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Useful Notes / United Kingdom

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God Save the King!

"It is a basic requirement of any British institution that it baffle foreigners."
Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island

Useful information on British life and the United Kingdom for those who are not British.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland — commonly referred to as the United Kingdom, the UK, Britain, the Union, or the British Isles — is a European country and constitutional democratic monarchy which sits on a collection of islands in (or "near") the north-west of Europe, covering Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, significant islands such as the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland, and countless smaller islands. "Great Britain" is not the name of the country, at least not since 1801. The country is the fifth most populated in Europe. Its north-western location leads to national and international inconsistencies in categorisation; those guided by the United Nations classify the UK as being part of "Northern Europe", while those guided by the European Union classify the UK as being part of "Western Europe".

Britain is made up of four "home nations" wedged into a space slightly smaller than the state of Oregon: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Wales was annexed by England in the Middle Ages (and the title of Wales' old ruler - Prince of Wales (Tywysog Cymru) - has been passed to the reigning English monarch's eldest son ever since) but Scotland's entry into this Union was via vote of the Scottish Parliament in the early 18th century which means, theoretically, Scotland entered as an equal. Because England and Scotland merged to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, this means that talking about the "Kingdom of England" (or of Scotland) after 1707 is incorrect as those entities had legally ceased to exist (which makes the common foreign — and frequently domestic — reference to Her Majesty as 'the Queen of England' a mistake). The title "United Kingdom" only came about when another Act of Union combined the Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland, though paragraph III of the 1707 Act of Union states "THAT the united Kingdom of Great Britain be Represented by one and the same Parliament..." (note the capitalisation) and the description "United Kingdom" was in common parlance in the 18th century.

The King of England (and subsequently Great Britain) was also Lord of Ireland from 1171, and King of Ireland from 1541. Ireland joined the UK in 1801, theoretically by the same means as Scotland—i.e. a free vote of its Parliament—but since that Parliament was dominated by the Protestant Anglo-Irish minority, the union was a bit controversial. Ireland gained formal independence again after its 1919-21 War of Independence, forming the Irish Free State, which later became the Republic of Ireland. Since 1999, Scotland and Wales have been partially self-governing through a new Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly respectively, though these bodies only have powers to deal with certain areas of government - education policy, for example. Scotland & Wales still elect MPs to the main London Parliament too, which retains control over national issues like defence. Northern Ireland is a portion of Ireland that remained part of the United Kingdom after the rest of Ireland decided to become independent (and, later, a republic) in the 20th century. Unlike the other home nations, which only achieved this fairly recently, Northern Ireland has been partially self-governing since its creation in 1921, though this was suspended between 1972 and 2002 due to a small spot of bother.

Variously described by names such as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, the British Isles (though that term is also used to refer to the islands of Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands as a group), Great Britain, Britain; many in fact refer to subtly different entities and these themselves may contain areas with different rules (the Channel Islands, Man, etc). It is perfectly easy to run across a construction like, "The Isle of Man is part of the British Isles but not governed by the British Prime Minister; though it is not part of the United Kingdom it is subject to the British Monarch" - all of which is essentially correct, but the hideous confusion all these overlapping and vaguely similar-sounding terms create is so great it is nearly impossible to explain the situation to someone unfamiliar with it. Especially not verbally, when this necessitates using phrases like "a man from Man has a British passport but is not technically British and certainly not from Great Britain" or "the Republic of Ireland in the island of Ireland is properly called Ireland"... fortunately, the helpful magic of TV Tropes now lets you straighten out all this mess by looking at Britain Versus the UK to clear it all up.

The name 'Britain' has been traced back through the Latin 'Britannia' back to 'Prydain' and the tribal 'Pretani', and most probably means 'the tattooed ones'.note  A pre-Roman kingdom in the North of England, covering modern Lancashire and Yorkshire, was called Brigantia; rather than fight it elected to become a client kingdom of Rome, and it is possible its name was mis-heard as or corrupted into "Britannia".

The oldest name of all for the main British island is Albany - this survives into the present day in the Gaelic name for Scotland (unconquered by Rome), - Alba. The old poetic name for the island is also preserved as Albion and is used in this context by William Blake and many others.

Modern 'Britain' didn't exist as a political entity until the early 17th century when James VI of Scotland became dual monarch of Scotland and England and, although both countries were independent of one another, the idea of 'Britain' came from this dual monarchy. The British political system (largely inherited from that of England following the two countries' most recent union in 1707) is the oldest in the world but has undergone some major upheavals in its time, including the Magna Carta of the Middle Ages (which established the rights of the aristocracy in relation to the King), a Civil War in the mid-17th century which overthrew the monarchy and established a republic (although this only lasted eleven years) and a coup d'etat in 1688 known as the 'Glorious Revolution' which overthrew another King and reined in monarchical power meaning that the monarch was forced to rule in partnership with Parliament. Although 1688 is seen as the "basis" for the modern British constitutional setup the years since then have seen the monarchy lose its remaining practical powers and become entirely symbolic whilst Parliament has become the de facto ruler of the country.

Democracy in Britain proceeded through a series of parliamentary reforms, where power was gradually ceded from the nobility, to the common citizenry. Electoral suffrage widened slightly with the Great Reform Act of 1832 which was the first to enlarge the electorate, but still left it very narrow, based on income and with different rules in different places, allowing a fair bit of corruption (the main purpose of the 1832 reforms was ensuring equal representation between urban and rural areas, to reflect the explosive growth of the industrial cities). External events (specifically the American and French revolutions) are generally held to have had a large influence on the decision to widen the vote. After this the electorate expanded relatively rapidly during the 19th Century so that for the first time over half of men could vote by 1884. In 1918 property restrictions were removed for all men, who could now vote at the age of 21, and some women were given the vote for the first time (although not on equal terms with men, suffering property and age restrictions). Historians will gladly discuss what caused the government to give women the vote, but the two simplest reasons are the campaigns of the militant suffragettes, and the work that women undertook during the First World War. Some people still held two votes by virtue of being graduates of a British university;note  TOW says that 7% of the electorate held two votes in 1918. In 1928 women were allowed to vote at 21 just like men could, and in 1969 the voting age was reduced to 18, where it still stands today.

Once ruled the largest empire in world history but by the end of World War I, its ability to rule those colonies was challenged. Two protracted, expensive, and somewhat humilating wars in South Africa - which seriously strained British ability to cope, even though Britain won in the end - gave other subject peoples lots of pause for thought about what could be acheived. Independence movements were born in places like Ireland, Egypt, Israel and India. Ireland, or most of it, was the first to successfully break away and assert independence in 1922. Public opinion was no longer as buoyed by the optimism of empire world-building as it was in the Victorian era; the young generation of Tommies killed in the Great War put a damper on that. The vast mobilization and defense of World War II as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt's insistence that the Empire not survive the war made it next to impossible for the UK to maintain its holdings and several former colonies gained its independence between 1945 to 1954.note  A permanent member of the UN Security Council, and with its own nuclear weapons and one of the few remaining blue-water navies, Britain's status as a credible military power on its own is well cemented, mostly because of the war in the Falkland Islands: waging war with an advanced military force sited next door to the contested scrap of land in open conflict 8000 miles away and then winning is no mean feat. Once an industrial powerhouse, Britain now has a mainly service-based economy but is still the world's sixth largest manufacturer.

The British have a tendency to be Sophisticated as Hell when it comes to their own language, frequently throwing odd bits of French, German, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Old Norse and Hindi phrases into everyday conversation. Tellingly London has a population where over 250 languages are spoken. This is likely due to the fact that throughout history, there has been a steady influx of external cultural influences to the island nation, from Romans to Scandinavian to French, thus the need to evolve their language into a highly complicated pidgin to facilitate communication and trade.

Britain creates sports and watches the rest of the world master them, with the exception of Self-Deprecation, which nobody else seems to have the hang ofnote . As the only English-speaking country for most of history, a huge proportion of classic English-language literature originates from the British Isles.

The UK produces a large number of English-language films and TV programmes of international fame, from well-known establishments like Pinewood Studios, The BBC and ITV.

Since Britain is the cradle of the English language, British English has been known as... oh sod it. I never wanted to do this. Ranting in a page about the traits of a country in Europe. Discussing linguistics I have little base to know. I always wanted to be... A LUMBERJACK!.

Areas of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

What you might see in Britain

British Communications and Transportation

British Culture

British Economics

British Government And Politics

British History

British People

British Food and Drink

British Sports

British Crime And Punishment

British Miscellany

The Union Flag
Also known by its naval-use name "Union Jack", the flag combines the flags of the then-known realms of the United Kingdom in 1801 — the Saint George's Cross of England (red cross over white field), the Saint Andrew's Cross of Scotland (white saltire over blue frame), and the Saint Patrick's Cross of Ireland (red saltire over white field).

The Welsh have the Baner Cymru (Welsh flag), a.k.a. Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon) on a field of green and white as their official national flag; the Welsh also have the flag of St. David a.k.a. St. David's Cross, a yellow cross on a black field in honor of St. David, the Welsh patron saint, which represents Wales as much as St. George's cross for England and St. Andrew's cross for Scotland.

Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom
Click here to see the Scottish version 
It was adopted in 1837 and was modified in 1952 after Elizabeth II became queen.

The British National Anthem
God save our gracious King!
Long live our noble King!
God save the King!
Send him victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the King!

  • Capital and largest city: London
  • Population: 67,886,004
  • Area: 242,495 km
(93,628 sq mi) (78th)
  • Currency: Pound sterling (£) (GBP)
  • ISO-3166-1 Code: GB
  • Country calling code: 44
  • Highest point: Ben Nevis (1345 m/4,413 ft) (146th)
  • Lowest point: Holme Fen (−4 m/−13 ft) (31st)

Alternative Title(s): The United Kingdom, Great Britain, The United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland, UK, Britain, United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland