England is a country to the northwest of Continental Europe and is the largest and most populous constituent country of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Its inhabitants account for more than 85% of the total population of the United Kingdom,whilst the mainland territory of England occupies most of the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west. Elsewhere, it is bordered by the North Sea, Irish Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and English Channel.
England became a unified state during the tenth century and takes its name from the Angles — one of a number of Germanic tribes who settled in the territory during the fifth and sixth centuries. The capital city of England is London, which is the largest city in the British Isles and largest city in the European Union.
England ranks among the most influential and far-reaching centres of cultural development in the history of the world.It is the place of origin of both the English language and the Church of England, and English law forms the basis of the legal systems of many countries, including the United States. It was the historic centre of the British Empire. It was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and was the first country in the world to become industrialised. England is home to the Royal Society, which laid the foundations of modern experimental science. England was the world's first parliamentary democracy and consequently many constitutional, governmental and legal innovations that had their origin in England have been widely adopted by other nations.
The Kingdom of England was a separate state until 1 May 1707, when the Acts of Union resulted in a political union with the Kingdom of Scotland to create the Kingdom of Great Britain.
England has a vast culture that encompasses elements both old and new. The modern culture of England is sometimes difficult to identify and separate clearly from the culture of the wider United Kingdom, so intertwined are its composite nations. However, the traditional and historic culture of England is more clearly defined.
English Heritage is a governmental body with a broad remit of managing the historic sites, artifacts and environments of England. London's British Museum, British Library and National Gallery contain some of the finest collections in the world.
The English have played a significant role in the development of the arts and sciences.
England has played a significant part in the advancement of Western architecture. It is home to some of the finest mediaeval castles and forts in the world (see Castles in England), including Warwick Castle, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle (the largest inhabited castle in the world and the oldest in continuous occupation). It is also known for its numerous grand country houses (see List of historic houses in England), and for its many mediaeval and later churches and cathedrals.
English architects have contributed to a number of styles over the centuries, including Tudor architecture, English Baroque, the Georgian style and Victorian movements such as Gothic Revival.
Among the best-known contemporary English architects are Norman Foster and Richard Rogers.
English folklore is rich and diverse. Many of the land's oldest legends share themes and sources with the Celtic/Gaelic folklore of Wales, Scotland and Ireland, a typical example being the legend of Herne the Hunter, which shares many similarities with the traditional Welsh legend of Gwyn ap Nudd.
Successive waves of pre-Norman invaders and settlers, from the Romans onwards, via Saxons, Jutes, Angles, Norse to the Norman Conquest have all influenced the myth and legend of England. Some tales, such as that of The Lambton Wyrm show a distinct Norse influence, whilst others, particularly some of the events and characters associated with the Arthurian legends show a distinct romano-gaulic slant.
The most famous body of English folktales concerns the legends of King Arthur, although it would be wrong to regard these stories as purely English in origin as they also concern Wales and, to a lesser extent, Ireland and Scotland. They should therefore be considered as part of the folklore of the British Isles as a whole.
Post-Norman stories include the tales of Robin Hood, which exists in many forms, and stories of other folk heroes such as Hereward The Wake and Dunn of Cumbria who, although being based on historical characters, have grown to become legends in their own right.
Finally, other historical figures come to have legends associated with them (such as Sir Francis Drake and 'Drake's Drum'). These figures then move out of the realm of historical fact and into the realm of mythology.
As its name suggests, the English language, today spoken by hundreds of millions of people around the world, originated as the language of England, where it remains the principal tongue today (although not officially designated as such). An Indo-European language in the Anglo-Frisian branch of the Germanic family, it is closely related to Scots and Frisian. As the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms merged into England, "Old English" emerged; some of its literature and poetry has survived.
Used by aristocracy and commoners alike before the Norman Conquest (1066), English was displaced in cultured contexts under the new regime by the Norman French language of the new Anglo-Norman aristocracy. Its use was confined primarily to the lower social classes while official business was conducted in a mixture of Latin and French. Over the following centuries, however, English gradually came back into fashion among all classes and for all official business except certain traditional ceremonies, some of which survive to this day. But Middle English, as it had by now become, showed many signs of French influence, both in vocabulary and spelling. During the Renaissance, many words were coined from Latin and Greek origins; and more recent years, Modern English has extended this custom, being always remarkable for its far-flung willingness to incorporate foreign-influenced words.
National symbols and insignia
The two main traditional symbols of England are the St George's cross (the English flag), and the Three Lions coat of arms.
Other national symbols exist, but have varying degrees of official usage, such as the oak tree and the rose.
England's National Day is St George's Day (Saint George being the patron saint), which is on 23 April.
The St George's Cross is a red cross on a white background. It is the official national flag of England. In the past it was rarely seen flying, but in recent times has experienced an increase in popularity. It is believed to have been adopted for the uniform of English soldiers during the Crusades of the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries. From about 1277 it officially became the national flag of England. St George's Cross was originally the flag of Genoa and was adopted by England and the City of London in 1190 for their ships entering the Mediterranean to benefit from the protection of the powerful Genoese fleet. The maritime Republic of Genoa was rising and going to become, together with its rival Venice, one of the most important powers in the world. The English Monarch paid an annual tribute to the Doge of Genoa for this privilege. The cross of St George would become the official Flag of England.
A red cross acted as a symbol for many Crusaders in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It became associated with St George and England, along with other countries and cities (such as Georgia, Milan and the Republic of Genoa), which claimed him as their patron saint and used his cross as a banner. It remained in national use until 1707, when the Union Jack (more properly known as the Union Flag, except when used at sea) which English and Scottish ships had used at sea since 1606, was adopted for all purposes to unite the whole of Great Britain under a common flag. The flag of England no longer has much of an official role, but it is widely flown by Church of England properties and at sporting events. The Flag of St. George has gained popularity in recent years, and is widely seen flown out of houses, or on cars during important sporting tournaments in which England is competing. (Paradoxically, the latter is a fairly recent development; until the late twentieth century, it was commonplace for fans of English teams to wave the Union Flag, rather than the St George's Cross).
Three Lions The arms of England are gules, three lions passant guardant or; the earliest surviving record of their use was by Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) in the late twelfth century.
Since union with Scotland and Ireland (or, today, Northern Ireland), the arms of England are no longer used on their own; instead they form a part of the conjoined Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom. However, both the Football Association and the England and Wales Cricket Board use logos based on the three lions. In recent years, it has been common to see banners of the arms flown at English football matches, in the same way the Lion Rampant is flown in Scotland In 1996, Three Lions was the official song of the England football team for the 1996 European Football Championship, which were held in England. The Tudor rose is the national floral emblem of England, and was adopted as a national emblem of England around the time of the Wars of the Roses.
The rose is used in a variety of contexts in its use for England's representation. Technically, the rose of England should always be a Tudor, or half-red-half-white rose, symbolising the end of both the Wars of the Roses and the subsequent marriage between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. This symbolism is reflected in the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom and the crest of the FA. However, the rose of England is often displayed as a red rose (which also symbolises Lancashire), such as the badge of the England national rugby union team. A white rose (which also symbolises Yorkshire) is also used on different occasions.