The British form of government is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system and its capital city is London. It consists of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The latter three have devolved administrations, each with varying powers, based in their capital cities, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast, respectively. Malta, Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man are Crown dependencies and are not part of the UK.
The United Kingdom has fifteen British Overseas Territories. These are remnants of the British Empire which, at its height in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, encompassed almost a quarter of the world's land mass and was the largest empire in history. British influence can be observed in the language, culture, and legal systems of many of its former colonies.
HistoryAfter a long period most of the region settled by the Anglo-Saxons was finally made into one country, the Kingdom of England in the 10th century. Wales was fully incorporated into the Kingdom of England by force in the 13th century. Ireland was constituted as a kingdom in personal union with the English crown in 1542. In 1603, King James VI of Scotland became king of England as well as king of Scotland, created a personal union between England and Scotland
In the mid-17th century, all three kingdoms were involved in a series of connected wars (including the English Civil War) which led to the establishment of the short-lived republican government of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Although the monarchy was restored in 1660, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 ensured the British constitution would develop on the basis of constitutional monarchy and the parliamentary system, not the royal absolutism. During this period, particularly in England, the development of naval power and the interest in voyages of discovery led to the acquisition and settlement of overseas colonies, particularly in North America.
In 1707, the parliaments of England and Scotland agreed the Treaty of Union, which joined the two countries into one country called the Kingdom of Great Britain under Queen Anne. However, certain aspects of the former independent kingdoms such as the Scottish and English laws remained separate, as did the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the Anglican Church of England. England and Scotland also continued to have their own systems of education.
Queen Anne died in 1714. The Elector of Hanover, George Louis, was become the new king as George I (1714–1727) and established the House of Hanover in Britain. Under King George II (1727–1760), cabinet government developed under Sir Robert Walpole during the period 1730–1742. He built up the first British Empire, strengthening the colonies in the Caribbean and North America. However, under the reign of George III (1760–1820), thirteen British colonies in North America declared their independence and established the United States of America in 1782. After the loss on the American Revolutionary War, the British imperial ambition turned elsewhere, particularly to India, created the second British Empire.
By 1800, both Scotland and England had already independently had much influence over Ireland for over 600 years. The British government's fear of an independent, Catholic-dominated Ireland siding against them with France during the French Revolutionary Wars resulted in the decision to unite the two countries. In 1801, the parliaments of Britain and Ireland each passed an Act of Union, uniting the two kingdoms and creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.