Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 151











COURSE TITLE: Social and Cultural British

SEMESTER: I, 1st year English Major and Minor,
Applied Modern Languages
COURSE TYPE: Survey course
HOURS/WEEK: One-hour course, one-hour seminar
PROGRAME: Fundamental


The course is meant to suit the needs of students in

Applied Modern Languages. The target group is formed
by the first-year English major and minor students.
The course aims at offering students an overview
of the essential aspects pertaining to British culture and
civilization. The main focus is on the history of England
from the earliest times to the present, with emphasis on

the early political and cultural evolution of the English
people, the relationship between people and monarchy,
as well as on the establishment of parliamentary
government. The course also approaches social and
political problems, community and industrial
developments, the expansion of the Empire, domestic
affairs of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.


The History of the British Isles (politics, social

history, economy, religion, colonial history)

1. The British Isles from pre-Roman Britain to the

Middle Ages. The Roman Conquest. Celts,
Saxons and Vikings. The Rise of Large
2. The Middle Ages: The House of Normandy.
Magna Carta.
The 14th Century: Crises in England. The 15th
Century: The War of the Roses.
3. The 16th century: Reformation. The Elizabethan
4. The 17th Century: James I. Civil War in England.
The Restoration of the Stuarts. The Glorious
5. The 18th Century: The Growth of British Empire.
The Loss of America.
6. The Industrial Revolution. The First Reform Act.

The Victorian Age.
7. The U.K. in the 20th Century. Irish Independence.
The two World Wars. The Loss of the Empire.

Integrated topics:
• The development of the English language. Old
English to Middle English. From (Early) Modern
English to English as a world Language.
• Institutions: The Monarchy and the Church
(development, interdependence, their roles in
contemporary British society)
• The judiciary system. Characteristics of English law.
The Parliamentary system: The development of
Anglo-Saxon democracy. The State from pre-Roman
Britain to the U.K. today.
• The class-system. Mentalities, morals, the individual
and society.

Topics suggested for individual study:

Education: types of schools.

Cultural institutions.
Art, architecture, urbanism.
Painting, sculpture, music, crafts.
Media and the press.



The students are required to answer the questions at the
end of every lecture and are also advised to consult the
reading list for further information. The evaluation
consists of 30% home activity (one report to be
submitted by the end of the semester) and 70% final
exam paper.


1. The British Isles from pre-Roman Britain to

the Middle Ages. The Roman Conquest. Celts, Saxons
and Vikings. The Rise of Large Kingdoms.

1.1. Pre-Roman and Roman Britain

Before the Roman Conquest of the British Isles, the

present territory of Britain was known as Albion, a name
that had been used by Greeks as early as 6000 BC. Later,
in the 4th century BC, Britain and Ireland were known as
the Pretanic Islands – the Romans used the term
generically to denote people belonging to a Celtic-
speaking tribe.
In ancient times the territory was inhabited by
Iberians, of whom very little is actually known. Before

the formation of the English state, the territory was
invaded, in turn, by Celts, Romans and Anglo-Saxons.
In the 7th-3rd centuries BC, the Celtic tribes,
originally occupying the northern and western parts of
Germany and the Netherlands, were moving across
Europe in successive waves. Some of them settled in
France, others in Italy. The Celtic invaders of Britain
came in successive tribal waves and imposed themselves
as an aristocracy on the conquered tribes throughout
Britain and Ireland.
The Roman occupation occurred between the
coming of the Celts and the coming of the Saxons. In 55
and 54 BC (after having conquered Gaul in France),
Julius Caesar launched expeditions against Southern
England, but met strong resistance from the Celtic tribes.
It was only in 43 AD that Emperor Claudius, encouraged
by internal discord among the British tribes, invaded
Britain, which was incorporated into the Roman Empire.
The Britons, led by the legendary Queen Boadicea,
fought the Romans, but were defeated. Legend has it that
the queen chose to drink poison rather than be taken
prisoner. By 78 AD England and Wales were under

Roman control, a situation that was to last until links
with Rome collapsed in 409 (possibly 449).
The British Isles were, however, not conquered
entirely (Highland Scotland was never conquered, while
Ireland was never attacked). A ‘frontier zone’ (Hadrian’s
Wall) was consolidated by the Romans to protect
England from invasion from the North. The Romans
tried for over a century to conquer Caledonia, as they
called Scotland, but were unsuccessful. Once the border
with Scotland was consolidated, the Romans made it the
farthest outpost of their Empire. They never succeeded
in conquering the Scots, whom they identified with the
‘Barbarians’ from the farther northern regions.
Moreover, Hadrian’s Wall was frequently destroyed by
the repeated invasions of the Picts from Scotland, and it
was ultimately abandoned.
In the South, the Roman society encouraged a
process of Romanization, granting rights to the native
population. The Romans imposed their superior
civilization on the inhabitants of the conquered territory.
They left behind Welsh Christianity, the roads and the
city sites, which gained in importance. Many of the

towns were originally army camps and the Latin name
for camp, castra, has remained in many modern town
names ending in ‘caster’, ‘chester’ or ‘cester’, such as
Manchester, Doncaster or Leicester.
Nevertheless, the Romans were not successful in
imposing Latin, which influenced the English language
only later, namely after the Norman Conquest of 1066,
when it was imposed as the official language in religion,
written documents and education.

The end of Roman Britain was brought by

increasing attacks from Barbarian peoples: Picts –
Celtic-speaking tribes from Scotland, Angles, Jutes and
Saxons from north Germany, Jutland and Frisia, and
Saxony, respectively. These attacks caused the decline of
trade and the stagnation of activity in urban centers. The
Romans gradually withdrew from Britain. Having had
the support of the extremely well organized Roman
army, the natives had not consolidated any form of
defense and were now powerless and unable to resist the

In 409 AD the Roman-Britons expelled the
officials of Emperor Constantine III and were left to
resist the attacks by themselves. According to most
historians, it was the lack of an efficient army and of
consolidated sites that made Britain so vulnerable to
invasions from that moment onwards.

1.2. Angles, Saxons and Jutes

The Anglo-Saxon settlement, which began in the
5th century AD, was, most likely, not the arrival of a
unified army, but rather that of successive groups of
warriors, who saw the possibility for expansion and
began to settle on the island.
The Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes came from
the regions of continental Europe that correspond to the
modern territories of Holland, Southern Denmark and
Western Germany. It has yet not been established to
what an extent there were large-scale movements of
peoples, or bands of warriors who settled in different
parts of the country. There was a long-lasting struggle
with the Roman-Briton population and domination was
not established until late in the 6th century, apparently,
the age of the legendary King Arthur.
These tribes gradually took over the area that is
now known as England (the land of the Angles), while
the Celts retreated north and west to Scotland and Wales.
The Saxons attacked England, the Jutes established
themselves in Kent and the Isle of Wight, and the Angles
went farther North. By 700, these peoples had occupied

most of the land, with the exception of Cornwall and part
of southern Scotland.

In the conquered areas the Roman-Britons

survived as slaves and peasants. The Old English word
‘wealh’, initially meaning ‘foreigner’, came to mean,
after the Anglo-Saxon settlement, both ‘Celt’,
‘Welshman’, and ‘servant’, ‘slave’, which is indicative
of the survival of the Britons, but also of their low status
in the new society.

As trade declined, England relapsed to a more
violent stage and Christianity faded away, as the
invaders were all pagans. The Anglo-Saxons brought
with them an extensive body of tribal culture. Some of
them used a runic alphabet, but the runes were only used
for short inscriptions. Writing was not used extensively
until the conversion to Christianity, when manuscript
technology was introduced from Rome; even then, a
Celtic version of the Roman alphabet was used, but runic
signs were also introduced in it.
The Anglo-Saxons lived in small villages; they
used mud, wood and straw to build their houses, which
were grouped around the house of the lord. The lord, or
thane, was the most important man in the village, as he
kept order and made people obey the laws. There was no
body of laws in Anglo-Saxon society, but there were
compensations one had to pay for a crime. Offenders or
criminals were, depending on the severity of their deed,
either hanged or compelled to pay a sum of money called
wergild. On the whole, the Anglo-Saxons formed a
peaceful society. Once they settled the English territory,
they ceased carrying on wars and their biggest enemies

became disease and starvation, as life expectancy was
very short.

1.2.1. The Language

The Anglo-Saxon invasion meant the settlement

of a whole people, which means that their language
became the dominant one and only a few traces of the
Celtic language remained. The English language retained
the names of some towns (London, Leeds), regions
(Kent, Devon, Cornwall – ‘the land of the Welsh’), and
of rivers (Avon – ‘water’, the Thames – ‘dark river’).
The fact that the Celtic language (namely two of
its branches, Gaelic and Britannic – Cornish and Welsh)
did not influence Old English to any great extent, does
not mean that the Britons were all killed or driven out,
but that their language simply did not have any impact
on the conquerors.

The English language proper derives from the

early Germanic, which, like the Celtic, is a branch of the
Indo-European family of languages. The Germanic
languages derived from the Proto-Germanic dialect of
the Indo-European family of languages. The Proto-
Germanic dialect was first mentioned by Tacitus in

Germania, written in 98 AD. As a result of the
expansion of thee Germanic-speaking peoples,
differences in the dialects within the Proto-Germanic
became more marked, until three distinct branches
(North, East and West Germanic) emerged.
The West-Germanic branch is subdivided into
two dialects: High German, which evolved into German
and Yiddish, and the Low German dialects of North
Germany (called Old Saxon in their earliest form). They
include Dutch, Afrikaans, Flemish, Frisian and English.
Frisian is the language most closely related to English. It
was once spoken along the coast of the North Sea, from
Northern Holland to Central Denmark. Historians
speculate the possibility that the Anglo-Saxons might
have been near-neighbors with the Frisians before the
former migrated to England.
After the Anglo-Saxons conquered England, the
result in terms of language was a variety of dialects
(especially due to the fact that they had come and settled
in successive waves). In The Ecclesiastical History of
the English People (731), the Venerable Bede mentioned
these three powerful Germanic tribes. They were

referred to as groups related in language and culture, and
they regarded themselves as people belonging to one
culture. In this respect, the Old English words ‘Engle’
(the Angles) and ‘Englisc’ (English) were used to denote
all these peoples and the language they spoke.

Old English, the earliest phase in the

development of the English language, lasted until
approximately the year 1100. Old English simplified the
Proto-Germanic language system - it had four cases for
the nouns, reduced the number of declensions to three or
four, it had fewer distinctive case endings, which were
further reduced in time. Old English relied for its case
distinctions on the adjectives, which had preserved more
distinctive endings than the nouns, and on the definite
article ‘se’. In its verb system, it preserved a Proto-
Germanic two-tense system, but it also saw the
beginning of a new tense system using auxiliaries and it
developed forms for the present/past perfect and for the
passive voice.
In terms of syntax, Old English had greater
variety of word order than today, because of its

inflectional system. Negation was achieved by means of
the particle ‘ne’, which was used so frequently that it
often mixed with certain words, producing forms like
‘nis’ (‘is not’) or ‘nolde’ (‘would not’). It retained the
use of prefixes and suffixes from the Proto-Germanic (in
words such as blodig, thancful, freondleas). Adverbs
were commonly formed from adjectives by means of
suffixes (‘faest’ – ‘firm’, ‘faeste’ – ‘firmly’). Prefixes
were added to verbs in order to intensify their force or to
denote destruction (‘baernan’ – ‘to burn’, ‘forbaernan’ –
‘to destroy by burning’. The prefix ‘ge’, for instance,
indicated the completion of an action: ‘ridan’ – ‘to ride’,
‘geridan’ – ‘to conquer’, ‘to occupy’; ‘siglde’ – ‘to sail’,
‘gesiglde’ – ‘to get somewhere by sailing’.
Compounding was also frequent: OE ‘boccraeft’ (‘book-
skill’) for ‘literature’, OE ‘rimscraeft’ (‘number-skill’)
for ‘arithmetic’. Some of the compound words have
survived in Modern English: OE ‘sunnebeam’ >
‘sunbeam’, OE ‘wifmann’ > ‘woman’.

1.3. The Heptarchy

The Anglo-Saxons established several kingdoms

before they united slowly. The Angles established
themselves in East Anglia and Middle Anglia, the
Saxons settled mainly in the south and west (Wessex,
Essex, Middlesex, Sussex), and the Jutes settled in Kent,
the Isle of Wight and parts of Hampshire. In Scotland,
Picts and Scots formed the kingdom of Alba. Ireland had
a rather obscure position, as there was no post-Roman
continuity here. Christianity spread in Ireland in the 5th
century, not as a consequence of Roman Christianity, but
as a result of the missionary activity of St. Patrick, a
monk who came from England.
There is little information about Wales as well.
Once it was no longer part of the Roman Empire, it split
into a number of political unions, governed by powerful
warlords. Latin was used for religious purposes, but the
Celtic language survived as an active vernacular and
developed into Welsh.

In England, gradual political union reduced the
kingdoms to seven (the Heptarchy): Northumbria
(southern Scotland and England north of the river
Humber), Mercia (the West Midlands), East Anglia,
Essex, Wessex, Sussex and Kent. In the 7th century,
Northumbria was the strongest center of power, while in
the 9th century it was Wessex, whose kings finally united

However, there was no consciousness of England
or of Wales as such until the 6th century, even if Wales
was dissimilar. As the Welsh had carried on a long
struggle with the invaders, Wales was culturally and
politically individualized. Literature was written in
Welsh and Wales became culturally a survivor from an
older civilization. There was a long struggle with the
invaders: in the 8th century, for instance, marked the
definition of a border between Wales and England. After
the Anglo-Saxon settlements, the identity of the Welsh
was defined in terms of ‘otherness’, but Wales
nevertheless became the most important area of
surviving Roman-Briton civilization.

In England, the West-Saxon dialect became the

literary standard. Even if there are surviving texts from
the Old English period written in four major dialects
(West Saxon, Kentish, Mercian and Northumbrian),
there was a tendency for the manuscripts to be copied by
West Saxon scribes and put into West Saxon form (e.g.
Beowulf). However, the West Saxon dialect is not the
direct ancestor of the English language.

1.4. The Spread of Christianity

The English were converted to Christianity in

about the year 600 and it took them a century to
complete the process. It was carried out from two
directions, the Celtic church penetrating from the north-
west and the Roman church from the south-east.
In 597 a mission from Pope Gregory thee Great
came to Canterbury in Kent and it was successful in
southern England. Augustine, the monk sent by the
Pope, became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
However, it was the Irish Church that was the base of
conversion for most of England. Christian missionaries
also arrived in Scotland from Ireland, where the Church
of Iona had been founded by Columba, an Irish monk, in
563. The Irish had a major influence in England as far as
religion was concerned. The first Saint Paul’s Church
was built in London in 607.
As a result of the Synod at Whitby (664), the
Roman custom prevailed in the English Church, which

was properly organized by Theodore of Tarsus,
Archbishop of Canterbury. From the 7th century
onwards, England became the base for missionary
activity, contributing to the spread of Christianity in
Germany and Scandinavia. The monastic churches that
were built had a major role in the spread of literacy and
education. The converted Anglo-Saxons produced
remarkable academic works, the most notable of them
being Bede’s first history of England. However, many of
the monasteries would be destroyed by Britain’s next
invaders, the Vikings.

1.5. The Development of the English State

In the 6th and 7th centuries, the relationship between the

kingdoms of the Heptarchy was subject to change. Some
of them flourished, while others lost their independence,
until three major kingdoms remained on the map of
Britain (Northumbria, comprising southern Scotland and
England north of the river Humber,, Mercia, namely the
present-day West Midlands and Wessex).
It was difficult, for any of the rulers of these kingdoms,
to maintain lasting and effective control over the others,
as each of the kingdoms was defeated, in turn. For
instance, Aethelbert of Kent acted as an overking in 590;
Mercia dominated East Anglia from 654. Northumbria
was defeated by Mercia from 670 to 685. Ireland was
divided into about 100 small kingdoms, among which it
was hard to establish any hegemony. After it ceased to
be part of the Roman Empire, Wales was also divided
into a group of political unions, governed by powerful
local warlords.

There were faint indications of a sense of national
identity. The Synod at Hertford (672) issued canons for
the English people, while Bede also wrote about the
English people in his Ecclesiastical History (731), but
neither had political echoes.
Despite the lack of a sense of national unity and identity,
some of the rulers of the dominant kingdoms were often
called ‘King or Overlord of the English’. Most probably,
the sintagm was first used with reference to Offa, the
ruler of Mercia, who managed to control formerly
independent kingdoms (Essex, East Anglia, Sussex and
Kent). Durable and effective control of much of Britain
was beyond the capability of any one of the rulers of
these kingdoms. However, the institution of monarchy
originated in the struggle for supremacy among the
kingdoms of the Heptarchy, and it was consolidated by
the Viking invasions.

1.6. The Viking Invasions

From about 750 to 1035, another group of

peoples invaded the British territories. They were
generically known as ‘Vikings’, a term that used to mean
‘creek-dweller’, or ‘pirate’, and which comprises the
Swedes, the Norwegians and the Danes. The invasion of
the Scandinavian Vikings was the last phase of the
expansion of the early Germanic peoples. In the 8th
century, Charlemagne destroyed the power of the
Frisians, who had been the greatest maritime power, and
thus he left open the sea-route for the Vikings, who, in
turn, had become the strongest boat-building people and
were at the same time attacking, pirating, and trading in
new territories. They are said to have reached the shore
of America long before it was actually discovered, in
about the year 1.000.
The Vikings who conquered England were called
‘Dene’. The first Danish raid took place in 787, and the
subsequent ones greatly contributed to the emergence of
the idea of English national unity. In 829, Egbert, king of

Wessex, was recognized as ‘overlord of England’. In 835
he defeated the Danes, but in 870 they conquered East
Anglia. Aethelred died fighting them at Merton (871).
He was succeeded by Alfred the Great, who became king
of Wessex in 871. Alfred prevented the Danes from
conquering the whole of England, but there were
massive Scandinavian settlements in the north and east
(the Norwegians settled in Lancashire and Cumbria, the
Danes in Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire,
Norfolk). Many present-day place-names ending in
‘thorpe’ are of Scandinavian origin.

1.6.1. Old English and Old Norse

The language of the Scandinavian invaders, Old

Norse, had a tremendous impact on Old English. Some
words are identical or very similar in the two languages,
and they had the same result in Middle English (OE ‘na’
and ON ‘nei’ produced ‘nay’, later ‘no’ in Middle
English). Often a word is not recorded in Old English,
but it is in Old Norse. For instance, the verb ‘to take’ has

its origin in the on word ‘taka’, while its OE
correspondent was ‘niman’. Both words existed in
Middle English, but then ‘to nim’ meant ‘to steal’. The
word ‘gate’ comes from the OE ‘gatu’, but in the
northern dialects it also meant ‘way’, ‘street’, from the
ON ‘gata’ (in Leeds and York there still are streets called
‘Kirkgate’, the corresponding version of ‘Churchstreet’.
Most Scandinavian loan-words first appeared in
writing in the Middle English period, but their form
shows that they had been taken over in the late Old
English period, for they underwent the transition from
Old English to Middle English. Many of the words that
were taken over are ordinary ones, relating to everyday
life and denoting the similarities between the two
cultures (‘sister’, ‘bag’, ‘cake’, ‘fog’, ‘knife’, ‘skin’,
‘skill’, ‘window’, ‘flat’, ‘loose’, ‘odd’, ‘ugly’, ‘they’,
‘them’, ‘their’). However, their number is rather small
compared to the number of words that were later
borrowed from French and Latin.

1.6.2. Anglo-Saxons and Vikings

In 878, the Danelaw was established. When

Alfred defeated the Danes he allowed them to inhabit
part of England east and north of a line from Chester to
London. Initially, the Danelaw designated the parts of
north, central and eastern England where Danish, rather
than Saxon, customs and laws, prevailed. Later, King
Edgar (959-75) would grant autonomy to the inhabitants
of the Danelaw.
At the same time, Ireland was attacked by the
Norwegians. Consequently, the conflict with the Vikings
played a crucial role in the development of the English
state, just as the Viking invasions of Scotland
contributed to the increase of the power of the kingdom
of the Scots.
Alfred the Great (871-99) was regarded as
English, rather than West-Saxon king. The West-Saxon
rulers claimed ownership of the overlordship of all
Britain, and in 920, the rulers of Scotland, York and
Northumbria accepted Edward’s lordship. The West-
Saxon dynasty was dominant in the incipient English

monarchy. Athelstan (924-39) and Eadred (946-55) were
regarded as the first kings of the English. In 973, Edgar
staged an elaborate coronation at Bath, in which he was
the first ruler to be crowned king of the English, even if
the title itself had been used before (by Offa and
Monarchy in Anglo-Saxon times had no
extensive rights. Its duties were to defend the people, to
uphold the law, to administer justice. The laws that were
promulgated were declaratory, rather than legislative.
However, most laws were given with the help of the
Witan, the council of Anglo-Saxon kings.
The Witan had developed from earlier Germanic
assemblies, and it had become, under the Anglo-Saxon
rulers, a formal gathering of the main noblemen and
bishops. They were summoned by the king in order to
give him advice and to witness acts of royal
administration, new laws, to make decisions on taxation,
foreign policy and defense. The Witan played a
fundamental role in checking royal power and in
preventing autocracy – it was an incipient element in the
development of English democracy.

Ireland, Scotland and Wales were at most times
independent of England. Ireland generally resisted to the
Viking attacks due to a succession of kings who
weakened the attackers’ power. In Scotland, Kenneth
McAlpin conquered the Scots and united them with the
Scots. There was no ethnic union between England and
Scotland. What eventually became Scotland was
ethnically, geographically and culturally diverse and
included Scots, Picts, Britons and some Angles. For
instance, until mid-12th century it was unclear whether
much of what is now Northern Ireland, and especially
Cumbria and Northumbria, would be part of England or
of Scotland.
In Wales there were few attacks from the
Vikings, but there was pressure from England. The
division of property among sons had eventually made it
difficult for Wales to achieve unity. Thus, even if they
were individualized (they even had their own coins), the
Welsh in the south made some kind of submission to
Alfred, who offered them help against the Vikings, and
they later became subordinates of Athelstan.

In the 11th century, the English kingdom created
by the rulers of Wessex was overthrown by foreign
invasion. The Danish raids culminated with the taking
over of the country by King Canute (1017-35). Canute
also inherited Denmark and he made England part of it.
As king of a number of kingdoms, Canute complied with
the English governmental system, he treated Englishmen
and Danes as equals and faced no rebellion. His empire
fell apart after his death.
Under Edward the Confessor (1044-66) the royal
titles of ‘King of the English’ and ‘King of the British’
were used indifferently – even if Ireland was completely
independent, Wales and Scotland were dependent on
England and offered her military help.
In actual fact, from the 10th century onwards,
when Edgar ruled England, as well as Wales and
Scotland, England was perceived as a single territory,
whether it was rule by Danish kings (Canute), half-
English (Edward the Confessor) or Norman French ones,
like William the Conqueror and his immediate
successors; all of them were perceived as rulers of a
single country.

By the time of Canute’s reign, the country had
already been divided into shires (later counties), which
were unequal in size and wealth (some of them were
former kingdoms). Each shire had a court which met
twice a year and was presided over by the king’s
representative (sheriff). Shires were divided into
hundreds, each with its court (of rural population). By
the 11th century the existing laws reveal a carefully
defined hierarchy: one’s position in society was
established not only by laws, but also by titles. At the
base were the slaves, some of them descendants of pre-
Saxon peoples, above them were the cottagers, who were
tied in their work and obligations to their lord’s will, and
at the top were the magnates and the warriors. The bond
between man and lord was essential and lordship gained
in importance.
This was the social background against which,
with the battle of Hastings in 1066, the Normans
conquered England.


1. Celts, Angles, Saxons, Jutes

2. Old English
3. Kingdoms – the Heptarchy
4. Viking invasions – Old Norse
5. The Witan


1. How did the Roman occupation influence the

development of the Celtic people?
2. What is the origin of the English language?
3. What was the significance of the Heptarchy in the
development of the English state?
4. How did Christian religion spread on the English
5. What was the influence of Old Norse on Old
6. What was the impact of the Witan on the
development of English democracy?

2. England in the Middle Ages. House of

2.1. House of Normandy William the Conqueror

(1066-87) signified the advent of a new era in English
history, the beginning of the Middle Ages. England was
now centered on the ruler, on his views and entourage.
The very character of his reign depended entirely on the
personality of the monarch.
With the coming of the Normans, there was a social
revolution at the level of the Anglo-Saxon elite, while
the new rule of foreigners affected the ordinary people to
a lesser degree.
The Normans introduced the social system of
feudalism in England, a system that was to change the
social structure of the country dramatically. Under the
Normans, the main economic unit was the manor – the
home farm and the surrounding estate. The lord was
entitled to day labor and rent. Even if rents and labors
had existed under Anglo-Saxon rule in order to offer
people protections against invaders, the system was

refined and consolidated. Under the feudal system
instituted in England by the Normans, manors were
given to the king’s vassals in return for military service.
The social system of the country was characterized by
personal relationship. The king granted lands to his
subjects in return for military service and this exchange
was consolidated by the act of homage paid by the vassal
to the lord.
The Normans built castles that were symbolic of
their power and which became centers for governmental,
political and religious activity. Peasants were more
closely controlled and the status of free men became
In contrast to Canute’s reign, William’s rule
caused strong opposition. Even if those noblemen who
willingly submitted to William the Conqueror were
allowed to keep their lands, there was strong resistance
to the spread of Norman rule. Many noblemen revolted
and in 1069 the revolt spread throughout the north of
country. The stifling of the revolt, the ‘harrying of the
North’, resulted in the ‘Normanization’ of both Church

and land. The English were denied clerical appointments
and landlords were dispossessed of their properties.
Latin was introduced as official language, as the
Norman invasion had enjoyed the support of the Pope.
These changes intensified resistance, and more uprisings
in the North and in the West Midlands took place
parallel to Danish and Scottish invasions in support of
the English. As there was lack of coordination among the
rebellions, they were unsuccessful. Malcolm III of
Scotland was forced to submit and in 1086 most of the
important landlords paid homage to William.
In order to get an estimate of the land and to gain
as much as possible by land tax, William conceived the
Domesday Survey Book, a record of property that
functioned as the final authority in any disputes over
property, and from which there was no appeal. Royal
commissioners visited each shire and village, made
reports on the identity of the landowners, the size and
use of land, the number and status of its cultivators.
Juries that consisted of both Englishmen and Normans
attested the truth of the answers, and the information was
tabulated on an abacus.

Despite the fact that William’s rule was regarded
as an excessively oppressive one, the process of
centralization of the state powers had begun its course,
and future monarchs of the House of Normandy
contributed to this ongoing process.

During the reign of Henry I (1100-1135), who

was mainly concerned with consolidating his political
and military position in the newly conquered Northern
France, means had to be found to rule England in the
absence of the king. Consequently, his reign witnessed
the growth and rationalization of the royal administrative
and judicial systems. From about 1130, itinerant justices
(justices in eyre) toured the country and later royal
judicial activity expanded as the Crown appointed local
justices, in order to keep England stable.
The Exchequer, the financial and accounting
office of medieval England, dating from King William’s
time, was also consolidated (in 1172 it settled at
Westminster). Records were made by means of counters
on a chequered table, based on the abacus. [At present,

the Finance Minister of the U.K. is called Chancellor of
the Exchequer.]

2.2. Changes in Language

The year 1100 is regarded as the approximate

date when Old English was replaced by Middle English,
a further phase in the development of English language,
which was to last, conventionally, until 1500. Old
English did not, of course, die out suddenly, but for
some centuries English ceased to be the language of the
upper classes and it was replaced by French.
Even if English was still spoken by the ordinary
people, there was no longer any standard literary
language. The Anglo-Saxons had a tradition of
scholarship that went back to the 7th century (when
Charlemagne had wanted to reform his educational
system, he had called an Englishman to do it). This
tradition had been disrupted by the Viking invasions, but
it was revived in the 10th century under West-Saxon

Once French was decreed the official language,
the West-Saxon dialect lost its place as standard literary
language. For about three centuries, there was no single
form of English recognized as a norm, and people spoke
in the language/dialect of their own region. The prestige
languages were Latin and French – the former was the
language of the Church, of scholarship, of international
commerce, while the latter was used mainly in
administration. But French was never the mother tongue
of the population and, as the French never outnumbered
the English in the way in which Anglo-Saxons had
outnumbered the Britons, French gradually died out in
the 14th century.

Generally, Norman England was characterized by

conflict under various forms. There was rivalry within
the Norman elite (competition between noblemen,
disputes between noblemen and monarchs, most of
which were linked to the dominant principle of the
undivided inheritance, which went to the eldest male
child, a principle which also established succession to

the throne). Moreover, the military campaigns against
Wales and Scotland, paralleled by hostilities with the
rulers of France and the civil war within the Norman
elite following William’s death, contributed to the
weakening of England’s military values and potential.
The House of Normandy was replaced for a short
while by the House of Blois (Stephen – 1135-54), but
even the future kings were descendants of King William

2.3. House of Plantagenet. Law and

administration. Magna Carta.

King Henry II (1154-89) was granted

overlordship of Ireland by Pope Adrian. Thus, an Anglo-
Irish struggle was started, that was to last ever since.
Henry II obtained the submission of many of the Irish
kings and of the Irish Church. Much of Ireland was
captured, but Henry was just overlord, never king, of
Ireland. He also obtained the homage of the King of

Scotland, who restored him some territories, and he
subdued the Welsh.
In order to put an end to the anarchy in England,
Henry II instituted a number of legal reforms. The most
notable example was the Assize of Claredon (1166),
where the jury system was established, and which was
fundamental in the development of the English judicial
He became famous for the conflict with his
Chancellor, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury,
who defended the rights of clerics to be tried in Church
courts (the freedom of appeal to Rome). As a result of
the disputes over the rights of Church and State, Becket
was exiled and murdered at Canterbury. He was
canonized and his shrine became a place of pilgrimage.
The expansion of governmental activity required
an increasing number of professional people. These were
called ‘curiales’ – a word originating in ‘curia regis’, the
royal court of Norman kings, which had fulfilled the
functions of royal government. The ‘curiales’ enforced
justice and collected royal revenues. They contributed to
the increase of the coercive power of government.

The administration became even more
independent during the reign of Richard I Coeur de Lion
(1189-99), whose participation in the Crusades and
frequent absences from the country placed heavy
burdens on England’s finances.
Until 1189, English monarchs had enjoyed great
power, but they had accepted advice and certain
limitations on their authority. King John (1199-1216),
however, ignored these restrictions. He made England a
fief of the Papacy and this, along with the previous
growth in the role and liberty of the State, caused the
opposition of the noblemen, who united against his
dictatorial rule.
In 1215, King John was forced to accept the
terms of Magna Carta, a document that was originally
intended to protect the aristocracy, not the ordinary
people, but which, in time, became a landmark in British
constitutional history.
Magna Carta was a charter of liberties that
condemned King John’s use of feudal and judicial
powers. It defined and limited royal power and royal
rights and it forced the king to accept advice and

promoted an aristocratic influence in national affairs. It
guaranteed every man’s security from illegal interference
in his person and property, it provided freemen with
some rights and liberties against royal action. It
guaranteed justice to everyone, stipulating that no person
could be punished or kept in prison without a fair,
however speedy, trial.
According to the terms of Magna Carta, the
Crown was no longer able to determine its rights alone.
Magna Carta constrained monarchs to accept limitations
in their power, and it was to be enforced by a Council of
barons, who could declare war on the king if he failed to
respect his promises.
Magna Carta was frequently reissued by Great
Councils and, even if later monarchs often tried to ignore
it, and its importance was not perceived as such at the
time, it remained the oldest written constitutional paper
in England.

The 13th century was marked by further decisive

political events. Crises in Anglo-Welsh relationships
culminated in 1277, when Edward I (1272-1307)

invaded Wales and established a new military order and
political settlement. The Statute of Wales was
established in 1284, and it defined the legal and
administrative changes and arrangements made by
Edward for the conquered territories. New government
centers were established, new boroughs and counties
were formed, more castles were built. English criminal
law was made compulsory, while Welsh civil law was
allowed to continue. Edward initiated the English custom
of entitling the king’s eldest son Prince of Wales.
The wars with Scotland were not as successful –
Scotland was not defeated because, at the same time, a
conflict with France emerged, which was to degenerate
into the Hundred Years’ War.

2.4. The emergence of Parliament

In 1295 Edward I summoned the Model

Parliament. Basic parliamentary structures had existed
before – in 1265 Simon de Montfort had called
England’s first Parliament, composed of nobles and

minor aristocrats. Parliament emerged out of the need for
an important political body to complement monarchy. In
1295, representatives of the clergy, of counties and
boroughs were called to give advice to the King and to
consent on behalf of the communities they represented;
the nobles appeared on their own behalf. The Model
Parliament was to serve as an example for similar future
structures. Its two sections consisted of the Lords and
Bishops, who were chosen by the King, and the
Commoners, who were elected.
In the 14th century, the practices of Parliament
were established. Tax money from the nobles was no
longer enough to finance the upkeep of administration
and pay for the wars against France, so that the middle
classes were asked to contribute as well. In 1349, during
the reign of Edward III (1327-77) the representatives of
the counties and boroughs (knights, yeomen and
merchants) complied, and began to meet as a separate
assembly, the Council of the Commoners. In return, they
demanded to be consulted by the king when important
decisions mad to be taken (this was the beginning of the
House of Commons).

Parliament became important because of the
constant need to raise taxes in order to pay for warfare
(military troops). At the end of the 14th century, taxation
was established by the House of Commons, with the
consent of the Lords. [However, for most of the Middle
Ages, the Commons were an adjunct to Parliament,
rather than a part of it – they met separately and were
represented in the Parliament Chamber by their speaker,
who was, until the end of the 17th century, a servant of
the Crown.]
While Parliament did serve as a means to support
royal policies financially, it also constrained monarchial
freedom of political manoeuvre. England was on the
road of becoming the first and only parliamentary
monarchy in Europe. From a situation in which the
monarch had enjoyed almost absolute power, by the end
of the Middle Ages, two councils, one made up of
aristocrats and one of commoners, had a say in the
running of the country. England was the first country in
the world where the principle that the representatives of
the people had a right to participate in government was

2.5. England in the 14th Century

In the 14th century, social and economic crises

increased. Most of them were triggered by the conflicts
between the nobility and the newly emerged middle
During the reign of Edward II (1307-27) the
Great Famine (1315-17) occurred, as a result of
extensive harvest failure. During the reign of Edward III
(1327-77), the Hundred Years’ War with France began
(1337-1453), and the most decisive episode was the
Bubonic plague (Black Death), which killed, from 1348
to 1351, one third of the population and disrupted the
economy of the country. Both the war and the plague
hastened the breakdown of the feudal system in England.
In 1377 Edward III was succeeded by Richard II
Plantagenet (1377-99). In 1381 the King was faced with
the Peasant Revolt – a revolt against feudal power and at
the poor living conditions against the background of the
Hundred Years’ War with France. In order to support
war expenses, a poll tax was introduced for all people

over the age of 14. This tax pressed hard on the rural
population, leading to riots in 1381. The peasants, led by
Watt Tyler, occupied London, seized the Tower of
London and murdered the Chancellor and the
Archbishop of Canterbury.
King Richard II granted charters of freedom to
the rebels, but as soon as they had returned to their
homes, he revoked the charters and punished the leaders
of the rebels.
In 1399 he conducted a successful expedition to
Ireland, where the Irish lords paid him homage. Three
years later, he banished Henry Bolingbroke (Lancaster)
and seized his inheritance, but in 1399 he was deposed.
Henry IV (House of Lancaster) became king until 1413.

The succession of the House of Lancaster to the

throne of England caused the War(s) of the Roses (1455-
86). Both families involved (Lancaster and York)
claimed royal right by descent from Edward III. Internal
political conflict between the House of Lancaster and the
House of York began in 1454, when King Henry VI
(Lancaster) was declared temporarily insane and was

replaced by Richard, Duke of York, who became
Protector of England.
In 1461 Edward, Duke of York, defeated the
Lancastrians and proclaimed himself Edward IV. Henry
VI fled to Scotland. He returned in 1464, but he was
captured and imprisoned. In 1470 he was restored and
Edward fled to Flanders. Henry ruled again for only one
year, when Edward of York returned and claimed the
Crown. Henry VI was imprisoned again and murdered
(1471). Edward IV became king once again (1471-83).
He was succeeded to the throne by his son, Edward V,
who was king for only one year. In 1483, his uncle,
Richard of Gloucester, imprisoned him in the Tower,
where he was probably murdered.
King Richard III – House of York (1483-85) was
not trusted by the noblemen. In 1485, Henry Tudor
(House of Lancaster) invaded the country with the help
of French troops. Richard, supported only by a few
noblemen, was defeated and killed at Bosworth. Henry
became King of England as Henry VII (1485-1509).
When he married Elizabeth of York (1486), the War of
the Roses was ended.

2.6. The Language. Middle English.

Since the Norman Conquest, three languages had

been used in parallel in England: Norman French was
spoken in Court and by the nobility, Latin was the
language of the Church and of official documents, while
English was the language of the ordinary people. But, at
the beginning of the 13th century, King John lost
Normandy to the French Crown. The ties with
Normandy were gradually severed and the Norman
nobility gradually became English. Gradually, there was
a switch from French to English as the official language.
The first state document to be issued in English
was the Proclamation of Henry III (1216-72) – a
constitutional document that reformed Parliament in
1269. In 1362 Edward III’s Parliament enacted a statute
whereby the use of French in the court laws was
terminated (even if records were still kept in Latin) and
in the same year the king made the first royal speech to
Parliament in English. By the end of Richard II’s reign
(1399), English had become the everyday language of

the Court. In the 14th century there was a switch from
French to English as the medium of grammar school
When, in 1399, Henry Lancaster seized the
throne of England, he would be the first king whose
native language was English, and in the 15th century
there were members of the nobility who spoke no French
at all.
As English became the language of
administration and culture, there came a re-establishment
of an English literary language – a standard form of the
language, which could be regarded as a norm (there
were, in fact, two standard forms of the language, that of
England and that of Scotland). In England, the new
standard language was no longer based on the West-
Saxon literary language, but on the East Midland dialect,
as the East Midlands had a superior cultural, economic
and administrative life. The North remained a rather
backward region, but in the south, the London speech
imposed itself and its prestige grew gradually.
Nevertheless, the 13th and 14th centuries
represented a code-switching, transitional period, as both

languages were used simultaneously. More French
words were adopted in English now than they had been
when French had been the official language, because
back then it had not been spoken by the ordinary people.
An illustrative example is that of the 2nd person
pronouns. Originally, the English words had been ‘thou’
(singular) and ‘ye’ (plural), and ‘thee’ (singular) and
‘you’ (plural) after a preposition or as an object,
respectively. Due to the ambiguity of the French ‘vous’,
the English word ‘you’ took over the functions of the
plural ‘ye’, and then ‘you’ took over the functions of the
singular ‘thou’, so that the distinction between singular
and plural was lost.

With the emergence of a new class – the

merchants who took control of an international trade,
with London guilds beginning to use English for their
records, specialized terms, in which English was
deficient, were taken over from French. By mid-15th
century, the tradesmen had become an almost separate
literate group, apart from the clergy and the nobility.
Sometimes, English, French and Latin occurred together

in their documents (the symbol ‘&’ was first used in
their documents).

2.6.1. French Loan Words

Most French words were not borrowed in English

while French was the language of the upper classes (the
ordinary people in England did not speak French), but in
the 13th and 14th centuries, when there were bilingual
speakers changing over to English for purposes such as
commerce, administration and literature. They were not
homely words such as the Scandinavian ones. The
influence of French was a vertical one, reflective of
cultural and political dominance, and they are more
common in the fields of administration (‘chancellor’,
‘council’, ‘government’), the law (‘to accuse’, ‘attorney’,
‘crime’, ‘to punish’), heraldry, arts (‘costume’, ‘apparel’,
‘dress’), military and ecclesiastical life (‘castle’, ‘tower’,
‘abbey’, ‘clergy’, ‘prayer’). Most words denoting titles
of rank in English are also of French origin (‘baron’,
‘count’, ‘duke’, ‘peer’, ‘prince’), while the language

retained the English words ‘king’, ‘queen’, ‘lord’, ‘lady’,
‘earl’, ‘knight’.
When they were first borrowed, French words
were given a French pronunciation, but they were soon
adapted to the English phonological system and they
were pronounced in the English manner. This process of
assimilation made it easier for later Romance and Latin
words to be adopted by the English language (French
stems with English prefixes and suffixes, such as
‘beautiful’, ‘faithless’, ‘preaching’, ‘ungracious’).
The dominance of French for so many centuries
had a huge impact on writing as well: English writers
began writing verse chronicles in the French manner.
However, in certain places, some English literary
traditions were preserved – until the 2nd half of the 14th
century, there was a line of poets using the alliterative
line descending from Old English poetry. With Geoffrey
Chaucer, whose versification was deeply influenced by
Italian and French models, Old English versification
became obsolete.

2.6.2. Characteristics of Middle English

Linguists conventionally date Middle English

from 1100 and 1500. Old English did not disappear
suddenly in the years following the Norman Conquest.
The West-Saxon literary tradition was continued for a
while in some monasteries, but the changes that had
begun to occur in the language before the conquest now
developed at a much higher speed. Significant changes
took place in spelling: the Norman scribes disregarded
Old English spelling altogether – they spelled words as
they heard them and often resorted to the conventions of
Norman French.
A sound change that took place in late Old
English but did not become apparent until the Middle
English period, was the lengthening of short vowels
before certain consonant groups, under the influence of
French pronunciation. For instance, the OE word ‘bakan’
(‘to bake’) became ‘baken’ in Middle English, but it was
still pronounced with a long ‘a’. With the French
influence, it then became ‘to bake’, and its pronunciation
was the one used nowadays. The Middle English

lengthening of vowels in open syllables of disyllabic
words also affected the spelling conventions of the
English language. In early Middle English, words like
‘bake’ had two syllables. After the first vowel was
lengthened, the final –e was lost and such words became
In the field of morphology, there was a great
reduction in the inflectional system inherited from Old
English (the period of ‘reduced inflections’). The loss
and weakening of unstressed syllables at the end of the
words destroyed many of the distinctive inflections of
Old English. The Old English word-finals –a, -u, -e
became –en in Middle English, to be finally reduced to –
e. The endings –as and –es for the Nominative plural and
Genitive singular became –es. Even the final –e
ultimately disappeared in the Nominative during the
Middle English period and many endings became
identical. By the 15th century the –es plural became
A similar process of loss of case distinctions took
place in adjectives and demonstratives. In the case of
adjectives, the language used two forms: the base form

(e.g. ‘fair’) and a form with the ending –e used for the
plural (‘faire’). Towards the end of the Middle English
period, the –e was lost and the adjective became
indeclinable. In Old English, the definite article showed
three genders, but by the end of the Middle English
period ‘the’ became the only form of the definite article.
In Old English, the definite article and the
adjective played a major role in marking the distinctions
of case and number. When they lost this function by the
end of the Middle English period, the language changed
a lot. Grammatical gender disappeared in favor of the
‘natural gender’ (in Old English, for instance, the word
‘wifmann’ – ‘woman’ was masculine, while ‘wif’ –
‘wife’ was neuter).
Word order became very important, because
inflections were no longer capable of showing which
noun was the subject of the sentence. In the verb system,
there was also a tendency for inflections to be replaced
by more analytical devices. If, in Old English, there were
many inflections, but only two tenses (present and past),
in Middle English the system of inflections was reduced,

but a new system of tenses was built up by means of the
primary auxiliaries and of the modal auxiliaries.

2.7. Literacy and Education in the Middle

In the Anglo-Saxon period, the control of

education in England became the responsibility of the
Christian church (the first schools were founded in the
6th century). In the Middle Ages, the monastic and
cathedral schools, which had originally been established
for the clergy and for those intending to enter the
monasteries, gradually admitted lay pupils and
broadened the curriculum to include the study of the
classics, grammar, logic, rhetoric, geometry and
arithmetic. The Church continued to dominate education
until the end of the Middle Ages.
In Norman and early medieval times only a few
people were educated – especially churchmen. Before
the Norman Conquest, Alfred the Great had attempted to
bring the benefits of literacy to a wider section of the
community (he founded a court school and translated
some works from Latin into Anglo-Saxon himself).
However, Alfred was something of a unique figure in

this respect. With the Normans, education was regarded
as something incompatible with fighting men (William
the Conqueror could not even sign his name and he
‘signed’ charters with a cross).
However, there were schools attached to
monasteries in the Middle Ages. It was to the greatest
extent the Church that enjoyed the prerogatives of
education, but the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge
developed around centers of learning established by the
clergy in the 12th and 13th centuries. During the Middle
Ages, the number of cathedral grammar schools rose to
approximately 400. By the 14th century, grammar
schools existed for the education of boys who were not
destined for the Church.
With the Black Death, many of these schools had
closed by the 15th century. They were restored
afterwards, this time by certain citizens and companies
who founded new schools by donation. These were the
Livery Companies – the London trade and crafts
associations – such as those of the weavers, merchants
and vintners, who were the successors of the guilds and
dominated London’s political and economic life in the

Middle Ages. They began to control trades in the mid-
13th century and exercised power over all aspects of
commercial organization. As they were immensely
wealthy, they also engaged in charitable and educational
activities, so that they founded boys’ schools, took over
responsibility for running them and provided
scholarships at schools and universities. At the same
time, a basic education was also provided in some areas
for the children of the poor, usually by the local parish


1. Feudalism
2. Domesday Survey Book, Exchequer
3. Transition from Old English to Middle English
4. Magna Carta
5. Model Parliament
6. Middle English
7. The Great Famine, the Plague, the Peasant Revolt


1. How did the Norman Conquest influence the early

English democracy?
2. What was the feudal system characterized by?
3. How did judicial activity expand in the Middle Ages
(House of Plantagenet)?
4. How did early Parliament structures emerge in the
13th century?
5. Discuss the main social crises in the 14th century.
6. How did the War(s) of the Roses influence monarchy
in the 15th century?

3. The 16th Century: Reformation. The
Elizabethan Age.

England in the 16th century was characterized by

significant changes. On the whole, there was more
emphasis on religious division, there were problems at
home and abroad, and transoceanic developments. The
population of the country had nearly doubled by mid-16th
century, which brought about a growth in economic
Inflation also grew, rents and food prices grew faster
than wages. This brought about a growth of the number
of beggars. The 1495 Parliament Act concerning
vagabonds and beggars was followed by a number of
laws regarding the poor: paupers who were not able to
find work became the responsibility of parishes in
England, whereas in Scotland paupers had to earn the
right to beg and beggars were required to wear a
distinctive blue badge.

The discrepancy between the rich and the poor
created a rift in the social order. The rich displayed their
growing wealth, which was visible in clothes, furniture,
music instruments. Homes were no longer built like
fortresses – they had large windows and were
surrounded by ever more elaborate gardens.
The gentry tried to adopt a code of aristocratic
conduct and developed an interest in education, which
distinguished them from the rest of the community.
Caxton had introduced printing in England in 1474.
Books thus ensured the possibility of a more private and
individual culture. Theaters appeared towards the end of
the 16th century (The Globe was opened in 1599) under
the patronage of aristocrats.
The coal industry developed in the north mainly
to supply London. The role of the market economy
became more consistent and affected areas that had been
poor before (Edinburgh in Scotland). Welsh cattle and
sheep were brought to England and Welsh coal was
mined and exported.

3.1. House of Tudor

Under the Tudors, England flourished and was

introduced to Renaissance learning. It also became an
important power in European diplomacy. Henry VII
(1485-1509) was the first Welshman to become King of
England. The process of administrative assimilation of
Wales was begun during his reign and it was completed
during the reign of Henry VIII, from 1536 to 1547.
Henry VIII had an active role in reasserting the
monarch’s control over the nobility. The nobility had
been weakened by wars and by internal conflicts so from
1485, in Tudor England there was a return to royal
dominance. The noblemen were often excluded from
policy-making. Consequently, Tudor monarchs
controlled Parliament and summoned it only when they
wanted to raise money.
The reign of Henry VIII (1509-47) – King of
Ireland from 1540 – was significant for the Reformation
of the Church. The Reformation was a religious and
political movement in 16th century Europe, inspired by a
wish to reform the Roman Catholic Church and resulting

in the establishment of Protestant Churches in several
The first part of Henry VIII’s reign was
dominated by his desire for a glorious foreign policy. He
was determined to make England an influential country
in Europe and in this sense he sustained military
campaigns that brought the country close to bankruptcy.
Apart from these concerns, Henry VIII also had
dynastic concerns. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon,
had given him one daughter, Mary. Henry tried to end
his marriage when he fell in love with Anne Boleyn. As
divorce was almost impossible, Henry needed a Papal
dispensation. He asked Pope Clement VIII for an
annulment of his marriage, which he was not granted.
One of the reasons for the Pope’s refusal was the fact
that, at the time, Catherine’s nephew was Emperor
Charles V, the most powerful ruler in Italy, and he did
not want to upset him.
In a dramatic gesture, Henry rejected Papal
jurisdiction over the English Church. Until 1533, the
English Church was subject to the papacy. The clergy
owed loyalty to the King and to the Pope in Rome. They

also had the right to be tried in Church courts (the right
of Appeals to Rome). A series of statues (the Restraint of
Appeals to Rome) ended the papal jurisdiction over the
English Church and also brought papal authority to an
end in England. This Act permitted Henry to divorce
Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn.
In 1533 Henry VIII proclaimed England an
Empire, governed by ‘one supreme head and king’. By
being declared an Empire, England was proclaimed self-
sufficient from a jurisdictional point of view. Henry
established the sovereignty of Law made in Parliament.
In 1534, the term ‘majesty’ was used for the first
time in proclamations and documents (it replaced ‘your
grace’ as a form of address to the king). Henry devised
the doctrine of royal supremacy, and developed the
theory that the monarch was not responsible to the
people, but to God alone (the mystique of kingship).
In the same year (1534), the Act of Supremacy
established that Henry would be the ‘Supreme Head of
the Church’. A dramatic turn took place in religion, a
shift that was to change the political future of the country
as well.

There had been no indications that England
would become, from a Catholic country, a Protestant
one. In 1517, in Germany, Luther had challenged the
Papacy. Not only had Henry (a devout Catholic) not
responded, but he had written a book against Luther. The
Pope had rewarded him with the title Fidei Defensor
(Defender of Faith). But later, his break with Rome
encouraged Protestants in England.
Henry VIII moved in the direction of
Lutheranism. He changed those aspects of the Church
that he viewed hostile. In 1536 the dissolution of the
(extremely wealthy) Catholic monasteries was set in
motion. The properties of the monasteries were
transferred to the Crown. Becket’s shrine at Canterbury
was destroyed and pilgrimages were forbidden.
As a result of the royal supremacy, all religious
questions became political questions and any form of
dissent became a direct challenge to the Crown. Those
who did not accept thee Reformation were persecuted.
The Treason Act of 1534 extended the notion of treason
to words, not just deeds. Religious dissent was identified
with the denial of royal supremacy. Thomas More, who

had persecuted Protestants before, resigned as Lord
Chancellor in protest at Henry’s divorce and was
executed for treason.
In 1534 an Act was passed in Parliament,
establishing that Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was
“undoubted, true, sincere and perfect”, and that their
children would succeed to the throne of England. Mary,
Catherine’s daughter, was declared illegitimate. After
Elizabeth was born, Anne Boleyn was beheaded in 1536.
Henry married Jane Seymour, who bore him a son,
Edward. In 1536 an Act replaced that of 1534, and
provided for the succession of Henry’s children with
Jane Seymour. In 1544, a final Act settled the order of
succession to the throne of England: Edward I, Mary I,
Elizabeth I.

In England, the general reluctance to accept

Protestant religion was counterbalanced by the
unwillingness of most people to overthrow the King, but
this political move had weakened the authority of the
Crown. Scotland was determined not to follow the
English lead, and, even if Henry VIII attacked it in 1542,

the negotiations failed and Scotland would accept the
Reformation much later.
Wales accepted the Reformation easily, as it was
threatened by Spain, the most powerful Catholic country,
and it needed English help. From 1536 to 1543, the
Union of Wales with England was consolidated. Wales
was assimilated into the English governmental system
and the Welsh people became English subjects, with
representatives in Parliament. In 1543, the introduction
of English law and administration contributed to the
prosperity of the country, but the replacement of Welsh
with English as the official language had a devastating
effect on Welsh culture.
Ireland rejected the Reformation and the
Protestant colonists whom the King sent there. This
resulted in a war that lasted for nine years, but in 1540
the Irish Parliament accepted Henry VIII as King of

During the reign of Edward VI (1547-53),

Protestantism was consolidated, despite the general
hostility to religious change. Two Acts of Uniformity

that were passed during Edward’s reign established that
the moderately Protestant ‘Book of Common Prayer’
should be used in Anglican service, and that fines should
be paid for non-attendance at church.
When Mary I (1553-58) succeeded her brother to
the throne of England, there was a dramatic return to
Catholicism. Mary was a fervent Catholic; she also
married Philip of Spain (an unpopular marriage that
caused revolts in the country). England was absolved
from Schism, and a synod restored Catholicism. Massive
persecution of Protestants (Bishops and about 270
Protestants were burnt at the stake) earned her the name
‘Bloody Mary’.
In 1558 Elizabeth I became Queen of England
and Ireland. Having been declared illegitimate after her
mother’s death, she had been imprisoned in the Tower of
London by her half-sister Mary, who had seen in her an
exponent of Protestantism.
Even if she opposed religious extremism, she
inherited a country (nation) that was deeply divided by
religious strife. She restored her father’s moderate
Anglicanism - in 1559 she reintroduced Anglican service

and in 1563 the 39 Articles formulating the established
doctrine of the Church were issued. She maintained
control over the Church and over the bishops, and the
Act of Supremacy that was passed during her reign (the
Elizabethan Settlement) defined once again the
sovereign as the Supreme Head of the Church.

Moreover, she made use of her prerogative (the

powers and privileges that the law recognizes as
belonging to the sovereign) and claimed that Parliament
had no right to initiate discussion of the religious
settlement, her marriage, and the succession to the
She accepted only those aspects of the Protestant
doctrine and practice that were consistent with order, and
she made it clear that there would be no further
Reformation of the Church. This brought about the
conflict with the Puritans (the radical exponents of
Protestantism). She only offered moderate and cautious
help to the Dutch Protestants and the French Hughenots.
Her moderate Protestantism had political reasons,
as England was threatened by two great Catholic powers,

France and Spain. Philip of Spain attacked the “heretical
Queen”, but the powerful Spanish Armada was defeated
by the English in 1588.
Elizabeth I showed great interest in the welfare of
her subjects, who called her ‘Gloriana’. She was prudent
in her economic decisions – she often financed
Government from her own revenues and rarely raised
taxes. She helped create a national self-confidence that
was reflected in the works of Marlowe, Spenser and

The basis of Britain’s trading Empire was set in

1600, when the East India Company was founded to
trade there. At the same time, the first English colony in
America (Virginia) was established and some
unsuccessful attempts were made to break into
Portugal’s trade with West Africa.

3.2 Linguistic Changes in the 15th and 16th

The English language in the 16th century

underwent dramatic changes, which represented a new
stage in its development – (early) Modern English
(1500-1700). As early as the 15th century, the emerging
literary standard made it possible for the English
language to create some kind of recognizable order out
of the chaos of co-existing regional, social and stylistic
The disproportionate growth of London and the
growing mobility of the population in general combined
to spread London prestige linguistic forms in waves out
to the regional dialects, after the language of the written
documents was affected first. The social varieties also
affected one another increasingly, in the sense that the
speech of the educated determined the norms of the
middle class.
It is generally accepted that the beginning of the
Early Modern English can be dated back to 1500.

Several social factors were brought in support of this
theory. One of them was the expansion of a written
standard form and its increasing homogeneity (book
printing had begun in England in 1476). Another factor
was the beginning of humanism in England (the Oxford
reformers – 1485-1510). Another major contribution was
the translation of the Bible into English, as a
consequence of the breakaway of the English Church
from Rome in 1533-34.
Both linguistically and culturally, the 15th century
had been a transitional period, and many 16th century
language features had their beginnings in the preceding
century – the reduction of inflections, the rise of
Chancery English as the standard after 1430, the increase
in middle-class readership.
Another factor in favor of English was the
increase in national feeling, particularly during the
Renaissance and the reign of Elizabeth I. The rise of the
modern nation-state in the 15th and 16th centuries brought
greater interest and pride in the national language. The
rise of social groups, educated and eager to read and

learn, increased translations and book printing in
In terms of grammar, the speakers of early
Modern English often had a choice of terms and
constructions that are not possible nowadays – in verb
inflections, personal pronouns, relative pronouns,
negative and interogative sentences (e.g. ‘has’/’hath’,
‘you’/’thou goest/goes’).

3.2.1. The Great Vowel Shift was a change in

the quality of all the long vowels, which became shorter
in quality. It began in the 15th century and was completed
in the 17th century. In relation to this, many linguists
believe that the causes of early Modern English variation
among long vowels and of the rift between spelling and
pronunciation go back to Middle English times. The
social reasons for these innovations are unexplained.
According to a hypothesis advanced by some linguists,
the upper classes, highly competent in French in the 15th
century, may have substituted a more ‘refined’
pronunciation of English. Moreover, the medieval
concept of spelling presupposed a kind of phonetic

spelling (scribes in Norman times spelled words as they
heard them). Therefore, in the 16th century, spelling had
remained extremely archaic. While pronunciation had
changed a lot, spelling had lagged behind. It is generally
believed that, in many ways, modern spelling in English
still represents medieval pronunciation.
Latin was also influential during the Renaissance
period, a period that was remarkable for the rediscovery
of the classics. To some extent, Latin remained the
linguistic ideal – it was still the international language of
scholarship, the lingua franca that would safeguard a
writer’s international fame. Thomas More, William
Camden, Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes
still wrote in Latin, so that, if works in Latin were
ignored, the cultural history of England would be
incomplete. In grammar schools, Latin was still used
because of the medieval belief in its superiority. The
educational system would adopt the English medium
education only in the 17th century, when the influence of
Puritans, who equated Latin with Roman Catholicism,
increased; it was only the upheaval of Civil War that
disrupted the old traditions of the schools.

If, at the beginning of the 16th century, English
had still been considered a rather rude, ‘barbarian’
language, by the end of the 16th century, after the Golden
Age of the English language, there was an unparalleled
sense of pride in the national language.

3.3. Education

In the 15th and 16th centuries, English humanists,

such as John Colet (who founded St. Paul’s School) and
Sir Thomas More helped to establish a revival of
classical learning and liberal studies. During the 16th and
17th centuries, the spread of Calvinist reforms by the
Puritans in England and by the Presbyterians in Scotland
led to an emphasis on the study of English, the sciences,
modern languages and sport. Many King’s schools
(public schools) appeared in most cathedral cities.
However, for a long time, the state played no role
in the school system. There were exceptions – some
monarchs opened schools (Henry VI opened Eton – one
of the most exclusive colleges nowadays, and Edward VI
founded some dozen schools still known as King Edward

VI Grammar Schools), but, apart from that, the state was
reluctant to intervene in the educational sphere.


1. Henry VIII and the Reformation: Restraint of

Appeals to Rome
2. Sovereignty of Law made in Parliament
3. Act of Supremacy
4. Lutheranism and Protestantism; the
Elizabethan Church Settlement
5. Union of Wales with England
6. Early Modern English – the Great Vowel


1. Define Lutheranism and Protestantism.

2. Discuss the impact of the Reformation on Wales and
Ireland, respectively.
3. Mary I and the Counterreformation.

4. The 17th Century: James I. Civil War in
England. The Restoration of the Stuarts. The
Glorious Revolution.

4.1. The 17th Century: House of Stuart

The reign of Tudor monarchs ended with Queen

Elizabeth’s death and with the accession of James I
(1603-25) to the throne of England and Ireland. The son
of Mary, Queen of Scots, he was an infant when he
succeeded to the Scottish throne as James VI, following
his mother’s enforced abdication in 1567. Mary, Queen
of Scots, who was related to Elizabeth, had been
executed for treason, as Queen Elizabeth feared that she
might be the focus of Catholic conspiracies against the
authority of the English Crown.
In 1586 he was awarded an English pension, and
Elizabeth I promised not to oppose his claims to the
English succession, unless he provoked her with his
actions in Scotland. In 1592, as King of Scotland, he

consented to an Act of Parliament establishing
Presbytarianism as the official religion of Scotland, and
he subdued the Catholics in the north of the country.
[Presbytarianism is the main branch of the reformed
churches, embodying the principles of Calvinism,
principles that had been advanced by the French
Protestant theologian of the Reformation. Calvin denied
Papal authority; he considered that the Bible was the sole
source of God’s law and that it was man’s duty to
interpret it.]
When he succeeded to the English throne, he
promised that he would not alter the Elizabethan Church
Settlement, and he did not accept religious diversity in
the country. He believed that the Anglican Church and
the monarchy should be interdependent - his slogan was
“no Bishop, no King”. He was the target of the
Gunpowder Plot in 1605, when Guy Fawkes, a Roman-
Catholic, attempted to blow up Parliament.
In 1611 the established version of the Bible was
translated into English (King James Bible).

When he became king of England, James I united
the crowns of England and Scotland, by the Act of
Union. The two countries still had separate Parliaments,
and the formal Union would be accomplished only in
1707, but all people born in Scotland after his accession
to the throne of England became English citizens.
The Union flag (Union Jack) was devised in
1606, combining the crosses of St. George and St.
Andrew (the cross of St. Patrick was introduced in
1801). [The term ‘jack’ was used to refer to the flag
when it was flown at a vessel’s bow, i.e. used as a ship’s

Realizing that England could no longer support

the costs of war, James I made peace with Spain. He
extended his diplomatic efforts to other countries in
Europe, as he wanted to be accepted by both Catholics
and Protestants, but his efforts were ruined by the
strength of Protestant opinion in England and by Spain’s
reluctance to form a lasting alliance with him.

During his reign, English colonies were
established in North America. The English also
colonized Bermuda (1613), Barbados and the West
Indies (1627). The Mayflower, the ship in which the
Pilgrim Fathers sailed to America, left England
(Plymouth) in 1620.

4.2. Civil War and Republican England

Religious and political crises occurred during the

reign of Charles I (1625-49). It was a reign dominated by
the King’s struggle with Parliament, which ultimately
culminated in Civil War (1642-49).
Civil War in England had complex causes, but
two issues were fundamental: the religious and the
The constitutional dispute centered on the extent
of the royal prerogative, and it was triggered by the
King’s exaggerated financial demands and Parliament’s
refusal to vote new taxes. Parliament was influenced by
the gentry, who had become more independent of royal
patronage, had expanded economically and had a
majority in the House of Commons. Parliament began to
refuse royal requests for money. It forced Charles to sign
the Petition of Rights in 1628, which further restricted
the monarch’s powers and was intended to prevent him
from raising taxes without Parliament’s consent. Charles

tried to ignore these political developments, until he was
obliged to summon Parliament for finance.
The religious dispute was equally important. The
king opposed the attempts of the Puritans in Parliament
to purge the Anglican Church of what they considered to
be Roman-Catholic tendencies, of elements that they
regarded as superstitious or lacking in scriptural
authority (they laid emphasis on moral strictness and
abstinence from all pleasure).
The civil strife was a direct result of the religious
disputes dating back to the Reformation period: radical
reformers of the Church (Puritans) continued to believe
that the Church had to purify itself further from the
authority of the bishops and the authoritarianism of the
Stuart kings. These religious reformers were seen as
rebels, both by Catholics, and by moderate Protestants.
The political and religious crises reached their
climax when the king and his Archbishops tried to
impose their own brand of High Church Uniformity
(which met Puritan resistance), and, when, in Parliament,
Charles I raised taxes and reasserted the idea that kings
were God’s agents on Earth (the claim to the monarch’s

divine right). (“Kings are not only God’s lieutenants on
Earth, but even by God himself they are called Gods.”)
Tension was heightened by the King’s marriage to a
As a result, many moderate Protestants in
Parliament united with the radical Puritans against the
The people’s reaction was equivocal. Even if
there was a tense relationship between monarch and law,
even if people respected Parliament, few in England
actually wanted to overthrow the king. A monarch was
thought to be divinely instituted, and if Charles was a
bad king, he was to be punished by God, therefore
rebellion and civil war were unconceivable.
Nevertheless, Charles I dissolved his first
Parliament in 1625, after it refused to vote him the
revenue that he needed. A second Parliament was also
dissolved after it refused to grant money to the king.
Charles resolved to rule the country without
Parliament - he instituted ‘personal rule’ from 1629 to
1640 (the Eleven Years’ Tyranny). A war with Scotland
made him summon a ‘Short Parliament’ in 1640, which

he dissolved. In the same year he summoned the ‘Long
Parliament’, but he could not cooperate with it and open
conflict arose in 1642, when he tried to arrest five of its
members. [Ever since that year, the monarch has been
forbidden to enter the House of Commons. At present,
the monarch knocks on the door of the House of
Commons after it has been closed against her, and she
summons the members of the Commons to the State
opening of Parliament – the Black Rod ceremony].

In 1642, the struggle between Parliament and

King (Puritans vs. royalists, country vs. court)
culminated in armed conflict. The Puritans identified
with the parliamentary opposition to the monarchy, and
they allied themselves with Scottish Presbyterians in
order to resist the bishops.
In August 1642 the war began. The king was
captured by the Scots in 1646, and he was handed over
to the Parliamentarians. After secret negotiations with
the Scots, Charles agreed to establish a Presbyterian
Church in England and they agreed to support him.

When his Scottish supporters were defeated, Charles was
taken to London, tried and beheaded in 1649.
The executive body in Interregnum England
became the Council of State. In 1653, Oliver Cromwell
became Lord Protector of England (during the
Protectorate – 1653-59 – the executive consisted of the
Protector and the Council of State, comprising 22
members elected for life).
England was declared a Republic, the
Commonwealth. The House of Lords was abolished and
Parliament consisted only of the House of Commons,
which met every three years. The Church of England
was disestablished, and during the Puritan Interegnum
there was strict control, even censorship, of public

The Republican regime was faced with very

difficult governments in Scotland and Ireland and it
could not feel safe until they were overthrown. Both
Scotland and Ireland were conquered (the massacre of
Drogheda by the parliamentarians under Cromwell
contributed to the anglophobic Irish public myth). The

conquest of Ireland resulted in a massive transfer of land
from the Irish to the English, particularly the military,
who had to be paid for war.
The Commonwealth also led an aggressive policy
towards foreign powers (the first Anglo-Dutch war was
fought in 1652-54).
Cromwell disagreed with Parliament, dissolved it
and introduced direct military rule. A second Parliament
offered him the title of King, which he refused. His son,
Richard Cromwell, who succeeded him, soon lost
control of the army and resigned.

4.3. The Restoration of the Stuarts

Cromwellian military rule was harsh and

increasingly unpopular, so that most people favored the
restoration of the monarchy. In the confusion following
Richard Cromwell’s downfall, General Monck dissolved
Parliament and invited the king’s son, Charles II, who
had lived in exile, to return to England.

The Convention Parliament voted for the king’s
return, in 1660. With the restoration of the Stuarts, the
monarch might again rule by divine right, but he was to
rule thanks to Parliament (parliamentary monarchy).
Whereas Catholic families had been persecuted
under Cromwell, Puritans were excluded from positions
of civil and religious authority under Charles II. Unlike
the Puritans, who had closed down theatres and had
imposed fines for dancing and drinking, the aristocracy
in the Restoration period enjoyed and indulged in a new
freedom (theaters were reopened and allowed women to
perform on the stage, literature flourished). The country
enjoyed more prosperity, as the development of
commerce was accompanied by administrative reforms.

The king had to conform to the policies of

Parliament, which worked to strengthen England’s
trading and agricultural industries. In addition to the
growing power of Parliament against the monarch, the
17th century also saw the beginning of more organized
political parties. These derived largely from the
ideological and religious conflicts of the Civil War. Two

groups became dominant, and this feature was to
characterize British two-party politics in the future. In
the political balance of power there was a shift from the
king to the two-party system – the Tories, associated
with a conservative, royalist aristocracy, and the Whigs,
identified with the growing, more liberal, commercial
class (generally Protestants from the gentry).

Charles II was succeeded by his brother, James II

(1685-88). As he was a Catholic, there was alarm at his
religious convictions (politicians had made three
attempts to exclude him from succession).
After he became king, James II admitted
Catholics to the succession to the throne of England, by
the Declaration of Indulgence in 1687. The anxiety for
the future of Protestantism in England was intensified
with the birth of a Catholic heir to the throne.
In 1688, several prominent politicians (Whigs
and Tories) invited William of Orange (who was married
to the King’s daughter, Mary) to help them overthrow
James II. With Dutch military help, William arrived in
England, and succeeded to the throne, after the king fled

to France. Since no force was involved, this event was
called The Glorious Revolution (1688-89). It was the last
successful (but bloodless) invasion of England, a coup in
which the monarch was replaced by his daughter, Mary,
and by his nephew and son in law, William, who ruled
jointly from 1689 to 1702.
The constitutional outcome of the Glorious
Revolution was The Bill of Rights (1689), which
William and Mary accepted. The Bill of Rights
condemned James II for attempting to subvert Protestant
religion, for his use of money without Parliament’s
consent and for maintaining an army in peacetime.
Apart from that, it imposed few restrictions on
the new monarchs’ power and prerogatives. It confirmed
that sovereignty resided in Parliament, and it laid down
the principles of parliamentary supremacy, requesting
free elections, frequent parliaments and freedom of
speech within Parliament. It also excluded any Roman-
Catholic from the succession to the throne of England.
[After the Glorious Revolution, Parliament met
regularly, even if both Houses were dominated by the
landed gentry until the 19th century.]

The Glorious Revolution weakened monarchy –
it gave substance to the notion of parliamentary
monarchy, it abolished the monarch’s claim to ‘divine
right’, and real power now rested in the hands of
constitutional assemblies.
Even if it was a political crisis, the Glorious
Revolution was to play an important role in the English
public myth, to be seen as a triumph of the liberal and
tolerant spirit. In 1690, the English philosopher John
Locke (Two Treatises on Civil Government) devised a
political theory that was to influence the thinkers of the
Enlightenment. He advanced the concept of a social
contract, in which sovereignty rests with the people; the
people undertake reciprocal obligations with a ruler, who
may be removed if he does not respect his contract.

The Glorious Revolution had profound

consequences for the pattern of government in the
British Isles. In Ireland, the poverty caused by the pre-
industrial economy was accompanied by dramatic social
and political changes. As Catholic Ireland had supported
King James II, William’s troops occupied Dublin and

other towns. Catholics were disfranchised and debarred
from all political, legal and military offices, as well as
from Parliament.


1. King James Bible (1611)

2. Union with Scotland – Union Jack
3. Civil War in England
4. Commonwealth and the Protectorate
5. The Stuart Restoration – ‘Parliamentary
6. The Bill of Rights


1. What were the disputes that brought about Civil

2. What happened in England during the Puritan

3. What was thee importance of the Glorious
Revolution in terms of civil rights in England?
4. What concept did the English philosopher John
Locke advance in relation to people and monarchy
shortly after the Glorious Revolution?

5. The 18th Century: The Growth of the
Empire. The Loss of America.

The 18th century was defined as the age of reason

in English history. Scientific discoveries (gravitation, the
laws of motion) were accompanied, on a social level, by
an impulse for order, characteristic of the rising middle
classes. Overall, the century was pervaded by some
epidemics because of the lack of an adequate sewage
system. There was a high percentage of the English
population that was engaged in activities other than
agriculture and industry developed. After the Transport
Act was passed in 1718, about 50,000 convicts from
England and Wales were sent to work in the colonies in
America; after the loss of the American colonies they
were sent to Africa and finally to Australia.
The elite of the country (the gentry, the higher clerics
and the leading townsmen) owned and controlled most
of the land. They were the local notables and enjoyed
social prestige and effective control of most of the

communities; therefore they were able to influence the
central government.
In most countries, central government meant, at the
time, the monarch and a small group of advisors and
officials. These were not capable of creating the modern
state because they lacked the mechanisms to intervene
effectively in the communities, so that the churches were
the only ones able to operate more efficiently than
secular governments. Thus, in most countries,
governments relied more heavily than today on the social
elite to fulfil many functions.
In England, for instance, religion, education and
health were centered on the parish, but at a local level,
the Church was dominated by the laity and the gentry (in
some cases even the state needed the sanction of the
church). The administration of the localities (the
maintenance of law and order and the administration of
justice) were left to the local nobility and gentry.
Overall, the political system was run by the elite, but, in
contrast to other countries in Europe, the English were
more animated by a belief in the role of law, and this
belief alone saved the country from the move towards

despotism characteristic of so many other countries at
the time.

5.1. House of Hanover.

Queen Anne (1702-14) was the youngest

daughter of James II and the last Stuart sovereign (she
succeeded William and Mary, who had no children). As
her children died, she agreed to the Act of Settlement,
providing for the succession of the House of Hanover to
the throne of England. The Act also stipulated that all
future monarchs had to be Protestant.
The legal (incorporating) Union of England and
Scotland was made in 1707, and it arose from England’s
fear of an autonomous Scotland. The united country was
now called Great Britain.
Even if England dominated the British Isles after
the Glorious Revolution, there was a sense of separate
identity which continued to be important in Ireland and
Scotland [Ireland had a separate Parliament until 1800,
and Scotland had a different national Church, as well as
different educational and legal systems.]
The Revolution Settlement (a term applied to the
Constitutional changes after 1689) defined Britain’s

uniqueness and its difference from the general pattern of
continental development. This constitutional settlement
saved Britain from the general European move towards
absolutism. With the freedom of the press and the two-
party system, England offered the model of a progressive
society, culturally and constitutionally superior to other
European countries.

After the Glorious Revolution, the reigns of the

Hanover monarchs strengthened the independence of the
political parties. George I (1714-27), a Protestant who
never learned English, left the administration of the
country to his Whig ministers. His successor, George II
(1727-60) relied heavily on the advice of his ministers.
After involving Britain in the War of Austrian
succession, George II withdrew from active involvement
in politics, and his reign became a landmark in the
development of constitutional monarchy. During his
reign, one of Britain’s most prominent statesmen, Sir
Robert Walpole, was regarded as the country’s first
Prime Minister (he was the Whig leader in the House of

The Whigs redefined parliamentary monarchy;
they were associated with the new industrial interest,
with non-conformity and reform. As Parliament
controlled foreign policy and taxation, England was on
her way of becoming the wealthiest world power.
King George III (1760-1820) was forced to admit
the reality of party politics. During his reign, Britain lost
the American colonies. The American Revolution began
as the colonies (which had no representation in
Parliament) refused to pay a part of their defense burden,
required by the British to support the conflict with
France over the territories in North America. Moreover,
certain theories about the autocratic intentions of King
George III made Americans reject British authority.
In 1765 they rejected Parliament’s financial
demands. Actual fighting broke out near Boston in 1775.
The Americans declared their independence in 1776.
France entered the war on the revolutionary side (1778),
Spain and Holland also sided with the Americans, and
the war became an international conflict. The Franco-
Spanish attempt to invade England failed, but the British
were forced to accept the loss of America. In 1783, the

Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution. With
this enormous loss, both the king and the institution of
monarchy lost prestige.

In 1792 the French Revolution began; one year

later, after the French invasion of the Austrian
Netherlands, Britain entered the war against France (the
British attacked the French in Flanders, Toulon and the
French West Indies). In 1799 Napoleon came to power
in France. In 1803 the Napoleonic war began and
continued until France invaded Russia (1812) and all
Europe united against him in 1813. Napoleon was
defeated in the Waterloo campaign (1815), and the post-
Napoleonic settlement of Europe was arranged at the
Congress of Vienna (1814-15).
Throughout the Napoleonic wars, Britain
survived France thanks to a series of naval victories, the
most remarkable of which was Horatio Nelson’s triumph
at Trafalgar in 1805. However, Napoleon wanted to
defeat Britain by economic means, therefore trade with
Britain was banned. In Britain, this caused famine and

inflation (as a result the income tax was introduced in

5.2. The Union with Ireland

In Ireland, wealthy Catholics had come to play a

more central role in politics and a more active role in
society. In 1800, as a result of Napoleon’s attempt to
invade Ireland, and in response to increased Catholic
discontent and rebellion there, the British government
supported the union with Ireland.
The Act of Union of 1800 abolished the separate
Irish Parliament – 100 new Irish politicians represented
Ireland in the House of Commons at Westminster, and
the established churches were combined into one
Protestant Episcopal Church, called the United Church
of England and Ireland. Catholics could not become MPs
in the new Parliament until 1829.

5.3. The Growth of the British Empire

The growth of the Empire had been a

characteristic feature of England since the Elizabethan

Age. It was perhaps best illustrated, metaphorically, by
the historian G.M.Trevelyan (An Illustrated History of
England). According to him, the maps of the Middle
Ages had shown an England that had been placed in one
of the remotest corners of the world. As there was
nothing beyond it, any impulse for colonization or for
territorial expansion had to be directed towards Europe.
But the consolidation of the great monarchies in Europe
was incompatible with the more liberal spirit of England,
which seemed doomed to remain forever locked in its
It was during the House of Tudor that this
situation changed dramatically. The English realized that
their remote geographical position had in fact become an
advantageous central post, which allowed them to
dominate the modern routes of trade and colonization.
Wealth and power were to be found in the remotest parts
of the world, in Africa, Asia and America.
The struggle for colonial expansion was to be
carried by England, Spain, Portugal, Holland and France.
What contributed to the ultimate supremacy of Britain as
the strongest colonial power was the liberal spirit of the

English people. Ever since the reign of Queen Elizabeth
I, the religious strife had ceased to interfere with colonial
No European country sent religious dissenters to
its colonies. Unlike the countries on the continent,
England allowed her dissenters (Puritans or Roman-
Catholics) to immigrate to the colonies. Therefore, the
most energetic spirits of the English middle and lower
classes went overseas and made the English colonies
prosperous. Those who were upsetting at home,
represented England’s fame and glory in the colonies.
At the same time, dissenters from other European
countries were allowed in the English colonies,
particularly in America. Here they enjoyed religious
freedom and they could manifest their enterprising spirit
under the English flag, with liberal English institutions.
This relatively liberal principle gave England a great
advantage in the competition for colonial supremacy.
Moreover, during the House of Stuart, England’s
domestic market depended almost entirely on export.
Parliament contributed to the consolidation of trade,
therefore it favored the establishment of colonies, even

by those who were in fact political enemies to the
Under the Stuart kings, England had well
populated, self-governing colonies in North America,
where Dutch and other foreigners were accepted and
made an important contribution to the prosperity of the
Empire. England gained New York (initially New
Amsterdam) from the Dutch in 1664. From 1634 to 1732
several British colonies were founded in America
(Maryland, Pennsylvania, Carolina, Georgia). In the
West Indian Islands, sugar economy flourished, based on
slave labor. The East India Company, chartered in 1600,
became the basis of Britain’s economic and political
power, especially after Bombay was gained in 1661 and
Calcutta in 1698. Scottish colonists went to Nova Scotia
(Canada) and they played a major role in the background
to the union between England and Scotland.
Despite the loss of the thirteen American
colonies, Britain gained Florida, the Caribbean Islands
and Malaysia. In 1788 the British established the first
European colony in Australia. After the ‘Transport Act’
was passed in 1718, about 50,000 convicts were sent to

America from England and Wales. After the loss of the
American colonies, they were sent to Africa, and finally
to Australia.
The British made more settlements in Canada,
and in 1791 a Constitutional Act created Upper and
Lower Canada (French and English-speaking,
Naval power permitted Britain to dominate the
European transoceanic world during the Napoleonic
wars. Britain’s position on the colonial map was of
crucial importance to 19th century economic and cultural
development. The rise of Britain as an imperial power
was to become (especially later, during the reign of
Queen Victoria) a central feature of British public


1. The Legal Union with Scotland

2. The American Revolution
3. Whigs and Tories
4. The Napoleonic Wars

5. The Union with Ireland


1. How did the Hanover kings influence the

development of political parties in Britain?
2. What was the Irish reaction to the union with Great
3. How did the British Empire expand from the 16th to
the 18th century?

6. The Industrial Revolution. The Victorian Ethos.

6.1. The Industrial Revolution

The rise of Britain as the greatest imperial power, the

subsequent economic development and the rise of
nationalism created a sense of divergence between
Britain and the other European powers. The French,
Italians and Germans were still dependent on kings,
noblemen and priests at a time when the British people
had Parliamentary control, freedom of speech, of press
and of person. The British enjoyed their newly acquired
liberty – freedom and the idea of having been born free
were their most cherished possessions.
Despite the supremacy of Whigs in governments
in the Hanover dynasty, the Tory landed gentry had
jurisdiction over the administration of the province
(generally, justices of peace were not paid by the Crown,
but their wealth ensured them independence from the

Even if there was no urban democracy, there was
a rural oligarchy, therefore most rural England was
aristocratic in the 18th century. The Industrial Revolution
made England a democratic country and transformed it,
from a predominantly rural society, into an urban
industrial society, one that could no longer be dominated
by the aristocracy.
The ‘Industrial Revolution’ is a term that was
first used by the historian Arnold Toynbee (1882) to
describe the economic and social transformation of
Britain during a period conventionally dated from 1740
to 1850.
Dramatic changes in the social and economic
structure of the country took place as inventions and new
technology created the factory system (involving large-
scale machine production, greater economic
specialization and a change from domestic production to
production in factories under capitalist control).
The crucial development in the Industrial
Revolution in Britain was the use of steam for power,
which was made possible by the invention of the steam
engine by James Watt (1769). This discovery

transformed several major industries and the country
prospered due to the use of steamships and the
development of the railway system.
Why the Industrial Revolution began in England
is still a matter for dispute. As early as 1500, England
had a pre-industrial economy, producing cloth for
export, rather than primary products, and it is generally
agreed that the process must have been incipient then.
The relative political stability after the Glorious
Revolution, a Constitution that emphasized
individualism, and the development of a strong banking
and credit system since the 17th century contributed to it.
The country also abounded in raw materials (coal, iron
and wool), and the overseas colonial empire
complemented the expanding domestic market.
When George III came to the throne in 1760, the
country was mainly self-supporting (small farms
provided 90% of the food, and clothes were woven in
country homes). The only imports were the so-called
‘luxury goods’ - wines, silk). By the end of his reign in
1820, the country had become dependent on foreign
trade. The farm owners now hired laborers, spinning and

weaving were carried out in factories by ‘paid hands’.
All these changes were part of the Industrial Revolution.
Factory organization and capitalist control in the
cotton industry made it the leading sector since the
1740s. [At the time, England was involved in the ‘trade
triangle’ with Africa and America. One of the most
profitable lines which commerce took in the 18th century
was the export of cotton cloth to West Africa, where it
was exchanged for Black slaves, captured by Arab
dealers. These were sold in America to the plantation
owners, who provided cotton for the growing cotton
industry of Britain.]
Production was accelerated in the textile, iron
and steel industries, as well as in mining. As a result of
the new dominance of coal as a power source, new
industrial regions developed in the coal fields in the
north and west of Britain.
The Industrial Revolution brought profound
changes in the life patterns and in the relations between
people. The new process of manufacture required
machines that were enormously costly. As it was beyond
the resources of the cottage workers to buy them, these

people were forced to abandon their home industries and
work for wages. The Industrial Revolution initiated a
major move from the country to the industrial towns and
The nation was suddenly divided between two
hostile classes – those who lived by owning and those
who lived by earning – capitalists and laborers. The fact
that Britain was the first country in which the Industrial
Revolution took place gave her an enormous advantage
in the accumulation of wealth, but at a social level, there
was a price to be paid: many people moved from the
countryside to the growing industrial towns. Here they
usually lived in poverty, in crowded homes in the
industrial areas. At times, even children had to work for
long, monotonous hours in factories.
Parliament did very little to improve these
conditions. The economic doctrine of laissez-faire
(letting such matters alone) was dominant among the
ruling classes. It was believed that in laissez-faire
economy, the impulse of self-interest would bring about
public welfare.

Writers such as John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith
argued that wages and conditions of labor were outside
human control – the economic ‘law of supply and
demand’, enabled employers to accumulate capital and
to expand their businesses. At the same time, population
growth and unemployment pressed hard on the working
The only step that workers could take in self-
defense was to establish trade unions, but in 1799
Parliament passed a Combination Act, which forbade
any worker to combine with other workers in order to
impose conditions on their employers, under a penalty of
3 months’ hard labor. The industrial workers often
suffered hardship and sometimes they fiercely opposed
their employers.
Even if it was clear that no political revolution
would accompany the Industrial Revolution, vast social
unrest occurred by mid 19th century, with important
consequences for British democracy.
The Luddites were workers in Yorkshire who
destroyed factory machines in a desperate attempt at
preserving their jobs. [The name of the movement

derives from the signature ‘Ned Ludd’ written on a
manifesto.] Organized Luddite activity broke out in
textile factories in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and
Yorkshire in 1811-12 and was renewed in 1816. The
Government, fearing a revolutionary conspiracy, and
having no effective police forces to stop it, repressed the
riots harshly (in 1813 about 17 people were executed in
In 1819, in Manchester, a small group of workers
planned to murder the entire Cabinet and establish a new
government. At St. Peter’s Field, near Manchester, about
50,000 people gathered demanding parliamentary
reform. The army was sent and the revolt was repressed.
The repression of the movement was called the Peterloo
Massacre, in ironic reference to Waterloo. The
Government replied with new legislation aimed against
potential revolutionary activity.
The only positive consequence of these revolts
was The First Reform Act (1832), originated by a Whig
government in response to widespread unrest. The Bill
was rejected by the Tories several times, causing more
popular unrest. When it was passed, it fixed a more

uniform right to vote (before the Act was passed, a
person’s right to vote had depended on the property he
owned and on the value of that property). Now franchise
was granted to more people, but it was extended mainly
to prosperous middle-class. The Act also reorganized
seats in Parliament to accommodate growing industrial
Nevertheless, the limited extent of the reform and
economic distress caused more dissatisfaction. In the
1830s, the working class organized a protest movement
(Chartism) that called for universal male suffrage. They
also demanded that all districts should have an equal
number of representatives in the House of Commons
(thus the elite would lose their right to control the
representative system in Parliament).
The Chartist movement was an expression of the
working-class resentment at economic distress and at the
failure of the attempt at developing trade unions. Despite
their violent outbreaks, the Chartists were disunited and
their claims failed to be successful. The Chartists
presented several petitions to Parliament (in 1839, 1842
and 1848), but they were all rejected. [Seats in

Parliament were redistributed only in 1885, and it was
only in 1918 that franchise was given to men over 21
and to women over 30.]

6.2. The Victorian Age

In 1837, King William IV (1830-37) was

succeeded by his niece, Victoria, Queen of Britain and
Empress of India (since 1867). Her reign (1837-1901),
the longest of any British sovereign, coincided with the
summit of British colonial power, and Victoria became
the symbol of Britain’s confidence and solidarity.
In the first part of her reign, Queen Victoria was
influenced by her Whig Prime Minister, Melbourne. This
reliance caused the constitutional ‘bedchamber crisis’ in
1839. When Melbourne resigned, he was succeeded by
the Tory leader, Peel, who asked the Queen to dismiss all
ladies of the bedchamber whose husbands were Whigs.
Victoria refused and appealed, unconstitutionally, to
Melbourne to continue in office. However, despite her
popularity, Victoria’s reign witnessed a dramatic
limitation of the monarch’s power, in the sense that,

constitutionally, she only had “the right to be consulted,
the right to encourage, the right to warn”.

6.2.1. The Victorian Ethos

The popularity that Queen Victoria enjoyed was

demonstrated in the two Jubilees that marked her reign.
The Golden Jubilee was a celebration throughout the
Empire, marking 50 years of her reign. The first Colonial
Conference took place then, and all colonial premiers
were present. The Imperial Institute (now
Commonwealth Institute) was founded in 1887 to
commemorate the Jubilee.
Ten years later, the Diamond Jubilee was
regarded as representing the summit of British glory and
power. Its most spectacular public event was an
immense military procession, in which troops from all
parts of the Empire escorted the Queen to a service at St.
Paul’s Cathedral. The fact that the Diamond Jubilee
came at a time of unprecedented industrial growth and
imperial expansion (British Empire covered about one
fifth of the world’s land surface) transformed Victoria

into a national symbol, and she started being regarded as
the ‘matriarch of Europe’.
The 19th century was considered the great century
of English power and prestige (the Diamond Jubilee in
1897 marked the highest point of dominion and glory
that had ever been attained by the English). It was the
age of British greatness, of aristocratic government, of
individual liberty and international peace.
Having benefited from the Industrial Revolution,
the Englishman was now a member of the richest and
greatest nation. Belief in material progress and
prosperity made people attempt to live as comfortably as
possible and take advantage of industrialization.
The English people believed that the material
prosperity that they, unlike other peoples, enjoyed, had
been bestowed upon them because they possessed a
combination of unique qualities necessary for progress:
initiative, inventive spirit, and love of hard work. They
also believed that they had a set of institutions, of social
and political beliefs that were essential for progress.
The laissez-faire philosophy generated belief in
individualism – the latter residing in the older (feudal)

doctrine of ‘natural rights’. [In the Middle Ages,
individuals possessed natural rights, but not equally,
rather as part of a larger complex of the wealth, custom
and tradition in which they were brought up.] Victorians
still believed in property, but also in business enterprise,
in the freedom of speech and in the right to certain
standards of living.
Victorian morality was defined as the balance
between activity generated by individual freedom and
obedience to established authority – a combination of
individual action and of belief in national duty. People
were educated in accordance with a strict code of
conduct, that was based on conformity to rules,
discipline and order – hence, the emphasis on liberty was
balanced by an emphasis on authority.
Queen Victoria and her husband, Albert of Saxe-
Coburg, lived in accordance with middle-class belief in
progress, free competition and capitalism. They led a
private life that was very much in line with these beliefs,
they were deeply concerned with virtues of home and
family. Together with their nine children, they were the
epitome of a happy, respectable family.

[The court ceremonial, which had been relaxed
during the reign of William IV, was now made rigidly
formal. When her husband died, Queen Victoria went
into seclusion - she disappeared from the sight of the
public for ten years, and when she did appear to formal
events she was always in mourning.]
The expansion of Empire was seen as spreading
the English liberal and enterprising spirit all over the
world. The Britain of Queen Victoria had a sense of
unprecedented national uniqueness and nationalistic self-
confidence. Her death in 1901 marked, for the British
people, the end of a splendid age.

In the 19th century, Britain was involved in the

diplomatic ‘Eastern Question’. The gradual
disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, and Russia’s
simultaneous move in the Balkans made Britain fear the
latter’s access from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean
Sea. Consequently, Britain and France were involved in
the Russian-Turkish wars on the side of Turkey. From
the 1830s to the 1850s British policy was to prevent

Russia from seizing the Bosphorus, and after the
Crimean War, the strait was closed to foreign warships.
Britain’s involvement in the wars was crucial for
securing the Empire. But, in contrast to other European
countries, Britain could not afford involvement in other
wars. As it traded abroad more widely than other
countries, it was dependent on foreign trade in a way in
which other countries were not. Britain’s interest in
peace distinguished her from other countries and caused
her diplomatic isolation from the Continent and her
avoidance of European wars.


1. The Industrial Revolution –the laissez-faire

2. The First Reform Act
3. The Golden and Diamond Jubilees
4. Victorian morality
5. British insularity


1. Which were the main social movements during the

Industrial Revolution?
2. What was the importance of the Industrial
Revolution as far as English society was concerned?
3. Why did Britain avoid involvement in European
wars after the Industrial Revolution?

7. The U.K. in the 20th Century: Irish
Independence. The Two World Wars. The Loss of the

7.1. Britain in the 20th Century

Edward VII (1901-10), the eldest son of Queen

Victoria, had less political influence than his mother had
had. He was succeeded by George V (1910-36), who
changed the surname Saxe-Coburg into Windsor, in
1917, when England was at war with Germany.
[Windsor Castle is one of the main residences of the
British monarchs; there has been a castle at Windsor, on
the Thames, ever since Norman times.]

7.1.1. Irish Independence

The independence of Ireland was achieved as a result

of political dissatisfaction, as in Parliament, Irish MPs
failed to achieve home rule acts (responsible for
domestic affairs). At the same time the north-east of

Ireland (mainly inhabited by Protestant descendents of
English settlers) was unwilling to withdraw from the
United Kingdom.
After the general elections in 1918, most of the Irish
parliamentary seats were won by members of the
nationalistic Sinn Fein Party. The Irish refused to attend
Parliament at Westminster and demanded independence.
In January 1919, a declaration of independence was
issued by the new national assembly and the Nationalist
Irish Volunteers (later the Irish Republican Army).
The subsequent civil war in 1919-21 was
followed by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921,
which brought independence for the Irish Free State
(Eire), which governed most of the island. The Irish Free
State became a self-governing dominion within the
British Empire, with a Governor - General appointed by
the Crown.
The Protestant unionists of the North refused to
accept this situation, and six of the nine counties of
Ulster became Northern Ireland, which remained part of
the United Kingdom. [Northern Ireland is largely a
Protestant state with a Catholic minority and it was the

target of an extensive IRA terrorist campaign from 1958
to 1962. This campaign was followed by the intervention
of British troops in 1969, by the suspension of the
Unionist regional government and the imposition of
direct rule from London in 1972.]

7.1.2. The Two World Wars

Britain’s involvement in World War I was

preceded by decades of tension, during which the great
powers aligned themselves into major rival groups: the
triple alliance of Germany with Austro-Hungary and
Italy (1879, 1882), the triple entente formed by a
Franco-Russian agreement (1893), and the Anglo-French
entente cordiale (1904).
Rivalry in the Balkans between Austro-Hungary
and Russia brought about the Great War between the
allied powers. The incident that triggered it was the
assassination, in Sarajevo, by Serbian terrorists, of the
Arch-duke Franz-Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-
Hungarian throne.

Britain, France, Russia and the USA formed a
coalition against Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria
and Turkey. Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia,
which was helped by the Russians. Germany also
declared war on Russia and France. When Germany
invaded Belgium, Britain, which had guaranteed Belgian
neutrality, entered the war on 4 August 1914.
After Germany was defeated in the battle of
Marne and Austro-Hungary was defeated in Italy,
armistice was signed on 11 November 1918. Germany
signed the Treaty of Versailles and Austria signed the
Treaty of Saint-Germain in 1919.

After the war Britain gained Togo and

Cameroon, and it annexed Cyprus and Egypt. It also
gained mandates over Palestine and Iraq when the
Turkish Empire was partitioned at the end of the war.
Britain’s influence increased in Turkey and Persia.
In the 1930s British Empire was still powerful
and the economic links between Britain and the colonies
became closer. Imperial Airways, a company founded

with governmental support, opened new routes for the
The term ‘Commonwealth’ was widely used
during World War I to describe the relation between
Britain and the self-governing dominions. The 1926
Imperial Conference established the relation between
Britain and the dominions, a statement that was to
become the doctrine of the Commonwealth of Nations
established by the Statute of Westminster in 1931.
According to this Statute, dominion governments were
free to pass legislation that was incompatible with
British laws, and no British law was enforceable in a
dominion without its consent. [The ‘white’, or self-
governing dominions were Canada - since 1867,
Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Irish Free
State - since 1931.]
The Empire faced serious problems in the 1930s,
with increasing pressure from the Indian National
Congress, which had demanded self-government since
1906. Even if, in World War I, the Indians had
contributed significantly to the allied effort, the reforms,
introduced by the 1919 India Act, had been considered

insufficient, and the Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi,
intensified his campaign of non-cooperation.
In 1930-32, several Round-table Conferences
were held in London, and the resulting India Act (1935)
gave Indians a large measure of self-government.

In 1936, Edward VIII abdicated, before having

been crowned, in favor of George VI (1936-52).
During the reign of George VI, Britain was
involved in World War II. The Allied forces (the United
Kingdom, Russia and USA) fought against the Axis
(Germany, Italy and Japan). In 1939-40 Hitler’s
Germany destroyed the system of Britain’s alliances that
had been consolidated in World War I. Britain and
France declared war on Germany in 1939, after Hitler’s
occupation of Czechoslovakia and after his invasion of
Germany took Finland in 1940 and invaded
Denmark and Norway. Severe criticism of the British
campaign in Scandinavia brought the resignation of the
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, whose place was
taken by Winston Churchill.

The British, French and Belgian armies were
isolated, and France was occupied by Germany. The
battle of the Atlantic began in 1939, with Britain trying
to secure naval supply routes and to facilitate the transfer
of military troops in foreign countries. The British
launched an offensive in North Africa, where British
Somaliland and Egypt were under German and Italian
control. In November 1942, an Anglo-American force
landed near Algiers and took Tunis; in May 1943 the
Germans surrendered. In Africa, the Italians surrendered
in June 1944, after British and U.S. forces landed in
The crucial campaign on the Western front (the
allied invasion of Normandy under the command of
Eisenhower) was launched on 6 June 1944 (the D-Day).
On 4 May 1945 Germany surrendered.

7.1.3. The Loss of the British Empire

World War II had weakened the Empire. During

the war, Britain had lost both prestige and resources.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7
December 1941, Japan captured Hong Kong, Manila and
Singapore, and approximately 90,000 British were taken
prisoners. When Singapore had surrendered to the
Japanese in 1942, it destroyed Britain’s prestige in Asia.
After the war, India, the ‘Jewel of the Crown’, was lost,
as the Labour Party, which became a majority
government, favored Indian independence. In 1947
Indian independence was achieved and the country split
into India and Pakistan. Ceylon and Burma also gained
their independence in 1947-48. India and Ceylon chose
to remain within the Commonwealth – it was agreed that
they might remain members of the Commonwealth as
long as they recognized the reigning British sovereign as
“symbol of the free association of its independent
member nations and as such the head of the

The British mandate over Palestine ended in
1948 and Burma became independent in 1949. The
imperial resources that still existed in Africa were also
lost after the war, with the rise of Arab nationalism. The
Suez crisis of 1956 culminated in the nationalization of
the Canal by an Arab regime. Since 1957, Britain
granted independence to all her former colonies, some of
which chose to remain within the Commonwealth.
[Ireland, South Africa and Pakistan resigned from the
Commonwealth in 1949, 1961 and 1972, respectively.]
In 1949, the U.K. became a founding member of
the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). With
the beginning of the Cold War, America sought to secure
the British Empire as a world power, but in the following
years, the Empire proved to be too troublesome and
expensive. By 1969 none of Africa had remained under
British rule and British forces withdrew from Singapore
in 1971.

After World War II, the Marshall Aid

Programme launched by the U.S.A. helped Britain to

recover from the war and from the economic duress after
the loss of her vast colonial empire. Labor Governments
after the war made plans to strengthen the economy and
the social life by nationalizing many of the country’s
industries, transport and power supplies.
Citizenship won more victories in the field of
social rights as the Welfare State was created with the
establishment of the Social Security Program, based on
direct taxation and the National Health Service (1948),
based on insurance.
The Social Security Program consists of
contributory and non-contributory benefits. Contributory
benefits depend on prior payments to the National
Insurance Scheme, and include retirement, sickness and
invalidity benefit, unemployment benefit and maternity
allowance. Non-contributory benefits are financed by
general taxation revenue and they cover supplementary
benefit, family income supplement and housing benefit.
Every working person over the minimum school-leaving
age (16) must make a national insurance contribution.
This contribution is part of the supplementary benefits,
paid to people over the age of 16, who are either

unemployed or work for less than 30 hours per week and
have insufficient money to support themselves.
There is also family income supplement for
people who have low-income jobs and bring up children.
By the 1980s, the ‘social wage’ distributed by the
Welfare State had become a considerable sum – it was
nearly L 1,500/year for each member of the working
population of the U.K.
The commitment to universal and democratic
freedom in 20th century Britain and the process of
economic growth on which the Welfare State depended
for its development also involved changes in the social
structure of the country. These changes gradually
diminished the size of the working class and enlarged the
middle-class groups of technical and professional
Moreover, as a result of the Commonwealth
Immigration Act (1962) social diversity increased in the
country, with the arrival of immigrants from the former
British colonies. When they arrived and settled
permanently in the country, the members of these ethnic
groups experienced social inequality, as well as

differences in power and advantage. In 1976, the Race
Relations Act was passed, making discrimination on
grounds of color, race or ethnic origin unlawful.
The aristocracy has also lost some of its former
privileges – appeals to blood and family connections
have been replaced by meritocratic values.
These social changes have also affected political
structures. The triumph of the House of Commons in
Parliament has dramatically reduced the role of the
House of Lords. The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949,
respectively, removed much of the Lords’ political
authority, leaving them with only one year’s delaying
and amending power over parliamentary bills. These
reforms demonstrated that political and taxation matters
are now decided by the members of the Commons, as
elected representatives of the people.
Britain’s membership of the European
Community since 1973 brought a new challenge to
parliamentary sovereignty and the political tradition in
the country. Some legal powers have already been lost to
European Community institutions, so that Parliament is
no longer the sole legislative body in Britain – in the

future, more functions will probably be transferred to the
European Community.


1. Irish independence. The Irish Free State

2. The Commonwealth of Nations
3. The two World Wars. The Marshall Aid
4. The Welfare State
5. Membership of European Community


1. Why did Britain lose her Empire after World War II?
2. What does the Social Security Program consist of?
3. Why has the role of the House of Lords diminished
in the 20th century?


Briggs, Asa 1987: A Social History of England. London:

Black, Jeremy 1989: A History of the British Isles.
Cambridge University Press.
Elton, Geoffrey 1994: The English. Oxford and
Cambridge: Blackwell.
Kearney, Hugh 1989: The British Isles: A History of
Four Nations. Cambridge University Press.
Kenyon, J.P. 1994: The Wordsworth Dictionary of
British History. Hertfordshire: Cumberland House.
Knowles, Jerry 1997: A Cultural History of the English
Language. London & New York: Arnold.
Morgan, Kenneth O. 1996: The Young Oxford History of
Britain and Ireland. Oxford & New York: Oxford
University Press.
Oakland, John 1993: A Dictionary of British Institutions:
A Student’s Guide. London & New York: Routledge.
Oakland, John 1991: British Civilization: An
Introduction. London & New York: Routledge.

Perkin, Harold 1986: Origins of Modern English Society.
London: Routledge.
Room, Adrian 1990: An A to Z of British Life:
Dictionary of Britain. London: Oxford University
Trevelyan, G.M. 1987: A Shortened History of England.
London: Penguin.