England is the largest and most populous part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is in the northwest of mainland Europe and has the most people. It is home to more than 82 percent of the people who live in the United Kingdom. People often think that England is the same as the UK or the island of Great Britain, which consists of England, Wales, and Scotland. But England is no longer an official administrative or political unit. Neither are Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, which have different levels of control over their affairs.
England became a single country in the tenth century, and its name comes from the Angles, a Germanic tribe that lived there in the fifth and sixth centuries. The country was the center of the British Empire, and the Industrial Revolution started there. However, the Kingdom of England was its own country until May 1, 1707, when the Acts of Union brought it together with the Kingdom of Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.
Prehistory is the time before maintaining records happened on paper. We know the least about this time in human history, but it was also the longest. Around 900,000 years ago, the first people we know of came to these lands. Until the Romans arrived in 43 CE, this period was called prehistory. These lands went through considerable changes in climate, society, government, technology, and the land itself.
The oldest human remains in England so far belong to a six-foot-tall Homo heidelbergensis man who lived about 500,000 years ago. Then, between 300,000 and 35,000 years ago, Neanderthals, shorter and stockier than modern humans, came to Britain. Then, about 13,000 years ago, people from the Ice Age made the first cave art in England at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire.
People started living there again as soon as the climate got better at the end of the last Ice Age. At this time, people in Britain were still hunters and gatherers who used plants and animals from the wild. Even though most of these people were probably nomads, buildings found recently show that some of them had settled lives. Then, around 6500 BCE, rising sea levels flooded the land bridge that connected Britain to Europe. This flooding made Britain an island.
Farming came to Britain around 4000 BCE, and this invention may have been an essential change in its history. People must have taken a boat from Europe to get to the island and brought these skills. People farmed pulses, barley, and wheat, but they also used food and resources from the wild. And instead of staying in one place, they moved around within their territories. In these areas, the focus was on significant public buildings. Then, during the middle and late Neolithic periods, new types of monuments began to appear.
Bronze Age in England (2300-800 BCE)
About 2300 BCE, metal weapons, jewelry, and a new type of pottery called Beaker arrived in Britain. The burial of people happened in individual graves with these things, and they also had a covering of round barrows. Copper was in use at first, but by 2200 BCE, Britain was making bronze, a mixture of copper and tin. During the beginning of the Bronze Age, some people got a burial in rich graves inside round barrows, along with strange goods brought from far away.
Iron Age in England (800 BCE-50 CE)
People built more complicated hillforts in the early and middle Iron Age. They also started using iron to make weapons and tools. Ritual offerings of military gear and fine metalwork suggest that a warrior aristocracy ruled, and those tribal territories began to form.
The making of the first coins happened at the end of the Iron Age, and tribal centers began to form around them. During this time, the Roman world also learned about Britain. Greeks and Romans were the first people to write down what life was like on the island. Julius Caesar, who invaded Britain in 55–54 BCE, took the most famous notes. People of the time say that there was chariot warfare and religious leaders called Druids who worshiped in oak groves and sacrificed. Then, nearly a hundred years after Caesar’s raids, the emperor Claudius ordered a full-scale invasion. But, this time, the Romans planned to stay.
Roman Rule in England (43-410 CE)
When Julius Caesar came to Britain in 55–54 BCE, it was an unknown and mysterious land across the sea. Even though Caesar beat the British, he soon made peace with his enemies and returned to Gaul.
After that, the kingdoms of Britain were kept quiet with gifts and diplomacy for almost a hundred years. But when anti-Roman rulers took over, the emperor Claudius launched a full-scale invasion in 43 CE. This time, the Romans were quickly successful in war. But as they slowly moved through southern England and Wales, Boudicca, queen of the Iceni people in East Anglia, rose in 60 CE because of their cruel ways of taking over. The rebellion was put down, but not before burning Camulodunum (now Colchester), Verulamium (now St. Albans), and Londinium (now London) to the ground.
Most people in Britain lived on farms in the countryside, and their lives didn’t change much. But over time, they kept running into villas, towns, and markets. Here, they could trade their goods for things made by the Romans and see how Romans dressed and acted. So along with the cities, which got stone walls at this time, there were more small market towns, villages, and villas in the 3rd century.
But at the end of the 4th century, there was a lot of unrest. Also, during this period, there was a significant invasion called the Barbarian Conspiracy of 367 CE. By the 370s, there was no longer any new construction. Generals based in Britain tried over and over to take over the empire. The last one, by Constantine III in 407 CE, drained the diocese of troops. By 410 CE, the Romans were no longer in charge of Britain, and its people were left to take care of themselves.
Early Medieval England (410-1066 CE)
The time between the end of Roman rule and the Norman Conquest, which happened about 650 years later, were some of the most critical times in English history. Unfortunately, this long time is also one of the hardest to understand, so it has been called the “Dark Ages” for a long time. But during these centuries, England became a kingdom and a new “English” identity and language with it.
Both the 5th and 6th centuries are shrouded in mystery. Few records exist; they are hard to understand or written after the events they describe. One thing is for sure: the Romans didn’t just up and leave Britain. After 350 years of Roman rule, which is between now and Charles II, everyone in Britain was, in a way, a Roman.
At first, Irish raiders from the west and Picts from the north were Britain’s biggest enemies. Later, people from across the North Sea—the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes—came to live there. We don’t know how they came to England or settled there, but by 500 CE, Germanic speakers had moved deep into Britain.
As the Roman Empire fell apart in the 5th century CE and the need to raise more soldiers to protect Rome arose, the Romans left Britannia one by one. After the Romans left, the Celtic tribes started fighting again, and one of the local chieftains had the not-so-great idea to ask some Germanic tribes from the north of modern-day Germany and the south of Denmark for help. These people came in the 5th and 6th centuries. They were the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.
But things didn’t go the way the Celts thought they would. After the battle, the Germanic tribes didn’t go back home. Instead, they felt they were strong enough to take over the whole country, which they did. They pushed all the Celtic tribes back to Wales and Cornwall and started their kingdoms in Kent (the Jutes), Wessex, Sussex, and Essex (the Saxons), as well as East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria further north (the Angles). The Anglo-Saxon heptarchy later meant the seven kingdoms that ruled all of England from about 500 to 850 CE.
The Norse invaded Europe in the second half of the 9th century. Then, in 1000 CE, they were the first Europeans to set foot in America. After that, the Danes caused trouble in Western Europe to North Africa.
The Danes took over the North-East of England, from Northumberland to East Anglia, and made a new kingdom called the Danelaw. In the year 911, another group of Danes was able to take Paris and get land from the King of France. The residents in this area were called Normans, and it became the Duchy of Normandy. The word “Norman” comes from “North Men,” which is another word for “Viking.”
Medieval England (1066-1485 CE)
In 1066, when Duke William of Normandy beat King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, it started a new time. The Normans’ defeat of the Saxon kingdom of England changed everything about the country they took over, from its organization and rule to its language, customs, and maybe most obviously, its buildings.
After the Normans moved into the land they had just taken over, they took on the French feudal system and made French the official language. In the 10th century, the Danes tried to take over England, but the Kings of Wessex fought back and beat them. But the strong Canute the Great (995–1035 CE), who was king of the newly united Denmark and Norway and overlord of Schleswig and Pomerania, led two more invasions of England in 1013 and 1015. Finally, he defeated Anglo-Saxon king Edmund II in 1016 and became king of England.
Edward the Confessor took over from Canute’s two sons in 1004. He chose William, Duke of Normandy, to be his successor, but the mighty Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson, crowned himself king when William died. In 1066, William refused to accept Harold as King and sent 12,000 soldiers to England. The story goes that an arrow to the eye killed King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, and William the Conqueror became King William I of England. His children and grandchildren have ruled England ever since.
William I (1027–1087 CE) ordered the Domesday Book, a survey of all the land in the country, and gave land to his vassals. During William’s rule, the construction of many of the country’s castles happened in the Middle Ages style (e.g., Dover, Arundel, Windsor, Warwick, Kenilworth, Lincoln). The Norman rulers kept their land in France and even grew it to cover most Western France. England used French as its official language until 1362, when France’s Hundred Years’ War began. Still, most people spoke English, a mix of Anglo-Saxon and Norse. Over time, French and Latin, which were in use by the clergy, mixed with English to create modern English.
The Tudors (1485–1603 CE)
The turbulent Wars of the Roses ended when Henry VII beat Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. This era started the Tudor dynasty, which may have been the most famous royal family in English history. During the rule of three generations of Tudor kings and queens, the country went through many significant changes. First, Henry VIII brought in the new state religion, and as the state grew more confident, a uniquely English culture grew along with it.
The Stuarts (1603–1714 CE)
James I, who was also James VI of Scotland, took over from Elizabeth I. This period was the start of the Stuart era. She died in 1603 without having children. England and Scotland fought a war for a long time before James took the throne. During the Stuart era, there were a lot of religious and political fights, which made the monarchy lose power and give it to parliament. In the meantime, new ideas and discoveries changed science, architecture, and daily life.
The Georgians (1714–1837 CE)
Queen Anne died without any children in 1714, so the German Hanoverians happened to take her place. This period started the Georgian age, named for the first four Hanovarian kings, whose names were all George. During this time, Britain became a global power and the center of an expanding empire. Then, as things changed quickly after the 1770s, Britain became the first industrialized country.
The Victorians (1837–1901 CE)
Queen Victoria was only 18 years when she took the throne. She would be Queen of England for more than 60 years. During this long rule, the country gained power and wealth that was never there before. Britain’s influence spread worldwide because it had an empire and a stable government and made great strides in transportation and communication. We still use many of the intellectual and cultural achievements of this time.
At the closure of the Victorian era in 1901 CE, it was hard to imagine what Britain would be like in 2000. However, two world wars I and II in the 20th century caused a lot of significant changes in society, including extensive improvements in health and education. In addition, the motor car changed both town and country, and Britain was no longer in charge of a third of the world.