England is a constituent country of the United Kingdom located on the island of Great Britain in the north-west of Europe. It is home of the English language currently spoken by perhaps a billion people worldwide, and was the seat of an empire that spanned the globe. England is the largest of the UK's constituent countries, both in terms of area and population. It is also home to the UK's capital and parliament, making this area politically and economically important to the UK as a whole. This may be part of the reason as to why the entirety of the United Kingdom is erroneously referred to as just England.
Prior to the Romans, the Celts largely inhabited what would become England. From 43 AD, the Romans invaded Britain and took control of the southern half of the islands, where they founded the fort of Londinium, which later became London.
As the Roman Empire abandoned Britain in AD410, nearby Germanic tribes, specifically the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, began to settle over the majority of the island. Kingdoms formed, such as Northumbria (Anglian) in the north east, Wessex (named after the West Saxons) in the south west and Kent (probably settled by Jutes, and now the name of a county) in the south east. The home nations of Wales and Scotland, and the South West England county of Cornwall continued to be independent Celtic nations for some time after this. The Germanic invaders were still pagans when they conquered part of Britain (e.g. Penda of Mercia was (allegedly) the last pagan King). The English peoples were converted to Christianity, however, in the 7th Century AD. This happened from two directions: the mission of St. Augustine, emissary of Gregory the Great came initially to Kent, while the (successful) mission to the Northumbrian Angles (and from there to peoples further south) was from the Celtic Church based in northern British monasteries such as Iona and Lindisfarne. The entire British Isles later came under the sway of Roman Catholicism as the powerful Northumbrian King, Oswy, chose in favour of Roman practice in AD 664 ('Synod of Whitby').
Later, in 1066 AD, the Norman French Duke William the Conqueror defeated the last Anglo-Saxon King, Harold Godwinson. William established himself as king of England, and the Monarchy continued until the crowning of Stephen of Blois. However, Empress Matilda, with aid of relations and riots going around England caused the signing of the Treaty of Wallingford, where King Henry II became heir of England. The House of Plantagenet (the royal family at the time), dynastically inherited a number of French duchies and lands, including Normandy, Aquitaine, Anjou and Gascony. This became known as the Angevin Empire.
Amongst the privileged elite French language and customs became a part of English culture, however for the most part the common population continued to use their own language and customs. William retained significant territories on mainland Europe, in what is now France. For many hundreds of years England fought a series of wars (including the Hundred Years War) for possession of northern France. These did not end until 1588 with the loss of Calais. The Channel Islands are still a crown dependency to this day.
On the basis of their territories in England and France the Norman monarchs became influential in Europe. In 1215, rebellious nobles forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, essentially a charter guaranteeing the rights of the king's subject nobles and the church, and setting forward the precedent that the monarch's powers were bound by law. In 1455-1487 a series of conflicts called the Wars of the Roses were fought between the noble families of York and Lancaster for control of the throne.
After the Wars of the Roses had been won by Henry of Lancaster, the reign of the Tudors began. Henry VII, as he became, was more concerned with defending his crown and so concentrated mainly on domestic policies. While Henry VII is one of England's less famous kings he was one of the few monarchs ever to leave the crown solvent upon his death. Henry VIII, unlike his father, was obsessed with winning glory on the battlefield, preferably in France. Henry launched three major wars throughout his reign against France and in the process managed to capture the city of Boulogne as well as two minor towns, however all of these we're lost or returned by the end of Edwards VI reign. However Henry is most famous for his split with Rome, where he created the Protestant Church of England. When the current Pope refused to allow him to annul his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry passed the Statute of Restraint of appeals, declared himself head of the English Church and decreed that the Pope had no power over England. During his reign Henry had six wives, of which only three bore him children. Of these, only one was a son—a sickly child who reigned as Edward VI for just six years after his father's death. His daughter Elizabeth, however, was crowned Queen in 1558 and became perhaps England's greatest and best-loved monarch with her reign often being referred to as Englands Golden Age. Elizabeth was queen during some of England's greatest moments of the age, the founding of England's first (if unsuccessful) American colony, the defeat of the Spanish Armarda and solidifying The Church of England's beliefs and acceptance within the nation. Upon her death, the heir to the throne, King James VI of Scotland was crowned King James I, leading to an eventual unification of the two nations.
In 1533 AD King Henry VIII formed the Church of England (CoE) after the pope refused to annul the marriage between the king and Catherine of Aragon; while originally the CoE followed a policy of Catholic without the pope, his successors Edward VI and Elizabeth I moved the church in a far more Protestant direction. Henry established himself as the head of the church and made it the state religion of England. This situation continues to this day, although in much modified form. The queen is still the nominal head of the church, although purely as a figurehead. Decisions technically taken by the queen are in fact done only on the advice of her ministers, who in matters of the church invariably act on the advice of the church leaders. Until recently certain bishops of the Church of England were automatically given seats in the House of Lords. The Church of England is closely involved with the ceremonies associated with England, for example at coronations or royal weddings and funerals.
Since the Reformation the country has remained primarily Anglican with the notable exception of the Catholic reigns of Mary I and James II. More recently, the number of Roman Catholics is poised to overtake the number of Anglicans in the country, a trend that is likely to continue with an influx of migrants from Catholic countries such as Ireland and recent EU accession countries such as Poland. As with the UK as a whole, the significant minority religions include Hinduism, Judaism and Islam.
A 2001 census gave the following figures for religious affiliation: Christianity: 71.6%, Islam: 3.1%, Hindu: 1.1%, Sikh: 0.7%, Jewish: 0.5%, and Buddhist: 0.3%, No Faith: 22.3%. Approximately 7% of responders did not answer the question.
Unlike American schools, state run Comprehensive schools in England have a daily act of Christian worship, although there have been efforts in recent times to remove this, to reflect the multifaith make-up of England. There is support for some "faith schools", such as Peter Vardy's Emmanuel Schools Foundation through the Academies program.
England is the home of the modern English language, which was later spread to all parts of the world by the British Empire, along with traditional English concepts such as the rule of law, universal suffrage, parliamentary government, the jury system, and freedom of speech.
- English Heritage - English history website