Who Are the British

Who Are the British

Who are the British ?

I. Caricatures

Wales : the Welsh people are very musical, singers, have musical accents. Welsh : Celtic language, much older than English and hasn’t changed very much for a thousand years. 20% of the population speaks Welsh. Very proud of their language, they preserve it. It’s very like Breton. Also very proud of their culture, their traditions. National instrument, emblem : harp. Saint David.

Scotland _ Scots : the national instrument is the bagpipes. Scottish accent : harsh. Gaelic : language spoken by about 2% of the population. They have the reputation to be mean. Proud people. Hate the English.

Ireland _ Irish : Proud people. Great traditions of football, rugby, drinking. Long and difficult tragic historic relations with England. Northern Ireland + Eire.


UK is a country of 4 very different peoples (different cultures, traditions, languages, …). Half the size of France but with much more diversity. One government, one Prime Minister, one Queen. Sometimes tensions, serious problems… but they manage to get on.

II. History

  1. Wales

It was an independent country when England wasn’t a united country. Great legends : Arthur… England became a united country after 1066 (battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror). William managed to take control of a part of Wales, they started to invade Wales. Another king, Edward I launched a serious attack on Wales on the 13th century. The Prince of Wales, Llwellyn ap Gruffyd (ap = son of) was defeated and killed by Edward. After that, that title was transferred to the son of the English King. The English Kings dominated Wales. They built a lot of military castles all over Wales. By the 15th century, the Welsh tried to rebel against the English. There was a great leader : Owain Glyndwr. At the beginning of the 15th century, for a short time he was dangerous for the English, but he was captured and killed. Today, group of independentists (minority) : the sons of Glyndwr. 1536 : Wales officially united to England by Act of Parliament (King Henry VIII). Very recently Wales has got its own assembly (the Welsh Assembly), thanks to Tony Blair, that has some powers, very limited though.

  1. Scotland

The Romans could not conquer Scotland. They built a wall, Hadrian’s wall, to keep the Scots out, to protect themselves. 1066 : relations between the English and the Scots quite cordial. William tried to conquer the Scots but it was impossible because of the mountains. Scotland was never a united country. The clans were very often fighting each other => very difficult country to rule. Peaceful relations with England until Edward I. When William conquered England, the King of Scotland was MacBeth.

[Balliol,13th century …]

Robert Bruce, a political and military genius, defeated the English in 1314 : battle of Bannockburn => Scotland remained independent (the English are pushed back) for the 14th, 15th and 16th century. In the 16th century the situation became more complicated. Alliance between England and Scotland and also marriage alliance between Scotland and France. The daughter of James V, Mary Stuart, was married to he king of France, François II. Very dangerous for the English monarch, Elizabeth I, because she was allied with France and Elizabeth was the only protestant monarch in Europe. Mary was captured by the English and kept in England. But Mary became involved in catholic plots against Elizabeth. Elizabeth didn’t do anything against her cousin Mary then. Finally Mary went too far, and in 1587 she was executed.

1603 : Elizabeth died, without children. She was never married => no English successor to the throne. Her closest relative was the son of Mary Stuart, James. James was appointed king of England => England and Scotland were united with one king for the first time in history. One hundred years later, in 1707, the Act of Union was signed, and England and Scotland were officially united : one king, one parliament.

The majority of Scots today accepts to be part of U.K., but today Scotland has its own parliament (1999). The Scottish Parliament has real power (can impose taxes). Scotland is quite a rich country (they have oil and gas).

  1. Ireland

16th century. Elizabeth worried about Ireland, catholic country. Ireland alone could not invade England. The Spanish tried to occupy Ireland. Elizabeth was determined she would control Ireland. She pursued a policy of plantations : she sent English people to live in Ireland, to farm the land, hoping that these English families would have children with the Irish and that there would be a natural alliance between Ireland and England. It didn’t work. The English bought the best areas of land, in the north => resentment from the Irish. Besides, the English were protestant and the Irish catholic => marriage between them forbidden. So instead of integrating, they were living side by side, in conflict, especially in the north of Ireland. This situation developed in the 16th, 17th and 18th century.

1801 : Act of Union. The whole Ireland was united with England, Wales and Scotland. The Irish refused the Act of Union. Some Irish did accept it : the English Irish, which means the protestants.

In the middle of the 19th century : potato famine. The Irish starved, most of all catholic because they didn’t have good land. About 1.5 million died. Many left Ireland to go to the U.S.A.. The population of Ireland is less than in 1845. Slowly the population began to increase in the 19th century. Many Irish became very successful in America (ex : the Kennedies). Even today there are Irish communities in some parts of America.

19th century : disaster from Ireland. The catholic Irish demanded independence. The Protestants were contempt to remain part of the U.K.. By the end of the 19th century, the population was divided between the Irish Catholics which wanted independence and the Irish Protestants which wanted to remain part of the U.K.. William Gladstone, a liberal Prime Minister, believed in Irish independence, but there he was almost the only one : most English politicians wanted to keep Ireland.

Then came the first World Wide War. Some Irish believed this was an opportunity to win independence. In 1916, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (radical) took control of the post office in Dublin = the Easter Rising, and they announced independence for Ireland. The British army was sent, the Irish were crashed and most of the leaders were executed. Even today, these men are considered heroes, martyrs. One man was not shot : Eamon de Valera, because he was part-American and the British government was desperate for the American to join the war => very sensitive to the Americans, they did not want to offend them. Later this man became one of the first Prime Ministers of Ireland.

At the end of the war, the problem of Ireland was too serious, the government had to do something. 1921 : Anglo-Irish treaty which declared that Ireland would be divided into two parts : 6 counties in the North around Belfast would be British, the South would be a Republic : Eire. This made the situation even more difficult. This was considered as arrogance from the British. Now in the North the majority of the population was protestant (catholic minority), in the south the majority was catholic. The Catholics in the north got persecuted, prejudiced : unemployment was high beyond the Catholics, they had bad schools, bad neighbourhoods (housing discrimination). They were not allowed to join the police.

The I.R.A. was born in the 1920s. By the 1960s the situation was so bad that the British had to do something again. In 1969 the British army was sent to northern Ireland to protect the Catholics because they were being murdered by Protestants. But the army took very quickly the side of the Protestants, so the I.R.A. began to fight the British army. In the 1970s and the 1980s : terrible events on both sides : bombs, killing (Bloody Sunday : the British army opened fire and killed 13 people)

1995 : U.S. President Clinton visited Ireland and he agreed to set up a commission to examine the question of Ireland. The head of this commission was George Mitchell => the Mitchell Commission. Three years later, the new British Prime Minister signed an agreement on the 10th of April 1998 : the Good Friday agreement. Under this agreement an assembly was established for northern Ireland and the I.R.A. agreed to participate because this agreement said that northern Ireland would remain British for as long as the majority of the people wanted to be part of the U.K..

Today the Catholics and the Protestants are 50-50 and the Catholics are increasing their population in Northern Ireland. The I.R.A. agreed to a cease-fire. But there are still problems which are now coming from the Protestants because they are slowly becoming the minority and they are scared. Now a lot of Catholics are happy to remain British because they are being treated equally with the Protestants.

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