Kingdom of Wessex (519 – 927)
As the Western Roman Empire’s hold on Britain finally ceased to exist in roughly 383 ad, many new local kingdoms were created in the power vacuum. One of the more powerful, though not the most powerful, of which was Wessex, occupying most of what’s now known as South-West England. For a large part of Wessex’s history, she was overshadowed by the dominant Britannic Kingdom, Mercia, which was located in central England, but had established lordships over much of the island. Wessex’s history is characterized by the various wars against Mercia, with the eventual defeat of Mercia as Viking settlers invaded and weekend Mercia. After Mercia’s defeat, Wessex was the dominant kingdom in Britain, and was thus subject to a series of invasions of Danish Vikings. The Kingdom was dissolved after the defeat of the last free English Kingdom, Northumbria, in 927, which evolved the Kingdom into England.
Kingdom of England (927 – 1707)
With the fall of Northumbria in 927, the Kingdom of England was created in the place of Wessex. For the first half of England’s history, it was subject to wars with other nations on mainland Europe, notably France, which climaxed during the Hundred Years’ War from 1337. After some initial success, England was eventually pushed out of France, and had to focus on establishing colonies as the then powers Spain and Portugal had done. These colonies in North America, the Caribbean and India formed the basis for the British Empire. After the Acts of Union were signed between England and Scotland in 1707, England, as a state, came to an end, forming the new Kingdom of Great Britain.
United Kingdom of Great Britain (1707 – 1801)
The Kingdom of Great Britain was created when the Kingdoms of Scotland and England united into one Kingdom. The new nation was born into a war known as the War of Spanish Succession, which gave it a foothold in Spain in 1713 at the treaty of Utrecht. The treaty also greatly expanded British territory in North America. This type of expansion became common through the 18th Century, as Britain expanded her colonies in North America, India, the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand. By the end of the century, Britain had overtaken the old colonial powers of the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. This left Britain and France as the two major European powers in roughly equal measure.
Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1801 – 19021)
Ireland was becoming more like England, Wales and Scotland at this time, and due to its geographical position, it was included into the Union as equal to England and Scotland, changing the flag to include the red Irish stripes. The UK’s old rivalry with France was rekindled over this period with the rise of Napoléon and the Napoleonic wars. Britain’s superior naval capability allowed her to occupy most of France’s colonies as well as most Dutch Colonies, as France was occupying the Netherlands. After the end of the wars in 1815, the UK enjoyed 99 years of unchallenged naval and economic dominance, over which time the UK would continue to expand in India, establish colonies and protectorates in the Middle East, furthered exploration of Australia and gained approximately 40% of Africa under the Berlin Conference. The central powers – Germany, Austria, the Ottoman Empire and later Bulgaria – fought the UK for four years starting in 1914. Although many fomer Ottoman and German colonies were gained after the war, the UK was greatly damaged and other powers, such as the USA, started to catch up in terms of economic productivity. After the Irish Free State left in 1921, the nation in this form ended.
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (1921 – Present)
More than anything else, this period of time for the UK was, geo-politically, characterized by decolonization. Between the establishment of Ireland in 1921 and the outbreak of the Second World War, many of the more self-governing colonies, known as British Dominions, were able to gain independence. After the war, mainly throughout the 1950s and 1960s, less advanced colonies start to free themselves of British rule, as the war accelerated the decline of the empire. The last nation (as of 2014) to become independent was Brunei in 1984, with Hong Kong being handed over to China in 1997. The UK experienced much economic prosperity after the war in the 1960s, but then hardship in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, she has recovered and is a prosperous, diverse and free nation of over 62 million people. Her economy remains one of the largest in the World, and her legacy as an imperial nation lives on in many of the former British colonies around the world.