LOCATION: United Kingdom (England)
POPULATION: Over 48 million
RELIGION: Church of England; Protestantism; Judaism; Sikhism; Hinduism; Islam
England is unique among European countries. As an island, it has been protected by surrounding waters that form a natural barrier. No country has successfully invaded England for the last 1,000 years.
The area now called England was occupied by many European cultures and tribes. In 1066 AD the Normans, from France, invaded and became the new rulers of England. London was established as the country's capital. Soon after, England began expanding into its neighboring countries—Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. England's history has been continuously linked with these three nations through to present times.
In the seventeenth century, the first English colonies in America were established. England continued to expand its colonies and became an empire (a government with many territories under its rule) that covered one-quarter of the world.
England suffered enormous losses during World War I (1914–18). After the war, England began to lose authority over its colonies. Ireland was the first to become independent. World War II (1939–45) was also devastating to England. In the twenty-five years that followed, the British Empire granted independence to the majority of its other colonies. Most of the former colonies still retain economic and political ties to Britain. The British economy and society still have a strong influence in world affairs today. The British royal family, which no longer has any political power, is often the focus of international publicity.
England is the largest of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom. Two others—Scotland and Wales—share the same island (Britain) with England, and the three countries are collectively known as Great Britain. The fourth, Northern Ireland, is a close neighbor. England is roughly triangular in shape, with a long, irregular coastline. Its countryside includes many types of terrain, including mountains, plains, lowlands and low hills, and moors (marshy, open areas). London is the capital city.
England has a high population density (many people living close together). Most of England's inhabitants live in cities. Ethnically, they come from a mixture of European groups. Many people have moved from Scotland, Wales, and Ireland to live in England. Immigrants have also come from former British colonies in South Asia and the Caribbean.
English is the most widely spoken language in the world. It is spoken throughout the United Kingdom and by close to 450 million people around the globe. Many varieties of English are spoken worldwide, and many dialects and regional accents exist within England. Although Americans speak English, they may have difficulty understanding the speech of the English people. In addition to differences in pronunciation, people in the two countries often use different words for the same thing. Examples include:
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The most famous folklore of England is about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. If there was a real King Arthur, he most probably lived in the sixth century AD . King Arthur is believed to have ruled justly, which was uncommon for rulers of that era. Famous characters from that folklore include Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot. Many books and movies tell these stories, including T. H. White's The Once and Future King and the movies Camelot and Excalibur.
Also famous are the English legends about Robin Hood and his Merry Men. These noble outlaws lived in Sherwood Forest near the city of Nottingham in the twelfth century AD . They were famous for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.
Church and state are closely intertwined in England, unlike in the United States. About 60 percent of England's population are members of the Church of England (also called the Anglican Church). Other Protestant sects are also active in England, as is the Roman Catholic Church. England has one of Europe's largest Jewish populations. In addition, many cities have recently become home to large immigrant populations of Sikhs (followers of a Hindu-Islamic religion), Hindus, and Muslims (followers of Islam).
Most of England's holidays are those celebrated by the Christian religion. Other holidays include New Year's Day (January 1), May Day (May 1), and the August bank holiday.
There is also a great deal of celebration related to the government and the monarchy. Much ceremony surrounds the State Opening of Parliament (the governing council) each year. Traditions also surround anniversaries of many historical events. Among them is Remembrance Sunday, which commemorates the armistice (military truce) that ended World War I (1914–18).
England is a modern, industrialized country. Therefore, many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are connected with their progress through the educational system. Other rites of passage include getting a first job, being promoted, getting married, having children, and retiring in one's sixties. These are the main markers of significant life changes.
English people are known for their politeness and their respect for law and order. They wait patiently in lines (which they call "queues") at stores, bus stops, and movie theaters. It is uncommon for people to try to push ahead of each other. Those living in the south are usually more reserved than northerners, and are less likely to greet strangers. The English are also known for their acceptance of other people's views and eccentricities (peculiar behaviors).
Social class is an important feature of English society. In earlier times, people from wealthy families enjoyed great privileges not available to working-class and poor people. After World War II (1939–45), working-class people gained access to better education and therefore to better jobs. As a result, many barriers between classes weakened. However, class identity is still inferred from such things as patterns of speech, which school one attended, and one's parents' occupations.
Even though England has a high population density, there is less overcrowding than in most European countries. About half the population now live in dwellings constructed after World War II (1939–45). These are usually two-story houses with gardens. More than 80 percent of England's population live in houses, while the rest occupy apartments (called "flats.") There is a shortage of low-income rental housing. This has contributed to a growing homeless population in London and England's other major cities.
England's families have gotten smaller over the years. Grandparents are more likely to live alone or in retirement homes rather than with their families. More young couples are living together without marrying. Those who marry do so at a later age than in previous times. They often establish themselves in their occupations before starting a family. Gender roles of men and women are changing, both at home and in the workplace.
Women are moving toward greater equality in relationships and responsibility. A 1975 law established equal pay for men and women performing the same work.
There is no unique national costume for England. For the most part, the English wear modern-style clothing similar to that worn in the United States and other industrialized countries. Blue jeans and T-shirts are very popular. The cold, damp winters require heavy coats, mackintoshes (rain-coats), and warm woolen clothes.
The most famous traditional costumes in England are the red uniforms and high black hats worn by the royal guard at Buckingham Palace. Ceremonial dress is worn by government troops and the royal family on official occasions. In rural areas, traditional folk costumes are worn for festivals such as May Day (May 1, a celebration of spring).
English cuisine can seem bland and unimaginative to people from other countries. It usually does not include many herbs or spices, or fancy presentations. This may be why food from other countries, especially India and China, is popular in England.
The traditional English breakfast is quite substantial. It includes bacon, eggs, sausages, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, fried bread, and kipper (a type of smoked fish). Modern English people rarely take the time to prepare such an elaborate breakfast before going off to work or school. They usually eat a lighter meal, often cereal and toast with marmalade.
Adapted from Howard Hillman, Great Peasant Dishes of the World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.
The main meal of the day may be eaten either at midday or in the evening. It usually consists of a meat dish, vegetables, and a dessert. Sunday lunch is the most important meal of the week.
Tea is the national beverage. The English are known for their custom of afternoon tea, accompanied by cakes and sandwiches. The custom originated with the wealthier classes who were able to eat at 4:00 PM when most people were at work. Nowadays, afternoon tea is mostly a weekend event.
Bubble and Squeak is a dish with a funny name that was invented to make use of leftovers from a roast beef dinner. The "bubble and squeak" refers to the dish as it cooks. A recipe for Bubble and Squeak is on the previous page.
Education is required for all children between the ages of five and sixteen. Nearly all English people are literate (able to read and write). Most students attend state-run schools. Primary education lasts until the age of eleven, followed by secondary education. At the age of sixteen, pupils sit for exams in several subjects to get the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). After that, they may either leave school to find a job, or continue secondary education until the age of eighteen. At that age, they may take more advanced exams (A-Level). These are usually taken in preparation for attending a university.
England has a distinguished cultural heritage, including one of the greatest writers ever, the sixteenth-century playwright William Shakespeare. Other great writers include the poets William Wordsworth and John Keats; novelists Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne), George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy; and modern writers D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, W. H. Auden, George Orwell, and T. S. Eliot.
Great English painters include Joseph Turner and John Constable (nineteenth century), and Francis Bacon, David Hockney, and Graham Sutherland (twentieth century). Henry Moore was a famous twentieth-century sculptor. English composers include John Dowland, William Byrd, and Henry Purcell (1500s and 1600s); Gilbert and Sullivan (nineteenth-century light operas); and Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten in modern times. In the 1960s, England became a trendsetter in popular music as the home of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
The average English workweek is five days and thirty-five to forty hours long. This is about half of the workweek of a century ago. Approximately half of England's workers are employed in service sector jobs (jobs that directly serve the public). A third work in manufacturing and engineering. The rest work in agriculture, construction, mining, and energy production.
The most popular sport in England, both for watching and playing, is soccer (called "football"). It is played in professional and amateur leagues as well as in schools, colleges, and small towns. Other favorite sports include cricket and rugby. These three games all originated in England and spread throughout the world due to the influence of the British Empire. Other popular sports include horse racing, hockey, cross-country running, tennis, swimming, and other water sports. Gambling on sports—which is legal in England—is popular.
Many people in England spend their leisure time relaxing at home watching television or videos. Most are regular newspaper readers, and nearly half read books regularly. The English also enjoy going to a local pub (bar) for good traditional food as well as alcoholic beverages.
Angling (fishing with a hook and line) is the most popular pastime in the country. The English are also very fond of games, including snooker (a billiards game) and darts. Older people often enjoy bingo and cribbage (a card game). The English are known for their love of gardening. Even apartment dwellers cultivate window boxes full of flowers, or rent a piece of land on which to garden. Fishing, hiking, and horseback riding are also popular, as are raising pets and taking a variety of evening classes.
England has a history of fine furniture-making. This dates back to the eighteenth-century work of Thomas Chippendale and George Hepplewhite. The ceramics of Josiah Wedgwood and Josiah Spode also date back to that time. England still exports blue-and-white Wedgwood jasperware. The most famous English folk dance is the Morris dance, still seen at local festivals. Male dancers stomp and leap while waving pieces of cloth and jingling bells.
The most serious social problems in modern-day England are class divisions and economic inequality. Over 20 percent of the nation's wealth is owned by 1 percent of the people. Unemployment hit 10 percent in 1993.
Many immigrants from the West Indies, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, and other countries have settled in England's urban areas. They often suffer the effects of discrimination and have high rates of unemployment. Racial tension between the white English community and nonwhite immigrants has erupted into riots in several major cities.
England in Pictures. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1990.
Fuller, Barbara. Britain: Cultures of the World. London, England: Marshall Cavendish, 1994.
Gall, Timothy, and Susan Gall, eds. Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Detroit: UXL, 1996.
Greene, Carol. England. Enchantment of the World Series. Chicago: Children's Press, 1994.
Helweg, Arthur W. "English." In Encyclopedia of World Cultures (Europe). Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992.
Langley, Andrew. Passport to England. New York: Franklin Watts, 1994.