If you followed the 6 nations tournament, one question may have come to mind: aren't half of these 6 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.
Before the Angles, who were German, it was the Celts (also called the Britons) that ruled the land. But from the 5th century, successive waves of Anglo-Saxon settlers from continental Europe migrated to the island of Great Britain. Faced with a severe threat from Viking marauders the Anglo-Saxons grouped together at the end of the 9th century and Anglo-Saxon became the dominant culture. 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.
Located on the western side of England lies Wales, with a chain of hills forming a natural border. The English took control of Wales 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 all of Wales. A treaty of 1535 formally incorporated the territory into the Kingdom of England. After this time, all laws passed in parliament apply to both England and Wales. Despite this long term union, the title of the Prince of Wales still exists and is today donned by Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth II's eldest son.
The northern part of the island of Britain is relatively inhospitable due to its geography and climate. Despite this it has been populated for well over 10,000 years and has been the site of innumerable invasion attempts. The Romans' effort to tame the northern peoples is perhaps best known, despite its failure. They 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 the region, and it was not until the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 that the crowns of England and Scotland united. As she Elizabeth 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. Despite having the same king, separate laws and governments were maintained. However 1707, Scotland was officially integrated to form the United Kingdom.
Close 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 English settlers 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 century caused a harrowing number of deaths resulting in discord and mass emigration, to the United States in particular.
In 1921, a treaty was signed to create an independent Ireland. However, a portion of the territory, Northern Ireland, remained under British rule. 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.
One way to learn more about British culture, its history and its language is to fully immerse yourself. OISE offer a range of English language courses for young people aged 7-17. With a comprehensive cultural programme, homestay options, as well as intensive language training from expert tutors, these courses offer full immersion in British culture.
Find out more about OISE's English language courses or contact us to discuss your requirements.