Great Britain is an island in the north-west Atlantic Ocean, one of the British Isles. It is the biggest European island, off the coast of Continental Europe. To the west of Great Britain is Ireland, across the Irish Sea. Across the English Channel to the south of Great Britain is France. Across the North Sea to the east is Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Norway. Together with many other smaller islands, Great Britain and Ireland have the name British Isles.
The island is part of the United Kingdom, a sovereign state which shares the name Britain with the island. Three of the United Kingdom's countries are mostly on Great Britain: England, Scotland, and Wales. The largest city on Great Britain is London. London is the capital city of the United Kingdom and also the capital of England. Most of Great Britain is part of England. The northern third of the island is part of Scotland. In the south-west of Great Britain is Wales.
The United Kingdom had the name Great Britain between the Acts of Union 1707 and the Act of Union 1800. Northern Ireland is not on the island of Great Britain, but it is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern 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.) Great Britain is not the official name of a present-day state. Some people call the United Kingdom Great Britain and people from other parts of the United Kingdom may not like it when people make this mistake.
Islands such as the Isle of Wight, the Isles of Scilly, Anglesey, the Hebrides, and the island groups of Orkney and Shetland are all part of the United Kingdom. In geography they are not part of Great Britain. For political uses and law, these islands are part of Great Britain because they are parts of the two old kingdoms: Scotland and England (including Wales).
The writings of the Roman cartographer Ptolemy used the name "Great Britain" for the island in the 2nd century AD. He used the name "Megale Britannia" or "Great Britain" (Ancient Greek: Μεγάλη Βρεττανία, romanized: Μegálē Brettanía) to show the difference between this larger island and Ireland. For Ireland, Ptolemy used the name "Mikra Britannia" or "Little Britain" (Μικρά Βρεττανία, Mikrá Brettanía).
In the later Middle Ages, the kings of England were also the kings of Ireland. However, the two kingdoms were separate, even though they had the same king. In 1603, the two kingdoms in Great Britain (Scotland and England) also started to share the same king. In 1604, James VI and I was the first king to be named "King of Great Britain". He was the king of Scotland when England's queen, Elizabeth I, died. From Elizabeth, James inherited the kingdoms of England and Ireland, whereby Great Britain (and the British Isles started) to share one king. People started to use the Union Jack flag in the time of King James, who had ordered ships to use it in 1607. The flag joined the flag of Scotland and the flag of England together in one flag. However, the three kingdoms were separate.
The political union that joined the kingdoms of England and Scotland happened because of the Acts of Union 1707. These acts of parliament merged the two nations' parliaments (the Parliament of Scotland and the Parliament of England), and joined the two kingdoms into a new Kingdom of Great Britain, or the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The whole island became one kingdom in this way on 1 May 1707, while Anne as queen. The Union Jack changed to its present design, which now has another saltire.
The Parliament of Ireland and the Parliament of Great Britain also merged with one another because of the Act of Union 1800. In 1801, Great Britain and Ireland started to be one kingdom: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This happened on 1 January 1801, while George III was king. The Irish Free State left the United Kingdom in 1922, and in 1927, the UK's name changed to be the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
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