In 1707 a new country was created—the Kingdom of Great Britain. This new country was formed from the union of two kingdoms, England and Scotland. A third state, Wales, had already united with England in 1536, and Ireland was ruled by the English Parliament. Both England and Scotland were Protestant kingdoms, and had shared the same monarch since 1603. In 1701 the Parliament of England passed a law called the Act of Settlement. This law stated that the Crown had to pass to a Protestant, even if a Catholic was next in line. Because Queen Anne, who came to the throne in 1702, had no surviving children, the next king of England would not be English at all, but German. George I was a prince from Hanover. However, there was still a danger that Scotland would choose another king—perhaps even a Catholic. The English said that the Scots could keep their separate currency and legal system, and offered them a large sum of money, to give up their independence. They agreed, and Queen Anne became the first ruler of Great Britain.
WHIGS, TORIES AND JACOBITES
George of Hanover became king in 1714. Not everyone in Britain was happy about this. Some people thought it was wrong that Parliament had chosen a king. These people were often associated with a political party called the Tories. George’s supporters were called Whigs, and they filled all of the jobs in the new government.
In Scotland there were some people who were ready to fight to restore the man they regarded as their rightful king, even though he was a Catholic. His name was James Edward Stuart. In 1715 his supporters, called Jacobites, rose up in Scotland. In 1745 they rose up again, this time in support of James’s son, who was called Charles and was known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie”. The Jacobites were finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
THE BRITISH EMPIRE
When the Kingdom of Great Britain was created, England already had colonies in America. British ships were central to the slave trade, taking slaves from the western coast of Africa to the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. The East India Company set up a network of trading posts in India. Between 1756 and 1763 the British were at war with France in Europe, America and India. In 1757, British forces in India won control of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey. Two years later, General Wolfe defeated the French to win Quebec, their colony in Canada. In 1788, Britain sent its first fleet of convicts to settle in Australia. Britain lost the American colonies in 1783, after the War of Independence, but the British Empire at the end of the 18th century was still the greatest in the world.
THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
A series of inventions and innovations by engineers and manufacturers during the 18th century helped to make Britain the world’s first industrial country. The landscape was transformed as cities grew bigger, and new cities were built. Canals and railways brought the different parts of Britain into closer contact than ever before. Manchester and Bradford became centres of the textile industry. Sheffield was a centre of steel manufacture. Glasgow and Newcastle were famous for ship-building. The docks of London, Liverpool and Swansea exported British products all over the world. The people who worked in the factories and mines of industrial Britain tried to form trade unions to fight for their interests. They had a long and hard battle, even after trade unions were made legal in 1824.
THE UNITED KINGDOM
Between 1793 and 1815 Britain was once again at war with France. Britain’s leaders were afraid that revolutionary ideas from France would spread through Britain. In 1798 there was an uprising against British rule in Ireland, supported by France. To secure British control in Ireland the Irish parliament was abolished in 1801 and Ireland merged with the Kingdom of Great Britain. A new country was created—the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
THE VICTORIAN AGE
In 1837 Queen Victoria came to the throne. During her reign the British Empire continued to grow. Africa was explored and colonized and in 1876 Victoria was made Empress of India. Maintaining the empire meant that Britain was often involved in wars. For example, trying to control Afghanistan between 1838 and 1842, suppressing an uprising in India between 1857 and 1859 and fighting the Boers in South Africa at the end of the 19th century. Victorian Britain was also a centre of engineering innovation (led by such individuals as Isambard Kingdom Brunel) and scientific discovery (for example, in the work of Michael Faraday and Charles Darwin). Novels by Victorian writers such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot and the Brontë sisters are still read all over the world.
TWO WORLD WARS
During the 20th century Britain became involved in two very costly world wars. Almost a million British Empire soldiers died during World War I alone. The wars were also very expensive, and it became difficult for Britain to pay for its empire. Ireland broke away from the UK in 1922 (apart from six counties in the north). India won its independence in 1947. Ten years later Ghana became the first African country to win its independence from the British Empire. Britain also lost its economic dominance. After World War II the most dynamic and innovative economies in the world belonged to the US, Germany and Japan. Many of Britain’s traditional industries went into decline.
BRITAIN SINCE 1945
The UK joined the European Economic Community (today known as the European Union) in 1973, though it does not use the Euro currency like many other European nations. In 1998, after almost 300 years, the people of Scotland voted to have their own parliament again. The Welsh people also voted to have a national assembly. Both Scotland and Wales still send MPs to the parliament of the UK in London, but they have more independence to make decisions for themselves. People from many parts of the world, such as India, Pakistan and the Caribbean, have made Britain their home.