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During the reign of Henry VIII (1509-47), the church in England asserted its independence from the Roman Catholic Church and Elizabeth I (1558-1603) went on to set up the Church of England. Elizabeth's heir - James VI of Scotland - joined the two crowns as James I (1603-25), but later Stuart kings incurred large debts and were forced either to depend on Parliament for taxes or to raise money by illegal means. In 1642, war broke out between Charles I and Parliament and Charles was defeated and executed in 1649.

The monarchy was abolished, but after the death of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, the Puritan Commonwealth fell to pieces and Charles II was placed on the throne in 1660. The struggle between the king and Parliament continued, and James II (1685-88) was ousted by the Revolution of 1688, which confirmed the primacy of Parliament. James's daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, then became the rulers.

Upon the death of Queen Anne in 1714, the distant claims of the elector of Hanover were recognised, and he became king of Great Britain and Ireland as George I. The unwillingness of the Hanoverian kings to rule resulted in the formation by the royal ministers of a cabinet, headed by a prime minister, which directed all public business.

Abroad, the constant wars with France expanded the British Empire all over the globe, particularly in North America and India. This imperial growth was checked by the revolt of the American colonies (1775-81). Struggles with France broke out again in 1793 and during the Napoleonic Wars, which ended at Waterloo in 1815.

The Victorian era, named after Queen Victoria (1837-1901), saw the growth of a democratic system of government that had begun with the Reform Bill of 1832, whilst the Boer War (1899-1902) extended Britain's influence in Africa.

In 1914, 4 years after the accession of George V, Britain entered World War I when Germany invaded Belgium. The nation was led by coalition cabinets, headed first by Herbert Asquith and then David Lloyd George. Postwar labour unrest culminated in the general strike of 1926.

King Edward VIII succeeded to the throne on January 20, 1936, but abdicated in December in favor of his brother, who became George VI.

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