The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland comprises Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland, along with a number of overseas territories. Also known as simply the United Kingdom (UK), most of its territory is situated just off the north-western coast of mainland Europe, surrounded by the North Sea, the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean.
History of the United Kingdom
England has existed as a unified entity since the 10th century. The union between England and Wales was enacted under the Statute of Rhuddlan[?] in 1284. In the 1707 Act of Union, the separate kingdoms of England and Scotland (though having shared the same monarch since 1603) agreed to permanent union as the Kingdom of Great Britain. Through the 1801 Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain merged with the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. With the formation of 32 Irish counties into the Irish Free State, with six northern Irish counties remaining part of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland, in 1922, the country was renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927.
The United Kingdom, the dominant industrial and maritime power of the 19th century, played a leading role in developing parliamentary democracy and in advancing literature and science. At its zenith, the British Empire stretched over one quarter of the earth's surface. The first half of the 20th century saw the UK's strength seriously depleted in two World Wars. The second half witnessed the dismantling of the Empire and the UK rebuilding itself into a modern and prosperous European nation. The UK is currently weighing the degree of its integration with continental Europe. A member of the EU, it has chosen to defer its participation in Euro Zone owing to internal political considerations. Constitutional reform is also a current issue in the UK. The House of Lords has been subjected to ongoing reforms and National assemblies with varying degrees of power were created in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 1999. Further assemblies for the English regions are also under consideration.
The United Kingdom is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations (successor organization to the former Empire), the European Union and NATO. It is also a permanent member of the UN Security Council and holds a veto power.
Politics of the United Kingdom
In form the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy but in practice it operates as a parliamentary democracy. It is governed from its capital, London (although see below). The UK's current monarch and head of state is Queen Elizabeth II who acceded to the throne in 1952 and was crowned in 1953. Today, her role is mainly ceremonial, with the country's real political authority being delegated to the Prime Minister.
The United Kingdom is a very centralized state, with London's Westminster Parliament holding responsibility for most of the political affairs of the Kingdom. In recent years however, each of the countries apart from England has been granted its own governmental body responsible in varying degree for some internal matters.
See also: Law of the United Kingdom.
Subdivisions of the United Kingdom
England is divided into nine Government Office Regions - North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands, West Midlands, Eastern, Greater London, South East, South West. Each Region is made up of Counties and/or Metropolitan Counties and/or unitary authorities, apart from London which consists of London boroughs. There is growing support for the Regions to be empowered via democratically elected assemblies - particularly in the Northern regions and the West Midlands.
Scotland consists of 32 Council Areas. Wales consists of 22 Unitary Authorities, styles as 11 County Boroughs, 9 Counties, and 2 Cities and Counties. Northern Ireland is divided into 24 Districts, 2 Cities, and 6 Counties.
There are also a number of different dependencies belonging to the United Kingdom:
The Isle of Man and Channel Islands are not legally part of the United Kingdom; they are British crown dependencies, though the United Kingdom is responsible for their external affairs. The United Kingdom also has many dependent territories throughout the world, which are legally part of the UK, and administered by British officials.
The monarchy of the United Kingdom is symbolically shared with 16 other sovereign countries that are known as Commonwealth Realms, although Britain has very little political influence over these independent nations.
Geography of the United Kingdom
Most of England consists of rolling terrain, but the country is more mountainous in the north, the dividing line between terrain types is usually indicated by the Tees-Exe line. The main rivers are the Thames and the Severn, major cities London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle upon Tyne and Birmingham. Near Dover, the Channel Tunnel links the United Kingdom with France.
Wales is mostly mountainous, the highest peak being Snowdon, at 1,085 m above sea level. North of the mainland is the island of Anglesey. Main and capital city is Cardiff, located in the south of Wales.
Scotland's geography is varied, with lowlands in the south and east and highlands in the north and west, including Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain (1343 m). There are many long and deep sea arms, [firth]s, and lochs. A multitude of islands west and north of Scotland are also included, notably the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands. Main cities are Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.
Economy of the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom, a leading trading power and financial centre, has an essentially capitalist economy, one of the largest of Western Europe. Over the past two decades the government has greatly reduced public ownership and contained the growth of social welfare programs. Agriculture is intensive, highly mechanised, and efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs with only 1% of the labour force. The UK has large coal, natural gas, and oil reserves; primary energy production accounts for 10% of GDP, one of the highest shares of any industrial nation. Services, particularly banking, insurance, and business services, account for by far the largest proportion of GDP while industry continues to decline in importance.
Demographics of the United Kingdom
The primary language spoken is English. Other languages include Welsh, Gaelic and various Scottish dialects. Recent immigrants from elsewhere in the Commonwealth speak other languages, including Urdu.
Culture of the United Kingdom[?]
The United Kingdom has two of the most famous universities in its borders, the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, and has brought forth famous scientists and engineers such as Isaac Newton, James Watt, Charles Darwin, and Alexander Fleming.
Playwright William Shakespeare is arguably the most famous writer in the world; other famous writers include the Brontë sisters, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J. R. R. Tolkien.
Composers William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, John Taverner[?], John Blow, Henry Purcell, Edward Elgar, Arthur Sullivan, William Walton, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett have made major contributions to British music, and are known internationally. Living composers include John Tavener, Harrison Birtwistle and Oliver Knussen[?]. The UK has also produced the famous Rock and roll bands The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Oasis, and Radiohead.
Artists from the United Kingdom include such luminaries as: John Constable, Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, William Blake and J.M.W. Turner. In the 20th century, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, and the pop artists Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake are of note. More recently still, the so-called Young British Artists have gained some notoriety, particularly Damien Hirst[?] and Tracey Emin.
Britain (England) has been described as a land without music, but it supports a number of major orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia, the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and its several music colleges have helped to teach many well known musicians. Because of its location and other economic factors London is one of the most important cities for music in the world, and has several important concert halls and is also home to the Royal Opera House[?], one of the world's leading opera houses. British traditional music has also been very influential abroad.
The United Kingdom is one of three countries which have a profitable recorded music industry, based mostly on popular music, the others being the USA and Sweden.
|1 January||New Year's Day|
|2 January||(Scotland only)|
|The Friday before Easter Sunday||Good Friday|
|First Sunday after the first full moon since the vernal equinox||Easter Sunday|
|The day after Easter Sunday||Easter Monday[?]|
|First Monday in May||May Day Bank Holiday|
|Varies - End of May/Beginning of June||Spring Bank Holiday|
|Last Monday in August||Summer Bank Holiday|
|25 December||Christmas Day|
|26 December||Boxing Day (not Scotland)|
|17 March||St Patrick's Day (Northern Ireland only)|
|12 July||Battle of the Boyne - Orangemen's Day (Northern Ireland only)|