|Royal motto: Dieu et mon droit
(French: God and my right)
England's location within the UK
English de facto
London de facto
Ranked 1st UK
- Total (2001)
Ranked 1st UK
Church of England
(Established Church): 31,500,000
Roman Catholic: 5,000,000
9th century by
Egbert of Wessex
Pound sterling (£) (GBP)
UTC, Summer: UTC +1
None officially; de facto (as part of the UK):
God Save the Queen
Land of Hope and Glory
|rose (red, white)
England is a country or nation of northwest Europe, and the largest, the most populous, and the most densely populated of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom. England has land borders with Wales and Scotland, two other parts of the UK, on the island of Great Britain. Elsewhere it is bounded by the sea. England is named after the Angles, one of a number of Germanic peoples who settled there in the 5th and 6th centuries. England has not had a distinct political identity since 1707, when Great Britain was established as a unified political entity. It does, however, have a legal identity separate from those of Scotland and Northern Ireland, as part of the entity "England and Wales." England's largest city, London, is also the capital of the United Kingdom.
The names by which most of the various languages of Europe refer to England follow two distinct patterns. Virtually every continental European tongue uses a name similar to "England": "Angleterre" (French), "Anglia" (Hungarian), "Anglija" (Slovene), "Inghilterra" (Italian), "Engleska" (Serbo-Croatian) and so on. The Celtic languages of northwest Europe, by contrast, use quite different names, e.g. "Bro-Saoz" (Breton), "Pow Sows" (Cornish) and "Sasana" (Irish). It has been suggested that these languages' alternative focus can be traced to the tribal geography of England in the Dark Ages: when the Celtic Romano-British were driven to the edges of Britain by the invading tribes, their realms abutted the Saxon lands while the other Germanic peoples were concentrated further to the east. (Although the Welsh country name for England, "Lloegr", is linguistically unrelated to Angle and Saxon alike, the English people are indeed "Saeson" in Welsh). (See for a list of non-English names for England.)
Alternative names sometimes used for England have included the slang "Blighty", from the Hindustani "bila yati" meaning "foreign"; and "Albion", an ancient name popularised by Pliny the Elder and Ptolemy in the 1st century, supposedly in reference to the white (Latin alba) cliffs of Dover. (In its origins, however, the name applied to the whole island of Great Britain.) More poetically, England has been called "this scept'red isle...this other Eden" and "this Green and Pleasant Land", quotations respectively from the poetry of William Shakespeare (in Richard II) and William Blake (And did those feet in ancient time).
"England" is sometimes, wrongly, used in reference to the whole United Kingdom, the entire island of Great Britain (or simply Britain), or indeed the British Isles. This usage pattern is frequently seen in documents from the United States. This is not only incorrect but can cause offence to people from other parts of the UK. Further, there are situations where, while the word "England" would be factually correct, British people would typically use the less-specific "Britain" or "the UK".
The inhabitants of England are the English. The slang terms sometimes used for them include "Sassenachs" (from the Scots Gaelic), "Limeys" (in reference to the citrus fruits carried aboard English sailing vessels to prevent scurvy) and "Pom/Pommy" (used in Australian English and New Zealand English), but these can cause offence to people from England. Also see alternative words for British.
Symbols and insignia
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,—
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
Richard II (Act 2, Scene 1)
The two traditional symbols of England are the St. George's cross (the English flag) and the Three Lions coat of arms (both are pictured above), derived from the great Norman powers that formed the monarchy - the Cross of Aquitaine and the Lions of Anjou. The three lions were first definitely used by Richard I (Richard the Lionheart), on his second seal, in the late twelfth century (although it is thought that Henry I may have bestowed it on his son Henry before then). Historian Simon Schama has argued that the Three Lions are the true symbol of England because the English throne descended down the Angevin line.
However, a red cross acted as a symbol for many Crusaders in the 12th and 13th centuries. It became associated with Saint George, and England, along with other countries and cities (such as Georgia, Milan and the Republic of Genoa) which claimed him as their patron saint and used his cross as a banner. It remained in national use until 1707, when the Union Flag (which English and Scottish ships had used at sea since 1606) was adopted for all purposes to unite the whole of Great Britain under a common flag. The flag of England no longer has much of an official role, but it is widely flown by Church of England properties and at sporting events. (Paradoxically, the latter is a fairly recent development; until the late 20th century, it was commonplace for fans of English teams to wave the Union Flag, rather than the Saint George's Cross.)
The rose is widely recognised as the national flower of England and is used in a variety of contexts, for example as the badge of the English Rugby Union team.
The Three Lions badge performs a similar role for the English national football team and English national cricket team.
England does not have an official anthem of its own but Jerusalem (incorporating the Blake phrase quoted above), I Vow to Thee, My Country, Nimrod by Edward Elgar, and Land of Hope and Glory are all widely regarded — unofficially — as English national hymns (although the last more properly refers to Great Britain, not just England).
English and British symbols often overlap at sporting events. God Save The Queen (the national anthem for the UK as a whole) is nonetheless usually played for the England football team, although Land of Hope and Glory has been used as the English anthem at the Commonwealth Games (where the four nations in the UK face each other independently).
Main article: History of England
Since the term "English" explicitly refers to peoples who arrived on the island of Great Britain relatively recently, it is anachronistic to talk of England's prehistory or ancient history which, though rich and interesting, are properly dealt with as part of the history of the island of Great Britain as a whole.
England has been inhabited for at least 500,000 years, although the repeated Ice Ages made much of Britain uninhabitable for extended periods until as recently as 20,000 years ago. Stone Age hunter-gatherers eventually gave way to farmers and permanent settlements, with a spectacular and sophisticated megalithic civilisation arising in western England some 4,000 years ago. It was replaced around 1,500 years later by Celtic tribes migrating from continental Europe. These tribes were known collectively as "Britons", a name bestowed by Phoenician traders - an indication of how, even at this early date, the island was part of a Europe-wide trading network.
The Britons were significant players in continental politics and supported their allies in Gaul militarily during the Gallic Wars with the Roman Republic. This prompted the Romans to invade and subdue the island, first with Julius Caesar's raid in 55 BC, and then the Emperor Claudius' conquest in the following century. The whole southern part of the island — roughly corresponding to modern day England and Wales — became a prosperous part of the Roman Empire. It was finally abandoned early in the 5th century when the legions were pulled back to the Continent.
Unaided by the Roman army, Roman Britannia could not long resist the Germanic tribes who arrived in the 5th and 6th centuries, pushing the Britons back into modern-day Wales and Cornwall. The invaders fell into three main groups: the Jutes, the Saxons, and the Angles. As they became more civilised, recognisable states formed and began to merge with one another. (The most well-known state of affairs being the "Anglo-Saxon heptarchy".) From time to time throughout this period, one Anglo-Saxon king, recognised as the "Bretwalda" by other rulers, had effective control of all or most of the English; so it is impossible to identify the precise moment when the country of England was unified. In some sense, real unity came as a response to the Danish Viking incursions which occupied the eastern half of "England" in the 8th century. Egbert, King of Wessex (d. 839) is often regarded as the first king of all the English, although the title "King of England" was first adopted, two generations later, by Alfred the Great (ruled 871–899).
Some school histories of England begin with the Norman conquest in 1066, and the numbering system used for English monarchs treats that event as a blank slate from which to count. (For example, the Edward I who reigned in the 13th century was not the first king of England of that name, only the first since the conquest.) But although he unquestionably engineered a pivotal moment in the country's history, William the Conqueror did not "found" or "unify" the country; he took over a pre-existing England and gave it an Anglo-Norman administration and nobility who gradually adopted the language and customs of the English over the succeeding centuries.
England came repeatedly into conflict with Wales and Scotland, at the time an independent principality and an independent kingdom respectively, as its rulers sought to expand English power across the entire island of Britain. The conquest of Wales was achieved in the 13th century when it was annexed to England and gradually came to be a part of that kingdom for most legal purposes, although in the modern era it is more usually thought of as a separate nation (fielding, for example, its own athletic teams). English power in Scotland waxed and waned over the years, with the Scots managing to maintain a varying degree of independence despite repeated wars with the English. Although it was on the whole only a moderately successful power in military terms, England became one of the wealthiest states in medieval Europe, due chiefly to its dominance in the lucrative wool market.
The failure of English territorial ambitions in continental Europe prompted the kingdom's rulers to look further afield, creating the foundations of the mercantile and colonial network that was to become the British Empire. The turmoil of the Reformation embroiled England in religious wars with Europe's Catholic powers, notably Spain, but the kingdom preserved its independence as much through luck as through the skill of charismatic rulers such as Elizabeth I. Elizabeth's successor, James I was already king of Scotland (as James VI); and this personal union of the two crowns was followed a century later by the Act of Union 1707 which finally unified England, Scotland and Wales to form the core of the present-day United Kingdom. For the history of England after that date, see History of the United Kingdom.
Main article: Politics of the United Kingdom, Government of England
Since the promulgation of the 1284 Statute of Rhuddlan and the Acts of Union 1536-1543 Wales has shared a legal identity with England as the joint entity of England and Wales. The Act of Union with the Kingdom of Scotland in 1707 created the Kingdom of Great Britain, subsuming England, Wales and Scotland into a single political entity. Scotland, along with Northern Ireland, retains separate legal systems and identities. The duchy of Cornwall also retains some unique rights.
All of Great Britain has been ruled by the government of the United Kingdom since that date, although in 1999 the first elections to the newly created Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales left England as the only part of the Union with no devolved assembly or parliament. As all legislation for England is passed by Parliament at Westminster there are some complaints about the ability of non-English Members of Parliament to influence purely English affairs. This apparent anomaly has been highlighted by both English and non-English politicians, often those opposed to devolution, and has become popularly known as the West Lothian question.
Administratively, England is something of an anomaly within the UK. Unlike the other three nations, it has no local parliament or government and its administrative affairs are dealt with by a combination of the UK government, the UK parliament and a number of England-specific quangos such as English Heritage. Although there are calls from some for a Devolved English Parliament, there appears to be little popular support for independence of England from the UK - perhaps due to its dominance in the Union. Those groups that do campaign for such a thing tend to be right-wing organisations with very little popular support.
The current Labour government favoured the establishment of regional administration, claiming that England was too large to be governed as a sub-state entity. A referendum on this issue in North East England on 4 November 2004 decisively rejected the proposal.
Some criticised the English regional proposals for not decentralising enough, saying that they amounted not to devolution, but to little more than local government reorganisation, with no real power being removed from central government. The English regions would not even have had the limited powers of the Welsh Assembly, much less the tax varying and legislative powers of the Scottish Parliament. Rather, power was simply re-allocated within the region, with little new resource allocation and no real prospects of Assemblies being able to change the pattern of regional aid. Responsibility for regional transport was added to the proposals late in the process. This was perhaps crucial in the North East, where resentment at the Barnett Formula, which delivers greater regional aid to adjacent Scotland, was a significant impetus for the North East devolution campaign. There has also been a campaign for a Cornish assembly along Welsh lines by groups such as Mebyon Kernow, which recently collected 50,000 signatures in support.
Some eurosceptics believe that the establishment of English regions as administrative entities is designed to undermine the concept of English nationhood and more easily fit England into a European federal model.
Conventionally the national capital of England is London, although technically it would be more exact to call London the capital of "England and Wales" given England's lack of a distinctive political identity separate from the Principality. Winchester served as the country's first national capital until some time in the late 11th century after the Norman Conquest. The City of London became England's commercial capital, while the City of Westminster (where the royal court was located) became the political capital. These roles have, broadly speaking, been maintained to the present day.
Main article: Subdivisions of England
Historically, the highest level of local government in England was the county. These divisions had emerged from a range of units of old, pre-unification England, whether they were Kingdoms, such as Essex and Sussex; Duchies, such as Yorkshire, Cornwall and Lancashire or simply tracts of land given to some noble, as is the case with Berkshire. Until 1867, they were subdivided into smaller divisions called hundreds.
These counties all still exist in, or near to, their original form as the traditional counties. In many places, however, they have been heavily modified or abolished outright as administrative counties. This came about due to a number of factors.
The fact that the counties were so small meant, and still means, that there was no regional government able to coordinate an overarching plan for the area. This was especially true in the metropolitan areas surrounding the cities, as the county lines were usually drawn up before the industrial revolution and the mass urbanisation of England.
The solution was the creation of large metropolitan counties centred on cities. These were later broken up, with several other counties, into unitary authorities, unifying the county and district/borough levels of government.
London is a special case, and is the one Region which currently has a representative authority as well as a directly elected mayor. The thirty-two London boroughs and the Corporation of London remain the local form of government in the city.
Other than Greater London, the official Regions are:
Outside London the regions have very little power and are not accountable to elected representative – regional authority is placed in the hands of unelected assemblies. If, as now seems unlikely, regions opt to replace these bodies with elected assemblies, local government in England will remain as variable and, some might say, confusing as ever.
Main articles: Geography of the United Kingdom, Geography of England
England comprises the central and southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain, plus offshore islands of which the largest is the Isle of Wight. It is bordered to the north by Scotland and to the west by Wales. It is closer to continental Europe than any other part of Britain, divided from France only by a 21 mile (34 km) sea gap.
Most of England consists of rolling hills, but it is more mountainous in the north with a chain of low mountains — the Pennines — dividing east from west. The dividing line between terrain types is usually indicated by the Tees-Exe line. There is also an area of flat, low-lying marshland in the east, much of which has been drained for agricultural use.
The list of England's largest cities is much debated because in British English the normal meaning of city is "a continously built up urban area"; these are hard to define and various other definitions are preferred by some people to boost the ranking of their own city. London is by far the largest English city. Manchester and Birmingham vie for second place. Liverpool is probably fourth, although fourth place is sometimes claimed for Leeds using very ambitious metropolitan area claims. Newcastle is generally placed sixth, and is perhaps the last which can claim a "big city" feel. Other substantial cities include Nottingham, Bristol, Sheffield, Bradford and Leicester. Using the standard U.S. city limits definition of a city the top six are: Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Liverpool, and Manchester. Note that London is not on this list (Greater London is a region and the City of London is tiny), and that one of the two candidates for the status of England's "second city", Manchester, is down in sixth. In the UK, this method of ranking cities is generally only used by people whose own city is promoted by it.
The Channel Tunnel near Folkestone links England to the European mainland.
The highest temperature ever recorded in England was 38.5°C (101.3 °F) on August 10, 2003 in Kent. 
Waterways of the United Kingdom
Major towns and cities
The largest cities in England are as follows (in alphabetical order):
Main article: List of towns in England
Main article: Economy of England
Main article: Demographics of England
Statistics in this section come from the 2001 Census
England is both the most populous and the most ethnically diverse nation in the United Kingdom with around 49 million inhabitants, of which roughly a tenth are from non-White ethnic groups. It is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, second only to the Netherlands in terms of population density.
This population is made up of, and descended from, immigrants who have arrived over millennia. The principal waves of migration have been in c. 600 BC (Celts), the Roman period (garrison soldiers from throughout the Empire), 350–550 (Angles, Saxons, Jutes), 800–900 (Vikings, Danes), 1066 (Normans), 1650–1750 (European refugees and Huguenots), 1880–1940 (Jews), 1950— (Caribbeans, Africans, South Asians), 1985— (citizens of European Community member states, East Europeans, Iranians, Kurds, refugees).
The general prosperity of England has also made it a destination for economic migrants particularly from Ireland and Scotland. This diverse ethnic mix continues to create a diverse and dynamic language that is widely used internationally.
The simplest view is that an English person is someone who is from England and holds British nationality, regardless of his or her racial origin. However, some immigrants refer to themselves as "British" rather than "English". This is possibly because they see themselves as having travelled to Great Britain, often from the former British empire and have been awarded British Citizenship.
In fact it is quite commonplace to hear any inhabitant of England refer to him- or herself as "British" rather than "English"; centuries of English dominance within the United Kingdom has created a situation where to be English is, as a linguist would put it, an "unmarked" state, (i.e. a British person, institution, custom, city, etc. is assumed English unless specified otherwise). The English frequently include their neighbours in the general term "British" while Scots, Welsh, Irish and some Cornish proud of their separate identities, tend to be more forward about referring to themselves by one of those more specific terms.
A person, therefore, using the term "English" to describe him or herself (regardless of personal history) may be going out of his or her way to do so; hence he or she may also be seen (rightly or wrongly, and not necessarily pejoratively) as nationalistic.* While Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Cornish patriotism are widely exhibited, specifically English patriotism has often been viewed with suspicion, and most English people feel more comfortable identifying themselves with Britain as a whole. Although this may be to avoid being seen as bullies by their neighbours. The extent to which specifically English patriotism is linked to a right-wing xenophobic agenda has also generated discomfort. The appropriation of English symbols by racist far-right organisations such as the National Front made many people uncomfortable with expressions of Englishness. In recent years, English identity has recently been a topic of debate in the national press, with many English people trying to "reclaim" the term and the flag from the far-right.
- (To qualify this view, many English people who have spent a lot of time overseas may fall into the habit of referring to themselves as "English". It is the most recognisable designation by speakers of many languages, especially where their own language uses a similar word. Even in other English-speaking countries, people are often perplexed by concepts of "British" or the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".)
All these distinctions are only possible because there is no "English citizenship" or legal definition of Englishness. Moreover, the hazy understanding many people have of the distinction between "England" and "Britain" compounds the confusion. At any rate, it is always safe, when in doubt, to refer to an "English" person as "British", since this will be correct even if not as precise as possible.
See also: Population of England for historical population estimates
Main article: Culture of England
As its name suggests, the English language, today spoken by hundreds of millions of people around the world, originated as the language of England, where it remains the principal tongue today (although not officially enshrined as such). An Indo-European language in the Germanic family, it is closely related to Scots, Frisian and Low Saxon. As the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms merged into England, "Old English" emerged; some of its literature and poetry has survived.
Used by aristocracy and commoners alike before the Norman conquest (1066), English was displaced in cultured contexts under the new regime by the Norman French language of the new Anglo-French aristocracy. Its use was confined primarily to the lower social classes while official business was conducted in a mixture of Latin and French. Over the following centuries, however, English gradually came back into fashion among all classes and for all official business except certain traditional ceremonies. (Some survive to this day.) But Middle English, as it had by now become, showed many signs of French influence, both in vocabulary and spelling. During the renaissance, many words were coined from Latin and Greek origins; and more recent years, Modern English has extended this custom, being always remarkable for its far-flung willingness to incorporate foreign-influenced words.
The law does not recognise any language as being official, but English is the only language used in England for general official business. The other national languages of the UK (Welsh, Irish Gaelic and Scots Gaelic) are confined to their respective nations, and only Welsh is treated by law as an equal to English (and then only for organisations which do business on both sides of the Anglo-Welsh border or in Wales itself).
The only non-Anglic native spoken language in England is the Cornish language, a Celtic language spoken in Cornwall, which became extinct in the 19th century but has been revived and is spoken in various degrees of fluency by around 3,500 people. This has no official status (unlike Welsh) and is not required for official use, but is nonetheless supported by national and local government under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Cornwall County Council has produced a draft strategy to develop these plans. There is, however, no programme as yet for public bodies to actively promote the language. Scots is spoken by some adjacent the Anglo-Scottish Border.
Most deaf people within England speak British sign language (BSL), a sign language native to Britain. The British Deaf Association estimates that 70,000 people throughout the UK speak BSL as their first or preferred language, but does not give statistics specific to England. Like Cornish, BSL has no official status, but has been granted a degree of recognition by the government. The BBC broadcasts several of its programmes with BSL interpreters.
Different languages from around the world, especially from the former British Empire and the Commonwealth of Nations, have been brought to England by immigrants. Many of these are widely spoken within ethnic minority communities, including Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Chinese and Vietnamese. These are often used by official bodies to communicate with the relevant sections of the community, particularly in big cities, but this occurs on an "as needed" basis rather than as the result of specific legislative ordinances.
Other languages have also traditionally been spoken by minority populations in England, including Romany.
Despite the relatively small size of the nation, there are a large number of distinct English regional accents. Those with particularly strong accents may not be easily understood elsewhere in the country.