It was around 8000 years ago that the British Isles finally separated from the mainland of Europe, forming the beginnings of the island nation that we know today. For such a relatively small area of land, it has been the focus of invasions from almost every direction ever since.
Early inhabitants were certainly no strangers to travelling. For example, four thousand five hundred years ago, the enormous lumps of rock used for the stone circle at Stonehenge were brought over land, and sea, from Preseli in South Wales .
In those primitive times, most of the country was covered in dense forest, and settlements were sparse and remote from each other. There was already trade across the English Channel, and probably the Irish Sea too.
Around 400BC it was the Celts who first conquered the British Isles , and began to develop the type of civilisation we would recognise today. But it was the arrival of the Romans, whose first incursions of 55BC, and full invasion a century later, transformed much of the British Isles into an organised and efficient nation. They built roads and defences, developed commerce and manufacturing, developed new cities, and transformed agriculture and livestock production. The Picts, in the north, stopped them from conquering the whole country, and thus was built Hadrian's Wall, which stretches from coast to coast to mark the northernmost boundary of the Roman Empire.
The Romans finally withdrew in the 5 th Century, leaving a void that led to 500 dangerous and unsettled years of power struggles and invasions.In 597AD St Augustine was welcomed to Canterbury by the King of Kent, and so Christianity was established in Britain .
The peace was short lived, as for the next 200 years the Vikings raided regularly, and settled in parts of northern and eastern England , and the remote north of Scotland . Then from the south came the Normans, from Northern France , in 1066. Led by William of Normandy, they landed near Hastings , and conquered King Harold's army a few miles inland. This was the last time Britain was successfully invaded.
Ireland was the next target, but despite numerous conquering much of the land, only a small area was really under any effective control. It remained a largely rebellious outpost for several centuries.
In 1215 King John signed the Magna Carta, laying the foundations of the British legal system, and limiting the power of the monarchy. Later that century the first Parliament was made up of representatives from major towns across the land.
In the late 13 th and early 14 th century the English made several unsuccessful attempts at invading Scotland, before finally recognising Scottish independence in 1328.
In the following century the English were fighting amongst themselves to decide who was the rightful King, before attention turned back to the Scots in 1513. The Scots were defeated and King James IV killed.
Sixteen years later England 's most famous king, Henry VIII, broke with Rome in a rift over his marriage to Ann Boleyn. He formed the Church of England, and destroyed many of the old buildings of the Catholic church. But he also sowed the seeds, albeit unwittingly, which united England and Scotland when King James became ruler of both countries in 1603.
Almost immediately the British Empire began with the first colonies in Virginia , sparking 300 years of expansion to overseas territories.
From 1642, the English Civil War raged for ten years, claiming the head of Charles I, and leading to victory for Cromwell and the Parliamentarians. It was short lived, however, with the monarchy restored in 1660.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain was created following the Act of Union in 1707. It meant that England, Scotland, and Wales , were ruled by a single Parliament. But nothing is ever settled between England and Scotland, often referred to as ‘The Old Enemies', and in 1745 the Highlanders rebelled again. They were defeated in a bloody battle a year later.
Soon after the industrial revolution began, with Britain becoming the first of the industrialised nations. But things were not so rosy overseas, as colonies were lost in the American War of Independence. The wars against France began in 1793, culminating with the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.
Throughout the 19 th century the Empire continued to expand, with many lands in Africa and the Middle East joining the fold. Following the end of the First World War, the Anglo-Irish War continued until 1921, resulting in the independence of southern Ireland .
Like much of the world, Britain suffered depression between the wars, but after World War Two there was a new optimism. The National Health Service was formed, meaning free treatment for all. The ‘swinging sixties' saw England as the ‘in' place for fashion and music,and in 1973 the United Kingdom became part of the European Union… finally joining forces with those she had fought and defended against for centuries.