Great Britain is an island in the northwest part of Europe. It is the biggest island on the continent, located off the northern shore of France (across the English Channel) and to the west of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Norway (across the North Sea).
Great Britain is not the name of a country. The island is part of the sovereign state called the United Kingdom, and contains nearly all of three of its four countries: England, Scotland, and Wales. England is the biggest part of the island and its capital city is London (which is also the capital of the United Kingdom). Scotland is to the north of England, and its capital is Edinburgh. Wales is to the west of England, and its capital is Cardiff. Wales is separated from South West England by the Bristol Channel.
West of Great Britain is a smaller island called Ireland. The island of Ireland contains nearly all of the Republic of Ireland, which is a sovereign state, as well as nearly all of Northern Ireland. No part of Northern Ireland is on the island of Great Britain, but it is all part of the United Kingdom. Many people call the United Kingdom England or Great Britain, and people from other parts of the United Kingdom may not like it when people make this mistake.
Together with many other smaller islands, Ireland and Great Britain form the British Isles. Because most of the island of Ireland is not British, many people find this name inaccurate and even offensive. There is no more accurate term in common use but Great Britain and Ireland is often preferred.
Great Britain is the largest island of the United Kingdom. Politically, Great Britain means England, Scotland, and Wales in combination, but not Northern Ireland. It does include islands such as the Isle of Wight, Anglesey, the Isles of Scilly, the Hebrides, and the island groups of Orkney and Shetland.
Great Britain is usually represented using the same flag as the United Kingdom, the union jack. However, the island does not officially have a flag of its own.
The political union that joined the kingdoms of England and Scotland happened in 1707 when the Acts of Union ratified the 1706 Treaty of Union and merged the parliaments of the two nations, forming the Kingdom of Great Britain, which covered the entire island.
Before this, a personal union had existed between these two countries since the 1603 Union of the Crowns under James VI of Scotland and I of England. That union was called the Kingdom of Great Britain.
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