British literature is literature in the English language from the United Kingdom, Isle of Man, and Channel Islands. Anglo-Saxon (Old English) literature is included, and there is some discussion of Latin and Anglo-Norman literature, where literature in these languages relate to the early development of the English language and literature. There is also some brief discussion of major figures who wrote in Scots, but the main discussion is in the various Scottish literature articles.
The article Literature in the other languages of Britain focuses on the literatures written in the other languages that are, and have been, used in Britain. There are also articles on these various literatures: Latin literature in Britain, Anglo-Norman, Cornish, Guernésiais, Jèrriais, Latin, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, etc.
Irish writers have played an important part in the development of literature in England and Scotland, but though the whole of Ireland was politically part of the United Kingdom between January 1801 and December 1922, it can be controversial to describe Irish literature as British. For some this includes works by authors from Northern Ireland.
The nature of British identity has changed over time. The island that contains England, Scotland, and Wales has been known as Britain from the time of the Roman Pliny the Elder (c. AD 23–79). English as the national language had its beginnings with the Anglo-Saxon invasion of c.450 A.D. Prior to this the inhabitants spoke mainly various Celtic languages. The various constituent parts of the present United Kingdom joined at different times. Wales was annexed by the Kingdom of England under the Acts of Union of 1536 and 1542. However, it was not until 1707 with a treaty between England and Scotland, that the Kingdom of Great Britain came into existence. This merged in January 1801 with the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Until fairly recent times Celtic languages continued to be spoken in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Ireland, and still survive, especially in parts of Wales
Subsequently, the impact of Irish nationalism led to the partition of the island of Ireland in 1921, which means that literature of the Republic of Ireland is not British, although literature from Northern Ireland is both Irish and British.
Works written in the English language by Welsh writers, especially if their subject matter relates to Wales, has been recognised as a distinctive entity since the twentieth-century. The need for a separate identity for this kind of writing arose because of the parallel development of modern Welsh-language literature.
Because Britain was a colonial power the use of English spread through the world, and from the nineteenth-century in the United States, and later in other former colonies, major writers in English, including Nobel laureates, began to appear beyond the boundaries of Britain and Ireland.