The British people
, or Britons
, are the citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
, the British Overseas Territories
, and the Crown dependencies
. British nationality law
governs modern British citizenship and nationality, which can be acquired, for instance, by descent from British nationals. When used in a historical context, "British" or "Britons" can refer to the Ancient Britons
, the indigenous inhabitants of Great Britain
, whose surviving members are the modern Welsh people
, Cornish people
, and Bretons
It also refers to citizens of the former British Empire
, who settled in the country prior to 1973, and hold neither UK citizenship nor nationality.
Modern Britons are descended mainly from the varied ethnic groups that settled in Great Britain
in and before the 11th century: Prehistoric
, Brittonic, Roman
, and Normans
The progressive political unification of the British Isles facilitated migration, cultural and linguistic exchange, and intermarriage between the peoples of England, Scotland and Wales during the late Middle Ages, early modern period
Since 1922 and earlier, there has been immigration to the United Kingdom
by people from what is now the Republic of Ireland
, the Commonwealth
, mainland Europe and elsewhere; they and their descendants are mostly British citizens, with some assuming a British, dual or hyphenated identity.
This includes the groups Black British
and Asian British people
, which constitute around 10% of the British population.
The British are a diverse, multinational
multicultural and multilingual society, with "strong regional accents, expressions and identities".
The social structure of the United Kingdom
has changed radically since the 19th century, with a decline in religious observance, enlargement of the middle class
, and increased ethnic diversity
, particularly since the 1950s, when citizens of the British Empire were encouraged to immigrate to Britain to work as part of the recovery from World War II. The population of the UK stands at around 66 million,
with a British diaspora
of around 140 million concentrated in the United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, with smaller concentrations in the Republic of Ireland, Chile, South Africa, and parts of the Caribbean.
History of the term
The earliest known reference to the inhabitants of Great Britain may have come from 4th century BC records of the voyage of Pytheas
, a Greek
geographer who made a voyage of exploration around the British Isles
. Although none of his own writings remain, writers during the time of the Roman Empire
made much reference to them. Pytheas called the islands collectively αἱ Βρεττανίαι (hai Brettaniai
), which has been translated as the Brittanic Isles
, and the peoples of what are today England
and the Isle of Man
were called the Πρεττανοί (Prettanoi
The group included Ireland
, which was referred to as Ierne
"sacred island" as the Greeks interpreted it) "inhabited by the different race of Hiberni
" (gens hibernorum
), and Britain as insula Albionum
, "island of the Albions".
The term Pritani
may have reached Pytheas from the Gauls
, who possibly used it as their term for the inhabitants of the islands.
writers, in the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD, name the inhabitants of Great Britain
as the Priteni
the origin of the Latin
. It has been suggested that this name derives from a Gaulish
description translated as "people of the forms", referring to the custom of tattooing or painting their bodies with blue woad made from Isatis tinctoria
, a 1st-century[clarification needed]
Ancient Greek grammarian, and the Etymologicum Genuinum
, a 9th-century lexical encyclopaedia, mention a mythical character Bretannus (the Latinised form of the Ancient Greek
: Βρεττανός, Brettanós
) as the father of Celtine
, mother of Celtus, the eponymous ancestor of the Celts
By 50 BC Greek geographers were using equivalents of Prettanikē
as a collective name for the British Isles
However, with the Roman conquest of Britain
the Latin term Britannia
was used for the island of Great Britain, and later Roman-occupied Britain south of Caledonia
(modern day Scotland north of the rivers Forth & Clyde), although the people of Caledonia and the north were also the self same Britons during the Roman period, the Gaels arriving four centuries later.
Following the end of Roman rule in Britain
, the island of Great Britain was left open to invasion by pagan
, seafaring warriors such as Germanic
from Continental Europe
, who gained control in areas around the south east, and to Middle Irish
-speaking people migrating from what is today Northern Ireland
to the north of Great Britain (modern Scotland
), founding Gaelic kingdoms such as Dál Riata
, which would eventually subsume the native Brittonic and Pictish kingdoms and become Scotland.
During the Middle Ages
, and particularly in the Tudor period
, the term "British" was used to refer to the Welsh people
and Cornish people
. At that time, it was "the long held belief that these were the remaining descendants of the Britons and that they spoke 'the British tongue'
This notion was supported by texts such as the Historia Regum Britanniae
, a pseudohistorical
account of ancient British history, written in the mid-12th century by Geoffrey of Monmouth
The Historia Regum Britanniae
chronicled the lives of legendary kings of the Britons
in a narrative spanning 2000 years, beginning with the Trojans
founding the ancient British nation and continuing until the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain
in the 7th century forced the Britons to the west, i.e. Wales
, and north, i.e. Cumbria
and northern Scotland.
This legendary Celtic history of Great Britain is known as the Matter of Britain
. The Matter of Britain, a national myth
, was retold or reinterpreted in works by Gerald of Wales
, a Cambro-Norman
chronicler who in the 12th and 13th centuries used the term British to refer to the people later known as the Welsh.
Between the 8th and 11th centuries, "three major cultural divisions" had emerged in Great Britain: the English
, the Scots
and the Welsh
, the earlier Brittonic Celtic polities in what are today England and Scotland having finally been absorbed into Anglo-Saxon England and Gaelic Scotland by the early 11th century.
The English had been unified under a single nation state
in 937 by King Athelstan of Wessex
after the Battle of Brunanburh
Before then, the English (known then in Old English
as the Anglecynn
) were under the governance of independent Anglo-Saxon petty kingdoms
which gradually coalesced into a Heptarchy
of seven powerful states, the most powerful of which were Mercia
. Scottish historian and archaeologist Neil Oliver
said that the Battle of Brunanburh would "define the shape of Britain into the modern era", it was a "showdown for two very different ethnic identities – a Norse Celtic alliance versus Anglo Saxon. It aimed to settle once and for all whether Britain would be controlled by a single imperial power or remain several separate independent kingdoms, a split in perceptions which is still very much with us today".
However, historian Simon Schama
suggested that it was Edward I of England
who was solely "responsible for provoking the peoples of Britain into an awareness of their nationhood" in the 13th century.
Schama hypothesised that Scottish national identity
, "a complex amalgam" of Gaelic
origins, was not finally forged until the Wars of Scottish Independence
against the Kingdom of England
in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.
was conquered by England, and its legal system replaced by that of the Kingdom of England
under the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542
, the Welsh endured as a nation
distinct from the English
, and to some degree the Cornish people
, although conquered into England by the 11th century, also retained a distinct Brittonic identity and language.
Later, with both an English Reformation
and a Scottish Reformation
, Edward VI of England
, under the counsel of Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset
, advocated a union with the Kingdom of Scotland
, joining England, Wales, and Scotland in a united Protestant Great Britain.
The Duke of Somerset supported the unification of the English, Welsh and Scots under the "indifferent old name of Britons" on the basis that their monarchies "both derived from a Pre-Roman British monarchy".
Union and the development of Britishness
Despite centuries of military and religious conflict, the Kingdoms of England and Scotland had been "drawing increasingly together" since the Protestant Reformation
of the 16th century and the Union of the Crowns in 1603.
A broadly shared language, island, monarch, religion and Bible (the Authorized King James Version
) further contributed to a growing cultural alliance between the two sovereign realms and their peoples.
The Glorious Revolution
of 1688 resulted in a pair of Acts
of the English and Scottish legislatures—the Bill of Rights 1689
and Claim of Right Act 1689
respectively—which ensured that the shared constitutional monarchy
of England and Scotland was held only by Protestants. Despite this, although popular with the monarchy and much of the aristocracy, attempts to unite the two states by Acts of Parliament in 1606, 1667, and 1689 were unsuccessful;
increased political management of Scottish affairs from England had led to "criticism", and strained Anglo-Scottish relations.
While English maritime explorations during the Age of Discovery
gave new-found imperial power and wealth to the English and Welsh at the end of the 17th century, Scotland suffered from a long-standing weak economy.
In response, the Scottish kingdom, in opposition to William II of Scotland (III of England)
, commenced the Darien Scheme
, an attempt to establish a Scottish imperial outlet—the colony
of New Caledonia—on the isthmus of Panama
However, through a combination of disease, Spanish hostility, Scottish mismanagement and opposition to the scheme by the East India Company
and the English government (who did not want to provoke the Spanish into war)
this imperial venture ended in "catastrophic failure" with an estimated "25% of Scotland's total liquid capital" lost.
The events of the Darien Scheme, and the passing by the English Parliament of the Act of Settlement 1701
asserting the right to choose the order of succession
for English, Scottish and Irish thrones, escalated political hostilities between England and Scotland, and neutralised calls for a united British people. The Parliament of Scotland responded by passing the Act of Security 1704
, allowing it to appoint a different monarch to succeed to the Scottish crown from that of England, if it so wished.
The English political perspective was that the appointment of a Jacobite
monarchy in Scotland opened up the possibility of a Franco-Scottish military conquest of England during the Second Hundred Years' War
and War of the Spanish Succession
The Parliament of England passed the Alien Act 1705
, which provided that Scottish nationals in England were to be treated as aliens
and estates held by Scots would be treated as alien property,
whilst also restricting the import
of Scottish products into England and its colonies (about half of Scotland's trade).
However, the Act contained a provision that it would be suspended if the Parliament of Scotland entered into negotiations regarding the creation of a unified Parliament of Great Britain
, which in turn would refund Scottish financial losses on the Darien Scheme.
Union of Scotland and England
Despite opposition from within both Scotland
a Treaty of Union
was agreed in 1706 and was then ratified by the parliaments of both countries with the passing of the Acts of Union 1707
. With effect from 1 May 1707, this created a new sovereign state called the "Kingdom of Great Britain
This kingdom "began as a hostile merger", but led to a "full partnership in the most powerful going concern
in the world"; historian Simon Schama
stated that "it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history".
After 1707, a British national identity began to develop, though it was initially resisted, particularly by the English.
The peoples of Great Britain had by the 1750s begun to assume a "layered identity": to think of themselves as simultaneously British and also Scottish, English, or Welsh.
, the new national personification
of Great Britain, was established in the 1750s as a representation of "nation and empire rather than any single national hero".
On Britannia and British identity, historian Peter Borsay wrote:
Up until 1797 Britannia was conventionally depicted holding a spear, but as a consequence of the increasingly prominent role of the Royal Navy in the war against the French, and of several spectacular victories, the spear was replaced by a trident... The navy had come to be seen...as the very bulwark of British liberty and the essence of what it was to be British.
From the Union of 1707 through to the Battle of Waterloo
in 1815, Great Britain was "involved in successive, very dangerous wars with Catholic France",
but which "all brought enough military and naval victories ... to flatter British pride".
As the Napoleonic Wars
with the First French Empire
advanced, "the English and Scottish learned to define themselves as similar primarily by virtue of not being French or Catholic".
In combination with sea power and empire, the notion of Britishness became more "closely bound up with Protestantism",
a cultural commonality through which the English, Scots and Welsh became "fused together, and remain[ed] so, despite their many cultural divergences".
The neo-classical monuments that proliferated at the end of the 18th century and the start of the 19th century, such as The Kymin
, were attempts to meld the concepts of Britishness with the Greco-Roman empires
of classical antiquity
. The new and expanding British Empire
provided "unprecedented opportunities for upward mobility and the accumulations of wealth", and so the "Scottish, Welsh and Irish populations were prepared to suppress nationalist issues on pragmatic grounds".
The British Empire was "crucial to the idea of a British identity and to the self-image of Britishness".
Indeed, the Scottish welcomed Britishness during the 19th century "for it offered a context within which they could hold on to their own identity whilst participating in, and benefiting from, the expansion of the [British] Empire".
Similarly, the "new emphasis of Britishness was broadly welcomed by the Welsh who considered themselves to be the lineal descendants of the ancient Britons – a word that was still used to refer exclusively to the Welsh".
For the English, however, by the Victorian era
their enthusiastic adoption of Britishness had meant that, for them, Britishness "meant the same as 'Englishness'",
so much so that "Englishness and Britishness" and "'England' and 'Britain' were used interchangeably in a variety of contexts".
Britishness came to borrow[clarification needed]
heavily from English political history because England had "always been the dominant component of the British Isles in terms of size, population and power"; Magna Carta
, common law
and hostility to continental Europe
were English factors that influenced British sensibilities.
Union with Ireland
The people of Ireland
are ready to become a portion of the British Empire
, provided they be made so in reality and not in name alone; they are ready to become a kind of West Briton if made so in benefits and justice; but if not, we are Irishmen again.
Ireland, from 1801 to 1923
, was marked by a succession of economic and political mismanagement and neglect, which marginalised the Irish,
and advanced Irish nationalism
. In the forty years that followed the Union, successive British governments grappled with the problems of governing a country which had as Benjamin Disraeli
, a staunch anti-Irish and anti-Catholic member of the Conservative party with a virulent racial and religious prejudice towards Ireland
put it in 1844, "a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien Church, and in addition the weakest executive in the world".
Although the vast majority of Unionists in Ireland
proclaimed themselves "simultaneously Irish and British", even for them there was a strain upon the adoption of Britishness after the Great Famine
War continued to be a unifying factor for the people of Great Britain: British jingoism re-emerged during the Boer Wars
in southern Africa
The experience of military, political and economic power from the rise of the British Empire led to a very specific drive in artistic technique, taste and sensibility for Britishness.
In 1887, Frederic Harrison
Morally, we Britons plant the British flag on every peak and pass; and wherever the Union Jack floats there we place the cardinal British institutions—tea, tubs, sanitary appliances, lawn tennis, and churches.
The Catholic Relief Act 1829
reflected a "marked change in attitudes" in Great Britain towards Catholics and Catholicism.
A "significant" example of this was the collaboration between Augustus Welby Pugin
, an "ardent Roman Catholic" and son of a Frenchman, and Sir Charles Barry
, "a confirmed Protestant", in redesigning the Palace of Westminster
—"the building that most enshrines ... Britain's national and imperial pre-tensions".
Protestantism gave way to imperialism
as the leading element of British national identity during the Victorian and Edwardian eras
and as such, a series of royal, imperial and national celebrations were introduced to the British people to assert imperial British culture and give themselves a sense of uniqueness, superiority and national consciousness. Empire Day
and jubilees of Queen Victoria
were introduced to the British middle class
but quickly "merged into a national 'tradition'".
The First World War
"reinforced the sense of Britishness" and patriotism in the early 20th century.
Through war service (including conscription in Great Britain), "the English, Welsh, Scots and Irish fought as British".
The aftermath of the war institutionalised British national commemoration through Remembrance Sunday
and the Poppy Appeal
The Second World War
had a similar unifying effect upon the British people,
however, its outcome was to recondition Britishness on a basis of democratic values
and its marked contrast to Europeanism
Notions that the British "constituted an Island race, and that it stood for democracy were reinforced during the war and they were circulated in the country through Winston Churchill
's speeches, history books and newspapers".
At its international zenith, "Britishness joined peoples around the world in shared traditions and common loyalties that were strenuously maintained".
But following the two world wars, the British Empire experienced rapid decolonisation
. The secession of the Irish Free State
from the United Kingdom meant that Britishness had lost "its Irish dimension" in 1922,
and the shrinking empire supplanted by independence movements dwindled the appeal of British identity in the Commonwealth of Nations
during the mid-20th century.
The late 20th century saw major changes to the politics of the United Kingdom
with the establishment of devolved
national administrations for Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales following pre-legislative referendums
Calls for greater autonomy for the four countries of the United Kingdom
had existed since their original union with each other, but gathered pace in the 1960s and 1970s.
Devolution has led to "increasingly assertive Scottish, Welsh and Irish national identities",
resulting in more diverse cultural expressions of Britishness,
or else its outright rejection: Gwynfor Evans
, a Welsh nationalist
politician active in the late 20th century, rebuffed Britishness as "a political synonym for Englishness which extends English culture over the Scots, Welsh and the Irish".
Britishness, to me, is an overarching political and legal concept: it signifies allegiance to the laws, government and broad moral and political concepts—like tolerance and freedom of expression—that hold the United Kingdom together.
initiated a debate on British identity in 2006.
Brown's speech to the Fabian Society
's Britishness Conference proposed that British values demand a new constitutional settlement and symbols to represent a modern patriotism, including a new youth community service scheme and a British Day
One of the central issues identified at the Fabian Society conference was how the English identity fits within the framework of a devolved United Kingdom.
An expression of Her Majesty's Government
's initiative to promote Britishness was the inaugural Veterans' Day
which was first held on 27 June 2006. As well as celebrating the achievements of armed forces veterans, Brown's speech at the first event for the celebration said:
Scots and people from the rest of the UK share the purpose that Britain has something to say to the rest of the world about the values of freedom, democracy and the dignity of the people that you stand up for. So at a time when people can talk about football and devolution and money, it is important that we also remember the values that we share in common.
In 2018, the Windrush scandal
illustrated complex developments in British peoplehood, when it was revealed hundreds of Britons had been wrongfully deported.
With roots in the break-up of the empire, and post-war rebuilding; the Windrush generation
had arrived as CUKC citizens in the 1950s and 1960s. Born in former British colonies
, they settled in the UK before 1973, and were granted “right of abode” by the Immigration Act 1971
Having faced removal, or been deported, many British people of African Caribbean
heritage suffered with loss of home, livelihood, and health.
As a result of the political scandal, many institutions and elected politicians publicly affirmed that these individuals, while not legally holding British citizenship or nationality, were, in fact, British people. These included British Prime Minister Theresa May
London Mayor Sadiq Khan
Her Majesty's CPS Inspectorate
Wendy Williams and her House of Commons
-ordered Windrush Lessons Learned Review
the Chartered Institute of Housing
, Amnesty International
,University of Oxford
's social geogapher Danny Dorling
and other public figures.
Map of the British diaspora in the world by population (includes people with British ancestry or citizenship).
The earliest migrations of Britons date from the 5th and 6th centuries AD, when Brittonic Celts fleeing the Anglo-Saxon invasions migrated what is today northern France and north western Spain and forged the colonies of Brittany
. Brittany remained independent of France until the early 16th century and still retains a distinct Brittonic culture and language, whilst Britonia in modern Galicia
was absorbed into Spanish states by the end of the 9th century AD.
Britons – people with British citizenship or of British descent – have a significant presence in a number of countries other than the United Kingdom, and in particular in those with historic connections to the British Empire
. After the Age of Discovery
the British were one of the earliest and largest communities to emigrate out of Europe
, and the British Empire's expansion during the first half of the 19th century triggered an "extraordinary dispersion of the British people", resulting in particular concentrations "in Australasia
and North America
The British Empire was "built on waves of migration overseas by British people",
who left the United Kingdom and "reached across the globe and permanently affected population structures in three continents".
As a result of the British colonisation of the Americas
, what became the United States
was "easily the greatest single destination of emigrant British", but in Australia
the British experienced a birth rate
higher than "anything seen before" resulting in the displacement of indigenous Australians
In colonies such as Southern Rhodesia
, British East Africa
and Cape Colony
, permanently resident British communities were established and whilst never more than a numerical minority these Britons "exercised a dominant influence" upon the culture and politics of those lands.
In Australia, Canada
and New Zealand
"people of British origin came to constitute the majority of the population" contributing to these states becoming integral to the Anglosphere
The United Kingdom Census 1861
estimated the size of the overseas British to be around 2.5 million, but concluded that most of these were "not conventional settlers" but rather "travellers, merchants, professionals, and military personnel".
By 1890, there were over 1.5 million further UK-born people living in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa
A 2006 publication from the Institute for Public Policy Research
estimated 5.6 million Britons lived outside of the United Kingdom.
Outside of the United Kingdom and its Overseas Territories
, the largest proportions of people of self-identified ethnic British descent
in the world are found in New Zealand (59%),
and Canada (31%),
followed by a considerably smaller minority in the United States
and parts of the Caribbean
. Hong Kong has the highest proportion of British citizens outside of the United Kingdom and its Overseas Territories, with 47% of Hong Kong residents holding a British National (Overseas) citizenship or a British citizenship.
From the beginning of Australia's colonial period
until after the Second World War, people from the United Kingdom made up a large majority of people coming to Australia, meaning that many people born in Australia can trace their origins to Britain.
The colony of New South Wales
, founded on 26 January 1788, was part of the eastern half of Australia claimed by the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1770, and initially settled by Britons through penal transportation
. Together with another five largely self-governing Crown Colonies, the federation of Australia
was achieved on 1 January 1901.
Its history of British dominance meant that Australia was "grounded in British culture and political traditions that had been transported to the Australian colonies in the nineteenth century and become part of colonial culture and politics".
Australia maintains the Westminster system
of Parliamentary Government and Elizabeth II
as Queen of Australia
. Until 1987, the national status of Australian citizens was formally described as "British Subject: Citizen of Australia". Britons continue to make up a substantial proportion of immigrants.
By 1947, Australia was fundamentally British in origin with 7,524,129 or 99.3% of the population declaring themselves as European.
In the most recent 2016
census, a large proportion of Australians self-identified with British ancestral origins, including 36.1% or 7,852,224 as English
and 9.3% (2,023,474) as Scottish
A substantial proportion —33.5%— chose to identify as ‘Australian’, the census Bureau has stated that most of these are of Anglo-Celtic
British overseas territories
British cultural, economic, social, political and educational values create a unique British-like, Falkland Islands. Yet Islanders feel distinctly different from their fellow citizens who reside in the United Kingdom. This might have something to do with geographical isolation or with living on a smaller island—perhaps akin to those Britons not feeling European.
It was not until 1977 that the phrase "A Canadian citizen is a British subject" ceased to be used in Canadian passports. The politics of Canada
are strongly influenced by British political culture.
Although significant modifications have been made, Canada is governed by a democratic parliamentary framework comparable to the Westminster system
, and retains Elizabeth II
as The Queen of Canada
and Head of State.
English is the most commonly spoken language used in Canada and it is an official language of Canada.
British iconography remains present in the design of many Canadian flags
, with 10 out of 13 Canadian provincial and territorial flags adopting some form of British symbolism in their design. The flag of the United Kingdom is also an official ceremonial flag in Canada known as the Royal Union Flag which is flown outside of federal buildings three days of the year.
A long-term result of James Cook
's voyage of 1768–1771,
a significant number of New Zealanders are of British descent, for whom a sense of Britishness has contributed to their identity.
As late as the 1950s, it was common for British New Zealanders to refer to themselves as British, such as when Prime Minister Keith Holyoake
described Sir Edmund Hillary
's successful ascent of Mount Everest
as putting "the British race and New Zealand on top of the world". New Zealand passports
described nationals as "British Subject: Citizen of New Zealand" until 1974, when this was changed to "New Zealand citizen".
British immigrants fit in here very well. My own ancestry is all British. New Zealand values are British values, derived from centuries of struggle since Magna Carta. Those things make New Zealand the society it is.
British nationality law as it pertains to Hong Kong
has been unusual ever since Hong Kong became a British colony
in 1842. From its beginning as a sparsely populated trading port to its modern role as a cosmopolitan international financial centre of over seven million people, the territory has attracted refugees, immigrants and expatriates alike searching for a new life. Citizenship matters were complicated by the fact that British nationality law
treated those born in Hong Kong as British subjects
(although they did not enjoy full rights and citizenship), while the People's Republic of China
(PRC) did not recognise Hong Kong Chinese as such. The main reason for this was that recognising these people as British was seen as a tacit acceptance of a series of historical treaties that the PRC labelled as "unequal", including the ones which ceded Hong Kong Island
, the Kowloon Peninsula
and the New Territories
to Britain. The British government, however, recognising the unique political situation of Hong Kong, granted 3.4 million Hong Kongers a new type of nationality known as British National (Overseas)
, which is established in accordance with the Hong Kong Act 1985. Among those 3.4 million people, there are many British Nationals (Overseas) who are eligible for full British citizenship. Both British Nationals (Overseas) and British citizens are British nationals and Commonwealth citizens
according to the British Nationality Law, which enables them to various rights in the United Kingdom
and the European Union
An English presence in North America began with the Roanoke Colony
and Colony of Virginia
in the late-16th century, but the first successful English settlement was established in 1607, on the James River
. By the 1610s an estimated 1,300 English people had travelled to North America, the "first of many millions from the British Isles".
In 1620 the Pilgrims
established the English imperial venture of Plymouth Colony
, beginning "a remarkable acceleration of permanent emigration from England" with over 60% of trans-Atlantic English migrants settling in the New England Colonies
During the 17th century an estimated 350,000 English and Welsh migrants arrived in North America, which in the century after the Acts of Union 1707
was surpassed in rate and number by Scottish and Irish migrants.
Nevertheless, longstanding cultural and historical ties have, in more modern times, resulted in the Special Relationship
, the historically close political, diplomatic, and military co-operation between the United Kingdom and United States
. Linda Colley
, a professor of history at Princeton University
and specialist in Britishness, suggested that because of their colonial influence on the United States, the British find Americans a "mysterious and paradoxical people, physically distant but culturally close, engagingly similar yet irritatingly different".
For over two centuries (1789-1989) of early U.S. history, all Presidents
with the exception of two (Van Buren and Kennedy) were descended from the varied colonial British stock, from the Pilgrims and Puritans to the Scotch-Irish and English who settled the Appalachia
The largest concentrations of self-reported British ethnic ancestry in the United States were found to be in Utah
(30%), New Hampshire
(25%) and Vermont
(25%) at the 2015 American Community Survey.
Overall, 10.7% of Americans reported their ethnic ancestry as some form of "British" in the 2013–17 ACS, behind German
ancestries and on par with Mexican
British and Chilean flags in a monument in Antofagasta
Coat of arms of Coquimbo
, with the Union Flag.
Approximately 4% of Chile's
population is of British or Irish descent.
British immigrants settled in Chile
from 1840 to 1914. A significant number of them settled in Magallanes Province
, especially in the city of Punta Arenas
when it flourished as a major global seaport for ships crossing between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Strait of Magellan. Around 32,000 English settled in Valparaíso
, influencing the port city to the extent of making it virtually a British colony during the last decades of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
However, the opening of the Panama Canal
in 1914 and the outbreak of the First World War
drove many of them away from the city or back to Europe.
, they created their largest and most important colony, bringing with them neighbourhoods of British character, schools, social clubs
, sports clubs
, business organisations
. Even today their influence is apparent in specific areas, such as the banks and the navy, as well as in certain social activities, such as football
, horse racing, and the custom of drinking tea.
British investment helped Chile become prosperous and British seamen helped the Chilean navy become a strong force in the South Pacific. Chile won two wars, the first against the Peru-Bolivian Confederation and the second, the War of the Pacific
, in 1878–79, against an alliance between Peru
. The liberal-socialist "Revolution of 1891" introduced political reforms modelled on British parliamentary practice and lawmaking.
British immigrants were also important in the northern zone of the country during the saltpetre
boom, in the ports of Iquique
. The "King of Saltpetre", John Thomas North
, was the principal tycoon of nitrate mining. The British legacy is reflected in the streets of the historic district of the city of Iquique, with the foundation of various institutions, such as the Club Hípico
(Racing Club). Nevertheless, the British active presence came to an end with the saltpetre crisis during the 1930s.
settled in the country's more temperate regions, where the climate and the forested landscape with glaciers and islands may have reminded them of their homeland (the Highlands and Northern Scotland) while English
made up the rest. The Irish immigrants, who were frequently confused with the British, arrived as merchants
and sailors, settling along with the British in the main trading cities and ports.
An important contingent of British (principally Welsh) immigrants arrived between 1914 and 1950, settling in the present-day region of Magallanes
. British families were established in other areas of the country, such as Santiago
, the Araucanía
, and Chiloé
The cultural legacy of the British in Chile is notable and has spread beyond the British Chilean community into society at large. Customs taken from the British include afternoon tea
by Chileans), football
, rugby union
and horse racing
. Another legacy is the widespread use of British personal names by Chileans.
Chile has the largest population of descendants of British settlers in Latin America. Over 700,000 Chileans may have British (English, Scottish
) origin, amounting to 4.5% of Chile's population.
The British arrived in the area which would become the modern-day South Africa
during the early 18th century, yet substantial settlement only started end of the 18th century, in the Cape of Good Hope
; the British first explored the area for conquests for or related to the Slave Trade. In the late 19th century, the discovery of gold and diamonds further encouraged colonisation of South Africa by the British, and the population of the British-South Africans rose substantially, although there was fierce rivalry between the British and Afrikaners
(descendants of Dutch colonists) in the period known as the Boer Wars
. When apartheid first started most British-South Africans were mostly keen on keeping and even strengthening its ties with the United Kingdom. The latest census in South Africa showed that there are almost 2 million British-South Africans; they make up about 40% of the total White South African
demographic, and the greatest white British ancestry populations in South Africa are in the KwaZulu-Natal
province and in the cities of Cape Town
and Port Elizabeth
from County Down
; a founding member of the SAS
; was one of the most decorated British soldiers of World War II. He also played rugby for Ireland.
The Ulster Scots people
are an ethnic group of British origin in Ireland, broadly descended from Lowland Scots
who settled in large numbers in the Province of Ulster
during the planned process of colonisations
of Ireland which took place in the reign of James VI of Scotland and I of England. Together with English and Welsh settlers, these Scots introduced Protestantism (particularly the Presbyterianism
of the Church of Scotland
) and the Ulster Scots
and English languages
to, mainly, northeastern Ireland. With the partition of Ireland and independence for what is now the Republic of Ireland
some of these people found themselves no longer living within the United Kingdom.
Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement
in 1998, most of the paramilitary groups involved in the Troubles have ceased their armed campaigns, and constitutionally, the people of Northern Ireland
have been recognised as "all persons born in Northern Ireland and having, at the time of their birth, at least one parent who is a British citizen, an Irish citizen or is otherwise entitled to reside in Northern Ireland without any restriction on their period of residence".
The Good Friday Agreement guarantees the "recognition of the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose".
Result from the expansion of the British Empire
, British cultural influence can be observed in the language and culture of a geographically wide assortment of countries such as Canada
, New Zealand
, South Africa
, the United States
, and the British overseas territories
. These states are sometimes collectively known as the Anglosphere
As well as the British influence on its empire, the empire also influenced British culture, particularly British cuisine
. Innovations and movements within the wider-culture of Europe
have also changed the United Kingdom; Humanism
, and representative democracy
have developed from broader Western culture
Historically, British cuisine
has meant "unfussy dishes made with quality local ingredients, matched with simple sauces to accentuate flavour, rather than disguise it".
It has been "vilified as unimaginative and heavy", and traditionally been limited in its international recognition to the full breakfast
and the Christmas dinner
This is despite British cuisine having absorbed the culinary influences of those who have settled in Britain
, resulting in hybrid dishes such as the British Asian Chicken tikka masala
, hailed by some as "Britain's true national dish".
and animal breeding produced a wide variety of foodstuffs for Celts and Britons. The Anglo-Saxons developed meat and savoury herb stewing techniques before the practice became common in Europe. The Norman conquest of England
introduced exotic spices into Britain in the Middle Ages.
The British Empire facilitated a knowledge of India's food tradition
of "strong, penetrating spices and herbs". Food rationing policies
, imposed by the British government during wartime periods of the 20th century, are said to have been the stimulus for British cuisine's poor international reputation.
British dishes include fish and chips
, the Sunday roast
, and bangers and mash
. British cuisine has several national and regional varieties, including English
and Welsh cuisine
, each of which has developed its own regional or local dishes, many of which are geographically indicated foods
such as Cheddar cheese
, Cheshire cheese
, the Yorkshire pudding
, Arbroath Smokie
, Cornish pasty
and Welsh cakes
The British are the second largest per capita tea
consumers in the world, consuming an average of 2.1 kilograms (4.6 lb) per person each year. British tea culture
dates back to the 19th century, when India
was part of the British Empire
and British interests controlled tea production in the subcontinent.
There is no single British language, though English
is by far the main language spoken by British citizens, being spoken monolingually by more than 70% of the UK population. English is therefore the de facto
official language of the United Kingdom.
However, under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
, the Welsh
, Scottish Gaelic
, Irish Gaelic
, Ulster Scots
and Lowland Scots languages are officially recognised as Regional or Minority languages by the UK Government.
As indigenous languages
which continue to be spoken as a first language by native inhabitants, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic have a different legal status from other minority languages. In some parts of the UK, some of these languages are commonly spoken as a first language; in wider areas, their use in a bilingual context is sometimes supported or promoted by central or local government policy. For naturalisation purposes, a competence standard of English, Scottish Gaelic or Welsh is required to pass the life in the United Kingdom test
However, English is used routinely, and although considered culturally important, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh are much less used.
Throughout the United Kingdom there are distinctive spoken expressions and regional accents of English
which are seen to be symptomatic of a locality's culture and identity.
An awareness and knowledge of accents in the United Kingdom can "place, within a few miles, the locality in which a man or woman has grown up".
Britain has a long history of famous and influential authors. It boasts some of the oldest pieces of literature in the Western world, such as the epic poem Beowulf
, one of the oldest surviving written work in the English language.
Non-fiction has also played an important role in the history of British letters, with the first dictionary of the English language being produced and compiled by Samuel Johnson
, a graduate of Oxford University and a London resident.
Media and music
Although cinema, theatre, dance and live music are popular, the favourite pastime of the British is watching television
Public broadcast television in the United Kingdom
began in 1936, with the launch of the BBC Television Service (now BBC One
). In the United Kingdom and the Crown dependencies
, one must have a television licence
to legally receive any broadcast television service, from any source. This includes the commercial channels, cable and satellite transmissions, and the Internet
. Revenue generated from the television licence is used to provide radio, television and Internet content for the British Broadcasting Corporation
, and Welsh language television programmes for S4C
. The BBC, the common abbreviation of the British Broadcasting Corporation,
is the world's largest broadcaster
Unlike other broadcasters in the UK, it is a public service based
, statutory corporation
run by the BBC Trust
terrestrial television channels available on a national basis are BBC One
, BBC Two
, Channel 4
in Wales), and Five
"British musical tradition is essentially vocal",
dominated by the music of England
and Germanic culture
most greatly influenced by hymns
and Anglican church music
However, the specific, traditional music of Wales
and music of Scotland
is distinct, and of the Celtic musical tradition
In the United Kingdom, more people attend live music performances than football matches. British rock
was born in the mid-20th century out of the influence of rock and roll
and rhythm and blues
from the United States. Major early exports were The Beatles
, The Rolling Stones
, The Who
and The Kinks
Together with other bands from the United Kingdom, these constituted the British Invasion
, a popularisation of British pop and rock music in the United States. Into the 1970s heavy metal
, new wave
, and 2 tone
is a subgenre of alternative rock
that emerged from the British independent music
scene of the early 1990s and was characterised by bands reviving British guitar pop music of the 1960s and 1970s. Leading exponents of Britpop were Blur
Also popularised in the United Kingdom during the 1990s were several domestically produced varieties of electronic dance music
; acid house
, UK hard house
, UK garage
which in turn have influenced grime
and British hip hop
in the 2000s. The BRIT Awards
are the British Phonographic Industry
's annual awards for both international and British popular music
has been the most influential and important religion in Britain, and it remains the declared faith of the majority of the British people.
The influence of Christianity on British culture has been "widespread, extending beyond the spheres of prayer and worship. Churches and cathedrals make a significant contribution to the architectural landscape of the nation's cities and towns" whilst "many schools and hospitals were founded by men and women who were strongly influenced by Christian motives".
Throughout the United Kingdom, Easter
, the "two most important events in the Christian calendar", are recognised as public holidays
The Presbyterian Church of Scotland
(known informally as The Kirk
), is recognised as the national church
of Scotland and not subject to state control. The British monarch is an ordinary member and is required to swear an oath to "defend the security" of the church upon his or her accession. The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland
is Scotland's second largest Christian church, with followers representing a sixth of the population of Scotland.
The Scottish Episcopal Church
, which is part of the Anglican Communion, dates from the final establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland in 1690, when it split from the Church of Scotland over matters of theology and ritual. Further splits in the Church of Scotland, especially in the 19th century, led to the creation of other Presbyterian churches in Scotland, including the Free Church of Scotland
. In the 1920s, the Church in Wales
became independent from the Church of England and became 'disestablished'
but remains in the Anglican Communion
Methodism and other Protestant churches have had a major presence in Wales. The main religious groups in Northern Ireland
are organised on an all-Ireland
basis. Though collectively Protestants constitute the overall majority,
the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland
is the largest single church. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland
, closely linked to the Church of Scotland in terms of theology and history, is the second largest church followed by the Church of Ireland
(Anglican) which was disestablished in the 19th century.
is an important element of British culture, and is one of the most popular leisure activities of Britons. Within the United Kingdom, nearly half of all adults partake in one or more sporting activity each week.
Some of the major sports in the United Kingdom "were invented by the British",
, rugby union
, rugby league
, and "exported various other games" including tennis
In most sports, separate organisations, teams and clubs represent the individual countries of the United Kingdom
at international level, though in some sports, like rugby union, an all-Ireland team represents both Northern Ireland and Ireland (Republic of), and the British and Irish Lions
represent Ireland and Britain as a whole. The UK is represented by a single team at the Olympic Games
and at the 2012 Summer Olympics
, the Great Britain team
won 65 medals: 29 gold (the most since the 1908 Summer Olympics
), 17 silver and 19 bronze, ranking them 3rd.
In total, sportsmen and women from the UK "hold over 50 world titles in a variety of sports, such as professional boxing, rowing, snooker, squash and motorcycle sports".
A 2006 poll found that association football was the most popular sport in the UK.
In England 320 football clubs are affiliated to The Football Association
(FA) and more than 42,000 clubs to regional or district associations. The FA, founded in 1863, and the Football League, founded in 1888, were both the first of their kind in the world.
In Scotland there are 78 full and associate clubs and nearly 6,000 registered clubs under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Football Association
Two Welsh clubs play in England's Football League and others at non-league level, whilst the Welsh Football League
contains 20 semi-professional clubs. In Northern Ireland, 12 semi-professional clubs play in the IFA Premiership
, the second oldest league in the world.
Visual art and architecture
For centuries, artists and architects in Britain were overwhelmingly influenced by Western art history
Amongst the first visual artists credited for developing a distinctly British aesthetic and artistic style is William Hogarth
The experience of military, political and economic power from the rise of the British Empire
, led to a very specific drive in artistic technique, taste and sensibility in the United Kingdom.
Britons used their art "to illustrate their knowledge and command of the natural world", whilst the permanent settlers in British North America, Australasia, and South Africa "embarked upon a search for distinctive artistic expression appropriate to their sense of national identity".
The empire has been "at the centre, rather than in the margins, of the history of British art", and imperial British visual arts have been fundamental to the construction, celebration and expression of Britishness.
British attitudes to modern art
were "polarised" at the end of the 19th century.
Modernist movements were both cherished and vilified by artists and critics; Impressionism
was initially regarded by "many conservative critics" as a "subversive foreign influence", but became "fully assimilated" into British art during the early-20th century. Representational art
was described by Herbert Read
during the interwar period
as "necessarily... revolutionary", and was studied and produced to such an extent that by the 1950s, Classicism
was effectively void in British visual art. Post-modern
, contemporary British art, particularly that of the Young British Artists
, has been pre-occupied with postcolonialism
, and "characterised by a fundamental concern with material culture ... perceived as a post-imperial cultural anxiety".
Architecture of the United Kingdom
is diverse; most influential developments have usually taken place in England, but Ireland, Scotland, and Wales have at various times played leading roles in architectural history.
Although there are prehistoric and classical structures in the British Isles, British architecture effectively begins with the first Anglo-Saxon Christian churches, built soon after Augustine of Canterbury
arrived in Great Britain in 597. Norman architecture
was built on a vast scale from the 11th century onwards in the form of castles and churches to help impose Norman authority upon their dominion. English Gothic architecture
, which flourished between 1180 until around 1520, was initially imported from France, but quickly developed its own unique qualities.
Secular medieval architecture
throughout Britain has left a legacy of large stone castles
, with the "finest examples" being found lining both sides of the Anglo-Scottish border
, dating from the Wars of Scottish Independence
of the 14th century.
The invention of gunpowder and canons made castles redundant, and the English Renaissance
which followed facilitiated the development of new artistic styles for domestic architecture: Tudor style
, English Baroque
, The Queen Anne Style
and Neoclassical architecture
advanced after the Scottish Enlightenment
. Outside the United Kingdom, the influence of British architecture is particularly strong in South India
the result of British rule in India
in the 19th century. The Indian cities of Bangalore
, and Mumbai
each have courts, hotels and train stations
designed in British architectural styles of Gothic Revivalism
To be British seems to us to mean that we respect the laws, the elected parliamentary and democratic political structures, traditional values of mutual tolerance, respect for equal rights and mutual concern; that we give our allegiance to the state (as commonly symbolised by the Crown
) in return for its protection.
for all males over 21 was granted in 1918 and for adult women in 1928 after the Suffragette movement
Politics in the United Kingdom is multi-party
, with three dominant political parties: the Conservative Party
, the Labour Party
and the Scottish National Party
. The social structure of Britain
, specifically social class
, has "long been pre-eminent among the factors used to explain party allegiance", and still persists as "the dominant basis" of party political allegiance for Britons.
The Conservative Party is descended from the historic Tory Party
(founded in England in 1678), and is a centre-right conservative
which traditionally draws support from the middle classes
The Labour Party (founded by Scotsman Keir Hardie
) grew out of the trade union
movement and socialist
political parties of the 19th century, and continues to describe itself as a "democratic socialist party".
Labour states that it stands for the representation of the low-paid working class
, who have traditionally been its members and voters.
The Scottish National Party
is the third largest political party in the UK in terms of both party membership and representation in parliament, having won 56 out of 59 Scottish seats at the 2015 General Election. The Liberal Democrats
are a liberal
political party, and fourth largest in England in terms of membership and MPs elected. It is descended from the Liberal Party
, a major ruling party
of 19th-century UK through to the First World War, when it was supplanted by the Labour Party.
The Liberal Democrats have historically drawn support from wide and "differing social backgrounds".
There are over 300 other, smaller political parties in the United Kingdom
registered to the Electoral Commission
The first group, which we term the ethnic dimension, contained the items about birthplace, ancestry, living in Britain, and sharing British customs and traditions. The second, or civic group, contained the items about feeling British, respecting laws and institutions, speaking English, and having British citizenship.
Of the two perspectives of British identity, the civic definition has become "the dominant idea ... by far",
and in this capacity, Britishness is sometimes considered an institutional or overarching state
This has been used to explain why first-, second- and third-generation immigrants are more likely to describe themselves as British, rather than English, because it is an "institutional, inclusive" identity, that can be acquired through naturalisation
and British nationality law
the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom who are from an ethnic minority feel British.
However, this attitude is more common in England than in Scotland or Wales; "white English people perceived themselves as English first and as British second, and most people from ethnic minority backgrounds perceived themselves as British, but none identified as English, a label they associated exclusively with white people". Contrawise, in Scotland and Wales, White British
and ethnic minority people both identified more strongly with Scotland and Wales than with Britain.
Studies and surveys have "reported that the majority of the Scots and Welsh see themselves as both Scottish/Welsh and British though with some differences in emphasis".
The Commission for Racial Equality
found that with respect to notions of nationality
in Britain, "the most basic, objective and uncontroversial conception of the British people is one that includes the English, the Scots and the Welsh".
However, "English participants tended to think of themselves as indistinguishably English or British, while both Scottish and Welsh participants identified themselves much more readily as Scottish or Welsh than as British".
Some persons opted "to combine both identities" as "they felt Scottish or Welsh, but held a British passport
and were therefore British", whereas others saw themselves as exclusively Scottish or exclusively Welsh and "felt quite divorced from the British, whom they saw as the English".
Commentators have described this latter phenomenon as "nationalism
", a rejection of British identity because some Scots and Welsh interpret it as "cultural imperialism imposed" upon the United Kingdom by "English ruling elites",
or else a response to a historical misappropriation of equating the word "English" with "British",
which has "brought about a desire among Scots, Welsh and Irish to learn more about their heritage and distinguish themselves from the broader British identity".
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Last edited on 8 May 2021, at 12:14
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