Ireland

arrived to case the joint. While some English still claim to be the result of superior, unfettered breeding, the arrival of these interlopers was the beginning of thousands of years of imported genes.

The only evidence today of this obscure period are the impressive stone columns at Stonehenge (pl91) and Avebury (pl92), along with hundreds of smaller near-forgottenrock circles dotted throughout the country. Historians remain divided over what exactly went on at these sites, although claims that they were early football stadiums have been largely discredited.

The next important gene pool influx came from the Celts of central Europe, whose bronze- and iron-smelting skills launched a mini cultural revolution. London's British Museum (p 159), along with many town and city museums across the country, display artefacts from this period, many unearthed by metal detector enthusiasts.

Even more numerous are the excavated discoveries from England's colourful Roman era. In AD 43 the modern storm troopers of the empire arrived on England's shores, overcoming fierce resistance to establish dominion over much of the land for the next 350 years. They were a major civilising influence, creating buildings, fortifications and roads that can still be seen in and around Bath (pi99), York (p221), and at Hadrian's Wall (p231), once the northernmost border of the entire empire.

Dark Ages

With its empire crumbling, the Romans abandoned the island around 410, sparking a period of history in the region that is still poorly understood. This is when the idea of England as an entity began to emerge. With tribes carving larger territories and entering uneasy pacts to protect their regions, the Saxons, Angles and Jutes rose to prominence, while Christianity slowly overcame paganism as the religion of choice.

With such a fragile network of power, England was ripe for invasion. By the end of the first millennium both the Danish and Norwegian Vikings occupied large swathes of land across northern and eastern England. York was the capital of the Danish region, and the sights, sounds and smells of the settlement are colourfully evoked today at the city's Jorvik Centre (p221).

By 1016 the Danes had taken tenuous control of the country, but a period of turmoil ensued involving rival claims to the barely unified crown. The chaos continued until the Battle of Hastings in 1066, when the Norman, William the Conqueror, acquired his name by defeating his main rival Harold on the English south coast. The Normans had as much impact on England as the Romans, importing French aristocrats to take charge and building an imposing network of hulking castles and astonishing cathedrals. Many of these architectural landmarks can be visited today, although they're often now romantic ruins. Among the most remarkable intact Norman structures are Windsor Castle (pi79), Westminster Abbey (pi59) and Durham Cathedral (p227).

Middle Ages

The ensuing centuries saw England racked with intrigue and conspiracy as aristocratic families squared off against each other to influence the succession. Costly battles with France, itself as disunified as England, eventually brought English defeat. But the period's main victor was Parliament, which consolidated its power against the monarchy, sowing the seeds for future strife. By 1485, King Henry VII had been crowned, launching a period of rule that's much in evidence today in the timber-framed Tudor streets and buildings of English towns like Shrewsbury (p213) and Stratford-upon-Avon (p210).

A brewing struggle with the Catholic church came to a head in 1536 during the reign of Henry VIII, when Papal power in England was renounced and the monarch became the head of a new Church of England. Many splendid abbeys and cathedrals were sacked or destroyed, some forever. The ruins of some of these - including Whitby Abbey (p226) and Glastonbury Abbey (p202) - can still be visited. Others were eventually rebuilt, although often altered in the process. The religious strife was not over, however, and the conflict dissolved into a bitter civil war in 1642, with Parliament rising to the full extent of its power, ultimately leading to the execution of Charles I. When the war's instigator, Oliver Cromwell, died in 1658, the monarchy was restored.

Victorian Age

The monarchy and Parliament were never the same again. By the 18th century the new position of prime minister began to assume greater power while the monarchy, soon represented by Queen Victoria, sank into a largely ceremonial role.

By the 19th century England had built a formidable global empire and was using its territories to fuel immense commercial expansion. The country was perfectly positioned to launch the Industrial Revolution, which tied machine innovation to the population explosion. The lasting cultural impact of the Victorian era is still evident throughout the country in the enormous 19th-century, glass-roofed train stations and magnificent public buildings that can be found in cities such as London, Newcastle and Manchester.

New Labour, New Millennium

England's 20th century was a period of war and end-of-empire followed by cultural and economic resurgence. Two world wars brought the nation almost to its knees, although many still recall the 1940 Battle of Britain, when the English resisted a three-month air attack from Germany, as its finest hour. Many former colonies were restored to independence after WWII and the nation's manufacturing industries entered a period of slow, painful decline.

By the 1990s, though, England had bounced back and entered the new millennium with one of the world's strongest economies. Its role on the world stage was exemplified by its relationship with the USA and participation in military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Echoing a history of protest, millions took to the streets of London and other major English cities to protest the nation's involvement. In 2005, terrorist bombs killed dozens on public transit in the capital, a direct reaction to Britain's support for the War on Terror.

With the country's Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair coming towards the end of his final term in office, Britain's political future is entering a period of uncertainty. Dour Gordon Brown is preparing to take over and square-off against a slowly regrouping Conservative Party that is itching to repeat the hold on power it enjoyed under Margaret Thatcher.

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