The term "Great Britain", by contrast, refers conventionally to the island of Great Britain, or politically to England, Scotland and Wales in combination. The term has no definite legal connotation, but is used in law to refer to United Kingdom citizenship and matters to do with nationality. History of the British Isles Background Main articles: History of England , History of Wales , History of Scotland , History of Ireland , and History of the formation of the United Kingdom The stones of Stonehenge , in Wiltshire , were erected between and BC Settlement by anatomically modern humans of what was to become the United Kingdom occurred in waves beginning by about 30, years ago.
Following the Declaration of Arbroath , Scotland maintained its independence, albeit in near-constant conflict with England. The English monarchs, through inheritance of substantial territories in France and claims to the French crown, were also heavily involved in conflicts in France, most notably the Hundred Years War , while the Kings of Scots were in an alliance with the French during this period.
Settled in , the town is the oldest continuously-inhabited English town in the New World. Although the monarchy was restored , the Interregnum ensured along with the Glorious Revolution of and the subsequent Bill of Rights , and the Claim of Right Act that, unlike much of the rest of Europe, royal absolutism would not prevail, and a professed Catholic could never accede to the throne.
The British constitution would develop on the basis of constitutional monarchy and the parliamentary system. During this period, particularly in England, the development of naval power and the interest in voyages of discovery led to the acquisition and settlement of overseas colonies , particularly in North America. History of the United Kingdom The Treaty of Union led to a single united kingdom encompassing all Great Britain On 1 May , the united Kingdom of Great Britain came into being, the result of Acts of Union being passed by the parliaments of England and Scotland to ratify the Treaty of Union and so unite the two kingdoms.
The Jacobites were finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden in , after which the Scottish Highlanders were brutally suppressed. British imperial ambition turned towards Asia, particularly to India.
British ships transported an estimated two million slaves from Africa to the West Indies. Parliament banned the trade in , banned slavery in the British Empire in , and Britain took a leading role in the movement to abolish slavery worldwide through the blockade of Africa and pressing other nations to end their trade with a series of treaties.
The world's oldest international human rights organisation, Anti-Slavery International , was formed in London in Gradually political power shifted away from the old Tory and Whig landowning classes towards the new industrialists.
An alliance of merchants and industrialists with the Whigs would lead to a new party, the Liberals , with an ideology of free trade and laissez-faire. In Parliament passed the Great Reform Act , which began the transfer of political power from the aristocracy to the middle classes. In the countryside, enclosure of the land was driving small farmers out. Towns and cities began to swell with a new urban working class. Few ordinary workers had the vote, and they created their own organisations in the form of trade unions.
Alongside the formal control it exerted over its own colonies, British dominance of much of world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many regions , such as Asia and Latin America. During the century, the population increased at a dramatic rate, accompanied by rapid urbanisation, causing significant social and economic stresses. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand became self-governing dominions.
The Labour Party emerged from an alliance of trade unions and small socialist groups in , and suffragettes campaigned for women's right to vote before After the war, Britain received the League of Nations mandate over a number of former German and Ottoman colonies.
The British Empire reached its greatest extent, covering a fifth of the world's land surface and a quarter of its population. Anglo-Irish Treaty The rise of Irish nationalism , and disputes within Ireland over the terms of Irish Home Rule , led eventually to the partition of the island in Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom.
Britain had still not recovered from the effects of the war when the Great Depression — occurred. This led to considerable unemployment and hardship in the old industrial areas, as well as political and social unrest in the s, with rising membership in communist and socialist parties.
A coalition government was formed in Winston Churchill became prime minister and head of a coalition government in Despite the defeat of its European allies in the first year of the war, Britain and its Empire continued the fight alone against Germany. Urban areas suffered heavy bombing during the Blitz. There were also eventual hard-fought victories in the Battle of the Atlantic , the North Africa campaign and the Burma campaign. British forces played an important role in the Normandy landings of , achieved with its United States ally.
Since the Second World War Main articles: Independence was granted to India and Pakistan in Many became members of the Commonwealth of Nations. The international spread of the English language ensured the continuing international influence of its literature and culture.
In the following decades, the UK became a more multi-ethnic society than before. Leaders of member states of the European Union in The Treaty of Lisbon was signed in , which forms the constitutional basis of the European Union since then. From the late s, Northern Ireland suffered communal and paramilitary violence sometimes affecting other parts of the UK conventionally known as the Troubles.
It is usually considered to have ended with the Belfast "Good Friday" Agreement of