5N – the romantic age: the historical background no

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1760- 1850

The term Industrial Revolution generally refers  to Britain’s economic development  which rapidly  transformed  it from an agricultural to an industrial country.

The Industrial Revolution involved the use of new  sources  of power (like coal and the steam engine), important technological inventions  (like the mechanisation of the textile industries, the improvement of  iron-making techniques) and the development of the factory system (division of labour and specialization of function).  Trade expansion was enabled by the improvement of transports: new waterways were  built and road conditions were bettered.

There were also great changes in agriculture. The Agrarian Revolution was connected to the Industrial Revolution because they both used technological inventions.  The Agrarian Revolution took two  principal forms: massive enclosure of “open fields” and common land, and improvements in the breeding of cattle  and in farming techniques.

During the Industrial Revolution,  power and wealth began to move from the land-owning aristocracy  to factory owners and other employers based in the cities. In this period cities expanded rapidly thanks to the arrival of rural  farm workers who became industrial labourers. Women and children were especially employed because they could be paid less and were easier to control. The new urban masses  lived in conditions  of terrible poverty and overcrowding and the atmosphere was  polluted  by smoke from  factories. Small towns, the so-called “mushroom towns”, were constructed  to house the workers; they lacked the most elementary sanitation.

The old feudal order of agrarian society was going to be replaced by a nation divided between rich landowners and industrialists on the one hand and the restless urban poor on the other.

The policy of “laissez-faire”, based on the doctrine that an economic system functions best when there is no interference by government, proposed by Adam Smith  in The Wealth of Nations (1776),  served  to increase the gap between the rich and the poor.

The fear that the French revolutionary ideas would spread among the working class led the  government of William Pitt the Younger to pass the Combination Acts (1799-1800) which made Trade Unionism illegal.

The employers took advantage of the situation and dictated their terms, workers’ frustration  led to protests  such as Luddism - between 1811 and 1816 workmen   attacked factories and destroyed laborsaving textile machinery in the belief that such machinery would diminish employment.

A protest in 1819, the Peterloo  Massacre, where  soldiers fired on and killed workers at a meeting,  led the government to pass new acts to make   meetings illegal (Six Acts, 1819).

Gradually,  a new political awareness began to be felt and an age of important reforms started. In 1824  the Combinations Acts  were repealed and  the first Trade Unions were founded. In about 1830 Socialism arose as a reaction to the economic and social changes associated with the Industrial Revolution; it advocated the abolition of class differences and the redistribution of wealth. In 1833 the Factory Acts were passed to limit the exploitation of child and female labour in industry.  

1775– 1783 

The American War of Independence broke out in 1775. 

The conflict arose from growing tensions between residents of Great Britain's thirteen North American colonies and the colonial government, which represented the British crown.

The colonists argued that the British parliament was not entitled to tax American colonists who were not represented in that parliament (the "no taxation without representation" theory). 

On 4 July 1776, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence which was drawn up by Thomas Jefferson and in which the natural rights of all people were proclaimed. 

France entered the American Revolution on the side of the colonists, turning what had essentially been a civil war into an international conflict.  In 1781, the war ended. In 1783 the British  recognized the independence of the United States.

1789 -1791

The same thirst for freedom and equality, claimed in the American Declaration of Independence, marked the event which most influenced the European political and intellectual thought at the end of the 18th century: the French Revolution.

In Britain it gave rise to different reactions: on the one hand, the ruling classes were terrified of “Jacobinism”, as sympathy with the cause  of French Revolution was called; on the other side, the majority of intellectuals and Romantic poets enthusiastically supported the Revolution. Disillusion soon followed with the Reign of Terror and the imperialistic tendencies of Napoleon, and some Romantic poets turned from radical to conservative in the early 19th century. Even so, the hope of regeneration and change was  reflected in Romantic poetry.

George_II_was_succeeded_by_his_grandson_George_III'>1760- 1820

George II was succeeded by his grandson George IIIHe was the third British monarch of the House of Hanover, but  unlike his two Hanoverian predecessors he was born in Britain, spoke English as his first language, and never saw Hanover.

His life and reign were marked by a series of military conflicts involving his kingdom, much of the rest of Europe, and places in Africa, the Americas and Asia.

Early in his reign, Great Britain defeated France in the Seven Years' War, becoming the dominant European power in North America and India. However, many of its American colonies were soon lost in the American War of Independence. Further wars against revolutionary and Napoleonic France from 1793 concluded in the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

In the later part of his life, George III suffered from recurrent, and eventually permanent, mental illness. Medical practitioners were baffled by this at the time, although it has since been suggested that he suffered from blood disease. After a final decline in 1810, a regency was established, and George III's eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, ruled as Prince Regent. On George III's death, the Prince Regent succeeded his father as George IV.

1820- 1837

George III  was succeeded by two of his sons George IV and William IV, who both died without surviving legitimate children, leaving the throne to the only legitimate child of the Duke of Kent, the fourth son of George III,  Victoria, the last monarch of the House of Hanover.


The First Reform Bill  was passed. It extended the right to vote to middle-class men, who acquired more political power as a consequence; it excluded the lower middle classes, the working classes and women.

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