North Britain

North Britain

North Britain is a term which has been occasionally used, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, for either the northern part of Great Britain or to Scotland, which occupies the northernmost third of the island.[1][2][3] Its counterpart is "South Britain", generally used to refer to England and Wales.[1][2][3]



Early uses of the designation have been noted after the 1603 Union of the Crowns of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland. King James VI & I used the terms "South Britain" and "North Britain" for England and Scotland respectively, most famously in his Proclamation of 1606 (here)[4] establishing the first Union Flag, where Scotland and England are not otherwise named:

"Whereas some difference has a risen between our Subjects of South and North Britain, Travelling by Sea, about the bearing of their flags"

This usage was repeated in Charles I's Proclamation of 1634 on the use of the flag, though adding England and Scotland too for explanation:

"Our further will and pleasure is, that all the other Ships of Our Subjects of England or South Britain bearing flags shall from henceforth carry the Red Cross, commonly called S. George’s Cross, as of old time hath been used; And also that all other ships of Our Subjects of Scotland or North Britain shall henceforth carry the White Cross commonly called S. Andrews Cross"

After the Act of Union 1707, Scotland was sometimes referred to as "North Britain". In 1707, the Royal Scots Greys were renamed the "Royal North British Dragoons". In Rob Roy (1817), Sir Walter Scott refers to a Scottish person in England as a North Briton, sometimes in the mouth of an English character but also in the authorial voice.

"Why, a Scotch sort of a gentleman, as I said before," returned mine host; "they are all gentle, ye mun know, though they ha' narra shirt to back; but this is a decentish hallion—a canny North Briton as e'er cross'd Berwick Bridge — I trow he's a dealer in cattle."
—Scott, Rob Roy[5]

Historic use

North Britain is often used historically, referencing the time period before the formation of Scotland and England. As such, it forms a geographic, yet politically and culturally neutral description of the area.[6]

The term, particularly in adjective form, found use in the creation of the railway system. The North British Railway operated from 1846 to 1923, leaving a later legacy in the name of the North British Hotel in Edinburgh, which was renamed ‘The Balmoral Hotel’ in the 1980s. The North British Locomotive Company existed from 1903 until its bankruptcy in 1962, again leaving a naming legacy in other organisations.[7]

The name is found in other private enterprises, an example being the North British Distillery in Edinburgh, founding in 1885.[8]

An example of its use in respect to northern Great Britain rather than Scotland can be found in the title of the North British Academy of Arts which existed from 1908 to 1921 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a city in northern England.

The North Briton and New North Briton were newspapers in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in 1844 there was also a North British Advertiser. The North British Review was founded in 1844 by members of the Free Church of Scotland as a Scottish "national review" for those unsatisfied with the secular Edinburgh Review or the conservative Quarterly Review. It continued until 1871 [9][10].

Particularly in the 19th century, "North Britain" or "N.B." was widely used for postal addresses in Scotland.[11] A post office leaflet was issued requesting people to avoid putting "NB" on envelopes as it might get confused with the London N8 postal district.[citation needed] However, by the early 20th century, any vestiges of popular usage of this style had declined. 'South Britain', the complementary style apportioned to England, had never seriously established itself, either north or south of the Anglo-Scottish border.[12]

Modern use

In current usage, the northern parts of Great Britain are often referred to simply as 'the North' though this term is also used to describe the northern parts of England. This usage is often prevalent in social commentary on the suggested 'North-South divide'.

The universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh, in addition to Heriot Watt University, organise a North Britain Student Forum on geoscience and engineering topics.[13] There is a North British Rowing Club based in Edinburgh.[14]

It is also used in prehistoric studies to delineate between geographical areas, taking in the idea that it is incorrect to pose modern boundaries onto past situations, such as the modern state of Scotland onto the non-unified early tribes of North Britain of pre-history.

See also


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b,M1
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles (1904 [1986]). The Art of Heraldry: An Encyclopaedia of Armory. London: Bloomsbury Books. p. 399. ISBN 0906223342. 
  5. ^ Walter Scott (1817). Vol. I, Chap. Fourth.
  6. ^ Examples of this usage are to be found in William Roy's Military Antiquities of the Romans in North Britain (1793)
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Ruskin MP | notes
  10. ^ British Periodicals at Minnesota
  11. ^
  12. ^ Robbins, Keith (1993). History, Religion and Identity in Modern Britain. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 241. ISBN 1852851015. "It seemed appropriate to develop the notion of a 'North Britain' and a 'South Britain'. The former style was to have a useful life for some two hundred years, but then rapidly declined. 'South Britain', on the other hand, never seriously established itself as a conceivable alternative to 'England'."  web
  13. ^
  14. ^

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • North Britain —    Scotland    More common when Scots thought of themselves as British, despite Britain being in foreign eyes synonymous with England:     Near to this Marble are deposited the Remains of Hugh Campbell Esqre of Mayfield in the County of Ayr North …   How not to say what you mean: A dictionary of euphemisms

  • North Britain — noun Scotland …   Wiktionary

  • North Britain — Scotland …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • SS North Britain (1945) — For other ships of the same name, see SS North Britain. Career Name: Empire Cyprus (1945 48) North Britain (1948 62) Jesselton Bay (1962 68) Owner: Ministry of War Transport (1945) M …   Wikipedia

  • North British — is an adjective used as an alternative to Scottish , and sometimes includes the northern regions of England, which emphasises Britishness see North Britain. It may refer to: North British Railway North British Locomotive Company North British… …   Wikipedia

  • North–South divide (England) — In this image, Northern England is shown as blue, The Midlands as green, and Southern England, the West Country and East Anglia as yellow In England, the term North–South divide refers to the economic and cultural differences between Southern… …   Wikipedia

  • North–South divide in the United Kingdom — One interpretation of the north south divide In Great Britain, the term North–South divide refers to the economic and cultural differences between Southern England and the rest of Great Britain (Northern England, Wales and Scotland). The divide… …   Wikipedia

  • North Briton — A North Briton is a term used for a person from North Britain, the northern parts of the islands of Great Britain. The adjective form of the name is North British. It is most commonly associated with Scotland and the Scottish people, either by… …   Wikipedia

  • North Briton — noun An inhabitant of North Britain …   Wiktionary

  • North Somerset — is a name used in the Watsonian vice county system to refer to a much larger area. North Somerset   unitary authority   Weston super Mare town hall …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.