The English is named after the English grandmaster Howard Staunton. He played it 1843 in his match with Saint-Amant and in the first international tournament in London 1851. Howard Staunton researched and developed this opening and played it on a regular basis.
English is a very flexible opening which can transpose into other openings like Queens-Gambit, Gruenfeld and Kings-Indian.
With his first move 1.c4 White controls the center square d5. The English chess opening is solid and has a good reputation. It was played in various world championship matches by Botvinnik, Bobby Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov. Nowadays it is quite popular and often played.
Main Lines are: 1...Nf6 can transpose into the Indian Defense. 1...e5 This is called the Reversed-Sicilian as White plays the Sicilian defense, but with a move up. 1...e6 2.Nc3 d5 3.d4 can transpose to Queen's Gambit Declined. (White usually plays 2.Nf3 or 2.g3 here, not 2.Nc3) 1...c5 (the Symmetrical Variation) 1...g6 leads to Modern Defense or after 1...d6 and 2...Nf6 to a set up of the King's Indian Defence. 1...c6 2.d4 d5 transposes to the Slav Defense 1...b6 The English Defence. Black fianchettoes the queenside bishop after playing 2...e6 first, followed by moves like f5 and Qh4 later.
If you are a beginner (black colour) answer 1.c4 with 1...e5 and after that I recommend the following set-up for you, where your pieces are placed on natural squares. (or play the bishop to c5 in similar situations, if possible.)