United Kingdom Fact File
Official name United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Form of government Constitutional monarchy with two legislative houses (House of Lords and House of Commons)
Area 244,820 sq km (94,525 sq miles)
Time zone GMT
Projected population 2015 60,566,000
Population density 244.2 per sq km (632.4 per sq mile)
Life expectancy 78.0
Official language English
Other languages Welsh, Scots Gaelic, Manx, Cornish
Literacy rate 99c
Religions Anglican 63%, Roman Catholic 14°/ Presbyterian 4%, Methodist 3%, Muslim 3%, other 1 3 %
Ethnic groups English 81.5%, Scottish 9.6%, Irish 2.4%, Welsh 1.9%, Northern Irish 1.8%, other 2.8%
Currency Pound sterling
Economy Services 78%, industry 20%, agriculture 2%
GNP per capita US$ 25,300
Climate Temperate, with cool winters and mild summers; generally wetter and warmer in the west, and cooler in the north
Highest point Ben Nevis 1,343 m (4,406 ft)
Map reference Pages 302-03
Lying just north of the westernmost edge of continental Europe, the United Kingdom consists of the large island of Great Britain, the far northeast corner of the island of Ireland, which sits across the Irish Sea to the west, and several hundred small islands scattered around the British coast. The United Kingdom is separated by the English Channel from the north coast of France which, at its nearest point, is no more than 32 km (20 miles) away, and a rail tunnel under the Channel now links England and France. England, in the south and southwest, occupies the greatest part of the island. Scotland is to the north, and Wales in the west juts out into the Irish Sea. The long eastern coast of Great Britain faces the North Sea; its western coastline is on the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea.
History United KingdomUnited Kingdom Physical features and land use
Thanks partly to the natural protection offered by surrounding waters, but also to its maritime supremacy in certain periods of history and to a degree of good fortune in others, Britain is unique among major European nations in that it has escaped foreign invasion for almost 1,000 years. When William, Duke of Normandy led his successful invasion in 1066, it was the culmination of a long series of incursions that the island kingdom had suffered since the first invasion by the Romans in the first century ad.
Within 60 years of their arrival in Britain in ad 55, the Romans had established control over England and Wales and later introduced Christianity. When they finally withdrew at the beginning of the fifth century, the Britons eventually fell prey to Germanic tribes from Scandinavia and the Low Countries. By the eighth century most of Britain, except the far west and the north, had succumbed and the country was divided into a number of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
Viking attacks from Norway and Denmark occurred during the course of the eighth and ninth centuries, with Danish invaders controlling much of north and northeast England by the late ninth century. United under the kings of Wessex by the middle of the tenth century, England again fell to Danish control early in the eleventh century. When Edward the Confessor came to the throne in 1042, he presided over a unified, but fractious, kingdom. On his death in 1066 both his brother-in-law, Harold, and his cousin, William of Normandy, claimed the throne. William was victorious at the Battle of Hastings and was crowned on Christmas Day 1066.
The feudal system of government developed by William the Conqueror gave significant power to the nobles. Under Henry II, the first Plantagenet king, power became more centralized in the crown. This and increasing civil unrest during the reign of John, led to a revolt by nobles, who in 1215 forced the king to sign the Magna Carta, a document limiting royal power and enshrining basic civil rights. This in turn gave rise to the development of a more consultative style of government, and, by the late thirteenth century, to the establishment of a House of Commons with powers to raise taxes.
Bannockburn, the English were driven out of Scotland. Between 1338 and 1453, in a series of devastating wars known as the Hundred Years War, England lost all its French territories. This led to a further 30 years of civil war, known as the Wars of the Roses, which culminated in the accession to the throne of Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs, in 1485.
The Tudor dynasty lasted until 1603, and during this time, especially during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), England became a leading power in the world, enjoying a golden age in which colonies were established in North America, British navigators sailed to remote corners of the globe, and there was a notable flowering of English theater, first and foremost thanks to William Shakespeare. During the reign of Elizabeth's father, King Henry VIII, Protestantism, in the form of the Church of England, had been established in England.
When Elizabeth died without an heir, James VI of Scotland, the first Stuart king, succeeded her, combining the two kingdoms and reigning as James I of England. Attempts by his son, Charles I, to curb the powers of parliament led to the outbreak of civil war in 1642. With the victory of the parliamentary armies, led by Oliver Cromwell, in 1646, the monarchy was abolished and a commonwealth, virtually a military dictatorship, set up under Cromwell. The Commonwealth did not long survive the death of Cromwell and in 1660 Charles II was installed as king. When his brother, the Catholic James II, attempted to restore Catholic domination, however, he was ousted and his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her Dutch husband, William of Orange, accepted the crown in 1689. In the same year, parliament enacted legislation barring Catholics from the throne. In 1690, at the Battle of the Boyne, their armies defeated a Catholic uprising in Ireland. In 1707 an Act of Union between the Scottish and English parliaments formally joined the two countries. Scottish rebellions against British rule were finally put down in 1746, when Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) was defeated in the Battle of Culloden.
Under the Hanoverian monarchs, the first of whom, George I, accepted the throne in 1814 as King of Great Britain and Ireland, greater power devolved to the parliament. In 1721, Sir Hugh Walpole became the first prime
Scotney Castle in Kent, southeastern England (left page). A tile-hung house in a village in southern England (right). Ebbw Valley British Steel tinplate mill in the town of Ebbw Vale, south Wales (far right).
minister to head a ministry that exercised executive power with the sanction of parliament. The eighteenth century, too, was a period of great expansion of British power that saw the acquisitions of British colonies in India and Canada and the exploration and colonization of Australia. A major setback was the loss of the American colonies in 1776. The military defeat of Irish rebels in 1798 led to an Act of Union that formally joined the two countries, the UK and Ireland, in 1801. Defeat of Bonaparte at Waterloo in 1815 confirmed Britain as the world's leading power.
The nineteenth century was a time of further expansion and consolidation of Britain's influence and power. By the end of Queen Victoria's 64-year reign in 1901, Britain's colonies extended throughout much of the world, including large parts of Africa, although by then Australia, New Zealand, and Canada had gained their independence and demands for Irish independence were growing. During the century a number of Reform Bills brought in significant democratic reforms and the Industrial Revolution resulted in increasing industrialization, urban growth, and a slowly rising standard of living.
Three-quarters of a million British soldiers were killed during the First World War, which also left the country considerably weakened economically. This situation was exacerbated by the Great Depression. After a protracted and bitter struggle, Ireland, with the exception of the provinces of Northern Ireland, became independent in 1922 and British troops faced growing unrest in India and in parts of the Middle East. Following the Second World War, in which British cities, especially London, were subjected to sustained German bombardment from the air, Britain endured almost a decade of austerity.
India gained its independence in 1947, and in 1956 Britain suffered a humiliating defeat in its armed attempt to prevent Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal. In 1982 Britain was again at war, this time against Argentina, which attempted to seize the Falkland Islands. In a two-week conflict, Britain repulsed the Argentines with the loss of 255 British lives. In recent years bitter violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland has been a major preoccupation of British governments. Since 1995, however, there have been developments, including the intervention of the United States and the Belfast Treaty of 1998 that established partial autonomy for Northern Ireland, that augur well for a peaceful resolution of this conflict.
Britain, as a member of the European Union and a signatory of the Maastricht Treaty, is a significant force in Europe as it moves closer to political and economic integration. It is one of the world's most stable multi-party democracies in spite of ongoing debate about the role and viability of the monarchy and of its un-elected, and largely hereditary, upper house of parliament, the House of Lords, which is in the process of reform. Power resides in the House of Commons, which is elected by universal adult suffrage for terms of five years.
The United Kingdom has a considerable variety of landscapes, ranging from craggy mountain ranges and tranquil upland lakes in the north, to gently rolling hills and green plains that are characteristic of the south and southeast. The majority of the mountain ranges are very old, geologically speaking.
Scotland is the most mountainous part of the country. Mainland Scotland has three main regions: the Highlands in the north, the Southern Uplands near the border with England, and in between the flatter, though often hilly, failure causes Great Famine in Ireland; millions die or emigrate to England, USA, Canada, Australia
World War against Germany causes the loss of more than 900,000 British Empire lives rises to 3 million; some relief provided by economic progress in manufacturing industries election to Labour Party's Attlee who begins a program of reconstruction, reform, and nationalization to join the EC; membership not achieved until 1973; sterling devalued