United Kingdom of
Great Britain and Ireland
Flag Royal coat of arms (1837–1922)
"God Save the King/Queen"
Location of the United Kingdom in 1921 (green)
in Europe (green & grey)
Capital London
Demonym British, Briton
Government Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
 •  1801–1820 George III
 •  1820–1830 George IV
 •  1830–1837 William IV
 •  1837–1901 Victoria
 •  1901–1910 Edward VII
 •  1910–1922 George V
Legislature Parliament
 •  Upper house House of Lords
 •  Lower house House of Commons
 •  Acts of Union 1 January 1801
 •  Anglo-Irish Treaty 6 December 1921
 •  Irish Free State Constitution Act 6 December 1922
 •  Titles amended 12 April 1927
Currency Pound sterling
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Great Britain
Arms of Ireland (Historical).svg Ireland
Irish Free State
United Kingdom
a. George III was the monarch of Great Britain and Ireland from 1760.
b. George V continued as monarch of the United Kingdom and the Irish Free State until 1936.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was a sovereign country in western Europe, the predecessor to the modern United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It was established on 1 January 1801 by the Acts of Union 1800, which merged the parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland and combined the Crown of Ireland into the British Crown.

The United Kingdom financed the European coalition that defeated France in 1815 in the Napoleonic Wars, and with its unsurpassed Royal Navy and British Empire became the foremost world power for the next century. The Crimean War with Russia and the Boer wars were relatively small operations in a largely peaceful century. Rapid industrialisation that began in the decades prior to the state's formation continued up until the mid-19th century. The Great Irish Famine, exacerbated by government inaction in the mid-19th century, led to demographic collapse in much of Ireland and increased calls for Irish land reform.

The 19th century was an era of rapid economic modernization and growth of industry, trade, and finance, in which Britain largely dominated the world economy. Outward migration was heavy to the principal British overseas possessions and to the United States. The Empire was expanded into most parts of Africa and much of South Asia. The Colonial Office and India Office ruled through a small number of administrators who managed the units of the Empire locally, while democratic institutions began to develop. British India, by far the most important overseas possession, saw a short-lived revolt in 1857. In overseas policy, the central policy was free trade, which enabled British and Irish financiers and merchants to operate successfully in many otherwise independent countries, as in South America. London formed no permanent military alliances until the early 20th century, when it began to cooperate with Japan, France, and Russia, and moved closer to the United States.

The growing desire for Irish self-governance led to the Irish War of Independence after the World War, which resulted in most of Ireland seceding from the Union and forming the Irish Free State in 1922. Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom, and the state was consequently renamed the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".

1801 to 1820[edit | edit source]

Age of Reform: 1820–1837[edit | edit source]

Victorian era[edit | edit source]

Early 20th century[edit | edit source]

Prime Ministers from 1900 to 1923: Marquess of Salisbury, Arthur Balfour, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, H. H. Asquith, David Lloyd George, Bonar Law.

Edwardian era: 1901–1914[edit | edit source]

Queen Victoria died in 1901 and her son Edward VII became king, inaugurating the Edwardian Era, which was characterised by great and ostentatious displays of wealth in contrast to the sombre Victorian Era. With the advent of the 20th century, things such as motion pictures, automobiles, and aeroplanes were coming into use. The new century was characterised by a feeling of great optimism. The social reforms of the last century continued into the 20th with the Labour Party being formed in 1900. Edward died in 1910, to be succeeded by George V, who reigned 1910–36. Scandal-free, hard working and popular, George V was the British monarch who, with Queen Mary, established the modern pattern of exemplary conduct for British royalty, based on middle-class values and virtues. He understood the overseas Empire better than any of his prime ministers and used his exceptional memory for figures and details, whether of uniforms, politics, or relations, to good effect in reaching out in conversation with his subjects.

The era was prosperous but political crises were escalating out of control. Dangerfield (1935) identified the "strange death of liberal England" as the multiple crises that hit simultaneously in 1910–1914 with serious social and political instability arising from the Irish crisis, labour unrest, the women's suffrage movements, and partisan and constitutional struggles in Parliament. At one point it even seemed the Army might refuse orders dealing with Ireland. No solution appeared in sight when the unexpected outbreak of the Great War in 1914 put domestic issues on hold. McKibben argues that the political party system of the Edwardian era was in delicate balance on the eve of the war in 1914. The Liberals were in power with a progressive alliance of Labour and, off and on, Irish Nationalists. The coalition was committed to free trade (as opposed to the high tariffs the Conservatives sought), free collective bargaining for trades unions (which Conservatives opposed), an active social policy that was forging the welfare state, and constitutional reform to reduce the power of the House of Lords. The coalition lacked a long-term plan, because it was cobbled together from leftovers from the 1890s. The sociological basis was non-Anglicanism and non-English ethnicity rather than the emerging class conflict emphasized by the Labour Party.

Great War[edit | edit source]

After a rough start Britain under David Lloyd George successfully mobilised its manpower, industry, finances, empire and diplomacy, in league with the French, to defeat the Central Powers. The economy grew by about 14% from 1914–18 despite the absence of so many men in the services; by contrast the German economy shrank 27%. The Great War saw a decline in civilian consumption, with a major reallocation to munitions. The government share of GDP soared from 8% in 1913 to 38% in 1918 (compared to 50% in 1943). The war forced Britain to use up its financial reserves and borrow large sums from the United States.

Britain entered the war to protect Belgium from German aggression, and quickly assumed the role of fighting the Germans on the Western Front, and dismantling the overseas German Empire. The romantic notions of warfare that everyone had expected faded as the fighting in France bogged down into trench warfare. Along the Western Front the British and French launched repeated assaults on the German trench lines in 1915–16, which killed and wounded hundreds of thousands, but failed to make gains of even a mile. By 1916, with volunteers falling off, the government imposed conscription in Britain (but was not able to do so in Ireland where nationalists of all stripes militantly opposed it) in order to keep up the strength of the army. Industry turned out munitions in large quantities, with many women taking factory jobs. The Asquith government proved ineffective but when David Lloyd George replaced him in December 1916 Britain gained a powerful and successful wartime leader.

The Navy continued to dominate the seas, fighting the German fleet to a draw in the only great battle, the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Germany was blockaded and was increasingly short of food. It tried to fight back with submarines, despite the risk of war by the powerful neutral power the United States. The waters around Britain were declared a war zone where any ship, neutral or otherwise, was a target. After the liner Lusitania was sunk in May 1915, drowning over 100 American passengers, protests by the United States led Germany to abandon unrestricted submarine warfare. With victory over Russia in 1917 Germany now had numerical superiority on the Western Front. Launching a massive Spring Offensive in 1918, making rapid advances along the front. The offensive failed to split the British and French forces, however manpower, money and supplies needed to keep them going were draining. On other fronts, the British, French, Australians, and Japanese occupied Germany's colonies. Britain fought the Ottoman Empire, suffering defeats in the Gallipoli Campaign and in Mesopotamia, while arousing the Arabs who helped expel the Turks from their lands. Exhaustion and war-weariness were growing worse in 1917, as the fighting in France continued with no end in sight. The German spring offensives of 1918 succeeded, and with relocation of the French government from Paris by July 1918, the Entente realized they were unable to reverse the German gains. Meanwhile,  the Conservatives lost confidence in David Lloyd George and his government, agreeing to an Armistice on 6 September 1918.

By 1918, there were about five million people in the army and the fledgling Royal Air Force, newly formed from the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), was about the same size of the pre-war army. The almost three million casualties were known as the "lost generation," and such numbers inevitably left society scarred; but even so, some people felt their sacrifice was little regarded in Britain, with poems like Siegfried Sassoon's Blighters criticising the war as a human failure. The literary legacy focused on mass death, mechanized slaughter, fallacious propaganda, and deep disillusionment, thereby annihilating long-standing romanticized images of the glories of war.

Postwar[edit | edit source]

The war had been considered a draw in Britain while its allies viewed it as lost, the terrible human and financial cost, creating a sentiment that wars should never be fought again.

Following the war, Britain returned the German colonies in Africa. Britain was granted control over Palestine, which was turned into a homeland for Jewish settlers, and Iraq, created from the three Ottoman provinces in Mesopotamia; the latter of which became fully independent in 1932. Egypt, which had been a British protectorate since 1882, became independent in 1922, although British troops remained stationed there until 1956.

In domestic affairs the Housing Act of 1919 led to affordable council housing which allowed people to move out of decrepit inner-city slums. The slums remained for several more years, with trams being electrified long before many houses. The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave women householders the vote, but it would not be until 1928 that full equal suffrage was achieved. Labour displaced the Liberal Party for second place and achieved major success with the 1922 general election.

Ireland[edit | edit source]

Campaign for Irish Home Rule[edit | edit source]

Part of the agreement which led to the 1800 Act of Union stipulated that the Penal Laws in Ireland were to be repealed and Catholic emancipation granted. However King George III blocked emancipation, arguing that to grant it would break his coronation oath to defend the Anglican Church. A campaign by the lawyer Daniel O'Connell, and the death of George III, led to the concession of Catholic Emancipation in 1829, allowing Roman Catholics to sit in the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. But Catholic Emancipation was not O'Connell's ultimate goal, which was Repeal of the Act of Union with Great Britain. On 1 January 1843 O'Connell confidently, but wrongly, declared that Repeal would be achieved that year. When potato blight hit the island in 1846, much of the rural population, especially in Catholic districts, began to starve.

While government funds were supplemented by private individuals and charities, and aid from the United States, it was not enough to avert a major catastrophe. Cottiers (or farm labourers) were largely wiped out during what is known in Ireland as the "Great Hunger". A significant minority elected Unionists, who championed the Union. A Church of Ireland (Anglican) barrister Isaac Butt (1813–79), built a new moderate nationalist movement, the Home Rule League, in the 1870s. After Butt's death the Home Rule Movement, or the Irish Parliamentary Party as it had become known, was turned into a major political force under the guidance of William Shaw and a radical young Protestant landowner, Charles Stewart Parnell.

Parnell's movement campaigned for "Home Rule", by which they meant that Ireland would govern itself as a region within the United Kingdom. Two Home Rule Bills (1886 and 1893) were introduced by Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, but neither became law, mainly due to opposition from the Conservative Party and the House of Lords. The issue was a source of contention throughout Ireland, as a significant majority of Unionists (largely but not exclusively based in Ulster), opposed Home Rule, fearing that a Catholic Nationalist ("Rome Rule") Parliament in Dublin would discriminate or retaliate against them, impose Roman Catholic doctrine, and impose tariffs on industry. While most of Ireland was primarily agricultural, six of the counties in Ulster were the location of heavy industry and would be affected by any tariff barriers imposed.

Irish demands ranged from the "repeal" of O'Connell, the "federal scheme" of William Sharman Crawford (actually devolution, not federalism as such), to the Home Rule League of Issac Butt. Ireland was no closer to home rule by the mid-19th century, and rebellions in 1848 and 1867 failed.

O'Connell's campaign was hampered by the limited scope of the franchise in Ireland. The wider the franchise was expanded, the better anti-Union parties were able to do in Ireland. Running on a platform that advocated something like the self-rule successfully enacted in Canada under the British North America Act, 1867, Home Rulers won a majority of both county and borough seats in Ireland in 1874. By 1882, leadership of the Home Rule movement had passed to Charles Stewart Parnell of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP). A wider franchise also changed the ideological mix among non-Irish MPs, making them more receptive to Irish demands. The 1885 election resulted in a hung parliament in which the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) held the balance of power. They initially supported the Conservatives in a minority government, but when news leaked that Liberal Party leader William Ewart Gladstone was considering Home Rule, the IPP ousted the Conservatives and brought the Liberals into office.

Gladstone's First Home Rule Bill was closely modeled on the self-government given Canada in 1867. Irish MPs would no longer vote in Westminster but would have their own separate Dublin parliament, which would control domestic issues. Foreign policy and military affairs would remain with London. Gladstone's proposals did not go as far as most Irish nationalists desired, but were still too radical for both Irish unionists and British unionists: his First Home Rule Bill was defeated in the House of Commons following a split in his own party. Liberal leader Joseph Chamberlain led the battle against Home Rule in Parliament. He broke with the Gladstone and in 1886 formed a new party, the Liberal Unionist Party. It helped defeat Home Rule and eventually merged with the Conservative party. Chamberlain used anti-Catholicism to built a base for the new party among "Orange" Nonconformist Protestant elements in Britain and Ireland. Liberal Unionist John Bright coined the party's catchy slogan, "Home rule means Rome rule."

Gladstone took the issue to the people in the 1886 election, but the unionists (Conservatives plus Liberal Unionists) won a majority. In 1890 a divorce case showed Parnell was an adulterer; he was forced from power, and died in 1891. Gladstone introduced a Second Home Rule Bill in 1893, which this time was passed by the Commons, but was defeated in the Conservative-dominated House of Lords. The Conservatives came to power until 1906 and Home Rule was a dead issue, but the subsidized sale of farm land greatly reduced the Protestant presence in Ireland south of Ulster. The Irish nationalists forces were rejected by the Conservatives and had no choice but to support the minority Liberal Party. New groups split off and they finally all merged in 1900 into the Irish Parliamentary Party led by John Redmond.

The Conservative government also felt that the demands in Ireland could be satisfied by helping the Catholics purchase their farms from Protestant owners. A solution by money not force was called "killing home rule with kindness". Reforms passed as a result included the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 and the Wyndham Land Act. Between 1868 and 1908: spending on Ireland was generally increased, huge tracts of land were purchased from landlords and redistributed to smallholders, local government was democratised, and the franchise widely extended. Ireland remained calm until the eve of the World War, when the Liberal government passed Home Rule and Protestants in Ulster mobilized to oppose it by force.

Ulster Protestants began to arm and form militias ready to fight; senior leaders of the British Army indicated they would not move to suppress the Protestants. Suddenly war with Germany broke out and home rule was suspended for the duration. Military service was optional; there was no conscription in Ireland. Large proportions of Protestant young men, and some Catholics, volunteered to fight Germany.

Irish Rebellion[edit | edit source]

File:Republic of Ireland.svg

The section in red left the UK in 1922.

The Easter Rising of 1916, using arms supplied by Germany was badly organized. The British army suppressed it after a week of fighting but the quick executions of 15 leaders alienated Catholic and nationalist opinion. Overnight there was a movement away from home rule and toward Irish independence. The Cabinet decided that the 1914 Act should be brought into operation immediately and a Government established in Dublin. Negotiations were stalemated as Ulster mobilized. London made a second attempt to implement Home Rule in 1917, with the calling of the Irish Convention. Prime Minister Lloyd George sought a dual policy in April 1918 that attempted to link implementing Home Rule with extending conscription to Ireland. Catholics rejected conscription and a wave of anti-conscription demonstrations signalled the insistent demand for total independence. The old Irish Party collapsed and a militant new force united Catholics, the Sinn Féin, which called for force to achieve its goals. Sinn Féin won the 1918 general elections. London's solution was the establishment of two Irish parliaments to pave the way for the Fourth Home Rule Bill, enacted as the Government of Ireland Act 1920. On 6 December 1922, Ireland formed a new dominion named the Irish Free State. As expected, "Northern Ireland" (six counties in Ulster), immediately exercised its right under the Anglo-Irish Treaty to opt out of the new state. The union of Great Britain with most of Ulster was renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and is known by this name to the present time.

List of monarchs[edit | edit source]

File:George V of the united Kingdom.jpg

George V, the last King to be styled as King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

Until 1927, the monarch's royal title included the words "of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". In 1927, the words "United Kingdom" were removed from the royal title so that the monarch was instead styled as "King/Queen of Great Britain, Ireland...[and other places]". The words "United Kingdom" were restored to the monarch's title in 1953 with the reference to "Ireland" replaced with a reference to "Northern Ireland".

See also[edit | edit source]

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