When Did Britain Become Britain? I Oxford Open Learning


    When Did Britain Become Britain?

    The 1st of May marks the anniversary of Scotland’s union with England – a historical event which occurred in 1707. But when and how did Wales and Northern Ireland unite with the UK? Let’s find out.

    The UK vs Great Britain

    Before we learn about how the countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland united, let’s first clarify the difference between Great Britain and the United Kingdom. These terms are often used interchangeably but they mean quite different things. The country known as The UK, short for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, consists of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The ‘British Isles’ refers to all of the islands in the north-western part of the Europe that sit outside the mainland. This includes The Channel Islands, The Isles of Scilly, The Isle of Man and Great Britain amongst many many others. The term ‘Britain’ (a word which derives from the Roman word ‘Britannia’) or ‘Great Britain’ simply refers to the landmass that is the largest island in the British Isles, where England, Wales and Scotland are housed.

    Forming The United Kingdom

    Now we’ve learnt the correct terminology, let’s delve into a brief history of how Britain and The United Kingdom came to be. It began with the establishment of England. Around 927 CE, Athelstan united the various Anglo-Saxon tribes that lived across the country to form the Kingdom of England. Athelstan became the first King of England.

    Fast forward to 1536 when Wales was absorbed into The Kingdom of England. Because he wanted legal and religious unification across his lands, King Henry VIII enacted a bill which meant that Wales would be governed by the same laws as England, effectively making them the same country. Then, in 1707, The Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland united under the Act of Union and Great Britain was born. It is said that King James I added ‘Great’ to Britain’s name as he wanted to distinguish his new Britain from the Roman Britannia which only consisted of England and some parts of Wales. James I also liked to refer to himself at the King of Great Britain.

    Almost a century later in 1801, Ireland also joined the union – creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. But in 1922, the Republic of Ireland (or Eire) withdrew from the union, leaving just the northern counties of Ireland part of the union. And so, the name, as it remains to this day, changed to The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    To learn more about the Act of Union and how Scotland became part of Britain, visit Act of Union 1707 – UK Parliament.


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