Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND, The United Kingdom of, has been since January 1, 1801, the official title of the political unity composed of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Great Britain was employed as a formal designation from the time of the union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland in 1707. Although the name (which apparently had its origin in Britannia Major, the name given to the island to distinguish it from Britannia Minor or Brittany) had, in earlier times, been often used both by English and by foreign writers, especially for rhetorical and poetical purposes, it was not till after the accession of James I. that it became a recognized part of the royal style. Its adoption was due to the king himself, who was anxious to give expression to the fact that he was sovereign of the undivided island, and not only of England or Scotland. As early as 1559 the Scottish Congregation had formally proposed through Maitland the union of the two crowns, and the adoption of the name of Great Britain for the common country (Teulet, i., "Mém. Caillé à M. de la Mothe," Dec. 20). But in England the innovation at first met with great opposition. Various objections, sentimental and practical, were urged against it in parliament; and the judges, when appealed to by the king, declared that the adoption of the title would invalidate all legal processes. At length, on the 20th October 1604, the king, weary of the discussion, cut the knot by assuming the title by royal proclamation, and in due course the inscription "J. D. G. Mag. Brit. F. et H. Rex" appeared on his coins. The proclamation declared that Great Britain was "the true and ancient name which God and time have imposed upon this Ile, extant and received in histories, in all mappes and cartes wherein this ile is described, and in ordinary letters to ourselfe from divers foreign princes, warranted also by authentical charters, exemplifications under seals, and other records of great antiquitie." In November 1604 we find the king instructing the Lords Commissioners of the Gunpowder Plot to try and discover if the prisoner was the author of a most "cruel pasquil" against him for assuming the name of Britain. For further details see Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, and Spedding, Letters and Life of Lord Bacon, vol. iii.