religion of Caedwalla who ruled Wessex until 688).

Viking raids Lindisfarne in 793

Viking invasions of england

793 Jan 1 - 1066
, Lindisfarne

The first recorded landing of Vikings took place in 787 in Dorsetshire, on the south-west coast. The first major attack in Britain was in 793 at Lindisfarne monastery as given by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. However, by then the Vikings were almost certainly well-established in Orkney and Shetland, and many other non-recorded raids probably occurred before this. Records do show the first Viking attack on Iona taking place in 794. The arrival of the Vikings (in particular the Danish Great Heathen Army) upset the political and social geography of Britain and Ireland. In 867 Northumbria fell to the Danes; East Anglia fell in 869.

From 865, the Viking attitude towards the British Isles changed, as they began to see it as a place for potential colonisation rather than simply a place to raid. As a result of this, larger armies began arriving on Britain's shores, with the intention of conquering land and constructing settlements there.

Eighteenth-century portrait of Alfred by Samuel Woodforde

Alfred the Great

871 Jan 1
, England

Though Wessex managed to contain the Vikings by defeating them at Ashdown in 871, a second invading army landed, leaving the Saxons on a defensive footing. At much the same time, Æthelred, king of Wessex died and was succeeded by his younger brother Alfred. Alfred was immediately confronted with the task of defending Wessex against the Danes. He spent the first five years of his reign paying the invaders off. In 878, Alfred's forces were overwhelmed at Chippenham in a surprise attack.

It was only now, with the independence of Wessex hanging by a thread, that Alfred emerged as a great king. In May 878 he led a force that defeated the Danes at Edington. The victory was so complete that the Danish leader, Guthrum, was forced to accept Christian baptism and withdraw from Mercia. Alfred then set about strengthening the defences of Wessex, building a new navy—60 vessels strong. Alfred's success bought Wessex and Mercia years of peace and sparked economic recovery in previously ravaged areas.

Alfred's success was sustained by his son Edward, whose decisive victories over the Danes in East Anglia in 910 and 911 were followed by a crushing victory at Tempsford in 917. These military gains allowed Edward to fully incorporate Mercia into his kingdom and add East Anglia to his conquests. Edward then set about reinforcing his northern borders against the Danish kingdom of Northumbria. Edward's rapid conquest of the English kingdoms meant Wessex received homage from those that remained, including Gwynedd in Wales and Scotland. His dominance was reinforced by his son Æthelstan, who extended the borders of Wessex northward, in 927 conquering the Kingdom of York and leading a land and naval invasion of Scotland. These conquests led to his adopting the title 'King of the English' for the first time.

The dominance and independence of England was maintained by the kings that followed. It was not until 978 and the accession of Æthelred the Unready that the Danish threat resurfaced.

Battle of Brunanburh

English unification

900 Jan 1
, England

Alfred of Wessex died in 899 and was succeeded by his son Edward the Elder. Edward, and his brother-in-law Æthelred of (what was left of) Mercia, began a programme of expansion, building forts and towns on an Alfredian model. On Æthelred's death, his wife (Edward's sister) Æthelflæd ruled as "Lady of the Mercians" and continued expansion. It seems Edward had his son Æthelstan brought up in the Mercian court. On Edward's death, Æthelstan succeeded to the Mercian kingdom, and, after some uncertainty, Wessex.

Æthelstan continued the expansion of his father and aunt and was the first king to achieve direct rulership of what we would now consider England. The titles attributed to him in charters and on coins suggest a still more widespread dominance. His expansion aroused ill-feeling among the other kingdoms of Britain, and he defeated a combined Scottish-Viking army at the Battle of Brunanburh. However, the unification of England was not a certainty. Under Æthelstan's successors Edmund and Eadred the English kings repeatedly lost and regained control of Northumbria. Nevertheless, Edgar, who ruled the same expanse as Æthelstan, consolidated the kingdom, which remained united thereafter.

Renewed Scandinavian attacks on England | ©Angus McBride

England under the Danes

1013 Jan 1 - 1042 Jan
, England

There were renewed Scandinavian attacks on England at the end of the 10th century. Two powerful Danish kings (Harold Bluetooth and later his son Sweyn) both launched devastating invasions of England. Anglo-Saxon forces were resoundingly defeated at Maldon in 991. More Danish attacks followed, and their victories were frequent. Æthelred's control over his nobles began to falter, and he grew increasingly desperate. His solution was to pay off the Danes: for almost 20 years he paid increasingly large sums to the Danish nobles to keep them from English coasts. These payments, known as Danegelds, crippled the English economy.

Æthelred then made an alliance with Normandy in 1001 through marriage to the Duke's daughter Emma, in the hope of strengthening England. Then he made a great error: in 1002 he ordered the massacre of all the Danes in England. In response, Sweyn began a decade of devastating attacks on England. Northern England, with its sizable Danish population, sided with Sweyn. By 1013, London, Oxford, and Winchester had fallen to the Danes. Æthelred fled to Normandy and Sweyn seized the throne. Sweyn suddenly died in 1014, and Æthelred returned to England, confronted by Sweyn's successor, Cnut. However, in 1016, Æthelred also suddenly died. Cnut swiftly defeated the remaining Saxons, killing Æthelred's son Edmund in the process. Cnut seized the throne, crowning himself King of England.

Cnut was succeeded by his sons, but in 1042 the native dynasty was restored with the accession of Edward the Confessor. Edward's failure to produce an heir caused a furious conflict over the succession on his death in 1066. His struggles for power against Godwin, Earl of Wessex, the claims of Cnut's Scandinavian successors, and the ambitions of the Normans whom Edward introduced to English politics to bolster his own position caused each to vie for control of Edward's reign.

Battle of Hastings | ©Angus McBride

Battle of Hastings

1066 Oct 14
, English Heritage - 1066 Battle of Hastings

Harold Godwinson became king, probably appointed by Edward on his deathbed and endorsed by the Witan. But William of Normandy, Harald Hardråde (aided by Harold Godwin's estranged brother Tostig) and Sweyn II of Denmark all asserted claims to the throne. By far the strongest hereditary claim was that of Edgar the Ætheling, but due to his youth and apparent lack of powerful supporters, he did not play a major part in the struggles of 1066, although he was made king for a short time by the Witan after the death of Harold Godwinson.

In September 1066, Harald III of Norway and Earl Tostig landed in Northern England with a force of around 15,000 men and 300 longships. Harold Godwinson defeated the invaders and killed Harald III of Norway and Tostig at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

On 28 September 1066, William of Normandy invaded England in a campaign called the Norman Conquest. After marching from Yorkshire, Harold's exhausted army was defeated and Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October. Further opposition to William in support of Edgar the Ætheling soon collapsed, and William was crowned king on Christmas Day 1066. For five years, he faced a series of rebellions in various parts of England and a half-hearted Danish invasion, but he subdued them and established an enduring regime.

Norman Conquest | ©Angus McBride

Norman Conquest

1066 Oct 15 - 1072
, England

Although William's main rivals were gone, he still faced rebellions over the following years and was not secure on the English throne until after 1072. The lands of the resisting English elite were confiscated; some of the elite fled into exile. To control his new kingdom, William initiated the "Harrying of the North", a series of campaigns, involving scorched-earth tactics, granting lands to his followers and building castles commanding military strongpoints throughout the land.

The Domesday Book, a manuscript record of the "Great Survey" of much of England and parts of Wales, was completed by 1086. Other effects of the conquest included the court and government, the introduction of the Norman language as the language of the elites, and changes in the composition of the upper classes, as William enfeoffed lands to be held directly from the king.

More gradual changes affected the agricultural classes and village life: the main change appears to have been the formal elimination of slavery, which may or may not have been linked to the invasion. There was little alteration in the structure of government, as the new Norman administrators took over many of the forms of Anglo-Saxon government.

The Anarchy | ©Angus McBride

The Anarchy

1138 Jan 1 - 1153 Nov
, Normandy

The English Middle Ages were characterised by civil war, international war, occasional insurrection, and widespread political intrigue among the aristocratic and monarchic elite. England was more than self-sufficient in cereals, dairy products, beef and mutton. Its international economy was based on wool trade, in which wool from the sheepwalks of northern England was exported to the textile cities of Flanders, where it was worked into cloth. Medieval foreign policy was as much shaped by relations with the Flemish textile industry as it was by dynastic adventures in western France. An English textile industry was established in the 15th century, providing the basis for rapid English capital accumulation.

The Anarchy was a war of succession precipitated by the accidental death of William Adelin, the only legitimate son of King Henry I, who drowned in the sinking of the White Ship in 1120. Henry sought to be succeeded by his daughter, known as Empress Matilda, but was only partially successful in convincing the nobility to support her. On Henry's death in 1135, his nephew Stephen of Blois seized the throne, with the help of Stephen's brother Henry of Blois, who was the bishop of Winchester. Stephen's early reign saw fierce fighting with disloyal English barons, rebellious Welsh leaders, and Scottish invaders. Following a major rebellion in the south-west of England, Matilda invaded in 1139 with the help of her half-brother Robert of Gloucester.

In the initial years of civil war, neither side was able to achieve a decisive advantage; the Empress came to control the south-west of England and much of the Thames Valley, while Stephen remained in control of the south-east. Much of the rest of the country was held by barons who refused to support either side. The castles of the period were easily defensible, so the fighting was mostly attrition warfare comprising sieges, raiding and skirmishing. Armies mostly consisted of armoured knights and footsoldiers, many of them mercenaries. In 1141, Stephen was captured following the Battle of Lincoln, causing a collapse in his authority over most of the country. When Empress Matilda attempted to be crowned queen, she was forced instead to retreat from London by hostile crowds; shortly afterwards, Robert of Gloucester was captured at the rout of Winchester. The two sides agreed to a prisoner exchange, swapping the captives Stephen and Robert. Stephen then almost captured Matilda in 1142 during the siege of Oxford, but the Empress escaped from Oxford Castle across the frozen River Thames to safety.

The war dragged on for many more years. Empress Matilda's husband, Count Geoffrey V of Anjou, conquered Normandy in her name during 1143, but in England neither side could achieve victory. Rebel barons began to acquire ever greater power in Northern England and in East Anglia, with widespread devastation in the regions of major fighting. In 1148, the Empress returned to Normandy, leaving the campaigning in England to her young son Henry FitzEmpress. In 1152, Stephen attempted to have his eldest son, Eustace, as the next king of England recognised by the Catholic Church, but the Church refused to do so. By the early 1150s, most barons and the Church were war weary so favoured negotiating a long-term peace.

Henry FitzEmpress re-invaded England in 1153, but neither faction's forces were keen to fight. After limited campaigning, the two armies faced each other at the siege of Wallingford, but the church brokered a truce, thereby preventing a pitched battle. Stephen and Henry began peace negotiations, during which Eustace died of illness, removing Stephen's immediate heir. The resulting Treaty of Wallingford allowed Stephen to retain the throne but recognised Henry as his successor. Over the following year, Stephen began to reassert his authority over the whole kingdom, but died of disease in 1154. Henry was crowned as Henry II, the first Angevin king of England, then began a long period of reconstruction.

Richard I during the Third Crusade | ©N.C. Wyeth

England under the Plantagenets

1154 Jan 1 - 1485
, England

The House of Plantagenet held the English throne from 1154 (with the accession of Henry II at the end of the Anarchy) to 1485, when Richard III died in battle. The reign of Henry II represents a reversion in power from the barony to the monarchical state in England; it was also to see a similar redistribution of legislative power from the Church, again to the monarchical state. This period also presaged a properly constituted legislation and a radical shift away from feudalism. In his reign, new Anglo-Angevin and Anglo-Aquitanian aristocracies developed, though not to the same degree as the Anglo-Norman once did, and the Norman nobles interacted with their French peers.

Henry's successor, Richard I "the Lion Heart", was preoccupied with foreign wars, taking part in the Third Crusade, being captured while returning and pledging fealty to the Holy Roman Empire as part of his ransom, and defending his French territories against Philip II of France. His successor, his younger brother John, lost much of those territories including Normandy following the disastrous Battle of Bouvines in 1214, despite having in 1212 made the Kingdom of England a tribute-paying vassal of the Holy See, which it remained until the 14th century when the Kingdom rejected the overlordship of the Holy See and re-established its sovereignty.

John's son, Henry III, spent much of his reign fighting the barons over Magna Carta and the royal rights, and was eventually forced to call the first "parliament" in 1264. He was also unsuccessful on the continent, where he endeavoured to re-establish English control over Normandy, Anjou, and Aquitaine. His reign was punctuated by many rebellions and civil wars, often provoked by incompetence and mismanagement in government and Henry's perceived over-reliance on French courtiers (thus restricting the influence of the English nobility). One of these rebellions—led by a disaffected courtier, Simon de Montfort—was notable for its assembly of one of the earliest precursors to Parliament. In addition to fighting the Second Barons' War, Henry III made war against Louis IX and was defeated during the Saintonge War, yet Louis did not capitalise on his victory, respecting his opponent's rights.

A romanticised 19th-century recreation of King John signing Magna Carta. Rather than signing in writing, the document would have been authenticated with the Great Seal and applied by officials rather than John himself.

Magna Carta

1215 Jun 15
, Runnymede

Over the course of King John's reign, a combination of higher taxes, unsuccessful wars and conflict with the Pope made King John unpopular with his barons. In 1215, some of the most important barons rebelled against him. He met their leaders along with their French and Scot allies at Runnymede, near London on 15 June 1215 to seal the Great Charter (Magna Carta in Latin), which imposed legal limits on the king's personal powers. But as soon as hostilities ceased, John received approval from the Pope to break his word because he had made it under duress. This provoked the First Barons' War and a French invasion by Prince Louis of France invited by a majority of the English barons to replace John as king in London in May 1216. John travelled around the country to oppose the rebel forces, directing, among other operations, a two-month siege of the rebel-held Rochester Castle.

At the end of the 16th century, there was an upsurge in interest in Magna Carta. Lawyers and historians at the time believed that there was an ancient English constitution, going back to the days of the Anglo-Saxons, that protected individual English freedoms. They argued that the Norman invasion of 1066 had overthrown these rights, and that Magna Carta had been a popular attempt to restore them, making the charter an essential foundation for the contemporary powers of Parliament and legal principles such as habeas corpus. Although this historical account was badly flawed, jurists such as Sir Edward Coke used Magna Carta extensively in the early 17th century, arguing against the divine right of kings. Both James I and his son Charles I attempted to suppress the discussion of Magna Carta. The political myth of Magna Carta and its protection of ancient personal liberties persisted after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 until well into the 19th century. It influenced the early American colonists in the Thirteen Colonies and the formation of the United States Constitution, which became the supreme law of the land in the new republic of the United States. Research by Victorian historians showed that the original 1215 charter had concerned the medieval relationship between the monarch and the barons, rather than the rights of ordinary people, but the charter remained a powerful, iconic document, even after almost all of its content was repealed from the statute books in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

King Edward I and The English Conquest Of Wales

Three Edwards

1272 Jan 1 - 1377
, England

The reign of Edward I (1272–1307) was rather more successful. Edward enacted numerous laws strengthening the powers of his government, and he summoned the first officially sanctioned Parliaments of England (such as his Model Parliament). He conquered Wales and attempted to use a succession dispute to gain control of the Kingdom of Scotland, though this developed into a costly and drawn-out military campaign.

His son, Edward II, proved a disaster. He spent most of his reign trying in vain to control the nobility, who in return showed continual hostility to him. Meanwhile, the Scottish leader Robert Bruce began retaking all the territory conquered by Edward I. In 1314, the English army was disastrously defeated by the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn. Edward's downfall came in 1326 when his wife, Queen Isabella, travelled to her native France and, with her lover Roger Mortimer, invaded England. Despite their tiny force, they quickly rallied support for their cause. The king fled London, and his companion since Piers Gaveston's death, Hugh Despenser, was publicly tried and executed. Edward was captured, charged with breaking his coronation oath, deposed and imprisoned in Gloucestershire until he was murdered some time in the autumn of 1327, presumably by agents of Isabella and Mortimer.

In 1315-1317, the Great Famine may have resulted in half a million deaths in England due to hunger and disease, more than 10 per cent of the population.

Edward III, son of Edward II, was crowned at age 14 after his father was deposed by his mother and her consort Roger Mortimer. At age 17, he led a successful coup against Mortimer, the de facto ruler of the country, and began his personal reign. Edward III reigned 1327–1377, restored royal authority and went on to transform England into the most efficient military power in Europe. His reign saw vital developments in legislature and government—in particular the evolution of the English parliament—as well as the ravages of the Black Death. After defeating, but not subjugating, the Kingdom of Scotland, he declared himself rightful heir to the French throne in 1338, but his claim was denied due to the Salic law. This started what would become known as the Hundred Years' War.

Battle of Crécy, 1346, from the Grandes Chroniques de France. British Library, London

Hundred Years' War

1337 May 24 - 1453 Oct 19
, France

Edward III declared himself rightful heir to the French throne in 1338, but his claim was denied due to the Salic law. This started what would become known as the Hundred Years' War. Following some initial setbacks, the war went exceptionally well for England; victories at Crécy and Poitiers led to the highly favourable Treaty of Brétigny. Edward's later years were marked by international failure and domestic strife, largely as a result of his inactivity and poor health.

Edward III died of a stroke on 21 June 1377, and was succeeded by his ten-year-old grandson, Richard II. He married Anne of Bohemia, daughter of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor in 1382, and ruled until he was deposed by his first cousin Henry IV in 1399. In 1381, a Peasants' Revolt led by Wat Tyler spread across large parts of England. It was suppressed by Richard II, with the death of 1500 rebels.

Henry V succeeded to the throne in 1413. He renewed hostilities with France and began a set of military campaigns which are considered a new phase of the Hundred Years' War, referred to as the Lancastrian War. He won several notable victories over the French, including the Battle of Agincourt. In the Treaty of Troyes, Henry V was given the power to succeed the current ruler of France, Charles VI of France.

Henry V's son, Henry VI, became king in 1422 as an infant. His reign was marked by constant turmoil due to his political weaknesses. The Regency Council tried to install Henry VI as the King of France, as provided by the Treaty of Troyes signed by his father, and led English forces to take over areas of France. It appeared they might succeed due to the poor political position of the son of Charles VI, who had claimed to be the rightful king as Charles VII of France. However, in 1429, Joan of Arc began a military effort to prevent the English from gaining control of France. The French forces regained control of French territory. Hostilities with France resumed in 1449. When England lost the Hundred Years' War in August 1453, Henry fell into mental breakdown until Christmas 1454.

Henry Payne

Wars of the Roses

1455 May 22 - 1487 Jun 16
, England

In 1437, Henry VI (Henry V's son ) came of age and began to actively rule as king. To forge peace, he married French noblewoman Margaret of Anjou in 1445, as provided in the Treaty of Tours. Hostilities with France resumed in 1449. When England lost the Hundred Years' War in August 1453, Henry fell into mental breakdown until Christmas 1454.

Henry could not control the feuding nobles, and a series of civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses began, lasting from 1455 to 1485. Although the fighting was very sporadic and small, there was a general breakdown in the power of the Crown. The royal court and Parliament moved to Coventry, in the Lancastrian heartlands, which thus became the capital of England until 1461. Henry's cousin Edward, Duke of York, deposed Henry in 1461 to become Edward IV following a Lancastrian defeat at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross. Edward was later briefly expelled from the throne in 1470–1471 when Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, brought Henry back to power. Six months later, Edward defeated and killed Warwick in battle and reclaimed the throne. Henry was imprisoned in the Tower of London and died there.

Edward died in 1483, only 40 years old, his reign having gone a little way to restoring the power of the Crown. His eldest son and heir Edward V, aged 12, could not succeed him because the king's brother, Richard III, Duke of Gloucester, declared Edward IV's marriage bigamous, making all his children illegitimate. Richard III was then declared king, and Edward V and his 10-year-old brother Richard were imprisoned in the Tower of London.

In summer 1485, Henry Tudor, the last Lancastrian male, returned from exile in France and landed in Wales. Henry then defeated and killed Richard III at Bosworth Field on 22 August, and was crowned Henry VII.

Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1537

Henry VIII

1509 Jan 1 - 1547
, England

Henry VIII began his reign with much optimism. Henry's lavish court quickly drained the treasury of the fortune he inherited. He married the widowed Catherine of Aragon, and they had several children, but none survived infancy except a daughter, Mary.

In 1512, the young king started a war in France. The English army suffered badly from disease, and Henry was not even present at the one notable victory, the Battle of the Spurs. Meanwhile, James IV of Scotland, due to his alliance with the French and declared war on England. While Henry was dallying in France, Catherine, and Henry's advisers were left to deal with this threat. At the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513, the Scots were completely defeated. James and most of the Scottish nobles were killed.

Eventually, Catherine was no longer able to have any more children. The king became increasingly nervous about the possibility of his daughter Mary inheriting the throne, as England's one experience with a female sovereign, Matilda in the 12th century, had been a catastrophe. He eventually decided that it was necessary to divorce Catherine and find a new queen. Henry seceded from the Church, in what became known as the English Reformation, when the divorce from Catherine proved difficult.

Henry married Anne Boleyn secretly in January 1533 and Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. The king was devastated at his failure to obtain a son after all the effort it had taken to remarry. In 1536, the queen gave birth prematurely to a stillborn boy. By now, the king was convinced that his marriage was hexed, and having already found a new queen, Jane Seymour, he put Anne in the Tower of London on charges of witchcraft. Afterwards, she was beheaded along with five men accused of adultery with her. The marriage was then declared invalid, so that Elizabeth, just like her half sister, became a bastard.

Henry immediately married Jane Seymour. On 12 October 1537, she gave birth to a healthy boy, Edward, which was greeted with huge celebrations. However, the queen died of puerperal sepsis ten days later. Henry genuinely mourned her death, and at his own passing nine years later, he was buried next to her.

Henry's paranoia and suspicion worsened in his last years. The number of executions during his 38-year reign numbered tens of thousands. His domestic policies had strengthened royal authority to the detriment of the aristocracy, and led to a safer realm, but his foreign policy adventures did not increase England's prestige abroad and wrecked royal finances and the national economy, and embittered the Irish. He died in January 1547 at age 55 and was succeeded by his son, Edward VI.

Portrait of Edward VI, c. 1550

Edward VI and Mary I

1547 Jan 1 - 1558
, England

Edward VI was only nine years old when he became king in 1547. His uncle, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset tampered with Henry VIII's will and obtained letters patent giving him much of the power of a monarch by March 1547. He took the title of Protector. Somerset, disliked by the Regency Council for being autocratic, was removed from power by John Dudley, who is known as Lord President Northumberland. Northumberland proceeded to adopt the power for himself, but he was more conciliatory and the Council accepted him. During Edward's reign England changed from being a Catholic nation to a Protestant one, in schism from Rome. Edward showed great promise but fell violently ill of tuberculosis in 1553 and died that August, two months before his 16th birthday.

Northumberland made plans to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne and marry her to his son, so that he could remain the power behind the throne. His plot failed in a matter of days, Jane Grey was beheaded, and Mary I (1516–1558) took the throne amidst popular demonstration in her favour in London, which contemporaries described as the largest show of affection for a Tudor monarch. Mary had never been expected to hold the throne, at least not since Edward was born. She was a devoted Catholic who believed that she could reverse the Reformation.

Returning England to Catholicism led to the burnings of 274 Protestants, which are recorded especially in John Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Mary then married her cousin Philip, son of Emperor Charles V, and King of Spain when Charles abdicated in 1556. The union was difficult because Mary was already in her late 30s and Philip was a Catholic and a foreigner, and so not very welcome in England. This wedding also provoked hostility from France, already at war with Spain and now fearing being encircled by the Habsburgs. Calais, the last English outpost on the Continent, was then taken by France. Mary's death in November 1558 was greeted with huge celebrations in the streets of London.

Elizabeth I

Elizabethan era

1558 Nov 17 - 1603 Mar 24
, England

After Mary I died in 1558, Elizabeth I came to the throne. Her reign restored a sort of order to the realm after the turbulent reigns of Edward VI and Mary I. The religious issue which had divided the country since Henry VIII was in a way put to rest by the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, which re-established the Church of England. Much of Elizabeth's success was in balancing the interests of the Puritans and Catholics. Despite the need for an heir, Elizabeth declined to marry, despite offers from a number of suitors across Europe, including the Swedish king Erik XIV. This created endless worries over her succession, especially in the 1560s when she nearly died of smallpox.

Elizabeth maintained relative government stability. Apart from the Revolt of the Northern Earls in 1569, she was effective in reducing the power of the old nobility and expanding the power of her government. Elizabeth's government did much to consolidate the work begun under Thomas Cromwell in the reign of Henry VIII, that is, expanding the role of the government and effecting common law and administration throughout England. During the reign of Elizabeth and shortly afterwards, the population grew significantly: from three million in 1564 to nearly five million in 1616.

The queen ran afoul of her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, who was a devoted Catholic and so was forced to abdicate her throne (Scotland had recently become Protestant). She fled to England, where Elizabeth immediately had her arrested. Mary spent the next 19 years in confinement, but proved too dangerous to keep alive, as the Catholic powers in Europe considered her the legitimate ruler of England. She was eventually tried for treason, sentenced to death, and beheaded in February 1587.

The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign (1558–1603). Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history. The symbol of Britannia was first used in 1572 and often thereafter to mark the Elizabethan age as a renaissance that inspired national pride through classical ideals, international expansion, and naval triumph over the hated Spanish foe.

This "golden age" represented the apogee of the English Renaissance and saw the flowering of poetry, music and literature. The era is most famous for theatre, as William Shakespeare and many others composed plays that broke free of England's past style of theatre. It was an age of exploration and expansion abroad, while back at home, the Protestant Reformation became more acceptable to the people, most certainly after the Spanish Armada was repulsed. It was also the end of the period when England was a separate realm before its royal union with Scotland.

England was also well off compared to the other nations of Europe. The Italian Renaissance had ended due to foreign domination of the peninsula. France was embroiled in religious battles until the Edict of Nantes in 1598. Also, the English had been expelled from their last outposts on the continent. Due to these reasons, the centuries long conflict with France was largely suspended for most of Elizabeth's reign. England during this period had a centralised, organised and effective government, largely due to the reforms of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Economically, the country began to benefit greatly from the new era of trans-Atlantic trade.

In 1585 worsening relations between Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth erupted into war. Elizabeth signed the Treaty of Nonsuch with the Dutch and permitted Francis Drake to maraud in response to a Spanish embargo. Drake surprised Vigo, Spain, in October, then proceeded to the Caribbean and sacked Santo Domingo (the capital of Spain's American empire and the present-day capital of the Dominican Republic) and Cartagena (a large and wealthy port on the north coast of Colombia that was the centre of the silver trade). Philip II tried to invade England with the Spanish Armada in 1588 but was famously defeated.

Portrait after John de Critz, c. 1605. James wears the Three Brothers jewel, three rectangular red spinels; the jewel is now lost.

Union of the Crowns

1603 Mar 24
, England

When Elizabeth died, her closest male Protestant relative was the King of Scots, James VI, of the House of Stuart, who became King James I of England in a Union of the Crowns, called James I and VI. He was the first monarch to rule the entire island of Britain, but the countries remained separate politically. Upon taking power, James made peace with Spain, and for the first half of the 17th century, England remained largely inactive in European politics. Several assassination attempts were made on James, notably the Main Plot and Bye Plots of 1603, and most famously, on 5 November 1605, the Gunpowder Plot, by a group of Catholic conspirators, led by Robert Catesby, which caused more antipathy in England towards Catholicism.

"Cromwell at Dunbar", by Andrew Carrick Gow

English Civil War

1642 Aug 22 - 1651 Sep 3
, England

The First English Civil War broke out in 1642, largely due to ongoing conflicts between James' son, Charles I, and Parliament. The defeat of the Royalist army by the New Model Army of Parliament at the Battle of Naseby in June 1645 effectively destroyed the king's forces. Charles surrendered to the Scottish army at Newark. He was eventually handed over to the English Parliament in early 1647. He escaped, and the Second English Civil War began, but the New Model Army quickly secured the country. The capture and trial of Charles led to the execution of Charles I in January 1649 at Whitehall Gate in London, making England a republic. This shocked the rest of Europe. The king argued to the end that only God could judge him.

The New Model Army, commanded by Oliver Cromwell, then scored decisive victories against Royalist armies in Ireland and Scotland. Cromwell was given the title Lord Protector in 1653, making him 'king in all but name' to his critics. After he died in 1658, his son Richard Cromwell succeeded him in the office but he was forced to abdicate within a year. For a while it seemed as if a new civil war would begin as the New Model Army split into factions. Troops stationed in Scotland under the command of George Monck eventually marched on London to restore order.

According to Derek Hirst, outside of politics and religion, the 1640s and 1650s saw a revived economy characterized by growth in manufacturing, the elaboration of financial and credit instruments, and the commercialization of communication. The gentry found time for leisure activities, such as horse racing and bowling. In the high culture important innovations included the development of a mass market for music, increased scientific research, and an expansion of publishing. All the trends were discussed in depth at the newly established coffee houses.

Charles II

Restoration of the monarchy

1660 Jan 1
, England

The monarchy was restored in 1660, with King Charles II returning to London. However, the power of the crown was less than before the Civil War. By the 18th century, England rivaled the Netherlands as one of the freest countries in Europe.

The Prince of Orange landing at Torbay | ©Jan Hoynck van Papendrecht

Glorious Revolution

1688 Jan 1 - 1689
, England

In 1680, the Exclusion Crisis consisted of attempts to prevent accession of James, heir to Charles II, because he was Catholic. After Charles II died in 1685 and his younger brother, James II and VII was crowned, various factions pressed for his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband Prince William III of Orange to replace him in what became known as the Glorious Revolution.

In November 1688, William invaded England and succeeded in being crowned. James tried to retake the throne in the Williamite War, but was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

In December 1689, one of the most important constitutional documents in English history, the Bill of Rights, was passed. The Bill, which restated and confirmed many provisions of the earlier Declaration of Right, established restrictions on the royal prerogative. For example, the Sovereign could not suspend laws passed by Parliament, levy taxes without parliamentary consent, infringe the right to petition, raise a standing army during peacetime without parliamentary consent, deny the right to bear arms to Protestant subjects, unduly interfere with parliamentary elections, punish members of either House of Parliament for anything said during debates, require excessive bail or inflict cruel and unusual punishments. William was opposed to such constraints, but chose to avoid conflict with Parliament and agreed to the statute.

In parts of Scotland and Ireland, Catholics loyal to James remained determined to see him restored to the throne, and staged a series of bloody uprisings. As a result, any failure to pledge loyalty to the victorious King William was severely dealt with. The most infamous example of this policy was the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692. Jacobite rebellions continued into the mid-18th century until the son of the last Catholic claimant to the throne, James III and VIII, mounted a final campaign in 1745. The Jacobite forces of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the "Bonnie Prince Charlie" of legend, were defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Queen Anne addressing the House of Lords

Acts of Union 1707

1707 May 1
, United Kingdom

The Acts of Union were two Acts of Parliament: the Union with Scotland Act 1706 passed by the Parliament of England, and the Union with England Act 1707 passed by the Parliament of Scotland. By the two Acts, the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland—which at the time were separate states with separate legislatures, but with the same monarch—were, in the words of the Treaty, "United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain".

The two countries had shared a monarch since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne from his double first cousin twice removed, Queen Elizabeth I. Although described as a Union of Crowns, and in spite of James's acknowledgement of his accession to a single Crown, England and Scotland were officially separate Kingdoms until 1707. Prior to the Acts of Union there had been three previous attempts (in 1606, 1667, and 1689) to unite the two countries by Acts of Parliament, but it was not until the early 18th century that both political establishments came to support the idea, albeit for different reasons.

The Act of Union of 1800 formally assimilated Ireland within the British political process and from 1 January 1801 created a new state called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which united Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland to form a single political entity. The English parliament at Westminster became the parliament of the Union.

Robert Clive's victory at the Battle of Plassey established the East India Company as a military as well as a commercial power.

First British Empire

1707 May 2 - 1783
, Gibraltar

The 18th century saw the newly united Great Britain rise to be the world's dominant colonial power, with France becoming its main rival on the imperial stage. Great Britain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and the Holy Roman Empire continued the War of the Spanish Succession, which lasted until 1714 and was concluded by the Treaty of Utrecht. Philip V of Spain renounced his and his descendants' claim to the French throne, and Spain lost its empire in Europe. The British Empire was territorially enlarged: from France, Britain gained Newfoundland and Acadia, and from Spain Gibraltar and Menorca. Gibraltar became a critical naval base and allowed Britain to control the Atlantic entry and exit point to the Mediterranean. Spain ceded the rights to the lucrative asiento (permission to sell African slaves in Spanish America) to Britain. With the outbreak of the Anglo-Spanish War of Jenkins' Ear in 1739, Spanish privateers attacked British merchant shipping along the Triangle Trade routes. In 1746, the Spanish and British began peace talks, with the King of Spain agreeing to stop all attacks on British shipping; however, in the Treaty of Madrid Britain lost its slave-trading rights in Latin America.

In the East Indies, British and Dutch merchants continued to compete in spices and textiles. With textiles becoming the larger trade, by 1720, in terms of sales, the British company had overtaken the Dutch. During the middle decades of the 18th century, there were several outbreaks of military conflict on the Indian subcontinent, as the English East India Company and its French counterpart, struggled alongside local rulers to fill the vacuum that had been left by the decline of the Mughal Empire. The Battle of Plassey in 1757, in which the British defeated the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies, left the British East India Company in control of Bengal and as the major military and political power in India. France was left control of its enclaves but with military restrictions and an obligation to support British client states, ending French hopes of controlling India. In the following decades the British East India Company gradually increased the size of the territories under its control, either ruling directly or via local rulers under the threat of force from the Presidency Armies, the vast majority of which was composed of Indian sepoys, led by British officers. The British and French struggles in India became but one theatre of the global Seven Years' War (1756–1763) involving France, Britain, and the other major European powers.

The signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1763 had important consequences for the future of the British Empire. In North America, France's future as a colonial power effectively ended with the recognition of British claims to Rupert's Land, and 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. Along with its victory over France in India, the Seven Years' War therefore left Britain as the world's most powerful maritime power.

George I | ©Godfrey Kneller

Hanoverian succession

1714 Aug 1 - 1760
, United Kingdom

In the 18th century England, and after 1707 Great Britain, rose to become the world's dominant colonial power, with France as its main rival on the imperial stage. The pre-1707 English overseas possessions became the nucleus of the First British Empire.

"In 1714 the ruling class was so bitterly divided that many feared a civil war might break out on Queen Anne's death", wrote historian W. A. Speck. A few hundred of the richest ruling class and landed gentry families controlled parliament, but were deeply split, with Tories committed to the legitimacy of the Stuart "Old Pretender", then in exile. The Whigs strongly supported the Hanoverians, in order to ensure a Protestant succession. The new king, George I was a foreign prince and had a small English standing army to support him, with military support from his native Hanover and from his allies in the Netherlands. In the Jacobite rising of 1715, based in Scotland, the Earl of Mar led eighteen Jacobite peers and 10,000 men, with the aim of overthrowing the new king and restoring the Stuarts. Poorly organised, it was decisively defeated. The Whigs came to power, under the leadership of James Stanhope, Charles Townshend, the Earl of Sunderland, and Robert Walpole. Many Tories were driven out of national and local government, and new laws were passed to impose greater national control. The right of habeas corpus was restricted; to reduce electoral instability, the Septennial Act 1715 increased the maximum life of a parliament from three years to seven.

Industrial Revolution

Industrial Revolution

1760 Jan 1 - 1840
, England

The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain, and many of the technological and architectural innovations were of British origin. By the mid-18th century, Britain was the world's leading commercial nation, controlling a global trading empire with colonies in North America and the Caribbean. Britain had major military and political hegemony on the Indian subcontinent; particularly with the proto-industrialised Mughal Bengal, through the activities of the East India Company. The development of trade and the rise of business were among the major causes of the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in history. Comparable only to humanity's adoption of agriculture with respect to material advancement, the Industrial Revolution influenced in some way almost every aspect of daily life. In particular, average income and population began to exhibit unprecedented sustained growth. Some economists have said the most important effect of the Industrial Revolution was that the standard of living for the general population in the western world began to increase consistently for the first time in history.

The precise start and end of the Industrial Revolution is still debated among historians, as is the pace of economic and social changes. Eric Hobsbawm held that the Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 1780s and was not fully felt until the 1830s or 1840s, while T. S. Ashton held that it occurred roughly between 1760 and 1830. Rapid industrialization first began in Britain, starting with mechanized spinning in the 1780s, with high rates of growth in steam power and iron production occurring after 1800. Mechanized textile production spread from Great Britain to continental Europe and the United States in the early 19th century, with important centres of textiles, iron and coal emerging in Belgium and the United States and later textiles in France.

The 1781 siege of Yorktown ended with the surrender of a second British army, marking effective British defeat.

Loss of the Thirteen American Colonies

1765 Mar 22 - 1784 Jan 15
, New England

During the 1760s and early 1770s, relations between the Thirteen Colonies and Britain became increasingly strained, primarily because of resentment of the British Parliament's attempts to govern and tax American colonists without their consent. This was summarised at the time by the slogan "No taxation without representation", a perceived violation of the guaranteed Rights of Englishmen. The American Revolution began with a rejection of Parliamentary authority and moves towards self-government. In response, Britain sent troops to reimpose direct rule, leading to the outbreak of war in 1775. The following year, in 1776, the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence proclaiming the colonies' sovereignty from the British Empire as the new United States of America. The entry of French and Spanish forces into the war tipped the military balance in the Americans' favour and after a decisive defeat at Yorktown in 1781, Britain began negotiating peace terms. American independence was acknowledged at the Peace of Paris in 1783.

The loss of such a large portion of British America, at the time Britain's most populous overseas possession, is seen by some 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 characterized 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 seemed to confirm Smith's view that political control was not necessary for economic success.

James Cook's mission was to find the alleged southern continent Terra Australis.

Second British Empire

1783 Jan 1 - 1815
, Australia

Since 1718, transportation to the American colonies had been a penalty for various offences in Britain, with approximately one thousand convicts transported per year. Forced to find an alternative location after the loss of the Thirteen Colonies in 1783, the British government turned to Australia. The coast of Australia had been discovered for Europeans by the Dutch in 1606, but there was no attempt to colonise it. In 1770 James Cook charted the eastern coast while on a scientific voyage, claimed the continent for Britain, and named it New South Wales. In 1778, Joseph Banks, Cook's botanist on the voyage, presented evidence to the government on the suitability of Botany Bay for the establishment of a penal settlement, and in 1787 the first shipment of convicts set sail, arriving in 1788. Unusually, Australia was claimed through proclamation. Indigenous Australians were considered too uncivilised to require treaties, and colonisation brought disease and violence that together with the deliberate dispossession of land and culture were devastating to these peoples. Britain continued to transport convicts to New South Wales until 1840, to Tasmania until 1853 and to Western Australia until 1868. The Australian colonies became profitable exporters of wool and gold, mainly because of the Victorian gold rush, making its capital Melbourne for a time the richest city in the world.

During his voyage, Cook visited New Zealand, known to Europeans due to the 1642 voyage of the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman. Cook claimed both the North and the South islands for the British crown in 1769 and 1770 respectively. Initially, interaction between the indigenous Maori population and European settlers was limited to the trading of goods. European settlement increased through the early decades of the 19th century, with many trading stations being established, especially in the North. In 1839, the New Zealand Company announced plans to buy large tracts of land and establish colonies in New Zealand.

The British also expanded their mercantile interests in the North Pacific. Spain and Britain had become rivals in the area, culminating in the Nootka Crisis in 1789. Both sides mobilized for war, but when France refused to support Spain it was forced to back down, leading to the Nootka Convention. The outcome was a humiliation for Spain, which practically renounced all sovereignty on the North Pacific coast. This opened the way to British expansion in the area, and a number of expeditions took place; firstly a naval expedition led by George Vancouver which explored the inlets around the Pacific North West, particularly around Vancouver Island. On land, expeditions sought to discover a river route to the Pacific for the extension of the North American fur trade. Alexander Mackenzie of the North West Company led the first, starting out in 1792, and a year a later he became the first European to reach the Pacific overland north of the Rio Grande, reaching the ocean near present-day Bella Coola. This preceded the Lewis and Clark Expedition by twelve years. Shortly thereafter, Mackenzie's companion, John Finlay, founded the first permanent European settlement in British Columbia, Fort St. John. The North West Company sought further exploration and backed expeditions by David Thompson, starting in 1797, and later by Simon Fraser. These pushed into the wilderness territories of the Rocky Mountains and Interior Plateau to the Strait of Georgia on the Pacific Coast, expanding British North America westward.

Peninsular War

Napoleonic Wars

1799 Jan 1 - 1815
, Spain

During the War of the Second Coalition (1799–1801), William Pitt the Younger (1759–1806) provided strong leadership in London. Britain occupied most of the French and Dutch overseas possessions, the Netherlands having become a satellite state of France in 1796. After a short peace, in May 1803, war was declared again. Napoleon's plans to invade Britain failed, chiefly due to the inferiority of his navy. In 1805 Lord Nelson's fleet decisively defeated the French and Spanish at Trafalgar, ending any hopes Napoleon had to wrest control of the oceans away from the British.

The British Army remained a minimal threat to France; it maintained a standing strength of just 220,000 men at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, whereas France's armies exceeded a million men—in addition to the armies of numerous allies and several hundred thousand national guardsmen that Napoleon could draft into the French armies when they were needed. Although the Royal Navy effectively disrupted France's extra-continental trade—both by seizing and threatening French shipping and by seizing French colonial possessions—it could do nothing about France's trade with the major continental economies and posed little threat to French territory in Europe. France's population and agricultural capacity far outstripped that of Britain.

In 1806, Napoleon set up the Continental System to end British trade with French-controlled territories. However Britain had great industrial capacity and mastery of the seas. It built up economic strength through trade and the Continental System was largely ineffective. As Napoleon realized that extensive trade was going through Spain and Russia, he invaded those two countries. He tied down his forces in the Peninsular War in Spain, and lost very badly in Russia in 1812. The Spanish uprising in 1808 at last permitted Britain to gain a foothold on the Continent. The Duke of Wellington and his army of British and Portuguese gradually pushed the French out of Spain, and in early 1814, as Napoleon was being driven back in the east by the Prussians, Austrians, and Russians, Wellington invaded southern France. After Napoleon's surrender and exile to the island of Elba, peace appeared to have returned, but when he escaped back into France in 1815, the British and their allies had to fight him again. The armies of Wellington and Blucher defeated Napoleon once and for all at Battle of Waterloo.

Simultaneous with the Napoleonic Wars, trade disputes and British impressment of American sailors led to the War of 1812 with the United States. A central event in American history, it was little noticed in Britain, where all attention was focused on the struggle with France. The British could devote few resources to the conflict until the fall of Napoleon in 1814. American frigates also inflicted a series of embarrassing defeats on the British navy, which was short on manpower due to the conflict in Europe. A full-scale British invasion was defeated in upstate New York. The Treaty of Ghent subsequently ended the war with no territorial changes. It was the last war between Britain and the United States.

92nd Highlanders and 2nd Gurkhas storming the Gaudi Mullah Sahibdad at Kandahar 1 September 1880.

Great Game

1830 Jan 12 - 1895 Sep 10
, Central Asia

The Great Game was a political and diplomatic confrontation that existed for most of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century between the British Empire and the Russian Empire over Afghanistan and neighbouring territories in Central and South Asia, and having direct consequences in Persia, British India, and Tibet.

Britain feared that Russia planned to invade India and that this was the goal of Russia's expansion in Central Asia, while Russia feared the expansion of British interests in Central Asia. As a result, there was a deep atmosphere of distrust and talk of war between two of the major European empires.

According to one major view, The Great Game began on 12 January 1830, when Lord Ellenborough, the president of the Board of Control for India, tasked Lord William Bentinck, the governor-general, with establishing a new trade route to the Emirate of Bukhara. Britain intended to gain control over the Emirate of Afghanistan and make it a protectorate, and to use the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire, the Khanate of Khiva, and the Emirate of Bukhara as buffer states blocking Russian expansion. This would protect India and also key British sea trade routes by stopping Russia from gaining a port on the Persian Gulf or the Indian Ocean. Russia proposed Afghanistan as the neutral zone. The results included the failed First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838, the First Anglo-Sikh War of 1845, the Second Anglo-Sikh War of 1848, the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878, and the annexation of Kokand by Russia.

Some historians consider the end of the Great Game to be the 10 September 1895 signing of the Pamir Boundary Commission protocols, when the border between Afghanistan and the Russian Empire was defined. The term Great Game was coined by British diplomat Arthur Conolly in 1840, but the 1901 novel Kim by Rudyard Kipling made the term popular, and increased its association with great power rivalry.

Queen Victoria | ©Heinrich von Angeli

Victorian era

1837 Jun 20 - 1901 Jan 22
, England

The Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria's reign, from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. There was a strong religious drive for higher moral standards led by the nonconformist churches, such as the Methodists and the evangelical wing of the established Church of England. Ideologically, the Victorian era witnessed resistance to the rationalism that defined the Georgian period, and an increasing turn towards romanticism and even mysticism in religion, social values, and arts. This era saw a staggering amount of technological innovations that proved key to Britain's power and prosperity. Doctors started moving away from tradition and mysticism towards a science-based approach; medicine advanced thanks to the adoption of the germ theory of disease and pioneering research in epidemiology.

Domestically, the political agenda was increasingly liberal, with a number of shifts in the direction of gradual political reform, improved social reform, and the widening of the franchise. There were unprecedented demographic changes: the population of England and Wales almost doubled from 16.8 million in 1851 to 30.5 million in 1901. Between 1837 and 1901 about 15 million emigrated from Great Britain, mostly to the United States, as well as to imperial outposts in Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. Thanks to educational reforms, the British population not only approached universal literacy towards the end of the era but also became increasingly well-educated; the market for reading materials of all kinds boomed.

Britain's relations with the other Great Powers were driven by antagonism with Russia, including the Crimean War and the Great Game. A Pax Britannica of peaceful trade was maintained by the country's naval and industrial supremacy. Britain embarked on global imperial expansion, particularly in Asia and Africa, which made the British Empire the largest empire in history. National self-confidence peaked. Britain granted political autonomy to the more advanced colonies of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Apart from the Crimean War, Britain was not involved in any armed conflict with another major power.

Fighting at Zhenjiang

First Opium War

1839 Sep 4 - 1842 Aug 29
, China

The First Opium War was a series of military engagements fought between Britain and the Qing dynasty between 1839 and 1842. The immediate issue was the Chinese seizure of private opium stocks at Canton to enforce their ban on the opium trade, which was profitable to British merchants, and threatening the death penalty for future offenders. The British government insisted on the principles of free trade and equal diplomatic recognition among nations, and backed the merchants' demands. The British navy initiated the conflict and defeated the Chinese using technologically superior ships and weapons, and the British then imposed a treaty that granted territory to Britain and opened trade with China. Twentieth century nationalists considered 1839 the start of a century of humiliation, and many historians considered it the beginning of modern Chinese history.

In the 18th century, the demand for Chinese luxury goods (particularly silk, porcelain, and tea) created a trade imbalance between China and Britain. European silver flowed into China through the Canton System, which confined incoming foreign trade to the southern port city of Canton. To counter this imbalance, the British East India Company began to grow opium in Bengal and allowed private British merchants to sell opium to Chinese smugglers for illegal sale in China. The influx of narcotics reversed the Chinese trade surplus, drained the economy of silver, and increased the numbers of opium addicts inside the country, outcomes that seriously worried Chinese officials.

In 1839, the Daoguang Emperor, rejecting proposals to legalize and tax opium, appointed Viceroy Lin Zexu to go to Canton to halt the opium trade completely. Lin wrote an open letter to Queen Victoria, appealing to her moral responsibility to stop the opium trade. Lin then resorted to using force in the western merchants' enclave. He arrived in Guangzhou at the end of January and organized a coastal defense. In March, British opium dealers were forced to hand over 2.37 million pounds of opium. On 3 June, Lin ordered the opium to be destroyed in public on Humen Beach to show the Government's determination to ban smoking.

All other supplies were confiscated and a blockade of foreign ships on the Pearl River was ordered. The British government responded by dispatching a military force to China. In the ensuing conflict, the Royal Navy used its superior naval and gunnery power to inflict a series of decisive defeats on the Chinese Empire. In 1842, the Qing dynasty was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanking—the first of what the Chinese later called the unequal treaties—which granted an indemnity and extraterritoriality to British subjects in China, opened five treaty ports to British merchants, and ceded Hong Kong Island to the British Empire. The failure of the treaty to satisfy British goals of improved trade and diplomatic relations led to the Second Opium War (1856–60). The resulting social unrest was the background for the Taiping Rebellion, which further weakened the Qing regime.

British cavalry charging against Russian forces at Balaclava

Crimean War

1853 Oct 16 - 1856 Mar 30
, Crimean Peninsula

The Crimean War was fought from October 1853 to February 1856 in which Russia lost to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, the United Kingdom and Piedmont-Sardinia. The immediate cause of the war involved the rights of Christian minorities in Palestine (then part of the Ottoman Empire) with the French promoting the rights of Roman Catholics, and Russia promoting those of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Longer-term causes involved the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the expansion of the Russian Empire in the preceding Russo-Turkish Wars, and the British and French preference to preserve the Ottoman Empire to maintain the balance of power in the Concert of Europe.

In July 1853, Russian troops occupied the Danubian Principalities (now part of Romania but then under Ottoman suzerainty). In October 1853, having obtained promises of support from France and Britain, the Ottomans declared war on Russia. Led by Omar Pasha, the Ottomans fought a strong defensive campaign and stopped the Russian advance at Silistra (now in Bulgaria). Fearing an Ottoman collapse, the British and the French had their fleets enter the Black Sea in January 1854. They moved north to Varna in June 1854 and arrived just in time for the Russians to abandon Silistra.

The allied commanders decided to attack Russia's main naval base in the Black Sea, Sevastopol, on the Crimean Peninsula. After extended preparations, allied forces landed on the peninsula in September 1854. The Russians counterattacked on 25 October in what became the Battle of Balaclava and were repulsed, but the British Army's forces were seriously depleted as a result. A second Russian counterattack, at Inkerman (November 1854), ended in a stalemate as well. The front settled into the siege of Sevastopol, involving brutal conditions for troops on both sides.

Sevastopol finally fell after eleven months, after the French had assaulted Fort Malakoff. Isolated and facing a bleak prospect of invasion by the West if the war continued, Russia sued for peace in March 1856. France and Britain welcomed the development, owing to the conflict's domestic unpopularity. The Treaty of Paris, signed on 30 March 1856, ended the war. It forbade Russia from basing warships in the Black Sea. The Ottoman vassal states of Wallachia and Moldavia became largely independent. Christians in the Ottoman Empire gained a degree of official equality, and the Orthodox Church regained control of the Christian churches in dispute.

British Raj

British Raj

1858 Jun 28 - 1947 Aug 14
, India

The British Raj was the rule of the British Crown on the Indian subcontinent and lasted from 1858 to 1947. The region under British control was commonly called India in contemporaneous usage and included areas directly administered by the United Kingdom, which were collectively called British India, and areas ruled by indigenous rulers, but under British paramountcy, called the princely states. This system of governance was instituted on 28 June 1858, when, after the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the company rule in India of the British East India Company was transferred to the Crown in the person of Queen Victoria. It lasted until 1947, when the British Raj was partitioned into two sovereign dominion states: the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan.

Contemporary French propaganda poster hailing Major Marchand's trek across Africa toward Fashoda in 1898

Cape to Cairo

1881 Jan 1 - 1914
, Cairo

Britain's administration of Egypt and the Cape Colony contributed to a preoccupation over securing the source of the Nile River. Egypt was taken over by the British in 1882, leaving the Ottoman Empire in a nominal role until 1914, when London made it a protectorate. Egypt was never an actual British colony. Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda were subjugated in the 1890s and early 20th century; and in the south, the Cape Colony (first acquired in 1795) provided a base for the subjugation of neighbouring African states and the Dutch Afrikaner settlers who had left the Cape to avoid the British and then founded their own republics. Theophilus Shepstone annexed the South African Republic in 1877 for the British Empire, after it had been independent for twenty years. In 1879, after the Anglo-Zulu War, Britain consolidated its control of most of the territories of South Africa. The Boers protested, and in December 1880 they revolted, leading to the First Boer War. The Second Boer War, fought between 1899 and 1902, was about control of the gold and diamond industries; the independent Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic were this time defeated and absorbed into the British Empire.

The Sudan was the key to the fulfillment of these ambitions, especially since Egypt was already under British control. This "red line" through Africa is made most famous by Cecil Rhodes. Along with Lord Milner, the British colonial minister in South Africa, Rhodes advocated such a "Cape to Cairo" empire, linking the Suez Canal to the mineral-rich South Africa by rail. Though hampered by German occupation of Tanganyika until the end of World War I, Rhodes successfully lobbied on behalf of such a sprawling African empire.

The Relief of Ladysmith. Sir George Stuart White greets Major Hubert Gough on 28 February. Painting by John Henry Frederick Bacon (1868–1914).

Second Boer War

1899 Oct 11 - 1902 May 31
, South Africa

Ever since Britain had taken control of South Africa from the Netherlands in the Napoleonic Wars, it had run afoul of the Dutch settlers who further away and created two republics of their own. The British imperial vision called for control over the new countries and the Dutch-speaking "Boers" (or "Afrikaners". The Boer response to the British pressure was to declare war on 20 October 1899. The 410,000 Boers were massively outnumbered, but amazingly they waged a successful guerrilla war, which gave the British regulars a difficult fight. The Boers were landlocked and did not have access to outside help. The weight of numbers, superior equipment, and often brutal tactics eventually brought about a British victory. To defeat the guerrillas, the British rounded up their women and children into concentration camps, where many died of disease. World outrage focused on the camps, led by a large faction of the Liberal Party in Britain. However, the United States gave its support. The Boer republics were merged into Union of South Africa in 1910; it had internal self-government but its foreign policy was controlled by London and was an integral part of the British Empire.

GPO Dublin, Easter 1916.

Irish independence and partition

1912 Jan 1 - 1921
, Ireland

In 1912 the House of Commons passed a new Home Rule bill. Under the Parliament Act 1911 the House of Lords retained the power to delay legislation by up to two years, so it was eventually enacted as the Government of Ireland Act 1914, but suspended for the duration of the war. Civil war threatened when the Protestant-Unionists of Northern Ireland refused to be placed under Catholic-Nationalist control. Semi-military units were formed ready to fight—the Unionist Ulster Volunteers opposed to the Act and their Nationalist counterparts, the Irish Volunteers supporting the Act. The outbreak of the World War in 1914 put the crisis on political hold. A disorganized Easter Rising in 1916 was brutally suppressed by the British, which had the effect of galvanizing Nationalist demands for independence. Prime Minister Lloyd George failed to introduce Home Rule in 1918 and in the December 1918 General Election Sinn Féin won a majority of Irish seats. Its MPs refused to take their seats at Westminster, instead choosing to sit in the First Dáil parliament in Dublin.

A declaration of independence was ratified by Dáil Éireann, the self-declared Republic's parliament in January 1919. An Anglo-Irish War was fought between Crown forces and the Irish Republican Army between January 1919 and June 1921. The war ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 that established the Irish Free State. Six northern, predominantly Protestant counties became Northern Ireland and have remained part of the United Kingdom ever since, despite demands of the Catholic minority to unite with the Republic of Ireland. Britain officially adopted the name "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" by the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927.

British 55th (West Lancashire) Division soldiers blinded by tear gas during the Battle of Estaires, 10 April 1918

England during World War I

1914 Jul 28 - 1918 Nov 11
, Central Europe

The United Kingdom was a leading Allied Power during the First World War of 1914–1918. They fought against the Central Powers, mainly Germany. The armed forces were greatly expanded and reorganised—the war marked the founding of the Royal Air Force. The highly controversial introduction, in January 1916, of conscription for the first time in British history followed the raising of one of the largest all-volunteer army in history, known as Kitchener's Army, of more than 2,000,000 men. The outbreak of war was a socially unifying event. Enthusiasm was widespread in 1914, and was similar to that across Europe.

Fearing food shortages and labour shortfalls, the government passed legislation such as the Defence of the Realm Act 1914, to give it new powers. The war saw a move away from the idea of "business as usual" under Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, and towards a state of total war (complete state intervention in public affairs) by 1917 under the premiership of David Lloyd George; the first time this had been seen in Britain. The war also witnessed the first aerial bombardments of cities in Britain.

Newspapers played an important role in maintaining popular support for the war. By adapting to the changing demographics of the workforce, war-related industries grew rapidly, and production increased, as concessions were quickly made to trade unions. In that regard, the war is also credited by some with drawing women into mainstream employment for the first time. Debates continue about the impact the war had on women's emancipation, given that a large number of women were granted the vote for the first time in 1918.

The civilian death rate rose due to food shortages and Spanish flu, which hit the country in 1918. Military deaths are estimated to have exceeded 850,000. The Empire reached its zenith at the conclusion of peace negotiations. However, the war heightened not only imperial loyalties but also individual national identities in the Dominions (Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) and India. Irish nationalists after 1916 moved from collaboration with London to demands for immediate independence, a move given great impetus by the Conscription Crisis of 1918.

Battle of Britain

England during World War II

1939 Sep 1 - 1945 Sep 2
, Central Europe

The Second World War started on 3 September 1939 with the declaration of war by the United Kingdom and France, on Nazi Germany in response to the invasion of Poland by Germany. The Anglo-French alliance did little to help Poland. The Phoney War culminated in April 1940 with the German invasion of Denmark and Norway. Winston Churchill became prime minister and head of a coalition government in May 1940. The defeat of other European countries followed – Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France – alongside the British Expeditionary Force which led to the Dunkirk evacuation.

From June 1940, Britain and its Empire continued the fight alone against Germany. Churchill engaged industry, scientists and engineers to advise and support the government and the military in the prosecution of the war effort. Germany's planned invasion of the UK was averted by the Royal Air Force denying the Luftwaffe air superiority in the Battle of Britain, and by its marked inferiority in naval power. Subsequently, urban areas in Britain suffered heavy bombing during the Blitz in late 1940 and early 1941. The Royal Navy sought to blockade Germany and protect merchant ships in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Army counter-attacked in the Mediterranean and Middle East, including the North-African and East-African campaigns, and in the Balkans.

Churchill agreed an alliance with the Soviet Union in July and began sending supplies to the USSR. In December, the Empire of Japan attacked British and American holdings with near-simultaneous offensives against Southeast Asia and the Central Pacific including an attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor. Britain and America declared war on Japan, opening the Pacific War. The Grand Alliance of the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union was formed and Britain and America agreed a Europe first grand strategy for the war. The UK and her Allies suffered many disastrous defeats in the Asia-Pacific war during the first six months of 1942.

There were eventual hard-fought victories in 1943 in the North-African campaign, led by General Bernard Montgomery, and in the subsequent Italian campaign. British forces played major roles in the production of Ultra signals intelligence, the strategic bombing of Germany, and the Normandy landings of June 1944. The liberation of Europe followed on 8 May 1945, achieved with the Soviet Union, the United States and other Allied countries. The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign of the War.

In the South-East Asian theatre, the Eastern Fleet conducted strikes in the Indian Ocean. The British Army led the Burma campaign to drive Japan out of the British colony. Involving a million troops at its peak, drawn primarily from British India, the campaign was finally successful in mid-1945. The British Pacific Fleet took part in the Battle of Okinawa and the final naval strikes on Japan. British scientists contributed to the Manhattan Project to design a nuclear weapon. The surrender of Japan was announced on 15 August 1945 and signed on 2 September 1945.

Winston Churchill waves to crowds on Whitehall on VE Day, 8 May 1945, after broadcasting to the nation that the war against Germany had been won.

Postwar Britain

1945 Jan 1 - 1979
, England

Britain had won the war, but it lost India in 1947 and nearly all the rest of the Empire by the 1960s. It debated its role in world affairs and joined the United Nations in 1945, NATO in 1949, and became a close ally of the United States. Prosperity returned in the 1950s, and London remained a world centre of finance and culture, but the nation was no longer a major world power. In 1973, after a long debate and initial rejection, it joined the Common Market.


References for History of England.

  • Bédarida, François. A social history of England 1851–1990. Routledge, 2013.
  • Davies, Norman, The Isles, A History Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-19-513442-7
  • Black, Jeremy. A new history of England (The History Press, 2013).
  • Broadberry, Stephen et al. British Economic Growth, 1270-1870 (2015)
  • Review by Jeffrey G. Williamson
  • Clapp, Brian William. An environmental history of Britain since the industrial revolution (Routledge, 2014)
  • Clayton, David Roberts, and Douglas R. Bisson. A History of England (2 vol. 2nd ed. Pearson Higher Ed, 2013)
  • Ensor, R. C. K. England, 1870–1914 (1936), comprehensive survey.
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004); short scholarly biographies of all the major people
  • Schama, Simon, A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World, 3500 BC – 1603 AD BBC/Miramax, 2000 ISBN 0-7868-6675-6; TV series A History of Britain, Volume 2: The Wars of the British 1603–1776 BBC/Miramax, 2001 ISBN 0-7868-6675-6; A History of Britain – The Complete Collection on DVD BBC 2002 OCLC 51112061
  • Tombs, Robert, The English and their History (2014) 1040 pp review
  • Trevelyan, G.M. Shortened History of England (Penguin Books 1942) ISBN 0-14-023323-7 very well written; reflects perspective of 1930s; 595pp
  • Woodward, E. L. The Age of Reform: 1815–1870 (1954) comprehensive survey