Today's British state is the latest of several unions formed over the last 1000 years. Scotland and England have existed as separate unified entities since the 10th century. Wales, under English control since the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284, became part of the Kingdom of England by the Laws in Wales Act 1535 and was confirmed as part of England by 1542. Ireland had been under English control since the 12th century and was in a personal union with England after 1541 with the King of England as King of Ireland also, but with separate parliaments. In 1603, all of the British Isles came under one King as King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England and Ireland as well. He was now king of three separate kingdoms in a personal union. In 1606, the flags of the Cross of St. George (England) and the Saltire of St. Andrew (Scotland) were put together to form the Union Flag, known at sea as the Union Jack. Scotland and England continued to be ruled by one monarch but with separate governments until the union of the parliaments as the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.
On 1 May 1707, the Kingdoms of England and Scotland united as the United Kingdom of Great Britain as a single state with a single parliament at Westminster. On 1 January 1801, Great Britain united with Ireland to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Irish MP's joined their counterparts inWestminster. The flag of the Saltire of St. Patrick (Ireland) was added to the Union Flag as it is today.
Click on the gallery of maps below of the British Isles and the English Empire in France since 1100 to enlarge them. These maps are low resolution. For quality high resolution maps, please purchase a CD
Historical Atlas of the British Empire
Click on the gallery of maps below of the Mediterranean, Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus. These maps are low resolution. For quality high resolution maps, please purchase a CD
During the War of Spanish Succession, which began in 1701, Gibraltar, a peninsular on the southern tip of Spain, in the Mediterranean, was besieged (1704) by a squadron commanded by Sir George Rooke and a land force of 1800 English and Dutch under Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt; after three days the city was captured (24 July). In 1713, by the Treaty of Utrecht, it became definitively a British possession, though many attempts were made by the Spaniards to regain it. To this day, Gibraltar remains a British possession. In 1998, it ceased to have the status of a Crown Colony and became a British Dependent Territory. Its residents are British Overseas Citizens. Spain does not recognise British control of Gibraltar and still claims it as part of its territory. Minorca, off the east coast of Spain, was captured by the British in 1708 and annexed in 1714. It was taken by the French in 1756, but was retaken by the British, along with Canada, after the Seven Years War in 1763, and was returned to Spain with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles which ended the American War of Independence in 1783. Minorca was invaded by the British once again in 1798, during the French Revolutionary Wars, but it was finally and permanently repossessed by Spain by the terms of the Treaty of Amiens in 1802.
During the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800’s, the British recognised that Malta was essential for the British fleet in the Mediterranean. It was captured by the British from the French in 1800 and finally recognised as a British colony in the Treaty of Paris in 1814. Malta became a self-governing Dominion in 1921, but then reverted back to the status of a Crown Colony in 1933 for financial reasons. During the Second World War, in 1941 and 1942, Malta was besieged and fiercely bombarded by both German and Italian aircraft. King George VI awarded the island the George Cross medal on 15 April 1942 for gallantry in withstanding the enemy air bombardment. Internal self-government was established in Malta in September 1947.
Also as a result of the Napoleonic wars, Britain gained control of the island of Heligoland, off the northwest coast of Germany, in 1814. This was given to Germany in 1890 in exchange for British control of Zanzibar, off the east coast of Africa, next to then German East Africa (later British Tanganyika). Another prize of the Napoleonic Wars was the Ionian Islands in the Mediterranean off the coast of Greece. The British drove the French out of the islands and annexed them as the Protectorate of the United States of the Ionian Islands in 1815. They were transferred to Greek control in 1864 out of respect for the wishes of the majority of its people.
The title of the English (later British) Monarchs was changed to drop the claim to France and recognise the union of the British Isles and the expansion of the British Empire.
For almost four centuries following the Norman conquest in 1066 under William I, Duke of Normandy,England was dominated by Kings who were often more concerned with their holdings in France. For fully three quarters of the time they were native French-speakers. The Norman symbol, the lion, eventually became the arms of England. In 1154, Henry of Anjou became King of England and his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine placed him firmly in the ascendancy. His plentiful lands were added to his new wife's possessions, giving him control of Aquitaine. The riches of the markets and vineyards in these regions, combined with Henry's already plentiful holdings, made Henry the most powerful vassal in France. In 1170, the Normans conquered Ireland and added an area on the east coast they called The Pale to the English Crown. King Henry III was succeeded in 1272 by his son, the warrior King Edward I. He finally conqueredWales in 1282, and made it a principality to be held by the heir to the English throne. Scotland became an English dependency in 1290, but regained its independence under Robert the Bruce in 1328, although with a border adjusted in favour of England by Edward III in 1334. By then, the Plantagenets were again preoccupied with France. In 1331, Edward III, grandson of Edward I, had declined to do homage to the King of France, breaking the custom which had been established in 1066. He did so because not because he wantedEngland to be independent from France, but because he had decided (not without some justice) that his claim to the throne of France was stronger than its incumbent, Phillip VI. He made this claim official in 1337, beginning the Hundred Years War (which actually lasted until 1453, with occasional truces). Edward overrun all of Aquitaine, but could not gain recognition of his claim to the French throne. In 1360 he abandoned that claim in return for recognition of his conquests. By this time, the ruling class in England had begun speaking English rather than French, although the royal family remained bilingual. This explains the French mottos ‘Dieu et Mon Droit’ and ‘Honi Soi Qui Mal Y Pense’ in the British Royal Coat of Arms. The three lions on the English arms represent England, Normandy and Aquitaine.
By 1453 England had lost all its holdings in France (except for Calais, which it kept for another century, and the Channel Islands, which still remain). By this time, the Kingdom of England was on the verge of civil war, between the junior Plantagenet houses of Lancaster (under the mad King Henry VI) and York (under Richard, his regent, who had claimed the throne). The war was to last 30 years (1455-85), and allowed the Scots to regain their pre-1334 frontier. By 1455, for the first time since 1066 the Kingdom of England had no significant connections with the Continent. This was to continue under the Tudors (1485-1603) who instead concentrated upon bringing the whole British Isles under their rule. The siege of Orleans failed when the French were spurred to take the initiative by Joan of Arc. Although she was captured and judiciously murdered in 1431, her achievements had shattered the English reputation for invincibility.
Much of France was held by the English kings after the Norman conquest of England in 1066. However, this was gradually lost to the French by 1455. The Channel Islands off the French coast, consisting of the Bailwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, and smaller islands of Sark and Alderney, remained English and are now Dependencies of the British Crown. The Isle of Man, situated in the Irish Sea, half way between England andIreland, is also a Crown Dependency. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not parts of the United Kingdom, like England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but are self-governing Dependencies with a direct link to the British Crown, but not the British Government.
The "wars of the Roses" -- both houses had Roses as their symbols -- would see the end of many noble families, creating new opportunities for "native" English and Welsh families. Indeed, the Lancastrian victor of 1485 was Henry Tudor, whose surname was derived from his Welsh grandfather. Many Welshmen even saw Henry VII's victory, at the head of a largely Welsh army, as fulfilling the prophecy that they would one day regain all of Britain. In 1536 his son Henry VIII removed the political institutions that had stigmatized Wales as a conquered country, making it formally part of the Kingdom of England, known as the Dominion of Wales until the 1800's, but the new united Kingdom was still generally known as England, and it was English law which prevailed. Henry VIII is most famous of course for founding the church of England in 1534. Its ambiguous status (anti-Papist, but not really Protestant) and imposition from above caused recurrent religious and political problems in the Kingdom for a century and a half.
It also made it necessary for Ireland to be made a Kingdom in 1541, in personal union with the Kingdom of England, because the lordship of Ireland had been a Papal grant. Henry VIII was proclaimed King of Ireland as well as England and Wales. During the reign of Henry VIII's daughter Elizabeth I (1558-1603), English rule over Ireland was made effective for the first time. In her reign, the English fleet enabled England to found its first trans-oceanic colonies (in North America) and prevented an invasion by Europe's greatest power by defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588. The last English holding in France was Calais, which was finally lost to the French in 1558. However, English monarchs continued to claim to also be monarchs of France until 1801, even though that had been completely lost. To this day, all that remains of England’s vast medieval empire in France is the tiny Channel Islands off the northern coast of France. The claim to the throne of France was abandoned when the British Government recognised the French Republic in 1801. The Channel Islands and Isle of Man are self-governing Crown Dependencies.
On the death of the childless Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1603, the Kingdoms of England and Ireland were inherited by her nephew, James Stuart, King of Scotland. In this way, the British Isles came under one monarch for the first time. Although James considered himself to be King of Great Britain (and Ireland), the parliaments of England and Scotland remained independent of each other, but in personal union of the Crowns. Shortly afterwards, the first successful English colony in North America, was established. Newfoundland had been claimed for England by John Cabot in 1497, soon after the Americas were discovered. Virginia was claimed in 1607. By 1664, England had colonies along the eastern seaboard of North America including New England (1620), Pennsylvania and New York; and in the West Indies including Barbados, Jamaica and Mosquito Coast. Bermuda had been claimed in 1609. Rupert's Land around Hudson Bay was claimed in 1660 and Nova Scotia was annexed in 1691. During the reign of King William of Orange, England and Scotland also had a personal union with the Netherlands. When King George I came to the throne in 1714, Great Britain had a personal union with Hanover, in what is now Germany, until 1837.
The Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 proclaimed independence for Scotland, which was realised after the two Scottish Wars of Independence by 1328. English attempts to conquer Scotland had failed, so it remained independent after 1328. In 1695, the Scottish Parliament passed an act that chartered a company for trading with Africa and the Indies. William Paterson directed the first efforts of the company to found a colony on the Isthmus of Panama (Darién) to compete with the Dutch and Spanish for trade. Stock was subscribed inEngland and Scotland, but opposition by the English government and by the East India Company caused English investors to withdraw. The company's two expeditions (1698, 1699) failed because of poor leadership and equipment, disease, and the hostility of the Spanish; many lives were lost. The failure, with its immense losses to Scottish investors, vividly demonstrated Scotland's commercial disadvantage outside the British realm. By the terms of the Act of Union with England (1707), creating the United Kingdom, Scotlandsecured equality in trade. Investors in the Darién venture were partially indemnified for their losses. After the Act of Union, the English Empire became the British Empire.
The Plantation of Ulster was the organised colonisation of Ulster – a province of Ireland – by people from Great Britain during the reign of King James I. Most of the colonists came from Lowland Scotland and England. Small private plantation by wealthy landowners began in 1606, while the official plantation began in 1609. An estimated half a million acres (2,000 km²) spanning counties Tyconnell, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan, Coleraine and Armagh, was confiscated from Gaelic chiefs, most of whom had fled Ireland in the 1607 Flight of the Earls. Most of counties Antrim and Down were privately colonised. Colonising Ulster with loyal settlers was seen as a way to prevent further rebellion, as it had been the region most resistant to English control during the preceding century.
King James wanted the Plantation to be "a civilising enterprise" that would settle Protestants in Ulster, a land that was mainly Gaelic-speaking and of the Roman Catholic faith. The Lord Deputy of Ireland, Arthur Chichester, also saw the Plantation as a scheme to anglicise the Irish. Accordingly the colonists (or "British tenants") were required to be English-speaking and Protestant. Some of the undertakers and colonists however were Catholic and it has been suggested that a significant number of the Scots spoke Gaelic. The Scottish colonists were mostly Presbyterian. The English mostly members of the Church of England. The Plantation of Ulster was the biggest of the Plantations of Ireland.
The descendents of the plantationers were very loyal to the Crown and secured the northern part of Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, which it remains part of today, by their own choice.