Milestones in British History
It is believed that stone age man migrated to britain across the land bridge that at that time joined britain to the european mainland. when, about 12,000 years ago, rising water levels cut britain off from europe, those first peoples developed separately, living undisturbed on hunting and fishing. Around 4000 b.c. a group of neolithic immigrants arrived from europe, settled down and started to cultivate the land. from around 2500 b.c. (as britain entered the iron age) the population began to divide into tribes. iron age people became permanent farmers and built protected forts because territorial defence became fundamental as the population grew. around 2000 b.c. the clets, a group of people from the central europe, started settling across much of britain and ireland. although they were a warlike people, they mixed with the indigenous of populations and created a distinct celtic-british culture of their own.
julius caesar's arrival in britain dates back to 55 b.c., but the actual roman invasion took place in 43 a.d., when about 50,000 roman soldiers, led by emperor clauduius, landed on the island. from north to south they built an incredible network of roads, most of which is still in use today. near the scottish border, the romans built a gigantic wall, hadrian''s wall, to control and defend the area from the scottish tribes of the picts and scots. the deparature of the romans in 410 a.d. left the island undefended against the invasions of the angles and saxons from northern germany. the anglo-saxon invaders colonised northwards, pushing the celts to the fringes of britain, mainly to cornwall, wales and scotland. when the saxon king edward the confessor died in 1066, there was no heir to the throne. the royal council chose harold godwinson, but the throne was also claimed by william, duke of normand who defeated harold at the battle of hastings. harold was killed and william was crowned king of england on christmas day 1066
the normans unified england for the first time after the romans, gradually took control of wales and ireland and introduced the feudal system of nobles, knights and serfs. the land belonged to the king, but he gave it to his faithful nobles who, in turn, distributed part of it to the knights in exchange for their services. at the basis of the pyramid were the srfs who had to work on the land and were treated like slaves. in 1215, at runnymede, king john signed the magna charta, a historic document limiting the powers of the sovereign: feudalism began its slow, yet inevitable, decline. in the XIV and XV century england experienced the terrible black death - killing one third of the population -, intrigues and struggles for power, and a series of wars, the hundred year's war with france (1337-1453) and the war of the two roses between the tudors. henry tudor, duke of richmond, won the final battle at bosworth and ascended the throne as henry VII. henry VII's son, henry vill, gained fame for his six marriages in search of a male heir. when the pope did not allow him to divorce and remarry, henry split with the catholic church and had parliament appoint him head of the protestant church of england. in 1538 dissolved catholic monasteries in britain and ireland and confiscated their land and their possessions. elizabeth I, henry VIII's third child, ascended the throne in 1558 and reigned until 1603. her 45-year reign was perhaps the most glorious era for britain: explorations, colonisation, victory in war gave it world importance as a trading nation. elizabeth i never married and died without an heir. she was the last sovereign of the tudor dynasty and was succeeded by her closest relative, james vi of scotland (a stuart), who became james i of england. he united england and scotland for the first time in history and put down guy fawkes' famous gunpowder plot, a catholic terrorist attempt to blow up king and parliament in 1605. together with the rift between catholics and protestants the struggle for supremacy between king and parliament as to who had the right to rule divided the country. this led to a civil war in 1641 in which james I's successor, charles i, was defeated and executed. oliver cromwell, the leader of the parliament party, became head of the established republic as "lord protector". after cromwell's death, however, monarchy was restored under king charles II in 1660. under the hanoverian kings britain expanded abroad and at home and underwent incredible chnges in economy and society that turned it into an industrial country (it was called "the workshop of the world"), starting the process known as the industrial revolution. between 1750 and 1850 steam power applied to machines led to mass production in factiories in the rapidly expanding towns in the midlands, where the industrial working class had its origins. meanwhile, the british empire continued to grow in india, australia, and america. they were exciting times, marred only by the loss of the american colonies as a result of the american war of independence. by the time queen victoria ascended the throne in 1837, britain was the greatest power in the world. britain's ships dominated the seas linking the various countries of its enormous empire- extending to large chunks of africa, the caribbean and the far east- and british products dominated world trade. vicotria's reign was considered a golden age for britain, a period of confidence and optimism. the lasted until the end of the 19th century, ehrn british economy started beign overtaken by germany and the united states. queen victoria's death, in 1901, marked the beginning of a slow yet inexorable decline for britain