The British Isles have a rich history going back thousands of years. Unfortunately few of us in Britain really know much about our history. Retrospectively I think there must have been something radically flawed with history as it is taught in out schools as our history is fascinating.
For this history guide, we shall divide the period of British history into four main chunks, and each of these four main chunks then subdivided into bite sized chapters that try to explain tthe way that things happened.
History is an interweaving of events and people, and its not just about kings and queens, its about ordinary people and how events influenced them, and on occasions how they influenced events.
Also one has to realise that Britain is not one nation, but a hedge podge of different peoples who tend to remain distinct in spite of a millenium or more of intermarriage. I have therefore put in separate chapters on Ireland, Scotland and Wales, each wwith its own history.
The First World War 1914 to 1918
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro Hungarian throne, was assassinated in Bosnia. Within weeks the whole of Europe was at war. The Austrians blamed the Serbs and declared war oon Serbia. Russia was allied to the Serbs, Germany to Austria, France top Russia and Britain to France. 750,000 Britons died in the next 4 years of trench warfare. This was the first war Britain had fought on European soil since Waterloo closer on a century before. German hopes of a quick victory by a rapid advance on Paris were dashed at the battle of the Marne in September 1914. The Germans dug in, the French & British dug in and the stalemate on the Western Front was about to begin.
Tens of thousands of men died as they were ordered vainly to attack well dug in enemy troops. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 11916, 19,000 British troops were killed in a day. And 400,000 Allies were killed or wounded at the Somme.
Stalemate continued at sea as well as on land. The battle of Jutland, the only major sea battle of the war, took place in the North Sea in 1916. The result was inconclusive
It was only in 1918 that the Allies, with the Americans now in the war, began to make advances. A better battle plan and the use of the nnew tanks gave the Allies the breakthrough that they had been seeking for years. Within three months the war was over
Altogether over 8 million soldiers on both sides had died. New weapons like the tank, poison gas, and the aircraft had entered wars. Cavalry were no longer used. Air raids and U-boat attacks on merchant ships brought war to the civilian population as well as to the combatants. However the war did not create a “land fit for heroes to live in“ as the war time prime minister had promised. Britain was to enter an era of social change, economic recession and large scale unemployment.
The working class became unionised, and labour relations deteriorated. The culmination was the General Strike in May 1926, when some 2 million key workers went on strike over plans to reduce wages and lengthen working hours. The General Strike itself failed, but it did make trades unionists realise that they could not lead British workers into a class war, b8ut that the process of winning at the ballot box would give them real power to change the country
In the 1930’s Britain was focused on the continuing high unemployment at home. Then there was the shock oof the abdication of Edward VIII who wished to marry an American divorcee in 1936.
Few saw the threat of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. Germany was re-arming at a frightening rate, but Britain had neither the inclination nor the money to follow Hitler’s increased spending on armaments.
Eventually Hitler’s expansion went too far. The German invasion of Poland led Britain by treaty to declare war on Germany. In 1939 World War II started.
The British Army in Europe soon lost to the Germans, who quickly conquered most of continental Europe. After the evacuation of the British troops from Dunkirk in France back to England in 1940, Britain stood alone against Hitler. Germany tried to conquer Britain by first gaining air supremacy. However the Germans lost the Battle of Britain, the first battle to be fought solely in the air.
Hitler then tried bombing Britain into submission, but failed thee to. Further afield the British 8th Army was on the retreat in North Africa, and Britain had lost to the Japanese in the Far East, with Singapore and Malaya falling the Japs were at the gates of India. At sea German U-Boats had sunk nearly 8 million tons of allied ships iin 1942.
With the eventual American entry into the war, following Pearl Harbour, Britain gained vital reinforcements in men and supplies. The German and Japanese supply lines were at full stretch, and eventually a string of victories forced the enemy to retreat. Victory at Alamein led eventually to the Germans being driven from North Africa, and the invasion
The planned invasion of France by the allies took place in June 1944, fighting their way out from the bridgehead beaches was a bloody affair, but eventually they did, and within a year World War II was over, and Europe lay in ruins.
Britain loses an Empire and seeks a new role in the world
The twentith century has seen Britain fight two world wars at considerable human and crippling economic cost. It has seen also the largely peaceful dismantling of the British Empire. The result has been that Britain has struggled to come to terms with its new place in the world order. It has been, and still is, unclear as to whether her role would be in a united Europe, or as a separate state on the perifery of Europe.
On the social front votes came to women in the late 1920s
and to all people over 18 in the 1980s. Like many countries we played with socialism – nationalised railways, coal mines, telephones, health, etc. And have now led the way in dismantling state control, though we still do have a National Health Service (just).
British History from Cromwell to the First World War in 1914
This period cover the restoration of the monarchy – Charles II, James II , William III and Anne. With the succession of the German House of HHanover, parliamentary rule became properly established. The basis of our modern political parties came into being with the Whigs and the Tories.
Britain prospered, with the creation of her Empire (though the American Colonies were lost). The industrial revolution brought about a more urban society.
Little money had to be spent on debilitating wars, until Europe slid into World War I.
JOHNSON’S LONDON HOUSE REOPENED
A RECENTLY renovated 18th-century London house, which was once the residence of Dr Samuel JJohnson – a literary phenomenon and lexicographer – has been reopened to the public. For years visitors have flocked there from many parts of the world to enjoy the environment in which he produced the formidable Dictionary of the English LLanguage which laid the foundations for modern methods of lexicography. For the visitor, 17 Gough Square – near Fleet Street and St Paul’s Cathedral – is a time-warp, the outcome of a determination by today’s Johnson House trustees to recreate the contemporary atmosphere as faithfully as possible.
ARTFUL EMPTY ROOM WINS TURNER PRIZE
MINIMALIST artist Martin Creed has won the United Kingdom’s leading art award, the Turner Prize. The win provided another talking point this year because the director of the Tate Britain art gallery, Sir Nicholas Serota, and the judges did not fight shy of the avant-garde. Creed won for his display of an empty gallery space with lights switching on and off every few seconds. In a ceremony which linked tthe worlds of art, music and fashion, emphasising the UK’s increasing cultural significance, Creed was presented with his 20,000 pounds award by global music icon Madonna (both pictured) who lives in London.
THE „OLD SCHOOL NETWORK“ IS OFFICALLY DEAD
LATEST research from Barclays looks at the factors that contribute to the strongest business relationships. The findings show that the „old school network“ is officially dead with just one per cent of business people saying that attending the same school or university helps tto make their business relationship work. Instead, the keys to a successful business relationship are seen as openness and honesty, with almost half (47 per cent) of the respondents mentioning these factors as important. Regular communication, efficiency and reliability also feature highly on the list of favoured attributes of a business relationship, but less than a third (28 per cent) felt that it was important to like their business contacts. The business relationship research shows that different behaviours and attitudes are clearly identified with the strongest and weakest relationships, and that certain relationship styles are more effective than others. The research has enabled Barclays to identify the most preferred type of business contact by analysing the behaviour and attitude in the strongest types of relationships.
BRITISH MEN LIVING LIFE OF „BEER AND CONVENIENCE“
A THIRD of men in the United Kingdom live on a diet of beer and fast food, a major investigation into the nation’s dietary habits has revealed. Researchers who broke diets down into several different groups found that „beer and convenience“ was the biggest category for men. Men in this group ate large quantities of ready-made meat products, fried potato chips and white bread, washed down with beer. They aavoided healthier choices such as wholegrain cereals and nuts, fish, low-fat dairy products, fruit juices and wines. Women were not much more health conscious, the scientists found. The most popular diet for them was the „traditional British diet“, high in refined cereals, sugars and dairy products. Although these women preferred tea to alcohol they also ate more chips, cakes and confectionery than vegetables, fruit and wholegrain cereals. The findings, from a team at University College London, were reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
MULTIMEDIA BLACK TAXI’S ON THE ROAD IN LONDON
Visitors to London who travel by black taxis will now be able to enjoy more than just the usual banter for which cabbies are so well known. A new computer-based, multimedia entertainment and information program will be vying for their attention during the journey as well. The in-taxi televisual system – claimed to be the first of its kind in the world – will allow passengers to browse through a selection of entertainment on a small flat-screen monitor fitted into the back of the driver’s seat. These features include a London guide highlighting tourist information, London history, sport, business, shopping and technology. After successful trials last year, Cabvision, aa media company which supplies airtime and sponsorship opportunities for advertisers on taxicabs, is installing the system in 100 of London’s familiar black taxis.
The British Government
The System of Government
Britain is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, as head of the State. The British constitution, unlike those of most countries, is not set out in a single document. Instead it is made up of a combination of laws and practices which are not legally enforceable, but which are regarded as vital to the working of government.
The stablility of the British government owes much to the monarchy. Its continuity has been interrupted only once (the republic of 1649-60) in over a thousand years.
Today the Queen is not only the head of State, but also an important symbol of national unity. Her complete official royal title is ‘Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith’, but she is usually referred to as Her Royal Highness or Queen Elizabeth.
According to the law the Queen is head
of the executive branch of the government, an integral part of the legislature, head of the judiciary, the commander-in-chief of all the armed forces of the Crown and the ‘supreme governor’ of the established Church of England. While that sounds like a lot of responsibility, the real power of the monarchy has been steadily reduced over the years to the point where the Queen is uninvolved in the day-to-day operation of the government. She is impartial and acts only on tthe advice of her ministers.
The Queen, the Queen Mother, Prince Charles and the other members of the royal family take part in traditional ceremonies, visit different parts of Britain and many other countries and are closely involved in the work of many charities.
Parliament, Britain’s legislature, is made up of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Queen in her constitutional role.
The Commons has 651 elected Members of Parliament (MPs), who represent local constituencies. The HHouse of Lords is made up of 1,185 hereditary and life peers and peeresses, and the two archbishops and the 24 most senior bishops of the established Church of England.
The center of parliamentary power is the House of Commons. LLimitations on the power of the Lords (it rarely uses it power to delay passage of most laws for a year) is based on the principle that the Lords, as a revising chamber, should complement the Commons and not rival it. Once passed through both Houses, legislation requires the Royal Assent to become law.
Parliament has a number of ways to exert control over the executive branch. Parliamentary committees question ministers and civil servants before preparing reports on matters of public policy and issues can be debated before decisions are reached. However, ultimate power rests in the ability of the House of Commons to force the government to resign by passing a resolution of ‘no confidence’. The government must also rresign if the House rejects a proposal so vital to its policy that it has made it a matter of confidence. The proceedings of both Houses of Parliament are broadcast on television and radio, sometimes live or more usually in recorded and edited form.
General elections to choose MPs must be held at least every five years. Voting, which is not compulsory, is by secret ballot and is from the age of 18. The simple majority system of voting is uused. Candidates are elected if they have more votes than any of the other candidates, although not necessarily an absolute majority over all candidates.
Political Party System
The political party system is essential to the working of the constitution. Although the parties are not registered or formally recognized in law, most candidates for election belong to one of the main parties. Since 1945 eight general elections have been won by the Conservative Party and six by the Labour Party. A number of smaller parties have national and local organizations outside Parliament, and are also represented in local government.
The Government is formed by the party with majority support in the Commons. The Queen appoints its leader as Prime Minister. As head of the Government the Prime Minister appoints about 100 ministers. About 20 ministers make up the Cabinet, the senior group making the major policy decisions. Ministers are collectively responsible for government decisions and individually responsible for their own departments. The second largest party forms the official Opposition, with its own leader and ‘shadow cabinet’. The Opposition has a duty to challenge government policies and to present an alternative program.
Policies are carried out by government departments and executive agencies staffed bby politically neutral civil servants. Over half the Civil Service, about 295,000 civil servants, work in over 75 executive agencies. Agencies perform many of the executive functions of the government, such as the payment of social security benefits and the issuing of passports and drivers’ licences. Agencies are headed by chief executives responsible for their performance and who enjoy considerable freedom on financial, pay and personnel matters.
Britain’s Legal System
England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have their own legal systems, with minor differences in law, organization and practice.
Law enforcement is carried out by 52 locally based police departments with about 160,000 police officers. The police are normally unarmed and there are strict limits to police powers of arrest and detention. Firearms must be licensed and their possession is regulated.
In British criminal trials the accused in presumed innocent until proven guilty. Trials are in open court and the accused is represented by a lawyer. Most cases are tried before lay justices sitting without a jury. The more serious cases are tried in the higher courts before a jury of 12 (15 in Scotland) which decides guilt or innocence.
The civil law of England, Wales and NNorthern Ireland covers business related to the family, property, contracts and torts (non-contractual wrongful acts suffered by one person at the hands of another). Actions brought to court are usually tried without a jury. Higher courts deal with more complicated civil cases. Most judgements are for sums of money, and the costs of an action are generally paid by the losing party.