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North Britain is a term which has been occasionally used, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, for either the northern part of Great Britainmarker or to Scotlandmarker, which occupies the northernmost third of the island. Its counterpart is "South Britain", generally used to refer to England and Wales.


Early uses of the designation have been noted after the 1603 Union of the Crowns of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland. King James VI & I used the terms "South Britain" and "North Britain" for England and Scotland respectively, most famously in his Proclamation of 1606 establishing the first Union Flag, where Scotland and England are not otherwise named:

This usage was repeated in Charles I's Proclamation of 1634 on the use of the flag, though adding England and Scotland too for explanation:

After the Act of Union 1707, Scotland was sometimes referred to as "North Britain". In 1707, the Royal Scots Greys were renamed the "Royal North British Dragoons". In Rob Roy (1817), Sir Walter Scott refers to a Scottish person in England as a North Briton, sometimes in the mouth of an English character but also in the authorial voice.

Historic use

North Britain is often used historically, referencing the time period before the formation of Scotland and England. As such, it forms a geographic, yet politically and culturally neutral description of the area.

The term, particularly in adjective form, found use in the creation of the railway system. The North British Railway operated from 1846 to 1923, leaving a later legacy in the name of the North British Hotel in Edinburghmarker, which was renamed ‘The Balmoral Hotel’ in the 1980s. The North British Locomotive Company existed from 1903 until its bankruptcy in 1962, again leaving a naming legacy in other organisations.

The name is found in other private enterprises, an example being the North British Distillery in Edinburgh, founding in 1885.

An example of its use in respect to northern Great Britain rather than Scotland can be found in the title of the North British Academy of Artsmarker which existed from 1908 to 1921 in Newcastle-upon-Tynemarker, a city in northern England.

The North Briton and New North Briton were newspapers in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in 1844 there was also a North British Advertiser. The North British Review was founded in 1844 by members of the Free Church of Scotland as a Scottish "national review" for those unsatisfied with the secular Edinburgh Review or the conservative Quarterly Review. It continued until 1871 .

Particularly in the 19th century, "North Britain" or "N.B." was widely used for postal addresses in Scotland.A post office leaflet was issued requesting people to avoid putting "NB" on envelopes as it might get confused with the London N8 postal district. However, by the early 20th century, any vestiges of popular usage of this style had declined. 'South Britain', the complementary style apportioned to England, had never seriously established itself, either north or south of the Anglo-Scottish border.

Modern use

In current usage, the northern parts of Great Britain are often referred to simply as 'the North' though this term is also used to describe the northern parts of England. This usage is often prevalent in social commentary on the suggested 'North-South divide'.

See also


  4. Examples of this usage are to be found in William Roy's Military Antiquities of the Romans in North Britain (1793)
  7. Ruskin MP | notes
  8. British Periodicals at Minnesota
  10. web

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