At the beginning of the 16th century, there were only two states: the Kingdom of England, which included Wales and controlled Ireland, and the Kingdom of Scotland.
The previously independent Wales came under the control of English monarchs in 1824. The Union of the Crowns in 1603 was the consequence of a former royal marriage and united the kingdoms leading to the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1706 following the Treaty and Acts of Union.
In 1801 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was formed but Ireland claimed independence in 1922 following the partition of the island of Ireland in 1920.
In 1927 the name became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
In the 20th century, we saw the creation of parliaments or assemblies for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales following a rise in nationalism.
THE CONQUEST OF WALES
The Normans began settling in Wales after invading England and the Welsh rallied to leaders like Llywelyn the Great, who is known to have described himself as the “Prince of all North Wales”.
He did indeed become the first Prince of Wales and his grandson later earned the same title from Henry III. But a succession of conflicts and incidents, including Edward I’s first invasion, led Llywelyn to affirm his loyalty to the King of England.
In 1282 Edward I made a permanent conquest, Llywelyn died, so he seized the land and dispossessed the allied princes of the region. Thus creating various counties and establishing Edward I’s dominion over Wales although the Welsh must continue to be used. Edward’s son born in Wales was named Prince of Wales and the tradition of giving the title of Prince of Wales to the British monarch heir continues to this day.
Initially, the Crown had only indirect control over much of Wales, the land was held personally by the King but was not part of the Kingdom of England. However, over time the Crown acquired most of it by inheritance until almost all of Wales was under its control.
The Laws of Wales Act 1534 annexed Wales to England and extended English law but also made English the only officially authorized language.
THE CONQUEST OF IRELAND
In the 12th century, Ireland was divided, with power exercised by regional chiefs who were vying for the supremacy of the island.
The Normans invaded Ireland in 1169 which caused consternation to Henry II of England because he feared the establishment of a Norman state in Ireland. He then claimed sovereignty of the island in 1171 with the support of the Pope.
Following the peace treaty of 1175, the High King of Ireland kept lands that would have passed to Henry on the death of the sovereigns. When this happened, Henry granted his Irish territories to his youngest son John with the title Lord of Ireland, at his coronation Ireland fell under the English crown.
Following the epidemics of the Black Death, for geographical reasons the least affected inhabitants were the Irish, erasing other languages and customs that existed.
After the Reformation, they remained predominantly Catholic and tended to rally to the original Irish rather than to England. Because of this, the main English town of La Pale passed special legislation forbidding the English to speak the Irish language, wear Irish clothes or marry Irish people, however by the end of the 15th-century English authority in Ireland had almost completely disappeared.
In 1532 when the English, Welsh and Scots accepted Protestantism, the Irish remained Catholic. As a result, the English tried to reconquer Ireland to prevent it from becoming a base for Catholic forces aiming to overthrow Protestantism, this happened in 1536.
However, it appears that the attempts by the English to force the Irish to adopt the Protestant religion provoked negative feelings between the two peoples.
THE UNION OF CROWNS
Following a union the son of Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England and James IV King of Scotland became King of England and Scotland. Although having the same monarchy the two countries continued to be separated by different parliaments for over 100 years.
James put forward the idea of reuniting all the countries under one reign, one policy, one law, but nobody seemed to agree with the idea, each one being afraid of losing his personal identity. In 1604 he became King of Great Britain by proclamation. The union of the crowns had begun a process that would lead to the unification of the two kingdoms, however, in the following years strong religious and political differences grew and divided the kingdoms.
The settlers gradually abandoned their origins to become British, giving them a British identity with a full political and cultural identity. The endless debates between Catholics and Protestants never ceased and Scotland kept its Catholic religion as a reminder of rebellion. During the reign of King Charles I many conflicts arose because he adhered to the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, which put him in opposition to Parliament. Consequently, Parliament blocked any decision on new laws until the King approved certain religious ideas, which prevented Charles from bringing his conflicts with Scotland to a successful conclusion.
This situation worsened after some Irish conspirators launched a rebellion in support of the King’s rights and massacred British Protestant communities in the King’s name. As a result, Parliament built up its own army and the King did the same, which led to civil war in 1642. The Scots rallied to the English Parliament and played a major role in the victory, supported also by the financial power of the City of London the Parliament won. Charles I was arrested and executed in 1649, in Ireland the Catholic rebels formed their own government which was Confederate Ireland, English and Scottish troops fought in Ireland and the Irish attacked Scotland in 1644 triggering the Scottish civil war.
At the end of the wars the kingdoms of Ireland, Scotland and England formed a unitary state called the English Commonwealth, apparently a republic but with characteristics of military dictatorship. In 1658 the Commonwealth collapsed and Charles II was established as King of England, Scotland and Ireland.
If you are interested in the History of the United Kingdom you can discuss it with native speakers to learn languages through the History of the country on our Studenz site in the language exchange section.
Written by: Lisa Lambert, Staff Writer