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Template:Infobox Islands Great Britain (Template:Lang-sco, Template:Lang-cy, Template:Lang-la) also known as simply Britain,[1][note 1] is a geographical term[1] used to denote the second-largest island in Europe and the ninth-largest island in the world. It lies to the north-west of continental Europe and is surrounded by over a thousand islands and islets. To the west of Great Britain, separated by the Irish Sea, is the island of Ireland. Politically the term has been used in the name of the Kingdom of Great Britain, formed by the union of the kingdoms Scotland and England. In the modern day the term is used as part of the sovereign state the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The island has been settled by humans from several cultures for over 29,000 years.[2] In antiquity Prehistoric, Pictish, Brythonic and Roman cultures were prominent. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire and dawning of the Middle Ages, the island experienced cultural influence from Angles, Saxons, Gaels and Norse Vikings. It was during the Norman period starting in the 11th century, that these elements blended.[3] The general population of the island — the British people — are an amalgamation of these influences and roughly number around 59 million (2007).[4] Today citizens of the United Kingdom; the majority of Great Britain's populance, 51 million live in England. While 5 million live in mainland Scotland and 3 million in Wales.[4] Northern Ireland is the only one of the four constituent countries not on Great Britain.

The process of unification of the island as a cohesive entity goes back to the AD 43 Roman conquest of Britain and the creation of the Britannia province. Formed from the petty kingdoms of the Ancient Britons, only Caledonia north of the Antonine Wall remained completely separate. Eventually in the Middle Ages, the Kingdom of Scotland in 843, the Kingdom of England in 927 and the Principality of Wales in 1216 emerged. All were within the scope of the Angevin Empire for some periods, either as vassals or overlords. In the period after the Welsh Tudors invaded England and killed the last Plantagenet monarch, the house merged the two entities in 1535–1542. The Stuart monarchs of Scotland came to the throne of England in 1603 and called themselves "King of Great Britain", although the two states wouldn't be politically merged until 1707 completing the process. From the island the British Empire was formed; the largest empire in history at its peak it covered roughly one-quarter of the Earth spreading British political, linguistic and cultural legacy far and wide.


Main gallery: Britain (name).
Albion is derived from the white chalk cliffs of Dover.

The oldest mention of terms related to the formal name of Great Britain can be found in the Aristotelian Corpus, specifically De Mundo from the 4th century BC.[5] Within the work it states, "Beyond the Pillars of Hercules is the ocean that flows round the earth. In it are two very large islands called Britannia; these are Albion and Ierne".[5] Thus the term "Britannia" was originally used to denote what geographers would later call the British Isles as a whole. In his 1st century work Natural History, the Roman author Pliny the Elder notes of the island's name; "It was itself named Albion, while all the islands about which we shall soon speak were called the Britains".[6] The earliest known name of the island Albion (Ἀλβίων) or insula Albionum has two possible origins. It either derives from the the Latin albus meaning white, a reference to the white cliffs of Dover, which is the first view of Britain from the European Continent.[7] Alternatively it could derive from the ancient merchant's handbook Massaliote Periplus mentioning an "island of the Albiones".[8] The name Britain itself and its origins are first known in Greek recorded sources.[9] Mention of the Pretani (Πρεττανοι) is found in the works of Pytheas and is thought to have been derived from the Brythonic language self-designation of the people, recorded through contact with Phoenician or Basque merchant tradesmen.[9]

Indeed in the modern day Welsh language, the island is known as Prydain from the same root. A meaning of the name which has gained some scholary support is the "tattooed men" or "painted men".[9] Through the Latin language the people became known as Britanni and thus the islands Britannia.[9] When the Romans invaded they only managed to control most of Great Britain and not Ireland — they named the imperial province as Britannia and it is then that the name became associated with just the one island, while Ireland was known as Hibernia.[9] Through Old English the term developed into Breoton, Breoten, Bryten, Breten (also Breoton-lond, Breten-lond). In Old French it became Bretaigne before arriving at the modern day variation.[9] The "Great" element originated in the High Middle Ages. In his Historia Regum Britanniae, author Geoffrey of Monmouth refers to the island of Great Britain as Britannia major (Greater Britain), to distinguish it from Britannia minor (Lesser Britain), modern Brittany on the Continent, previously named Armorica until Britons migrated there.[9]


Main gallery: History of Great Britain.


Middle Ages[edit]

Early Modern[edit]



Main gallery: Geology of Great Britain.



Main gallery: Fauna of Great Britain.
The Robin is popularly known as Britain's favourite bird.[10]

The island is not as heavily populated with diverse species of animals compared to Continental Europe. This is because there was a short period of time between the Last Ice Age and the flooding of the land bridge between Britain and the continent.[11] Also issues such as heavy urbanisation, climate and hunting amongst other things, have seen the extinction of many species, with only the most adaptable able to survive.[12] In regards to mammals in Great Britain, rodents make up 40%; including squirrels, mice, voles, rats and the recently reintroduced beavers.[12] There is also an abundance of rabbits, hares, hedgehogs, shrews and moles.[12] There is a significant bat population with numerous different species accounting for around 20%.[12] Well known carnivorous mammals on the mainland are red foxes, badgers, weasels, stoats and elusive wildcats.[13] The various forms of deer are the largest wild animals today; the red deer is the largest of these. Roe deer and fallow deer are also prominent; the latter was introduced by the Normans.[13]

Other large mammals which became extinct include brown bears, grey wolves and boars; the latter has had a limited reintrodution in recent times.[12] Amphibians are in abundance, especially frogs, toads and newts.[12] There are six species of reptile in Britain; three snakes and three rarely seen lizards. One snake species, the adder, is venemous but rarely deadly.[14] There is a wealth of birdlife in Britain, 583 species in total[15] 258 of which breed on the island and remain during winter, others are less common.[16] Some of the better known birds include waterfowl such as ducks, geese and swans,[17] gamefowl such as grouse, partridges, pheasants and quails.[18] Other well known birds include goldfinches, kestrels, robins, pigeons, kingfishers, herons and owls.[18] Many species of molluscs on the mainland and insects inhabit the island.


Main article: Flora of Great Britain
Heather growing wild in the Highlands at Dornoch.

Again, the flora of Great Britain is depauperate compared to that of the Continent due to the landbridge being cut off after the last glaciation.[19] In turn many British species also failed to reach neighbouring Ireland as the land connection between the two islands disappeared even earlier.[19] Nontheless, Great Britain's flora includes a population of 3354 vascular plants in total, of which 2297 are native and 1057 are alien, introduced into the island.[20] The fauna of the island is extremely well documented, only some parts of Europe have had more intense documentation.[20] In addition to this there are also many species of organisms such as algae, lichens, fungi and mosses right across the island.[21]

Well known flowers include red poppies, bluebells, daisies, daffodils.[22]





Main galleries: Religion in England, Religion in Scotland and Religion in Wales.

Christianity is the largest religion on the island and has been since the Early Middle Ages, though its existence on the island dates back to the Roman introduction in antiquity and continued through Early Insular Christianity. The largest form practiced in present day Britain is Anglicanism (also known as Episcopalism), dating from the 16th century Reformation period, the religion regards itself as both Catholic and Reformed. Head of the Church is the monarch of the United Kingdom as the Supreme Governor. It has the status of established church in England. There are just over 26 million adherents to Anglicanism in Britain today.[23] The second largest Christian practice in Britain is the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church which traces its formal, corporate history in Great Britain to the 6th century with Augustine's mission and was the main religion on the island for around a thousand years. There are over 5 million adherents in Britain today; 4.5 million in England and Wales[24] and 750,000 in Scotland.[25]

The Church of Scotland, a form of Protestantism with a Presbyterian system of ecclesiastical polity is the third most numerous on the island with around 2.1 million members.[26] Brought to Scotland by local clergyman John Knox, it has the status of national church in Scotland. The monarch of the United Kingdom is represented prominently by a Lord High Commissioner. Methodism is the fourth largest and grew out of Anglicanism through John Wesley.[27] It gained popularity in the old mill towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire, also amongst tin miners in Cornwall.[28] The Calvinistic Methodism form is the largest denomination in Wales.[29] There are other non-conformist minorities in Britain, such as Baptists, Quakers, Congregationalists, Unitarians and more.[30] The patron saint of Great Britain was originally Saint Alban.[31] He was the very first British Christian martyr dating from the Romano-British period, he was condemed to death for his faith and was sacrificed to the Roman gods.[32] In more recent times, some have suggested the adoption of Saint Aidan as the patron saint of Britain.[33] Originally from Ireland, he worked at Iona amongst the Dál Riata and then Lindisfarne where he restored Christianity to Northumbria.[33]

Three constituent countries of the United Kingdom located on the island have patron saints; Saint George and Saint Andrew are represented in the flags of England and Scotland respectively.[34] These two saintly flags combined form the basis of the Great Britain royal flag of 1604.[34] Saint David is the patron saint of Wales.[35] There are many other British saints, some of the best known include; Cuthbert, Columba, Patrick, Margaret, Edward the Confessor, Mungo, Thomas More, Petroc, Bede and Thomas Becket.[35] There are also some non-Christian religions practiced. Jews have a history of a small minority on the island since 1070.[36] They were expelled from England in 1290 only to be allowed back in 1656.[36] Their history in Scotland is quite obscure until later migrations from Lithuania.[37] Especially since the the 1950s Eastern religions from the former colonies have began to appear; Islam is the most common of these with around 1.5 million adherents in Britain.[38] Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism are next in number, introduced from India and South East Asia.[38] Prior to the rise of Christianity — Celtic, Roman and Anglo-Saxon polytheism was practiced.


Main gallery: Culture of Britain.

Literature, theatre and philosophy[edit]

Main gallery: British literature.



Harlech Castle in Wales is one of many built during the Middle Ages.


Main gallery: Matter of Britain.


Main gallery: British music.
His Master's Voice, Nipper listening to a gramophone.


Main gallery: British cuisine.

Visual arts[edit]

Main gallery: British art.

Science and technology[edit]

Humour, attitude and fashion[edit]


Spectator sports[edit]

A Football Match, between England and Scotland in 1880.
Olympic Games gold medal winners for Team GB in 2008 .

Country sports[edit]



  1. a b Andrews, The Rough Guide to Britain, 1.
  2. Age of earliest human burial in Britain pinpointed. University of Oxford. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  3. United Kingdom. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named populance
  5. a b Massey, A Book of the Beginnings, Vol.1, 440.
  6. Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 197.
  7. Room, Placenames of the World, 23.
  8. Major, History in Quotations, 84.
  9. a b c d e f g Taylor, Names and Their Histories, 76.
  10. The Robin - Britain's Favourite Bird. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  11. Decaying Wood: An Overview of Its Status and Ecology in the United Kingdom and Europe. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  12. a b c d e f A Short History of the British Mammal Fauna. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  13. a b Else, Great Britain, 85.
  14. The Adder's Byte. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  15. British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee. Retrieved on 16 February 2009.
  16. Birds of Britain. Retrieved on 16 February 2009.
  17. Duck, Geese and Swan Family. Retrieved on 16 February 2009.
  18. a b Birds. Retrieved on 16 February 2009.
  19. a b Plants of the Pacific Northwest in Western Europe. Botanical Electric News. Retrieved on 23 February 2009.
  20. a b Frodin, Guide to Standard Floras of the World, 599.
  21. Lichen. Retrieved on 23 February 2009.
  22. People and Plants: Mapping the UK's wild flora. Retrieved on 23 February 2009.
  23. Global Anglicanism at a Crossroads. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  24. People here 'must obey the laws of the land'. Telegraph. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  25. Cardinal not much altered by his new job. Living Scotsman. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  26. Analysis of Religion in the 2001 Census - Current Religion in Scotland. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  27. The Methodist Church. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  28. Methodism in Britain. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  29. Religion in Wales. Sacred Destinations. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  30. Cambridge History of Christianity. Hugh McLeod. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  31. Dawkins, The Shakespeare Enigma, 343.
  32. Butler, Butler's Lives of the Saints, 141.
  33. a b Cry God for Harry, Britain and... St Aidan. The Independent. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  34. a b United Kingdom - History of the Flag. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  35. a b Saints. Brits at their Best. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  36. a b From Expulsion (1290) to Readmission (1656): Jews and England. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  37. Jews in Scotland. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.
  38. a b Religion: Key Statistics for urban areas, results by population size of urban area. Retrieved on 1 February 2009.



  1. The term Britain is sometimes used as a shorthand name to denote the sovereign state known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a whole. Within this article, the geographical focus and use of the term Britain throughout the article denotes simply the island Great Britain. When the modern state which also includes Northern Ireland, not situated on Great Britain, is mentioned the term "United Kingdom" is used instead to avoid confusion. For an explanation of terms such as "Great Britain", "British", "United Kingdom", "England", "Scotland" and "Wales", see Terminology of the British Isles.

External links[edit]