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History of Great Britain

History of Great Britain.
History of Great Britain History of Britain


England and Scotland. England (including the principality of Wales, annexed
in the 14th century) and Scotland had been separate kingdoms since the
early Middle Ages, but since 1603 the same monarch has ruled both lands.
Only in 1707, however, did London become the capital of the entire island.
Great Britain from then on had a single Parliament and a single system of
national administration, taxation, and weights and measures. All tariff
barriers within the island were ended. England and Scotland continued,
however, to have separate traditions of law and separate established
churchesthe Presbyterian in Scotland, the Anglican in England and Wales.
For the history of the two countries before 1707, see Britain, Ancient;
England; Scotland.

A Century of Conflicts
One of the chief purposes of the planners of the Act of Union had been to
strengthen a land preoccupied with the War of the Spanish Succession. Under
the leadership of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, Britain and its
allies had won many battles against France, then the most populous and
powerful European state, but by 1710 it seemed clear that not even
Marlborough could prevent Louis XIV of France from installing a Bourbon
relation on the Spanish throne. Marlborough and his political allies were
replaced by members of the Tory Party, who in due course made peace with
France. In the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), Britain acknowledged the right of
the Bourbon dynasty to the Spanish crown. At the same time, France ceded to
Britain the North American areas of Hudson Bay, Nova Scotia, and
Newfoundland. Spain ceded Gibraltar and the Mediterranean island of Minorca
and granted to British merchants a limited right to trade with Spains
American colonies; included in that (until 1750) was the asientothe right
to import African slaves into Spanish America.

Because Queen Anne had no surviving children, she was succeeded, according
to the Act of Settlement (1701), by her nearest Protestant relative, the
elector of Hannover, who came from Germany in 1714 and was accepted as King
George I of Great Britain. A new era of British history began.

Government in the 18th Century
Although the first years of George Is reign were marked by two major
crisesthe Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 by followers of Queen Annes half
brother, James Stuart, and the South Sea Bubble, a stock market crash of
1720Britain was actually entering two decades of relative peace and
stability. Local government was left largely in the hands of country
gentlemen owning large estates. As justices of the peace, they settled the
majority of legal disputes. They also administered roads, bridges, inns,
and markets and supervised the local operation of the Poor Lawaid to
orphans, paupers, the very old, and those too ill to work. At the national
level, many Britons came to take pride in their mixed government, which
happily combined monarchical (the hereditary ruler), aristocratic (the
hereditary House of Lords), and democratic (the elected House of Commons)
elements and also provided for an independent judiciary. The reign of Queen
Anne had been marked by parliamentary elections every three years and by
keen rivalry between Whig and Tory factions. With the coming of George I,
the Whigs were given preference over the Tories, many of whom were
sympathetic to the claims of the Stuart pretenders. Under the Septennial
Act of 1716, parliamentary elections were required every seven years rather
than every three, and direct political participation declined. Parliament
was made up of 122 county members and 436 borough members. Virtually all
counties and boroughs sent two members to Parliament, but each borough,
whether a large city or a tiny village, had its own tradition of choosing
its members of Parliament. Even those Britons who lacked the right to vote
could claim the rights of petition, jury trial, and freedom from arbitrary
arrest. Full political privileges were granted only to members of the
Anglican church, but non-Anglican Protestants could legally hold office if
they were willing to take Anglican communion once a year.

The Era of Robert Walpole
Although the king could appoint whomever he wished to his government, he
found it convenient to select members of Parliament, who could exercise
influence there. Such was the case of Robert Walpole, who was appointed
first lord of the Treasury (and came to be known as prime minister) in 1721
in the aftermath of the South Sea Bubble. The Bubble was sparked by the
financial collapse of the giant South Sea Company. The crash slowed down
the commercial boom of the previous three decades, a time when the Bank of
England had been founded, the concept of a long-term national debt
formulated, and many large joint-stock companies established. In part
because George I could not speak English and in part because both he and
his son, King George II, were often in Hannover, Germany, which they
continued to rule, Walpole was able to build up and dominate a government
machine. He presided over an informal group of ministers that came to be
known as the cabinet, and he controlled Parliament by his personality, his
policies, and his use of patronage. His influence, however, had limits.
Hoping to curb smuggling, Walpole in 1732 and 1733 sought to replace a land
tax and customs duties on imports with an excise tax on wine and tobacco
collected from retailers, but parliamentary critics and popular rioters
protested against the army of tax collectors that the bill would have
created, and Walpole was ultimately forced to give up his plan. During his
administration, Walpole kept Great Britain out of war, and even Anglo-
French relations remained cordial. In the late 1730s, however, a war party
emerged in Parliament. Its members sought revenge against Spain for the
harassment by Spanish coast guards of British merchants who wished to trade
with Spanish colonists in the Americas. In 1739, against Walpoles better
judgment, Britain declared war on Spain, and two years later parliamentary
pressure forced Walpole to resign.

Two Decades of Conflict
Between 1739 and 1763, Great Britain was generally at war. The war against
Spain (see Jenkinss Ear, War of) soon merged with the War of the Austrian
Succession, which began in 1740, pitting Prussia, France, and Spain against
Austria. Great Britain became Austrias chief ally, and British armies and
ships fought the French in Europe, in North America, on the high seas, and
in India, where the English and French East India companies competed for
influence. In 1745 the Scottish Jacobites, taking advantage of Britains
involvement on the Continent, made their last major attempt to recover the
British throne for the Stuart dynasty. Prince Charles Edward (Bonnie
Princ
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