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British Culture, British Customs and British Traditions

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This section is in advanced English and is only intended to be a guide, not to be taken too seriously!

Do you know what the difference is between Great Britain, the United Kingdom and the British Isles is? Well, before you can even begin to understand the United Kingdom, you need to know what it is, and what it isn't.

There is a lot of confusion, and that is because it is confusing. Often generated by political and historic divides. Some people refer to the UK as the (dis)United Kingdom.

Since 1927, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the constitutional monarchy occupying the island of Great Britain, the small nearby islands (but not the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands), and the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland. Usually, it is shortened to the United Kingdom or the UK, though Britain is also an officially recognised short form.

"Great Britain" (often abbreviated to GB) is sometimes used as a short form, and is the name used by the UK in some international organisations. GB is frequently used for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in international agreements, as well as in the ISO 3166 country codes. You will also see GB stickers on the back of cars registered in the UK.

In the past "England" was often used to refer to the whole of the United Kingdom, but this is no longer deemed acceptable. Between 1746 and 1967 the term "England" legally included Wales.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are the four countries that make up the United Kingdom, though they are also referred to, especially in sporting contexts, as the home nations of the United Kingdom. A lot of people joke that Andy Murray is English when he is winning, and Scottish when he is losing.

England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are legal jurisdictions within the United Kingdom.

Great Britain refers to the countries of England, Wales and Scotland.

Politically, the British Isles consists of the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands (Jersey and Guernsey) and the Isle of Man. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man have retained the British monarch as head of state. However, geographically the British Isles may also refer to the group of islands off the north-western coast of continental Europe, which consist of the islands of Great Britain, and include Ireland and over six thousand smaller isles.

Northern Ireland is that part of the island of Ireland northeast of the line of partition of 1922, and which is still part of the United Kingdom.

Still confused? This diagram might help:-

Sport UK

In sport it gets even more complicated. National representation varies from sport to sport. England, Scotland and Wales often compete separately as nations. In some sports; rugby, cricket etc., the island of Ireland competes as a nation; in others, most notably association football, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland field separate teams. In these contexts England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland/Northern Ireland are sometimes described as the home nations.

Rugby union players from both Ireland and Great Britain play for British and Irish Lions representing the four "Home Unions" of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Great Britain is sometimes used to mean United Kingdom. For example, at the Olympic Games, the team called "Great Britain" represents Great Britain and Northern Ireland. However, athletes from Northern Ireland have, by virtue of their entitlement to dual nationality, the choice of participating in either the Great Britain team or the Republic of Ireland team.

In the majority of individual sports (e.g. tennis and athletics), at international level competitors are identified as GB if they are from Great Britain or Northern Ireland.

A small number of sports (e.g. golf, darts, snooker) identify participants as representing their constituent country.

In the Commonwealth Games, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each compete as separate nations, as do each of the three Crown Dependencies (Ireland is not part of the Commonwealth and is not eligible to participate).

Personal Identitiy

When we talk about ourselves we usually refer to the country within the UK in which we were born. However, the word "British" is also an adjective and demonym referring to the United Kingdom. For example, a citizen of the UK is called a British citizen. For citizenship purposes "British" includes the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. People born in the UK sometimes call themselves English, in Scotland Scottish, and in Wales Welsh. People born in Northern Ireland either refer to themselves as English or Irish.

Anglo- is often used as an adjectival prefix referring to the United Kingdom (notwithstanding that its original meaning is "English") particularly in the field of diplomatic relations. It can also refer to the English language, to anglophone peoples and can have a variety of other shades of meaning.

Wales is sometimes called the Principality of Wales, although this has no modern constitutional basis.

Northern Ireland is often referred to as a province or called Ulster, after the traditional Irish province of Ulster in which it is located.


The United Kingdom

United Kingdom

General - comprises of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands
· includes 4 nationalities: English (England), Welsh (Wales), Scottish (Scotland) and Irish (Ireland)
· the largest cities are London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Bristol, Leeds and Edinburgh
Geography – The UK is situated off the northwest coast of Europe bordered by the Atlantic ocean and from Europe separated by the North Sea and the English Channel. The Irish Sea and the North Channel separate Great Britain from Ireland.
Size - 244,820 sq km
Climate – mild & rainy (Gulf Stream)
Population – 56 million people (dense population)
Industries – highly industrialised – iron & steel engineering, motor vehicles, aircraft, textil, plastic, cotton, wool, chemicals, electronics, shipbuilding, food products (incl. fishing)
Mineral resources – coal, natural gas (North Sea), oil
Agriculture – wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, sugar beet, milk, meat, sheep

Government system:

The United Kingdom = Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is a constitutional monarchy, the present sovereign is Queen Elizabeth II, she has no real political power and must defer to parliament.
Great Britain (Britain) refers to England, Scotland and Wales.
The UK is governed by the Cabinet ( 20 leading ministers + the Prime Minister). The supreme legislative body is the Parliament, this is split into two houses - The lower house is The House of Commons – 5 years (elected). The Upper house is The House of Lords which currently has hereditiary and life peerage members, although this is under review.
There is no codified constitution in the UK (common law, court judgements, conventions, and acts of Parliament) More Information
There are 3 main partiesConservative (Tories) (right wing), Labour (left wing) and the Liberal Democrats (middle of the road).


Capital - London
Geography – situated in Britain
Size - 132,589 sq km


Capital - Cardiff
Geography - West, mountains and moorland
Size - 21,588 sq km
Climate - rainy
Industry – tourism, mining, manufacturing
Other - The oldest son of the English Monarch is given the title “Prince of Wales”. In 1999 Wales was granted devolution, this allows them to have their own elected parliament.

More on Wales
A quiz on Wales


Capital - Edinburgh
Geography - North, hills, lakes (lochs – Lochness: where the mythical monster lives), mountains
Size - 80 234 sq km
- cold and windy
Industry - tourism, oil, shipbuilding
Other - The Scotttish have their own traditions & way of life, they are very independent and have a special folklore and dress - kilts. In 1999 Scotland was granted devolution, this allows them to have their own elected parliament.

St Andrew's Day

Hogmanay (New Year)
Edinburgh festival

!Note - On Thursday 18 September 2014, a referendum was held to decide whether Scotland should be an independent country. They voted to remain, but I'm not sure what we will do with this page if they ever leave.

Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland (Ulster)

Capital - Belfast
Geography - The Irish Sea and the North Channel separate Great Britain from Ireland.
Size - 10,409 sq km
- rainy
Industry - service, shipping, agriculture
Other - There are still many problems between the two main religions in Northern Ireland (Roman Catholic and Protestant)

Now test your knowledge and learn a bit more about the geography of the UK here.

Pocket History:

The first inhabitants; the Celts, came from North Europe before 6th century B. C.

The Roman Empire

AD 43 - The Roman invasion starts (they built towns, roads and centralised administration)
AD 450 - 550 germanic tribes invaded – Angles, Saxons, Jutes (Romans home, Celts in the mountains)
800 - 1000 - Vikings invade and raid coastal towns
1066 the Normans - William the Conqueror became King of England – hegemony of Normans

The Middle Ages

1170 - Thomas Becket murdered in Canterbury Cathedral
1172 - Henry II conquers Ireland
1215 – the Magna Carta was signed, this lay out the Supremacy of Law over the King and was the foundation of a parliamentary government
1283 - Wales conquered by Edward I
1314 - Robert Bruce defeats the English at Bannockburn
1327 - 1377 - Edward III reigned
1377 - 1399 - Richard II reigned
1399 - 1413 - Henry IV reigned
1413 - 22 - Henry V reigned
1337 – 1453 – the Hundred Years War (England vs. France)
1422 - 61 - Henry VI reigned
1461 - 83 - Edward IV reigned
1455 - 85 - War of the Roses - war between Yorks and Lancaster
1483 - 85 - Richard III reigned
1485 - 1509 - Henry VII reigned

House of Tudor

1509 - Henry Tudor (Henry VIII) established the Tudor dynasty
1534 - Henry VIII separated the English Church from Rome and became the head of Church of England
1547 - Death of Henry VIII
1547 - 1553 - Edward VI reigned
1553 - 1558 - Mary Queen of Scots reigned

The Elizabethan Age

1558 - The reign of Elisabeth I began. – England became a world power
1588 - British defeated the Spanish Armada. British colonization began with Virginia colonies.
1603 - Death of Elizabeth I

House of Stuart

1603 - 1625 - James I reigned, King of England and Scotland; union of Scottish and English crowns
1616 - Death of Shakespeare (the true end of the Elizabethan age)
1625 - 1649 - Charles I reigned
1642 – 1649 – Civil War – The King, Charles I. vs. Parliament, T Oliver Cromwell (puritan republic) – Oliver Cromwell won but became unpopular.
1660 monarchy restored (Charles II.)1688 - "Glorious Revolution" brings William and Mary to the throne
1660 - 1685 - Charles II reigned
1689 - 1702 - William III reigned
1702 - 1714 - Anne reigned

The Georgians (The house of Hannover)

1714 - 1727 George I reigned
1721 - 42 - Sir Robert Walpole serves as first Prime Minister
1727 - 1760 - George II reigned
1745 - Bonnie Prince Charlie led the Jacobite Rebellion (failed)
1761 - 1820 - George III reigned
1756 - 63 - Seven years' war with France
1801 - Ireland brought into the UK by act of union; becomes United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
1805 - Lord nelson defeats the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar
1815 - Wellington defeats Napoleon at Waterloo
1820 - 1830 - George IV reigned
1830 - 1847 - William IV reigned
1837 - 1901 - Queen Victoria reigned
1837 – 1901 - The Industrial Revolution – Britain dominated world industry, commerce and the military

Modern Times

1901 - 1910 - Edward VII reigned
1910 - 1936 - George V reigned
1914 - 1918 - WW I
1936 - Edward VIII Adbdication
1936 - 1952 - George VI reigned
1939 - 1945 - WW II
1952 - onward - Elizabeth II reigns
Post War- Labour government – economy was nationalized, free health care and education
1979 Conservative government - privatised national industries, reduced welfare (the Thatcher years)
1996 - Labour (New Labour) comes to power under the leadership of Tony Blair..

For a chronological (802 - the present day) guide to the Kings and Queens of England and the UK see here.

British Culture