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The Kingdom of Great Britain, also known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain, was a sovereign state in northwest Europe, in existence from 1707 to 1801. It was created by the merger of the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England, under the Acts of Union 1707, to create a single kingdom encompassing the whole of the island of Great Britainmarker and its minor outlying islands, excluding Ireland—which remained a separate jurisdiction under the British crown. A single parliament and government, based in Westminster, controlled the new kingdom. The kingdoms had shared the same monarch since James VI, King of Scots became King of England in 1603 following the death of Queen Elizabeth I.

The Kingdom of Great Britain was superseded by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker in 1801, when the Kingdom of Ireland was merged with it with the enactment of the Act of Union following the suppression of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

Political structure

The kingdoms of England and Scotland were separate states from the 9th century but came into personal union in 1603 when James VI of Scotland succeeded his cousin Elizabeth I as James I of England. Though remaining separate states, this Union of the Crowns meant that the whole of the island of Great Britain was ruled by a single monarch with two titles (King of England and King of Scots), and two parliaments, except during the Interregnum and during the joint reign of William and Mary, who jointly reigned over both Kingdoms. This changed with the Acts of Union 1707, from when the monarch of Great Britain ruled by the power of a single unified Crown of Great Britain and of a single unified parliament. The succession to the throne of England, Ireland and Scotland was determined by the English Act of Settlement, rather than the Scottish equivalent, the Act of Security as this was part of the terms agreed in the 1706 Treaty of Union and put into effect with the two Acts of Union the following year. The adoption of the Act of Settlement required that the heir to the English throne be a Protestant descendant of Sophia of Hanover, effecting the future Hanoverian succession.

Legislative power was vested in the Parliament of Great Britain, which replaced the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland. As with the modern Parliament of the United Kingdommarker, the Parliament of Great Britain included three elements: the House of Commonsmarker, the House of Lordsmarker, and the Crown-in-Parliament. England and Scotland were given seats in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons of the new parliament. Although Scotland's representation in both houses was smaller than its population indicated it should have been, representation in parliament was at that time based not on population but on taxation, and Scotland was given a greater number of seats than its share of taxation warranted. Under the terms of the union, Scotland sent 16 representative peer to the Lords and elected 45 members to the Commons, with the rest being sent from England and Wales.


Occasionally, the Kingdom of Great Britain is given the alternative name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, which is often shortened to United Kingdom. There is substantial debate over whether the latter name is acceptable. The Treaty of Union refers to the United Kingdom of Great Britain in several places: it is argued that the word "United" is only an adjective, and not part of the style, citing the subsequent Acts of Union themselves, which explicitly state the name of the new state: that England and Scotland were "united into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain".

The name "United Kingdom" is sometimes preferred for purposes of continuity, particularly in the military and colonial spheres. At the time of the Act of Union 1800, which unambiguously styled the new state as the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland", the British were embroiled in the Great French War and the British Empire possessed many colonies in North America, India, and Australia. Some who would otherwise prefer the term "Kingdom of Great Britain" thus use "United Kingdom" to avoid using two different names for a single military and colonial power, which may confuse the discussion.

Britain in the 18th century

England and the Netherlands entered the Nine Years' War as allies, but the conflict – waged in Europe and overseas between France, Spain and the Anglo-Dutch alliance – left the English a stronger colonial power than the Dutch, who were forced to devote a larger proportion of their military budget on the costly land war in Europe. The 18th century would see England (after 1707, Britain) rise to be the world's dominant colonial power, and France becoming its main rival on the imperial stage.

The death of Charles II of Spain on Nov. 1, 1700 and his bequeathal of Spain and its colonial empire to Philippe of Anjou, a grandson of the King of France, raised the prospect of the unification of France, Spain and their respective colonies, an unacceptable state of affairs for Britain and the other powers of Europe. In 1701, Britain, Portugal and the Netherlands sided with the Holy Roman Empire against Spain and France in the War of the Spanish Succession. The conflict, which France and Spain were to lose, lasted until 1714. At the concluding peace Treaty of Utrecht, Philip renounced his and his descendents' right to the French throne. Spain lost its empire in Europe, and though it kept its empire in the Americas and the Philippines, it was irreversibly weakened as a power. The British Empire was territorially enlarged: from France, Britain gained Newfoundlandmarker and Acadia, and from Spain, Gibraltarmarker and Minorcamarker. Gibraltarmarker, which is still a British overseas territory to this day, became a critical naval base and allowed Britain to control the Atlantic entry and exit point to the Mediterraneanmarker.

Deeper political integration of Britain had been a key policy of Queen Anne (reigned 1702–14), the last Stuart monarch of England and Scotland and the only Stuart monarch of the Kingdom of Great Britain). Under the aegis of the Queen and her advisors a Treaty of Union was drawn up, and negotiations between England and Scotland began in earnest in 1706. The Acts of Union received royal assent in 1707, uniting the separate Parliaments and crowns of England and Scotland and forming the Kingdom of Great Britain. Anne became formally the first occupant of the unified British throne and in line with Article 22 of the Treaty of Union, Scotland sent 45 MPs to the new parliament of Great Britain.

The Seven Years' War, which began in 1754, was the first war waged on a global scale and saw British involvement in Europe, India, North America, the Caribbean, the Philippines and coastal Africa. The signing of the Treaty of Paris had important consequences for Britain and its empire. In North America, France's future as a colonial power there was effectively ended with the ceding of New France to Britain (leaving a sizeable French-speaking population under British control) and Louisiana to Spain. Spain ceded Floridamarker to Britain. In India, the Carnatic War had left France still in control of its enclaves but with military restrictions and an obligation to support British client states, effectively leaving the future of India to Britain. The British victory over France in the Seven Years War therefore left Britain as the world's dominant colonial power.

During the 1760s and 1770s, relations between the Thirteen Colonies and Britain became increasingly strained, primarily because of resentment of the British Parliament's ability to tax American colonists without their consent. Disagreement turned to violence and in 1775 the American War of Independence began. The following year, the colonists declared the independence of the United States and with economical and naval assistance from France, would go on to win the war in 1783.

The loss of the United Statesmarker, at the time Britain's most populous colony, is seen by historians as the event defining the transition between the "first" and "second" empires, in which Britain shifted its attention away from the Americas to Asia, the Pacific and later Africa. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, had argued that colonies were redundant, and that free trade should replace the old mercantilist policies that had characterised the first period of colonial expansion, dating back to the protectionism of Spain and Portugal. The growth of trade between the newly independent United States and Britain after 1783 confirmed Smith's view that political control was not necessary for economic success.

During its first century of operation, the focus of the British East India Company had been trade, not the building of an empire in India. Company interests turned from trade to territory during the 18th century as the Mughal Empire declined in power and the British East India Company struggled with its French counterpart, the La Compagnie française des Indes orientales, during the Carnatic Wars of the 1740s and 1750s. The Battle of Plassey, which saw the British, led by Robert Clive, defeat the French and their Indian allies, left the Company in control of Bengalmarker and a major military and political power in India. In the following decades it gradually increased the size of the territories under its control, either ruling directly or indirectly via local puppet rulers under the threat of force of the Indian Army, 80% of which was composed of native Indian sepoys.

In 1770, James Cook had discovered the eastern coast of Australia whilst on a scientific voyage to the South Pacific. In 1778, Joseph Banks, Cook's botanist on the voyage, presented evidence to the government on the suitability of Botany Baymarker for the establishment of a penal settlement, and in 1787 the first shipment of convicts set sail, arriving in 1788.

At the threshold to the 19th century, Britain was challenged again by France under Napoleon, in a struggle that, unlike previous wars, represented a contest of ideologies between the two nations. It was not only Britain's position on the world stage that was threatened: Napoleon threatened invasion of Britain itself, and with it, a fate similar to the countries of continental Europe that his armies had overrun. The Napoleonic Wars were therefore ones that Britain invested large amounts of capital and resources to win. French ports were blockaded by the Royal Navy, which won a decisive victory over the French fleet at Trafalgarmarker in 1805.



  1. Welcome, accessed 7 October, 2008
  2. Act of Union 1707, Article 2.
  3. Act of Union 1707, Article 1.
  4. Treaty of Union 1706, Article 2.
  5. Act of Union 1707, Article 3.
  6. Act of Union 1707, Article 22.
  7. "Rough guide to British history". 29 April 2006. The Times. URL accessed 13 May 2006.
  8. Act of Union 1707, Article 1.
  9. The Treaty or Act of the Union, accessed 2 November 2008

See also

Preceded by:
Kingdom of England

927–1 May 1707
Kingdom of Scotland

843–1 May 1707

Kingdom of Great Britain
1 May 1707 – 1 January 1801
Succeeded by:
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker
1 January 1801–6 December 1922

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