England(Latin Anglia), political division of the island of Great Britain, constituting, with Wales, the principal division of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. England occupies all of the island east of Wales and south of Scotland, another division of the United Kingdom. Established as an independent monarchy many centuries ago, England in time achieved political control over the rest of the island, all the British Isles, and vast sections of the world, becoming the nucleus of one of the greatest empires in history. The capital, largest city, and chief port of England is London, with a population (1991 preliminary) of 6,378,600. It is also the capital of Great Britain and the site of the headquarters of the Commonwealth of Nations.
England is somewhat triangular in shape, with its apex at the mouth of the Tweed River. The eastern leg, bounded by the North Sea, extends generally southeast to the North Foreland, the northern extremity of the region called the Downs. The western leg of the triangle extends generally southwest from the mouth of the Tweed along the boundary with Scotland, the Irish Sea, Saint Georges Channel, and the Atlantic Ocean to Lands End, the westernmost extremity of England and of the island. The northern frontier extends from Solway Firth on the west along the Cheviot Hills to the mouth of the Tweed on the east. The base of the triangle fronts the English Channel and the Strait of Dover. The total area of England is 130,439 sq km (50,363 sq mi), 57 percent of the area of the island. This total, approximately the size of the state of North Carolina, includes the region of theScilly Isles, southwest of Lands End in the Atlantic Ocean; the Isle of Wight (see Wight, Isle of), located off the southern coast; and the Isle of Man, located in the Irish Sea.
One of the principal physiographic features of England, as well as of the entire island of Great Britain, is the deeply indented coast. Most of the indentations are excellent natural harbors, easily accessible to deepwater shipping, a factor that has been decisive in the economic development and imperial expansion of England. By virtue of the high tides that prevail along the eastern coast, a number of rivers and their estuaries provide this region with safe anchorages. The most important of these belong to such ports asNewcastle upon Tyne, on the Tyne River; Middlesbrough, on the Tees River; Hull, on the Humber River; Great Yarmouth, on the estuary of the Yare River; and London, on the Thames River. The most important harbors on the southern coast include those of Dover, Hastings, Eastbourne, Brighton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth, and Plymouth. The western coast, considerably more broken than either the eastern or southern coast, also has numerous anchorages. Of outstanding commercial importance are the harbor of Bristol, at the confluence of Bristol Channel and the Severn River; and Liverpool Harbor, at the mouth of the Mersey River.
The terrain of England is diversified. The northern and western portions are generally mountainous. The principal highland region, thePennine Chain (or Pennines), forms the backbone of northern England. It is composed of several ranges extending south from the Cheviot Hills to the valley of the Trent River and numerous spurs and extensions that radiate in all directions. The extreme elevation of the Pennine Chain and the highest summit in England is Scafell Pike (978 m/3210 ft above sea level). A large portion of the area occupied by the Pennine Chain comprises the Lake District, one of the most picturesque regions in England. The terrain east of Wales and between the southern extremities of the Pennine Chain and Bristol Channel is an extension of the rolling plain that occupies most of central and eastern England. Much of the western part of this central region is known as the Midlands; it contains an area that is known as the Black Country because of its intensive industrial development. To the east lies The Fens, a vast drained marsh area. To the south of Bristol Channel an elevated plateau slopes upward, culminating in the barren uplands and moors of Cornwall and Devon. Dartmoor (about 610 m/about 2000 ft above sea level), one of the wildest tracts in England, is situated in this region. Successive ranges of chalk hills, seen from the English Channel as white cliffs, project eastward from Devon to the Strait of Dover.
As a result of the relative warmth of the nearby seas, England has a moderate climate, rarely marked by extremes of heat or cold. The mean annual temperature ranges between 11.1œ C (52œ F) in the south and 8.9œ C (48œ F) in the northeast. Seasonal temperatures vary between a mean of about 16.1œ C (61œ F) during July, the hottest month of the year, and 4.4œ C (40œ F) during January, the coldest month. The average January and July temperatures for the city of London are 4.5œ C (40œ F) and 18œ C (64œ F), respectively. Fogs, mists, and overcast skies are frequent, particularly in the Pennine and inland regions. Precipitation, heaviest during October, averages about 760 mm (about 30 in) annually in most of England.
England has some agricultural and mineral resources but must rely on imports of both. Approximately two-fifths of the land area is arable, with the richest soils found in the east. Substantial reserves of iron ore are concentrated inCumbria, Staffordshire, and Lancashire. Waterpower resources are small and mostly concentrated in the highlands of Cumbria, in northern England.
Plants and Animals
In early times, England, like most of the island of Great Britain, was heavily forested, chiefly with oak and beech in the lowlands and pine and birch in the mountainous areas. Woodlands now constitute less than 4 percent of the total land area. Various types of fruit trees are cultivated, including the cherry, apple, and plum. A common shrub is a species of furze known locally as gorse. Numerous varieties of wildflowers are also found.
Among the chief indigenous fauna of England are several species of deer, fox, rabbit, hare, and badger. The most widespread bird is the meadow pipit, and sparrows are abundant. Grouse are found in the northern counties. Other familiar species are the crow, pigeon, rook, starling, and several members of the thrush family. Reptiles, of which only four species occur on the entire island of Great Britain, are rare in England. The most common freshwater fishes found in England are trout and salmon.
PopulationThe great majority of the people of England, like those of the British Isles in general, are descended from early Celtic and Iberian peoples and later invaders of the islands, including the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, and Normans. After 1945 substantial numbers of blacks and Asians immigrated into the country. England, once a nation of small rural villages, has become highly urban since the early 19th century.
The population of England (1991 census, preliminary) was 46,170,300. The overall population density of about 354 persons per sq km (about 917 per sq mi) was one of the highest in the world. In 1980, approximately 75 percent were urban dwellers.
Political DivisionsFor local governmental purposes, England is divided into 39 nonmetropolitan counties, 6 metropolitan counties, and Greater London (established in 1965 as a separate administrative entity). The counties are subdivided into a total of about 330 districts, which together are further divided into some 10,000 parishes. Each level of local government is presided over by a council, the members of which are elected to four-year terms. In districts that have the title of city or borough, the chairperson of the council is the mayor. Before the reorganization of local government in 1974, England was divided into 46 administrative counties, Greater London, and 79 county boroughs. The present counties and former counties of England, each of which is described in a separate article in this encyclopedia, are listed in an accompanying chart.
After London, Birmingham, population (1991) 934,900, is the second largest city and is the center of an extensive industrial area that contains major concentrations of the automotive and other industries. Liverpool (448,300) is the second largest port and a major cargo export outlet of Great Britain; it is also a great commercial and industrial center. Manchester (397,400) is the chief commercial hub of the cotton and synthetic-fiber textile industries, as well as an important financial and commercial center and a major port. Among other important cities are Sheffield (500,500), the heavy engineering center famous for its high-quality steels, cutlery, and tools, and Bristol (370,300), a leading port and commercial center.
TheChurch of England, a Protestant Episcopal denomination, is the state church and the nominal church of nearly three-fifths of the population. The denomination next in importance is the Roman Catholic church, which has about 6 million members in England. Among the numerous Protestant denominations are the Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist, Unitarian, and Society of Friends. England also has about 600,000 Muslims and 350,000 Jews. Large communities of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs have immigrated to England since the 1950s.
For the development and administration of the educational system, seeGreat Britain. In England and Wales school attendance is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 16. About 90 percent of the elementary and secondary schools are organized and maintained by local education authorities and supported entirely by public funds; the remainder are voluntary schools, provided and maintained by a private body, usually of a religious denomination.
Elementary and Secondary Schools
In the mid-1980s about 7.7 million pupils were attending publicly maintained schools in England and Wales. Enrollment in independent schools was about 512,000; these private schools are referred to in England as “public” schools. The transfer from elementary to secondary school generally takes place at the age of 11.
Children with conditions such as blindness, deafness, mental retardation, or other disabilities are given special aid in ordinary schools or attend one of the day or boarding schools established for such children. In the mid-1980s these special schools numbered nearly 1500 in England alone.
Universities and Colleges
In the mid-1980s some 500 institutions provided part-time or full-time education beyond the secondary level (called “further education”) for students who do not go to a university. These schools included colleges, polytechnics, and institutes of agriculture, art, commerce, and science. Colleges of education numbered about 60.
Of the 34 traditional degree-granting universities in England, all except Oxford and Cambridge (seeCambridge, University of; Oxford, University of) were founded in the 19th and 20th centuries, many of them since World War II (1939-1945). In the mid-1980s full-time university students totaled more than 290,000 annually.
Little is known of the earliest inhabitants of England. The megaliths at Stonehenge attest to the early presence of an able people, as do early historical and archaeological reports, but the first lasting influence on English culture was contributed by the Celts. Roads and ruins bear witness to the Roman occupation, which began with the invasion of Julius Caesar in 55 BC and extended until the 5th century AD. Christianity was introduced by Roman soldiers but made little headway with the populace, and its spread awaited the arrival of Saint Augustine, first archbishop of Canterbury, in the 6th century.
Following the Roman departure, the Saxons became dominant. A record of their era is provided by the annals known as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and by the writings of Saint Bede the Venerable, the theologian and historian. The Norman Conquest in 1066 overthrew the Saxon dominance and, in its mixing of elements from the Saxon and Celtic past with the Norman, created a new culture. The Normans introduced feudalism and the French language to the upper classes. From the 11th to the 14th century French was used at court and in vernacular literature; Latin was used in scholarly literature.
A major task for William the Conqueror and his successors was the amalgamation of Norman and Saxon and their common defense against warlike factions in Scotland, Wales, and Scandinavia. A stable social order directed toward these goals evolved slowly; elements of it still persist today. For example, both the strong class system of the English and their hereditary peerage have their roots in the Norman period.
The decline of feudalism, starting late in the 14th century, led in England as elsewhere to the rise of cities and the development of a middle class. By the 14th century a national secular culture was beginning to emerge, and the English language (an amalgam of Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French elements) was being adopted by the educated. The English, however, had unique limitations caused by the size of their island and the limited type and amount of resources found there. To fill their needs they developed into a nation of traders and mariners. The exploits of Sir Francis Drake and the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588) led to commercial advantage as much as to naval victories. Supremacy at sea not only gained England an empire but put the English in touch with peoples the world over. Wealth flowed back to the island in consequence, and so did ideas that enriched the traditions of England. Limited local work forces contributed to the invention of machines and to the earliest manifestations of what became known as the Industrial Revolution.
Among the prime traditions of the English are a fierce pride in their freedom, a unity against adversity, and an ability to bring differing factions together in compromise. Pride in being English is also a national trait, although the English show considerable diversity in habits, manners, and even in speech. Perhaps because of this diversity, the closest thing to a national holiday in England is Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated on November 5 (see Fawkes, Guy). The sports most favored are cricket, rugby football, association football (soccer), and tennis. Both dog and horse racing are also popular.
Libraries and Museums
More than 500 public library authorities administer some 40,000 branch libraries throughout Great Britain. Among the libraries in London are theBritish Library, the various divisions of which constitute the largest library in Great Britain; the University of London Central Library; the Science Museum Library; and the Public Record Office Library, which contains the National Archives. Many cities and towns have museums of art, natural history, and archaeology. The best-known and largest museum is the British Museum in London, which contains collections of art and archaeological specimens from all over the world. Other outstanding museums in London are the Tate Gallery, the National Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
English law originated in the customs of the Anglo-Saxons and of the Normans who conquered England in 1066. The Norman kings established a strong, centralized system for the administration of justice, and the royal courts developed a complex system of rules based on custom. Clashes between the power of the monarch and competing interests, the feudal barons in early times and later Parliament, produced basic legal documents that have had tremendous influence on the whole English-speaking world. The most famous of these documents is theMagna Carta, signed in 1215; scarcely less important is the Bill of Rights of 1689. The principles that an individual should be convicted only by judgment of that individual's peers, that personal liberty should not be infringed or personal property taken without due process of law, and that a citizen should be guarded against unreasonable searches and seizures were all first articulated in these fundamental pronouncements of English law and in their elaboration in decisions by English judges. In this sense English law is judge-made law and, although statutes are continually passed by Parliament, the general principles of the law are still found in the decisions of the courts rather than the statutes. Such a system is made possible by the doctrine of binding precedent, by which a lower court must follow the rules and principles articulated by the superior, appellate courts.