How the U.K. Was Formed

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A brief description of how the United Kingdom was formed, written because of all the talk about how Scotland and Northern Ireland might leave...

Submitted: July 13, 2016

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Submitted: July 13, 2016

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On 1 May 1707, two lands joined in what would become a major historic event––the beginning of what would lead to the formation of the United Kingdom. The union was not completed until 6 December 1921; the regions would grow and develop as one from that day onwards––Scotland to the north, Wales to the east, England in the centre of the main island, and Northern Ireland occupying the northernmost area of Ireland. Disputes and even wars would occur, as is not unusual; consider the scenario of four children sharing a single room under a single set of rules. Through all these hardships, however, the people of the UK have remained true––have remained one people.

The United Kingdom’s history is rich, too rich to describe in detail here, but an abridged version is appropriate.

 

-1707

Medieval Times

The story begins even before the first aforementioned date, in 1284, when England successfully appended Wales to English territory under the Statute of Rhuddlan. Almost three centuries later, Wales achieved a status equal to that of England due to the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542. This marked the start of a rather troublesome path of English––the joined land had the name of the Kingdom of England––conduct. Scotland’s joining was not achieved through spilt blood, though, but instead came about through a series of simply complicated family matters. The unification truly began in August of 1503, when James IV, King of Scots, was wed to Henry VII’s eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor, because of the Treaty of Perpetual Peace. This married the Scottish House of Stuart with the English Tudor dynasty, and was opposed by many of the English. Ten years later, though, Henry VIII declared war on France. In response, France chose to call upon Scotland for assistance on the basis of an ancient treaty, the Auld Alliance, between the two lands. Scotland then had no choice but to invade Northern England in the Battle of Flodden, effectively ending the ‘perpetual’ peace.

Afterwards, the confusion only escalated. Henry VIII’s fertility was dubious, leading to the magnification of the previously insignificant question, ‘Who would be heir to the throne?’ England chose to rule out all subjects descended from Margaret, but that changed during Elizabeth I’s reign, when the English people were once again concerned about the future of the throne. In the last decade of her rule, it was at last settled that James VI, the great-grandson of Margaret and James IV, was the only reasonable choice. Then, in the wee hours of 24 March 1603, Elizabeth I passed away, and James VI claimed the throne, in the Union of the Crowns. Despite the lands’ assumption of the name of ‘Great Britain,’ the two lands were yet not fully united––that would occur more than a century later, on 1 May 1707. The Acts of Union 1707, which finalised the Treaty of Union, formed on 22 July 1706, legally joined Scotland with England. The Treaty described the combination of itself and the Acts as declaring the two lands ‘United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain.’ Logically, then, the combination was called the ‘Kingdom of Great Britain.’ Omitted from this piece so far is a description of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, which occurred when Irish Catholics attempted to snatch control from Ireland’s English––and Protestant––administration and gain certain freedoms for Catholics. This escalated into the Irish Confederate Wars; but I shan’t go there––you see, no matter how I put it, one of the parties would be offended…

 

1708-1801

Wars

Many decades passed, and the Kingdom of Great Britain was meeting with some trouble in its American colonies. Having spent more than it could afford on the Seven Years War, it needed a way to repay its debts; thus it chose to tax the colonists far more than before. The enraged settlers were not the type to tolerate such behaviour, and organised the Boston Tea Party shortly before declaring the start of the Revolutionary War on 19 April 1775. The war would last until 3 September 1783, and would result in a smashing defeat on the part of the British. This is surely, however, a subject familiar to you, and so I shan’t delve into it. Meanwhile, the joining journey had not ended––far from it, in fact––for Ireland was still excluded from the union. The Acts of Union 1800 changed that; the Irish and British Parliaments both approved the merger of the two lands. Note that it was the entirety of Ireland that joined––this would become relevant in 1921. Britain also conquered many French and Dutch colonies during the War of the Second Coalition, but the Treaty of Amiens effectively forced the nation to return them.

 

1802-1922

Golden Years and More Wars

The violence continued with the Napoleonic Wars, in 1803 and 1805. I daren’t even dip my toes into that subject, let alone dive into it, for my explanation would be severely biased in favour of the British––let me only say that the British victories were simply brilliant.––Have I already gotten biased?––Perhaps. Not more than ten years after those, yet another war occurred––the War of 1812, which began on 18 June 1812 and ended in another British defeat on 18 February 1815. The reasons for this war were different, however, from the reasons for the previous one; they included the trade restrictions imposed upon the colonies due to the war between Britain and France (it was common for the two countries to bicker to no end, so don’t fret), the British forcing some ten thousand American sailors to join the Royal Navy, the British support of Indian tribes hostile to the settlers, the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, and America’s want to annex parts of Britain’s North American territory. The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair was a naval incident between a British vessel, HMS Leopard, and an American one, USS Chesapeake. On 22 June 1807, Leopard caught Chesapeake by surprize, and Mr. James Barron, Chesapeake’s commander, had no choice but to surrender to the British after his crew had fired but one shot. The British sailors boarded the Chesapeake and found there the object of their violent quest––four suspected Royal Navy deserters. One of the unfortunate foursome was eventually hanged. Barron’s punishment by American court was of a more subtle nature; he was suspended from command, and lost not his life but his honour.

Anyhow, the war did not end––for the Brits, anyway––well, resulting in approximately five thousand total British casualties.––Americans such as ourselves rejoiced in the victory, despite the 6765 American casualties. Also, turning to religious matters, the 1800 Act of Union emancipated Catholics, but George III refused to allow freedoms to be given to followers of the religion, accounting for his actions by noting that granting Catholics emancipation would break his agreement to protect the Anglican Church. In the 1830s, though, after George III’s death, the Whig Party made significant advances in the emancipation of slaves and Catholics alike; not long after, Queen Victoria was coronated, marking the beginning of a sort of ‘Golden Age’ for Britain. Her Majesty Victoria married her cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and the two of them saw the kingdom through the adoption of many important technologies––perhaps you have heard of railroads, steam ships, telegraphs, or photography? During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Britain expanded its Asian colonies much as well. The queen ruled until 1901, and thus was seated upon the throne during a period of novelists––and therefore a period of advanced thought. Authors such as Jules Verne, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and several others filled the libraries of the time––but authoresses are not to be ignored! In fact, some of the best novelists of the nineteenth century were, in my opinion, female––novelists such as the three Brontë sisters, Louisa May Alcott, Mary Shelley, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and (I shan’t betray my favourite, but remember the old maxim, ‘save the best for last’?) of course, Miss Jane Austen. Victoria and her husband also were the rulers of Britain during the American Civil War, and they favoured the Confederacy! not because of the Confederate principles, but rather because the South was a major supplier of cotton to Britain (follow the money!).

About half a century afterwards, Victoria’s son, Edward VII, became king, and Britain saw the beginning of moving pictures, aeroplanes, and automobiles, as well as its first World War: World War I. It is necessary to provide some background information. On 28 June 1914, a Yugoslav nationalist named Gavrilo Princip assassinated the prince and heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo. Austria-Hungary was infuriated, and issued an ultimatum. When it was rejected, WWI was born. The Triple Entente, consisting of the British and Russian Empires as well as France, trounced Germany and Austria-Hungary. The war, which began on 28 July 1914 and ended on 11 November 1918, cost Britain some 700,000 of its roughly six million mobilised soldiers. The post-war consequences for Germany were severe; the nation suffered greatly from the economic punishments the Allies imposed upon it. Eventually, the German people grew exasperated––but that comes later on.––First, though, three years after the conclusion of the war, Britain faced another period of violence. It was 1921––you remember, then, that it was something to do with Ireland.––And indeed it was. The Irish War of Independence was won––partially––by the Irish; Northern Ireland still remained part of the U.K. The joining was complete!


© Copyright 2017 Anna C. P. Moore. All rights reserved.

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