Under the rule of Elizabeth I, Britain defeated Spain in war, they explored the "New World" and
William Shakespeare wrote his famous plays. After her reign, the king of Scotland
became king of England and united the two countries (along with Wales, which was
already under English rule).
In the mid-1600s Civil War broke out, led by Oliver Cromwell, and after taking power
in 1649, by 1653 he was claiming himself dictator; by 1660 the monarchy had been
re-established. This time also found Britain as a
growing international power as they expanded colonies in the Americas and in
India, as their rule over Ireland was solidified.
In 1707 the Act of Union was passed, officially putting England, Wales, and Scotland
under one ruler and one parliament based in London. Ireland
joined this union in 1801 (although against the wishes of most Irish). The 1700s
also gave Britain control over Australia, but the
American Revolutionary War hurt the country's
century of relative success.
The 1800s catapulted Britain to one of the wealthiest
and most advanced countries in the world as they helped lead the Industrial Revolution.
These changes also created a huge gap between rich and poor, but this forced social
and political changes, thus making the period a golden age due to the improvements
economically, socially, and medically.
World War I proved disastrous for the people of Britain,
but victorious on the battlefields. After a long interwar period, during which Ireland broke away from Britain (with the exception of
Northern Ireland), World War II began and this war struck closer to home, as London
was bombed for years. From England the D-Day invasion was launched, which marked
the beginning of the end of the war on the European front.
After the war, most of Britain's colonies gained
independence and the sun began to set on the British Empire. This resulted in instability
in some of the newly independent countries and an influx of immigrants from these
former British colonies. Also during this time, violence broke out repeatedly in
Northern Ireland between the Catholics and Protestants.
More recently, the United Kingdom was a founding
member of the European Union (EU) in 1992, although they maintain their own currency
and have elected not to join the Schengen area. They also continue to consider themselves
part of the British Isles instead of a part of Europe, which
at times makes the Atlantic Ocean between them and Canada
and the U.S.A. seem narrower than the English
Channel. Additionally, there are continuing independence demands from Scotland and
in the late 20th century they gained their own parliament, although talk of full
independence is far from certain.