At some point, anyone wishing to settle permanently in the UK will need to take the Life in the UK test. Mostly, it’s a test designed to make immigrants learn more about the history and functionality of the nation than the natives. In fairness, the US does the same, though I can’t speak to their actual test centres. Frankly, I find it both hypocritical/xenophobic. Classic drawbridge pulling, if you ask me, but who am I and what do I know? Anyway, to help prepare (feel that unrestrained annoyance, feel it), I’m taking everyone on a walk through UK history. Go to the bathroom, make yourself a drink and a sandwich while you’re at it. Apologies in advance: with over 22k words, it’s going to be a long one. I’ve added breaks for you throughout to keep the eye-spinning to a minimum.
There are 24 questions to the test and you will need to get at least 18 of them right to pass. As though knowing UK history isn’t enough to show assimilation into a culture, you will be expected to know about history, sports, day-to-day life, law, elections, entertainment and literature.
While there doesn’t seem to be a lack of locations to sit the test, they do require some key things when you turn up for the test day you’ve booked:
- whatever ID you noted on your booking details – they need to see it.
- proof of your current address as the test sites work in catchment/service areas and they’ll need proof that you’re living in theirs. It can be a utility bill, council tax bill, bank or credit card statement. It can’t be over 3 months old (from the date you’re taking the test) and it needs to have your name on it.
- Show up 15 minutes early. Seriously. This is to allow plenty of time for you to check in and they can refuse you if you aren’t. Don’t mess around.
Notes and sources: the aim of this exercise is to provide information obtained through research (links hidden throughout the text for added fun) and to present it in a way that is entertaining enough to stick. For the record: I have read the 2017 Life in the UK books (the 3rd addition, specifically). I have not been paid anything to promote these, or any other source of information relating to the tests, nor give any sort of review. All opinions expressed are mine alone. In short, this is my attempt to provide additional information, flagging when sources conflict. I encourage people to go the extra mile and find more information (and share with the rest of us) to fill in any gaps.
Speaking of other sources: there is a fellow by the name of Tom Bradford on YouTube who has study guides for the test in both an audio and visual format (see below).
Warnings of whitewash: I personally found that much of UK history as it was laid out in the Life in the UK books to be very… well, whitewashed and generously benevolent to Christianity. This could be a reflection on the tests and how they are worded, or how history is commonly written by the victor (the ugly bits are glossed over), or both. I’m not that nice, nor am I so forgiving – I will call out the dirty parts of the past, but be aware the importance of these things stand the risk of being not valuable for the test outright. It just makes the reading process slightly less gag-inducing.
Study time/commitment: Everything gathered and written was done slowly over the course of two months. The average amount of time spent was between 10-20 hours a week, including time to practice as many sample tests as possible (and sample tests on youtube). Don’t count on me alone, I can’t promise success to anyone following the reading and resources I’ve provided.
Settlement/Indefinite Leave to Remain: For this visa type, the Life in the UK test certificate is required to show you have what the UK government deems as “adequate” knowledge of living in the UK. We can quibble about their definition of that on a later date, however. What happens once you have your visa? Well, that becomes another matter. You can apply for citizenship, if that’s what you’d like to do; assuming so, once that has been completed, you’ll be invited to attend a ceremony. At the ceremony, you’ll either make an oath/affirmation (one is religious, the other is not) as well as pledge of allegiance to the UK. If you’re in Wales, that may be done in Welsh.
The versions of all of those are:
- Oath – “I, [name], swear by Almighty God that, on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors according to law.”
- Affirmation – “I, [name], do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law.”
- Pledge – “I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.”
Got that? They may appear on the test.
Regarding images used: I did not make any of the images provided; they were all found by means of google. As such, if any of the original creators do not wish to have their work as part of this article or want to be credited, they need only to submit a comment to that effect and I’ll see that it is removed and/or attributed accordingly.
Want to know more about the UK than any of the locals do? No? Too bad, you’ll just have to suck it up, ’cause here we go!
Pre-history: the first people to come to what would later be called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland were evidenced to be some 750,000 years ago, with proto-humans showing up some 500,000 years ago. However, modern humans are known to have inhabited the area during the upper palaeolithic times (50,000 – 10,000 years ago, roughly). It isn’t so hard to understand why: there was an ice age that forced the first settlers to either backtrack to warmer climates or, well, die. Though they have a presence, no one seems to care about them, history-wise.
The ability for the British to cope with extreme weather hasn’t changed much. It’s just as well that, these days, the average temperature in the UK is 18-25 degrees Celsius (for reference: 18C is roughly 64F). That said, there can be some extreme differences between places like England and Scotland. It isn’t necessarily fair to be too broad in that brush stroke.
Anyway, approx. 11,000 years ago, said ice sheets receded and the ancestors of modern humans moved in. Genetic research suggests that these people came from the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula, which is located in the south-west of Europe. Don’t let anyone tell you that this island nation isn’t one born of immigrants, they haven’t done their research. These fishermen (some argue they were hunter-farmers, but that may be a more encompassing term – I doubt it was fishermen alone) arrived between 5000 BC and 4000 BC. Some of the first structures that they built were houses, monuments and tombs. Until about 10,000 years ago, Britain was connected to Europe by a land bridge, which became submerged when the water levels rose. The Life in the UK test books state that the ancestors of the UK came from south-east Europe and I haven’t been able to find a source to explain why. Looking at linguistics, the semi-misnomer of what was the Celts in the UK have a language that is closely linked to that of the Gauls who, arguably, were wider spread, but not specific to the regions that have been attributed. If anyone can point to an article on that, I would be grateful, but until then, this is going to be an inconsistency with the tests and my research.
A note about the ages: it’s hard to be exact on when people switched between ages like the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.
It was the Stone Age (pre-6th century BC) that gave you tourist attractions like the stone henges (because there’s more than one), and Skara Brae on Orkney (it’s off the northern coast of Scotland). While the first settlements were established 6,000 years ago, Skara Brae is estimated to have been built between 3200 BC and 2200 BC. The most popular Stonehenge in Wiltshire is estimated to have been built in stages around 2550-1600 BCE. It was also around this time (2500 BC approx.) where beaker culture – that is, the act of making containers – happened, paving the way to the Bronze Age.
If you’re old-school like me and happened to have grown up in a home full of nerds, you might have had a Commodore 64 in your house and someone who played the 1985 Bard’s Tale series. If so, now you know why you recognise the name of Skara Brae. For the rest of you poor souls, I found the intro song to the game for you below.
Will that be part of the test? Not likely. Am I sorry? No.
In the Bronze Age, approximately 4,000 years ago, people learned to make bronze (duh). Humans made tools, weapons and jewellery out of bronze and gold. This was also where people got comfortable and started to form villages, clustered roundhouses forming communes. Although not certain, it is thought that the new bronze tools and weapons were originally brought over from continental Europe. The skulls recovered from burial sites from the Bronze Age are different in shape from Stone Age skulls – suggesting that new people migrated over. It’s well documented: immigrants bring innovation.
The Iron Age (6th century BC – 51 BC), saw humans making their first weapons and tools from iron. As the name implies, the Iron Age saw the gradual introduction of iron working, although the general adoption of iron artefacts did not become widespread until after 500-400 BC. Villages got bigger and hill forts were built, for better defence. The dialect of the day was a variation of the Celtic languages: Gaelic and Welsh. It was also in this time that they started making their first coins.
Note: though not on any of the practice tests or in the life in the UK books, it is an interesting read on the history of UK currency. That said, it is expected that you know modern coin denominations: £.01, £.02, £.05, £.10, £.20, £.50p, £1 and £2; likewise, paper notes are: £5, £10, £20, and £50.
Fun facts: Technological innovation increased during the Iron Age, especially towards the end of the period. Some of the major advances included the introduction of the potter’s wheel (mainly in south eastern England), the lathe (used for woodworking and manufacturing shale objects) and the rotary quern for grinding grain.
“You’re welcome” – Iron age people.
Then came the Romans in 43 AD – 410 AD during the rule of Emperor Claudius, who hung around for a good 400 years. It’s worth noting that they didn’t achieve it on the first try: Julius Caesar led a Roman invasion of Britain in 55 BC but was unsuccessful. What was an Emperor to do? Send another army. The second attempt was in 54 BC, and did slightly better, but remained separate from the Roman Empire for a good 100 years, hence why it was Claudius’ attempt that scored the prize. There was resistance, of course; one of the most well known resistors was Boudicca – queen of the Iceni in now eastern England (yes, that same one they have a statue of in London, along with a few other people of interest). The Romans never could beat the Scottish (Caledonion) Picts and they ultimately built Hadrian’s Wall around 122 AD (now a popular UNESCO world heritage site) in a bid to keep the Picts out. There is an assumption that the Romans brought the concept of law to the island when they came with their roads, but I personally find it unlikely that the Picts and Iceni or any of the other peoples there lacked rules of governance. The first Christian communities turned up around 3rd and 4th centuries AD, though these would largely wane at the point the Romans withdrew from the island. The innovations introduced by the Romans in Britain are countless, ranging from architecture, art and engineering to law and society. Among the sectors of British culture that were most influenced by the Romans were agriculture and food – not clued up on the problems that can be had with invasive species, the Romans were also keen to introduce new plants and animals to the island.
“You’re welcome.” – Romans
Welcome to the Middle Ages! (410 AD – 1485 AD) The Anglo-Saxons: the Frisians, Jutes, Angles and Saxons turned up when the Romans were throwing their hands up and walking away from the hot mess in the 5th century. Their progress was slow, for a long time they were held up at the battle of Badon but ultimately had their way by the end of the 6th century. While Christianity managed to hang on in places likes Wales and, by the 5th century, it rooted in Ireland. It was slow to spread to the rest of the UK, Scotland converting in the 5th to 6th century. As the story goes, cut off from the Church in Rome Celtic Christians formed a distinctive Celtic Church. Per tradition, it was in thanks to Pope Gregory, see, when he became Pope he was keen to convert the Anglo-Saxons. In 596 he sent a party of about 40 men led by Saint Augustine (the first Archbishop of Canterbury) to Kent. With that, the Anglo-Saxons slowly converted. The efforts of Saint Columba also had their impact on the arrangement.
You have a lot to thank the Anglo-Saxons for with regards to the language spoken in the UK. They brought their Germanic language which eventually became our Old English (for the linguist lovers, enjoy a short video).
I question if the Picts, Welsh, Cornish and Hen Ogledd (people of the English old north) were so impressed. It wasn’t as though they didn’t have a language of their own – “Celtic” variations of Cumbric. A number of important early Welsh texts were attributed to the Hen Ogledd, such as Taliesin, Aneirin, Myrddin Wyllt, and the Cynfeirdd poets. Heroes of the north such as Urien, Owain mab Urien, and Coel Hen and his descendants feature in Welsh poetry and the Welsh Triads.
You know, now is a great time to talk about music, the arts and literature:
- Music – to the surprise of no one, the UK left it’s mark on classical, pop and rock music. In more modern times, my generation and later would think of Adele, Dido, Ed Sheeran, the Spice Girls, Gorillaz, Leona Lewis, 1 Direction, and Coldplay, while older generations would recall the Beetles, David Bowie, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Sting, Sex Pistols, Queen, the Who… predating all of these, however, were a lot of composers who shaped classical music in the UK either born citizens or naturalised. One such example is George Frideric Handel, who, in 1710, became Kapellmeister (music-maker) to German prince George, the Elector of Hanover, who in 1714 would become King George I of Great Britain and Ireland. Another is Henry Purcell, who was an organist at Westminster Abbey and writer of both church music and operas. There are a series of classical concerts in London during the summer, called the Proms. Summer music festivals like the ones in Glastonbury, the Isle of White, and the V Festival in England are places to see both famous and up-and-coming bands/singers. The National Eisteddfod of Wales is all about music, dance, art and original performances – largely done in Welsh. Wembley Stadium, the O2 in Greenwich, London, and Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow are also common venues for both classical and modern music. In terms of awards and recognition there is the Mercury Music Prize for the best album from the UK and Ireland and the Brit Awards to celebrate the best of British popular music.
- Theatre – not to be confused with the cinemas, there are theatres in most towns and cities in the UK. Performances of both plays and musicals are undertaken by pro and amateur companies. Perhaps the most well-known place for theatres is West End (aptly dubbed Theatreland) in London. During the winter months, pantomimes (commonly kid-friendly, comedic entertainment) are popular. In addition, the Edinburgh Festival is held summer annually and includes art, theatre and music events – tied into this is The Fringe caters to experimental works and comedy. The Laurence Olivier Awards celebrate the best of British theatre – named after British actor Laurence Olivier who was famous for his Shakespearean roles.
- Art – works by British and international artists can be found in galleries across the UK. The most well-known places by name are the National Gallery and Tate Modern gallery in London; the National Museum in Cardiff; and the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. In terms of awards, there is the Turner Prize for contemporary art – recognised as one of the most prestigious awards in Europe. There’s no lack of winners of the Turner Prize – a couple of names include Damien Hirst and Richard Wright. Sorry to be obvious, but art is very objective, so answering the question about trends can’t be concrete in the present or future tenses, though people will try, these I take with a grain of salt. Even when looking to the past trends, it’s not always clear-cut. That said, it is recommended that people look up names of artists: John Constable is one – a landscape painter, most famous for his works of Dedham Vale.
- Literature – as you will find noted at several points in the timeline, there are a lot of well-known, if not famous, authors from the UK. For recognition, they have the Man Booker Prize for Fiction for the best novel written by an author from the Commonwealth, Ireland or Zimbabwe every year. People who have received the award include: Ian McEwan, Hilary Mantel, and Julian Barnes. There is also the Nobel Prize in Literature – of which, there have been some British winners as well like Rudyard Kipling (who wrote books and poems set in both India and the UK. His poems and novels reflected the idea that the British Empire was a force for good. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907), T.S. Eliot, Winston Churchill, and Doris Lessing.
- Poetry – as you might have realised already, there is a long history of poetry in the UK. Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey commemorates the lives of many UK poets. As already stated, there were the Cynfeirdd poets, the Anglo-Saxon writers of Beowulf being another example (more on that in a bit). From the Middle Ages, we have Chaucer‘s works: Canterbury Tales, as well as his Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. We would be remiss to not mention Shakespeare (born in Stratford-upon-Avon) with his sonnets and poems, but in addition to him we have John Milton, who penned Paradise Lost. There were the nature-inspired works of William Wordsworth and the Scotland-inspired poems of Sir Walter Scott. There was something of a fashion trend in the 19th century when it came to poetry, they had (long inhale here): William Blake, John Keats, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Robert and Elizabeth Browning. Following WWI, joining the ranks of poets of the day were: Sir Walter de la Mare, John Masefield, Sir John Betjeman, and Ted Hughes. Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, both inspired to write about their experiences in the war.
- Film/cinema – It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the British film industry has had its influence on modern cinema. More than one famous film was stamped “made in the UK.” There is a fair amount of crossover, as well, for British actors between here and Hollywood. More than one earning Oscars or BAFTAs (the UK version of the Oscar) for their skill. That said, it wasn’t until 1896 that films were first shown publicly in the UK. Recent British actors to have won Oscars include: Colin Firth, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Dame Judi Dench, Kate Winslet and Tilda Swinton.
Moving on… where were we? Oh, right…
The Anglo-Saxons were well established on the island by 600 AD (there is some conflicting information on that, they started making themselves part of the furniture from 450 AD and remained differentiated until 1066).
Fun fact: they found an Anglo-Saxon king buried with treasure and armour in Sutton Hoo, Suffolk.
Aspects of the Anglo-Saxons remain in the UK today – a prime example being the regional governance of shires and hundreds, another being charters and parts of law. Initially not Christians, missionaries from Rome (as mentioned earlier: led by Augustine) came to the island in 597 AD, and thus the conversion to the religion by the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in Britain became a thing. It wasn’t completely straight forward, Roman- and Celtic- denominations of Christianity had disputes about things like acceptable haircuts and when to celebrate Easter, which was ultimately resolved at the Council of Whitby in 664 AD. In the 7th century, fragmented tribes became more organised, forming small kingdoms in their own right. Some examples being: Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex, East Anglia, Essex, Kent and Sussex.
Going to pause here with some quick info: The question of who ruled where and when can come up a lot on the practice tests, to help with that, here is a list of English Monarchs. In a way that seems painfully unfortunate, the focus of the tests trend towards being England-centric.
Anyway, while it couldn’t be really called a peaceful coexistence, it’s said that this was a time of cultural identity, people on the island distinguishing themselves in the wake of the visits/raids of the Vikings in the 8th century (the first raid happening in 793 AD, and the last in 1066). The first raid hitting a monastery at Lindisfarne. Though the Danes (see: Vikings) had taken their share in the north and east of England; Wessex, under the rule of Alfred the Great and his successors, maintained – and even thrived – despite Danish efforts.
From around 800, there had been waves of Danish raids on the coastlines of the British Isles. In 865, instead of raiding, the Danes landed a large army in East Anglia, with the intention of conquering the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England of the time. The armies of various Danish leaders had come together to provide one combined force under a leadership that included Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ivar the Boneless, the sons of the legendary Viking leader Ragnar Lodbrok. In 886, the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum was formalised, defining the boundaries of their kingdoms, with provisions for peaceful relations between the English and the Danes. The language spoken in England was influenced by this clash of cultures, seeing the emergence of Anglo-Norse dialects. Effectively, this was the birth of Danelaw. The Danelaw roughly was comprised of: Leicester, York, Nottingham, Derby, Lincoln, Essex, Cambridge, Suffolk, Norfolk, Northampton, Huntingdon, Bedford, Hertford, Middlesex, and Buckingham. In the 9th century the Danes had claimed much of England as their own and the nation was unified by the 11th century under the king Cnut – the first Danish king to rule over Britain. It wasn’t for long, however; the union only lasted until Cnut died in 1035.
He was succeeded as king of England, Denmark and Norway by his son Harthacnut (dying potentially due to a little too much drinking at a wedding in Lambeth), who was eventually succeeded in 1042 by the Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor. In 1040, Duncan the Diseased (I just can’t see anyone using that nickname to his face, but anyway…) was killed in action at Elgin, Moray attempting to suppress a rebellion by Macbeth, King of Scotland, Mormaer of Moray, who replaced him as king of Scotland. In 1034, Malcolm II of Scotland died at Glamis. He was succeeded as king of Scotland by his unfortunately nicknamed grandson Duncan I the Diseased of Scotland (why that was a fun nickname to pass down, I’ll never guess). In 1057, there was the Battle of Lumphanan where Macbeth was killed by Duncan I the Diseased’s son, Malcolm III of Scotland. He was succeeded as king of Scotland by his stepson Lulach. Lulach, in a twist of fate, in 1018, was assassinated by Malcolm III. In England, Edward died in 1066 and was succeeded by his brother-in-law (though not without opposition), the then Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson (AKA: Harold II).
Fun fact: it was approximately at this time that the old English poem, Beowulf, was produced in England in written format.
<Insert bathroom break here. Get another drink, while you’re at it. You’re welcome.>
Now that you’re back, let’s have a quick fact on geography: The island of Great Britain is not huge by any definition. The longest distance on the mainland is from John O’Groats on the north coast of Scotland to Land’s End in the south-west corner of England. It is about 870 miles (1,400 kilometres, roughly). British people will talk forever about how far apart things are, but someone could drive that distance by car in a day – they would hate themselves for trying, but it could be done.
Where were we again? That’s right…
The Danes weren’t much impressed with the choice in successor. The summer of 1066 marked the beginning of the Norman Conquest of England (1066 – 1216, AKA: the High Middle Ages). Norwegian king Harald Hardrada‘s army invaded by way of the river Ouse and then on to York. Eventually, king Harold Godwinson (the last crowned Anglo-Saxon king) sent an army to clash at Stamford Bridge and emerged the victor. But, because Harold Godwinson was so distracted with his problems in the north, he failed to anticipate Duke William of Normandy (AKA: William the Bastard, AKA: William the Conqueror) sending his army from the south, first landing in 1066 with an army at Pevensey. William killed Harold at the battle of Hastings and was so documented on the Bayeux Tapestry, which resides in France to this day (all 70 metres of it). William was crowned at Westminster Abbey in that same year, marking the beginning of the Medieval Period, the full of it spanning until 1485.
Anyway, 1066 was the last successful foreign invasion on England and, with it, came changes to government, law, language and social structures. In 1078, construction started on Tintern Abbey. Also, the Doomsday Book of 1086, which was a census record, despite the ominous title – FYI, England’s population was 2 million then. William the Conqueror died at Rouen in 1087. He was succeeded by one son, Robert Curthose, as duke of Normandy and by William II of England, as king of England. Then the Battle of Alnwick happened in 1093: Malcolm III and his eldest son were ambushed and killed at Alnwick by an army of knights led by Robert de Mowbray, earl of Northumbria. In a way that didn’t smell at all like foul-play, William II was killed by an arrow through the lung while hunting in the New Forest in 1100. He was succeeded by his brother Henry I of England. Also happening in 1100: The White Tower of London was completed.
Okay, timeout. Now is a great time to talk about the UK population and how it’s changed over time. Today the UK population is unevenly spread across the four countries, by percentages: England 84%, Scotland 8%, Wales 5% and Northern Ireland 3%.
- In 1600 the total UK population was just over 4 million;
- 1700 it was 5 million;
- 1801 – 8 million;
- 1851 – 20 million;
- 1901 – 40 million;
- 1951 – 50 million;
- 1998 – 57 million;
- 2005 – just shy of 60 million;
- 2010 – just over 62 million.
Got that? Awesome. Let’s move on…
Out with the English elites, in with the French-speaking Norman ones – you can thank these guys for the Latin flavour to British English spelling, and for the different words for the meat on our plates (pork, beef, poultry…) to the names when the beasts were alive (pig, cow, bird/fowl…). The Normans also gave us words like “park,” “demand” and “beautiful”.
Examples of the Viking influence on language can be found in place names (such as Scunthorpe or Grimsby which both resided Danelaw) and names for days of the week come mainly from Norse gods – Tuesday from Tiw or Týr, Wednesday from Woden (Odin), Thursday from Thor and so on. Many of their other words have also become part of English, for example egg, steak, law, die, bread, down, fog, muck, lump and scrawny.
1135, Henry I died of illness and, not long after, Stephen was crowned king of England at Westminster Abbey. In 1137, The Anarchy happened: King Stephen of England entered Normandy in an attempt to take it from Empress Matilda, his rival for the succession in Normandy and England. Also in that year: Gruffudd ap Cynan, king of Gwynedd (in Wales), died. He was succeeded by his son Owain Gwynedd (who would reign there until he died in 1170). Stephen died of a stomach disease in 1154 and Henry II from the house of Plantagenet inherited the English throne.
In 1164, Henry II issued the Constitutions of Clarendon, which provided that members of the Catholic Church accused of serious crimes would be tried and sentenced in secular courts. In 1169, Normans invaded Ireland, claiming the bit of land that would be later known as the Pale, plus a little more that would be slowly clawed back by the Irish. Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by followers of Henry II. In 1189, Henry II died of illness at Château de Chinon. He was succeeded as king of England by his son Richard I of England.
In 1192, Richard was captured near Vienna on the orders of Leopold V, Duke of Austria, while returning from the Crusades (a bit of history that only reads good through the thickest of rose-tinted lenses). He would remain so until 1194, following the payment of fifty tons of silver to Austria. Also in 1194, in Wales: at the Battle of Aberconwy Llywelyn the Great defeated his uncle Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd, one of two princes of Kingdom of Gwynedd, in battle. In 1199, Richard died of a crossbow wound sustained two weeks earlier during a siege of Château de Châlus-Chabrol. He was succeeded as king of England by his brother John, King of England (and I’ve added the song because anyone who grew up with Disney has it in their head anyway).
House Plantagenet would hold control of England until 1458 – when Richard III died in battle. Though they might argue how much was intentional, England changed a great deal under the rule of this family. Why? Because the rulers from the house of Plantagenet had to barter and negotiate for their support. One of the most well known examples of such negotiations was the Magna Carta (Latin meaning: great charter), signed by king John of England in June 1215 at Runnymede.
In 1338, Edward III claimed the throne of France, initiating the Hundred Years’ War, which included the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 and Battle of Agincourt in 1415. They were ultimately defeated in the Hundred Years’ War (ironically lasting 116 years – from 1337 to 1453. Spoiler: the French win). But, wait, it gets better: the Black Death turned up in England in 1348, killing about 1/3 of the population. Let’s also not forget the Peasants’ Revolt (also named Wat Tyler’s Rebellion or the Great Rising), was a major uprising across large parts of England in 1381. And the Statute of Praemunire in 1392. They also pretty anti-Semitic: Jews were expelled from England in 1290 following the Edict of Expulsion (not allowed back until 1656) – not that I expect any UK history book to talk about it, they’re just as bad as Americans with erasure.
Also happening at this time: Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales along with Gower, the Pearl Poet and Langland. William of Ockham and Roger Bacon, who were Franciscans, were major philosophers of the Middle Ages. Julian of Norwich, who wrote Revelations of Divine Love, was a prominent Christian mystic.
Fun fact: While the St George’s Cross has been the national flag of England since the 13th century, originally the flag was used by the maritime Republic of Genoa. The English monarch has paid a tribute to the Doge of Genoa since 1190.
In 1400, English becomes the official language for documents, replacing the Latin-rooted Norman tongue as it and the language Anglo-Saxons had happily married by this point. The Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August, 1485 (generally accepted both as the final battle in the Wars of the Roses. and as the starting point of the English Renaissance which lasted until the early part of the 16th century, though the Tudor period stretched on until the 17th century) ends the Yorkist reign of Richard III and ushers in Tudor reign, with Henry VII (conflicting information time! Actually that should have been 1487 as the Battle of Stoke is fought between Henry VII and Lambert Simnel, a Yorkist claimant to the throne). Why is it called the War of the Roses? Because the symbols for the houses were both roses – Lancaster had the red rose while York had white. It only ended when Henry VII of Lancaster married Elizabeth of York – the house of Tudor that came of the union was a rose bearing both colours.
While we’re on the topic of flowers: each country has its own flower. England has the rose (quell surprise), Northern Ireland has the shamrock (no shocks here), Wales has the daffodil (well okay…) and Scotland has the thistle (making these guys seem just a little more boss, I gotta say).
If you happen to be visiting during one of the patron saint holidays, you may see more of these out on the streets than usual (we’ll get to that in a bit). Along with national symbols, on the animal front: for England has the lion; Scotland has the unicorn (just roll with it…); Wales has their dragon (without apologies); while Northern Ireland has, unfortunately, been somewhat vague on that front. Also worth noting: the capital cities. England – London; Scotland – Edinburgh; Wales – Cardiff; Northern Ireland – Belfast. It’s worth also worth noting the locations of Assemblies or Parliaments (we’ll get to that, too, later): UK Parliament is in London; Northern Ireland Assembly meets at Stormont, in Belfast; Scottish Parliament is in Holyrood, Edinburgh; Welsh Assembly (soon to be Parliament) is in Senedd, Cardiff – All are open to the public for tours, though arrangements may need to be made before hand. The national anthem is God Save the Queen (see video below).
Meanwhile, in Wales: in 1240, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth passed away. Prince of Wales; Dafydd ap Llywelyn succeeded to the throne of Gwynedd. Who passed away himself in 1246. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd succeeded the throne of Gwynedd (he didn’t claim the title of prince of Wales until 1258), though isn’t recognised as such until 1267. In 1277, England annexes Wales, a state of affairs which lasted until 1283. 1282 brought the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, prince of Wales; Dafydd ap Gruffudd succeeded to the throne of Gwynedd. He passeed away in 1283, triggering the English conquest of Wales (with a few of revolts to follow: one led by Rhys ap Maredudd in 1287, one by Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294 and Llywelyn Bren in south Wales in 1316).
In Scotland: in 1249, Alexander II, king of Scots dies; Alexander III succeeded to the throne of Scotland. 1263 brought the Battle of Largs, an inconclusive battle fought between Haakon IV of Norway and the Scots. In 1266, Scotland and Norway sign the Treaty of Perth under which Scottish control of the Western Isles is acknowledged. In 1297, William Wallace and the Scots defeat the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. 1305 saw his capture and execution by the English. In 1314, there was a decisive victory for Scotland over England at the Battle of Bannockburn, lead by Robert the Bruce. In 1328, England recognises Scotland’s independence in the Treaty of Edinburgh–Northampton.
<Insert break for a snack, maybe?>
Speaking of food (see what I did there?), let’s talk briefly about those iconic dishes of the UK. Scotland has Haggis (basically giblets, oats, onions and seasonings steamed in a sheep stomach) and makes no apologies for it; Northern Ireland has Ulster Fry (a British fry-up with the notable addition of fried soda bread and/or potato bread) clogging arteries since the Victorian era; Wales has Welsh cakes (something of a snack made of flour, dried fruits and spices which can be served either hot or cold) because they hadn’t invented cardboard yet? I donno…; and England has their Roast Beef (served typically with roasted potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, vegetables drowning in a brown sea of gravy) though I’m honestly convinced it’s carrier for the gravy. Do I hate the food here? No, actually, but I dare you to forget any of the mental images that conjured.
“You’re welcome.” – Northern Ireland
Fun facts about Ulster: Historically, Ulster lay at the heart of the Gaelic world made up of Gaelic Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Per old Irish tradition, it was one of the fifths ruled by a rí ruirech, or “king of over-kings”. It is named after the overkingdom of Ulaid, in the east of the province, which was in turn named after the Ulaid folk. Other overkingdoms in Ulster were: Airgíalla and Ailech. After the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century, eastern Ulster was conquered by the Anglo-Normans and became the Earldom of Ulster. By the late 14th century the Earldom had collapsed and the O’Neill dynasty dominated most of Ulster, taking the title King of Ulster. Its rulers resisted English encroachment but ultimately lost the Nine Years’ War (1594–1603). King James I then colonised Ulster with Protestant settlers from England and Scotland, in the Plantation of Ulster. The inflow of Protestant settlers and migrants also led to bouts of sectarian violence with Catholics (the 1641 rebellion and the Armagh disturbances, to name a couple). Along with the rest of Ireland, all of Ulster briefly became part of the United Kingdom in 1801. In the early 20th century, moves towards Irish self-rule were opposed by many Ulster Protestants, sparking the Home Rule Crisis. This, and the subsequent Irish War of Independence, led to the partition of Ireland. 6 Ulster counties became Northern Ireland, a self-governing territory within the United Kingdom, while the rest of Ireland became the Irish Free State, now the Republic of Ireland.
As I said, this was the start of the “early modern” Tudor/Renaissance periods of history. You can thank the Italian courtiers for their influences here. England saw expansion of its naval capabilities as it pushed to explore “the west.” Which is a completely different kind of hot mess that saw an empire eventually so large that it was said that the sun never set on it (we’ll get to that later). Also on the scene at this time: William Shakespeare, whose works include but are certainly not limited to Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and remains one of the most championed authors in English literature (and the source of boredom/confusion for more than one teenager).
It was under the Tudors that we have probably the best example of white male privilege: Henry VIII, who broke from the Catholic Church because he took issue with being refused a divorce. So, thanks to his Acts of Supremacy (a very appropriate name, thank you) in 1534, the monarch (see: Henry VIII) is the head of the Church of England, though he originally declared himself that back in 1529. Also in 1534, the Treasons Act became a thing – which made anyone who disagreed with the Acts of Supremacy a traitor. Sir Thomas More was executed under this Act; ditto for Cardinal John Fisher and William Tyndale. All this because Henry VIII got married in 1509 to the Spanish Princess, Catherine of Aragon (wife number 1) and the pope wouldn’t annul the marriage in 1525. Two of his wives: Anne Boleyn (wife number 2) and Catherine Howard (wife number 5) got the axe before the end, both accused of sleeping around. To help burn into your minds the wives of Henry VIII, see the video below.
Henry VIII is the one to thank for the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542 (this is why the Welsh flag isn’t represented on the Union Jack – it was already part of England). Also happening: 1532, Scotland saw the creation of the College of Justice and the Court of Session.
Okay, quick timeout to talk about the UK justice system. In England and Wales: the Court of Appeal, the High Court, the Crown Court, the County Court, and the magistrates’ courts are administered by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice. The number of jurors is different for different places. In the case of England and Wales there is a maximum of 12.
For Scotland: The Court of Session is the supreme civil court of Scotland, subject to appeals to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, and the High Court of Justiciary is the supreme criminal court, which is only subject to the authority of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom on devolution issues and human rights compatibility issues. There are specialist courts and tribunals with specialist jurisdictions. Children under the age of 16 who face allegations of criminal conduct are dealt with through the Children’s Hearings, which are quasi-judicial in nature. Disputes involving agricultural tenancies and crofting are dealt with by the Scottish Land Court, and disputes about private rights in titles for land ownership and land valuation are dealt with by the Lands Tribunal for Scotland. Heraldry is regulated in Scotland both by the civil and criminal law, with prosecutions taken before the Court of the Lord Lyon. The max number of jurors for Scotland is 15.
For Northern Ireland: the civil and criminal courts responsible for the administration of justice are constituted and governed by Northern Ireland law. Administration of the courts is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service. To overcome problems resulting from the intimidation of jurors and witnesses, the right to a jury trial in Northern Ireland was suspended for certain terrorist offences in 1972, and the so-called Diplock courts were introduced to try people charged with paramilitary activities. Diplock courts are common in Northern Ireland for crimes connected to terrorism. The max number of jurors for Northern Ireland is 12 – according to the Life in the UK book; I couldn’t find any source for this in my searches online.
Regarding jury selection: in all cases, juries are formed at random based off of the local electoral register. Participation is required unless they are ineligible (example: they have a criminal conviction themselves; they are under the age of 18, or over the age of 70) or they can provide a good reason to be excused (poor health, for example).
As for what courts do what, I’ve opted to break it down to make it easier to digest:
- Judiciary – group of judges in charge of interpreting the law. If government actions are ruled by them to be illegal, government must either change their policy or ask Parliament to change the law. Should they rule the government has not respected the rights of someone, they can order a governing body to change practices or pay compensation.
- Magistrates/Justice of the Peace (Scotland) – Criminal courts in all cases. In England, Northern Ireland and Wales minor criminal cases are dealt with by Magistrates. In England and Wales the magistrate is a typically trained unpaid position with support of a legal adviser, in Northern Ireland this job is handled either by the District or Deputy District Judge (see: legally qualified and trained in their own right); in Scotland they are handled by Justice of the Peace courts and are also trained unpaid positions.
- Crown Courts/Sheriff Courts (Scotland)/High Court (Scotland) – Criminal courts in all cases. In England, Northern Ireland and Wales have Crown Courts to manage serious offences in front of a judge and jury. In Scotland these are dealt with in the Sheriff Courts along with some civil matters by either a Sheriff alone or Sheriff and jury. Extremely serious offences (example: murder) in Scotland are heard in the High Court by a judge and jury.
- Youth Courts/Youth Conferencing (Northern Ireland)/Children’s Hearing System (Scotland) – Criminal courts in all cases. In England, Northern Ireland and Wales children between ages 10 – 17 can be tried in the Youth Courts by either three specially trained magistrates or a District Judge. The most serious cases will still go to the Crown Courts. Parents and carers of the young persons are expected to attend the hearing and the general public is not permitted; likewise, the names and images of the children are not allowed to be published by news and media. In Northern Ireland there is a process called Youth Conferencing to decide how to deal with a child when they have committed an offence. Scotland has the Children’s Hearing System for this.
- County Courts/High Court (England, Northern Ireland and Wales)/Sheriff Courts (Scotland)/Court of Session (Scotland) – Civil courts in all cases. Wide range of matters covered: recovering money owed to individuals, personal injury, family matters, breaches of contract, and divorce. Again, in Scotland the Sheriff Court handles most of this. More serious civil court cases (example: large amounts of money involved) in England, Northern Ireland and Wales are handled by the High Court. Likewise, serious civil court cases in Scotland are dealt with by Court of Session in Edinburgh.
- Small Claims – informal procedure. For individuals to help settle minor civil disputes. Judge and persons involved sit in a room around a table, no lawyers needed. Definition of small claims differs: for England and Wales £10,000 or less; for Northern Ireland and Scotland £3,000 or less.
Which takes us into UK Law 101. While not an exhaustive list, for the sake of simplicity, I’ve broken it down so you get the gists:
- Criminal law – usually investigated by the police, council or other authority. Punished by the courts. Examples of such criminal offences are: carrying a weapon, selling or buying illegal drugs, race/hate crimes, selling tobacco to under-18s, smoking in non-smoking places in public, selling alcohol to under-18s (includes buying with intent of giving to under-18s), drinking in alcohol-free zones in public, and under-16s aren’t allowed to gamble in certain situations in the UK. Basically: if you’re not 18, don’t bother trying anything more than scratch cards.
- Civil law – used to settle disputes between individuals or groups. Examples include: housing disputes between tenant/landlord, consumer rights (faulty goods, services, etc.), employment (wage disputes, unfair dismissal, discrimination…), and debts.
A final note: Regarding Solicitors. Though not explained on older posts on Transplant Monologues, solicitors are lawyers. They give legal advice, take actions for their clients and represent their clients in court. I always recommend speaking to the Citizen’s Advice, if you’re in need of information and/or connections to resources. Apparently, they can also point people to solicitors as well, in the UK.
In England, judges developed common law by a process of precedence – following previous decisions and tradition. In Scotland, the legal system developed slightly differently and laws were codified – AKA: written down.
Okay, let’s move on… where was I? Oh, right:
Protestant ideas begin to spread in the 16th century, then came Mary I (AKA: Mary Stuart, AKA: Mary, Queen of Scots, AKA: Bloody Mary – ’cause she killed protestants, see…) in 1542 was crowned in Scotland – at a blushing 6 days old.
In 1547, Edward VI was crowned king of England. In 1549 there was the Prayer Book rebellion – also known as Prayer Book revolt/rising, Western rising/rebellion – in England (Devon and Cornwall, specifically). You can probably guess why. In 1553, when Mary I became queen of England, she tried to bring back Catholicism… it didn’t work out.
More about Mary: Mary I spent most of her childhood in France while Scotland was ruled by regents, and in 1558, she married the Dauphin of France, Francis. Mary was queen consort of France from his accession in 1559 until his death in 1560. Widowed, Mary returned to Scotland, arriving in Leith in 1561. Four years later, she married her half-cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and in 1566 they had a son, James. In 1567, Darnley residence was destroyed by an explosion, and he was found murdered in the garden. James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was charged with the crime, but he was acquitted that same year and married Mary shortly thereafter. An uprising followed and Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. Mary I was forced to abdicate to her one-year-old son before the year was out.
Elizabeth I (AKA: the Virgin Queen, Good Queen Bess and Gloriana – the more nicknames means they were in/famous, I’ve noticed), taking the English throne in 1558, basically said, “thanks, I hate it” to the whole Catholic thing, she was more of the Anglicanism type, which everyone has for the Church of England (also known as “C of E” or “Church of E”, depending on who is talking. It’s known as the Episcopal Church by the Scottish and Americans) as we know it today. It was also during the Elizabethan period that England established their first colony in the United States – in 1585 by explorer Walter Raleigh in Virginia, named Roanoke (AKA: the lost colony). England also pushed into “the east” via the East India Company (the main competitors being the French and the Dutch). No one asked what the native peoples of these nations thought about the whole experience, though. In 1559, Elizabeth I saw the return of the Act of Supremacy that Mary I had tossed out during her reign. Meanwhile in Scotland in that same year: John Knox was promoting Calvinism. In 1560 in Scotland, Parliament legislated protestant reformation of the Church of Scotland.
Given past grievances, Mary I should have seen it coming. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, she fled southward seeking the protection of her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I of England. As hinted briefly: Mary I had once claimed Elizabeth’s throne as her own and was considered the legitimate sovereign of England by many English Catholics, including participants in a rebellion known as the Rising of the North.
Conflicting information time! Some sources state that Elizabeth I had her confined in various castles and manor houses in the interior of England. After eighteen and a half years in custody, Mary was found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth in 1586, and was beheaded the following year at Fotheringhay Castle. HOWEVER, other sources (including the Life in the UK books), state that Mary I was forced to flee Scotland when there was uprising by Protestant lords there in 1567, she was executed at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire in February 1587, after spending 20 years as a prisoner of Elizabeth I. Does half a year make a difference? Probably not – they most likely just rounded it up.
Determined to restore things to how they were in England when her father ruled, Elizabeth I brought back the Treasons Act in 1571. In Scotland, 1579 James VI took over government from his regent, James Douglas and, in 1582, saw the establishment of the University of Edinburgh by Royal Charter. In 1588, the Spanish Armada happened and was destroyed on the 8th of August, bringing Elizabeth I right up there in the top ten of the day for best royal (not actually a thing, but she was pretty popular). The Spanish Armada signalled something of a war with the Spanish which started as part of a wider plan to invade England and re-establish a Catholic monarchy – the first attempt thwarted by a combination of Lord Howard of Effingham‘s naval strategy and a lot of bad luck. The Spanish probably took it as some kind of sign that their next two attempts (in 1596 and 1597) were both buggered by storms.
(credit to comic goes to Jivespin on WordPress)
Prominent authors at this time were: Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, Philip Sydney, Thomas Kyd, John Donne, and Ben Jonson. Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes wrote on empiricism and materialism, including scientific method and social contract. Filmer wrote on the Divine Right of Kings – a belief that James I and Charles I happily proscribed. Marvell was the best-known poet of the Commonwealth, while John Milton authored Paradise Lost during the Restoration.
The political powers shifted a bit when, in 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died and the King of Scots, James VI, inherited the throne of England as James I (“no, James, that isn’t going to confuse people later, honest.” – said no one ever), thereby creating a personal union. Scotland provided England with a new line of kings, the Stuarts, ruling from 1603 – 1714. Perhaps thinking a bit much of himself, he fancied that he was King of Great Britain – completely without basis in English law, though. He was also the person to thank for the King James version of the bible, first published in 1611 – the standard bible read by Protestant Christians until modern versions were published in the 20th century. Also in 1603: the plague, again. In 1605, in what would later be remembered on Bonfire Night (really, it’s just a poorly disguised harvest festival. I will die on this hill.), on the 5th of November, the Gunpowder plot was uncovered, in which Guy Fawkes and other catholic associates attempted to blow up the king, James VI and I and the Parliament of England.
(credit for image goes to Brecon Beacons on WordPress)
Hold up! Let’s just take a moment to talk about holidays in the UK. There are religious and national holidays. With more than one freely practised religion in the UK, it is worth noting that – unsurprisingly – they all have their own religious holidays.
Christianity – in all it’s incarnations – is the largest practised (statistics later). In England, Anglican/Protestant is the largest denomination. While the monarch is the head of the C of E, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual leader. The Monarch, with input from the Prime Minister (fact: the first person to officially hold that title was Sir Robert Walpole), chooses who holds the Archbishop position. It is also worth noting that some bishops sit in the House of Lords. In Scotland, it is Protestant/Presbyterian. The Moderator, organised by General Assembly of the C of S, often speaks on behalf of the church. Northern Ireland and Wales have no established church. That said, other significant flavours of Christianity include: Baptists, Methodists, Quakers and Roman Catholics. Important religious holidays and their respective dates are: Saint David’s day in Wales (1st of March); Saint Patrick’s day in Northern Ireland (17th of March); Saint George’s day in England (23rd of April); Saint Andrew’s day in Scotland (30th of November) – the patron saints of the UK – not all are celebrated as national holidays; Christmas day (25th of December); Boxing day (26th of December); Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday (the day before Lent); Lent (40 days before Easter, officially starting on Ash Wednesday); and Easter (either in March or April, depending).
Sikhism – of which a small fraction of people in the UK practise (we’ll get to that later) – Sikhs do not believe that any particular day of the week is a holy day. However, they do have: Sangraand (the first day of the Indian lunar calendar month); Vaisakhi/Baisakhi – a celebration for the founding of the faith – (usually 13th or 14th of April); Guru Nanak’s Birthday (usually in November); Guru Gobind Singh’s Birthday (end December or early January); the Birthday of the Khalsa (mid-April); Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Sahib (usually in June); Guru Teg Bahadur’s Martyrdom (usually in October); Birthday of Guru Angad Dev (18th of April); Maghi – Lohri (13th of January); Holi (3rd of March); Hola Mohalla (14th of March); Birth of the Guru Granth (20th of October); and Diwali – celebrating victory of good over evil and gaining knowledge – (usually in October or November).
Hinduism – shares some holidays with the Sikhs. Holidays are: Dussera — This is the important tenth day of Navratri; Ganesha Chaturthi — Ganesha’s birthday celebration, son of Shiva; Holi — Festival of Colours. The celebration of spring; Krishna Janmashtami — A two day festival celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna; Maha Shivratri — Honour Lord Shiva. The celebration involves all-night worship the night before, fasting on the day, prayer and vigil; Navratri — Nine Nights. The celebration and festival last for nine nights and ten days; and Raksha Bandhan — The Bond of Protection. It celebrates brotherhood and love.
Islam – one of the more popular faiths next to Christianity in the UK – Muslims have several holidays, though only two are “official.” The celebrations of all starting at sunset on the evening before the actual date and follow the Islamic calendar. By name: Al-Hijra — Islamic New Year; (one of only two official Muslim holidays) Eid ul-Adha — Festival of Sacrifice, a four day holiday marking the sacrifice of Abraham, Ibrahim’s son, as requested by their god; (the second official Muslim holiday) Eid ul-Fitr — end of Muslim month of fasting (Ramadan) – complete with celebratory meal – it is a three day celebration; and Prophet’s Birthday — celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad; and Ramadan — month of fasting. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset with the last ten days reserved for possible all night prayer vigils.
Buddhism – At least one the Buddhist celebration is generally dependant on the country of origin or ethnic background to determine the actual date. They also follow a lunisolar calendar system. Bearing that in mind, their holidays are: Bodhi Day — This is a full day meant for remembrance and meditation; Magha Puja Day — Commemorates the date when the four disciples travelled to join the Buddha; New Year’s Day — Many Buddhists observe the Chinese New Year celebration. Mahayana Buddhists and Theravada Buddhists, however, celebrate the New Year on other days; and Wesak or Buddha Day — The celebration of Buddha’s birth.
Judaism – All Jewish holidays begin the evening before the date specified on most calendars as the Jewish “day” begins and ends at sunset. They have their own calendar, too. These holidays are: Chanukah (Hanukkah) — Festival of Lights. Celebration lasts for 8 days of prayer, gift giving, and lighting of the Menorah; Erev Pesach — Fast of the Firstborn. Observed only by a fast of the firstborn males, it marks the beginning of Passover; Erev Rosh Hashanah — Nine Nights. The celebration and festival last for nine nights and ten days, ending with Yom Kippur; Kol Nidre — Eve of Day of Atonement. This begins the ending of the 10 Days of Awe. The night is devoted to prayer, repentance, and fasting; Rosh Hashanah — Jewish New Year; Passover — Marks the liberation from Egypt; Purim — Celebrates deliverance from Persia. This is a carnival and readings from the Book of Esther; Simchat Torah — Rejoicing in the Torah. End of the weekly Torah Readings for the year; Shemini Atzeret — A fall festival on the last night of Sukkot that includes a memorial service for the dead; Shavuot — Commemorates the receipt of the Torah on Mount Sinai; Sukkot — Feast of the Tabernacles. Celebration lasts for 7 days; Tisha B’Av — Commemorates a series of Jewish tragedies including the destruction of the first and second temples of Jerusalem; Tu B’Shevat — New Year for Trees. Anniversary for all trees planted that year; Yom Hashoah — Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day. Closest day to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; and Yom Kippur — Day of Atonement. Most sacred day, spent in the synagogue. Fasting lasts 25 hours.
Make no mistake: there are more faiths than these in the UK, and in the world, but these are the big ones that are named in the Life in the UK study guides. I wholeheartedly, as a part of cultural awareness and good old expansion of knowledge, people consider exploring other faiths, too. There are some 4,000+ of them, though, so maybe save it for after you’ve taken your test.
But wait, there’s more: we haven’t even talked about the non-religious national holidays in the UK, yet! There’s the bank holidays (four of them, per the Bank Holidays Act of 1871); New Years day – Hogmanay, if you’re in Scotland – (1st of January); Valentine’s day (though I question if this honestly counts as non-religious, it’s generally the commercial version that the UK has on the 14th of February); Mothering Sunday/Mother’s day (March or April – three weeks before Easter); April Fool’s day (I hold the same opinion of this one as I do with Valentine’s day. 1st of April); Father’s day (3rd Sunday in June); Halloween (not nearly as popular in the UK as it is in the US. 31st of October); Bonfire Night (5th of November); Remembrance Day – remembering those who died in WWI and WWII (11th of November), marked by a 2 minute silence. Note: Arguably, I could have had the patron saint days in this group, but opted not because the whole saints and Christianity thing kind of go hand-in-hand.
<Add drink of choice here. Are you hungry? Get something to munch on; reward yourself for each paragraph. We’re about halfway done.>
Got all that? Awesome, that makes one of us. AHEM! Moving on…
Sir Walter Raleigh, a man of questionable integrity and common sense, was executed in 1618. James VI and I died on 27 March, 1625. England and Scotland plunged into war, lasting from 1639 until 1644 in what become known as the Bishops’ Wars, which was also considered the starting point of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (also known as the British Civil wars, running from 1639 – 1652) under Charles I (king doofus who thought he’d win awards by busting into Parliament to arrest 5 MPs – he’s the reason why the monarch isn’t allowed inside anymore). In 1640 there was called a “Short Parliament” (it lasted only three weeks) which was then followed by a Long Parliament. As I said, King Charles I made a mess for himself with the English Civil War in 1642 (also known as the Great Rebellion), which was fought between the supporters of Parliament and those of the king (Roundheads and Cavaliers, respectively – the story behind the nicknames isn’t half as interesting). The civil war was over many differences (social positions, politics, religion… the usual), but was ultimately just a piece of a larger pie of problems for Charles I; he had the civil wars of Scotland and Ireland, too. Though he tried to go it without Parliament for 11 years, Parliamentarians (Roundheads) won in the end and Charles I was executed.
What was once a kingdom temporarily became a commonwealth. Oak Apple Day commemorates the escape of Charles II from the grasp of the parliamentarians after his father’s execution: he hid in an oak tree before safely reaching exile.
Fun fact: In 1652, tea came to the UK and they’ve been hooked on it ever since.
The leader of the Parliament forces, Oliver Cromwell, declared himself Lord Protector in 1653; a man who is unquestionably controversial in Northern Ireland – he commanded the English campaign in Ireland in 1649–1650. Cromwell’s forces defeated the Confederate and Royalist coalition in Ireland and occupied the country, bringing to an end the Irish Confederate Wars. During this period, a series of Penal Laws were passed against Roman Catholics, seizing their land. When Oliver passed away and his son, Richard, resigned from the position of Lord Protector, Charles II was invited to return as monarch in 1660, in a move called the Restoration.
Fun facts: Jewish people – as noted before – were allowed back in 1656. Also, the Habeas Corpus Act became law in 1679 (though this was more an amendment, since the original act became law in 1640) – meaning no one could be held without trial, they had to be presented in court. The Royal Society was founded in 1660 – a move which encouraged science. A couple of early members to the society were: Sir Edmund Halley and Sir Isaac Newton.
Here’s a great point to talk about architecture and some of the artistic minds behind it: thanks to conservation efforts, many structures from the Middle Ages remain intact. There isn’t a lack of ancient cathedrals and churches like the ones in Durham, Lincoln, Canterbury and Salisbury. The White Tower of London is an example of a Norman style Keep. In the countrysides, owing to the steady increase in wealth of the landowners, the homes for said rich-folk grew larger and more mansion-like – like Hardwick hall in Derbyshire.
While there were moments of styles coming back into fashion, by the most part, the styles found in Britain follow an evolutionary curve. 17th century, Inigo Jones drew inspiration from classical designs when he made the Queen’s house in Greenwich as well as the Banqueting house in Whitehall, London. Sir Christopher Wren, for his part, looked to the ornate styles of Europe in the later part of the 17th century for inspiration when he designed buildings like the new Saint Paul’s cathedral.
Designs in the 18th century, in contrast, were more simplistic and streamlined. Scottish architect, Robert Adam influenced inspired creation not just in the UK, but in Europe and America, as well. He was responsible for the design of the Dumfries house in Scotland, as well as it’s inside decor. Architects in cities like Bath attribute him for their inspiration. Speaking of Bath, one such place that was so inspired was Royal Crescent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, garden design and landscaping sprouted and grew (puns intended) alongside architecture. 18th century green-thumb, Lancelot “Capability” Brown designed the grounds around country houses so as to appear as though they happened about naturally. Apparently, the fellow had a habit of using the word capability a lot when describing the potential for a bit of green-space, to the point where – as you may have noticed – it became something of a second name.
19th century saw the “gothic” style come back into fashion. The Houses of Parliament at Westminster Hall, Saint Pancras Station and the town halls in both Manchester and Sheffield were all built in this time.
In the 20th century, Sir Edwin Lutyens was the talk of the ton. He inspired works all over the British Empire. His being the mind behind the New Delhi for the Indian government. Following WWI, he made several war memorials throughout the world, like the Cenotaph in Whitehall where the annual Remembrance Day service attended by Queen Elizabeth II, politicians and foreign ambassadors to pay their respects. Another landscaping visionary, Gertrude Jekyll worked with Sir Lutyens on a regular basis to create the gardens around the buildings he designed.
Now, in the 21st century, we have British architects such as Sir Norman Foster, Lord Richard Rogers and Dame Zaha Hadid and others to create works in the UK and abroad. Gardening and landscaping is still popular in the UK, with the Chelsea Flower show held annually to showcase garden designs from across the globe.
Take the Gherkin in London, for example. How sexy is that? (nope, can’t say it with a straight face.)
As a result, Great Britain and Northern Ireland have a host of natural attractions (plus some, you know, in case you get bored) as well as several examples of man-made marvels to stare at with head akimbo. And 15 national parks, besides.
Fun fact: The Lake District is England’s largest national park. It covers 885 square miles (2,292 square kilometres) and is famous for both its lakes and mountains. The biggest stretch of water is Windermere.
Just check out the links on that one, I’m losing my will to live. Moving on…
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 (also known, not accurately – though that really depends on who you’re asking because whitewash? – as the “bloodless revolution” or the Revolution of 1688) replaced James II with William III. In Parliament two factions had emerged – the Tories and Whigs. Though Tories initially supported Catholic king James II, some of them, along with the Whigs, during the Revolution of 1688 invited Dutch prince William of Orange to defeat James II. He became William III of England. Some English people, especially in the north, remained Jacobites (meaning they supported James II and his sons). In 1690, James II wanted to regain the throne and invaded Ireland with the help of a French army. William defeated James II at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1690, an event which is still celebrated by some in Northern Ireland today. William re-conquered Ireland and James fled back to France. Due to unfortunately bad weather conditions, the MacDonalds of Glencoe were late in making their oath to William III and where victims of a massacre as a result in 1692, sowing distrust in the Scottish for the monarchy of England. Queen Anne, despite so many births, died without leaving an heir, a new family of monarchs took over the throne – the Hanoverians, from north Germany (ruling from 1692 – 1827).
Fun fact: Until 1694, England had an elaborate system of licensing; the most recent was seen in the Licensing of the Press Act 1662. No publication was allowed without the accompaniment of a government-granted license. Fifty years earlier, at a time of civil war, John Milton wrote his pamphlet Areopagitica (1644). In this work Milton argued forcefully against this form of government censorship. With a bit of a song and a dance to get there, freedom of the press was established in Great Britain in 1695.
<Get another drink. Go to the bathroom.>
So now we have the Bill of Rights in 1689 in England and Claim of Right Act 1689 in Scotland. Law now could only be made by Parliament and it could not be suspended by the king, also the king cannot impose taxes or raise an army without the prior approval of Parliament. For added fun, since then, the monarchs haven’t been allowed into the House of Commons while it is sitting. In a show of this there is the annual State Opening of Parliament by the British monarch when the doors of the House of Commons are slammed in the face of the monarch’s messenger (why shoot the messenger when you can just show them the door? I’m stretching a bit on this one…). For the Claim of Right Act in Scotland, basically that was just telling James II that his claim to the Scottish throne was forfeit and he could go jump in a loch.
After the parliaments of England and Scotland agreed, the two countries joined in political union, to – at last – create the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 (see the list of British Monarchs here). That said: institutions such as the law and national churches stayed separate. The Battle of Culloden was fought on Drumossie Moor, to the north east of Inverness, on April 16, 1746. It was the last of the great Jacobite risings and was led by Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie or the Young Pretender. He lost and, after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the clans in Scotland found themselves with even less power. Following the French crown’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes, many Huguenots settled in Ireland in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, encouraged by an act of parliament for Protestants’ settling in Ireland. Huguenot regiments fought for William of Orange in the Williamite war in Ireland, for which they were rewarded with land grants and titles, many settling in Dublin. Significant Huguenot settlements were in Dublin, Cork, Portarlington, Lisburn, Waterford and Youghal. Smaller settlements, which included Killeshandra in County Cavan, contributed to the expansion of flax cultivation and the growth of the Irish linen industry. 1708 saw the passage of the Foreign Protestants Naturalization Act; an estimated 50,000 Protestant Walloons and French Huguenots fled to England, with many moving on to Ireland and elsewhere. In relative terms, this was one of the largest waves of immigration of a single ethnic community to Britain. Andrew Lortie (born André Lortie), a leading Huguenot theologian and writer who led the exiled community in London, became known for articulating their criticism of the Pope and the doctrine of transubstantiation during Mass. A number of French Huguenots settled in Wales, in the upper Rhymney valley of the current Caerphilly County Borough. The community they created there is still known as Fleur de Lys (the symbol of France), an unusual French village name in the heart of the valleys of Wales. Nearby villages are Hengoed, and Ystrad Mynach. Apart from the French village name and that of the local rugby team, Fleur De Lys RFC, little remains of the French heritage.
Other highlights of the times included the Northwest England’s Bridgewater Canal in 1761 – signalling the start of the canal age in Britain. Here, also, began the anti-slavery movement, in the 1790s (you can thank the Quakers for the jump-start). The Industrial Revolution (approximately 1760 – 1840 at the latest for the first industrial revolution wave, the second happening from roughly 1870 – 1914) was a time when people migrated from the countrysides into the increasingly crowded cities, to work in factories. Birmingham and Manchester, were dubbed “Workshop of the World” and “Warehouse City”, respectively. It was the Industrial Revolution reshaping the socioeconomic and cultural conditions of England. The end result: Britain led the world with its early commitment to coal mining, steam power (innovations thanks to James Watt), textile mills (with James Hargreaves is credited as inventor of the spinning jenny in 1764. Thomas Highs has also claimed it as his brainchild, he was not lacking in other innovations: Thomas Highs invented a perpetual carding engine in 1773, and invented an improved double spinning jenny), machinery, railways, and shipbuilding. Britain’s demand for iron and steel, combined with ample capital and energetic entrepreneurs, made it the world leader in the first half of the 19th century.
Say hello to the late “modern” or “contemporary” period (see: Regency era, roughly from 1795 – 1837). The Royal Society and other English initiatives combined with the Scottish Enlightenment to create innovations in science and engineering. A good many of the thinkers that can be credited to the 18th century enlightenment mindset happened to be Scottish, like Adam Smith, who developed ideas about economics which are still hashtag relevant. At the same time there was growth in British overseas trade protected by the Royal Navy, which paved the way for the establishment of the British Empire.
Britain had relative peace during the period of the French Revolution (romanticised in by Hungarian-born, British novelist, Baroness Orczy in the Scarlet Pimpernel). William Pitt the Younger was British Prime Minister for the reign of George III. The thirteen British colonies in North America broke away from the UK in 1776, though the British did not accept it until 1783. In 1783, the North American colonies were divided between the independent United States, and British North America (see: Canada).
<Still with us? How’s that drink looking? Seeing sounds yet?>
It wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, however; in 1799 there was the War of the Second Coalition, whereby Britain occupied most of the French and Dutch overseas possessions, the Netherlands having become a satellite state of France in 1796, but tropical diseases claimed the lives of over 40,000 troops. When the Treaty of Amiens ended the war, Britain agreed to return most of the territories it had seized. The peace settlement was in effect only a ceasefire, and Napoleon continued to provoke the British by attempting a trade embargo on the country and by occupying the city of Hanover, capital of the Electorate, a German-speaking duchy which was in a personal union with the United Kingdom. In May 1803, war was declared again. Napoleon’s plans to invade Britain failed, chiefly due to the inferiority of his navy, and in 1805 Lord Nelson‘s Royal Navy fleet decisively defeated the French and Spanish at Trafalgar, ending any hopes Napoleon had to wrest control of the oceans away from the British. Nelson’s ship, the HMS Victory can still be seen today at Portsmouth. 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 Waterloo.
Simultaneous with the Napoleonic Wars, trade disputes and British imprisonment of American sailors led to the War of 1812 with the United States. The central event in American history was barely noticed in Britain: all the attention was focused on the struggle with France. The British could devote few resources to the conflict until the fall of Napoleon in 1814. Americans inflicted more than one embarrassing defeat on the British navy, which was short on manpower due to the conflict in Europe, however, once France was out of the way, there were some successes (setting fire to Washington, D.C., being one). That said, the Duke of Wellington argued that it was a case of too little, too late: the Americans had taken control of the Great Lakes by 1813. A full-scale British invasion was defeated in upstate New York. Peace was agreed to at the end of 1814, but unaware of this, Andrew Jackson (another questionable person in history) and the Battle of New Orleans happened in 1815. The Treaty of Ghent subsequently ended the war with no territorial changes. It was the last war between Britain and the United States.
In Britain, as industrialisation progressed, society changed, becoming more urban and less rural. The postwar period saw an economic slump; poor harvests and inflation caused widespread social unrest. Europe after 1815 was on guard against a return of Jacobinism, and Britain saw the passage of the Six Acts in 1819, following the Peterloo Massacre, which proscribed radical activities. By the end of the 1820s, along with a general economic recovery, many of these repressive laws were repealed and, in 1828, new legislation guaranteed the civil rights of religious dissenters. In 1825 the world’s first permanent steam locomotive-hauled passenger railway – the Stockton and Darlington Railway – opened to the public. With a preference to take a back-seat as regent (1811–20) and king (1820–30), George IV let his ministers hold the figurative the wheel of government affairs, playing a far lesser role than his father, George III. His governments, with little help from the king, presided over victory in the Napoleonic Wars, negotiated the peace settlement, and attempted to deal with the social and economic malaise that followed. George IV’s brother, William IV, ruled a short stint after him (1830–37), but was little involved in politics. William IV’s reign saw several reforms: the poor law was updated, child labour restricted, slavery abolished in nearly all the British Empire via the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (AKA: the Emancipation Act).
Fun facts: Slavery in the UK had existed since pre-Roman occupation up until the 12th century. Then chattel slavery disappeared, at least for a time, after the Norman Conquest. Former slaves merged into the larger body of serfs in Britain and no longer were recognised separately. That wasn’t the end of it, however; from the 17th century into the 19th century, transportation to the colonies as a criminal or an indentured servant served as punishment for both genuine and petty crimes, or for simply being poor and viewed as an ‘undesirable’, in England and Ireland facilitated by the Transportation Act of 1718. Tens of thousands of children and vulnerable adults were kidnapped from Britain and transported by sail ship to the emerging lands of America, as a source of expendable labour for the numerous plantations of the colonies. During the same period, workhouses employed people whose poverty left them no other alternative than to work under forced labour conditions. It is wrong to forget or pretend these aspects of UK history did not exist. It needs to be called out. Especially for those of African descent: British merchants were among the largest participants in the Atlantic slave trade. What’s more: British owners living within the home British isles, as well as within its colonies, owned African slaves. Ship owners transported enslaved West Africans, as well as British natives, to the New World to be sold into slave labour. The ships brought commodities back to Britain then exported goods to Africa. Some brought slaves to Britain, where they were kept in bondage.
The UK government purchased and freed slaves for as total of £20,000,000 (which went to rich plantation owners who mostly lived in England), especially those in the Caribbean sugar islands. Before the abolition, as already stated, slaves primarily came from nations in the West African continent. To fill the gap in labour, 2 million Indian and Chinese workers were hired.
There was also reforming of the police in order to prevent crime, rather than emphasising the harsh punishment of criminals. Greater still, the Reform Act 1832 refashioned the British electoral system, to introduce democracy and replace the old system whereby senior aristocrats controlled dozens of seats in parliament.
The two main political parties during the era remained the Whigs/Liberals and the Conservatives (called Tories, even to this day); by its end, the Labour Party had formed as a distinct political entity. These parties were led by prominent statesmen, such as: Lord Melbourne, Sir Robert Peel, Lord Derby, Lord Palmerston, Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, and Lord Salisbury.
The Whig Party recovered its strength and unity by supporting moral reforms, especially the reform of the electoral system, the abolition of slavery and emancipation of the Catholics. Catholic emancipation was secured in the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which removed the most substantial restrictions on Roman Catholics in Great Britain and Ireland. The Whigs became champions of Parliamentary reform. They made Lord Grey prime minister 1830–1834, and the Reform Act of 1832 became their signature measure. The Act abolished many borough seats and created others in their place, as well as expanding the franchise in England and Wales (a Scottish Reform Act and Irish Reform Act came separately, quell surprise) and ended the system of “rotten borough” and “pocket boroughs” (see: elections controlled by powerful families), and instead redistributed power on the basis of population. It added 217,000 voters to an electorate of 435,000 in England and Wales. The main effect of the act was to weaken the power of the landed gentry, and enlarge the power of the professional and business middle-class, which now for the first time had a significant voice in Parliament. Though minor reforms followed in 1835 and 1836, the great majority of manual workers, clerks, and farmers did not have enough property to qualify to vote. The aristocracy continued to dominate the government, the Army and Royal Navy, and high society.
Which takes us into the Victorian era (1837 – 1901); Victoria became queen in 1837 at age 18 (effective 2015, she is now the second longest reigning monarch in England, that title seized by Elizabeth II). England’s population by this time was 8.3 million and 30.5 million by 1901. the populations in England and Wales almost doubled from 16.8 million in 1851 to 30.5 million in 1901, and Scotland’s population also rose rapidly, from 2.8 million in 1851 to 4.4 million in 1901. However, Ireland’s population decreased from 8.2 million in 1841 to less than 4.5 million in 1901, mostly due to emigration and the Great Famine, or the Great Hunger, which was a period in Ireland between 1845 and 1849 of mass starvation, disease, and emigration. The guesstimate cause of the famine was a natural event, a potato blight, which infected potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s, ballooning into some 100,000 deaths in total in the worst affected areas and among similar tenant farmers of Europe. The food crisis influenced much of the unrest in the more widespread European Revolutions of 1848. The event is sometimes referred to as the Irish Potato Famine, mostly outside Ireland. The result was, between 1837 and 1901, about 15 million emigrated from Great Britain to the places like the United States, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.
Despite that, London was booming: the largest and most heavily populated metropolitan area in the world at the time. Trade within the British Empire and beyond was thriving. In the Victorian period, the British Empire grew to cover all of India, Australia and large parts of Africa. It became the largest empire the world has ever seen, with an estimated population of more than 400 million people.
But that wasn’t the only thing going on: Highland Clearances, i.e. forced eviction of inhabitants of the Highlands and western islands of Scotland, began in the mid-to-late 18th century and continuing intermittently into the mid-19th century. Many Scottish landlords destroyed individual small farms (known as crofts) to make space for flocks of sheep and cattle. The Highland Clearances resulted in the destruction of the traditional clan society and began a pattern of rural depopulation and emigration from Scotland. Many Scottish people left for North America at this time.
Fun fact: Before 1860-ish, steel was an expensive product, made in small quantities and used mostly for swords, tools and cutlery; all large metal structures were made of wrought or cast iron. Steelmaking was centred in Sheffield and Middlesbrough, Britain, which supplied the European and American markets. The introduction of cheap steel was due to the Bessemer and the open hearth processes, two technological advances made in England. In the Bessemer process, molten pig iron is converted to steel by blowing air through it after it was removed from the furnace. The air blast burned the carbon and silicon out of the pig iron, releasing heat and causing the temperature of the molten metal to rise. Henry Bessemer demonstrated the process in 1856 and had a successful operation going by 1864. By 1870 Bessemer steel was widely used for ship plate. By the 1850s, the speed, weight, and quantity of railway traffic was limited by the strength of the wrought iron rails in use. The solution was to turn to steel rails, which the Bessemer process made competitive in price. Experience quickly proved steel had much greater strength and durability and could handle the increasingly heavy and faster engines and cars.
(More) fun facts: In the 19th century, satirical magazines began to be published. The most famous was Punch – published for the first time in the 1840s. Today, political cartoons continue to be published in newspapers, and magazines such as Private Eye to continue the tradition of satire – all part of the great British pastime of being able to laugh at themselves. Less humorously, the Vatican restored the English Catholic bishoprics in 1850 and numbers grew through conversions and immigration from Ireland.
There was no lack of political revolution during this time (see: the Days of May), with thanks to pushes from Chartists and the suffragettes (we’ll cover these ladies in a second) enabled legislative reform and universal suffrage.
Chartists being a working-class political movement, existing from 1838 – 1857. By means of petitions, they pushed for six reforms: the right to vote for every man, 21 years old, sound of mind and not undergoing punishment for a crime; secret ballots to protect voter rights; axing the property qualifications for Members of Parliament; payment for Members of Parliament; equal constituency representation; and, finally, annual parliamentary elections.
It can’t be mistaken for a completely peaceful age, however: in 1853, Britain and France fought the Crimean War against Russia. The first war to be extensively covered by the media through news stories and photographs, the conflict marked a rare breach in the Pax Britannica, the period of relative peace (1815–1914) that existed among the Great Powers of the time, and especially in Britain’s interaction with them. On its conclusion in 1856 with the Treaty of Paris, Russia was prohibited from hosting a military presence in the Crimea. The Victoria Cross was introduced as a medal following the Crimean War. In October of the same year, the Second Opium War saw Britain overpower the Qing dynasty in China. In 1857–1858, an uprising by sepoys against the East India Company led to the end of Company rule in India and the transfer of administration to direct rule by the British government. Also happening: the Crystal Palace was built in 1851 to house the Great Expedition in Hyde Park, London. People continued to come to Britain from other parts of the world: between 1870 and 1914, around 120,000 Russian and Polish Jews came to Britain to escape persecution. The Boer War of 1899 to 1902 made the discussions about the future of the Empire more urgent. The British went to war in South Africa with settlers from the Netherlands called the Boers. The Boers fought fiercely and the war went on for over three years. Many died in the fighting and many more from disease.
While we’re on the topic, here’s a short list of some of the more hateful acts committed by the British Empire. That isn’t the complete list. There are likely very few nations who can honestly say they’ve never done their share of unquestionably evil, but that is hardly the point. Much as it was with slavery, atrocities of all kinds must be remembered – if only to prevent the same mistakes from happening again.
Authors from around the time include: Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, H. G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Makepeace Thackeray and Lewis Carroll.
In addition: Michael Balfe was the most popular British grand opera composer of the time, while the most popular musical theatre was a series of fourteen comic operas by Gilbert and Sullivan. There was also musical burlesque and the beginning of Edwardian musical comedy in the 1890s. Born to British parents when they were in Italy, Florence Nightingale came to prominence while serving as a manager and trainer of nurses during the Crimean War, in which she organised care for wounded soldiers. She gave nursing a favourable reputation and became an icon of Victorian culture, especially in the persona of “The Lady with the Lamp” making rounds of wounded soldiers at night. In 1860, Nightingale laid the foundation of professional nursing with the establishment of her nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. It was the first secular nursing school in the world, and is now part of King’s College London. In recognition of her pioneering work in nursing, the Nightingale Pledge taken by new nurses, and the Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve, were named in her honour, and the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday. Her social reforms included improving healthcare for all sections of British society, advocating better hunger relief in India, helping to abolish prostitution laws that were harsh for women, and expanding the acceptable forms of female participation in the workforce.
As you might have gotten from the hinting, the era was succeeded by the Edwardian period – the brief reign of King Edward VII (1901 – 1910), though it is sometimes extended to include the start of the First World War (1914 – 1918). It is also this line of the royal family that became known as House of Windsor, though their original surname was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha – they buried it due to anti-German sentiments at the time. The death of Queen Victoria in 1901 saw her son, Edward VII, to the throne. Samuel Hynes described the Edwardian era as a “leisurely time when women wore picture hats and did not vote, when the rich were not ashamed to live conspicuously, and the sun really never set on the British flag.”
That jibe about the women wasn’t for long: the suffragettes (as mentioned earlier), actually named the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), were founded in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst. You can thank the Daily Mail for trying to belittle them with the name suffragette in 1906, but the plan backfired when these women owned it. One suffragette, Emily Davidson, died and made global headlines when she was trampled by King George V‘s horse in the 1913 Epsom Derby. There was a hiatus on the movement when World War I broke out in 1914. George V ruled from (1910 – 1936) and was the one who was responsible for change in surname, done in 1917.
In 1916, the Battle of Somme took place on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. The battle was the largest battle of the war on the Western Front. More than three million men fought in the battle and one million men were wounded or killed, with 60,000 casualties it was one of the bloodiest battles in human history. In 1917, Scientists led by Ernest Rutherford, working at Manchester and then Cambridge University, were the first to split the atom and took part in the Manhattan Project in the United States, which developed the atomic bomb.
After the war, the Representation of the People Act 1918 gave the vote to women over the age of 30 who met property qualifications. Ten years later, women gained electoral equality with the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928, granting all women the vote at age 21.
(Image from www.fairpay.org.uk)
The independence movement in Ireland in the 19th and early 20th century was a hard won: the Easter Rising of 1916 and Irish War of Independence of 1919 to 1921 being a couple of examples of the violence. In 1922, Parliament in London gave independence to the Catholic regions of southern Ireland, and kept control of Northern Ireland. The six counties in the north which were mainly Protestant remained part of the UK under the name Northern Ireland. The rest of Ireland became the Irish Free State. It had its own government and became a republic in 1949.
Fun fact: J RR Tolkien never expected his stories to become popular, but The Hobbit, which he had written some years before for his own children, in 1936 came to the attention of an employee of the London publishing firm who persuaded Tolkien to submit it for publication. When it was published a year later, the book attracted adult readers as well as children, and it became popular enough for the publishers to ask Tolkien to produce a sequel. The Lord of the Rings (originally published in three volumes 1954–1955) became immensely popular in the 1960s and has remained so ever since, ranking as one of the most popular works of fiction of the 20th century. In the 2003 “Big Read” survey conducted by the BBC, The Lord of the Rings was found to be the UK’s “Best-loved Novel”.
Right, put a pin in that, time for another break. Let’s look at sports (if you listen carefully, you can hear my soul whither).
Reportedly England has a history with sports; the 19th century saw the codification of several sports played around the world. Sports originating in England include association football (soccer), cricket, rugby, tennis, boxing, badminton, squash, rounders, hockey, snooker, billiards, darts, table tennis, bowls, netball, thoroughbred horse racing, greyhound racing and controversial fox hunting.
It has helped the development of golf (St Andrews, Scotland, said to be the home of golf), sailing and Formula One. In that regard, it shouldn’t be considered all that surprising that they (Dr William Penny Brookes being the largely credited contributor) had a hand in the organising and format of the modern Olympic games.
Fun fact: England (London, to be exact) has hosted the summer Olympic games three times (1908, 1948 and 2012).
In boxing, world champions include Bob Fitzsimmons, Ted “Kid” Lewis, Randolph Turpin, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Frank Bruno, Lennox Lewis, Ricky Hatton, Naseem Hamed, Amir Khan, Carl Froch, and David Haye. In women’s boxing, Nicola Adams became the world’s first woman to win an Olympic boxing Gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The 1950 British Grand Prix at Silverstone was the first race in the newly created Formula One World Championship. Some of England’s greatest drivers in the sport, include: John Surtees, Stirling Moss, Graham Hill (only driver to have won the Triple Crown), Nigel Mansell (only man to hold F1 and IndyCar titles at the same time), Damon Hill, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.
While far from cornering the market on snow production, Scotland is still home to 5 ski centres with enough tourists and locals to make them – I assume – viable forms of business. You won’t find me there, the first and last time I ever went skiing, I spent more time looking up at the birds flying overhead or face-down in the powder.
As for thoroughbred horse racing, events include: the Royal Ascot, a five-day race meeting in Berkshire; the Grand National at Aintree near Liverpool; and the Scottish Grand National at Ayr. There’s also a the Palace House National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket, Suffolk.
With rugby, the Six Nations Championship between England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy is the crème de la crème. While the Super League is the most well-known rugby league (club) competition, replacing the the Rugby Football League Championship in 1996.
The Boat clubs of Cambridge and Oxford universities have a long standing, rowing (crew, as it is sometimes called in the States) rivalry between them in the form of “the Boat Race.” With the first race happening in 1829, rowing teams have been racing annually since 1856.
It’s pretty safe to say, whatever they create, they aim to excel: The English are competitive sailors; some of their greatest sailors, include: Francis Chichester, Herbert Hasler, John Ridgway, Robin Knox-Johnston, Ellen MacArthur, Mike Golding, Paul Goodison, and the successful Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie.
Other people of mention:
- Sir Roger Bannister – first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes, in 1954;
- Sir Jackie Stewart – Scottish former racing driver to win the F1 world championship three times;
- Bobby Moore – captained the English football team to win the FIFA World Cup in 1966;
- Sir Ian Botham – captained English cricket team and holds a number of English Test cricket records, both for batting and bowling;
- Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean – won gold in ice dancing in 1984 Olympics and four consecutive world championships;
- Sir Steve Redgrave – won gold in five consecutive Olympic games for rowing;
- Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson – won 16 Paralympic medals, 11 of them gold, in races over five Paralympic games. She’s also won the London Marathon 6 times and broken some 30 world records;
- Dame Kelly Holmes – won two gold medals for running in 2004 Olympics and has held a number of British and European records;
- Dame Ellen MacArthur – yachtswoman who became the fastest person to sail single-handed around the world in 2004;
- Sir Chris Hoy – Scottish cyclist who has won 6 gold and one silver in Olympics as well as winning 11 world championship titles;
- David Weir – won 6 gold over two Paralympics as well as winning London Marathon 6 times;
- Sir Bradley Wiggins – first British cyclist to win the Tour de France in 2012. He has also won 8 Olympic medals, including gold in ’04, ’08, 2012 and 2016;
- Sir Mo Farah – Somalian born, British distance runner who won gold in 2012 and 2016 Olympics. First Briton to win gold in 10,000 metres;
- Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill – won gold in the heptathlon in 2012 and silver in 2016 Olympics. She also holds a number of British athletics records;
- Sir Andy Murray – Scottish tennis player who won 2012 men’s singles in the US Open. First British man to win singles title in a Grand Slam tournament since 1936. In the 2012 Olympics, he won gold and silver medals. In 2013 and 2016 he won the men’s singles at Wimbledon. Going on to win gold at the 2016 Olympics;
- Ellie Simmonds – won gold for swimming at ’08, 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. Youngest member of the 2008 British team, she also holds a number of world records.
<Almost there, I promise. How are those notes looking? You have been making notes, right?>
Great. MOVING ON!
Egypt went independent in 1922 (with some limitations), the Balfour Declaration of 1926 (with which Palestine became a British mandate from the League of Nations, and during the war the British gained support from both sides by making promises both to the Arabs and the Jews… resulting in enthno-religious violence that has spanned for decades. The British pulled out, and the mandate was effectively partitioned. Relations between Israel and Palestine to this day are… erm, delicate) declared the British Empire dominions equals, and the 1931 Statute of Westminster established full legislative independence for them. The equal dominions were: Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, the Irish Free State, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa. Though some of them were already independent (Canada, for example). Newfoundland ceded self-rule back in 1934. Iraq, in a League of Nations mandate, became independent in 1932. Responding to the Indian independence movement, the UK made successive reforms to the British Raj, culminating in the Government of India Act (1935).
Edward VIII took the throne in 1936… and then gave it to his brother before the year was out (ruling from January until December) in a tragic tale: He fell in love with a married American woman, Wallis Simpson. When she obtained a divorce in October 1936, it opened the way for her to marry Edward. He was not allowed to marry a divorced woman and become King, so he abdicated. George VI managed better than his sibling, ruling from 1936 – 1952.
Fun facts: The Turing machine was invented in 1936 by Alan Turing, who called it an “a-machine” (automatic machine). Sir William Walton wrote a wide range of music, from film scores to opera. He wrote marches for the coronations of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II but his best-known works are probably Façade, which became a ballet, and Balthazar’s Feast, which is intended to be sung by a large choir.
Hundreds of UK soldiers died as part of the Allies in World War I. Two decades later, from 1939 – 1945, World War II happened and they were part of the Allies again. Following the end of that pre-war war (better known as the Phoney War) the famed, mixed heritage (British and American), British bulldog (in 2002, he was literally voted the greatest Briton of all time), Winston Churchill, became the wartime Prime Minister (1940 – 1945 and again from 1951 – 1955; Clement Attlee holding the position between). The Blitz saw strict rules in effect to ensure a complete blackout of whole cities to keep German bombers overhead from finding a target to hit. In all, over 40,000 British civilians lost their lives and anywhere between 46,000 and 139,000 were injured. In terms of military capabilities in the air, the UK had two plane models of which they were especially proud: the Hurricane and Spitfire. The Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II happened in 1944. Codenamed Operation Neptune and often referred to as D-Day, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history. The operation began the liberation of German-occupied France (and later Europe) from Nazi control, and laid the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front.
In 1945, the United Nations (UN) was established to prevent future wars, and succeeded the ineffective League of Nations. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states; there’s 193 today. The UN has six principal groups: the General Assembly; the Security Council; the Economic and Social Council; the Trusteeship Council; the International Court of Justice; and the UN Secretariat. The UN System agencies include the World Bank Group, the World Health Organisation, the World Food Programme, UNESCO, and UNICEF.
When her father passed away, Elizabeth II was crowned in 1952 and she still reigns to this day. Her coronation was the first one to be televised. She became head of the Commonwealth and queen regnant of seven independent Commonwealth countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Beyond her coronation in 1953, other significant milestones have been her Silver, Golden, and Diamond Jubilees in 1977, 2002, and 2012 respectively. In 2017, she became the first British monarch to reach a Sapphire Jubilee. She is the longest-lived and longest-reigning British monarch as well as the world’s longest-serving female head of state, oldest living monarch, longest-reigning current monarch, and the oldest and longest-serving current head of state.
There was a stint of decolonisation following World War II: In 1947, British India was partitioned into the independent dominions of India and Pakistan with no lack of thanks due to, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, India’s independence movement leader, who led a peaceful resistance to the British rule. 9 colonies were granted independence in 1947, but it wasn’t an easy transition.
Independence for the colonies on the African continent began with the independence of Sudan in 1956, and Ghana in 1957. All British colonies on mainland Africa became independent by 1966, although Rhodesia‘s declaration of independence in 1965 had trouble being recognised.
Some British colonies in Asia were administered by British officials, while others were ruled by local monarchs as protectorates or in subsidiary alliance with the UK. Cyprus became an independent country in 1960, but ethnic violence escalated between the Greeks and Turks until 1974 – both sides (as is typical for history) writing their own versions of events, effectively blaming each other.
Also in the 1960s: The Troubles, AKA: the Northern Ireland conflict. Although the Troubles primarily took place in Northern Ireland, at times the violence spilled over into parts of the Republic of Ireland, England, and even mainland Europe. The conflict was primarily political and nationalistic, fuelled by historical events. Though it wasn’t a religious conflict, per se, a key issue was between Protestants and Catholics: the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Starting in 1969, Unionists and loyalists, mostly Protestants, wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. Irish nationalists/republicans, mostly Catholics, wanted Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom and form a united Ireland. It is generally accepted to have ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
All in all, the 1960s was a period of social progress. It was known as ‘the Swinging Sixties’. There was growth in British fashion, cinema and popular music. People started to become better off and the purchase of cars and other consumer goods were on the rise. It was also a time when social laws were updated, for example in relation to divorce and to abortion in England, Wales and Scotland.
Fun facts: in 1921, Dr Frederick Banting and medical student Charles Best performed experiments on the pancreases of dogs in Toronto, Canada. British born, Professor John Macleod provided Banting and Best with a laboratory to carry out the experiments. Professor Macleod would later be credited with the discovery of insulin, alongside Dr Banting. Banting and Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1923. Banting and Macleod, however, felt Best and Collip were equally eligible and shared their prize money with their two colleagues. During the 1950s, there was a shortage of labour in the UK. Immigration was encouraged for economic reasons, and many industries advertised for workers from overseas.
Actually, now would be a great time to talk about commonwealth countries, overseas territories, and crown dependencies.
(image belongs to The Metrocosom on WordPress)
- British commonwealth countries – there are 53 member states, nearly all former territories of the British Empire. Queen Elizabeth II, in her address to Canada on Dominion Day in 1959, pointed out that the confederation of Canada on 1 July 1867 had been the birth of the “first independent country within the British Empire”. She declared: “So, it also marks the beginning of that free association of independent states which is now known as the Commonwealth of Nations.” The Commonwealth Secretariat, established in 1965, is the main intergovernmental agency of the Commonwealth, facilitating consultation and co-operation among member governments and countries. It is responsible to member governments collectively. The Commonwealth of Nations is represented in the United Nations General Assembly by the secretariat as an observer.
- British overseas territories – spread across the world and span a diverse range of cultures and environments. They have separate constitutions with elected governments who are responsible for the day to day administration. They also have a Governor, appointed by HM the Queen, whose responsible for the external affairs, security, defence and air safety. There are a total of 14 overseas territories: Anguilla; Bermuda; British Antarctic Territory; British Indian Ocean Territory; British Virgin Islands; Cayman Islands; Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Montserrat; Pitcairn Islands; St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands; and Turks and Caicos Islands.
- Crown dependencies – three island territories off the coast of Great Britain that are self-governing dependants: the Bailiwick of Guernsey, Bailiwick of Jersey, and the Isle of Man. They do not form part of either the United Kingdom or the British Overseas Territories. Crown dependencies are not sovereign states, the power to pass legislation affecting the islands ultimately rests with the government of the United Kingdom (though this is rarely done without the consent of the dependencies, and the right is disputed). They each have their own legislative assembly, with the power to legislate on many local matters with the assent of the Crown (Privy Council, or in the case of the Isle of Man, in certain circumstances, the Lieutenant-Governor). In each case, the head of government is referred to as the Chief Minister.
<A show of hands: how many thought they could just read through this once and remember everything?>
Much in the way as it was in the United States, the UK experienced a wave of technological innovation after the war: motor vehicles were quickly becoming the form of transport and Frank Whittle‘s development of the jet engine made for greater travel by air. Supported by the innovations, people started to change where and how they lived… and the birth of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948.
Dr Somerville Hastings, President of the Socialist Medical Association, proposed a resolution at the 1934 Labour Party Conference that the party should be committed to the establishment of a State Health Service. It didn’t start end with them: Conservative MP and Health Minister, Henry Willink, was the first to actually propose the National Health Service in 1944 with the publication of a White Paper “A National Health Service”. Calls for a “unified medical service” can be dated back to the Minority Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law in 1909, but it was following the 1942 Beveridge Report‘s recommendation to create “comprehensive health and rehabilitation services for prevention and cure of disease” that cross-party consensus emerged on introducing a National Health Service of some description. When Clement Attlee‘s Labour Party won the 1945 election he appointed Aneurin Bevan as Health Minister. Bevan then embarked upon what the official historian of the NHS, Charles Webster, called an “audacious campaign” to take charge of the form the NHS. As part of that, the aforementioned White Paper by Henry Willink was widely distributed in full and short versions as well as in newsreel by Henry Willink and received cross party support, ultimately becoming Westminster legislation for England and Wales from 1946 and Scotland from 1947, and the Northern Ireland Parliament‘s Public Health Services Act 1947.
Welcome to the 20th century, in short. This century also saw the reform of local government of England in 1994, which was split into nine subdivisions of government. One of these, London, has an elected Assembly and Mayor. The other regions no longer have any statutory bodies to execute any responsibilities. Bonus: Combined authorities were introduced in England outside Greater London by the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. There are now 10 of these, with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and three others in April 2014, two in 2016, two in 2017 and one in 2018. There are 125 “single tier” authorities. In bullet-point breakdown:
- 55 unitary authorities
- 36 metropolitan boroughs
- 32 London boroughs
- The Common Council of the City of London
- The Council of the Isles of Scilly
There are 32 ‘upper tier’ authorities. The non-metropolitan counties function as local education authorities:
- 26 non-metropolitan counties
- 6 metropolitan counties (councils abolished in 1986)
There are 192 ‘lower tier’ authorities, which all have the function of billing authority for Council Tax:
There are in total 343 principal councils, including the Corporation of London and the Council of the Isles of Scilly, but not the Inner Temple and Middle Temple, the last two pulling double-duty for some purposes.
Then there are the Assemblies and Parliament and their functionality on a whole:
- Northern Ireland Assembly – a unicameral (meaning it has only one legislative chamber), democratically elected body comprising 90 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). As of 2017, the Assembly is currently in a period of suspension. It collapsed in January 2017 due to mix between policy disagreements and the resignation of Martin McGuinness following the RHI scandal. The Assembly is one of two institutions created under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the other being the North/South Ministerial Council with the Republic of Ireland. The Agreement(s) aimed to end Northern Ireland’s violent 30-year Troubles. The first Assembly election was held in June 1998.
- Scottish Parliament – a devolved unicameral legislature with a democratically elected body comprising 129 members known as Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), elected for four-year terms under the additional member system: 73 MSPs represent individual geographical constituencies elected by the plurality (‘first past the post’) system, while a further 56 are returned from eight additional member regions, each electing seven MSPs. The most recent general election to the Parliament was held on 5 May 2016, with the Scottish National Party winning several seats. Located in the Holyrood area of the capital city, Edinburgh, it is frequently referred to as just Holyrood. The original Parliament of Scotland was the national legislature of the independent Kingdom of Scotland, had three houses (lords, commons and clergy), and existed from the early 13th century until the Kingdom of Scotland merged with the Kingdom of England under the Acts of Union 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. As a consequence, both the Parliament of Scotland and the Parliament of England ceased to exist, and the Parliament of Great Britain, which sat at Westminster. It wasn’t until a referendum in 1997, that the Scottish electorate voted for devolution. The powers of the devolved legislature were specified by the Scotland Act 1998. The competence of the Scottish Parliament has been amended numerous times since then, most notably by the Scotland Act 2012 and Scotland Act 2016, with some of the most significant changes being the expansion of the Parliament’s powers, especially over taxation and welfare.
- Welsh assembly (though will transition over to Welsh Parliament by May 2020) – not to be confused with the other two, it is a devolved parliament, with power to make legislation, vary taxes and scrutinise the Welsh Government. The Assembly comprises 60 members, who are known as Assembly Members (AMs). Since 2011, Members are elected for five-year terms under an additional members system, in which 40 AMs represent geographical constituencies elected by the plurality system, and 20 AMs represent five electoral regions using the d’Hondt method of proportional representation. Typically the largest party in the Assembly forms the Welsh Government. The Assembly was created by the Government of Wales Act 1998, which followed a referendum in 1997. The Assembly had no powers to initiate primary legislation until limited law-making powers were gained through the Government of Wales Act 2006. Its primary law-making powers were enhanced following a Yes vote in the referendum on 3 March 2011, making it possible for it to legislate without having to consult the UK parliament or the Secretary of State for Wales in the 20 areas that are devolved. The Welsh assembly is bilingual – all members and publications are in English and Welsh.
- England Parliament – as already stated, is now defunct, but it was the legislature of the Kingdom of England, existing from the early 13th century until 1707, after the political union of England and Scotland created the Kingdom of Great Britain. But the roots of it start further back: in 1066, William of Normandy introduced what, in later centuries, became referred to as a feudal system, by which he sought the advice of a council of tenants-in-chief (a person who held land) and ecclesiastics before making laws. In 1215, the tenants-in-chief secured Magna Carta from King John, which established that the king may not levy or collect any taxes (except the feudal taxes to which they were hitherto accustomed), save with the consent of his royal council, which slowly evolved into a parliament. Over the centuries, the English Parliament progressively limited the power of the English monarchy which arguably culminated in the English Civil War and the trial and execution of Charles I in 1649. After the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, and the subsequent Glorious Revolution of 1688, the supremacy of Parliament was a settled principle and all future English and later British sovereigns were restricted to the role of constitutional monarchs with limited executive authority. When the Parliament of Ireland was abolished in 1801, its former members were merged into what was now called the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
- Parliament of the United Kingdom – (commonly known internationally as the UK Parliament, British Parliament, Westminster Parliament, or just Parliament) is the legislative body of the United Kingdom, the Crown dependencies and the British Overseas Territories. It possesses legislative supremacy and ultimate power over all other political bodies in the UK and the overseas territories. Parliament is bicameral but has three parts, consisting of the Sovereign (the Queen-in-Parliament), the House of Lords, and the House of Commons (the primary chamber). The two houses meet in the Palace of Westminster in the City of Westminster, one of the inner boroughs of the capital city, London. The House of Lords includes two different types of members: the Lords Spiritual, consisting of the most senior bishops of the Church of England, and the Lords Temporal, consisting mainly of life peers, appointed by the Sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister, and of 92 hereditary peers, sitting either by virtue of holding a royal office, or by being elected by their fellow hereditary peers. Prior to the opening of the Supreme Court in October 2009, the House of Lords also performed a judicial role through the Law Lords. The House of Commons is an elected chamber with 650 single member constituencies held at least every five years under the first-past-the-post system. With the global expansion of the British Empire, the UK Parliament has shaped the political systems of many countries as ex-colonies and so it has been called the “Mother of Parliaments“. That said, John Bright – who coined the epithet – used it in reference to the political culture of England rather than just the parliamentary system. In theory, the UK’s supreme legislative power is officially vested in the Crown-in-Parliament. However, the Queen normally acts on the advice of the Prime Minister and the powers of the House of Lords are limited to only delaying legislation; thus it’s the other way around, with the power vested in the House of Commons. Parliament meets weekly, to ask the Prime Minister and the cabinet questions, every Wednesday. While everything discussed in Parliament is recorded and released on their website, the official document called is called the Hansard.
Speaking of the cabinet; typically the party with the most members forms the government (though coalitions have existed, the most recent one was between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives in 2010), and with that, members are selected to form the “front bench,” if you will – which is the cabinet.
The cabinet consists of:
- The Prime Minister;
- The Chancellor of the Exchequer (responsible for the economy);
- The Foreign Secretary (responsible for managing relationships with foreign countries);
- The Home Secretary (responsible for immigration, crime and policing);
- and the Secretaries of State (examples: Education Secretary, Defence Secretary and Health Secretary).
Each department also has a selection of other ministers, called Ministers of State and Under-Secretaries of State who take charge of specific aspects or areas of a department’s work. In all, the number of MPs promoted to be department ministers is 20 on average.
MPs that are not part of the government form the opposition and serve to question and challenge the government; as part of that end, they have what’s called a shadow cabinet. For added fun, see a list of governments in history.
Fun facts: though the PM’s official place of residence is 10 Downing Street, they also have a country home outside of London called Chequers. Though it is soon to change, the current Prime Minister is Theresa May, who stepped into the position to replace David Cameron 2016 when he stepped down from leader of the Conservative party. Theresa May is a name few non-EU family migrants will forget, given she was the brain behind the income threshold back when she was Home Secretary. That said, she is the second woman to ever hold the title of Prime Minister, the first being Margaret Thatcher – another Conservative and woman who is not well liked in UK history for her own polices during her tenure.
Since we’re already skirting the topic, let’s look at voting and elections: MPs are, barring exceptional circumstances, elected during a General Election, which, as mentioned earlier, is held every 5 years (the same holds true for European Parliament). The candidate with the most votes wins in first-past-the-post. For European Parliament, it’s a little different: they use a process which allocates seats to elected parties based on the total number of votes they won. Most citizens of the UK, Ireland or Commonwealth can stand for public office – though there are some exceptions, such as:
- members of the armed forces;
- civil servants;
- people found guilty of certain criminal offences.
Members of the House of Lords cannot stand for election to the House of Commons, however, they are eligible for other public offices.
In terms of voting, the current voting system has been in effect since 1928 and is defined as fully democratic. The current voting age is 18 years old, which was set in 1969. With few exceptions, all born UK citizens and naturalised citizens of the legal age have the right to vote. People vote at Polling Stations (Polling Places in Scotland), which will be open from 7AM until 10PM on election day. Prior to election day, you will be sent a polling card which tells you when and where you need to go to vote. Once at the polling location, staff there will ask you to confirm your name and address (if you’re in Northern Ireland, they may also ask you to present photo ID). You’re then given a ballot paper which you will take to a designated spot and cast the vote(s) of your choosing, following the instructions on the ballot paper. Once filled in accordingly, put the paper ballot in the box.
That said, getting onto the election register isn’t uniform across the UK. Northern Ireland has a process that is different from the rest, called individual registration (whereas everyone else has an open register – though there is an option to opt out of this). In the case of England, Scotland and Wales: the registers – or electoral rolls – are updated annually, either in September or October. For people living in those countries, expect a form to come in the mail to confirm all eligible voters in the household every year. In Northern Ireland, so long as details don’t change, people stay on the register indefinitely.
But what happens after the election? How do you make these people work for you? Simply put: you talk to them. There’s a few ways a person can contact their MP; a lot of MPs/AMs/SMPs/MEPs will host “surgeries” in their local constituencies where members of the public can come and speak to them, though some may require an appointment. Mailing addresses and phone numbers for them can be found on the UK Parliament website (ditto for their e-mail address) or at the library. Some may even be listed in the local phone book (when was the last time I saw one of those?).
I used to use mine to prop the door open.
<Bathroom? Drink? Will to live?>
The 20th century has seen significant population movement to England, mostly from other parts of the British Isles, but also from the Commonwealth, particularly the Indian subcontinent. Likewise, since the 1970s there has been a large move away from manufacturing and an increasing emphasis on the service industry. The United Kingdom, the area joined the European Economic Community (later known as the European Union) in 1973. In the late 20th century the administration of the United Kingdom moved towards devolved governance in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. England and Wales continues to exist as a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. NHS Wales was split from NHS (England) in 1969 when control was passed to the Secretary of State for Wales before transferring to the Welsh Executive and Assembly under devolution in 1999. There is no devolved English government (not since the Acts of Union 1707, as noted earlier), and an attempt to create a similar system on a sub-regional basis was rejected by referendum. In 1996, two British scientists, Sir Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, led a team which was the first to succeed in cloning a mammal, Dolly the sheep – leading to further research into the use of cloning. Other innovations of the time: the Concorde, the world’s only supersonic passenger aircraft – produced jointly by Britain and France. It first flew in 1969 and began carrying passengers in 1976. The Concorde turbojet airliner was retired from service in 2003. Scotsman John Logie Baird is credited as one of the minds behind the invention of the television in the 1920s. In 1932 he made the first television broadcast between London and Glasgow. Of course, life for many today would not be what it is without the work of Sir Tim Berners-Lee – the creator of the world wide web.
Now, in the 21st century, with over 53 million inhabitants, England is the most populous country of the United Kingdom, accounting for 84% of the combined total. That said, England measured against international states has the fourth largest population in the European Union and the 25th largest country by population in the world. But, in fairness, with a density of 424 people/square kilometre, it’s the second most densely populated country in the European Union.
People from much further afield than just the former British colonies have arrived since the 1950s: 6% of people living in England have family origins in the Indian subcontinent, mostly India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. 2.9% of the population are black, from African nations and the Caribbean, especially former British colonies. There is a significant number of Chinese and British Chinese. In 2007, 22% of primary school children in England were from ethnic minority families, and in 2011 that figure was 26.5%. It paints an image, for sure, of the lives of the people who call England home.
Since 2000, British armed forces have been engaged in the global fight against international terrorism and against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. British combat troops left Iraq in 2009.
Forced Marriage Protection Orders were introduced in 2008 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. Court orders can be obtained to protect a person from being forced into a marriage, or to protect a person in a forced marriage. Similar Protection Orders were introduced in Scotland in November 2011.
In the 2011 census, 59.4% of the population of England specified their religion as Christian, 24.7% answered no religion, 5% specified that they were Muslim, while 3.7% of the population belongs to other religions and 7.2% opted to give no answer. While Christianity is the most popular (70% of total UK population), other non-Christian religions are freely practised, as well. Islam is the most common of these, now accounting for around 5% of the population in England. Hinduism, Sikhism (a whole 1% on its own) and Buddhism are next in number, adding up to 2.8% combined, introduced from India and South East Asia.
With the pages of history covered, more or less, we now turn our eyes to today. Today in the UK, with it’s unwritten Constitution, there are certain values that are held in esteem. These are: the right to life; prohibition of torture; prohibition of slavery and forced labour; right to liberty an security; right to a fair trial; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and freedom of expression (speech).
Sound familiar? Probably because those same rights were taken from the European Convention of Human Rights. In addition, there are certain (and duplicating, let’s be real here), fundamental values and principles for British life. Again, not exclusive to the UK, these are: respect for democracy; the rule of law; to look after self and family (individual liberty); tolerance for different beliefs and religions; and participation in community life.
Unsurprising to anyone from outside of the UK, there are several other values and concepts of responsibility that are shared:
- to obey/respect the law;
- to respect the rights of others;
- to treat others fairly;
- to behave responsively;
- to help and protect family;
- to respect/preserve the environment;
- to not discriminate against others on the basis of gender, race, religion, age, disability, social class, or sexual orientation;
- to work to provide for yourself and your family;
- to help others;
- to vote
Bear in mind, while many people may well agree to those, we can all name instances where individuals, cultures and nations have failed to rise to the standards we expect. I cannot stress the value in exercising one’s right to protest and vote when those failings are with the government, and openly calling out the persons in our lives who do and can be better. Silence is a form of tacit agreement and change does not happen when we permit wrong-doings to go unchallenged.
There are certain norms for life in the UK. Things like paying for a TV License (FYI: people who are blind get a 50% discount, anyone 75+ can apply to have one free) – the proceeds covering the BBC (fun fact: the BBC’s first radio broadcast was in 1922) – though we already know those who do not watch live television need to buy one, the fines associated with being caught watching without one can be up to £1,000. All cars on the road are required to have insurance, pay road tax and, in addition, older cars (3+ years) require a valid MOT be completed annually. Employed workers don’t need to file taxes in the UK, the automated system for managing income taxes, PAYE, provides almost-seamless service. That said, the self-employed don’t have it so easy and they have to pay both halves of the national insurance contribution on top of it. It’s accepted that marriage should be entered into with the full and free consent of both people involved in the UK – this includes arranged marriages.
Police officers, should you be placed under arrest, must tell you the reason why. Though some may argue otherwise, you absolutely are allowed to record an officer on active duty. The duties of the police are: protect life and property; prevent disturbances (see: keep the peace); prevent and detect crime.
A lot of people in the UK have pets such as cats or dogs. It is against the law to treat a pet cruelly or to neglect it. All dogs in public places must wear a collar showing the name and address of the owner. The owner is responsible for keeping the dog under control and for cleaning up after the animal in a public place (in some areas, if you are caught failing to do that last one, you could face a fine).
Pubs (AKA: public houses) normally open at 11AM, Monday through Saturday. They open at noon on Sundays. In addition to the odd Pub quiz, common forms of entertainment at Pubs include things like darts and pool.
Want to not sound like a tourist? Don’t call the clock tower in London “big ben”, that’s the name of the bell on the inside. The tower was re-christened Elizabeth Tower for the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012 – the tower itself is over 150 years old. As already mentioned: the current head of state for the UK is Queen Elizabeth II, married to Prince Phillip; their son, Prince Charles the next in line to the throne.
For education, a devolved matter decided by each government, the Parliament in London bears the responsibility for England – Scotland for Scotland, Wales for Wales, Northern Ireland for Northern Ireland.
In each country there are five stages of education: early years, primary, secondary, further education and higher education. Law states that full time education is compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 (4 in Northern Ireland) and 16 years old. In England, compulsory education or training has been extended to 18 for those born on or after 1 September 1997. This full-time education does not need to be at a school and some parents choose to home educate. Before they reach compulsory school age, children can be educated at nursery if parents wish though there is limited government funding. There is also early assistance for low-income households, though the programmes (also known as schemes) vary. Further Education is non-compulsory, and covers non-advanced education which can be taken at further (including tertiary) education colleges and Higher Education institutions. The fifth stage, Higher Education, is study beyond A levels or BTECs (and their equivalents) which, for most full-time students, takes place in universities and other Higher Education institutions and colleges.
The National Curriculum was established in 1988 to provide a framework for education in England and Wales between the ages of 5 and 18. Though it’s not compulsory, it is followed by most state schools. That said, some private schools, academies, free schools and home educators opt for their own curricula. In Scotland the nearest equivalent is the Curriculum for Excellence programme, and in Northern Ireland there is something known as the common curriculum. For Scottish qualifications, the National 4/5s, Highers and Advanced Highers are very similar to the English Advanced Subsidiary and Advanced Level (A2) courses. In all cases, the responsibilities of school governors and school boards are to set the strategic direction of the school, monitor and evaluate school performance. Many schools organise events to raise money for extra equipment or out-of-school activities.
Thus, we conclude a rundown of UK history and facts that you will use to pass the Life in the UK Test… and maybe win a pub quiz, someday, if you’re into that kind of thing.
As stated at the start of this unbearably long piece: feel free to share your notes and additional sources in the comments.