2 The making of the UK
England played a dominant role in the medieval history of Britain, and the history of the UK is undoubtedly the history of the political and cultural power of England in comparison to Scotland, Wales and Ireland. In the making of the UK, each component nation played a different role: the English and Scottish kingdoms, the incorporation of Wales into the English Crown, and the subjugation of Ireland. The making of the UK was complex and fraught with violent confrontations, particularly virulent in the case of Ireland.
England's leading role in the creation of Britain can partly be explained by its ability, in the latter part of the Anglo-Saxon period, to annex and control smaller kingdoms under the rule of a single monarch. England enjoyed a common legal and fiscal framework, as well as a single church organisation (Llobera, 1994, p. 23). The Viking invasions did not radically change this picture nor erode the sense of English identity that had already been created. It is widely accepted that England was ‘one of the first European countries to exhibit a sense of unity and identity, and that this was achieved long before the [Norman] Conquest. By the ninth century Alfred could be referred to as king of the English’ (Reynolds, 1984; Greenfeld, 1992). It is remarkable that the Norman invasion of England in 1066, and the subsequent elimination of the indigenous aristocracy, did not bring about the centrifugal effects typical of feudalism in other Western European countries. Yet as William I superimposed an alien dynasty and aristocracy on an already structured and unified kingdom, the consequence of such a move was that provincial dynasties able to challenge the central power of the monarchy were eliminated in post-Norman England.