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The United Kingdom[]

History[]

England is located on Great Britain, a "green and pleasant" island off of the western coast of Europe. It is the largest member of the sovereign state known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Historically a seafaring people, for much of the past 500 years the English have used their incomparable navy to project their power into Europe and across the globe.

Geography and Climate[]

England occupies the greater part of the island of Great Britain (along with the Welsh to the west and the Scots to the north). At some 80,000 square miles in size, Great Britain is slightly larger than the state of Kansas in the USA. In pre-historic times to until approximately 6000 BC a land bridge connected Great Britain to Europe; since that time the two have been separated by the English Channel, which is some 20 miles wide at its narrowest point.

England is endowed with rolling hills and plentiful natural resources, including coal and (at one time) extensive forests. Benefitting from warm water brought to its shores by Atlantic Ocean currents, England enjoys plentiful rainfall and relatively mild winters.

Early History: Enter the Romans[]

The first detailed written description of England comes from the Romans, who under Julius Caesar invaded Great Britain in 55 BC. Caesar found an island of perhaps one million Celtic people divided into various warring tribes and possessing an Iron Age level of technology. Caesar led two expeditions to the island in total, and though he fought several successful battles, unrest in Gaul drew him off the island before he could solidify his conquests.

The Romans returned to Great Britain 90 years later - and this time they came in force. In 43 AD four legions (some 20,000 soldiers) under Aulus Plautius landed somewhere on the southern or south-eastern coast (the exact location is unknown) and made their way inland. After a number of stiff battles they crushed the local opposition, establishing a provincial capital at Camulodunum (Colchester). Over the next fifty years the Romans extended their borders west, conquering Wales despite fierce resistance, and north as far as the river Tyne. In 122 AD construction was begun on Hadrian's Wall, a fortification designed to protect Roman Britain from the fierce Picts (proto-Scots) in the northern highlands.

The Romans remained in power in Great Britain for another three centuries, until approximately 410 AD. They had a profound effect upon the natives during their occupation, introducing important advances in agriculture, technology, architecture, and letters.

The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Saxons[]

As the Roman military presence retreated from Britain and Western Europe - under pressure from invading Germanic tribes such as the Vandals - local warlords appeared to fill the power vacuum. But none were strong enough to hold off the ever-increasing attacks on the island by the Picts, the Irish, and other barbarian invaders. According to legend, King Vortigern invited the Germanic Saxons into Britain to fight the Picts, but in 442 AD the Saxons turned on their hosts and conquered much of the lowlands. The Saxons remained in power for roughly fifty years until they were driven out largely thanks to the skillful use of cavalry by the surviving British.

In the mid-sixth century a fresh wave of Germanic invaders, the Anglo-Saxons, reappeared, and they all but annihilated the original inhabitants, driving the remnants of the population west into Cornwall and Wales. The Anglo-Saxons would remain in power for several centuries, a period which saw the conversion of the population to Christianity, and a great increase in scholarship on the island, largely centered on the new Christian monasteries. It is during this period that the inhabitants of south-east Great Britain began to consider themselves "English."

The Vikings[]

By the ninth century England (and Scotland and Ireland, not to mention much of Europe) was under continuous assault from Scandinavian raiders known as the Vikings. The Vikings captured cities and towns along the North Sea, and by the middle of the century they controlled almost half of Great Britain, including London. In 877 Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, was able to stop their advance into Southern England, and over the next 50 years he and his heirs fought relentlessly to retake all of the Danish conquests. Athelstan, Alfred's grandson, was the first man to rule all of England in 927.

However, the Danes were not finished with England, and another wave of raids began in 980. Worn down by 20 years of continuous fighting, in 1013 the English surrendered and accepted Sweyn of Denmark as their king. Sweyn was succeeded by Canute, who ruled until 1035. The Danes and the English coexisted fairly peacefully for the next 30 years until 1066, when England was once again subject to invasion.

The Norman Conquest[]

On September 27, 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, launched a major invasion against England, leading 6000 knights and foot soldiers across the English Channel. After defeating the English army and killing the English King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, William marched on London. By December of 1066 most of the English nobility had sworn allegiance to William, and he was crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas. Under Norman rule the country's historical ties with Scandinavia were largely severed and England came into much closer contact with Europe.

The Middle Ages[]

Lots of history occurred in England over the next 400 years. There were bitter power struggles, revolts, civil wars, as well as wars in Europe, Scotland and elsewhere. There were several Crusades, a number of plagues and famines, and there were many kings named Richard and Henry, some of whom appeared to be quite mad. Unfortunately, space and time constraints require us to move rapidly to the 16th century, and the rise of Elizabeth.

Queen Elizabeth I[]

Queen Elizabeth I was one of the most remarkable rulers in English history. The daughter of King Henry VIII, Elizabeth took the throne in a period of great social and religious upheaval in England (and across Europe). Intelligent, beautiful, and with a great deal of courage, Elizabeth inherited a country that was virtually bankrupt, on the brink of religious civil war, and under threat of conquest by its much stronger neighbor, Spain. During her reign Elizabeth I united the country, confounded Spain's attempts at conquest, and ushered in one of the great golden ages of arts and literature in human history. She also oversaw a major expansion of the English navy, which would dominate the world's seas for centuries.

For a more detailed discussion of Queen Elizabeth I, see her Civilopedia entry.

The Stuarts[]

Elizabeth I died childless, and the English throne passed to James, the Stuart King of Scotland, who became James I of England. Charles I, James's successor, was overthrown by Parliament after the English Civil War (1641-1645). The crown was reinstated in 1660, but much weaker, serving "at the will of Parliament."

The United Kingdom[]

In 1707, the "Acts of Union" united the kingdoms of Scotland with that of England and Wales. The English and Scottish Parliaments were merged, and England ceased to exist as a political entity. However, England was the largest, wealthiest and most powerful part of the United Kingdom, so much so that many still use the terms England and the United Kingdom interchangeably, much to the annoyance of the Welsh and Scots (and later, the Northern Irish).

In 1800 the United Kingdom attempted to unite with Ireland, becoming the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland." Many of the largely Roman Catholic Irish were bitterly opposed to the union, leading to a terrible insurgency that lasted for over a century. In 1922 the southern portion of Ireland was granted its independence, and the UK was once again renamed, this time becoming "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."

Rule Britannia[]

Queen Elizabeth's reign saw the first British colony established in the New World, while the powerful British navy protected the growing British interests across the world. England's earliest colonial interests lay in the Caribbean and North America, but over time they expanded into Asia and the South Pacific as well. As British power grew in India, all European competition was driven out, and the English East India Company came to rule the subcontinent in everything but name.

In the late 18th century Britain lost control of much of North America to the Thirteen Colonies (later, the United States of America) in a long and difficult revolution. While this was a great blow to British prestige, the Empire continued to expand unabated, and by the early 20th century the British Empire was the largest and most powerful in history, encompassing one quarter of the Earth's landmass and human population.

The UK at War[]

For much of its history, the UK has sought to keep anyone from becoming a dominant power in Europe, and to keep anyone from developing a navy to rival that of the UK's. During Elizabeth's reign Spain was the biggest threat, and the UK sought to bankrupt Spain by intercepting the Spanish treasure fleets from the New World and to support insurgencies taking place in Spanish possessions. In the 17th century the UK fought a series of wars against the Netherlands when Dutch ships threatened British naval primacy.

In the 19th century the UK faced off against the mighty French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte. The French had an incomparable army and perhaps the greatest general in human history, while the UK had its navy and the wealth from its worldwide empire. The titanic struggle lasted some 12 years, but eventually Napoleon was defeated and the UK emerged victorious.

The 20th century of course saw the UK pitted against Germany (and allies) in two terrible conflagrations, World Wars I and II. These wars would test the British to the limits of human endurance, and though the UK would be on the victorious side, the cost in wealth and human lives would leave the nation exhausted and virtually bankrupt, bereft of much of its once-great empire.

The Present and Future[]

It has taken some years, but the UK has recovered from the devastations of the wars of the 20th century. Although it is no longer a super power – the United States and increasingly China are the world's "superpowers" – it retains a powerful navy, a thriving culture and a strong economy. While an integral part of the increasingly united and powerful Europe it is also the strongest ally of the United States of America. There is no doubt that the "green and pleasant land" will continue to affect the course of world events for now and the foreseeable future.

English Factoid[]

The English consume more tea per capita than any other country in the world: three times that of Japan and an unbelievable twenty-two times more than America or France.

The world's first public zoo opened in London in 1829.

The Bank of England is one of the few with its own nickname: The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street.

Before the invention of the mechanical clock in the 14th century, the most complex machine in Europe (and perhaps the world) was a pipe organ in the cathedral in Winchester, England, completed in around 950 AD. It had 400 pipes, and 70 men were needed to operate its 26 bellows.

Queen Berengaria, the wife of Richard the Lion-Heart, never set foot on English soil – she instead ruled from Italy and France.

The delicious Colchester oysters were one of the main reasons for the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD.

George V[]

History[]

George V was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 6 May 1910 until his death in 1936. He was the second son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), and the grandson of the reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria. From the time of his birth, he was third in the line of succession behind his father and his elder brother, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale. From 1877 to 1891, George served in the Royal Navy, until the unexpected death of his elder brother in early 1892 put him directly in line for the throne. On the death of his grandmother in 1901, George's father became King-Emperor of the British Empire, and George was made Prince of Wales. He succeeded his father in 1910. He was the only Emperor of India to be present at his own Delhi Durbar.

As a result of the First World War (1914–18), the empires of his first cousins Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany fell while the British Empire expanded to its greatest effective extent. In 1917, George became the first monarch of the House of Windsor, which he renamed from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha as a result of anti-German public sentiment. His reign saw the rise of socialism, communism, fascism, Irish republicanism, and the Indian independence movement, all of which radically changed the political landscape. The Parliament Act 1911 established the supremacy of the elected British House of Commons over the unelected House of Lords. In 1924 he appointed the first Labour ministry and in 1931 the Statute of Westminster recognised the dominions of the Empire as separate, independent states within the Commonwealth of Nations. He was plagued by illness throughout much of his later reign and at his death was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII.

Legacy[]

George preferred to stay at home pursuing his hobbies of stamp collecting and game shooting, and lived a life that later biographers would consider dull because of its conventionality. He was not an intellectual: on returning from one evening at the opera he wrote, "Went to Covent Garden and saw Fidelio and damned dull it was." Nonetheless, he was earnestly devoted to Britain and its Commonwealth. He explained, "it has always been my dream to identify myself with the great idea of Empire." He appeared hard-working and became widely admired by the people of Britain and the Empire, as well as "The Establishment". In the words of historian David Cannadine, George V and Queen Mary were an "inseparably devoted couple" who upheld "character" and "family values". George established a standard of conduct for British royalty that reflected the values and virtues of the upper middle-class rather than upper-class lifestyles or vices. He was by temperament a traditionalist who never fully appreciated or approved the revolutionary changes under way in British society. Nevertheless, he invariably wielded his influence as a force of neutrality and moderation, seeing his role as mediator rather than final decision maker.

Unique Components[]

Expeditionary Force[]

The British Expeditionary Force, or BEF, was the British Army sent to the Western Front during the First World War. Planning for a British Expeditionary Force began with the Haldane reforms of the British Army carried out by the Secretary of State for War Richard Haldane following the Second Boer War (1899–1902).

Majestic[]

The Majestic class was a class of nine pre-dreadnought battleships, built under the Spencer Programme (named after the First Lord of the Admiralty, John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer) for the Royal Navy in the mid-1890s. With nine units commissioned, they were the largest class of battleships in history in terms of the number of member ships. The nine ships, HMS Majestic, Caesar, Hannibal, Illustrious, Jupiter, Magnificent, Mars, Prince George, and Victorious, were built between 1894 and 1898 as part of a programme to strengthen the Royal Navy versus its two traditional rivals, France and Russia, which were perceived to be increasing their navies.

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