England - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

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England (Latin Anglia), political division of the island of Great Britain, the principal division of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. England occupies all of the island east of Wales and south of Scotland, other divisions of the island of Great Britain. Established as an independent monarchy many centuries ago, England in time achieved political control over the rest of the island, all the British Isles, and vast sections of the world, becoming the nucleus of one of the greatest empires in history. The capital, largest city, and chief port of England is London, with a population in 2006 of 7,512,400. It is also the capital of the United Kingdom and the site of the headquarters of the Commonwealth of Nations.

England is somewhat triangular in shape, with its apex at the mouth of the Tweed River. The eastern leg, bounded by the North Sea, extends generally southeast to the North Foreland, the northern extremity of the region called the Downs. The western leg of the triangle extends generally southwest from the mouth of the Tweed along the boundary with Scotland, the Irish Sea, St. George’s Channel, and the Atlantic Ocean to Land’s End, the westernmost extremity of England and of the island. The northern frontier extends from Solway Firth on the west along the Cheviot Hills to the mouth of the Tweed on the east. The base of the triangle fronts the English Channel and the Strait of Dover. The total area of England is 130,410 sq km (50,352 sq mi), 57 percent of the area of the island. This total, approximately the size of the state of North Carolina, includes the region of the Isles of Scilly, southwest of Land’s End in the Atlantic Ocean; the Isle of Wight, located off the southern coast; and the Isle of Man, located in the Irish Sea.


One of the principal physiographic features of England, as well as of the entire island of Great Britain, is the deeply indented coast. Most of the indentations are excellent natural harbors, easily accessible to deepwater shipping, a factor that has been decisive in the economic development and imperial expansion of England. By virtue of the high tides that prevail along the eastern coast, a number of rivers and their estuaries provide this region with safe anchorages. The most important of these belong to such ports as Newcastle upon Tyne, on the Tyne River; Middlesbrough, on the Tees River; Hull, on the Humber River; Great Yarmouth, on the estuary of the Yare River; and London, on the Thames River. The most important harbors on the southern coast include those of Dover, Hastings, Eastbourne, Brighton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth, and Plymouth. The western coast, considerably more broken than either the eastern or southern coast, also has numerous anchorages. Of outstanding commercial importance are the harbor of Bristol, at the confluence of Bristol Channel and the Severn River; and Liverpool Harbor, at the mouth of the Mersey River.

The terrain of England is diversified. The northern and western portions are generally mountainous. The principal highland region, the Pennine Chain (or Pennines), forms the backbone of northern England. It is composed of several ranges extending south from the Cheviot Hills to the valley of the Trent River and numerous spurs and extensions that radiate in all directions. The highest summit in England is Scafell Pike (978 m/3,209 ft above sea level), located in the nearby Cumbrian Mountains, which has some 25 summits above 457 m (1,500 ft). A large portion of the area occupied by the Pennine Chain comprises the Lake District, one of the most picturesque regions in England. The terrain east of Wales and between the southern extremities of the Pennine Chain and Bristol Channel is an extension of the rolling plain that occupies most of central and eastern England. Much of the western part of this central region is known as the Midlands; it contains an area that is known as the Black Country because of its intensive industrial development. To the east lies The Fens, a vast drained marsh area. To the south of Bristol Channel an elevated plateau slopes upward, culminating in the barren uplands and moors of Cornwall and Devon. Dartmoor (about 600 m/about 2000 ft above sea level), one of the wildest tracts in England, is situated in this region. Successive ranges of chalk hills, seen from the English Channel as white cliffs, project eastward from Devon to the Strait of Dover.

Climate in England

As a result of the relative warmth of the nearby seas, England has a moderate climate, rarely marked by extremes of heat or cold. The mean annual temperature ranges between 11° C (52° F) in the south and 9° C (48° F) in the northeast. Seasonal temperatures vary between a mean of about 16° C (61° F) during July, the hottest month of the year, and 4° C (40° F) during January, the coldest month. The average January and July temperatures for the city of London are 4° C (40° F) and 18° C (64° F), respectively. Fogs, mists, and overcast skies are frequent, particularly in the Pennine and inland regions. Precipitation, heaviest during October, averages about 760 mm (about 30 in) annually in most of England.

Natural Resources of England

England has some agricultural and mineral resources but must rely on imports of both. Approximately two-fifths of the land area is arable, with the richest soils found in the east. Substantial reserves of iron ore are concentrated in Cumbria, Staffordshire, and Lancashire. Waterpower resources are small and mostly concentrated in the highlands of Cumbria, in northern England.

Plants and Animals in England

In early times, England, like most of the island of Great Britain, was heavily forested, chiefly with oak and beech in the lowlands and pine and birch in the mountainous areas. Woodlands now constitute about 8 percent of the total land area. Various types of fruit trees are cultivated, including the cherry, apple, and plum. A common shrub is a species of furze known locally as gorse. Numerous varieties of wildflowers are also found.

Among the chief indigenous fauna of England are several species of deer, fox, rabbit, hare, and badger. The most widespread bird is the meadow pipit, and sparrows are abundant. Grouse are found in the northern counties. Other familiar species are the crow, pigeon, rook, starling, and several members of the thrush family. Reptiles, of which only four species occur on the entire island of Great Britain, are rare in England. The most common freshwater fishes found in England are trout and salmon.


The great majority of the people of England, like those of the British Isles in general, are descended from early Celtic and Iberian peoples and later invaders of the islands, including the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, and Normans. After 1945 substantial numbers of blacks and Asians immigrated into the country. England, once a nation of small rural villages, has become highly urban since the early 19th century. For information on language and literature, see English Language; English Literature.

Population Characteristics of England

The population of England in 2004 was 50,094,000. The overall population density of 384 persons per sq km (995 persons per sq mi) was one of the highest in the world.

Political Divisions of England

For local governmental purposes, England is divided into 34 counties, 46 unitary authorities, and Greater London (established in 1965 as a separate administrative entity). The counties are subdivided into districts, which together are further divided into parishes. Each level of local government is presided over by a council, the members of which are elected to four-year terms. In districts that have the title of city or borough, the chairperson of the council is the mayor. The present counties and former counties of England are described in separate articles.

Principal Cities of England

After London, Birmingham, population 976,400 (2001), is the second largest city and is the center of an extensive industrial area that contains major concentrations of the automotive and other industries. Liverpool (439,500) is the second largest port and a major cargo export outlet for Britain; it is also a great commercial and industrial center. Manchester (392,900) is the chief commercial hub of the cotton and synthetic-fiber textile industries, as well as an important financial and commercial center and a major port. Among other important cities are Sheffield (513,100), the heavy engineering center famous for its high-quality steels, cutlery, and tools, and Bristol (380,600), a leading port and commercial center.

Religion in England

The Church of England, a Protestant Episcopal denomination, is the state church and the nominal church of nearly three-fifths of the population. The denomination next in importance is the Roman Catholic church, which has about 6 million members in England. Among the numerous Protestant denominations are the Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist, Unitarian, and Society of Friends. England also has thousands of Muslims and Jews. Large communities of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs have immigrated to England since the 1950s.

Education in England

For the development and administration of the educational system, see United Kingdom. In England and Wales school attendance is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 16. About 90 percent of the elementary and secondary schools are organized and maintained by local education authorities and supported entirely by public funds; the remainder are voluntary schools, provided and maintained by a private body, usually of a religious denomination.

Elementary and Secondary Schools in England

In the mid-1980s about 7.7 million pupils were attending publicly maintained schools in England and Wales. Enrollment in independent schools was about 512,000; these private schools are referred to in England as “public” schools. The transfer from elementary to secondary school generally takes place at the age of 11.

Specialized Schools in England

Children with conditions such as blindness, deafness, mental retardation, or other disabilities are given special aid in ordinary schools or attend one of the day or boarding schools established for such children. In the mid-1980s these special schools numbered nearly 1500 in England alone.

Universities and Colleges in England

In the mid-1980s some 500 institutions provided part-time or full-time education beyond the secondary level (called “further education”) for students who do not go to a university. These schools included colleges, polytechnics, and institutes of agriculture, art, commerce, and science. Colleges of education numbered about 60.

Of the 34 traditional degree-granting universities in England, all except Oxford and Cambridge (see Cambridge, University of; Oxford, University of) were founded in the 19th and 20th centuries, many of them since World War II (1939-1945). In the mid-1980s full-time university students totaled more than 290,000 annually.

Culture of England

Little is known of the earliest inhabitants of England. The megaliths at Stonehenge and a prehistoric temple found at Stanton Drew in 1997 attest to the early presence of an able people, as do early historical and archaeological reports, but the first lasting influence on English culture was contributed by the Celts. Roads and ruins bear witness to the Roman occupation, which began with the invasion of Julius Caesar in 55 BC and extended until the 5th century AD. Christianity was introduced by Roman soldiers but made little headway with the populace, and its spread awaited the arrival of Saint Augustine, first archbishop of Canterbury, in the 6th century.

Following the Roman departure, the Saxons became dominant. A record of their era is provided by the annals known as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and by the writings of Saint Bede the Venerable, the theologian and historian. The Norman Conquest in 1066 overthrew the Saxon dominance and, in its mixing of elements from the Saxon and Celtic past with the Norman, created a new culture. The Normans introduced feudalism and the French language to the upper classes. From the 11th to the 14th century French was used at court and in vernacular literature; Latin was used in scholarly literature.

A major task for William the Conqueror and his successors was the amalgamation of Norman and Saxon and their common defense against warlike factions in Scotland, Wales, and Scandinavia. A stable social order directed toward these goals evolved slowly; elements of it still persist today. For example, both the strong class system of the English and their hereditary peerage have their roots in the Norman period.

The decline of feudalism, starting late in the 14th century, led in England as elsewhere to the rise of cities and the development of a middle class. By the 14th century a national secular culture was beginning to emerge, and the English language (an amalgam of Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French elements) was being adopted by the educated. The English, however, had unique limitations caused by the size of their island and the limited type and amount of resources found there. To fill their needs they developed into a nation of traders and mariners. The exploits of Sir Francis Drake and the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588) led to commercial advantage as much as to naval victories. Supremacy at sea not only gained England an empire but put the English in touch with peoples the world over. Wealth flowed back to the island in consequence, and so did ideas that enriched the traditions of England. Limited local workforces contributed to the invention of machines and to the earliest manifestations of what became known as the Industrial Revolution.

Among the prime traditions of the English are a fierce pride in their freedom, a unity against adversity, and an ability to bring differing factions together in compromise. Pride in being English is also a national trait, although the English show considerable diversity in habits, manners, and even in speech. Queen’s Birthday, observed on the second Saturday in June, is an important day of celebration in England. The sports most favored are cricket, rugby football, association football (soccer), and tennis. Both dog and horse racing are also popular.

Libraries and Museums in England

More than 500 public library authorities administer some 40,000 branch libraries throughout Britain. Among the libraries in London are the British Library, the various divisions of which constitute the largest library in Britain; the University of London Central Library; the Science Museum Library; and the Public Record Office Library, which contains the National Archives. Many cities and towns have museums of art, natural history, and archaeology. The best-known and largest museum is the British Museum in London, which contains collections of art and archaeological specimens from all over the world. Other outstanding museums in London are the Tate Gallery, the National Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Art and Archaeology in England

See United Kingdom

Music in England

See Music, Western.

Literature in England

See English Literature.

English Law

English law originated in the customs of the Anglo-Saxons and of the Normans who conquered England in 1066. The Norman kings established a strong, centralized system for the administration of justice, and the royal courts developed a complex system of rules based on custom. Clashes between the power of the monarch and competing interests, the feudal barons in early times and later Parliament, produced basic legal documents that have had tremendous influence on the whole English-speaking world. The most famous of these documents is the Magna Carta, signed in 1215; scarcely less important is the Bill of Rights of 1689. The principles that an individual should be convicted only by judgment of that individual’s peers, that personal liberty should not be infringed or personal property taken without due process of law, and that a citizen should be guarded against unreasonable searches and seizures were all first articulated in these fundamental pronouncements of English law and in their elaboration in decisions by English judges. In this sense English law is judge-made law and, although statutes are continually passed by Parliament, the general principles of the law are still found in the decisions of the courts rather than the statutes. Such a system is made possible by the doctrine of binding precedent, by which a lower court must follow the rules and principles articulated by the superior, appellate courts. See also Common Law; English Constitution.

Economy and Government in England

See United Kingdom.


The history of England begins with the Anglo-Saxons, who invaded Great Britain about AD 449. They displaced the previous occupants from the southeastern part of the island and called it Angle-land, or England. Previously, the island, like Europe, was home for a succession of peoples dating from the beginnings of the Old Stone Age.

Ancient Britain

The Ice Age, during which Neandertals and then Cro-Magnons inhabited Great Britain, ended about 8000 BC. The rising sea level produced the English Channel and made Great Britain an island. In the new environment of forest and swamp the Middle Stone Age came and passed, followed by the New Stone Age, during which the practice of agriculture was begun. This period brought a stream of new people to Britain. By 3000 BC the Iberians, or Long Skulls, were farming the chalk soil of southern England, and by 2500 BC the pastoral Beaker folk had established themselves. The latter, named for their characteristic pottery, are noted for their bronze tools and their huge stone monuments, especially Stonehenge. These monuments attest to their social and economic organization as well as their technical skill and intellectual ability.

In the 1st millennium BC the Celts overran the British Isles, as they did virtually all of western Europe. With iron plows they cultivated the heavy soil of the river valleys; with iron weapons and two-wheeled, horse-drawn chariots, they subdued and absorbed the indigenous inhabitants of the islands. Their priests, the Druids, dominated their society.

Roman Rule

Although it had long been known to the Mediterranean peoples as a source of tin, Britain did not enter the Roman world until Julius Caesar’s arrival in 55 BC—a sort of afterthought to his conquest of Gaul. Caesar’s contact, however, was temporary; permanent occupation had to wait until Rome had solved more pressing problems at home.

Emperor Claudius I invaded Britain in force in AD 43, but nearly two decades passed before the Romans had captured Anglesey, headquarters of the feared Druids (see Druidism), and put down the revolt of Boudicca, queen of the Iceni. The Roman governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola won the Battle of Mons Graupius (AD 84), somewhere in Scotland, but the northern tribes proved hard to subdue. In 123, Hadrian’s Wall, stretching 117 km (73 mi) from Solway Firth to the Tyne River, became the northern frontier.

Britain was a military outpost, taking a tenth of the Roman army to hold it. Several towns attained a degree of Roman urban civilization, boasting baths and amphitheaters. Numerous villas—vast estates worked by slaves and featuring sumptuous noble dwellings—were also established. Beyond these, the countryside remained Celtic. See also Britons.

Roman Withdrawal

Britain in the 3rd and 4th centuries felt the decline of the Roman Empire. An official known as the count of the Saxon Shore oversaw defenses against raids by Saxons and others along the North Sea coast. Would-be emperors stripped Britain of its occupying forces, moving the legions elsewhere to serve their own political ambitions. In 410 Rome abandoned Britain. After nearly four centuries of occupation, it left little that was permanent: a superb network of roads, the best Britain would have for 1400 years; the sites of a number of towns—London, York, and others bearing names that end in the suffix -cester and -caster; and Christianity. The Anglo-Saxons, who occupied the country after the Romans left, ignored the towns, chased Christianity into Wales, and gave their own names, such as Watling Street, to the Roman roads.

Anglo-Saxon England

Fragmentary knowledge of England in the 5th and 6th centuries comes from the British writer Gildas (6th century), the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (a history of the English people begun in the 9th century), saints’ lives, poetry, archaeological findings, and place-name studies. In the absence of Roman administrators, British warlords, nominally Christian, ruled small, unstable kingdoms and continued some Roman traditions of governance. In the mid-5th century, they revived the Roman policy of hiring Germanic mercenaries to help defend them against warlike peoples of the north (Picts and Scots). The Saxon mercenaries revolted against their British chiefs and began the process of invasion and settlement that destroyed the native ruling class and established Germanic kingdoms throughout the island by the 7th century. Later legends about a hero named Arthur were placed in this period of violence. The invaders were variously Angles, Saxons, Frisians, Jutes, and Franks in origin, but were similar in culture and eventually identified themselves indifferently as Angles or Saxons. Any man of noble birth and success in war could organize an army of warriors loyal to him personally and attempt to conquer and establish a kingdom.

By the 7th century the Germanic kingdoms included Northumbria, Bernicia, Deira, Lindsay, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Wessex, Sussex, and Kent. They were turbulent states, but all Anglo-Saxon societies were characterized by strong kinship groups, feuds, customary law, and a system of money compensations (wergeld) for death, personal injury, and theft. They practiced their traditional polytheistic religions, lacked written language, and depended on mixed economies of agriculture, hunting, and animal husbandry.

Reintroduction of Christianity

The dominant themes of the next two centuries were the success of Christianity and the political unification of England. Christianity came from two directions—Rome and Ireland. In 596 Pope Gregory I sent a group of missionaries under a monk named Augustine to Kent, where King Ethelbert had married Bertha, a Christian Frankish princess. Soon after, Ethelbert was baptized, Augustine became the first archbishop of Canterbury, and the southern kingdoms became Christian.

In Northumbria the Christianity from Rome met Celtic Christianity, which had been brought from Ireland to Scotland by Saint Columba and then to Northumbria by Saint Aidan, who founded the monastery of Holy Island in 635. Although not heretical, the Celtic church differed from Rome in the way the monks tonsured their heads, in its reckoning of the date of Easter, and, most important, in its organization, which reflected the clans of Ireland rather than the highly centralized Roman Empire. At the Synod of Whitby in 664, Northumbria’s King Oswy chose to go with Rome, giving England a common religion and a vivid example of unification. Theodore of Tarsus, who became archbishop of Canterbury in 668, created dioceses and gave the English church its basic structure.

The meeting in Northumbria of Celtic and Mediterranean scholarship produced a flowering of letters unequaled in western Europe. The Venerable Bede, a Northumbrian monk, was the outstanding European scholar of his age. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People made popular the use of BC and AD to date historical events. It also treated England as a unit, even while it was still divided among several kingdoms. Charlemagne chose Alcuin of York, another Northumbrian, to head his palace school.

The Process of Unification

The Germanic kingdoms tended to coalesce by means of warfare. As early as the time of Ethelbert of Kent, one king could be recognized as Bretwalda, or ruler of Britain. Generally speaking, the title fell in the 7th century to the kings of Northumbria, in the 8th to those of Mercia, and finally, in the 9th, to Egbert of Wessex, who in 825 defeated the Mercians at Ellendun. In the next century his family came to rule all England.

King Alfred and the Danes

Egbert’s grandson, Alfred, became king of Wessex in one of England’s darkest hours. The Danes, part of the Viking forces that had begun to raid the English coasts in the late 8th century, had given up their primary goal of plunder and were now set on conquering England. Wessex and Alfred were all that stood in their way. Alfred at first had to buy a respite, but after his victory at Edington in 878 he forced the Danish king Guthrum to accept baptism and a division of England into two parts, Wessex and what historians later called the Danelaw (Essex, East Anglia, and Northumbria). By creating an English navy, by reorganizing the Anglo-Saxon fyrd, or militia, allowing his warriors to alternate between farming and fighting, and by building strategic forts, Alfred captured London and began to roll back the Danish tide.

Alfred’s Legacy

Alfred also gave his attention to good government, issuing a set of dooms, or laws, and to scholarship, which had declined in the years since Bede and Alcuin. He promoted, and assisted in, the translation of Latin works into Old English and encouraged the compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. For his many accomplishments, Alfred was called The Great, the only English king so acclaimed.

The conquest of the Danelaw was completed by Alfred’s son, Edward the Elder, and by his grandson Athelstan, who won a great victory at Brunanburh in 937. Most of the remainder of the century was peaceful. In this atmosphere, Saint Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury from 960 to 988, was able to restore the English church to health and prosperity.

The United Kingdom

The conquest of the Danelaw meant the creation of a unified government for all England and the evolution of the territorial state, which was replacing the kinship structure of earlier times. The king ruled with the assistance of the witenagemot, a council of wise men who participated in the issuing of dooms and oversaw the selection of kings. About 40 shires (counties) were created out of former kingdoms or from significant military or administrative units. Each had a shiremoot, or court, consisting of all free males and meeting twice a year, at first presided over by a royal official called an alderman (later an earl) and then by a shire reeve, or sheriff. Smaller administrative, tax, and military units, called hundreds, had courts roughly parallel to the older folk moots, which met every four weeks, handling most of the ordinary judicial business. England had the most advanced government in western Europe, especially at the local level and in the office of sheriff, the key link between the king and local administration. After 991 this government proved capable of collecting the Danegeld, a tax on land, initially used as tribute to the Danes but later as an ordinary source of royal revenue. No other country in western Europe had the ability to assess and collect such a tax.

The End of Anglo-Saxon Rule

A new round of Danish invasions came in the reign of Ethelred II. Often called the Redeless (meaning “unready,” or “without counsel” or “unwise”), the Danegeld was his idea, as was the attempt to kill all the Danes from previous invasions, who were by this time becoming assimilated. In 1014 he was driven from the throne by King Sweyn I of Denmark, only to return a few months later when Sweyn died. When Ethelred died in 1016, Sweyn’s son Canute II won out over Edmund II, called Ironside, the son of Ethelred. Under Canute, England was part of an empire that also included Denmark and Norway.

Following the short and unpopular reigns of Canute’s sons, Harold I (Harefoot) and Hardecanute, Edward the Confessor, another son of Ethelred, was recalled from Normandy (Normandie), where he had lived in exile. Edward’s reign is noted for its dominance by the powerful earls of Wessex—Godwin, and then his son, Harold (subsequently Harold II)—and for the first influx of Norman-French influence. Edward was most interested in the building of Westminster Abbey, which was completed just in time for his burial in January 1066.

Edward’s death without an heir left the succession in doubt. The witenagemot chose Harold, earl of Wessex, although his only claim to the throne was his availability. Other aspirants were King Harold III (the Hard Ruler) of Norway and Duke William of Normandy. Harold II defeated the former at Stamford Bridge on September 25, 1066, but lost to William at Hastings on October 14. William was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day.

England Under the Norman and Plantagenet Kings

The year 1066 was a turning point in English history. William I, the Conqueror, and his sons gave England vigorous new leadership. Norman feudalism became the basis for redistributing the land among the conquerors, giving England a new French aristocracy and a new social and political structure. England turned away from Scandinavia toward France, an orientation that was to last for 400 years.

William was a hard ruler, punishing England, especially the north, when it disputed his authority. His power and efficiency can be seen in the Domesday Survey, a census for tax purposes, and in the Salisbury Oath of allegiance, which he demanded of all tenants. He appointed Lanfranc, an Italian clergyman, as archbishop of Canterbury. He also promoted church reform, especially by the creation of separate church courts, but retained royal control.

When William died in 1087, he gave England to his second son, William II (Rufus), and Normandy to his eldest son, Robert. Henry, his third son, in due time got both—England in 1100, when William II died in a hunting accident, and Normandy in 1106 by conquest. Henry I used his feudal court and household to organize the government. The exchequer (the royal treasury) was established at this time.

Henry wanted his daughter, Matilda, to succeed him, but in 1135 his nephew, Stephen of Blois, seized the throne. The years from 1135 to 1154 were marked by civil war and strife. The royal government Henry had built fell apart, and the feudal barons asserted their independence. The church, playing one side against the other, extended its authority.

Henry II

Matilda’s son, Henry Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, succeeded, as Henry II, in 1154 (see Plantagenet). The Angevins, especially Henry II and his sons, Richard and John, expanded royal authority. Henry ended the anarchy of Stephen’s reign, banishing mercenaries and destroying private castles. He strengthened the government created by Henry I. Most important, he developed the common law, administered by royal courts and applicable to all of England. It encroached on the feudal courts’ jurisdiction over land and created the grand jury. Its success demonstrated its efficiency and the growing power of the king.

Henry attempted to reduce the jurisdiction of church courts, especially over clergy accused of crimes, but was opposed by Saint Thomas à Becket, his former chancellor, whom he had made archbishop of Canterbury. His anger at Becket’s intransigence led ultimately to Becket’s martyrdom in 1170.

Henry’s empire included more than half of France and lordship over Ireland and Scotland. His skill at governing, however, did not include the ability to placate his sons, who rebelled against him several times, backed by the kings of France and by their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Richard and John

Richard I, the Lion-Hearted, was in England only briefly. He was busy fighting in the Crusades and later for the land lost in France during his absence, especially while he was a captive in Germany. Even during Richard’s absence, however, the government built by Henry II continued to function, collecting taxes to support his wars and to pay his ransom.

John, who inherited the resentment against Angevin rule aroused by his father and brother, added to his troubles by his own excesses. In 1204 he lost Normandy. In 1213, after a long fight with Pope Innocent III over the naming of Stephen Langton as archbishop of Canterbury, John capitulated and acknowledged England to be a papal fief. All this precipitated a quarrel with his barons over his general highhandedness and their refusal to follow him into war in Normandy. The barons, led by Langton, forced John in 1215 to accept the Magna Carta, or Great Charter, by which he admitted his errors and promised to respect English law and feudal custom. He died the next year, still at war with the barons. Although the loss of Normandy seemed a disgrace at the time, it left England free to develop its unique institutions without outside interference.

Economic Prosperity and Baronial Revolt

When John died in 1216, the barons accepted his nine-year-old son as King Henry III. They assumed control of the government and confirmed the Magna Carta in 1225, as did Henry when he came of age two years later. Thus began the tradition of royal confirmation of the Magna Carta and the idea that it was the fundamental statement of English law and of limited government.

England prospered in the 12th and 13th centuries. Land under cultivation increased; sheep raising and the sale of wool became extremely important. London and other towns became vital centers of trade and wealth, and by royal charters they acquired the right to local self-government. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge were established. The population probably doubled from about 1.5 million to more than 3 million.

The monasteries, especially those of the Cistercians, led the rural expansion and became wealthy in the process. More than a dozen cathedrals were built, as well as scores of abbeys and parish churches, all attesting to the wealth of England and of its church. In the 1220s the friars, Franciscans and Dominicans, arrived in England, improving the quality of preaching and becoming the leading scholars in the universities.

Henry III was not an able king, however. He quarreled with the barons, who thought that they, rather than his favorites, should have the major offices. In 1258 the Provisions of Oxford attempted to give control of the government to a committee of barons. Civil war broke out in 1264, and the baronial leader Simon de Montfort came briefly to power. Montfort, however, was killed in the Battle of Evesham in 1265, and power returned to Henry and his able son, Edward.

Reforms and the English Parliament

Edward I restored royal control and made several reforms: He limited the barons’ right to hold their own courts of law; he curtailed the vassals’ right to dispose of land to the detriment of their feudal lords; and he gave English common law the direction it was to take for centuries to come. Most important, he used and developed Parliament, which was essentially the king’s feudal council with a new name and an enlarged membership. The Model Parliament of 1295, following Montfort’s pattern of 1265, consisted of great barons, bishops, abbots, and representatives of counties and towns. In 1297, to get money for his wars, Edward accepted the Confirmation of Charters, agreeing that taxes must have the common assent of the whole realm. This was soon taken to mean assent in Parliament. In the following century, Parliament divided into two houses, Lords and Commons, and made good its claim to control taxation and to participate in the making of statutes.

Edward conquered northwest Wales, ending the rule of its native princes. He built stone castles, adopted the Welsh longbow as an English weapon, and named his oldest son the Prince of Wales. He intervened in Scottish affairs, even claiming the Scottish throne. Having fought the Scots often but with little effect, Edward died in 1307 without having subdued the northern kingdom. His son, Edward II, gave up the campaign. In 1314, at the Battle of Bannockburn, King Robert Bruce made good Scotland’s claim to independence. One cost of the war was the long-lasting enmity of Scotland, backed by its alliance with France.

The 14th Century

Edward II was a weak king, partly influenced by favorites and partly dominated by the ordinances of 1311 that gave the barons the ruling power. Although he freed himself of baronial rule in 1322, he was forced to abdicate in 1327. His son, Edward III, got on well with the barons by keeping them busy in France, where England continued to hold extensive territory. In 1337 he initiated the Hundred Years’ War to vindicate his claim to the French throne. The English had some initial success at Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356), where they used the English longbow with deadly effect against the French. By 1396, however, England had lost all its previous gains. The expense of the war repeatedly forced Edward to go to Parliament for taxes, enabling it to bargain for concessions and to establish its rights and privileges.

The Black Death struck England in 1349, reducing the population by as much as a third (see Plague). The Statute of Laborers (1351) tried to freeze wages and prevent serfs and workers from taking advantage of the resulting labor shortage. The Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 reflected the continuing unrest (see Tyler’s Rebellion). It was a time of economic and social change—manorial service was being commuted to cash payments, and serfdom was on the way to its demise in the following century.

The move of the popes from Rome to Avignon in France (1309-1376) and the Great Schism (1378-1417), in which rival popes opposed one another, caused a loss of English respect for the papacy. Statutes of Provisors (1351, 1390) limited the pope’s ability to appoint to church offices in England, and the Statutes of Praemunire (1353, 1393) prevented church courts from enforcing such appointments. John Wycliffe, an Oxford professor, criticized corruption in the church and had ideas similar to those of the later Protestant reformers. In 1382 he was removed by an ecclesiastical court to the country parish at Lutterworth, and his ideas were declared heretical. His followers, the Lollards, were persecuted but not stamped out.

Richard II, the grandson of Edward III, began his reign when he was ten years old, with rival factions fighting for control of his government. As an adult he governed moderately until 1397, when he became involved in a struggle with the leading nobles. In 1399 his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, forced him to abdicate and became king in his place as Henry IV.

The Lancastrian and Yorkist Kings

Since 1216 the royal succession had always gone to the king’s eldest son. By this rule, Henry IV, the son of John of Gaunt, Edward III’s fourth son, had no claim to the throne. The rightful heir was Edmund, earl of March, who was descended from Edward’s third son. Because of the irregularity, Henry and his Lancastrian successors were not secure in their claim to the throne. This weakness was manifest in his concessions to Parliament and to the church as well as in his wars with powerful and rebellious families in Wales and the north.

Henry V, who succeeded his father, had one ambition: to duplicate Edward III’s military exploits in France. He won a brilliant victory at Agincourt in 1415 and had his success confirmed in the Treaty of Troyes (1420). He married the daughter of the mad French king, Charles VI, assumed control of the French government, although not the entire country, and could expect a son of this marriage to inherit both kingdoms.

In 1422 both Henry and Charles VI died, bringing the nine-month-old Henry VI to the throne of both countries. For a time, Henry’s able uncles, John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford, and Humphrey of Gloucester held things together, the former in France, the latter in England. In 1429, however, Joan of Arc appeared, inspiring French resistance to English rule. Although Joan was captured and burned as a heretic in 1431, the English position in France became increasingly precarious.

The Wars of the Roses

Henry VI was not capable of ruling; during his reign, control of the kingdom passed from one noble faction to another. The war in France only emphasized Henry’s inability at home. The loss of Normandy in 1450 and the corruption of the government incited an abortive popular rebellion, led by Jack Cade. The loss of everything in France, except Calais, in 1453, was a prelude to the dynastic conflict called the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485).

The wars were fought between two branches of the royal family, the Lancastrians, who in the person of Henry VI possessed the throne but lacked the ability to rule, and the Yorkists, led by Richard, Duke of York, who had a valid claim to the throne and greater ability. The issue was complicated in 1453, when the king’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, gave birth to a son, destroying Richard’s status as heir apparent.

The turning point in the wars came in 1460. That year Richard was killed in battle, and his cause was taken up by his son, Edward. Assisted by Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, he defeated the Lancastrians in 1461, took Henry captive, and so overawed Parliament that it acclaimed him king as Edward IV. Henry, however, escaped, and Edward’s subsequent marriage (1464) to Elizabeth Woodville and his alliance with Burgundy alienated Warwick, who then joined forces with Margaret of Anjou to depose Edward and restore Henry to the throne (1470). Edward returned the following year, supported by his brother-in-law, Charles the Bold of Burgundy, and decisively defeated the Lancastrians. Thereafter, he was secure on the throne and restored some degree of sound government. When Edward died in 1483, the throne went to his 12-year-old son, Edward V, but it was usurped three months later by the boy’s uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who became king as Richard III. Two years later, Henry Tudor, asserting a weak Lancastrian claim, defeated Richard at Bosworth and became Henry VII.

England in the 15th Century

The 15th century was a time of trouble and change. The country was ravaged by war and plague, and the population did not begin to increase again until near the end of the century. The weakness of the royal government allowed a breakdown of law and order. Feudal barons with their retainers became powerful unto themselves, a condition often called bastard feudalism. The once great export of wool declined sharply but was gradually replaced by woolen cloth, the product of a new cottage industry. Landlords exploited the demand for wool by enclosing land and raising more sheep, disrupting the age-old economy of the countryside but laying the foundation for growth (see Enclosure). All that England needed was a king who could restore efficiency to the royal government and bring law and order to the countryside. Henry VII in 1485 appointed himself to do just that. Seldom have a man and his mission been more happily matched.

Tudor and Stuart England

Henry VII possessed only his ability and the ancient name and audacity of his Welsh ancestors. His grandfather had married the widow of Henry V, and his father had married Margaret Beaufort, who was descended illegitimately from Edward III. Henry’s only claim to the throne was his victory at Bosworth and his subsequent success. The pragmatic Tudors gave England the government it wanted; with the exception of Mary I, they seldom tried to lead where their subjects were not ready to follow.

Henry got rid of his Yorkist rivals, including some impostors. He married Elizabeth, Edward IV’s daughter, and soon had a nursery full of babies, the only Tudor so blessed. He gained recognition abroad, from Spain in 1489 by the Treaty of Medina del Campo, and then from France, the Netherlands, and Scotland. He restored strong, efficient government, such as England had once enjoyed but lacked for many years. He promoted English trade, which he could tax, avoided foreign wars, and saved money. He became rich and powerful, commanding England’s respect if not its love.

Henry VIII

Ambitious and bold, Henry VIII was a vivid contrast to his careful, workaday father. Humanist scholars praised him; one of them, Thomas More, served in his government. In 1513 Henry won the Battle of the Spurs in France and beat the Scots at Flodden (see Flodden Field). He exhausted his inherited wealth, but won fame and discovered the talents of Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, who as chancellor and archbishop of York dominated the years 1514 to 1529. The blight on Henry’s reign was his desire for a male heir. Although his wife, Catherine of Aragón, was pregnant multiple times, only one child—later Queen Mary I—survived infancy. Wanting a son, and smitten by Anne Boleyn, Henry appealed to the pope for a divorce. When the all-capable Wolsey could not obtain it, Henry dismissed him and summoned the Reformation Parliament. The result was the Church of England, with Henry as supreme head, separate from Rome but otherwise Catholic.

Anne Boleyn, whom Henry was now free to marry (1533), gave birth not to a son but to another daughter, Elizabeth. Anne soon lost the king’s favor and was beheaded for alleged adultery. Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, died giving birth to Edward, his only surviving son. Three later wives, one of whom he divorced and another of whom was beheaded, had no children.

Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s second administrative genius, oversaw the revolutionary changes of the 1530s. These included the break with Rome and dissolution of the monasteries, the new growth of Parliament, especially the House of Commons, and the creation out of the old King’s Council of a new bureaucratic structure, including the Privy Council and the prerogative courts, which were controlled by the Crown. See also Star Chamber, Court of.

Henry’s Heirs

Under Edward VI, a minor dominated successively by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, the English church became Protestant. Parliament’s Acts of Uniformity enforced the Book of Common Prayer. When Edward died at the age of 16, Northumberland tried but failed to save Protestantism and himself by preventing the succession of the king’s half-sister, Mary.

Mary I, the daughter of Catherine of Aragón, restored the Roman Catholic church and married her cousin, Philip II of Spain. Her burning of almost 300 Protestants made the people hate her and Rome, however, and her marriage led to war with France and the loss of Calais. When Bloody Mary, as she was known, died in November 1558, England rejoiced in the accession of her half-sister, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth I, one of England’s greatest sovereigns, had her grandfather’s frugality and care and her father’s imperious manner and his ability to charm and overwhelm. She had a sense of what people wanted and would allow, and she had the judgment to pick able and devoted ministers.

Cooperating with Parliament, she settled the church in 1559 on a moderate course. She neutralized the Scottish threat by helping the Protestant and pro-English faction to win dominance there. She assisted the Protestant rebels in the Spanish Netherlands and encouraged English sailors to raid Spanish ships on the high seas. Her navy defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 and prevented the invasion of England. Ireland, increasingly rebellious and vulnerable as a possible point of foreign attack, was finally completely conquered in 1603. Elizabeth presided over England’s rise to glory abroad and to prosperity and literary achievement at home, justifiably giving her name to England’s golden age.

The Early Stuarts

The accession of James I, the son of Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, united the crowns of England and Scotland. It also began a century of domestic conflict, due in part to the personalities of the Stuart kings, but more to the problems inherited from the previous reign. The Puritans, or extreme Protestants, who had already been restive under Elizabeth, grew increasingly dissatisfied with the Church of England, which they felt was still too Catholic. Religious unrest reached its height when anti-Puritan William Laud became archbishop of Canterbury in the 1630s. The Gunpowder Plot, a Roman Catholic conspiracy to blow up Parliament in 1605, confirmed English fear of Rome.

The major conflict was between king and Parliament—that is, between James’s idea, passed on to his son, Charles I, of monarchy by divine right, and Parliament’s insistence on its own independent rights. Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke, after being dismissed by James for advocating an independent judiciary, backed Parliament’s assertion of its right to impeach the king’s ministers (1621) and helped produce the Petition of Right in 1628. The petition, like the Magna Carta, forced Charles I to admit limitations on his authority.

Charles attempted to rule without Parliament from 1629 to 1640. His efforts to obtain money without the aid of Parliament by all kinds of extraordinary levies became notorious. The measures by Laud and the Court of Star Chamber to restrain the Puritan press and pulpit, and the prosecution of Puritan leaders in 1637, led to an outcry against prerogative courts. Charles’s attempts in 1637 to impose English-style worship in Scotland led to a rebellion, which in turn forced Charles to summon Parliament in 1640.

The English Revolution

This Parliament, known as the Long Parliament, used the crisis to get control of the government. It released political prisoners, and it arrested and executed Archbishop Laud and Sir Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, who were blamed for the king’s policies. It abolished the prerogative courts, limited the king’s ability to tax, and established the rule that Parliament should meet every three years.

Civil War

On other measures, however, such as the Root and Branch Bill, which proposed abolishing bishops in the church, Parliament was hopelessly split. The division was further exacerbated by Charles’s attempt to arrest some members of Parliament whom he accused of conspiracy. Failing that, the king withdrew with his supporters, the Cavaliers. The Puritan remainder of Parliament, called Roundheads, then issued a call to arms, and Charles gathered his forces as well. Civil war was inevitable; its first battle was fought at Edgehill in October 1642.

The Roundheads eventually won the war, in part because the Solemn League and Covenant brought help from Scotland, but more because of the military leadership of Oliver Cromwell, who created the Ironsides cavalry regiment and then the New Model Army. The strife produced a wealth of political ideas, the most famous being those of the radical, democratic Levellers, but discussion brought no settlement. Charles, who had surrendered to the Scots in 1646 and been turned over to the Roundheads in 1647, escaped in the confusion, made a deal with the Scots, and began the second civil war in 1648. Cromwell and the New Model Army won again and then purged Parliament of all but a “Rump” of members conformable to army control. The Rump brought the king to trial and executed him on January 30, 1649. It abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords and declared England a commonwealth. See also Covenanters; English Revolution; Rump Parliament.

The Cromwellian Regime

The problem of settling the government on a permanent basis was never solved. The new Council of State had to depend on the force of the army and the scant legitimacy of the Rump Parliament. Cromwell was the dominant individual. From 1649 to 1651 he subdued Ireland and Scotland and brought them into the Commonwealth. In 1653 he dissolved the Rump, tired of its attempts to perpetuate itself. After the experiment of the nominated Barebone’s Parliament failed, Cromwell in December 1653 accepted the Instrument of Government, England’s only attempt at a written constitution. The protectorate, which it created, was governed by a House of Commons and Cromwell as Lord Protector. Parliament challenged the restrictions of the Instrument and then proposed the so-called Humble Petition and Advice to amend it. Cromwell accepted a second house of Parliament and the right to name his successor, but refused the title of king.

After a Royalist uprising in 1655, Cromwell divided England into 11 military districts commanded by major generals. This, more than anything except the killing of Charles, turned people against Cromwell and taught them to hate Puritans and standing armies.

Cromwell pursued an active foreign policy. The Navigation Act of 1651 provoked the Dutch War of 1652 to 1654, from which England gained some success. Jamaica was taken from Spain in 1655. Allied with France, England in 1658 won the Battle of the Dunes and took Dunkerque in France. Not since Elizabeth’s reign had English ships and arms been so successful and so respected.

The protectorate collapsed after Cromwell died in September 1658, and his son, Richard, was unable to gain the respect of the army. In the ensuing confusion, General George Monck, the commander in Scotland, marched to London, recalled the Long Parliament, and set in motion the return of the dead king’s eldest son from exile.

The Restoration

England welcomed Charles II home in May 1660 and attempted to restore things to what they had been in 1642. Only a dozen men were executed for their role in the execution of Charles I. Both the people and Charles had learned the value of moderation, but the issue of sovereignty remained to be resolved.

Parliament restored bishops to the church and expelled Dissenters (Protestants who did not conform to the Church of England), restricting their worship and political activity. In 1673 the Test Act removed Roman Catholics from the royal government. The Popish Plot of 1678 and the move to exclude James, the king’s Roman Catholic brother, from the succession revealed the political parties then forming. The Whigs, favoring Parliament and hating “popery,” urged exclusion; the Tories, favoring the kings and the Anglican church, opposed it. When emotions cooled, Charles regained control and ruled without Parliament. He died in 1685, passing the throne to James.

The Restoration was a reaction against Puritanism—in behavior, literature, and drama—yet Paradise Lost, written by John Milton, was published in 1667 and Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, was published from 1678 to 1684. In 1662 Charles chartered the Royal Society, to promote the study of natural science. In 1665 the last outbreak of bubonic plague occurred. After London burned in 1666, Christopher Wren rebuilt it in beauty and grandeur.

The Glorious Revolution

James II soon lost the goodwill he had inherited. He was too harsh in his suppression of a revolt by James Scott, Duke of Monmouth (an illegitimate son of Charles), in 1685; he created a standing army; and he put Roman Catholics in the government, army, and university. In 1688 his Declaration of Indulgence, allowing Dissenters and Catholics to worship freely, and the birth of a son, which set up a Roman Catholic succession, prompted James’s opponents to invite William of Orange, a Protestant and stadtholder of the Netherlands and husband of the king’s elder daughter, Mary, to come to safeguard Mary’s inheritance. When William landed, James fled, his army having deserted to William.

William was given temporary control of the government. Parliament in 1689 gave him and Mary the crown jointly, provided that they affirm the Bill of Rights listing and condemning the abuses of James. A Toleration Act gave freedom of worship to Protestant dissenters. This revolution was called the Glorious Revolution because, unlike that of 1640 to 1660, it was bloodless and successful: Parliament was sovereign and England prosperous. It was a victory of Whig principles and Tory pragmatism. John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1690) provided an attractive theoretical justification for it.

Those who would not swear allegiance to the new monarchs were called nonjurors or Jacobites—Jacobus being Latin for James. The Jacobites were most numerous among the Roman Catholics in the Scottish Highlands and in Ireland. Both areas were subdued, but at a cost of the Massacre of Glencoe in Scotland and the Battle of the Boyne (see Boyne, Battle of the) and greater repression of Roman Catholics in Ireland.

The Last of the Stuarts

With William, England also got William’s war with France, the War of the League of Augsburg (1689-1697), and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). William spent his entire life fighting the territorial ambitions of France’s Louis XIV. The first war accomplished little save Louis’s recognition of William as William III, King of England. In the second war, the victory of John Churchill (later Duke of Marlborough) at Blenheim in 1704 showed that England was once again a force to be reckoned with in European affairs. See Blenheim, Battle of.

The wars also demonstrated the wealth that England now had at its disposal and the willingness of the English to levy taxes on themselves in Parliament. In 1693 England created a permanent national debt and in 1694 chartered the Bank of England. These and the developing stock exchange were the basis of London’s growing financial position in Britain and in the world.

The Two Treatises of John Locke and his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), based on empiricism and common sense, and the Principia of Isaac Newton (1687), integrating the laws of motion with the idea of universal gravitation, gave England a commanding place in the world of thought. This, matched with its wealth and military success, showed that England had not destroyed itself in the internal quarrels of the previous century, but had in fact put its house in order and created the basis of ideas and power by which it would dominate the modern world.

Union with Scotland

Before James II’s younger daughter, Anne, came to the throne in 1702, her many children had all died. To prevent a return of the Roman Catholic Stuarts, Parliament in 1701 passed the Act of Settlement, providing that the throne should go next to the Protestant Electress Sophia of Hannover, the granddaughter of James I, and to her descendants. Scotland, angry at its exclusion from trade with the English Empire, hesitated to duplicate the act, as it had the Bill of Rights in 1689. The only solution was to combine the two kingdoms, which was done by the Act of Union of 1707, creating the kingdom of Great Britain. See Act of Union; Settlement, Act of.

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