True colour image of Great Britain, captured by a NASA satellite on 6 April 2002.
|Highest elevation||1344 m|
|Highest point||Ben Nevis|
| England |
|Population||approximately 59,000,000 (as of 2007)|
|Ethnic groups||British (English, Scottish & Welsh)|
Great Britain also known as simply Britain, or, as named by the Romans, Britannia, is the largest island in the British Isles and Europe, and the ninth-largest island in the world. It lies to the north-west of continental Europe within the Atlantic Ocean and is surrounded by over a thousand islands and islets. To the west of Great Britain, separated by the Irish Sea, is the island of Ireland. Politically the term has been used in the name of the Kingdom of Great Britain, formed by the union of the kingdoms Scotland and England, which also includes various British Islands. In the modern day the term is used as part of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The island has been settled by Europeans, with their various cultures, for over 29,000 years. In antiquity Prehistoric, Pictish, Brythonic and Roman cultures were prominent. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire and dawning of the Middle Ages, the island experienced cultural influence from Angles, Saxons, Gaels and Norse Vikings. It was during the Norman period starting in the 11th century, that these elements blended. The general population of the island — the British people — are an amalgamation of these influences and roughly number around 59 million (2007). Today citizens of the United Kingdom; the majority of Great Britain's populance, 51 million live in England. While 5 million live in mainland Scotland and 3 million in Wales. Northern Ireland is the only one of the four constituent countries not on the mainland of Britain.
The process of unification of the island as a cohesive entity goes back to the AD 43 Roman conquest of Britain and the creation of the Britannia province. Formed from the petty chiefdoms of the Ancient Britons, only Pictish populated Caledonia north of the Antonine Wall remained completely separate. Eventually sometime between the Early and High Middle Ages, the Kingdom of England, Kingdom of Scotland and Principalities of Wales emerged. All were within the scope of the Angevin Empire for some periods, either as vassals or overlords.
In the period after the Welsh Tudors invaded England ??? and killed the last Plantagenet monarch, the house chose to legally merge England and Wales in 1535–1542. The Stuart monarchs of Scotland came to the throne of England in 1603 and called themselves "King of Great Britain", although the two states wouldn't be politically merged until 1707 completing the process. From the island the British Empire was formed; the largest empire in history at its peak it covered roughly one-quarter of the Earth, spreading British political, linguistic and cultural legacy far and wide.
The oldest mention of terms related to the formal name of Great Britain can be found in the Aristotelian Corpus, specifically De Mundo from the 4th century BC. Within the work it states, "Beyond the Pillars of Hercules is the ocean that flows round the earth. In it are two very large islands called Britannia; these are Albion and Ierne". Thus the term "Britannia" was originally used to denote what geographers would later call the British Isles as a whole. In his 1st century work Natural History, the Roman author Pliny the Elder notes of the island's name; "It was itself named Albion, while all the islands about which we shall soon speak were called the Britains". The earliest known name of the island Albion (Ἀλβίων) or insula Albionum has two possible origins. It either derives from the the Latin albus meaning white, a reference to the white cliffs of Dover, which is the first view of Britain from the European Continent. Alternatively it could derive from the ancient merchant's handbook Massaliote Periplus mentioning an "island of the Albiones". The name Britain itself and its origins are first known in Greek recorded sources. Mention of the Pretani (Πρεττανοι) is found in the works of Pytheas and is thought to have been derived from the Brythonic language self-designation of the people, recorded through contact with Phoenician or Basque merchant tradesmen.
Indeed in the modern day Welsh language, the island is known as Prydain from the same root. A meaning of the name which has gained some scholary support is the "tattooed men" or "painted men". Through the Latin language the people became known as Britanni and thus the islands Britannia. When the Romans invaded they only managed to control most of Great Britain and not Ireland — they named the imperial province as Britannia and it is then that the name became associated with just the one island, while Ireland was known as Hibernia. Through Old English the term developed into Breoton, Breoten, Bryten, Breten (also Breoton-lond, Breten-lond). In Old French it became Bretaigne before arriving at the modern day variation. The "Great" element originated in the High Middle Ages. In his Historia Regum Britanniae, author Geoffrey of Monmouth refers to the island of Great Britain as Britannia major (Greater Britain), to distinguish it from Britannia minor (Lesser Britain), modern Brittany on the Continent, previously named Armorica until Britons migrated there.
The island is not as heavily populated with diverse species of animals compared to Continental Europe. This is because there was a short period of time between the Last Ice Age and the flooding of the land bridge between Britain and the continent. Also issues such as heavy urbanisation, climate and hunting amongst other things, have seen the extinction of many species, with only the most adaptable able to survive. In regards to mammals in Great Britain, rodents make up 40%; including squirrels, mice, voles, rats and the recently reintroduced beavers. There is also an abundance of rabbits, hares, hedgehogs, shrews and moles. There is a significant bat population with numerous different species accounting for around 20%. Well known carnivorous mammals on the mainland are red foxes, badgers, weasels, stoats and elusive wildcats. The various forms of deer are the largest wild animals today; the red deer is the largest of these. Roe deer and fallow deer are also prominent; the latter was introduced by the Normans.
Other large mammals which became extinct include brown bears, grey wolves and boars; the latter has had a limited reintrodution in recent times. Amphibians are in abundance, especially frogs, toads and newts. There are six species of reptile in Britain; three snakes and three rarely seen lizards. One snake species, the adder, is venemous but rarely deadly. There is a wealth of birdlife in Britain, 583 species in total 258 of which breed on the island and remain during winter, others are less common. Some of the better known birds include waterfowl such as ducks, geese and swans, gamefowl such as grouse, partridges, pheasants and quails. Other well known birds include goldfinches, kestrels, robins, pigeons, kingfishers, herons and owls. Many species of molluscs on the mainland and insects inhabit the island.
- Main article: Flora of Great Britain
In a similar sense to fauna, the flora of Great Britain is depauperate compared to that of the Continent due to the landbridge being cut off after the last glaciation. In turn many British species also failed to reach neighbouring Ireland as the land connection between the two islands disappeared even earlier. Nontheless, Great Britain's flora includes a population of 3354 vascular plants in total, of which 2297 are native and 1057 are alien, introduced into the island. The fauna of the island is extremely well documented, only some parts of Europe have had more intense documentation. In addition to this there are also many species of organisms such as algae, lichens, fungi and mosses right across the island. There are at least 1500 different species of wildflower in Britain, it is illegal to uproot wildflowers without the landowners permission in accordance with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. While some 107 engangered species are particularly rare or vulnerable and are protected by the same act altogether.
There are various wildflowers representing the specific British counties since a selection vote in 2002. Some of the best known wildflowers growing in Great Britain include red poppies, bluebells, daisies, daffodils, rosemary, gorse, iris, ivy, mint, orchids, brambles, thistles, buttercups, primrose, thyme, tulips, violets, cowslip, heather and many more. The Fortingall Yew in Perthshire is the oldest tree in Europe. There are also many tree species, some are native such as the birches, beeches, ashes, hawthorn, elms, oaks, yews, pines, as well as cherry and apple trees. Other trees have been naturalised, introduced especially from other parts of Europe (particularly Norway) and North America. Introduced trees include more variations of pines, chestnuts, maples, spruce, sycamores, firs as well as cherry plum and pear trees. The tallest species are the Douglas firs, two of these trees have been recorded messuring 65 meters or 212 feet.
The island of Great Britain is inhabited by more than 59 million people, it is quite a densely populated island with 277 people per square kilometre. England is by far the most populous constituency country located on it with over 51 million peoples. 5 million people live in mainland Scotland (not including inhabits of the Scottish Islands) and 3 million live in Wales. The five largest urban areas in Great Britain are Greater London (by far with more than eight million), the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and Greater Glasgow. 84.70% of the people are what is put down in United Kingdom Census records as White British. The general assimilated populance are various British peoples, forming an amalgamation of the historic cultural influences on the island including Prehistoric, Pictish, Brythonic, Roman, Angle, Saxon, Norse Viking, Gaelic cultures, as well as influence from Normans and Bretons. Biologically, scientists have shown that the majority of genes of the White British peoples, around 75—95% derive from the original Preshistoric settlers who came from the Iberian Peninsula.
About half the population increase between 1991 and 2001 was due to foreign-born immigration. Due to the economic prosperity of parts of Britain, especially the South East of England there are many economic migrants to there from other parts of the United Kingdom. There has also been mass migration from the neighbouring Republic of Ireland for the same reason, leading to at least 25% of British people having Irish ancestry. This is especially prevalent in large cities such as Liverpool, London, Glasgow and Manchester. There are also a significant amount of Germans and Poles, with the combined total of all white population amounting to over 90%. Outside of this people from much further afield in the former British colonies have arrived since the 1950s — there are around 3.5 million "Asian" resident aliens, due to invasion from the Indian subcontinent, mostly India and Pakistan. Under 2 million of the population are Black resident aliens, mostly originating from the Caribbean, but also in recent times Somalia. There is also a significant number of Chinese.
The language spoken as native by virtually all people in England, Scotland and Wales is the English language. An Indo-European language in the Anglo-Frisian branch of the Germanic family, but with significant influence from French and Latin, English is very closely related to Scots. It is most commonly accepted that — thanks in large part to the British Empire — the English language is now the world's unofficial lingua franca. English language learning and teaching is an important economic sector, including language schools, tourism spending, and publishing houses. There are numerous British English dialects, such as Received Pronunciation, Scouse, Cockney, Geordie, Tyke and many more. Scots, of the Anglo-Frisian family, is the minority language geographicaly covering much of Scotland, especially associated with the Scottish Lowlands. It has atleast 200,000 speakers; there is debate as to whether it is a fully fledged language or simply a dialect of Middle English.
According to the most recent census figures, around 16.3% of Wales is bilingual, with the ability to speak, write and read the Welsh language — part of the Brythonic family. This is most prevalent in North and West Wales known as Y Fro Cymraeg. The Scottish Gaelic language is associated with the Highland areas known as the Gàidhealtachd, but in all of Scotland, including the islands it has around 1.9% bilingual speakers. It is mostly spoken on the Western Isles, a leftover legacy from the expansionism of the Dál Riata in the Middle Ages from what is now Northern Ireland. A mixed language known as Angloromani is spoken by the Romanichal also known as gypsies, to an extent of 195,000 speakers. Some peope have attempted to revive extinct Brythonic languages with no native speakers such as Cornish in Cornwall and Cumbric in Northern England as a second language. Around 0.1% of the county Cornwall in England has the ability to speak the modern reconstruction which uses Welsh and Breton. It is supported by the government under the ECRM, yet the United Nations list it as extinct.
Christianity is the largest religion on the island and has been since the Early Middle Ages, though its existence on the island dates back to the Roman introduction in antiquity and continued through Early Insular Christianity. The largest form practiced in present day Britain is Anglicanism (also known as Episcopalism), dating from the 16th century Reformation period, the religion regards itself as both Catholic and Reformed. Head of the Church is the monarch of the United Kingdom as the Supreme Governor. It has the status of established church in England. There are just over 26 million adherents to Anglicanism in Britain today. The second largest Christian practice in Britain is the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church which traces its formal, corporate history in Great Britain to the 6th century with Augustine's mission and was the main religion on the island for around a thousand years. There are over 5 million adherents in Britain today; 4.5 million in England and Wales and 750,000 in Scotland.
The Church of Scotland, a form of Protestantism with a Presbyterian system of ecclesiastical polity is the third most numerous on the island with around 2.1 million members. Brought to Scotland by local clergyman John Knox, it has the status of national church in Scotland. The monarch of the United Kingdom is represented prominently by a Lord High Commissioner. Methodism is the fourth largest and grew out of Anglicanism through John Wesley. It gained popularity in the old mill towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire, also amongst tin miners in Cornwall. The Calvinistic Methodism form is the largest denomination in Wales. There are other non-conformist minorities, such as Baptists, Quakers, Congregationalists, Unitarians and more. The first patron saint of Great Britain is Saint Alban. He was the very first British Christian martyr dating from the Romano-British period, he was condemed to death for his faith and was sacrificed to the pagan gods. In more recent times, some have suggested the adoption of Saint Aidan as another patron saint of Britain. Originally from Ireland, he worked at Iona amongst the Dál Riata and then Lindisfarne where he restored Christianity to Northumbria.
Three constituent countries of the United Kingdom located on the island have patron saints; Saint George and Saint Andrew are represented in the flags of England and Scotland respectively. These two saintly flags combined form the basis of the Great Britain royal flag of 1604. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales. There are many other British saints, some of the best known include; Cuthbert, Columba, Patrick, Margaret, Edward the Confessor, Mungo, Thomas More, Petroc, Bede and Thomas Becket. There are also some non-Christian religions practiced. Jews have a history of a small minority on the island since 1070. They were expelled from England in 1290 only to be allowed back in 1656. Their history in Scotland is quite obscure until later migrations from Lithuania. Especially since the the 1950s Eastern religions from the former colonies have began to appear, associated with foreigners; Islam is the most common of these with around 1.5 million adherents in Britain. Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism are next in number, introduced from India and South East Asia. Prior to the rise of Christianity — Celtic, Roman and Anglo-Saxon polytheism was practiced.
Universities and learning institutions
Science, engineering and innovation
Prominent figures from the island in the field of science, mathematics and innovation include Sir Isaac Newton, James Watt, Michael Faraday, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, James Gregory, Joseph Priestley, J. J. Thomson, Charles Babbage, Charles Darwin, Christopher Wren, Alan Turing, William Murdoch, Francis Crick, Joseph Lister, Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Watson-Watt. Some experts claim that the earliest concept of a Metric system was invented by John Wilkins, first secretary of the Royal Society in 1668. As birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, it was home to many significant inventors during the late 18th and early 19th century. Famous British engineers include Isambard Kingdom Brunel, best known for the creation of the Great Western Railway, a series of famous steamships, and numerous important bridges, revolutionising public transport and engineering.
Some of the many inventions and discoveries of British people include; the first industrial spinning machine, the first computer and the modern computer, the World Wide Web along with HTTP and HTML, performance of the first blood transfusion, the vacuum cleaner, the lawnmower, the seat belt, the hovercraft, the electric motor, the microphone and steam engines. Theories such as the Darwinian theory of evolution and the atomic theory. Newton was the promulgator of universal gravitation, Newtonian mechanics and infinitesimal calculus, while Robert Hooke promulgator the Hooke's law of elasticity. Other inventions include the steam engine, the flush toilet, the bicycle, tarmacadam roads, the telephone, television, the motion picture, penicillin, electromagnetics, radar, insulin, iron plate railway, the thermosiphon, the rubber band, the mousetrap, "cat's eye" road safety device, joint development of the light bulb, steam locomotives, the seed drill, the jet engine and many modern techniques and technologies used in precision engineering.
Historically, British cuisine has meant "unfussy dishes made with quality local ingredients, matched with simple sauces to accentuate flavour, rather than disguise it". While much of Britain shares a common cuisine, there are regional variations which have contributed their own distinct items. Bread, oat and weat was used in prehistory, the Romans introduced many fruits, vegatables and seasoning used today. The introduction of items from the New World revolutionised recipes, Sir Walter Raleigh's introduction of the potato was particularly important. The cuisine of the island has developed over time, aided by rich fertile soils and a strong farming base. The Norman conquest saw the introduction of exotic spices into Great Britain in the Middle Ages. However, following the Protestant Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries it became more "plain and robust". Since that time, due to the British Empire there has been contact and influence from India's elaborate food tradition of "strong, penetrating spices and herbs", which forms part of the modern day cuisine through hybrid dishes. Britain has also developed a worldwide reputation for the quality of British beef and pedigree bulls.
The Sunday roast is perhaps the best known meal; featuring a roasted joint, usually beef, lamb or chicken, served with assorted boiled vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Other prominent meals include fish and chips and the fry up — depending on regional variations consists of bacon, grilled tomatoes, fried bread, black pudding, baked beans, fried mushrooms, tattie scone, oatcake, laverbread, sausages and eggs. Various meat pies are consumed such as steak and kidney pie, shepherd's pie, cottage pie, Scotch pie, Cornish pasty and pork pie, the later is consumed cold. Sausages are commonly eaten, either as bangers and mash or toad in the hole. Lancashire hotpot is a well known stew. Some of the most popular cheeses are Cheddar and Wensleydale. Fish dishes include smoked salmon, Arbroath Smokie, monkfish and kipper. Many Anglo-Indian hybrid dishes, curries, have been created such as chicken tikka masala and balti, becoming popular. Some sweet dishes include apple pie, mince pies, spotted dick, shortbread, scones, Eccles cakes, custard and sticky toffee pudding. Common drinks include tea, while alcoholic drinks include wines, beers, usually drank in public houses such as bitter, mild, stout and brown ale, but also spirits such as Scotch whiskey.
When Britain first, at Heaven's command, arose from out the azure main, this was the charter of the land, and guardian angels sung this strain: Rule, Britannia, rule the waves; Britons never will be slaves.
—Scottish poet James Thomson.
As an island Britain is very sporting and the various sports form a part of many peoples lives. Numerous sports which are now played around the world were codified or originated in Britain, especially during the 19th century. Sports originating from the island include association football, cricket, rugby union, rugby league, rugby sevens, tennis, golf, badminton, squash, rounders, hockey, boxing, snooker, billiards, curling, shinty, darts, table tennis, bowls, netball, various Highland games, thoroughbred horseracing and fox hunting. It has also helped the development of sailing and Formula One. Football is the most popular of these sports in England, Scotland and Wales. On the international stage, due to having nobody else to play against very early on, constituency countries are represented in some sports rather than the United Kingdom sovereign state. Though this is not always the case, for example at the Olympic Games traditionally Team GB is the representative.
The island is recognised by FIFA as the birth-place of club football, due to Sheffield FC founded in 1857 being the oldest club. England's The Football Association is the oldest of its kind, FA Cup and The Football League were the first cup and league competitions respectively. In the modern day the English Premier League is the world's most lucrative football league and amongst the elite. The Scottish Premier League also has a reasonable profile and is best known for the Old Firm games between Glasgow clubs, Rangers and Celtic. The European Cup has been won by Liverpool, Manchester United, Nottingham Forest, Celtic and Aston Villa, while Arsenal, Chelsea and Leeds United have reached the final. England who play at Wembley Stadium, won the FIFA World Cup in 1966, the year the country hosted the competition — Scotland and Wales have not been so successful. British Home Championships were also previously played. Rugby union has strong participation on the island — it is particularly important to the Welsh. The Rugby World Cup was won by England in 2003, while in the Six Nations Championship, the outright wins are 25 for England, 24 for Wales and 14 for Scotland. There is sometimes participation on a Britain and Ireland basis as the Lions.
The top level of club participation are the English, Welsh and Scottish Premierships. Leicester Tigers, London Wasps, Bath Rugby and Northampton Saints have had success in the Europe-wide Heineken Cup — Cardiff have also reached a final. In another form of the sport — rugby league which was born in Huddersfield in 1898, the island has hosted four World Cups in which Great Britain national rugby league team has won three. Now the sport is played at constituency country level instead. At a domestic level, clubs previously played in the Rugby League Championship, now known as the Super League. Three British clubs have won the World Club Challenge. In tennis the Wimbledon Championships are the oldest tennis tournament in the world and is widely considered the most prestigious. London has hosted the Summer Olympics in 1908 and 1948, as well as being set to host in 2012. The Commonwealth Games held every four years is also competed in by the constituency countries. A Grand Prix is usually held at Silverstone but will be moved to Donington. Cricket is regarded as England's national sport. They compete in one of the game's top rivalries, The Ashes against Australia, since 1882, England has won it 92 times. Four Cricket World Cups have been hosted in Britain and the ICC World Twenty20 will be hosted in 2009.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 National Population estimates for mainland Great Britain. Statistics.gov.uk. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Andrews, The Rough Guide to Britain, 1.
- ↑ The term Britain is sometimes used as a shorthand name to denote the sovereign state known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a whole. Within this article, the geographical focus and use of the term Britain throughout the article denotes simply the island Great Britain. When the modern state which also includes Northern Ireland, not situated on Great Britain, is mentioned the term "United Kingdom" is used instead to avoid confusion. For an explanation of terms such as "Great Britain", "British", "United Kingdom", "England", "Scotland" and "Wales", see Terminology of the British Isles.
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