Kingdom of England

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Kingdom of England
10th century–1707
1649–1660: Commonwealth

Royal Arms

Location of  1700 England  (green)

in Europe  (green & dark grey)

 -  Until 939 Æthelstan (first)
 -  1702–1707 Anne (last)
Legislature Parliament
 -  Upper house House of Lords
 -  Lower house House of Commons
 -  Unification 10th century
 -  Norman conquest 1066–1088
 -  Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542
 -  Union of the Crowns 24 March 1603
 -  Glorious Revolution 11 December 1688
 -  Union with Scotland 1 May 1707
 -  1283–1542 est. 145,000 km² (55,985 sq mi)
 -  1542–1707 est. 151,000 km² (58,301 sq mi)
 -  1283 est. 5,000,000 
     Density 34.5 /km²  (89.3 /sq mi)
 -  1542 est. 3,000,000 
     Density 20.7 /km²  (53.6 /sq mi)
 -  1707 est. 5,750,000 
     Density 38.1 /km²  (98.6 /sq mi)
Currency Pound sterling
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Powys Fadog
Powys Wenwynwyn
Principality of Wales
Kingdom of Great Britain
Today part of  United Kingdom
Part of a series on the
History of England
Coat of arms of England
Portal icon England portal

The Kingdom of England was a sovereign state in western Europe from the 10th century to 1707. Occupying the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain, the kingdom included modern-day England, Wales, and for a brief period in the 15th century the Southern Uplands of Scotland. The kingdom shared a border with Scotland to the north, but otherwise was surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. At the start of the period its capital and chief royal residence was Winchester, but Westminster and Gloucester were accorded almost equal status, with Westminster gradually gaining preference and becoming the administrative capital by the beginning of the 12th century. During the 10th century, the City of London quickly established itself as England's largest town and principal commercial centre.[1]

The kingdom broadly traces its origins to the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain and the Heptarchy of petty states that followed. The territory of what became England was unified into a single kingdom during the early 10th century. The Norman invasion of Wales from 1067 and the completion of its conquest by Edward I (formalised with the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284) put Wales under England's control, and Wales came under English law with the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542. On 1 May 1707, under the terms of the Acts of Union 1707, the kingdoms of England and Scotland united to form Great Britain.[2][3] Although it is no longer a sovereign state, modern England continues as one of the countries of the United Kingdom.


The kingdom has no specific founding date. It emerged from the gradual unification of the various kingdoms that were established following the Anglo-Saxon settlement of the former Roman province of Britannia. The minor kingdoms in time coalesced into the seven kingdoms known as the Heptarchy: East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria, Kent, Essex, Sussex, and Wessex. The Viking invasions shattered the pattern of the English kingdoms. The English lands were unified in the 10th century in a reconquest completed by King Athelstan in 927.

The Anglo-Saxons knew themselves as the Angelcynn, Englisc or Engle, originally names of the Angles, that came to refer to Saxons, Jutes, and Frisii alike, at least in English. They called their lands Engla land, meaning "Land of the Angles" (and when unified also Engla rice; "the Kingdom of the English"). In time the name Englaland became England.

During the Heptarchy, the most powerful king among the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms might become acknowledged as Bretwalda, a high king over the other kings. The decline of Mercia allowed Wessex to become more powerful. It absorbed the kingdoms of Kent and Sussex in 825. The kings of Wessex became increasingly dominant over the other kingdoms of England during the 9th century. In 827, Northumbria submitted to Egbert of Wessex at Dore. It has been claimed[who?] that Egbert thereby became the first king to reign over a united England, however briefly.

In 886, Alfred the Great retook London, which he apparently regarded as a turning point in his reign. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that "all of the English people (all Angelcyn) not subject to the Danes submitted themselves to King Alfred."[4] Asser added that "Alfred, king of the Anglo-Saxons, restored the city of London splendidly ... and made it habitable once more."[5] Alfred's "restoration" entailed reoccupying and refurbishing the nearly deserted Roman walled city, building quays along the Thames, and laying a new city street plan.[6] It is probably at this point that Alfred assumed the new royal style 'King of the Anglo-Saxons.'

During the following years Northumbria repeatedly changed hands between the English kings and the Norwegian invaders, but was definitively brought under English control by Eadred in 954, completing the unification of England. At about this time, Lothian, the northern part of Northumbria (Roman Bernicia), was ceded to the Kingdom of Scotland. On 12 July 927 the monarchs of Britain gathered at Eamont in Cumbria to recognise Athelstan as king of the English. This can be considered England's 'foundation date', although the process of unification took almost 100 years.

England has remained in political unity ever since. During the reign of Ethelred the Unready (978–1016), a new wave of Danish invasions was orchestrated by Sweyn I of Denmark, culminating after a quarter-century of warfare in the Danish conquest of England in 1013. But Sweyn died on 2 February 1014, and Ethelred was restored to the throne. In 1015, Sweyn's son Canute the Great launched a new invasion. The ensuing war ended with an agreement in 1016 between Canute and Ethelred's successor, Edmund Ironside, to divide England between them, but Edmund's death on 30 November of that year left England united under Danish rule. This continued for 26 years until the death of Harthacanute in June 1042. He was the son of Canute and Emma of Normandy (the widow of Ethelred the Unready) and had no heirs of his own; he was succeeded by his half-brother, Ethelred's son, Edward the Confessor. The Kingdom of England was once again independent.

Norman conquest[edit]

The peace lasted until the death of the childless Edward in January 1066. His brother-in-law was crowned King Harold, but his cousin William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, immediately claimed the throne for himself. William launched an invasion of England and landed in Sussex on 28 September 1066. Harold and his army were in York following their victory against the Norwegians at the Battle of Stamford Bridge (25 September 1066) when the news reached him. He decided to set out without delay and confront the Norman army in Sussex so marched southwards at once, despite the army not being properly rested following the battle with the Norwegians. The armies of Harold and William faced each other at the Battle of Hastings (14 October 1066), in which the English army, or Fyrd, was defeated, Harold and his two brothers were slain, and William emerged as victor. William was then able to conquer England with little further opposition. He was not, however, planning to absorb the Kingdom into the Duchy of Normandy. As a mere duke, William owed allegiance to Philip I of France, whereas in the independent Kingdom of England he could rule without interference. He was crowned on 25 December 1066.

In 1092, William II led an invasion of Strathclyde, a Celtic kingdom in what is now southwest Scotland and Cumbria. In doing so, he annexed what is now the county of Cumbria to England; this was the last major expansion by England into what is now considered a part of England. Later, the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542 annexed Wales to England.

In 1124, Henry I ceded what is now southeast Scotland (called Lothian) to the Kingdom of Scotland, in return for the King of Scotland's loyalty. This area of land had been English since its foundation in 927 AD, and before that had been a part of the Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria. Lothian contained what later became the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. This arrangement was later finalised in 1237 by the Treaty of York.

The Duchy of Aquitaine came into personal union with the Kingdom of England upon the accession of Henry II, who had married Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine. The Kingdom of England and the Duchy of Normandy remained in personal union until 1204. John Lackland, Henry II's son and fifth-generation descendant of William I, lost the continental possessions of the Duchy to Philip II of France during that year. A few remnants of Normandy, including the Channel Islands, remained in John's possession, together with most of the Duchy of Aquitaine.

The sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215 put England on course to become a constitutional monarchy.

Norman conquest of Wales[edit]

Up to the Norman conquest of Anglo-Saxon England, Wales had remained for the most part independent of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, although some Welsh kings did sometimes acknowledge the Bretwalda.

However, soon after the Norman conquest of England, some of the Norman lords began to attack Wales. They conquered parts of it, which they ruled, acknowledging the overlordship of the Norman kings of England, but with considerable local independence. Over many years these "Marcher Lords" conquered more and more of Wales, against considerable resistance led by various Welsh princes, who also often acknowledged the overlordship of the Norman kings of England.

Edward I defeated Llywelyn the Last, and so effectively conquered Wales, in 1282. He created the title Prince of Wales for his eldest son, the future Edward II, in 1301. Edward I's conquest was brutal and the subsequent repression considerable, as the magnificent Welsh castles such as Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon attest; but this event re-united under a single ruler the lands of Roman Britain for the first time since the establishment of the Kingdom of the Jutes in Kent in the 5th century AD, some 700 years before.

Accordingly, this was a highly significant moment in the history of medieval England, as it re-established links with the pre-Saxon past. These links were exploited for political purposes to unite the peoples of the kingdom, including the Anglo-Normans, by popularising Welsh legends.

The Welsh language—derived from the British language, with significant Latin influences—continued to be spoken by the majority of the population of Wales for at least another 500 years, and is still a majority language in parts of the country.

Loss of the Angevin Empire and the Wars of the Roses[edit]

Edward III was the first English king to have a claim to the throne of France. Edward III pursued this claim, which resulted in the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453). The war pitted five kings of England of the House of Plantagenet against five kings of France of the Capetian House of Valois. Though the English won numerous victories, they were unable to overcome the numerical superiority of the French and their strategic use of gunpowder weapons. England was defeated at the Battle of Formigny in 1450 and finally at the Battle of Castillon in 1453, retaining only a single town in France, Calais.

Fifteenth-century miniature depicting the English victory over France at the Battle of Agincourt.

During the Hundred Years War an English identity began to develop in place of the previous division between the Norman lords and their Anglo-Saxon subjects, in consequence of sustained hostility to the increasingly nationalist French, whose kings and other leaders (notably the charismatic Joan of Arc) used a developing sense of French identity to help draw people to their cause. The Anglo-Normans became separate from their cousins who held lands mainly in France, who mocked the former for their archaic and bastardised spoken French. English also became the language of the law courts during this period.

The kingdom had little time to recover before entering the Wars of the Roses (1455–1487), a series of civil wars over possession of the throne between the House of Lancaster (whose heraldic symbol was the red rose) and the House of York (whose symbol was the white rose), each led by different branches of the descendants of Edward III. The end of these wars found the throne held by the descendant of an initially illegitimate member of the House of Lancaster, married to the eldest daughter of the House of York: Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. They were the founders of the Tudor dynasty, which ruled the Kingdom from 1485 to 1603.

Tudors and Stuarts[edit]

Wales had retained a separate legal and administrative system, which had been established by Edward I in the late 13th century. Under the Tudor monarchy, Henry VIII replaced the laws of Wales with those of England (under the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542). Wales now ceased to be a personal fiefdom divided between the Prince of Wales and the Earl of March, and was instead annexed to the Kingdom of England, and henceforth was represented in the Parliament of England.

During the 1530s, Henry VIII overthrew the power of the Roman Catholic Church within the kingdom, replacing the pope as head of the English church and seizing the church's lands, thereby facilitating the creation of a new Protestant religion. This had the effect of aligning England with Scotland, which also gradually adopted a Protestant religion, whereas the most important continental powers, France and Spain, remained Roman Catholic.

In 1541, during Henry VIII's reign, the Parliament of Ireland proclaimed him king of Ireland, thereby bringing the Kingdom of Ireland into personal union with the Kingdom of England.

Portrait of Elizabeth I made to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588), depicted in the background. Elizabeth's international power is symbolised by the hand resting on the globe.

Calais, the last remaining continental possession of the Kingdom, was lost in 1558, during the reign of Philip and Mary I. Their successor, Elizabeth I, consolidated the new Protestant Church of England. She also began to build up the Kingdom's naval strength, on the foundations Henry VIII had laid down. In 1588, her new navy was strong enough to defeat the Spanish Armada, which had sought to invade England in order to put a Catholic monarch on the throne in her place.

The House of Tudor ended with the death of Elizabeth I on 24 March 1603. James I ascended the throne of England and brought it into personal union with the Kingdom of Scotland. Despite the Union of the Crowns, the kingdoms remained separate and independent states: a state of affairs which lasted for more than a century.

The Stuart kings overestimated the power of the English monarchy, and were cast down by Parliament in 1645 and 1688. In the first instance, Charles I's introduction of new forms of taxation in defiance of Parliament led to the English Civil War (1641–45), in which the king was defeated, and to the abolition of the monarchy under Oliver Cromwell during the interregnum of 1649–1660. Henceforth, the monarch could reign only at the will of Parliament.

Following the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, an attempt by James II to reintroduce Roman Catholicism—a century after its suppression by the Tudors—led to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which he was deposed by Parliament. The Crown was then offered by Parliament to James II's Protestant daughter and son-in-law/nephew, William III and Mary II.


Cromwell at Dunbar. Oliver Cromwell united the whole of the British Isles by force and created the Commonwealth of England.

England was a monarchy for the entirety of its political existence, except for the 11 years of the English Interregnum (1649 to 1660), which followed the English Civil War.

After the trial and execution of Charles I in January 1649, the Rump Parliament passed an act declaring England to be a Commonwealth on 19 May 1649. The monarchy and the House of Lords were abolished, and so the House of Commons became a unitary legislative chamber with a new body, the Council of State becoming the executive. However the Army remain the dominant institution in the new republic and the most prominent general was Oliver Cromwell. The Commonwealth fought wars in Ireland and Scotland which were subdued and placed under Commonwealth military occupation.

In April 1653 Cromwell and the other Grandees of the New Model Army, frustrated with the members of the Rump Parliament who would not pass legislation to dissolve the Rump and to allow a new more representative parliament to be elected, stopped the Rumps session by force of arms and declared the Rump dissolved.

After an experiment with a Nominated Assembly (Barebones Parliament), the Grandees in the Army, through the Council of State imposed a new constitutional arrangement under a written constitution called the Instrument of Government. Under the Instrument of Government executive power lay with a Lord Protector (an office be held for life of the incumbent) and there were to be triennial Parliaments, with each sitting for at least five months. Article 23 of the Instrument of Government stated that Oliver Cromwell was to be the first Lord Protector. The Instrument of Government was replaced by a second constitution (the Humble Petition and Advice) under which the Lord Protector could nominate his successor. Cromwell nominated his son Richard who became Lord Protector on the death of Oliver on 3 September 1658.

Richard proved to ineffectual and unable to maintain his rule. He resigned his title and retired into obscurity. The Rump Parliament was recalled and there was a second period where the executive power lay with the Council of state. But this restoration of Commonwealth rule similar to that before the Protecotrate, proved to be unstable, the exiled claimant, Charles II, was restored to the throne in 1660.

Union with Scotland[edit]

In the Scottish case, the attractions were partly financial and partly to do with removing English trade sanctions put in place through the Alien Act 1705. The English were more anxious about the royal succession. The death of William III in 1702 had led to the accession of his sister-in-law Anne to the thrones of England and Scotland, but her only surviving child had died in 1700, and the English Act of Settlement 1701 had given the succession to the English crown to the Protestant House of Hanover. Securing the same succession in Scotland became the primary object of English strategic thinking towards Scotland. By 1704, the Union of the Crowns was in crisis, with the Scottish Act of Security allowing for the Scottish Parliament to choose a different monarch, which could in turn lead to an independent foreign policy during a major European war. The English establishment did not wish to risk a Stuart on the Scottish throne, nor the possibility of a Scottish military alliance with another power.

A Treaty of Union was agreed on 22 July 1706, and following the Acts of Union of 1707, which created the Kingdom of Great Britain, the independence of the kingdoms of England and Scotland came to an end on 1 May 1707. The Acts of Union created a customs union and monetary union and provided that any "laws and statutes" that were "contrary to or inconsistent with the terms" of the Acts would "cease and become void."

The English and Scottish Parliaments were merged into the Parliament of Great Britain, located in Westminster, London. At this point England ceased to exist as a separate political entity, and since then has had no national government. The laws of England were unaffected, with the legal jurisdiction continuing to be that of England and Wales, while Scotland continued to have its own laws and law courts. This continued after the 1801 union between the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland, forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922 the Irish Free State seceded from the United Kingdom, leading to the latter being renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Old English (until 1066)
    Middle English (1066–1550)
    Modern English (1550–1707)
  2. ^ Old Welsh (until 12th century)
    Middle Welsh (12th–14th century)
    Modern Welsh (14th century–1707)


  1. ^ London, 800-1216: The Shaping of a City, "...rivalry between City and government, between a commercial capital in the City and the political capital of quite a different empire in Westminster.", accessed November 2013.
  2. ^ Acts of Union 1707, accessed 27 January 2011
  3. ^ Making the Act of Union 1707, accessed 27 January 2011
  4. ^ The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Freely licensed version at Gutenberg Project. Note: This electronic edition is a collation of material from nine diverse extant versions of the Chronicle. It contains primarily the translation of Rev. James Ingram, as published in the Everyman edition.
  5. ^ Asser's Life of King Alfred, ch. 83, trans. Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge, Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred & Other Contemporary Sources (Penguin Classics) (1984), pp. 97–8.
  6. ^ Vince, Alan, Saxon London: An Archaeological Investigation, The Archaeology of London series (1990).


  • Elton, G. R., England under the Tudors (London: Methuen, 1955)
  • Elton, G. R., The Tudor Revolution in Government: Administrative Changes in the Reign of Henry VIII (Cambridge University Press, 1953)
  • Elton, G. R., The Reformation (Cambridge University Press, 1958)
  • Elton, G. R., The Tudor Constitution: Documents and Commentary (Cambridge University Press, 1960), OCLC 23819
  • Elton, G. R., ed., England, 1200–1640: Sources of History. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Press, 1969)
  • Elton, G. R. Studies in Tudor and Stuart Politics and Government: Papers and Reviews. 4 volumes (Cambridge University Press, 1974–1992) (1946–1972—1983–1990)
  • Wood, Michael, In Search of the Dark Ages (London: BBC Books, 1981)
Preceded by
The Heptarchy
c. 500 – c. 927
Kingdom of England
c. 927 – 1649
Succeeded by
English Interregnum
Preceded by
English Interregnum
Kingdom of England
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Great Britain