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Great Britain

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Note: Great Britain is often incorrectly used to refer to the United Kingdom.


Great Britain is an island located in the north Atlantic Ocean to the northwest of continental Europe, comprising the main territory of the United Kingdom. With an area of 229,850 km2 (88,745 sq miles) the island of Great Britain is the largest of the British Isles -- an archipelago that also includes Ireland, the Faroe Islands and the Isle of Man.

The term Great Britain is most commonly used in a sense that includes both the main island and its outliers such as Anglesey, the Isle of Wight, the Hebrides, the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands. It thus comprises the nations of England, Scotland and Wales. Over the centuries, Great Britain has evolved politically from several independent states (England, Scotland, and Wales) through two kingdoms with a shared monarch (England and Scotland), a single all-island Kingdom of Great Britain, to the situation following 1801, in which Great Britain together with the island of Ireland constituted the larger United Kingdom (UK). The UK became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the 1920s. It is often erroneously referred to as "Great Britain" or simply "Britain."

Table of contents
1 Origins and nomenclature
2 Why "Great" Britain rather than Britain?
3 Territories associated with Great Britain
4 Territories elsewhere in the archipelago
5 Related topics
6 External links

Origins and nomenclature

The term Great Britain was first widely used during the reign of King James VI of Scotland, I of England to describe the island, on which co-existed two separate kingdomss ruled over by the same monarch. Though England and Scotland each remained legally in existence as a separate state with its own parliament, collectively they were sometimes referred to as Great Britain. In 1707, an Act of Union joined both states. That Act used two different terms to describe the new all island state, a 'united Kingdom' and the 'Kingdom of Great Britain'. The former is generally though not universally regarded as a description of the union rather than its name. Most reference books describe the all-island kingdom that existed between 1707 and 1800 and the Kingdom of Great Britain.

In 1801, under a new Act of Union this kingdom merged with the Kingdom of Ireland, over which the monarch of Great Britain had ruled. The new kingdom was unambiguously called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922, twenty-six of Ireland's thirty-two counties left to form a separate Irish Free State. The remaining truncated kingdom is now known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which also now includes a number of Overseas Territories. Though sometimes the term 'Great Britain' is used when referring to the United Kingdom, with the United Kingdom minus Northern Ireland being referred to as 'the mainland', this is factually incorrect; it is simply 'Great Britain'.

Often the terms Britain and British refer to the whole of the UK or its predecessors, or institutions associated with them, and not just Great Britain. For example, United Kingdom monarchs are often called "British monarchs"; United Kingdom Prime Ministers are often called "British Prime Ministers". Such usage is generally seen as correct. However the use of the term English for British, as in "Queen of England" is clearly incorrect; England in a sense of a separate state has not existed since 1707.

The term Islands of the North Atlantic or IONA has also been used more recently for the British Isles. It was created as a neutral term for use in efforts to achieve agreement on a more widely acceptable political structure for Northern Ireland. However, it remains unknown to most of the British population, and seems likely to achieve little recognition outside of the narrow political circles in which it was coined.

Why "Great" Britain rather than Britain?

There are in fact two Britains: the island of Britain in the British Isles and the land of Britain in France. In French these are known as Grande Bretagne and Bretagne, in English as Great Britain and Brittany. The word "Great" in this context has its old meaning of "big" as in "she was great with child" or "Greater London". Likewise, the ending "-y" on the end of "Brittany" has the meaning "Little", as in "doggy," meaning "small dog", or "Jimmy", meaning "little Jim".

From about the 16th century to the 20th century, the political and/or military control of Great Britain and the United Kingdom extended over a large number of territories all around the world, and all those entities together were known as "the British Empire."

Territories associated with Great Britain

Territories elsewhere in the archipelago

Related topics

External links


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