United Kingdom is a country in northwestern Europe. It consists of four political divisions - England, Scotland, and Wales, which make up the island of Great Britain, and Northern Ireland, which occupies the northeastern part of the island of Ireland. The nation's official name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. When people refer to the country, most shorten its name to (1) the United Kingdom, (2) the U.K., (3) Great Britain, or (4) Britain. London is the capital and largest city.
More than 70 countries are larger in size than the United Kingdom, and the country has only about 1 percent of the world's people. But the United Kingdom has a rich history. The British started the Industrial Revolution, a period of rapid industrialisation that began in the 1700's. They founded the largest empire in history. They have produced some of the world's greatest scientists, explorers, artists, and political leaders.
The landscape of the United Kingdom varies dramatically. Northern Scotland is a wild, windswept region, broken by long arms of the sea that reach far inland. Much of Northern Ireland has low mountains and rolling fields. Wales is famous for its rugged mountains and deep, green valleys. Most of England is covered by rolling plains, laid out in a patchwork of fields and meadows. The coastline is a shifting scene of steep cliffs, golden beaches, jagged rocks, and fishing towns tucked in sheltered bays. The United Kingdom has magnificent old castles and modern nuclear laboratories, snug villages and sprawling cities, and ancient universities and new factories.
The English Channel separates the island of Great Britain from France. This narrow stretch of water helped shape the character and history of the British people. It helped protect Britain from invasion and gave the people a feeling of security. In 1066, a group of Vikings called the Normans sailed across the channel from northwestern France and conquered England. After the Norman Conquest, no enemy ever again crossed the channel and invaded the country.
Cut off from the rest of Europe by the sea and secure from invasion, the British developed their own character and way of life. They came to respect privacy and to value old traditions. They developed a dry wit, a love for personal freedom, and a high degree of self-criticism. The British have shown themselves at their best - brave and united - in times of crisis. Their courage against German bombs and overwhelming odds during World War II (1939-1945) won the admiration of the world.
The history of Britain is the story of how a small country became the world's most powerful nation - and then declined. In the 1700's, the Industrial Revolution made Britain the world's richest manufacturing country. The British ruled the seas and were the world's greatest traders. By 1900, they had an empire that covered about a fourth of the world's land and included about a fourth of its people. The British spread their way of life throughout their empire.
Then came the 1900's - and the shock of two crippling world wars. The British Empire began to break up as Britain's colonies sought independence. Britain faced one economic crisis after another. Today, the United Kingdom is still a leading industrial and trading nation. But it is no longer the world power it once was.
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
UK (British) National anthem
"God Save the Queen" (or "King").
Each country within the UK also has a National Anthem.
See each country for more details.
Largest cities: (1991 census)
The United Kingdom lies in northwestern Europe. It includes the island of Great Britain and the northeastern part of the island of Ireland. France lies south across the English Channel; the Republic of Ireland west across the Irish Sea; Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Norway east across the North Sea. Most of the land is flat or rolling. There are rugged sections in northern Scotland, in Wales, and in northern, central, and far southwestern England.
94,248 sq. mi. (244,101 sq. km).
north-south, about 600 mi. (970 km);
east-west, about 300 mi. (480 km).
Coastline - 2,521 mi. (4,057 km).
Highest - Ben Nevis, 4,406 ft. (1,343 m) above sea level.
Lowest - Great Holme Fen, near the River Ouse in Cambridgeshire, 9 ft. (2.7 m) below sea level.
Summers mild - daytime highs about 73 degrees F (23 degrees C) in the south, about 65 degrees F (18 degrees C) in Scotland. Cool winters - nighttime temperatures drop nearly to freezing, but rarely much below, except in the Scottish Highlands. Precipitation moderate, generally higher in the west.
Form of government
Constitutional monarchy. In practice, a parliamentary democracy.
Head of state
Monarch (queen or king). The monarch is the head of the executive and judicial branches of the government and is a part of the legislative branch.
Head of government
Prime minister, usually the head of the majority party in the House of Commons.
Parliament of two houses: House of Commons has 651 members, elected by the people; House of Lords has about 1,200 members. House of Commons is much more powerful than House of Lords.
Prime minister and Cabinet.
England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, united under one government. Each division has units of local government.
1998 estimate - 59,056,000. 1991 census - 56,467,000. 2003 estimate - 59,685,000. Population density: 627 persons per sq. mi. (242 per sq. km). Distribution: 90 percent urban, 10 percent rural.
Major ethnic/national groups
95 percent of mostly British or Irish descent. About 5 percent recent immigrants or their descendants. Immigrants mostly from former British colonies.
About 50 percent Church of England, 10 percent Roman Catholic, 4 percent Church of Scotland; also several other Protestant denominations, Muslims, Hindus, Jews.
Agriculture - barley, beef and dairy cattle, chickens and eggs, hogs, milk, potatoes, rapeseed, sheep, sugar beets, wheat.
Manufacturing - aerospace equipment, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, electrical and electronic products, foods and beverages, iron and steel, machinery, metal goods, motor vehicles, printed materials, rubber and plastic goods, ships, textiles and clothing.
Mining - coal, natural gas, petroleum.
Fishing industry - cod, haddock, herring, mackerel, whiting.
Major exports - aerospace equipment, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, foods and beverages, machinery, motor vehicles, petroleum.
Major imports - chemicals, clothing, foods (especially fish, fruit, vegetables, meat, coffee, tea), machinery, metals, motor vehicles, paper and newsprint, petroleum products, textiles.
Major trading partners - France, Germany, Netherlands, United States.
International aircraft prefix
International dialling code
Pound Sterling (GBP)
Vehicle nationality plates
Second Saturday in June - The Queen's Birthday
blue with the red cross of Saint George (England), edged in white,superimposed on the diagonal red cross of Saint Patrick (Ireland) which in turn is superimposed on the diagonal white cross of Saint Andrew (Scotland)
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