I’ve recently had to explain to a colleague how the British Isles are organised. It was part of a conversation about the upcoming plebiscite in Scotland where the decision will be made to remain in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or go it alone as a fully sovereign nation. There are lots of these explanations to be had, but I hope I can contribute to the efforts at clarity. We will step backward through time.
First, start with the largest collective noun: separated from the United Kingdom in the bloody ugliness between World War I and World War II. Ireland gradually transitioned from a dominion to a full republic with no reference to the Crown. Northern Ireland remains part of the Her Majesty’s Government.
Having acknowledged Ireland, we then start to pick apart the historical puzzle that is the United Kingdom. Today, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is constituted by four kingdoms that all fall under the sovereign rule of Her Majesty’s Government. Namely, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This current union dates from 1801 with a modification in 1922 to accommodate the independence of the nation of Ireland and the separation of Northern Ireland from the new nation.
So, this brings us to the modern United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But what went before the 1801 union with Ireland? Prior to 1801, Ireland was under the rule of the Crown, but with a separate government in Ireland. From 1707, we see the establishment of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Scotland had been, like Ireland, a country ruled by the Crown, but with a separate government in Scotland. This act pulls together the Kingdom of England, the Principality of Wales and the Kingdom of Scotland under one government.
Scotland had been united to the Crown since 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.
In this context one can see that the unified entity that we today call the United Kingdom has a long past and not all of it peaceful or willing. This is not unusual in human affairs, but it takes us down the road in understanding the background for the Scottish plebiscite to be held later this year. Maybe a separate post later on Scotland’s plebiscite.
Originally published on Literarytech.com and retrieved via the Internet Archives.