1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND, the official title, since the 1st of January 1801, of the political unity composed of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland. “Great Britain” was employed as a formal designation from the time of the union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland in 1707. Although the name (which apparently had its origin in Britannia Major, the name given to the island to distinguish it from Britannia Minor or Brittany) had, in earlier times, been often used both by English and by foreign writers, especially for rhetorical and poetical purposes, it was not till after the accession of James I. that it became a recognized part of the royal style. Its adoption was due to the king himself, who was anxious to give expression to the fact that he was sovereign of the undivided island, and not only of England or Scotland. As early as 1559 the Scottish congregation had formally proposed the union of the two crowns, and the adoption of the name of Great Britain for the common country (Teulet, Mêm. Caille à M. de la Mothe, Dec. 20). But in England the innovation at first met with great opposition. Various objections, sentimental and practical, were urged against it in parliament; and the judges, when appealed to by the king, declared that the adoption of the title would invalidate all legal processes. At length, on the 20th of October 1604, the king, weary of the discussion, cut the knot by assuming the title by royal proclamation, and in due course the inscription “J. D. G. Mag. Brit. F. et H. Rex” appeared on his coins. In November 1604 we find the king instructing the lords commissioners of the Gunpowder Plot to try and discover if the prisoner was the author of a most “cruel pasquil” against him for assuming the name of Britain.
For further details see Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series; and J. Spedding, Letters and Life of Lord Bacon, vol. iii. (London, 1861–1874).
England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland are politically united under a parliament (q.v.), consisting of the king, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, the prerogatives of the Crown being exercised through responsible ministers. The executive government is carried on under the supervision of the ministers of state (see Ministry), the more important of whom are united in the cabinet (q.v.). The first minister of the Crown or prime minister (q.v.) is appointed by the king, and having made choice of his colleagues, recommends them for appointment. (See the separate articles on the various offices. For the judiciary system, see Court; Appeal; &c.)
In separate articles throughout this Encyclopaedia the main subjects of interest in connexion with British institutions are fully dealt with; and it is only necessary here to give such details as are needed to supplement those given under the subject-heading. See Agriculture; Navy (also Ship and Ship-Building); Education; English Finance; English History; Civil Service; National Debt; Police; Poor Law; &c. A separate section, however, is devoted to the army, the constitution of which in 1910 is described; the history is given under Army.
- II.—British Military Forces
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