Global Spotlight: United Kingdom
Recently, or not so very recently, I have become obsessed with the United Kingdom. If ever I was meant to live in another country, I’m afraid this is where I belong. I will unashamedly admit that literature and films have greatly cultivated this everlasting love for a place that I have never stepped foot. But nonetheless, Stilettos to Aristotle has chosen this beautiful land to be our next subject to spotlight.
Let’s step back in time, can we? In 1707 the Treaty of Union created the United Kingdom of Great Britain which unified England, Wales, and Scotland. Then in 1800, the Act of Union added Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Despite risings, revolts, and wars in the early years of this United Kingdom’s history, it became the largest empire in history. Almost two-hundred years after the union, the British Empire held approximately one-quarter of the world’s population.
Ireland was being finicky, however, and in the 1920’s decided to secede and become a “free state.” (I’m sure they had their reasons.) Only later to have the northern half of their country secede from this “Free State of Ireland” to rejoin the United Kingdom. Now officially giving our spotlight the title, “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” or just the, “UK,” for short. (Their love for long titles is one of the many reasons adore this country, i.e. Prince William Arthur Philip Louis, Duke of Cambridge.)
Territories that were at one time part of the British Empire. (Current British Overseas Territories are underlined in red.)
The United Kingdom has a constitutional monarchy form of government, which is a type of democratic government where a nonpolitical monarch acts as head of state. They also have a parliamentary system, in which the executive branch derives its democratic authority from the legislature (parliament). In a parliamentary system, the head of state is normally a different person from the head of government. (And this is different from the presidential system we have where the head of state often is also the head of government.)
Although the United Kingdom is a country, as a sovereign state, England, Scotland, and Wales (and to a lesser degree, Northern Ireland), are also regarded as countries, although not sovereign states. The term, “Britain,” is often used as synonym for the United Kingdom. By contrast, the term, “Great Britain,” refers geographically to the island of Great Britain, or politically to England, Scotland and Wales in combination.
Who was the world’s first industrialized country as well as the world’s leading power during the 19th and early 20th centuries? You guessed it! Which stands to explain why British influence can be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies. And I would like to humbly accredit the strength of my home nation of the United States to having a strong mother country. If only we had cultivated their beautiful way of speaking I might say we undoubtedly came out on top.
Now let’s rewind a bit. Before the 1700’s, settlement in what was to become the United Kingdom occurred in waves estimated approximately 30,000 years ago. By the end of the region’s prehistoric period, the population is thought to have belonged mostly to a culture of Celtic nations. Most of the region was settled by the Anglo-Saxons and became unified as the Kingdom of England in the 10th century.
In the early 1600’s, the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland were united in a personal union, thanks to James VI. But by the mid-17th century all three kingdoms were involved in a series of wars which led to the temporary overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the short-lived unitary republic. But never fear, the monarchy was restored. And during this time, particularly in England, the development of naval power and the interest in voyages of discovery, led to the settlement of overseas colonies, particularly in North America.
Royal Courts of Justice
But enough of the history lesson. Let’s discuss the geography! The United Kingdom occupies a major part of the British Isles, which is an archipelago, or group of islands, like the Philippines. It lies between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, and its south-east coast comes within 22 miles of the coast of northern France. The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately 94,060 square miles. England accounts for just over half of the total area of the UK, and most of the country consists of lowland and mountainous terrain. Scotland accounts for just under a third of the total area of the UK, including nearly eight hundred islands. While Wales accounts for less than a tenth of the total area of the UK and is mostly mountainous, Northern Ireland accounts for only 5,470 square miles and is mostly hilly.
The United Kingdom has a nice, temperate climate with plenty of rainfall and a south-west wind. The temperature is rarely below 12°F or above 95°F. Although heavy snowfall can occur during winter and early spring, most winters are mild. Summers are warmest in the south-east of England and coolest in the north. Don’t you agree that sounds blissfully perfect? On this beautiful day in April, the temperature is 54°F in London (lovely). It is 86°F here in DFW (not so lovely).
Presently, the UK has the sixth largest economy in the world. In which the automotive industry is a significant part of the manufacturing sector, employing over 800,000 people. And their agriculture is intensive and highly efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs with less than 1.6% of the labor force. The poverty line in the UK is commonly defined as being 60% of the median household income, and last reported only 22% of the population lived below this line. (If you want to read more about the United Kingdom, go here.)
Something I envy about the United Kingdom is their railway network, ranging over 10,000 miles. There are over 50,000 bridges and tunnels on the network, and approximately 3.5 million passengers travel by train every day in the UK, making it one the busiest railways in Europe. Approximately 70% of UK train journeys either start or finish in London. So it’s no surprise that London’s Waterloo is the UK’s busiest station (100 million people travel through it every year). And London Heathrow Airport, located just west of the capital, has the most international passenger traffic of any airport in the entire world. (If you want to read more about the railway network, go here.)
So let’s talk more about this captivating capital city, London. It is the most populous metropolitan area in the United Kingdom and has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its founding by the Romans, who named it Londinium. London is also a leading global city, with strengths in the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, professional services, research and development, tourism and transport all contributing to its prominence. This beautiful place has a diverse range of peoples and cultures, and more than 300 languages are spoken within its boundaries. Seriously, we are soul mates. (If you want to read more about London, go here.)
But what about their faith? The early modern period of the UK saw religious conflicts resulting from the Reformation and the introduction of Protestant state churches in each country. But forms of Christianity have dominated religious life in what is now the United Kingdom for over 1,400 years. But despite the prevalence of Anglican churches, observance is very low within the Anglican denomination. A majority of citizens identify with Christianity, although regular church attendance has fallen dramatically since the middle of the twentieth century, and immigration and demographic change have contributed to the growth of other faiths. According to the 2011 UK census, Christianity is the major religion, followed by Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism. This, and the relatively large number of individuals with nominal or no religious affiliations, has led commentators to describe the United Kingdom as a multi-faith, secularized, or post-Christian society.
Now for my favorite section in this spotlight: literature. Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Arthur Conan Doyle and J. K. Rowling, just to name a few. I could just die thinking of all the wonderful authors who lived in this small country. I want to walk where they walked and breathe it all in. Now mostly, I will confess, I have only touched the surface of 19th century literature to present, noting those of the romanticism and Victorian periods. I find myself overwhelmed with the vastness of possibilities. Perhaps this year I will look into those British literature classes offered at the local college?
I have learned so much about this country, and I look forward to experiencing the culture for myself one day soon, hopefully no later than next year! Until then, I think I will keep building on my “Bucket List.” (I think I shall start with England, then hopefully make Scotland, Wales, and Ireland their own separate adventures soon following.)
Bath, Brighton, Hertfordshire, Hampshire – Jane Austen
London – Harry Potter (Kings Cross), Sherlock Holmes (Baker Street)
Yorkshire – Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle)
Oxford – J.R.R. Tolkien, Harry Potter
Derbyshire – Pride & Prejudice (Chatsworth House)
The Eagle and Child Pub, Oxford (Tolkien, Lewis)
Tower of London and Tower Bridge
Those who live and/or have spent time here, what places of interest must I add to my list?