You’ve used the terms interchangeably, but in reality England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom all refer to different things. You’ve also probably wondered how the Scots fit into all of this, why only a piece of Ireland is part of the Kingdom and where exactly Princess Diana is from? To explain which is what and where, let’s start with the smallest piece of the puzzle.
Good old England is probably the term you’re most familiar with, thanks to a tea party America had about 250 years ago. Then it was a kingdom, but today it is a country that is (almost) completely separate from Scotland and Wales. England is a part of Great Britain, the largest of the British Isles, which are the islands off the northwest coast of Europe that not only contain Scotland, Wales and Ireland, but also the Isle of Man, Baliwicks of Jersey and Guernsey. The latter three are not countries but Crown dependencies, meaning they are possessions of the Crown, but allowed self-governance.
Through the power of logic, we have deduced Northern Ireland is not a part of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), but a part of the larger United Kingdom. But what about the Republic of Ireland? The division of Ireland is a contentious issue for both sides of the border, and there isn’t even a term for Northern Ireland that’s not politically charged. The Republic of Ireland is an independent, sovereign state while Northern Ireland, along with the countries of Great Britain, makes up the United Kingdom. Keep in mind Scotland and Wales are still their own countries with some self government, but their official Head of State is the monarch of the United Kingdom, currently Queen Elizabeth II.
You’ve probably wondered by the English flags appears in so many random places around the world. That’s because those places are British Overseas Territories, a euphemism for saying they are former colonies. It’s important to note their Head of State is Queen Elizabeth II and that they are not countries, which separates them from the 15 Commonwealth realms. These independent realms, like Australia, Canada and Jamaica, are sovereign states with the Queen as their constitutional monarch. The Commonwealth realms are also part of the Commonwealth of Nations, which adds completely independent countries like India that have historic ties to England.
The British Overseas Territories and Commonwealth realms, while possessions of the Crown, are independent of the United Kingdom, whereas the non-realm countries of the Commonwealth of Nations are completely sovereign.
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