Annals Britannica offers an easy-to-read (or hear!) source where new and old citizens of these islands can explore events, personalities, etc. involved in the foundation and development of their country. Each chapter consists of an introductory Review of the unfolding political and social scene and its historical context . The Review is accompanied by a comprehensive year-by-year Timeline listing events, personalities, etc. which have had some significance in the development of Britain, and its effect on the wider world.
This rich tapestry of what has gone into making Britain and its people naturally lists all sorts of notable events such as the Black Death, the Religious Reformation, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the Blitz, the Brexit Referendum and much, much more. It also records the historical development of Britain’s unique unwritten constitution which gradually curtailed the almost absolute powers of our early rulers and eventually transformed into the constitution which constantly evolves to protect us today. The people and events contributing to the essential differences of English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalities are explored and the religious rivalries which played an important part in the development of our countries are examined. The long history of national disputes which still enliven relations within these islands, and the movements for separatism are also acknowledged.
Memorable political and martial figures like Alfred the Great, William the Conqueror, Robert the Bruce, Llewelyn the Great, Elizabeth I, Thomas and Oliver Cromwell, Marlborough, the two William Pitts, Nelson, Wellington, Queen Victoria, etc. are remembered as important figures in the long story of our national development. Britain’s growth as the world’s foremost industrial, commercial and financial power is also outlined and the contributions of such people as the financiers Sir Thomas Gresham and William Paterson, and inventors and engineers such as Richard Trevithick, James Watt, Abraham Darby, George Stevenson, I. K. Brunel, Barnes Wallis and Frank Whittle are acknowledged. The numerous names of British Nobel Prize winners and the entire corpus of British inventions which gave rise to the Industrial Revolution testify to the creative abilities of British people through the centuries.
Many notable thinkers who have contributed so much to the world of ideas, science and philosophy, such as John Wycliffe, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith and John Ruskin were born in these islands or, like Karl Marx, found a refuge here. The literary accomplishments of Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens and Swift are naturally referred to, alongside references to many other fine writers in the English language, including the great contributions from women like the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Iris Murdoch and J. K. Rowling. Some of the actors, musicians, artists and entertainers who have contributed to our unique British heritage over the years are also mentioned, as are the sports first played here, such as Cricket, Lawn Tennis and Golf, and those whose regulations were first codified by Britons, such as Boxing and the various codes of Football. Many names, places and events may stir memories; others are relatively unknown, but all contributed in some way to making our modern nation in political, religious, social, cultural or other ways.
No history of Britain would be complete without consideration of its role at the centre of a world-wide empire which was recently dismantled in less than a lifetime. It is also the ‘motherland’ of people who founded the United States of America and the Commonwealth nations of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, where some British laws and traditions still linger today The Annals include accounts of that imperial and colonial story, including references to British involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the enslavement of black people in the American and Caribbean colonies. Other contentious matters, include the Opium wars with Imperial China, the long British domination of the Indian sub-continent and Britain’s involvement in the race to control assets and land in Africa. The British imperial story told here also includes reference to the under-sung efforts of Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson, who did more than anyone to secure the end of slavery and the slave trade in the British empire, and the long-time service of the Royal Navy which resulted in the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and throttled the same trade off the East coast of Africa.
Above all, this record recognises a nation which has endured through many centuries and whose legacy, for good or ill, still lives in these islands and in many other parts of the world today. My one cautionary piece of advice is that readers should remember that yesterday’s people had no knowledge of today’s ethics and standards and they could only dimly perceive, or were often blind to, the historic results of their activities. They did what they did, for good or ill, based on the information, ethics and beliefs of their time.
Annals is merely a brief outline of Britain’s progress through successive period of time and has no intention of giving a detailed examination of the past. If anything here provokes readers to explore or question the matter further, I recommend they consult libraries and online sites where they will find much more information with which to develop a more completely informed opinion. However, it is wise to remember Hilary Mantell’s words: ‘History is not the past – it is a method we have evolved of organising our ignorance of the past.’ it is my hope that a wide range of people, from young students to older folk will find some information and enjoyment from this portrayal of Britain and its long history.