United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland covers an area of about 244 thousand square kilometres. It lies between 50oNorth and 60o North latitude, and the prime meridian of 0o passes through the old observatory at Greenwich.
Besides the largest islands Great Britain (divided into England, Scotland and Wales) and Ireland we should mention the Isle of Wight off the southern coast of England, the Isles of Scilly off the extreme south-west, Anglesey off North Wales, the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea.
The island of Great Britain can be divided into the lowland area and the highland area. In the former lie the newer and softer rocks of midland, southern and eastern England, while the highland area comprises Scotland, most of Wales, the broad central upland known as the Pennines, and the Lake District. The highest mountains are Ben Nevis in Scotland (1342m) and Snowdon in North Wales (1085m). The longest rivers are the Severn and the Thames in England, while Scotland's chief river is the Clyde. As for the lakes, the best known are those in the Lake District and those in Scotland (Loch Lomond and Loch Ness).
Britain has a temperate and equable climate. During a normal summer the temperature occasionally rises above 27oC (81oF) in the south; winter temperatures below -7oC(20oF) are rare.
Woodlands occupy about 8 percent of the surface. Most of Britain is agricultural land, of which over one-third is arable and the rest pasture and meadows.
In A.D. 43 the Romans began an invasion which resulted in the Roman occupation of Britain.
At the beginning of the 9th century the Danes and the Norsemen attacked England. King Alfred the Great (849-901) was successful in stopping their influence in the southern parts of the country, nevertheless the Danish wars wiped out many villages and the peasants suffered most.
Since 1016 the Danish King Canute ruled England. He died in 1035, and his sons proved incompetent. Disunion set in shortly afterwards and so Edward the Confessor (son of previous Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred II) ruled in the years 1042-1066.
William of Normandy = William the Conqueror(1066-1087), seeing his chance of a successful invasion, landed in September, 1066, while Harold was in the north defeating Tostig, the Dane. At Hastings, luck and good archery skills gave William the victory and he was crowned at Christmas,1066.
The following rulers were William II (1087-1100) and Henry I (1100-1135), who issued a Charter of Liberties and married a Saxon princess Edith (or Matilda) of Scotland.
Henry II (1154-1189) was the second son of Matilda. He, as the first of the line of Angevius or Plantagenets, inherited a French empire, and accomplished notable reforms in domestic life. Despite his violent temper, he had a strong taste for the work of legislator and administrator.
Richard I, the Lion-Heart (1189-1199), Henry's oldest surviving son, was warlike, chivalrous, and anxious to rescue the Holy Land from the Egyptian ruler, Saladin. He was killed in a war in France. His brother John I, Lackland (1199-1216), lost almost all the English possessions in France, including Normandy, in conflict with his barons he was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.
In 1167, English students were expelled from Paris, and developed Oxford into a proper "studium" or university. At first there were no permanent buildings, students and teachers lived in hired rooms or halls. In 1209, some students move from Oxford to Cambridge, which later (1229) became a university.
The time of Edward I (1272-1307) was marked by his wish to win back power from barons and safeguard the royal revenue.
Edward II (1307-1327) was incapable of ruling the kingdom, and entrusted the task to favorites.
The reign of Richard II (1377-1399) is the story of a prolonged struggle between the party of the king and the party of Lancaster. In it lie the roots of the struggle between York and Lancaster ( the Wars of the Roses).
The Wars of the Roses took place in the 15th century. They were the wars between the House of York (which had a better claim to the throne) and the House of Lancaster (which had from the beginning a better position being led by king Henry IV). The battles lasted nearly 85 years. The battle which ended these wars was the Battle of Bosworth (1485) when the king, Richard III (1483-1485) was killed and Henry Tudor became King Henry VII (1485-1509). He married Elizabeth of York, and thus joined the two houses. The Tudor monarchy lasted till 1603.
The Tudor Age can be characterized by the consolidation of royal power, the repression of any opposition and the great wealth of the king. Henry VIII (1509-1547) was intellectually brilliant, though inclined towards pride, ambition, and brutality; he is known as a king who had six wives and who established the Church of England. He had three children, Mary (by Catherine of Aragon), later Mary I, called Bloody Mary (1553-1558); Elizabeth I (by Anne Boleyn) the English Queen between 1558 and 1603; and Edward VI (by Jane Seymour) who ruled England 1547-1553.
Elizabeth I is the most important of the above mentioned successors of Henry VIII. She enforced the Protestant religion by law. Her conflict with Roman Catholic Spain led to the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. When Elizabeth I died in 1603, England was a European power.
During the following period England was ruled by Oliver Cromwell as the Lord Protector (1653-1658). After his death his son proved to be unable to follow his father. As there was no other suitable candidate to govern England and the people were tired of wars and heavy taxes, Charles II (1660-1685) was welcomed to England, after he had signed the Peace of Breda.
The most important facts on the political scene during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) were the formal union of England and Scotland in 1707, continuous hostility towards France, and the developing importance of the minority in the Parliament, which was slowly becoming the opposition and thus prepared the way for the two-party government system.
The Napoleonic War (1803-1815) meant a new struggle between the two traditional rivals, Britain and France. Napoleon's plan to invade England failed when Admiral Nelson defeated the French at Trafalgar (October, 1805). In 1815 the French were definitely defeated by Wellington together with the Prussian general Blucher at the Battle of Waterloo.
The 19th century was marked by the growth of the British Empire. The Second Afghan War (1878-1880) led afterwards to the Anglo-Russian Convention, according to which Russia agreed to leave Afghanistan alone, and the British agreed to leave Tibet alone. The Boer Wars (1881,1899-1902) led to the British supremacy over South Africa.
The immediate cause of the First World War (1914-1918) was the assassination, on June 28,1914, of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Hapsburg throne, and his wife, in Sarajevo. During the first two years Germans invaded Belgium, swept through France, and were turned back by Marshal Foch. In April 1917 the United States entered the war. The terms of peace were dictated at the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed on January 25, 1919.
The beginning of the 1930's was marked by the gradually rising power of Germany, mainly after Adolf Hitler's coming to power in 1933. In 1938 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain together with the representatives of France (Daladier) and Italy (Mussolini) signed a pact with Hitler in Munich allowing Germany to have the Sudetenland. On September 1, 1939, the Germans invaded Poland and Britain declared war on Germany on September 3. In 1940, German forces seized Denmark, Norway, Belgium and Holland. Britain was not able to prevent this because of its weak land forces. Italy entered the war on Germany's side. France capitulated. Winston Churchill became the Prime Minister of Britain. In 1941, Germany conquered Yugoslavia, Greece, and Crete, and invaded Russia. At the end of 1942 (the battles of Stalingrad in Russia and of El Alamein in North Africa) the Allies started a counteroffensive. In 1945 Germany was defeated by the Allies (May 8) and Japan capitulated shortly after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. So the war ended on September 2, 1945.
The Potsdam Conference decreed that Germany should have no government for the time being and having been demilitarized, should be divided into four zones, governed by the British, French, American and Russian authorities. In Europe the security of the Western countries was kept by NATO, Britain being a member. The last war which Britain had to fight was in 1982 when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands.
Britain is monarchy : Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state. The country is governed, in her name, by the Government, a body of ministers, who are responsible to Parliament.
Queen Elizabeth was born on 21 April 1926 (her birthday is officially celebrated in June); married Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, on 20 November 1947; acceded to the throne on 6 February 1952; and was crowned on 2 June 1953. Her official title is : Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faithe".
Parliament 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 annual session with a speech from the throne. The House of Lords is made up of hereditary and life peers and peeresses, including the law lords appointed to undertake the judicial duties of the House, and the Lords Spiritual. Its main function is to bring the wide experience of its members into the process of law making. The House of Commons is elected by universal adult suffrage and consists of 650 Members of Parliament (MPs).
A general election must be held every five years and may be held at more frequent intervals. The party which wins sufficient seats at a general election to command a majority of supporters in the House of Commons forms the Government, its leading members are chosen by the Prime Minister to fill ministerial posts. The party which wins the second largest number of seats becomes the official Opposition.
CULTURE AND ENTERTAINMENT
London is world famous as a musical centre. Major classical music centres are the Royal Festival Hall (3500 seats, completed 1965), the Queen Elizabeth Hall (1100 seats, 1967) and the Purcell Room (270 seats,1967, for chamber music) on the south bank, the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington and the Barbican Hall in the City. Lovers of ballet and opera will not be disappointed when visiting the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, which is home to the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet.
London has been the centre of English drama since its first theatre was built by James Burbage in 1576. The oldest of London's existing theatres is the Old Vic near Waterloo Bridge. It was also home of the National Theatre (from its foundation in 1963 to 1976 when it moved to a building of its own).
The National Theatre (completed in 1976) is located on the south bank of the Thames and
actually the complex consists of three theatres, and all the setting of the theatre. The
Oliver Theatre (1160 seats) is the largest of them. The second largest is the Lyttelton
Theatre (895 seats) and then the Cottesloe (about 400 seats) which is an experimental
theatre with the stage in the centre and the auditorium around it. The Barbican Centre was
opened in 1982 and built on a site damaged by bombing in 1940 where London's Roman and
medieval fortifications used to stand. It is also a centre for arts and conferences,
currently the largest in Europe. It comprises a concert and conference hall called the
Barbican Hall (2026 seats), home of the London symphony orchestra, the Barbican Theatre
(1166 seats), home of Royal Shakespeare Company, the studio The Pit (200 seats), the art
gallery, City Library, etc.
London is rich in museums and galleries whose exhibitions are usually free of charge. The most famous and renowned of them is the British Museum which was founded in 1753. It includes the Museum and the British Library with more than 11 million volumes of printed books and manuscripts. There is a complex of museums in South Kensington which includes The Natural History Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum (a collection of fine and applied arts of all countries, periods and styles), the Science Museum (exhibitions outlining the history and development of science and industry) and the Geological Museum.
London Dungeon is the world's first medieval horror museum. Madame Tussand's contains wax portraits of famous and infamous world figures. At 221b, Baker Street is the Sherlock Holmes Museum where Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson resided, according to the stories published by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The Tate Gallery displays collections of British painting (Reynolds, Constable), 20th century painting and sculpture (Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin, French Impressionists and Post - impressionists) and the Turner Collection. It was opened in 1897 and named after its founder, Sir Henry Tate.
OTHER PLACES OF INTEREST IN GREAT BRITAIN
STARTFORD - UPON - AVON (21 000) is probably the second most visited town in England. It was founded by King Richard I in 1196 and became famous as the birthplace of William Shakespeare. The top attraction is the house in Henley Street where Shakespeare was born. In the Holy Trinity Church tourists can see the grave of Shakespeare, his wife and other members of his family. Not far is the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (1932) and the Swan Theatre (1986) overlooking the river Avon. About two miles away is nearby Shottery you can visit the House of Ann Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife.
Oxford (116 000) is the seat of the oldest English university (12th century) which
includes 34 colleges now.
Cambridge (103 000) whose history goes back to Roman times, is the residence of the second oldest university in Britain (13th century).
Canterbury (37 000) is the seat of the Archbishop and a magnificent cathedral whose oldest part originated in the 11th century. It is the place where the conversion of England to Christianity began. The pilgrimage to Canterbury is also reflected in Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chancer.
York (123 000) is the residence of the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of the Northern Province and a superb Gothic cathedral called York Minster. The cathedral boasts impressive medieval stained glass, particularly the beautiful Gothic windows knows as the Five Sisters.
Winchester (93 000) originally a Roman town and later the capital of Wessex in Anglo - Saxon times. The remarkable Winchester Cathedral, whose oldest part dates back to the 7th century and which was rebuilt in the 12th century is the longest medieval church in Europe.
Hastings is a seaside resort on the east coast whose nearby village of Battle was the battlefield of William the Conqueror's victorious battle over the Anglo - Saxons in 1066 which began the Norman history of England.
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