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great britain




Great Britain is one of the countries which are till this time the constitutional monarchies. Officially it is called The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The population of Great Britain was formed gradually by several waves of invasions of different tribes since the 3000 years before our era (BC - before Christ). The first inhabitants of the island known by their name were the Iberians. They settled mostly in Western England, Wales, Western Scotland and Ireland. They are creators of old monolithic monuments, connected probably with religious rites at Stonehenge and Avebury

After the year 1000 BC the first Celts arrived in Britain. They were warrior clans who knew more advanced technique of working bronze. The Celts came in several waves. Some Celtic clans settled in Ireland and North-West Scotland - they were called Goidelic Celts, so the original language of Ireland and North-West Scotland was Gaelic. Next wave of Brythonic Celts (the Britons) invade Wales, South England, North-West England and South-West Scotland. The word for Britain is derived from the name of the Brythons. The most highly developed of all Celtic tribes were the Belgic Celts - they conquered the inhabitants in the South of England and settled there as rulers.

But the period of the independent British civilization of South England was short - it was interrupted by the Roman invasion in 55 BC when Julius Caesar arrived with his army. About 100 years later (in 43 AD - Anno Domini) Roman Emperor Claudius sent an army to Britain which conquered the Southern part of England. The Celtic tribes were defeated and the Roman rule brought new system of the society, which influenced and changed the tribal life of the Celts. The Roman army reached the Southern part of Scotland but they had to build so-called Hadrian’s Wall protecting the Roman territory from Celtic attacks of Scottish Gaelic tribes and the Picts. The Roman occupation left traces on the history of Britain - they introduced Christianity as the official religion of its colonies, they built the network of military roads, founded military camps along them. English language contains some Latin words (wall, street, mile). London became an important centre of trade and a political centre. The Roman occupation lasted 400 years.

After the 4th century AD „barbarian Germanic tribes“ attacked the territories of the Roman Empire in Western Europe. In the 5th century the Anglo-Saxons and Jutes crossed the Channel. They settled in the South-East of England and in the East of England and began to drive the Celtic inhabitants (Britons) to the Western part of the island. Gradually the Anglo-Saxons divided England into seven kingdoms. The Celtic Britons lived in Wales, Cornwall and Cumberland. Scotland was inhabited by the Celtic tribes of the Picts and Scots who united into a single kingdom.

At the beginning of the 9th century the Danes and the Norsemen attacked England from the West. They are known in history as the Vikings. They attacked first of all the shores of Ireland and founded the town of Dublin there, and later they attacked England itself.

King ALFRED THE GREAT (849-901), the Anglo-Saxon king of the kingdom of Wessex, was successful in stopping their influence in the Southern part of the country. Many legends have been preserved about king Alfred. He is known not only as the leader of the national defence but also as the founder and protector of Anglo-Saxon literature. He directed the composition of Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, translation of Bede’s Latin History and codification of the Anglo-Saxon laws.  In order to preserve peace with the Vikings, King Alfred paid a special tax to them called Danegeld. As the Alfred’s successors did not pay it, the Danes attacked South England again and finally occupied it.

When the last Anglo-Saxon king HAROLD II was elected English king in 1066, WILLIAM the CONQUEROR, Duke of Normandy (1066-1087) claimed that previous king had promised the crown to him. William defeated the more primitively armed and organized forces of Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Immediately after his victory he proceeded with great cruelty to organize feudal rule in England. There were several Saxon revolts, but none of them was successful and the king had the reason to punish the Saxon gentry and confiscate their property. William I the Conqueror tried to change England into a developed feudal state. The Domesday Book which was written in the reign of William I contained information on the property and number of serfs on all the manors.

The victory of Normans (speaking in Old French language) influenced further development of culture and language as well. Norman French became the language of nobility, while English was spoken among peasants and clergy of lower ranks. Under the strong influence of French language, Old English developed into Middle English language which was enriched with many French words. This is one of the reasons why English contains so many words of French origin (e.g. words for animals are English - pig, cow, but words for meat are French - pork, beef)



The British Isles lie near the north-west coast of Europe and they are separated from the Continent by the North Sea and the English Channel. They consist of two large islands - Great Britain and Ireland - and many small ones, such as the Hebrides, the Orkneys and the Shetlands which are situated along the north-west coast of Scotland. The Isle of Man is in the Irish Sea, Anglesey is off North Wales, the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight is off southern coast of England. In the English Channel there are the Channel Islands. Many of the isles are uninhabited although some of them attract visitors by their beautiful nature.

Great Britain consists of ENGLAND, WALES and SCOTLAND. Ireland is politically divided into NORTHERN  IRELAND, a part of  the United Kingdom, and the Irish republic which is independent.


The density of population is one of the highest in the world (232 people to one km2). The density is lower in highlands but the industrial areas are very thickly populated (about 92 % inhabitants live in urban areas). During the 20th century the urban suburbs of the industrial towns have spread into continuous built up areas. The groups of towns are called conurbation. About a third of population live in the seven great conurbations whose centres are the cities of London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle upon Tyne.

In Britain there are the following ethnic groups: English (81.5%), Scottish (9.6%), Irish (2.4%), Welsh (1.9%) and Ulster (1.8%). The rest of the population is formed by several ethnic minorities, such as the Indians, Pakistanis, Jews, Italians, Chinese, and Cypriots.


The majority of people speak English (official language), but there are also minority languages that are of Celtic origin - Welsh, Scottish and Irish Gaelic. These languages are spoken by some people in Western Wales, in West Highlands and in the Irish Republic.

Seas, rivers and lakes

The seas surrounding the British Isles are everywhere shallow. The south coast is washed by the waters of the English Channel, the east coast by the North Sea and the west coast by the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea. The rivers cannot be used for transport because they are too short. On the other hand they are quite deep owing to frequent rains. Only the longest rivers like the Thames and the Severn are navigable for small steamers. Other main rivers in England are the Tyne, the Avon, and the Trent. The chief rivers in Scotland are the Clyde, the Tay and the Tweed. England and Scotland are also countries of many lakes. The largest of them are in the Lake District in England (with the largest Lake Windermere) and in the Highlands of Scotland where they are called lochs (the largest ones are Loch Lomond and Loch Ness which is famous for its „Loch Ness Monster“).

Surface - highlands and lowlands

Britain can be divided into two main regions: lowland Britain and highland Britain. Highland Britain comprises the whole of Scotland and all the mountainous part of England and uplands lying above 300 metres. The main mountains and hills of Scotland are the North-West Highlands, the Grampian Mountains, and the Southern Uplands (the highest peak in Great Britain is Ben Nevis - it is in the Grampian Mountains). The Cheviot Hills are on the border between England and Scotland.

Mountains of England: the Pennines are in the central part of Northern England. They run North-South through Northern England, they are „the Backbone of England“. The Cumbrian Mountains are in the Lake District. The mountains in Wales are called the Cambrian Mountains (with the highest peak Snowdon).


Britain has a mild climate which is under the influence of the Atlantic Ocean and the warm Gulf Stream. As a result the English weather is seldom very hot or very cold and there is enough rain for all seasons. Although during the winter months easterly winds may bring a cold, dry continental type of weather. The average range of temperature between winter and summer is greatest in the eastern part of the country. During a normal summer the temperature occasionally rises above 27°C in the south. Winter temperatures below  -7°C are rare.

Soils and forests

Britain has a varied pattern of natural vegetation. Most of Britain is agricultural land, a third of which is arable and the rest is used as pastures and meadows. Woodlands occupy only about 8 per cent of the surface of the country. In the past oak forests covered probably the greater part of lowland Britain but now the forest area is not very large. Almost the whole of lowland Britain is cultivated and there are only few forests left. Many parts of the surface of highland Britain are treeless because they have only poor soil. The greatest density of woodland is in the north and east of Scotland, in some parts of south-eastern England and on the Welsh border.



The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is traditionally economically connected with the Commonwealth countries and since 1973 (when Britain joined the European Economical Community, popularly known as the Common Market) Britain has also worked very closely with Western Europe.

It belongs to the G-8 countries (the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries - Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the USA, Russia).

The country has a well-developed agricultural system. Though the country is relatively small in comparison to the number of inhabitants, its agriculture is able to feed three quarters of the people living there. The main agricultural products are wheat, barley, oats, hay, potatoes and sugar beets, in Northern Ireland flax is grown. The animals raised on British farms are cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry. Horse breeding is also important.

As for the sources of raw materials, Britain is traditionally rich in coal, and metal such as iron, zinc and lead. The newly discovered deposits of oil and natural gas in the sea enabled Britain not only to be self-supporting, but also to export oil to other countries.

Britain is one of the leading industrial countries in the world. It exports a great part of its industrial production - mainly machines, means of transport and chemicals. On the other hand it imports foodstuff, but also machinery and other industrial products.



Britain is a monarchy with the queen as the head of the state. Although it is not a republic as the USA is, Great Britain has similar system of government. Both Britain and the USA are bourgeois democracies. But there are some differences between the government of Great Britain and that of the USA:  the United Kingdom Constitution is not written - it is based on custom and tradition and on common law; on the other hand, the US system of government is based on the written Constitution.

The present head of the state is Queen ELIZABETH II. She performs social and ceremonial functions and has meetings with foreign delegates. She is also the head of the Church of England. It has been the tradition since King Henry VIII rule that every king or queen of Britain has this right. The queen has also the function of the main chief of the British army and she may appoint the British Prime Minister. But she is not free to choose anyone she likes - she has to follow the advice of the ministers. Although Elizabeth II is the head of the Commonwealth, she does not really rule (she only reigns) because she can act only on advice of her ministers. She does not solve the political problems and does not bear responsibility for her acts.

The seat of the monarchy is in Great Britain. In the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man the Queen is represented by a Lieutenant Governor. In other member nations of the Commonwealth of which the Queen is the head of state (e.g. Canada, Australia), her representative is the Governor-General, appointed by her on the advice of the ministers of the country. In dependent territories the Queen is usually represented by Governors, who are responsible to the British Government for good government of the countries concerned.

The country is governed by the GOVERNMENT, a body of ministers, who are responsible to PARLIAMENT.

PARLIAMENT is the supreme law-making body of the country. It consists of the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The Sovereign formally summons and dissolves Parliament and generally opens each new session with a speech from the throne. The seats in the House of Lords are hereditary only for hereditary peers and peeresses, while descendants of life peers and peeresses have no hereditary right to become members of the House of Lords. Life peers are for example Lords Temporal (eg. Law Lords, having judicial duties in the House) and Lords Spiritual (the Archbishops and bishops of the Church of England). The House of Commons is elected by universal adult suffrage and consists of 650 Members of Parliament (MPs). Each of the four countries of the United Kingdom has its representatives there. The chief officer of the House of Commons is called the Speaker, elected by MPs to preside over the House. It is in the House of Commons that the ultimate authority for law making resides.

The major part of Parliament’s work is revising the Government’s work. From Monday to Thursday all ministers of the Government must answer MPs’ questions for one hour. Two days a week the Prime Minister must answer MPs’ questions. Another important parliamentary task is law making. A proposal of some new law (called „a bill“) must pass through both Houses and then it is sent to the Queen for the Royal Assent.

The general election is held every five years. Voting is not compulsory in Britain and eighteen is the minimum voting age; candidate for elections must be 21 or over. There are several political parties in Britain. The most important of them are the Conservative, Labour, Liberal and Social Democratic Parties.

The party, which wins sufficient number of seats in the House of Commons at a general election, forms the GOVERNMENT. The leading members of the party are chosen by the Prime Minister to fill ministerial posts. (This team of ministers is often called the Cabinet). The Prime Minister is appointed by the Queen. The party which wins the second largest number of seats becomes the official „Opposition“ with its own leader and „shadow cabinet“.

National flag and anthem. British national flag is sometimes called „Union Jack“ by the British. It symbolizes the Union of England, Scotland and Ireland. It dates back from 1801. Each country has its cross in the flag. (English St. George’s Cross - the white oblong with the red cross, Scottish St. Andrew’s Cross - the blue oblong with the white diagonal cross, Irish St. Patrick’s Cross - the white oblong with the red diagonal cross). National anthem is God Save The Queen!


Questions on the text:

1.     Where is Great Britain situated and what forms its borders?  Which parts does it consist of? Which islands belongs to the United Kingdom?

2.     Which parts of Great Britain are the most densely populated and why? What does the term „conurbation“ mean? Which are the main conurbations?

3.     What ethnic groups form the population of Britain?

4.     What are the official languages in Great Britain?

5.     Which are the longest rivers in England and Scotland? Where can the largest lakes be found?

6.     What regions is British surface divided in? Where are the main mountainous regions?

7.     What are the characteristic features of British climate?

8.     What economical organizations does Britain have membership in?

9.     Which agricultural products form the base of British agriculture?

10. What raw material is Britain rich in?

11. What industries are basic for its economy?

12. What do you know about the political system of Great Britain? What kind of state does it belong to?

13. What functions does the Queen perform in Great Britain and in the Commonwealth? Who represents the Queen in member nations of the Commonwealth?

14. What institution is the British law-making body? What parts does it consist of? What parliamentary work does it perform?

15. How is the Government formed?

16. What crosses does the British national flag consist of?




PREPARE  A  PRESENTATION  on  Great Britain  using the questions above.


















VOCABULARY - pronunciation:

historical notes: constitutional [konsti’tju:šnl], monarchy [mon ki], invasion [in’veižn], tribe [traib], island [ailnd], Iberians [ai’birinz], monolithic [mon ‘liθik], Avebury [eivbri], Celts [kelts], warrior [wori], clan [klæn], Gaelic [geilik], derive [di’raiv], conquer [koŋk], Emperor [empr], defeat [di’fi:t], influence [influns], tribal [traibl], Hadrian wall [heidrin], Pict [pikt], trace [treis], Anglo-Saxon [,æŋglu’sæksn], Jute [džu:t], Viking [vaikiŋ], shore [šo:], defence [di’fens], codification [kudifi’keišn], Danegeld [deingeld], Conqueror [koŋkr], Duke [dju:k], claim [kleim], successor [sk’ses], previous [pri:vis], defeat [di’fi:t], Hastings [heistiŋz], proceed [pr‘si:d], feudal [fju:dl], gentry [džentri], Domedsay Book [du:mzdei], serf [s:f], manor [mæn], peasant [peznt], clergy [kl:dži];

geography: British Isles [ailz], the Hebrides [hebridiz], the Orkneys [o:kniz], isle [ail], Anglesey [ænglsi], Scilly [sili], the Channel Islands [čænl];

population: conurbation [kon‘beišn], Birmingham [b:miŋm], Glasgow [gla:sgu], ethnic [eqnik], Jew [džu:];

language: Gaelic [geilik];

seas, rivers, lakes: shallow [šælu], Atlantic Ocean [‘tlæntik ušn], frequent [fri:kvnt], Thames [tæmz], Severn [sevn], Tyne [tain], Clyde [klaid], Tay [tei], Tweed [twi:d], Windermere [windmi], Lomond [lomnd];

surface: Grampian [græmpin], Ben Nevis [ben nevis], Cheviot Hills [čevit], Pennines [penainz], Cumbrian [kambrin], Cambrian [kæmbrin];

climate: Gulf Stream [galf], rare [re], soil [soil], arable [ærbl], pasture [pa:sč], meadow [medu], cultivate [kaltiveit], treeless [tri:ls];

economy, industry: barley [ba:li], oats [uts], hay [hei], flax [flæks], breed [bri:d], raw [ro:], lead [led], enable [i’neibl], foodstuff [fudstaf];

political system: monarchy [monki], similar [simil], bourgeois democracy [bužwa: d’mokrsi], constitution [knsti’tju:šn], custom [kastm], ceremonial [ser‘munil], chief  [či:f], appoint [‘point], reign [rein], responsibility [rs,ponsi’bilti], lieutenant [lef’tennt], governor [gavn], sovereign [sovrin], summon [samn], dissolve [di’solv], session [sešn], throne [qrun], hereditary [h‘reditri], peer [pi], peeress [pirs], descendant [di’sendnt], judicial [džu:dišl], archbishop[a:čbišp], suffrage [safridž], preside [pri’zaid], authority [o:’qoriti], reside [ri’zaid], assent [‘sent], vote [vut], ministerial post  [pust], anthem [ænqm].




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