Top 10 Amazing Facts About The UK (United Kingdom)
We’ve covered England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in their own separate installments, so it only seems the next logical step would be to pull back on the map a bit and take a look at the sovereign state these countries make up – the United Kingdom. Here are 10 amazing facts encompassing all that makes the United Kingdom historically important and rich with culture.
Even if you live outside of the United Kingdom, you’ve heard whispers of something called “Brexit,” a rather polarizing decision that could change the course of the UK’s future. On June 23rd, 2016, a vote was held to decide if the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, with 52% of the vote leaning in favor of the separation. Since the vote, even though the divide is still in negotiations, the UK’s excellent AAA credit rating has dropped and the value of the pound fell to its lowest in 30 years. As its own entity, the United Kingdom will not be privy to the economic and political benefits it has received since the inception of the European Union post-World War II. Once Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has been invoked by the United Kingdom, both parties have only 2 years to negotiate terms of the split.
Britain Leads the Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution may have changed the world but it needed to start somewhere, and if you haven’t guessed yet, that start was in Great Britain. As early as 1760, the production of goods started to transition from being made by hand to mechanical implementations, but what made Britain the perfect launching point for these changes? It’s all about power, and at the time, Great Britain had many colonies beneath it that would provide the raw materials and had a constant outpour of manufactured goods. As demand increased, the need for more effective, cost-conscious methods of production were needed, which lead to improvements including the introduction of mechanical factories, increased use of steam power, and chemical manufacturing.
Wars of the United Kingdom
If we trace the history of conflict in Great Britain back to the 1700s, we’ll find a lengthy list of battles and wars fought by British forces. Formed in 1707, the Kingdom of Great Britain saw its first taste of war with the Great Northern War against the Swedish and Ottoman Empires and the United Provinces and Brunswick-Luneburg. With its history of military successes, the United Kingdom has proven a formidable foe, losing approximately only ¼ of the wars its military forces were involved in. In terms of current military power, the United Kingdom ranks 6th amongst the 20 strongest militaries in the world, falling behind France, India, China, Russia, and the United States of America.
How the United Kingdom is Governed
Getting to know and understand how the United Kingdom works can initially be perplexing. It’s a country and sovereign state made up of other small countries that may also have their own localized governments. The framework of the government is that of a constitutional monarchy, meaning the king or queen heads the state while the prime minister oversees the central government itself. Members of the House of Lords and House of Commons, respectively the upper and lower houses, are in place as a sort of “checks and balance” system. The House of Commons can originate and approve bills, which are then reviewed by the House of Lords. While the monarch is often separated from government issues, the standing Royal Prerogative provides a limited set of instances where the monarch can intervene, though they have changed drastically over time, and still can.
Population of the UK
Though the United Kingdom is low on the list of most culturally diverse countries, it’s believed that by 2050, 1/3 of the population could be made up of ethnic minorities. As of 2014, that figure was closer to 14% of the population, but that figure is going to be greatly altered by the 80% population growth that minority groups experience. Some of the largest populaces of the United Kingdom include foreign-born Indians, which make up approximately 750,000 people, Poles at over 750,000, and Pakistanis around 500,000. Even populations like Romanians, which had relatively no presence as recent as 2005, have increased numbers in the past decade to near 250,000 people. Currently, the ethnic minority population comprises approximately 8 million of the UK’s over 64 million people.
Who Are the British?
To those with a more limited world view, British people are strictly from England, but that’s far from the case. Throughout the United Kingdom, the British encompass the English, Scottish, Welsh, or Northern Ireland Irish. Though Great Britain had been inhabited by groups known as the Britons, it wasn’t until the creation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 that the British identity flourished. During the Napoleonic Wars, one’s state of being “British” started to take form and a sense of cultural pride further developed during the Victorian era. Though established long before this sense of British pride, the cultures of the English, Welsh, Scots, and parts of the Irish slowly became overlaid by British nationhood. There may be those that still resist the notion of being British, specifically in Northern Ireland, but the term British is a broad statement encompassing a mass group of people across multiple countries.
Pre-Historic Settlement of the United Kingdom
On May 1st, 1707, the Kingdom of Great Britain became a sovereign state following the Treaty of Union in 1706 and Acts of Union the following year, but there must have been history prior to this defining event. Before Great Britain became Great Britain – and subsequently the United Kingdom – there was a long string of settlers that started as far back as the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods. Evidence of early humanoid footprints suggests possible settlement of the British Isles as early as 800,000 years ago. Through the Bronze Age, which started at approximately 3000 BC, archaeological signs of the culture of the Beaker People has been uncovered. Ireland is a bit of a different story, which saw settlement and invasion by the Gaels from Iberian Peninsula and may have also been influenced by Milesians from Spain.
Sports of the United Kingdom
Generally, teams from the United Kingdom are represented in their countries of origin. Though the United Kingdom is considered the birthplace of a wide range of sports - rugby, cricket, football, golf, and boxing among the most popular worldwide – it’s unlikely that you’ll find a national team under the UK banner. In rugby league football, Great Britain was once represented by the Great Britain national rugby league team, which encompassed players from England, Wales, and Scotland. In 2006, the Great Britain team was pulled from regular rotation, though players would be able to play at Test level. Across the entirety of the UK, the most popular sports include rugby, cricket, badminton, tennis, football (or soccer, for you Americans), and ice hockey.
Folklore Across the UK
Sometimes the most interesting parts of a country are the ones that get passed down from generations of yore and are rooted in tall tales and superstitions. Travel the United Kingdom and talk to the right people and you may find yourself learning all about the most unique stories including the fabled Loch Ness Monster, believed to inhabit lake Loch Ness in Scotland, or the 13th-century fairies revealed by historian Gervase of Tilbury. The Pendle Witches in Lancashire or Helen Duncan, the last witch of Great Britain tried under the archaic 1735 Witchcraft Act, a real law passed by the country’s Parliament. You could also be introduced to the sprite Robin Goodfellow or the flibbertigibbet, or a kind of devil.
Architecture Throughout the Ages
Throughout England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, you’ll come across a range of architectural styles, influenced over the course of time by a mix of cultures. You’ll find leftovers of Roman influence in structures like the Roman Baths in Bath, along with Somerset and Norman impact in the large, stone buildings like Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. One of the United Kingdom’s striking structures, though its purpose and creators are unknown, is the rock formation of Stonehenge in Amesbury, England. Much of the UK’s architecture can be linked back to the influence of invaders or past settlers, but the origins of Stonehenge remain a lengthy debate. While the popular theory links its construction to the Celtic high priests or Druids, more fantastical versions claim the wizard Merlin had a giant build it. While the Druids remain the widely accepted answer, Stonehenge is believed to be 2800 years older than the Celtic society responsible for the Druid priesthood.