United Kingdom History

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UNITED KINGDOM

The history of Britain extends back to the megalithic and Iron Age peoples who were conquered by the Romans in 43 AD. Some 400 years later, the Romans withdrew from Britain, leaving the door open for Jute, Angle, and Saxon invaders. Native Celts continued to prosper in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. The Vikings arrived in the eighth century and in 1066, the Conqueror, William of Normandy, crossed the English Channel and took over the country. In 1215, the Magna Carta was signed, a document which laid down legal rights (albeit for the nobility) and prepared the basis of parliamentary government. For three hundred years, the Plantagenets ruled England and Ireland, Wales, and portions of France. By 1453, England had lost it French territories thanks to the Hundred Years War. Two years later, the Plantagenets were supplanted by the Tudors, whose most famous member, Henry VIII, broke with Roman Catholicism in 1534 and established the Church of England. Henry's daughter Elizabeth I was perhaps the greatest monarch in the nation's history but she was the end of the Tudor line. Next came the Stuarts, whose hold on the monarchy was interrupted by Cromwell and the Civil War in 1642. Though they later tried to re-assert their claims to the throne, the crown would pass to successive dynasties culminating in the current House of Windsor. After the Restoration of the monarchy, Britain functioned more and more as a constitutional monarchy with Parliament occupying the supreme position. In the 18th century, Britain became the world's leading naval power with an empire that stretched from North America to India. With the Industrial Revolution, the nation also became the world's economic giant. Britain played pivotal roles in the two World Wars of the 20th century and though successful, saw the gradual dismemberment of their empire as nation after nation became independent. Though Britain is still regarded as a world power, and still maintains a Commonwealth composed of its former possessions, it is no longer the powerhouse of the past.