If you followed the 6 nations tournament, some questions may have come to mind: Aren't half of these six nations part of the same country? Wales, Scotland and England are indeed all part of Britain. This very brief guide will allow you to finally make the distinction between England, Great Britain and the UK – and learn something about the how and why.
England, Land of Angles (and Celts, Romans, Saxons…)Before
the Angles, who were German, it was the Celts that ruled the land, also called Britons. Successive waves of new settlers led to the domination of the
Anglo-Saxons who grouped together at the end of the ninth century following a severe Viking threat. England was then an amalgamation of small kingdoms
rather than the united nation we know today. As British schoolchildren will know by heart, in 1066 William the Conqueror arrived with his Norman knights
to invade the territory and overthrew many of the Saxon princes; forming the kingdom of England.
The conquest of WalesLocated on the Eastern tip of England and bordered from it by a chain of hills lies Wales, which
the English took control of under the rule of Edward I. Wales remained a collection of smaller lordships, subservient to their neighbours but not necessarily
subject to the laws of England. It was only very gradually and after many a rebellion that the kings of England also came to rule Wales. A treaty of
1535 formally incorporated the territory into the kingdom: we always speak of the Kingdom of England, but Wales is also represented in Parliament.
You may have heard of the Prince of Wales? This title is today donned by Prince Charles.
The Union with Scotland The Northern part of the island of Britain is relatively inhospitable due to its
geography and climate, but has been populated for well over 10 000 years and has been the site of innumerable invasion attempts. The Romans left behind
two great walls, the best know being Hadrian’s, which marks the Northern limit of the Roman empire. The Vikings also gave up on conquering it, and
it was not until the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 that the crowns united. As she did not have children, the heir to the throne was James VI, King of
Scotland, who was her second cousin. He becomes James I, King of England, Ireland and Wales. Laws and separate governments were maintained, despite
having the same king, and in 1707, Scotland was officially integrated to form the United Kingdom.
The Attachment of IrelandClose neighbour to England, Ireland was conquered by the Normans in the 14th century, then by the English crown under Henry VIII. An aggressive colonisation policy led to the dispatch of English settlers on the Emerald Isle during the 16th and 17th centuries. These became the leaders of local government and promoted English interests. This was a constant source of strife, especially due to differences in both language and religion. After several rebellions, the kingdoms were united into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1800. This union only lasted 122 years: the Great Irish Famine of the 19th caused a harrowing number of deaths and mass emigration, to the United States in particular.
1921, a treaty was signed to create an independent Ireland, however leaving a portion of the territory; Northern Ireland. The kingdom was
then again renamed: to the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This story is still ongoing, and most recently, in 2014, Scotland
voted on a possible separation from the union. It was a close race, but a majority preferred to stay united.
In very short summary?
England, Wales and Scotland = Great Britain Great Britain + Northern Ireland= UK (United Kingdom) United Kingdom + Republic of Ireland = British Isles