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How Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Became a Part of the U.K.

December 20, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

It’s a story of conquest and political union.

The United Kingdom is made up of four constituent states: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But there have long been tensions between England and the other three U.K. states, in part because England has always been the dominant political power among them. England brought all the states together through conquest and political union. Here’s how that happened.

England Annexes Wales, Fails to Conquer Scotland

Robert the Bruce reviewing his troops before the Battle of Bannockburn, a decisive battle in the First War of Scottish Independence.

The Kingdom of England, formed in 927, gained the first U.K. state other than itself through invasion. In the late 13th century, King Edward I conquered the western Principality of Wales, claiming it as a territory of England. Next, he invaded the northern Kingdom of Scotland, kicking off the ).

There were several reasons for this union, says Christopher A. Whatley, a professor of Scottish history at the University of Dundee and author of The Scots and the Union: Then and Now. One was the fact that Scotland was in debt after trying to establish a colonial empire in the Americas the same way that England, Portugal and Spain had done.

“The Scots recognized that the Realpolitik, if you like, of the situation was that if they were to establish markets overseas, contacts overseas, they needed the support of a stronger maritime power, which was England,” he says.

Many Scots also saw the union as a way of preventing the Catholic Stuarts from reinstating an absolute monarchy, and securing Scotland’s future under a Protestant constitutional monarchy. For England, there was concern that if it didn’t unite with Scotland, the country might side against England with France in the War of the Spanish Succession. So in 1707, England agreed to give Scotland money to pay off its debts, and both countries’ parliaments passed the Acts of Union to become one nation.

Great Britain Forms Union with Ireland, then Southern Ireland Leaves

Map of the United Kingdom.

Remember how King James IV of Scotland was also King James I of England? Well, he was actually King James I of Ireland, too. Back in the 1540s, Ireland become a dependent kingdom of England, and the 1542 Crown of Ireland Act mandated that the king of England was now also the king of Ireland. The first person to hold …read more


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