THE UK - HISTORY
The written history of Britain starts around
360 AD (after the birth of Jesus) during the Roman occupation but life is known to have
existed at least since 250,000 BC (before the birth of Jesus) as the remains of a
young woman were found at Swanscombe near Gravesend, Kent dating from this time. The
period of time from 250,000-2000 BC is known as the Stone Age because stone (flint) was
principally used for tools and weapons.
During the first part of Stone Age, until 6000 BC when Britain became
an island, Britain was joined with France across the Channel and ice covered Britain north
of the river Thames. There were very few inhabitants in Britain until about 3500 BC,
possibly as few as 250 living in several small groups. They roamed the land hunting
animals, eating nuts and berries, living in caves and using rough stone tools. In 3500 BC
settlers came from other parts of Europe bringing with them better tools and housing
ideas. By 3000 BC people were beginning to farm, keeping animals such as cows, pigs and
goats and growing crops of corn. They were also living in huts made of branches covered in
mud, or skin tents. The first development at the top of Maiden
Castle, Dorset dates from
this time as does the first trading with Europe and Ireland and the mining of copper and
tin. Flint mines 7 metres deep were found at Grimes Grave, Norfolk dated about 2000 BC.
The Stone Age village of Skara Brae in the Orkneys was built at this time and is
still intact today.
In about 2000 BC people came from Spain and Northern Europe to Britain
to get copper, tin and gold. They made their weapons and tools of bronze, which is a
mixture of nine parts of copper and one part of tin. The Bronze Age lasted until around
500 BC but during this time a few important developments were made. Many of the tools,
weapons and ornaments were made of bronze especially for the chiefs of tribes. Horses were
used on farms and in wartime. Great religious monuments were built, the most famous being Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, Wessex which was
completed in 1600 BC. Wool from sheep was woven into cloth on a simple loom for clothing
and long sea journeys were made using boats, which were made of wickerwork covered with
More settlers from Europe, principally the
Celts, started to invade Britain in around
500 BC, beginning what is known as the Iron Age. As one of their tribes was called
the whole island was later named
Britannia (by the Romans).
The Britons had no written history before 55 B. C. and in Latin
literature there are only passing references to them. They were Celts by race and were
divided into many tribes under a chief. Their language survives in Welsh and Gaelic
enclaves as well as in the names of the main European rivers (the Thames, the Elbe, the
Rhine, the Danube).
They brought with them stronger tools made of iron, such as ploughs,
axes, sickles and saws, which allowed them to clear land for farming barley and wheat.
They kept great herds of cattle. They also brought the language from which modern Welsh,
Irish, Gaelic and Cornish descended. As well as being accomplished farmers they also made
pottery on wheels powered by heavy stone flywheels (setrvačník). The Celts were skilled
tradesmen and bartered tin, iron and gold coins, which were introduced in about 100 BC,
for wine and cloth with Europeans. There was, however, another side to
the Celts. It was said of them: "The Celts are madly fond of war." Some tribes
lived in forts built on hilltops surrounded by ditches and wooden palisades, the most
famous being Maiden Castle, which had an area of about 720,000 m2 by 300 BC and
where outlines of ditches and banks can be seen today. They also had beautiful bronze
double-edged swords, horned helmets and ornate shields and used heavy solid-wheeled
chariots. In battle they painted their bodies, fought with swords, spears, and javelins,
and had chariots with knives. The Celts even used holy men, known as druids, to put spells
on enemy tribes and make human sacrifices in favour of their own tribes. They worshipped
many gods and believed the soul is immortal.
A test of the Celts' military prowess
when in 55 BC Julius Caesar's army led raids into Southern England, resulting in the first
written records of British life, but the Roman occupation of England didn't begin until 43
AD by which time all of England but a few parts had been conquered by Claudius's army. The
Roman way of life was adopted by many Britons; however, the occupation wasn't always easy
and in 60 AD the elected Queen of the Iceni tribe in Norfolk led a rebellion against the
Romans. In 61 Suetonius Paulinus massacred the Druids and as a result of this Boudicca
(Boadicea), queen of the Iceni, revolted. Tens of thousand people were slain on both sides
before the Romans won. Boudicca, as she was called, was only one example of the women
playing important roles in British life at this time. Her troops burnt London, Colchester
and St. Albans to the ground and very nearly brought about the withdrawal (ústup) of
Roman forces. Unfortunately, she was finally defeated.
During the Roman occupation, which started in 43 AD and
lasted for around 400 years, Britain enjoyed the security of Pax Romana - the peace of
Rome, and developed rapidly thanks to use of Roman methods in many areas of life and the
Roman army keeping the warring British tribes under control.
In the early days of the occupation the Roman general Julius Agricola
continued the conquest by capturing Wales and also invading Scotland, but unsuccessfully.
In 122 AD the Roman Emperor Hadrian, visited Britain, which was commemorated by the
minting of a coin, and began the construction of a mighty wall between the rivers Tyne and
Solway designed to keep the Picts in the North and protect Roman Britain. In 130 AD the
117 km wall was completed but was ineffective. Nevertheless, it stands today and still
retains the name Hadrian's Wall.
Hadrian's Wall wasn't the only thing that the Romans constructed in
Britain, as they were accomplished builders. They built camps, forts and roads throughout
the land. The Roman towns and forts were connected by the network of roads which was used
by the British for many centuries. The names of Roman towns in Britain often end with
"-chester" or "-caster" or "-cestre" (in Latin meaning
"an army camp"). Trade flourished and Christianity was brought to Britain.
The first Roman style villas,
built around a central open courtyard, appeared around 60 AD. In the country they were the
centres of large estates. These villas were often decorated with large mosaics made of
tiny pieces of coloured stone set into a concrete base usually depicting scenes from Roman
mythology, as the Romans had many of their own gods and goddesses. In many towns they also
built amphitheatres, where gladiators fought with the fate of the loser resting on the
crowd's thumbs up or thumbs down signal, still a common gesture in Britain today.
The Romans also
brought with them their love of bathing. Roman baths consisted of cold baths and steam
rooms. Bathers would be massaged with oil. Also introduced during the occupation was the
use of glass for bottles, jars and vases, the use of oil for lamps, and finally education,
as some Britons learned to write Latin on wax covered boards with a bronze-tipped pen. The
first official "book" appeared in 360 AD with pages sewn together rather than in
a scroll (svitek).
Although the Romans occupied Britain there were some very civilized
acts on behalf of the conquerors. In around 200 AD a Roman soldier called Alban changed
clothes with a Christian to save the Briton from execution and was then executed himself
at the city that was renamed St. Albans after the first Christian martyr in Britain. The
Romans civilized Britain while they remained, but in 407 AD when the Romans started to
withdraw from Britain that civilization was swept away. Following the sea invasion by
Angles and Saxons in the south and overrunning of Hadrian's Wall, by the Picts in 410 AD,
the Roman period in Britain came to an end.
spite of nearly 400 years of Roman occupation, the old Celtic social system was not
completely destroyed and the British language existed side by side with Latin. This is
true mainly of the north and west where the occupation was almost purely military, while
the area e. g. around London was more or less Romanized.
Few permanent Roman traces have remained. There was a similarity
between the "villa" system and the Anglo-Saxon village communities. Roman roads
were preserved. There was a Celtic revival after the Romans left in the first half of the
5th century. Much Romanism was removed before the Anglo-Saxon conquest in the next period
Many tribes from Northern Germany had been raiding Britain long before the Romans left,
and in 410 AD some of these tribes, the Saxons, Jutes and Angles, after whom the country
is named, settled in Britain. They settled on the east and south-east coasts and began to
spread across the island, driving back the original Britons into the mountains of Wales
and Scotland (Welsh means "foreign"). The British were forced into Cornwall, in
the south, Cumberland, in the north, and Wales. All the tribes spoke different languages
and from the combination of these comes the English language (see the chapter Common
information - Language).
Although these tribes first came as raiders they soon settled as
farmers and brought with them new farming ideas. They used heavy iron ploughs drawn by
oxen to turn the heavy earth of the valleys. This meant that settlements were no longer
only on hilltops near lighter soil. The Saxons were also fine weavers and often wore
long decorative cloaks.
In 470 AD Cadbury Castle, still standing in Somerset, was built and
it's believed to have been the location of King Arthur's legendary Camelot. Another
extraordinary thing was found in a burial mound at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk: a whole Saxon ship
with weapons and treasure! Between the years 450 and 590 AD many new kingdoms were formed
by the Anglo-Saxons including Kent, Wessex, Essex, Sussex, East Anglia and Northumberia,
which are all names of modern counties. By 800 England was split up into seven kingdoms.
The Britons lived in
Wales, Cornwall and Cumberland. The Picts and Scots in Scotland slowly united into a
single kingdom. The English are the descendants of all the invaders, but are more
Anglo-Saxon than anything else. The Saxon towns often end with "-ing",
Christianity spread over England after St. Augustine landed in Kent in
597. In around the 6th century in Wales and Scotland the population was
converted to Christianity by the Celtic Christian Church. The monks of England formed the
first schools there and they produced the first books in Britain. After that scholars and
poets increased in number, e: g. Caedmon, Cynewulf, Bede etc. The first history of Britain
was written by Bede at his monastery in Jarrow.
DANES IN ENGLAND
In around 800 AD pirates from Denmark began raids along the
British coastline. They were known as Danes or along with their Swedish and Norwegian
neighbours, Vikings. The Vikings were some
of the greatest sailors and explorers that there have ever been and their expeditions went
all over Europe including Russia and Ireland, in which a Norwegian chief founded Dublin
and proclaimed himself King in 839 AD. They also settled in Iceland from where they sailed
King Alfred the Great (the most famous Saxon king, 849-901) was successful in stopping
their influence in the southern parts of the country. He defeated the Danes at the Battle
of Ethandun, 878 AD, and again at sea after building a navy, 897 AD. Nevertheless the
Danish wars wiped out many villages and the
peasants suffered most. They naturally gathered round a strong
man for protection, so that their land could be cultivated in peace. In return for this
warrior's protection they had to work for him. Kings would appoint such lords. Hence, for
many reasons, a new kind of society - feudalism - gradually arose as a chain of personal
relationships, of rights and duties, depending on a man's position as a landholder.
In 886 AD England was divided between the English and the Danes with
the East of England becoming known as the Danelaw; however, after their naval defeat the
Danes lost Danelaw and the Danish began to settle in England as peaceful farmers.
In 991 "Danegeld" was first imposed, as a tax to pay the
Danes to go away. The saga of the English and the Danes continued and during the reign of
Ethelred the Unready the Danish captured the whole of England. From 1017 to 1035 AD the
first Danish King Canute ruled England and made it a part of his Scandinavian Empire.
There was no rebellion during his reign, trade prospered, and he employed Danes and
English alike. He sent the Danish army home. He died in 1035, and his sons proved
incompetent. Disunion set in shortly afterwards and so Edward the Confessor (son of previous
Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred II) ruled in the years 1042 - 1066.
The last successful invasion was by French speaking
Normans. On the death of Edward the Confessor, in January 1066,
elected in place of Edgar the Aetheling, the heir, who was only a boy. In the autumn of
that year William of Normandy,
William of Conqueror, landed in Sussex. He claimed
that Edward the Confessor had promised him the throne of England. Harold's large army
marched for over a fortnight to meet William's army at Senlac Hill, where the village of
Battle now stands. When the two armies met despite being at the bottom of the hill the
Normans won the Battle of Hastings, after pretending that they were retreating, tricking
the Saxons into coming down the hill. Luck and good archery skills gave William the
victory. During the battle Harold was killed, it is said by an arrow through his eye, so
on Christmas Day 1066 William was crowned the first Norman King of England in Westminster
In 1067 work was begun on
Bayeaux Tapestry, a detailed record of the events from the dispute about the
English crown to William's victory. Long sections of cloth were embroidered in many
magnificent colours, which you can still see at Bayeaux in Normandy, France.
William the Conqueror established
a strong central government and appointed Norman noblemen
to high positions. There were several Saxon revolts (e.g. 1067, 1069, 1071), but all of
them failed. The Saxon revolts led to William's giving Saxon lands to his Barons. This was
the feudal system, a
triangular hierarchy with William at the top and the Saxon peasants at the bottom, working
the land, and various barons, bishops and knights in order of importance between. The
Saxon Kings also had their own system
Witan: a council of wise men which operated like an early House of Lords.
In Norman Britain, while peasants lived in small thatched huts with
their animals and cooked over an open fire, the barons built strong castles. They were
homes and fortresses with the central keep protected by both a wall and a moat (vodní
příkop). A condition for receiving an estate was that the barons had to serve their King
whenever he asked, which was often, as Norman kings ruled much of France, too.
The first plays performed were based on Bible stories and were
performed by wandering actors in town squares. Another form of entertainment was hawking
(sokolničení), which was when hawks were trained to catch other birds in flight.
Most of England was
surveyed in 1086 for tax purposes and the information was compiled in
the Domesday Book, which took two years to
complete. This book is kept today in the Public Record Office in London.
The following ruler was William the Conqueror's son
(1087-1100), who was killed in
a hunting accident, and
(1100-1135), who issued a Charter of Liberties and married a Saxon princess Edith (or
Matilda) of Scotland. Henry I died after eating lampreys (mihule). As Henry's only son,
William, was drowned in 1120, the king made the barons swear to accept Matilda, his
daughter, as queen on his death.
Upon Henry's death, the barons chose, instead of Matilda,
Stephen, count of Blois, as ruler of the
country (1135-1154). He was the son of Adela, William I's daughter. His reign was one of
bloodshed and maladministration. This led finally to a civil war and anarchy between 1139
and 1147, when Matilda returned to Normandy. The struggle ended in 1153 with the death of
Stephen's son, when the Treaty of Wallingford declared that Stephen was king for life.
Henry II (son of Matilda) was to succeed
him, and the castles were to be abolished. Stephen died in the following year.
Richard I, the Lion Heart and John
Henry II (1154 - 1189), the first of the line of Angevins or Plantagenets,
inherited a French empire, and accomplished notable reforms in domestic life. Despite his
violent temper, he had a strong taste for the work of legislator and administrator. In
general, his government was stern, sometimes unscrupulous, but just. In 1162 he made
Thomas Becket Archbishop of Canterbury. But their quarrels, chiefly over the
church courts, led to Thomas's assassination in 1170, when four knights killed him in the
Canterbury cathedral on 29 December. (See the map of Henry II's empire.)
Richard I, the
Lion-Heart (1189 - 1199), Henry's
oldest surviving son, was warlike, chivalrous, and anxious to rescue the Holy Land from
the Egyptian ruler, Saladin. He returned to England in 1194 to sooth baronial opposition.
He was killed in a war in France. His brother
John I, Lackland
(1199 - 1216), lost almost all the English possessions in France, including Normandy; in
conflict with his barons he was forced to sign the
Magna Carta, a guarantee of rights and rule of law in 1215.
During the reign of king
Henry III (1216 - 1272) the real power was in the hands of
barons, who - together with the Londoners - had profited most from the Magna Carta. The
most important personage of this time was the king's brother-in-law Simon de Montfort, who
won the war between the two groups of barons.
In these centuries
"studia" or corporations of teachers and scholars grew. In 1167 the English
students were expelled from Paris, and developed
Oxford into a proper "studium" or university. At first there were no
permanent buildings; students and teachers lived in hired rooms or halls. In 1209 some
students moved from Oxford to Cambridge, which
later (1229) became a university.
The time of Edward I (1272 - 1307) was marked by his wish to win back power from the barons
and safeguard the royal revenue. The cost of government was growing greater, and feudal
dues brought in less and less. Edward came to rely chiefly on customs duties and taxes on
movables. Wool was the greatest export, and was sent to be woven in Flanders. To assess
these taxes, Edward sometimes summoned knights and burgesses to the Great Council - which
arose as a result of Magna Carta - now called Parliament.
After 1284 Parliament also legislated for Wales.
Edward II and Edward III
Edward II (1307 - 1327) was incapable of ruling the
kingdom, and entrusted the task to favorites. So the opposition, led by his wife Queen
Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer, won and the king was murdered in prison
in 1327. When
(1327 - 1377) began to reign, power lay in the hands of Isabella and Mortimer.
They ruled very unwisely, and in 1330 Edward captured the two, hanged Mortimer, and put
Isabella in prison for life.
The reign of Richard II (1377 - 1399) is the story of a
prolonged struggle between the party of the king and the party of Lancaster. In it lie the
roots of the struggle between York
and Lancaster (the Wars of the Roses).
WAR OF ROSES PERIOD
The basis of the Hundred Years' War (1338 -
1453) was in Edward III's feudal claim to the French crown, based on his father's marriage
to Isabella of France, the Franco-Scottish alliance, and the economic problems concerning
English wool export to Flanders (the Count of Flanders was a French vassal). It began as a
war between kings, but later on it became a war between two nations. It includes the
English victories at
in 1346 (the Czech king John of Luxemburg was killed there),
and at Agincourt in 1415. Then the French,
led by Joan of Arc, changed the whole situation and the English practically lost
their power in France (except Calais).
The 14th century is also the
beginning of the process of changes in the English village. The
Black Death reached England in 1348 and reduced the rural population. The Peasants'
Revolt in 1381 headed by Wat Tyler and John Ball showed the discontent of the people.
Serfdom was never abolished - it simply withered away, the chief cause of which was
commutation, i. e. paying in
money instead of service. Thus the serf
changed first into a freeman and then either into an agricultural labourer or a tenant
The Wars of the Roses took place in the 15th century. They were the
wars between the House of York (which had a better claim to the throne and their emblem
was a red rose) and the House of Lancaster (which had from the beginning a better position
being led by king Henry IV and whose emblem was a white rose). The battles lasted nearly
85 years. Besides the kings from both sides the
Earl of Warwick, called the Kingmaker, should
The battle which ended
these wars was the Battle of Bosworth
(1485) when the king, Richard III (1483 -
1485), was killed and Henry Tudor became King
Henry VII (1485 - 1509). He married Elizabeth of York, and thus joined the two houses.
The Tudor monarchy lasted till 1603. The Tudor Age can be characterized by the
consolidation of royal power, the repression of any opposition and the great wealth of the
king. Henry VII rigidly controlled the Parliament.
Henry VII's son
VIII (1509 - 1547) was
intellectually brilliant, though inclined towards pride, ambition, and brutality; he is
known as a king who had six wives and who established the Church of England. Henry VIII is
one of the best remembered kings. He was well educated and had a mind of a statesman.
During his reign Wales was brought into legal union with England, but Henry ruled as a
true and terrible autocrat. His teacher, Sir Thomas More, whom he made Lord Chancellor,
was executed because he refused to accept Henry's second marriage to Anne Boleyn and his
rejection of the authority of Rome. After his quarrel with the Pope and excommunication,
Henry became the head of the newly established Church of
England (1534) and declared
its independence from Rome. Anne Boleyn was executed, too (for unfaithfulness), and so was
his fifth wife, Catherine Howard.
Henry VIII had three children - Mary (by Catherine of Aragon), Iater Mary I, called Bloody Mary (1553 - 1558); Elizabeth I (by Anne Boleyn) the English Queen
between 1558 and 1603; and Edward (by Jane Seymour) who ruled England 1547 - 1553 as Edward VI.
Elizabeth I is the most important of the above mentioned
successors of Henry VIII. In her age - called Elizabethan Age - England prospered in many
ways. She became an outstanding Queen of England, although her path to the throne
necessitated the execution of Mary Stuart,
Queen of Scots and Elizabeth's cousin, whom all Catholics in Britain considered the
legitimate heir to the English Crown.
Elizabeth I ruled not by force, but by female diplomacy. Many European
kings longed to control England, but she remained unmarried. The
"Virgin Queen" kept them hoping and thus managed to keep peace
with their countries. Although her conflict with Roman Catholic Spain led to Spanish
attempt to invade England in 1558. It was defeated by the British Navy led by Sir Francis Drake. She enforced the Protestant
religion by law.
of discovery opened the world to English trade and conquest
during Elizabeth's reign. Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and others were
discovering the world under her patronage. Sir Walter Raleigh, who explored the eastern
coast of North America, founded the first English colony there and called it Virginia in
honour of the Queen. England became the leading power on the
sea, which led to colonial
development of the English power in America and East India (the East India Company was
formed in 1600).
The foundation of the British Empire was the result of Elizabeth's policy.
She was the first British
monarch to give her name to an era: the
The Renaissance came to its height because of the works of many people (Shakespeare). In the economic sphere
enclosures (appropriation of common land as private property, or the changing of
open-field systems to enclosed fields often used for sheep) were going on. Trade
prospered. When Elizabeth I died in 1603, England was a European power.
Elizabeth I had no
children so her closest relative James VI of Scotland, the son of Elizabeth's old rival,
Mary Queen of Scots, became King James I of
England (1603 - 1625) and the Stuart dynasty began. The personal union of England and
Scotland became reality. For the next 100 years England and Scotland remained separate but
were ruled by one monarch. The Act
of Union in 1707 united Scotland with England. Nevertheless
the next period was full of political and military fighting.
Charles I, Charles II
(1625 - 1649) had to oppose the growing power of the Parliament.
Because of this he dissolved the Parliament in 1629. But as he needed money for his wars
he had to summon the Parliament again in 1640. This "Short Parliament" (April
1640) - instead of giving him the money needed - petitioned for a peaceful settlement with
Scotland. That is why it was dissolved again. But in a short time Charles was forced to
summon the "Long Parliament" to pay the fines. This time the Parliament opposed
the king so strongly that in 1642 Charles tried to arrest some of its leaders. This was
practically the beginning of civil war in England which burst out immediately. The country
was divided between the supporters of Charles I, who wanted to rule absolutely, and the
supporters of Parliament, who wanted to limit the King's powers. The war was won by the
Parliament. Finally Oliver Cromwell, the
Puritan Army leader, established a republic and Charles I was executed in 1649.
During the following period England was ruled by Oliver Cromwell as the Lord Protector
(1653 - 1658). After his death his son proved to be unable to follow his father. As there
was no other suitable candidate to govern England and the people were tired of wars and
heavy taxes, the monarchy was restored in 1660 - Charles II (1660 - 1685).
James II, Glorious revolution
As James II (1685 - 1688) showed great favour to
Catholics, unrest grew rapidly. He also alienated the merchants by encouraging French
trade. AIl this led to The
Glorious Revolution in 1688 when William, ruler of the
Netherlands, landed at Torbay on November 5, 1688, after having been invited, and James
fled. William III and Mary II were declared king and queen (1689 -
1702). The succession to the throne was to stay with their children or, failing that, with
James' other daughter, Anne. No Catholic, or
anyone married to a Catholic, could claim the throne. The "pretended power" of
the crown to suspend laws was declared illegal. These were the main points of the Bill of Rights
(1689) which definitely put power into the hands of the Parliament.
The most important facts on the political scene during the reign of
Queen Anne (1702 -1714) were the formal union of England and Scotland in 1707, continuous
hostility towards France, and the developing importance of the minority in the Parliament,
which was slowly becoming the opposition and thus prepared the way for the two-party
government system. This included the importance of individuals associated with the
After Queen Anne's death the
Old Pretender, Prince James, refused to change his Catholic religion and the Hanoverian
George I (1714
- 1727) was proclaimed as the King of England.
The 18th century was marked by the growing power of Britain in world policy. Britain took
part in several important wars that decided not only about Europe, but also about the
overseas territories. The War of the Spanish Succession (1702 - 1713) - a person to mention is military leader John Churchill,
Duke of Marlborough - decided that France and Spain would never unite under one dynasty.
Great Britain also strengthened its position in the Mediterranean, taking possession of
Gibraltar and Minorca.
The second war which was very important for Britain was the Seven
Years' War (1756 - 1763). The
principal clauses of the Treaty of Paris (1763) were: Great Britain received Canada,
Florida (from Spain in exchange for Havana), Dominica, Tobago, Grenada, Minorca, and some
African settlements; France got back Martinique, St. Lucia, and some other places, Spain
got Havana and Manila; and France was given fishing rights off the Newfoundland coast.
During this century there were also several pro-Stuart uprisings in
Scotland - 1715, 1745. After several battles, the last one - at Culloden (1746) decided the future of
Scotland. Many Scotsmen were executed. Prince Charles had to escape to France with the
help of Flora MacDonald. The highlanders were disarmed. The hereditary jurisdiction of the
Highland chiefs was taken away. The Hanoverian line in England was maintained.
As the first Hanoverian kings were of German origin, which meant also
their ignorance of the internal policy, two parties - the Tories and the Whigs - obtained
almost the entire political power. Sir Robert Walpole (1721 - 1742), the leader
of the Whigs, was England's first prime minister and was an important financier.
(1760 - 1824) was a native of England (in
contrast to George I and George II) and was more interested in domestic affairs than his
two predecessors. He did all he could to increase the royal power. He tried to break up
existing parties and cabinets, and to rule over the elements he had divided. But he was
not completely successful.
The situation in Ireland in the 18th century - after many
centuries of fighting between England and the Irish - was very bad. The whole government
of the country (mainly Catholic) was in the hands of the Episcopalian aristocracy. Most of
the great officials were Englishmen who knew almost nothing about Ireland and cared even
less. Economic conditions were shocking and the peasants were poverty-stricken. The
wretched conditions led to mass emigrations. The American War of Independence ( 1776 -
1783) and the French Revolution (1789 - 1802) both had profound effects on Irish
resistance. Several rebellions were oppressed but nevertheless they led to promises by the
British Prime-Minister William Pitt the Younger (1783 - 1801, 1804 - 1806) to emancipate
the Irish. The result of it was the Act of Union
(1800) according to which the Parliament of Great
Britain and Ireland were united the next year. In spite of this, Pitt's promises of
emancipation were not fulfilled.
At the end of the 18th century England became the richest country in
the world and fully recovered from the loss of the American colonies. It was transformed
from an agricultural to a manufacturing country. Factories replaced home production and
fabulous fortunes were created. Hence arose the struggle between capital and labour. The
growth of population enabled the British to people the empire (the population of England
itself doubled during this century).
Napoleonic War (1803 - 1815) meant a new struggle between the
two traditional rivals, Britain and France. Napoleon's plan to invade England failed when Admiral Nelson
the French at Trafalgar
(October, 1805). By 1808 Napoleon had secured all of Europe except Britain, Russia, and
Portugal. Napoleon's Russian campaign in 1812 ended in the retreat from Moscow. In 1815
the French were definitely defeated by Wellington together with the Prussian general
the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon was sent to St. Helena, where he died in 1821. After two
Treaties of Paris (1814, 1815) Britain emerged the victory in the Anglo-French struggle
for colonial and commercial supremacy. (See the cartoon
of the time - William Pitt and Napoleon Bonaparte carving up the world.)
innovations (especially the invention of steam engine by James Watt in 1769, steam
locomotive developed in 1814 by George Stephenson, first public steam railway in 1825, a
loom in textile industry in 1769) led to the Industrial
revolution (1760s - 1850s).
In the 19th century domestic policy we should mention
continuing riots of the Luddites, led by Ned Ludd, who destroyed factory machinery. The
second important thing was the Great Reform Act (1832) which excluded the votes of
"rotten boroughs" and gave votes to real electors, e.g. to towns like Manchester
and Birmingham. The aristocracy lost some of their previous power, while more power went
into the hands of the upper middle classes. Next was the
Chartist Movement (mainly 1846
- 1855), which demanded vote by ballot, suffrage for men, no property qualifications for
candidates, equal electoral districts etc. Later all these reforms were made law.
This century was marked by the growth of the British
Empire. One reason for British activities in the Crimean
War (1854 - 1856) was Britain's fear of Russia's designs on
India. Gradually Britain controlled a
great deal of Africa, all of Australia and New Zealand (see the histories of these
countries), and primarily India where the rule of the East
India Company came to an end, and the British government
became directly responsible for law and order. In 1877 Queen Victoria (1837 - 1901) became Empress of
India. The Second Afghan War (1878 - 1880) led afterwards to the Anglo-Russian Convention,
according to which Russia agreed to leave Afghanistan alone, and the British agreed to
leave Tibet alone. The Boer Wars (1881, 1899 - 1902) led to the British supremacy over
Warlike preparations were universal from the end of the 19th century. The fundamental
causes of the First World War (1914 - 1918) were nationalism on both sides (including the
nationalism of oppressed people e. g. in Austria and Turkey), the different political
systems in Europe, colonial imperialism (Britain and France had many colonies, while
Germany was too late in the "Grab for Africa" and felt slighted), rivalry
between Britain and Germany over world markets, disputed territories (claims of Russia,
Balkan problems, France was longing to regain Alsace-Lorraine etc.), and the fact that the
treaties of the 19th century had not secured peace.
The immediate cause of the war was the assassination, on June 28, 1914,
of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Hapsburg throne, and his wife, in Sarajevo.
This led to an ultimatum to Serbia from Austria, and step by step this led to the war.
During the first two years the Germans invaded Belgium, swept through France, and were
turned back, by Marshal Foch. The Allies and the Germans then engaged in trench warfare on
the western front. The Russians invaded Germany and Austria, but met great resistance,
including the loss of a good deal of territory in Poland. Turkey and Bulgaria fought on
the side of Germany, while Rumania, Italy, Japan, and several other nations came into the
war on the side of the Allies.
In April 1917 the
United States entered the war. In the same year Soviet Russia withdrew from the conflict.
The Allies were moving closer to victory. The final offensive was conducted under Marshal
Foch, and the German defence collapsed. The armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. The
terms of peace were dictated at the
of Versailles, which was signed on
January 25, 1919. They safeguarded disarmament of Germany which also lost all its colonies
and had to pay reparations. The Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist. A League of
Nations was formed to prevent future wars.
The euphoria after the war soon ended. The world depression at the end
of the 1920s caused the government to increase taxes and to decrease social security
benefits. The beginning of the 1930s was marked by the gradually rising power of Germany,
mainly after Adolf Hitler's coming to power in 1933. Germany was determined to avenge its
defeat in 1918. The new leader, Adolf Hitler, displayed a militaristic attitude. He moved
German troops into the demilitarized Rhine valley and then also to Austria. He was allied
with the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who seized Ethiopia in defiance of the League
In 1938 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain together with the
representatives of France (Daladier) and Italy (Mussolini) signed a pact with Hitler in
Munich allowing Germany to have the Sudetenland. This did not prevent the Germans from
seizing the rest of Bohemia and Moravia (Slovakia became a satellite state of Germany)
shortly afterwards, and from denouncing the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935. On
September 1, 1939, the Germans invaded Poland and Britain declared war on Germany on
September 3. The other countries of the British Commonwealth (except Eire, a state within
the southern part of Ireland which became independent of Britain in 1921), and France also
In a short time Poland was seized by the German forces, except the eastern part, which was
seized by the USSR. In 1940 German forces seized Denmark, Norway, Belgium and Holland.
Britain was not able to prevent this because of its weak land forces. Italy entered the
war on Germany's side. France capitulated. Winston Churchill became the Prime Minister of
Britain. In the Battle of Britain the German Luftwaffe inflicted great damage on
London and other towns, but was repelled by the Royal Air Force. In 1941 Germany conquered
Yugoslavia, Greece, and Crete, and invaded Russia. At the same time as the Germans were
defeated before Moscow, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor (in December) and the United
States entered the war.
During the following years, fierce fighting raged in the Far East,
North Africa, the Pacific areas and - of course in the vast plains of Russia. Since the
end of 1942 (the battles of Stalingrad in Russia and of EI Alamein in North Africa) the
Allies started a counteroffensive. In 1943 Italy surrendered to the Allies, but was
occupied by the Nazis. In 1944 the Allies landed in Italy (January) and in France (June).
In 1945 Germany was defeated by the Allies (May 8) and Japan capitulated shortly after the
first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. So the war ended on September 2, 1945.
The Potsdam Conference decreed that Germany should have no government for the time being
and, having been demilitarized, should be divided into four zones, governed by the
British, French, American, and Russian authorities. Its remaining Ieaders were to be tried
as war criminals. Japan surrendered unconditionally, and agreed to military rule under a
four-power commission headed by General MacArthur.
decades after World War II Britain had to recognize the independence of the majority of
its colonies - mainly in the 1960s. Nevertheless, most remained members of the
Commonwealth. In Europe the security of the Western countries was kept by NATO, Britain
being a member. The last war which Britain had to fight was in 1982 when Argentina invaded
and occupied the Falkland Islands. A British task force was sent immediately and after a
fierce conflict the Argentinian troops surrendered and the islands were returned to
BRITAIN'S KINGS AND QUEENS
FROM 1066 TO 2004
The House of
William I (The Conqueror)
William II (Rufus)
The House of
Henry II (of Anjou)
Richard I (The Lion-Heart)
John (The Lackland)
Edward I (Longshanks)
Edward II (of Caernarvon)
Edward III (of Windsor)
Richard II (of Bordeaux)
The House of
Henry IV (of Bolingbroke)
Henry V (of Monmouth)
Henry VI (of Windsor)
The House of
Richard III (Crouchback)
The House of
The House of
+ Mary II
The House of
The House of
The House of
Edward VIII (abdicated)
Coronations have taken place in
Westminster Abbey since at least 1066, when William the Conqueror arrived in London after
his victory at the Battle of Hastings. He was crowned in the old Abbey - then recently
completed and housing Edward the Confessor's body - on Christmas Day 1066.The coronation
service today has four parts:
* The introduction, consisting of:
the entry of the sovereign (king or queen) into the abbey,
the formal recognition of the right of the sovereign to rule,
the oath, when the sovereign promises to govern by the laws of his or her subjects and
uphold the Protestant Reformed Church of England and Scotland,
the presentation of the Bible to the sovereign, to be relied on as the source of all
wisdom and law.
* The sovereign has holy oil poured over
him or her, seated on the Coronation Chair.
* The sovereign is clothed with royal robes and insignia and then
crowned with St Edward's crown.
* The final ceremony consists of the enthronement of the
sovereign on a throne placed on a raised platform, bringing him or her into
full view of the assembled company for the first time. There he or she is honoured by the
Lords Spiritual (the bishops and archbishops), the Lord Temporal (Dukes, Marquesses,
Earls, Viscounts and Barons) and the congregation, representing the people of the realm.
An important addition to the ritual was made in 1296 by Edward I. He
captured the historic and holy
of Scone on which Scottish Kings were said to have
been crowned for centuries before, and brought it to Westminster Abbey.
Not all coronation ceremonies have been the same, and not all have gone
quite according to a plan. Edward IV, for example, was crowned no less than three times,
with different crowns placed in turn upon his head.
Charles's II coronation, following the greyness of the puritan
republic, was a scene of brilliant colour and great splendour. As the old regalia had been
destroyed, replacements were made for the ceremony, and the clergy were dressed in rich
red capes - the same as are still used in the Abbey.
Eighteenth century coronations gradually declined into magnificent
pageants, rather than being seen as spiritually significant and serious occasions. At
George's III coronation in 1761, the congregation actually began by eating a meal when the
sermon was being preached.
George IV saw his coronation as an opportunity for a great theatrical spectacle and spent
vast sums of money on it. He wore an auburn wig with ringlets, with a huge plumed hat on
top, and designed his own robes for the occasion into the Abbey.
With Queen Victoria came a return to an appreciation of the true
significance of the coronation ceremony. However, her coronation had been under-rehearsed
and no one seemed to have much idea as to what should be happening at each stage. At one
point, in desperation, the Queen turned to the Sub-Dean of Westminster and said:
"Pray tell me what I am to do, for they do not know." The climax of this
thoroughly mismanaged occasion came when the Bishop of Bath and Wells turned over two
pages at once in the service book and told the Queen that the ceremony was complete. It
was not until the main participants had left that the Queen was informed a mistake had
been made, despite Lord Melbourne's comment "What does it signify?" she insisted
on returning to her place to finish the service.
At the coronation of Queen
Elizabeth II in 1953, for the first time the service was televised and millions of
subjects could see and hear the ceremony taking place. It is possible that few watching
realised just how far back into history the roots of that historic ceremony stretched and
how little fundamental change had occured over the centuries.
London is the capital of Britain. There are lots of places of interest there. One of the
most famous is the Tower of London. It was built by William the Conqueror, the winner of
the Battle at Hastings in the 11th century.
Since those days the Tower has played an important part in England's
history. The Tower served as a royal residence for quite a long time, but people today
generally know of it more as a prison. Many famous people were beheaded there, including
The Tower has never been conquered, so it is really a very suitable
place for the Crown Jewels - a collection of crowns and other jewels worn at important
official ceremonies by British kings and queens.
The Imperial State Crown with over 3,000 precious stones is worn at
coronation ceremonies and on great state occasions. The big red ruby in the crown was
given to the Black Prince in the 14th century. The big transparent stone is the
second Star of Africa. It was cut from the Cullinan diamond. The diamond was found in
South Africa in 1905 and was presented to King Edward VII. It was the largest diamond ever
found (3,106 carats), and it was too big for setting in the regalia. A Dutch firm first
cut it into two pieces, but it was still too big, so they cut it into four pieces and a
number of smaller stones. The largest piece, called the Great Star of Africa, can be seen
in the Screpter with the Cross.
The Imperial State Crown
St. Edward's Crown
Slovak Georges celebrate their namedays on April 23 and it is also celebrated in
England, as St George's Day, the English National Holiday.
The life of St George is shrouded in legend and it is
difficult to untangle facts from fiction. He was born in Cappadocia of noble,
Christian parents and after the death of his father he accompanied his mother to
her country of origin, Palestine, where she had some land and George was to run
the estate. He was martyred at Lydda in Palestine (Nicomedia).
George held an important post in the Roman army - the rank of
tribune, or perhaps colonel in modern terms - during the reign of the Emperor
Diocletian (245-313). Diocletian was a fierce persecutor of Christians and when
the persecutions began, George put aside his office and complained personally to
the Emperor of the harshness of his persecution. For this he was put into prison
and tortured. He would not recant his faith however and the following morning he
was dragged through the streets and he was beheaded.
The emperor's wife, Alexandra, was so impressed at his
courage that she became a Christian too and she was also put to death for her
The legends surrounding St George are very varied. Probably the best-known is
the one which concerns the famous dragon, with which he is also portrayed.
According to this legend, a pagan town of Lybia was being terrorised by a
dragon. The local people kept throwing sheep to it to placate it, and when it
still remained unsatisfied, they started sacrificing some of the people of the
town. Finally the local princess was to be thrown to the beast, but Good Saint
George came along, killed the dragon and rescued the princess and the whole
town. The people of the town were relieved and they converted to Christianity.
The origin of the legend, which is very well-known, came
originally from the way in which the Greek Church honoured George. They honoured
him as a soldier saint and told many stories of his bravery. The western
Christians, joining with the Byzantine Christians in Crusades, misinterpreted
the Greek traditions and devised their own version. The story we have described
in the first part of the article dates from the troubadours of the 14th century.
The reason why he was adopted as the Saint of Battles was
partly because he was a soldier, but also because he is said to have appeared to
the Christian army before the Battle of Antioch. It is also said that he
appeared to English King Richard I (the Lionheart) during his crusade.
The symbols explained are that the Dragon represented Satan
and the Princess represented the Christian Church.
The cult of Saint George goes back a long way, certainly to
the 4th century. He was held in great honour in many cultures. In 1222 the
Council of Oxford appointed 23rd April as his feast Day. He became the English
Patron Saint in the 14th century and he became associated with the Order of the
Garter. Interesting is the fact that he is also the Patron saint of Moscow in
Russia, and of Georgia which bears his name, and of Aragon. He was, until 18th
century, patron of Portugal, too.
The large red St. George's Cross on a white ground still
remains the "white ensign“ of the British Navy and it is one of the
elements from which the Union Jack (the flag of the UK) is made up.
THE ICENI AND QUEEN BOUDICCA
Margaret Thatcher may have been the first woman Prime Minister of Britain but there have
been many other great female figures in British history. Probably the first one was Queen
Today, the life-size figure of Queen Boudicca stands guard on
Westminster Bridge in London. Queen Boudicca is famous for leading her people in battle
against the Romans in AD 67.
Before the Anglo-Saxons and Romans the ancient Britons were a Celtic
people. More primitive than the Romans they lived in small tribal groups often at war with
one another. A few of their larger buildings were of stone but most had walls of wattle
proutí) and thatched roofs. They were skilled metalworkers and good farmers but they had
nothing like the Romans' culture and civilisation.
They fought hard when the Romans first came but couldn't keep the invading legions from
taking control of the country (or, at least, the part now known as England - the Romans
never succeeded in defeating the tribes in Wales and Scotland).
So the Britons had to accept their new masters, but they didn't like
them. They were especially unhappy about paying taxes and the way British land was given
to retired Roman soldiers.
Boudicca was Queen of the Iceni tribe living in the East Anglian
region. Her husband was the king, Prasutagus.
Roman law said that when any British king who had no sons died, his land would be taken by
the Romans. Prasutagus, having no sons and hoping to circumvent (přelstít) this law,
gave his lands to Boudicca and the Emperor Nero together so that his people should still
keep some control over their own territory.
However, when the King died Roman officials ignored these arrangements
and took control of all the Iceni land anyway. Roman soldiers attacked the Royal palace,
flogged Boudicca (zbičovali) and raped
(znásilnili) her two daughters. This was too much
for the Iceni who angrily rebelled. Other tribes in the south-west joined them - all led
by Queen Boudicca.
The Roman historian, Dio
Cassius, left us a description of the Queen saying her appearance was terrifying, her eyes
fierce (divoké), her voice harsh
(drsný), her hair long and red. Tacitus, another
historian, wrote of his surprise that the British were happy to be led by a woman.
At first the rebellion went well for Boudicca. Her first big attack was
against the city of Camalodunum (now Colchester) which was overwhelmed in two days with
many of its inhabitants murdered.
Next, her forces attacked Londinium (London) and here again the British
were successful, killing every Roman they could find and burning all their
wooden-built buildings to the
ground. Verulamium (St Albans) was the next unlucky target and suffered a similar rate.
Altogether, Tacitus estimated that about 70,000 people died in this fighting.
After St Albans though the Romans better organisation and discipline
began to count. There was one final battle in the south Midlands. The Roman force of
17,000 men killed about 80,000 men, women and children of the British tribes. Boudicca
managed to escape but legend says that she poisoned herself soon afterwards.
This might seem like a grand failure but it did turn out to be a
victory for the British. After this rebellion the Emperor Nero established a fairer system
of justice and order in Britain which lasted over the next three centuries.
Are you romantic? Do you
like stories where the men are brave and fair and the women are beautiful and tender? If
your answer is YES, then you probably know such names as King Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere,
Lancelot and others from the famous legends about King Arthur and his knights.
The legends as we know them today were mostly written in the Middle
Ages. However improbable all these legends are, they are based on real stories from the
days when the Romans left Britain in the 5th century, and the inhabitants there
had to fight against the new invaders called the Saxons. Although we don't know for
certain what happened in those days, we know that they were real people living and
fighting in real places somewhere in Britain. It is uncertain exactly where these places
were, so sometimes many locations are connected with the legends or the heroes.
Tintagel Castle is a place
which, according to one legend, is connected with King Arthur's parents, Uther Pendragon
and Ygrain. There is not much left of the castle today, but its position on rocks -
dramatically high above the sea - is quite mysterious. Merlin, the master magician, was
King Arthur's chief counsellor in his youth. One legend says Merlin was responsible for
creating Stonehenge. The huge stones were brought from Ireland and erected on Salisbury
Plain by him. He fitted them together by magic.
Another place closely
connected with Arthur is Cadbury Castle. It is not a real castle but a hillfort. In the 16th
century it was identified as Camelot, and there was a local belief that Arthur and his
knights were asleep inside the hill, ready to awake and ride out when England had need of
them. Arthur was wounded in his last battle and taken to Avalon, the Isle of Apples, which
is identified as Glastonbury. He died soon after and was buried there together with his
And what about Arthur's magic sword, the Excalibur, and his well-known
Round-Table? The sword was thrown into a lake, called Dozmary Pool in Bodmin Moor after
King Arthur's death. Today the Round Table can be seen in the Great Hall of Winchester
Castle. Nobody minds that this table there is probably only from the 15th
THE STORY OF KING ARTHUR
When old king Uther
Pendragon fell ill and was dying, the Saxons, great enemies of his country, tried to
occupy Britain. An old magician, Merlin, the king's friend, forced him to wear his golden
armour and his helmet. "Sir, without you in command, no one can stop them!" And
so, as in the old times, King Uther took his sword and led his army to victory. The brave
king died three days after this battle.
After his death new problems arose. Who would become king? Would the
noblemen fight each other and destroy the country? Merlin helped again. He went to the
Archbishop of Canterbury and said, "Call all the noble lords of Britain to London.
There they can see the man who is the king."
Noblemen from all over the country came to London. Not far from the great London Cathedral
stood a stone with a steel anvil into which a huge sword had been driven. Everybody could
letters in the stone: "The one who pulls this sword out of this stone and anvil is
the true-born king of all England."
Every nobleman tried, but no one could pull the sword out. And then
young Arthur came and took it out easily - without knowing about the golden letters. Soon
afterwards, Arthur became King of England.
He united the country and he was brave and good. Arthur called the
greatest knights together and said: "We will all sit at this round table. It has no
top, and no bottom. Here we are all equal."
All around England the Knights of the Round Table fought bravely against Arthur's enemies
and protected the weak against the strong.
In the history of all
countries there are some rulers whom people can remember better than others. Sometimes
these rulers become famous not only in their home country but also abroad. An example of
such a king in Britain was Henry VIII. People in many countries know his name because of
his six wives.
VIII ruled Britain from 1509 to 1547. His first wife Catherine of
Aragon (1) was from Spain and although the marriage was a diplomatic act, as was
usual in those days, they lived quite happily for many years. But there was a problem
because Henry wanted to have a son to rule the country after his death, but from all their
children only a girl, the princess Mary, born
in 1516, survived. After 18 years of marriage, the king became impatient and decided to
divorce Catherine. But in those days this was not usually done and Henry had to ask the
Pope for permission to divorce Catherine was from a very powerful family and so it was not
easy for the Pope to decide. Finally, after six years, King Henry lost his patience and
asked for a decree of annulment from his own archbishop, Thomas Cranmer. He got it, then
separated the Church of England from Rome, proclaimed himself the head of the Church of
England and closed a lot of monasteries all over the country. Of course their properties
were confiscated. You can see the ruins of many of the monasteries even today.
Henry's second wife was Anne
Boleyn (2). Together they tried to have a son, but just like Catherine, she gave
him "only" a daughter, the princess
Elizabeth, in 1533. Anne Boleyn was executed in the Tower in 1536.
Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour (3)
finally gave Henry a son (Edward VI), in
1537, but she died a few days later. Jane is the only one of Henry's wives to share his
grave at Windsor.
Henry married his next wife, Anne of Cleves
(4) from Germany, for diplomatic reasons, and for the same reasons the marriage was
proclaimed invalid soon after.
His fifth wife, Catherine Howard (5), was
about 30 years younger than the king and was beheaded in the Tower in 1542 because of her
close relationships with some young men in the court.
Henry's last wife, Catherine Parr (6)
lived with the old king until his death in 1547.
SIR FRANCIS DRAKE, EXPLORER
One of England's greatest sailors, Sir Francis Drake, was among the few
early explorers who landed on the shores of the United States.
Born about 1540 near Tavistock, England, Drake won the command of his
own ship by 1567. During a slaving voyage to the West Indies, the Spanish attacked and
only Drake's ship and one other escaped.
Drake now felt he had a personal reason for wanting revenge against the
Spaniards, and this fitted in perfectly with the plans of England's Queen Elizabeth I.
European nations were then engaged in a struggle for new lands and colonies, as well as
for control of the seas. Spain, in particular, had rich colonies in America, and her great
galleons sailed home regularly full of treasure. Elizabeth ordered Drake to raid Spain's
American colonies and capture whatever ships he could.
When Drake returned to England he
brought with him tons of silver captured from the Spaniards, and became rich and famous.
He had no trouble in gaining the Queen's permission, in 1577, for another voyage - this
time to the Pacific Ocean. Until then, no British ship had ever entered that vast body of
water. Now Drake, aboard his 75-foot-long ship, the Golden Hind, sailed through the Strait
Magellan and began
raiding Spanish settlements in Peru and Chile. Then, searching for a passage to the
Atlantic Ocean and home, he sailed north and stopped near the present site of San
Francisco. There he repaired his ship, leaving behind a metal plaque on shore to claim the
land, which he called New Albion, for England. This plaque was not discovered until 1936
in Marin County, California.
Since there was no sea route across the North America continent, and he
could not return by the same way he had come for fear the Spanish would attack him, Drake
decided to return to England by crossing the Pacific, thus circling the globe. Finally
after a difficult three-year voyage, Drake arrived home in 1580. His grateful queen
knighted him and he was made a member of Parliament.
In 1588 Drake led England's fleet to victory against Spain's armada of
more than 130 ships. He died on January 1596, near Porto Bello, Panama, and was buried at
Horatio Nelson, the most successful and popular naval commander, is generally accepted as
a British national hero. He fought during the American Revolutionary War and against
Nelson was born on September 29, 1758 in Burnham Tharpe, Norfolk. One
of the most influential persons in his life was his mother's brother Captain Maurice
Suckling. He took the boy to sea when his mother died and after attending local school,
young Horatio joined his uncle's ship.
His first years in the navy were a mixture of routine experience and
high adventure. His ambition urged him to prove himself at least the equal of his
relative. He was always neatly dressed, wore a full-laced uniform and attracted the notice
of his commanders. There was something pleasing in his address and conversation when
speaking on professional subjects. He was given instructions by the most qualified people.
Nelson became a Royal Navy officer in 1777 and fought during the
American Revolutionary War. Later he commanded a frigate in the West Indies and in the
Mediterranean. He distinguished himself at Cape of St. Vincent and in the decisive Battle
of the Nile. But the most important was the
Battle of Trafalgar where he
destroyed the combined French and Spanish fleets and ensured the safety of the British
Isles from invasion and the supremacy of British sea power for more than a century.
By 1805 Napoleon had conquered much of Europe and wanted to destroy the
only obstacle - the British navy. Nelson received orders to sail. He was at the height of
his professional powers. His officers and sailors liked him and his captains understood
his tactical thinking so well that a minimum of consultation was required. All the men on
the board of the ship "Victory"
were fighting very hard against the French enemies and the bloody Battle of Trafalgar,
which took place on October 21, 1805 set the seal on Nelson's fame and ended in the total
defeat of Napoleon.
The battle was won, but Nelson was severely wounded and died. To the last he retained his
interest in the battle and listened attentively to the news. His flag captain Thomas Hardy
came to him from time to time to tell him of its progress.
Nelson was not only a very good commander, but also a true leader of
men of all types. His body was taken home and his nation gave him a majestic funeral in St. Paul's Cathedral. His
popularity was recorded in countless monuments, paintings and busts and also in the
preservation of the "Victory" at Portsmouth.
The twentieth century produced a lot of great men and women, from many
countries. Perhaps one of the best-known, not only in his native Britain but
elsewhere too, is Winston Churchill. He was one of the
greatest statesmen who led Great Britain to victory in the Second World War, a
man of inexhaustible energy, a historian, a veteran of war and master of
politics. He was an intense patriot and believed in his country's greatness and
its historic role in Europe and in the world.
With his trademark cigar and "Victory V" sign, he
became a symbol of British resistance to Nazi Germany during the Second World
War. But there is much more to him than just this.
Winston Churchill was born on 30 November 1874, at Blenheim Palace, not far from
Oxford with, as the saying goes, "a silver spoon in his mouth". On his
father's side he was descended from the Duke of Marlborough, a hero of Britain's
wars against Louis XIV of France. His mother came from a prominent American
family in New York. However, his childhood was not a happy one, and although he
attended the famous public school at Harrow he did not show any great promise
while he was there.
His father was keen for him to be a soldier, but he failed
his entrance exams for the military academy at Sandhurst the first two times he
took them. At the third attempt he was successful and, once he was accepted,
worked hard and did well. After he graduated he joined the army and took part as
a war reporter in the Cuban War of independence and then British colonial wars
in North-West India and Sudan. He wrote successful books about these last two,
as well as a novel.
In 1899, though, he left army to pursue a career in politics.
In his first election he lost and went back to his military reporting career, in
South Africa. He became a national hero through such adventures as saving a
train from the Boers and escaping from the prison they held him in, and when he
came back to Britain he was successful in getting into Parliament.
His political career was a colourful one. He was, in many
ways, a natural member of the Conservative Party. But he always had problems
with a party's need for discipline, compromise and co-operation, and so, during
his career, he was also a member of more than one Liberal government and at one
time or another stood for Parliament as, among others, a Constitutionalist and
an Independent Anti-Socialist. His critics said he was arrogant, undisciplined,
and unpredictable, but even they had to admit he was very charming and witty.
One of his peculiar enemies was Britain's first woman MP, Nancy Astor. One day
she came up to him at the Houses of Parliament and said: "Mr. Churchill, you
are drunk!" "Yes, madam", he answered, "and you are ugly,
but tomorrow I shall be sober!" Another time she told him: "If I were
your wife I would put poison in your drink." "And if I were your
husband", he answered, "I would drink it!" The playwright George
Bernard Shaw, who hated him, once sent him two tickets for the opening night of
his new play with the invitation to "Bring a friend … if you have
one". Churchill sent them back with apologies that he couldn't come, but
said "I would love to come to the second night … if there is one."
The young Churchill was quite liberal in many ways, but as he
grew older he became more and more conservative. Although he played a big part
in making laws to limit the power of the House of Lords and to shorten working
hours, he hated socialism. He was very keen on the Western Powers (Britain, the
USA, and France) becoming involved against the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil
War, and he strongly supported the Polish invasion of Ukraine in 1920.
But perhaps his greatest political characteristic was his patriotism. Before the
First World War he was one of the first to recognise that Britain would probably
have to fight Germany and was very active in increasing the size of the Royal
Navy to match German developments. During the war he was blamed, unfairly, for
the disastrous defeat by the Turks at Gallipoli, and spent some time with the
army in France. By 1917, though, he was back in the government.
He spent a lot of the period between the wars out of
mainstream politics, although he was Chancellor of the Exchequer for some time.
His history of the First World War, "The World Crisis", was a big
success and made him a lot of money, with which he bought the beautiful house at
Chartwell in Kent where he lived for the rest of his life with his wife
Clementine, who he had married in 1908. Nowadays it belongs to the National
Trust and is open to the public. It is full of Churchill memorabilia.
During the 1930s Churchill became obsessed with the danger he saw coming from
Hitler's Germany. But his views were unfashionable and not many people were
willing to listen to them. It was only after the Munich Crisis of 1938, when
Britain and France betrayed the trust Czechoslovakia hat put in them, that the
public started to support Churchill.
The Second World War was, to quote a phrase from the title of
one of the books in his six-volume history of the war, his "finest
hour". As Prime Minister he became a symbol of resistance to the Nazis at a
time when France was beaten, the USSR had a friendship pact with the Third
Reich, and Britain stood alone. He inspired the British people with speeches
such as the one in which he told them: "I have nothing to offer but blood,
sweat, and tears". While the Battle of Britain
raged, Winston Churchill was everywhere - at military headquarters, inspecting
coastal defences, anti-aircraft batteries, visiting scenes of bomb damage,
smoking his cigar, giving his "V" sign and broadcasting frank reports
to the nation. He was also the perfect personification of the people he led.
As the war went on, Churchill, together with Stalin and the
American president, Roosevelt, was one of the winners. At conferences in Tehran
in 1943 and Yalta in 1945 they drew up the post-war map of Europe. It didn't
make him happy, though; Churchill was the originator of the term "Iron
Curtain" to describe the division of Europe into two blocs, one aligned
with the Soviet Union and the other with the USA, and he remained convinced that
the USSR represented a great threat (hrozbu).
Although he was seen as a war hero, Churchill lost the 1945
election to Labour. He returned as Prime Minister in 1951 and stayed in office
until he was over 80, when he resigned and handed over power to Sir Anthony
Eden. He refused offers to go "upstairs" to the House of Lords and
actually fought and won an election in 1959, at the age of 85. In 1963 he was
awarded an honorary American citizenship by an Act of Congress, and he also
found time in his final years to write another great book, the four-volume
"History of the English-Speaking Peoples".
In 1964 Churchill's health declined and his public
appearances became rare. His death at his London home on January 24, 1965 was
followed by a state funeral at which almost the whole world paid tribute. He was
buried in the family grave in Blandon churchyard, Oxfordshire. Not
everybody, in Britain or abroad, liked him, but few would deny his greatness.