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Kingdom of Great Britain (1707-1801)

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This article is about the state that existed from 1707 to 1800. For the modern state, see United Kingdom.


Flag Royal coat of arms
Location of  Great Britain in 1800  (green)

in Europe  (green & grey)

Capital London
51°30′N 0°7′W / 51.500°N 0.117°W / 51.500; -0.117
Languages English, Scots, Norn, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish Gaelic, Romani
Religion Christianity
Government Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
 -  1707–1714a Anne
 -  1714–1727 George I
 -  1727–1760 George II
 -  1760–1800b George III
Prime Minister
 -  1721–1742 Robert Walpole
 -  1742–1743 Spencer Compton
 -  1757–1762 Duke of Newcastle
 -  1766–1768 William Pitt the Elder
 -  1770–1782 Lord North
 -  1783–1800 William Pitt the Younger
Legislature Parliament
 -  Upper house House of Lords
 -  Lower house House of Commons
 -  Treaty of Union 22 July 1706
 -  Acts of Union 1 May 1707
 -  Union with Ireland 1 January 1801
 -  Total 230,977 km² (89,181 sq mi)
 -  1707 est. 7,000,000 
     Density 30.3 /km²  (78.5 /sq mi)
 -  1800 est. 10,500,000 
     Density 45.5 /km²  (117.7 /sq mi)
Currency Pound sterling
Today part of  United Kingdom
a. Monarch of the kingdoms of England and Scotland from 1702 to 1707.
b. Continued as monarch of the United Kingdom until 1820.
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The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially Great Britain /ɡrt ˈbrɪ.tən/,[1][2][3] was a sovereign state in western Europe from 1 May 1707 to 31 December 1800. The state came into being following the Treaty of Union in 1706, ratified by the Acts of Union 1707, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single kingdom encompassing the whole island of Great Britain and its outlying islands. It did not include Ireland, which remained a separate realm within the British Empire. The unitary state was governed by a single parliament and government, based at Westminster. The former kingdoms had been in personal union since James VI, King of Scots, became King of England and King of Ireland in 1603 following the death of Queen Elizabeth I, bringing about a "Union of the Crowns". Also, after the accession of George I to the throne of Great Britain in 1714, the kingdom was in personal union with the Electorate of Hanover.

The early years of the unified kingdom were marked by Jacobite risings which ended with defeat for the Stuart cause at Culloden in 1746. Later, in 1763, victory in the Seven Years' War led to the dominance of the British Empire, which was to be the foremost global power for over a century and later grew to become the largest empire in history.

On 1 January 1801, the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.[4] In 1922, five-sixths of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom, and the state was renamed the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" – its formal name at present.


Further information: Britain (place name)

The name Britain descends from the Latin name for the island of Great Britain, Britannia or Brittānia, the land of the Britons via the Old French Bretaigne (whence also Modern French Bretagne) and Middle English Bretayne, Breteyne. The term Great Britain was first used officially in 1474, in the instrument drawing up the proposal for a marriage between Cecily the daughter of Edward IV of England, and James the son of James III of Scotland.

The Treaty of Union and the subsequent Acts of Union state that England and Scotland were to be "United into one Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain".[5] The websites of the UK parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the BBC, and others, including the Historical Association, refer to the state created on 1 May 1707 as the United Kingdom of Great Britain.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] Additionally, the term united kingdom is found in informal use during the 18th century to describe the state.[13][14] However, the state created by the union of England and Scotland in 1707 is named in the treaty as Great Britain; and is usually referred to by that name or as the Kingdom of Great Britain.[15][16][17][1][2][3]


The new state created in 1707 included the island of Great Britain, together with the many smaller islands that were part of the kingdoms of England and Scotland. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man were never part of the kingdom of Great Britain, although by the Isle of Man Purchase Act 1765 the British Crown acquired suzerainty over the island from Charlotte Murray, Duchess of Atholl.[18]

Political structure[edit]

The kingdoms of England and Scotland, both in existence from the 9th century, were separate states until 1707. However, they had come into a personal union in 1603, when James VI of Scotland succeeded his cousin Elizabeth I as King of England under the name of James I. This Union of the Crowns under the House of Stuart meant that the whole of the island of Great Britain was now ruled by a single monarch, who by virtue of holding the English crown also ruled over the Kingdom of Ireland. Each of the three kingdoms maintained its own parliament and laws (although there was a brief attempted union during the Interregnum in the mid-17th century).

This disposition changed dramatically when the Acts of Union 1707 came into force, with a single unified Crown of Great Britain and a single unified parliament.[19] Ireland remained formally separate, with its own parliament, until the Acts of Union 1801. The Treaty of Union provided that succession to the British throne (and that of Ireland) would be in accordance with the English Act of Settlement of 1701; rather than Scotland's Act of Security of 1704, which ceased to have effect.[20] The Act of Settlement required that the heir to the English throne be a descendant of the Electress Sophia of Hanover who was not a "Papist"; this brought about the Hanoverian succession only a few years after the Union.

Legislative power was vested in the Parliament of Great Britain, which replaced both the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland.[21] In practice it was a continuation of the English parliament, sitting at the same location in Westminster, expanded to include representation from Scotland.

As with the former Parliament of England and the modern Parliament of the United Kingdom, the Parliament of Great Britain was formally constituted of three elements: the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the Crown. The right of the English peerage to sit in the House of Lords remained unchanged, while the disproportionately large Scottish peerage was permitted to send only 16 representative peers, elected from amongst their number for the life of each parliament. Similarly, the members of the former English House of Commons continued as members of the British House of Commons, but as a reflection of the relative tax bases of the two countries the number of Scottish representatives was reduced to 45.[22] Newly created peers in the Peerage of Great Britain were given the automatic right to sit in the Lords.

Despite the end of a separate parliament for Scotland, it retained its own laws and system of courts.

Relationship with Ireland[edit]

As a result of Poynings' Law of 1495, the Parliament of Ireland was subordinate to the Parliament of England, and after 1707 to the Parliament of Great Britain. The British parliament's Dependency of Ireland on Great Britain Act 1719 noted that the Irish House of Lords had recently "assumed to themselves a Power and Jurisdiction to examine, correct and amend" judgements of the Irish courts and declared that as the Kingdom of Ireland was subordinate to and dependent upon the British crown, the King, through the Parliament of Great Britain, had "full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient validity to bind the Kingdom and people of Ireland".[23] The Act was repealed by the Repeal of Act for Securing Dependence of Ireland Act 1782.[24] The same year, the Irish constitution of 1782 produced a period of legislative freedom. However, the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which sought to end the subordination and dependency upon the British crown and establish a republic, was one of the factors that led to the union between the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801.

Great Britain in the 18th century[edit]

Further information: British Empire and Georgian era

The 18th century saw England, and after 1707 Great Britain, rise to become the world's dominant colonial power, with France its main rival on the imperial stage.[25] The pre-1707 English overseas possessions became the nucleus of the British Empire.


The deeper political integration of her kingdoms was a key policy of Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch of England and Scotland and the first monarch of Great Britain. A Treaty of Union was agreed in 1706 following negotiations between representatives of the parliaments of England and Scotland, and each parliament then passed separate Acts of Union to ratify it. The Acts came into effect on 1 May 1707, uniting the separate Parliaments and crowns of England and Scotland and forming a single Kingdom of Great Britain. Anne became the first occupant of the unified British throne, and in line with Article 22 of the Treaty of Union, Scotland sent 45 Members to join all of the existing members of the Parliament of England in the new House of Commons of Great Britain.[26]

Lord Clive meeting Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey, by Francis Hayman ( c. 1762)

Wars against France and Spain[edit]

The death of Charles II of Spain in 1700 and his bequeathal of Spain and its colonial empire to Philip of Anjou, a grandson of the King of France, had raised British fears of the unification of France, Spain and their colonies. In 1701, England, Portugal, and the Dutch Republic sided with the Holy Roman Empire against Spain and France in the War of the Spanish Succession. The conflict lasted until 1714, until France and Spain finally lost. At the concluding Treaty of Utrecht, Philip renounced his and his descendants' right to the French throne. Spain lost its empire in Europe, and although it kept its empire in the Americas and the Philippines, it was irreversibly weakened as a great power. The new British Empire, based upon what until 1707 had been the English overseas possessions, was enlarged: from France, Great Britain gained Newfoundland and Acadia, and from Spain Gibraltar and Minorca. Gibraltar, which is still a British overseas territory, became a major naval base and allowed Great Britain to control the strait connecting the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.[27]

The Seven Years' War, which began in 1756, was the first war waged on a global scale and saw British involvement in Europe, India, North America, the Caribbean, the Philippines, and coastal Africa. The signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1763 had important consequences for Great Britain and its empire. In North America, France's future as a colonial power was effectively ended with the ceding of New France to the British, leaving a sizeable French-speaking population under British control, and Louisiana to Spain. Spain ceded Florida to Britain. In India, the third Carnatic War had left France still in control of its enclaves, but with military restrictions and an obligation to support the British client states, effectively leaving the future of India to Great Britain. The British victory over France in the Seven Years' War therefore left Great Britain as the world's dominant colonial power.[28]


Mercantilism was the basic policy imposed by Great Britain on its overseas possessions.[29] Mercantilism meant that the government and the merchants became partners with the goal of increasing political power and private wealth, to the exclusion of other empires. The government protected its merchants—and kept others out—by trade barriers, regulations, and subsidies to domestic industries to maximise exports from and minimise imports to the realm. The government had to fight smuggling—which became a favourite American technique in the 18th century to circumvent the restrictions on trading with the French, Spanish or Dutch. The goal of mercantilism was to run trade surpluses, so that gold and silver would pour into London. The government took its share through duties and taxes, with the remainder going to merchants in London and other British ports. The government spent much of its revenue on a superb Royal Navy, which not only protected the British colonies but threatened the colonies of the other empires, and sometimes seized them. Thus the Royal Navy captured New Amsterdam (later New York) in 1664. The colonies were captive markets for British industry, and the goal was to enrich the mother country.[30]

American Revolution[edit]

During the 1760s and 1770s, relations between the Thirteen Colonies and Great Britain became increasingly strained, primarily because of resentment of the British Parliament's ability to tax American colonists without their consent. Disagreement turned into a violent insurrection. In 1775, the American Revolutionary War began, as the Americans trapped the British army in Boston and suppressed the Loyalists who supported the Crown. In 1776 the Americans declared the independence of the United States of America. Under the military leadership of General George Washington, and, with economic and military assistance from France, the Dutch Republic and Spain, the United States held off successive British invasions. The Americans captured two main British armies in 1777 and 1781. After that King George III lost control of Parliament and was unable to continue the war. It ended with the Treaty of Paris by which Great Britain relinquished the Thirteen Colonies and recognised the United States. The war was expensive but the British financed it successfully.[31]


Main article: History of Canada

After a series of "French and Indian wars," the British took slices of France's North American colonies, finally acquiring all of them (except two small islands) in 1763. London's policy was to respect Quebec's religious heritage—even though it was Catholic—as well as its legal, economic and social systems. By the Quebec Act of 1774, Canada was enlarged to include the western holdings of the American colonies. In the American Revolutionary War starting in 1775, the British made Canada its major base for naval action and for an invasion in 1777 that led to the surrender of General Burgoyne's army. However American efforts to invade Canada also failed.[32]

After the American victory between 40,000 and 60,000 defeated Loyalists migrated, some bringing their slaves. Most were given free land to compensate their losses. The 14,000 Loyalists who went to the Saint John and Saint Croix river valleys, then part of Nova Scotia, were not welcome by the locals. Therefore London split off New Brunswick as a separate colony in 1784. The Constitutional Act of 1791 created the provinces of Upper Canada (mainly English-speaking) and Lower Canada (mainly French-speaking) to defuse tensions between the French and British communities, and implemented governmental systems similar to those employed in Great Britain, with the intention of asserting imperial authority and not allowing the sort of popular control of government that was perceived to have led to the American Revolution.[33]

Second British Empire[edit]

The loss of the Thirteen Colonies, Great Britain's most populous overseas possessions, which became the United States, marked the transition between the "first" and "second" empires, in which Britain shifted its attention away from the Americas to Asia, the Pacific and later Africa.[34] Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, had argued that colonies were redundant, and that free trade should replace the old mercantilist policies that had characterised the first period of colonial expansion, dating back to the protectionism of Spain and Portugal. The growth of trade between the newly independent United States and Great Britain after 1781[35] confirmed Smith's view that political control was not necessary for economic success.


During its first century of operation the focus of the East India Company had been trade, not the building of an empire in India. Company interests turned from trade to territory during the 18th century as the Mughal Empire declined in power and the East India Company struggled with its French counterpart, the French East India Company (Compagnie française des Indes orientales) during the Carnatic Wars of the 1740s and 1750s. The Battle of Plassey and Battle of Buxar, which saw the British, led by Robert Clive, defeat the Indian powers, left the Company in control of Bengal and a major military and political power in India. In the following decades it gradually increased the extent of the territories under its control, ruling either directly or indirectly via local puppet rulers under the threat of force by its Presidency armies, much of which were composed of native Indian sepoys.

Australia and New Zealand[edit]

In 1770, British explorer James Cook had discovered the eastern coast of Australia whilst on a scientific voyage to the South Pacific. In 1778, Joseph Banks, Cook's botanist on the voyage, presented evidence to the government on the suitability of Botany Bay for the establishment of a penal settlement. Australia marks the beginning of the Second British Empire. It was planned by the government in London and designed as a replacement for the lost American colonies.[36] The American Loyalist James Matra in 1783 write "A Proposal for Establishing a Settlement in New South Wales" proposing the establishment of a colony composed of American Loyalists, Chinese and South Sea Islanders (but not convicts).[37] Matra reasoned that the land country was suitable for plantations of sugar, cotton and tobacco; New Zealand timber and hemp or flax could prove valuable commodities; it could form a base for Pacific trade; and it could be a suitable compensation for displaced American Loyalists. At the suggestion of Secretary of State Lord Sydney, Matra amended his proposal to include convicts as settlers, considering that this would benefit both "Economy to the Publick, & Humanity to the Individual". The government adopted the basics of Matra's plan in 1784, and funded the settlement of convicts.[38]

In 1787 the First Fleet set sail, carrying the first shipment of convicts to the colony. It arrived in January 1788.

Battling the French Revolution and Napoleon[edit]

With the regicide of King Louis XVI in 1793, the French Revolution represented a contest of ideologies between the two nations.[39] It was not only Britain's position on the world stage that was threatened: Napoleon, who came to power in 1799, threatened invasion of Great Britain itself, and with it, a fate similar to the countries of continental Europe that his armies had overrun. The Napoleonic Wars were therefore ones in which the British invested large amounts of capital and resources. French ports were blockaded by the Royal Navy.[40]

The French Revolution revived religious and political grievances in Ireland. In 1798, Irish nationalists launched the Irish Rebellion of 1798, believing that the French would help them to overthrow the British.[41][42]

William Pitt the Younger, the British prime minister, firmly believed that the only solution to the problem was a union of Great Britain and Ireland. Following the defeat of the rebellion, which had had some assistance from France, he advanced this policy. The union was established by the Act of Union 1800; compensation and patronage ensured the support of the Irish Parliament. Great Britain and Ireland were formally united on 1 January 1801.[43]


  • George III (1760–1801) (continued as King of the United Kingdom until his death in 1820)

Parliament of Great Britain[edit]

Pitt addressing the Commons in 1793

The Parliament of Great Britain consisted of the House of Lords, an unelected upper house of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the House of Commons, the lower chamber, which was elected periodically. In England and Wales parliamentary constituencies remained unchanged throughout the existence of the Parliament.[44]

During the 18th century, the British Constitution developed significantly.

Peerage of Great Britain[edit]

Main article: Peerage of Great Britain

As a result of the Union of 1707, no new peerages were created in the Peerage of England or the Peerage of Scotland. English peerages continued to carry the right to a seat in the House of Lords, while the Scottish peers elected representative peers from among their own number to sit in the Lords. Peerages continued to be created by the Crown, either in the new Peerage of Great Britain, which was that of the new kingdom and meant a seat in its House of Lords, or in the Peerage of Ireland, giving the holder a seat in the Irish House of Lords.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "After the political union of England and Scotland in 1707, the nation's official name became 'Great Britain'", The American Pageant, Volume 1, Cengage Learning (2012)
  2. ^ a b "From 1707 until 1801 Great Britain was the official designation of the kingdoms of England and Scotland". The Standard Reference Work: For the Home, School and Library, Volume 3, Harold Melvin Stanford (1921)
  3. ^ a b "In 1707, on the union with Scotland, 'Great Britain' became the official name of the British Kingdom, and so continued until the union with Ireland in 1801". United States Congressional serial set, Issue 10; Issue 3265 (1895)
  4. ^ The Acts of Union 1801, which created the United Kingdom, came into effect on 1 January 1801.
  5. ^ a b Article 1 in each of:"The Treaty (act) of the Union of Parliament 1706". Scots History Online. Retrieved 18 July 2011.  /7/contents "Union with England Act 1707". The national Archives. Retrieved 18 July 2011.  "Union with Scotland Act 1706". Retrieved 18 July 2011. :
    That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon 1 May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN.
  6. ^ Acts of Union 1707, accessed 31 December 2010
  7. ^ Making the Act of Union 1707[dead link], accessed 31 December 2010
  8. ^ England – Profile BBC, 10 February 2011
  9. ^ Scottish referendum: 50 fascinating facts you should know about Scotland (see fact 27), 11 January 2012
  10. ^ Uniting the kingdom?, accessed 31 December 2010
  11. ^ The Union of the Parliaments 1707 Learning and Teaching Scotland, accessed 2 September 2010
  12. ^ The Creation of the United Kingdom of Great britain in 1707 Historical Association, accessed 30 January 2011
  13. ^ Bamber Gascoigne. "History of Great Britain (from 1707)". History World. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  14. ^ William E. Burns, A Brief History of Great Britain, p. xxi
  15. ^ Prakke, L.; Kortmann, C. A. J. M.; van den Brandhof, J. C. E. (2004). Constitutional law of 15 EU member states. p. 866. ISBN 978-90-13-01255-2. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  16. ^ Home Office (2007). Life in the United Kingdom: a journey to citizenship. ISBN 978-0-11-341317-1. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  17. ^ Dickinson (ed.), H.T. (2002). A companion to eighteenth-century Britain. p. 381. ISBN 978-0-631-21837-1. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  18. ^ V. E. Hartley Booth & Peter Sells, British extradition law and procedure: including extradition between the United Kingdom and foreign states, the Commonwealth and dependent countries and the Republic of Ireland (Alphen aan den Rijn: Sijthoff & Noordhoff, 1980; ISBN 978-90-286-0079-9), p. 5
  19. ^ Act of Union 1707, Article 1.
  20. ^ Treaty of Union 1706, Article 2.
  21. ^ Act of Union 1707, Article 3.
  22. ^ Act of Union 1707, Article 22.
  23. ^ W. C. Costin & J. Steven Watson, eds., The Law & Working of the Constitution: Documents 1660–1914, vol. I for 1660–1783 (A. & C. Black, 1952), pp. 128–129
  24. ^ Costin Watson (1952), p. 147
  25. ^ Anthony, Pagden (2003). Peoples and Empires: A Short History of European Migration, Exploration, and Conquest, from Greece to the Present. Modern Library. p. 90. 
  26. ^ The Treaty or Act of the Union, accessed 2 November 2008
  27. ^ Julian Hoppit, A Land of Liberty?: England 1689–1727 (2000) ch 4, 8
  28. ^ Fred Anderson, The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War (2006)
  29. ^ Max Savelle, Seeds of Liberty: The Genesis of the American Mind (2005) pp. 204–211
  30. ^ William R. Nester, The Great Frontier War: Britain, France, and the Imperial Struggle for North America, 1607–1755 (Praeger, 2000) p, 54.
  31. ^ Jeremy Black, War for America: The Fight for Independence, 1775–1783 (2001)
  32. ^ Phillip Buckner, Canada and the British Empire (2010) ch 2
  33. ^ Desmond Morton, A short history of Canada (2001).
  34. ^ Anthony, Pagden (1998). The Origins of Empire, The Oxford History of the British Empire. Oxford University Press. p. 92. 
  35. ^ James, Lawrence (2001). The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. Abacus. p. 119. 
  36. ^ Deryck Schreuder and Stuart Ward, eds., Australia's Empire (Oxford History of the British Empire Companion Series) (2010), ch 1
  37. ^ Harold B. Carter, "Banks, Cook and the Eighteenth Century Natural History Tradition", in Tony Delamotte and Carl Bridge (eds.), Interpreting Australia: British Perceptions of Australia since 1788, London, Sir Robert Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, 1988, pp.4–23.
  38. ^ Alan Atkinson, "The first plans for governing New South Wales, 1786–87", Australian Historical Studies, vol.24, no.94, April 1990, pp. 22–40, p.31.
  39. ^ James (2001), p. 152
  40. ^ David Andress, The Savage Storm: Britain on the Brink in the Age of Napoleon (2012)
  41. ^ "British History – The 1798 Irish Rebellion". BBC. 5 November 2009. Retrieved 23 April 2010. 
  42. ^ Daniel Gahan, Rebellion!: Ireland in 1798 (1998)
  43. ^ John Ehrman, The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle (1996), vol 3 cover 1797 to his death in 1806.
  44. ^ Chris Cook & John Stevenson, British Historical Facts 1760–1830 (The Macmillan Press, 1980)

Further reading[edit]

  • Black, Jeremy. Britain as a Military Power, 1688–1815 (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Brumwell, Stephen, and W.A. Speck. Cassell's Companion to Eighteenth Century Britain (2002), an encyclopaedia
  • Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation 1707–1837 (2nd ed. 2009) excerpt and text search
  • Daunton, Martin. Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain 1700–1850 (1995) excerpt and text search
  • Hilton, Boyd. A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People?: England 1783–1846 (New Oxford History of England) (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Hoppit, Julian. A Land of Liberty?: England 1689–1727 (New Oxford History of England) (2000)
  • James, Lawrence. The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (2001)
  • Langford, Paul. A Polite and Commercial People: England 1727–1783 (New Oxford History of England) (1994) excerpt and text search
  • O'Gorman, Frank. The Long Eighteenth Century: British Political and Social History 1688–1832 (1997) 415pp
  • Porter, Roy. English Society in the Eighteenth Century (2nd ed. 1990) excerpt and text search
  • Rule, John. Albion's People: English Society 1714–1815 (1992)
  • Speck, W.A. Literature and Society in Eighteenth-Century England: Ideology, Politics and Culture, 1680–1820 (1998)
  • Watson, J. Steven. The Reign of George III, 1760–1815 (Oxford History of England) (1960)
  • Williams, Basil. The Whig Supremacy 1714–1760 (1939) online edition

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Kingdom of England
12 July 927 – 1 May 1707
Kingdom of Scotland
c. 843 – 1 May 1707
Kingdom of Great Britain
1 May 1707 – 31 December 1800
Succeeded by
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
1 January 1801 – 6 December 1922