Introduction To The History of England / Britain
The British spread their culture, traditions, faith and language worldwide. Its affect upon the world, be it negative or positive cannot be under-estimated.
Britain is one of the wealthiest and most beautiful islands in the world, even though it is one of the most crowded. The homeland of Shakespeare and Chaucer has inspired countless literary works, paintings and films.
Some of the most significant scientific discoveries in the history of mankind were discovered in the Britain. The British also initially invented the TV, computer, the fastest car in the world, artificial intelligence and the World Wide Web! (Did you know that?)
The world has diverse reactions when it comes to Britain. Some stand in awe of its history and present day influence, others remember with distaste the imperial history. One quarter of the world lies in the shadows of its former empire and quite literally the world needs to learn its language. Britain’s foreign policies have made it one of the most influential countries in the world, working as the closest ally to the world’s sole superpower.
The UK boasts a fascinating history and a long-established system of government which has been multiplied around the world. Today it is home to the world’s largest foreign exchange market and is the fourth largest trading nation.
The History of England / Britain: Introduction part two
Britain's entertainment industry has produced the biggest bands, TV programmes, theatre productions, best-selling books, and the world’s most successful film character. In 2003 almost 40% of American TV programming was either led or spin a off from British ideas.
The image of Britons worldwide is quite diverse. Some think of the Queen, representing a well-spoken, educated people, with a stiff upper lip. Others look to the most successful band in world history, or to the most successful girl band of all time (both were British) or even to British sports personalities to present Britain on the cutting edge of modern culture. Others remember Princess Diana and look to her sons, especially William, to continue her work.
Britain’s influence, be it good or bad, continues to make a lasting influence upon the world. With all its achievements, one could make the mistake of thinking it was a very large country. In fact, the UK is tiny; Texas alone is almost three times larger than Britain!
Spiritually, Britain hosts Europe’s largest church. It started off the post reformation Christian mission movement; it has experienced revival and spiritual renewal on several occasions, and has continued to thrust out Christianity to the world, be it in person, in print, or through mass media.
(A brief history of any country will never do it justice; however this basic introduction should give you an interesting outline of a lot of English and [some of] British history).
England's earliest settlers were small bands of hunters. Around 4000BC, stone cutters arrived from Europe. They farmed the chalk hills and worshipped pagan gods. The next great influx of people was the Celts.
Archaeological findings reveal much of England’s history. The discovery of mounds on the hillsides; burial chambers and stone circles etc show the pagan worship which once was. Archaeological digs have found tools, human skeletons, and bones of elephants, rhinoceroses, cave-bears, lions, giant oxen and wolves.
The Roman invaders of Britain (AD 55) gave us the first written history of the land that came to be known as England, which they called Britannia.
In the Beginning
Genesis 1:1 ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’.
Genesis 11:9 ‘After Babel…the Lord scattered the people abroad over the face of all the earth’.
People moved from the Continent into Britain. Its isolation as an island, gave protection against any enemies. Fertile plains and wild animals probably attracted them. Isolated farmhouses have been the norm for building.
Local stone was used extensively and in some places roofs seem to have been supported by whalebone. Farming began to transform the landscape from forest into ploughed fields. Pottery was also made. Stone-axes of a sophisticated design were produced. And some were obtained by trading with other groups or by mining high-quality flint.
Burial tombs have been found, some of these tombs were built of large blocks of stone covered by earth. They are the oldest manmade stone structure known, even older than the great Pyramids of Egypt.
The arrival of the so-called ‘Beaker people’ named after the shape of their most characteristic pottery vessel, brought the first metal-users to the British Isles.
At the time of their arrival in Britain, they seem to have mingled with another group of Europeans we call the ‘Battle-axe people’ who had used wheeled carts, domesticated the horse, and smelted and worked copper. They also buried their dead in single graves. They also may have introduced a language into Britain derived from Indo-European. Genesis 11:7 ‘Let us go down there and confuse their language’.
The two groups seem to have blended together to produce the cult in Southern England that we call the 'Wessex Culture.' They were responsible for the enormous earthwork called Silbury Hill the largest manmade mound in prehistoric Europe. Silbury is 39 metres high and was built as a series of circular platforms.
Stonehenge is the most famous of all the prehistoric monuments in Britain. The architectural sophistication of the monument bears witness to the tremendous technological advances being made at the time of the arrival of the Bronze Age (Genesis 4:22 ‘An instructor in…bronze and iron’.
Tin came from Cornwall and gold came from Wales, which even today can still be bought. Products made from these metals were traded freely both within the British Isles and with peoples on the continent of Europe. At this time the Celtic people arrived.
The Hallstatt peoples were highly skilled craftsmen, who used iron, bronze and gold, and produced fine burnished pottery. At some time they reached the British Isles and their culture began to spread. From their contact with Mediterranean peoples, the Hallstatt people advanced their technology and culture. Beautifully made and decorated articles came into existence around the middle of the fifth century BC that was produced by the Celts. The remains of hill forts from the age of the Celts are found everywhere in the British Isles. They varied from shelters for people and livestock to small townships and administrative centres.
The Celts brought their religion too, particularly that of the Druids. They controlled the calendar and the planting of crops and also presided over the religious festivals and rituals that honoured local deities. Many of Britain's Celts came from Gaul in France. These were the Belgae, who arrived in great numbers and settled in the Southeast around 75 BC. They brought with them a sophisticated plough that revolutionised agriculture in the rich, heavy soils of their new lands. They also introduced coinage to Britain.
The first Roman invasion of the British Isles took place under Julius Caesar in BC 55. "All the Britons," he wrote, "paint themselves with woad, which gives their skin a bluish colour and makes them look very dreadful in battle."
In AD 43-44 they invaded and settled for nearly four hundred years. One of the greatest achievements of the Roman Empire was its system of building straight roads where possible. When the legions arrived there were virtually no roads at all.
It was the Romans who probably made London the chief administrative centre, and from it, roads spread out to all parts of the province. They also utilised bridges, an innovation that the Romans introduced to Britain.
Some believe that Roman soldiers introduced Christianity to Britain. Examples of the Italians' encounters with the Lord can be found in Matthew 27:54 and Acts 10:1,48.
Early Wales / Scotland
Present-day Scotland and Wales were not as easily settled. The strong resistance of tribes in Wales meant that two out of three Roman legions in Britain were stationed on its borders. Hadrian's Wall was built when he had abandoned his plan of world conquest, it should have particularly reminded our ancestors of the need for a peaceful and stable frontier. A seventy-two mile long wall connecting the Tyne to the Solway was built and rebuilt, garrisoned and re-garrisoned many times, strengthened by stone-built forts at one-mile intervals.
Romans Society in Britain
Roman society in Britain was highly classified. In AD 2l2, the Emperor Caracalla extended citizenship to all freeborn inhabitants of the empire, but social and legal distinctions remained rigidly set between the upper rank of citizens and the masses. At the lowest end of the scale were the slaves.
Resistance came from such leaders as Queen Boudicca of the Iceni, whose revolt nearly succeeded in driving the Romans out of Britain. Her people incensed by their brutal treatment at the hands of Roman officials, burned Colchester, London, and St. Albans, destroying many armies. The majority of the British population did not appear to have become Romanised.
Roman Britain’s Disintegration
The disintegration of Roman Britain began with the revolt of Magnus Maximus in AD 383. After living in Britain as a military commander, he had been hailed as Emperor by his troops. He began his campaigns to dethrone Gratian as Emperor, taking a large part of the Roman garrison based in Britain with him to the Continent. The thirty-seven mile long Antoine Wall, connecting the Firths of Forth and Clyde, served temporarily as the northern frontier, beyond which lay Caledonia. The Caledonians were quick to master the arts of guerrilla warfare against the scattered, home-sick Roman legionaries. The Romans abandoned the Antoine Wall, withdrawing south to Hadrian's Wall.
Some Welsh people see Magnus Maximus as the father of the Welsh nation, for he opened the way for independent political organisations to develop among the Welsh people by his acknowledgement of the role of the leaders of the Britons in AD 383. He has remained a hero to the Welsh as Macsen Wledig.
From the time that the Romans more or less abandoned Britain, to the arrival of Augustine at Kent to convert the Saxons, the period has been known as the Dark Ages. But we do know that the most significant events were the gradual division of Britain into the formation of the Welsh, English and Scottish nations; and the conversion of much of the British Isles to Christianity.
England, Wales, Scotland
In the Gallic Chronicle of 452, Tyro had written that the Britons in 443 were reduced under the jurisdiction of the English. He used the Roman term Saxons for all the English-speaking peoples resident in Britain. The Roman historians had been using the term to describe all the continental folk who had been directing their activities towards the eastern and southern coasts of Britain from as early as the third century. By the mid sixth Century, these peoples were calling themselves Angles and Frisians, and not Saxons.
In the account given by Procopius in the middle of the sixth century he writes of the island of Britain being possessed by three very populous nations: the Angili, the Frisians, and the Britons".
During the period 400-600 the monk Gildas wrote concerning the fall of Britain in about 540. Gildas gives us a sermon that the coming of the Saxons was an act of God to punish the native Britons for their sins. In most of lowland Britain, Latin had become the language of administration and education, especially since Celtic writing was virtually unknown. Latin was also the language of the Church in Rome.
The old Celtic gods had given way to the new ones such as Mithras; introduced by the Roman mercenaries. Missionaries from Gaul France came to Britain. By 3l4, an organised Christian Church seems to have been established in most of Britain, for in that year British bishops were summoned to the Council of Arles. By the end of the fourth century, a diocesan structure had been set up, many districts having come under the pastoral care of a bishop.
Missionaries of the Gospel had been active in the South and East of the land that later became known as Scotland. It was not until the late tenth Century that the name Scotia ceased to be applied to Ireland and become transferred to South Western Scotland. The first of these missionaries was Ninian who probably built his first church at Whithorn in Galloway, ministering from there as a travelling bishop and being buried there after his death in 397.
It was during the time of the Saxon invasions of Germanic tribes, in that relatively unscathed Western peninsular that later took the name Wales, that the first monasteries were established (the words Wales and Welsh were used by the Germanic invaders to refer to Romanised Britons).
They spread rapidly to Ireland from where missionaries returned to those parts of Britain that were not under the Roman Bishops' jurisdiction, mainly the Northwest. St Oran established churches in Iona, Mull and Tiree.
Columba was the most important of these missionaries, later becoming a popular saint in the history of the Christian Church, but even he built the nave of his first monastery facing west and not east. For his efforts at reforming the Church, Rome excommunicated him. His banishment from Ireland became Scotland's gain.
The island of Iona is just off the western coast of Argyll, in present-day Scotland. It is been called the Isle of Dreams or Isle of Druids. It was here that Columba with his small band of Irish monks landed in 563 to spread the faith. Iona was quickly to become the ecclesiastical head of the Celtic Church in the whole of Britain as well as a major political centre.
King Oswald invited monks to come to his restored kingdom of Northumbria. It was thus that Aidan, with his twelve disciples, came to Lindisfarne destined with Iona to become one of the great cultural centres of the early Christian world.
The Vikings razed this monastery to the ground at the end of the 8th century. In 574, Columba is believed to have returned to Ireland to plead the cause of the bards, about to be expelled as troublemakers. He also refused to chop down the ancient, sacred oak trees that symbolised the old druid religion. Although the bards were allowed to remain, they were forced to give up their special privileges as priests of the old religion.
Celtic And Roman Churches Integrate
Between the fifth and sixth centuries, the rapidly expanding Church adopted numerous Celtic saints.
At the Synod of Whitby in 664, the Celtic Church, with its own ideas about the consecration of its Bishops and dates for the celebration of Easter showed its differences with the Church Rome. However, the church was more or less forced by majority opinion of the British bishops to accept the rule of St.Peter, introduced by Augustine, rather than of St.Columba. From this date on, we can no longer speak of a Celtic Church as distinct from that of Rome.
By the end of the seventh century there was the formation and growth of various English kingdoms that were soon under threat by Danish invaders, the Vikings, who quickly killed the British kings and lords who ruled their own districts. Only Wessex remained under King Arthur who made guerrilla warfare. A final battle ensued, Arthur was victorious, and a peace treaty was signed, Arthur was king of the South and the Danish took the North. In1066 the famous battle took place near Hastings. William of Normandy was the victor.
William II, Rufus (1087-1100)
The dominions ruled by William II Rufus, were closely knit together by the family. The King of England and the Duke of Normandy had rival claims upon the allegiance of every great landholder from the Scottish borders to Anjou. Norman lands were surrounded by enemies eager to re-conquer lost territories. One of these foes was the Church of Rome itself, rapidly increasing in power and prestige at the expense of the feudal monarchies.
In 1088 a rebellion took place led by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, an old foe of Lanfranc, who wished to install Robert of Normandy on the throne of England. To meet the threat, Rufus called upon his English subjects. He promised them better laws than they had ever had before. With them he was able to raise an army of the people and defeat the scattered rebel forces.
In Normandy, Duke Robert decided to honour Pope Urban's call for a Crusade to win back the Holy Land from the Seljuk Turks to allow free access for pilgrims. The absence of Robert of Normandy on his adventures in the Middle East meant good fortune for the King of England. In 1100, on a hunting expedition William was killed.
Henry I (1100-1135)
Henry I was also known as the ‘Lion of Justice.’ Henry, William’s brother, succeeded in the conquest of Normandy and ensured the support of his English subjects by issuing a solemn charter promising to redress grievances, especially those involving the selling of vacant benefices to the highest bidder. Anselm the archbishop officiated at the marriage of Henry to Edith, a descendant of Edward the Confessor and a most suitable choice as Queen of England. He could now turn his attention to withholding royal authority from the encroachments of the Church in Rome, growing ever more ambitious under a series of able popes.
For the King, the customs of the realm of England took precedence over the claims of the Church. In this, Gerard the Archbishop of York said, "the Mother of Churches was Jerusalem, not Rome, and that the Papacy was an institution of merely human ordinance".
Gerard argued that the Scriptures alone could give religious instruction; there was no need to have the will of God expounded by a Pope. Kings were ordained by God to rule the Church no less than the State. A new nation was being forged out of the common respect for the King's writ, out of their submission to and increasing attachment to the same principles of law and their trust in the monarchy to protect them against oppression. Henry propelled his English possessions towards a sense of national unity.
When Henry died, his nephew Stephen seized the throne and the dukedom; the houses of Anjou and Blois began their long struggle for control of both. Briefly, in this struggle, Matilda concentrated on England and Count Geoffrey on Normandy, where he became Duke in 1144. Events reluctantly forced Stephen to acknowledge Geoffrey in his Dukedom as well as Matilda's son Henry as heir to his English throne.
In 1126, Stephen, one of the wealthiest of the Anglo-Norman landholders, had taken an oath to accept the succession of Matilda, an oath he quickly forgot when he seized the treasury at Winchester and had himself crowned King. The war of succession began when Matilda's uncle, David, King of Scotland invaded England on her behalf in 1135. Matilda landed at Arundel in 1139 with a large army. Stephen was captured at the battle of Lincoln in 1141. The wars of succession in England were caused by Stephen's failure to recognise Matilda as rightful monarch. Both armies relied heavily on foreign mercenaries.
Matilda, finally despairing at her failure to dislodge Stephen, left for Normandy, never to return. Matilda’s son Henry, beginning in 1153 then carried out a more successful campaign. Stephen agreed to a compromise. He was to continue as king so long as he lived and to receive Henry's homage. In turn, Henry was to be recognised as rightful heir. Henry died in 1154.
Henry II (1154-1189)
Henry was making his mark as one of the most powerful rulers in Europe. His boundless energy was the wonder of his chroniclers. He was also a scholar and Churchman, founding and endowing many religious houses.
Henry's greatest accomplishment was to take the English system of law, much of it rooted in Anglo-Saxon custom, and turn it into an efficient legal system closely presided over by the royal court and the king's justices. Making much use of the itinerant justices to bring criminals to trial, common law was introduced. A major innovation was the replacement of the older system of a sworn oath or an ordeal to establish truth by the jury of twelve sworn men.
Henry then turned his attention to the Church, shrewdly relying on his close ally Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury to carry out his religious policies. The growth of towns, the new trading centres, was greatly aided by the stimulation of the First Crusade that revived the commerce of Europe by increased contact with the Mediterranean and especially through the growth of Venice.
Improvements in agriculture included the introduction of the wheeled plough and the horse collar. For one thing, the horse collar made it possible to efficiently transport the heavy blocks of stone for the building of the great cathedrals.
Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury
Thomas a Becket was appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury. He swore to uphold ecclesiastical prestige against any royal encroachments. The triangle of Pope, King and Archbishop was broken. Canon law was introduced fully into England. Becket was killed by the King and became a martyr. In Normandy Henry fell ill and died after being forced to accept humiliating terms from Philip of France and his son Richard, who succeeded him as King of England.
Richard I (1189-1199)
Richard l, the Lionheart, on return from a Crusade to the Holy Land in 1191-1192, was captured and ransomed in a prison in Germany. On his release, he went back to fighting, this time against Philip II of France. In a minor skirmish in Aquitaine, he was killed. King Richard spent only six months in England. To raise the funds for his adventures overseas, he appointed administrators who carried out his plans to sell just about everything he owned and taxed the people heavily.
Richard's preparations for the Third Crusade against the Moslems provoked popular hostility in England towards its Jewish inhabitants who had been encouraged to come from Normandy in former years. A massacre of the Jewish inhabitants of York took place in March 1190.
King John (1199-1216)
In John's reign the first income tax was levied in England. Pope Innocent III, (1198-1216) was the first to style himself Vicar of Christ. He proved to be a formidable adversary to the English King. Their major dispute came over the appointment of the new Archbishop of Canterbury at the death of Hubert Walter in 1205. John refused to accept Stephen Langton, an Englishman active in the papal court at Rome. He was punished by the Interdict of 1208, and for the next five years, English priests were forbidden from administering the sacraments, even from burying the dead. Most of the bishops left the country.
The Magna Carta
The Magna Carta, the "Great Charter" was something of a compromise, a treaty of peace between John and his rebellious barons, whose chief grievance was that of punishment without trial.
Archbishop Langton drew up the grievances into a form of statements that constitute a complex document of 63 clauses. In later years, the charter became almost a manifesto of royal power. John reluctantly signed the charter.
The Magna Carta forced the King to agree to govern by the laws of the Land. Some of its points were that no one should go to prison without a fair trial. Also taxes were to be fair and according to custom.
The most lasting effect of the Magna Carta was the upholding of individual rights against arbitrary government.
When King John ceded these many important powers to Parliament, it was in many ways the beginning of the freedom that we enjoy today; which many countries in the world still only dream about.
Henry III (1216-1272)
Henry took up the Pope's offer of the kingdom of Sicily by making his youngest son Edmund King of that Island. Henry was especially gratified at the completion of Westminster Abbey and the reburial of the remains of Edward the Confessor there.
During Henry III's long reign, great progress was made in the direction of the English Church, not the least of which was the completion of the great cathedrals including the magnificent edifice at Salisbury. Oxford University came into being. There was a moving away from the monastic ideal to that of the Church working among the people. The Franciscans and Dominicans were particularly prominent in charitable work in the rapidly growing towns and villages of England. Windmills were introduced from Holland, which greatly helped in the draining of marshes and the milling of grain.
Edward I (1272-1307)
The death of Henry forced Edward’s return from Sicily; it took him two years to return. King Edward immediately set about restoring order in England and wiping out corruption among the barons and royal officials. His great inquiry was to recover royal rights and to re-establish law and justice. The proceedings took place under the Statute of Gloucester on 1278 and the Statute of Quo Warranto of 1290. The Statute of Mortmain of 1279 had decreed that no more land might be given into the hands to the church without royal license.
The Welsh were a thorn in the side of Edward whose ambition was to rule the whole of Britain. Many considered themselves the true Britons. Geoffrey of Monmouth (1090-1155) had claimed that they had come to the island of Britain from Troy under their leader Brutus. At the Statute of Rhuddlan, 1284, Wales was divided up into English counties, the English court pattern set firmly in place, and, for all intents and purposes, Wales ceased to exist as a political unit.
A new struggle for control of Scotland had begun at the death of Alexander III in 1286. The succession was now open to many claimants, the strongest of whom were John Balliol and Robert Bruce. The rising tide of nationalist fervour in the face of the arrival of the English armies north of the border created the need for new Scottish leaders. A young Scottish knight, William Wallace found himself at the head of a fast-spreading movement of national resistance. (Mel Gibson’s film, ‘Braveheart’ popularised this Scottish hero). At Stirling Bridge, a Scottish force led by Wallace won an amazing victory when it completely annihilated a large well-equipped English army. At Falkirk, the re-organised English army crushed the over-confident Scottish followers of Wallace, who was now finished as an effective leader and forced into hiding.
Edward II (1307-1327)
In 1311 Bruce drove out the English garrisons from all their Scottish strongholds except Stirling. On Mid-Summer's Day, the 24th of June 1314, one of the most momentous battles in British history took place.
The armies of Robert Bruce were heavily outnumbered by their English rivals, but by employing tactics that prevented the English army from effectively using its strength, they won a decisive victory at Bannockburn. Scotland was wrenched from English control. The Declaration of Arbroath of 1320 stated that since ancient times the Scots had been free to choose their own kings, a freedom that was a gift from God. Scotland remained fully independent until 1603. Edward II was murdered.
Edward III (1327-77)
Edward III began his reign at the age of fourteen. The hundred-year war took place with France. The Black Death devastated most of Europe by bringing bubonic plague, carried by the black rats and transmitted to humans by fleas. It arrived by ship near Weymouth in 1348 and lasted two years; within one year it had affected all of Britain. The population of four million was deeply effected, between one third and one fourth of them died.
English in the Courts
In 1362, Parliament passed an act to make English the official language of the law courts rather than French that had been used for three centuries. The English language continued to be used in parliamentary rolls and statutes and ultimately replaced French to become the official language of the country. Latin was the spoken language among clerics and men of learning, and so Latin words flooded into use also. This, too, was the age of Geoffrey Chaucer and John Wycliffe, both of whom wrote in the English language and a standard form of written English had come into being.
Richard II (1377-1399)
Richard had become King at the age of ten. Four years after Richard acceded to the throne, he was faced with a mass popular uprising known as the Peasants' Revolt. To raise funds for the French war, a poll tax was adopted by the government, the unfair distribution of which caused massive resistance.
In August 1399, King Richard stood on the ramparts of Flint Castle, Northeast Wales, watching the soldiers of Henry, Duke of Lancaster advance. They were in revolt in league with the nobles. Richard died a mysterious death, probably due to starvation while in prison. The Nobles asserted the right of Parliament to elect the fittest person from within the royal family.
Henry IV (1399-1413)
Henry of Bolingbrook was renowned as a fighting man. He had travelled extensively in Europe and the Mediterranean before overthrowing the unpopular Richard. Henry died after a long illness in 1413.
Henry V (1413-1422)
His conquest of Normandy and his acquisition of the throne of France made him a legend in his own time. Henry was fatally stabbed whist fighting in France. The Catholic Church had been steadily increasing its demands upon the English treasury, but it had been meeting with increasing resistance.
During the reign of Edward III, the reformer John Wycliffe had declared that the Bible, and not the Church (of Rome), was the true guide to faith.
The English King could welcome this novel idea as long as it didn't lead to attacks on his own prerogative. After all, it needed a representative of Rome at Canterbury to sanction the accession to power of the English monarch. There were rival Popes in Rome and Avignon. Wycliffe translated the Bible from Latin into English. His ideas were then preached with great zeal by the Lollards, all of whom condemned many practices of the corrupt established Roman Church. Persecution took place and many were burned at the stake.
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