The United Kingdom (UK) is a country that consists of several islands off the coast of mainland Europe. It consists of England, Scotland, Wales, and northern Ireland. For centuries, it has been one of the greatest world powers, though its influence has depreciated somewhat since World War II, but it is still the fifth largest economy in the world.
In 1801, Great Britain and Ireland were formally united as a kingdom. The current incarnation of the United Kingdom was formed in 1927, when the southern part of Ireland declared independence as a separate country. Throughout history, the country has been formally controlled by a monarchy system. However, today, the monarchy controlled by Queen Elizabeth II is little more than a symbol; the royal family has not actively participated in the country's politics for centuries. Though the monarch is responsible for signing Acts of Parliament into law, no one in the royal family has refused to sign a bill since 1708.
The United Kingdom has been one of the world's largest colonial powers. Over the past centuries, it has developed colonies and held power in many countries for a period of time, including the United States, Canada, Australia, India, and many islands, including the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and Bermuda. The United States was first settled by British colonialists, but the Americans later rebelled against control by the United Kingdom, sparking the Revolutionary War for American freedom. Other countries, such as Australia and Canada, never initiated such rebellion against British control, and still maintain symbolic ties to the UK, although they are now regarded as independent countries.
The United Kingdom has been one of the greatest sources of creative talent in Western culture. Thousands of famous writers, including William Shakespeare, John Keats, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen, are from what is now the United Kingdom. Famous musicians from the United Kingdom include the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and more recent bands such as Oasis, Coldplay, and U2. The UK has also produced many powerful politicians, including Winston Churchill, who served as Prime Minister during World War II; and the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
The United Kingdom is a popular place for tourists to visit, particularly because it is home to some of the oldest and most famous architecture and museums in the world. Visitors to London, the UK's largest city, can visit such attractions as St. Paul's Cathedral, Big Ben, the House of Parliament, and Buckingham Palace, where the Queen resides.