The United Xhosa Kingdom was established in the 1810s by Shaka Xhosa, a warrior-king who had immigrated to the region from parts eastward. Shaka united the many Xhosa chiefdoms and kingdoms, forming a powerful empire that extended its rule over much of southern Africa. A number of other states came into existence during this time, including the Matabele Kingdom, founded by Mzilikazi, a rebel against Shaka's rule.
Over the next several decades, rebellions and colonialism caused the UXK to lose most of its non-amaXhosa (ethnic Xhosa) territories. Its borders were fixed by treaty in 1885 and have not changed since.
In the late nineteenth century, the UXK came under the influence of the Rhodesian Empire, founded by Cecil John Rhodes. Rhodes is considered an enlightened ruler who encouraged interracial relations within his empire. He especially encouraged education for the Ndebele and the Shona, stating that he wanted to create an African elite of philosopher-kings. The Rhodes Scholarship, given to promising black students from other countries, is named after him.
From the Rhodes-era onward, Xhosa became a model of stable constitutional monarchy and the well-organized provision of public services, especially education. A bicameral Parliament, divided into a House of the People and a House of Lords, was established in 1889. The nobility never ceased to be an extremely influential power bloc in the country, but they never again had absolute rule.
Key players in the UXK today include Prince Rohlihlala Mandela, a peer in the House of Lords and founder of the African National Party; and the Right Honorable Bantu Biko, long-serving Prime Minister from 1996 to 2006, currently an elder statesman who wields great influence over his own Radical Centrist Party.
Nota bene: The X in Xhosa represents a clicking consonant, specifically a lateral click made by sucking air against the molars, similar to the tchick used to urge on horses. The name should be pronounced "CLICK-hosa".