Prehistoric Britain

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Prehistoric Britain

Britain was a part of the European land mass until the end of the last Ice Age, around 6000 BC, when the English Channel was formed by melting ice. The earliest inhabitants lived in limestone caves: settlements and farming skills developed gradually through the Stone Age.

About 3000 BC many parts of Europe, including the British Isles, were inhabited by a people, known as the Iberians. These Neolithic men used stone axes and made antlers and bones into leather-working tools. Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain is the best known megalithic monument in Britain and one of the world’s greatest mysteries. It was built in several stages from about 3000 BC, but no one knows for what purpose these enormous stones were erected and how they were transported there from the places far away.

The Bronze Age reached Britain between 2100 - 1650 BC. Gold was mined in Wales and Cornwall and the gold items found from their graves are evidence of the wealth of Bronze Age tribes. European Celts invaded Britain in two waves. First the Gaels around 600 BC. The second wave was that of the Cymri or Briton around 300 BC. The Iberians were unable to fight back the attacks of the Celts who were armed with metal spears, swords daggers and axes.

The Celts had no towns but lived in villages. They built forts on hilltops and protected them with ditches and ramparts. Maiden Castle in Dorset is an impressive Iron Age hill fort dating from around 100 BC. In AD 43 it was the scene for a battle as the Romans sought to conquer the Iron Age people of southern England. Its concentric lines of ramparts and ditches follow the contours on the hill top.

The Celtic tribes were ruled by a warrior class, of which the priests, or Druids, seem to have been particularly important members. Druids could not read or write, but they memorised all the religious teachings, the tribal laws, history, medicine and other knowledge necessary in Celtic society.

It is also believed that during the Celtic period women had more independence and power than they had again for hundreds of years. When Romans invaded Britain the largest tribes were ruled by women, most famous of them Boudicca. It was the Celts who first saw the potential for creating large-scale artwork on the chalk hills of southern England. Horses – held in high regard by both the Celts and later the Saxons, and the objects of cult worship – were often a favourite subject.

The basic unit of Celtic family was the clan, a sort of extended family. Clans were bound together very loosely with other clans into tribes, each of which had its own social structure and customs, and possibly its own gods.

Celts were great warriors and took tremendous pride in their appearance in battle. Unfortunately each tribe was out for itself, so they could not put up a unified front and in the long run this cost the control of Britain.

The concept of a “Celtic” people is a modern somewhat romantic reinterpretation of history. The Celts were warring tribes who certainly wouldn’t have seen themselves as one people at the times. It would be more proper to say that the Celts were a group of peoples loosely tied by similar language, religion and cultural expression. In fact, no-one called the people living in Britain during the Iron Age Celts until the 18th century. The Romans called these people Britons, not Celts.

The term “Celtic” in the linguistic sense refers to a family of interrelated languages all descended from a common ancestor (Old Celtic).

Roman Britain

2000 years ago while the Celts were still living people in the world. Roman society was a slave society divided into antagonistic classes – the slaved and the slave owners. The Romans conquered all the countries around. One of the last countries to be conquered by Rome was Gallia (present-day France). Julius Caesar reached the Channel in 55 BC and that was how the Romans came to see white cliffs of the land of British Celts. Caesar made two raids across the Channel to punish the Britons for helping their kith and kin against him.

When the Romans invaded Britain, the Iceni, the main tribe in East Anglia, joined forces with them to defeat a rival tribe, but the Romans then turned to Iceni torturing Queen Boudicca. In 61 AD, she led a revolt against Roman rule: her followers burned down London, Colchester and St Albans. The rebellion was put down and the queen took poison rather than submit.

As the Roman had problems with the tribes of the far north, Hadrian’s Wall, stretching 70 miles from the Solway to the Tyne, was built in 122 to keep out the raiding Scots and Picts.

Many of Britain’s main towns and cities were established by the Romans and have Roman remains, including York, St Albans, Bath and London. Place names ending in –caster, or – chester reveal the places of Roman military camps. Several Roman Villas were built in southern England, favoured for its mild climate and proximity to Europe. The Roman baths in Bath, known as Aquae Sulis, were built between 1st and 4th centuries around a natural hot spring.

Roman soldiers brought Christianity, and in the 4th century the Christian Church was established in Britain.

Anglo-Saxon Britain

After the Roman legions left Britain in 410 the Celts remained independent but not for long. By the mid-5th century, Angles, Saxons and Jutes from Denmark and Northern Germany had started to raid the eastern shores of Britain (around Kent). Within 100 years Saxon kingdoms, including Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria, were established over entire country. The new settlers disliked towns and destroyed Roman villas, preferring to live in small communities. By the 7th century towns began to spring up and trade increased. Many towns have names ending in “ham”, which is the Anglo-Saxon word for “home”.

The Celts who were not absorbed or enslaved were driven away to upland or remote areas such as Cornwall, Wales and the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Of all the Celtic languages Welsh, or Cymri, has survived best and is spoken in Wales. The English language is the descendant of the language used by the Saxon invaders of the 5th century. Angles gave England the name.

Anglo-Saxons were essentially an agriculture people. Each village was self-sufficient, that is, most of its necessities of life were produced in the village itself. There were no shops and there was very little trading. Travelling pedlars sold nails, needles, thread, salt, tar and sometimes toys for children.

The legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are based on a Celtic leader in the 5th and 6th century who defended his country against Saxon Invasion.

The conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity began at the end of the 6th century (579) when St Augustine from Rome became archbishop of Canterbury. Thus restoring a link broken by the Saxon invasions. Before that the Anglo-Saxon had been pagans. They believed in many gods.

The spread of the Christianity brought about important changes in the life of the Anglo-Saxons. The kings and nobles granted much land to the bishops and monasteries, and that promoted the growth of big landed estates. The Roman monks helped to spread Roman culture in the country. The most famous writer was The Venerable Bede who is sometimes called “father of English history”. He wrote “Ecclesiastical History of English People”, which was the only book on Anglo-Saxon history.

There is another important piece of literature from this period – the heroic poem “Beowulf”. Most literary historians believe it was composed in the oral tradition by an anonymous Anglo-Saxon story singer at around 700AD, but not recorded in writing until several centuries later.

At the end of the 8th century a second wave of Germanic invasions started with raids on coastal monasteries. In 871 the Danes invaded Wessex again. But it was not as easy to devastate Wessex as other parts of England. Under the reign of Egbert’s grandson King Alfred who became known in English history as Alfred the Great, Wessex became the centre of resistance against invaders. All free peasants of were trained to fight.

King Alfred could read and write. He sent artisans builders and scholars from the Continent to teach his people. King Alfred himself translated Ecclesiastical History of the English people. Alfred ordered that the learned men should begin to write a history of England.

At the beginning of the 11th century England was conquered by the Danish king Canute/Knut/Cnut who became king of Denmark, Norway and England. He divided England into territorial lordships, providing a system of government. According to the legend King Canute was told by his court that he was all powerful. He told them to take his throne to the sea shore and commanded the tide to remain out. Everyone got wet.

Norman invasion

In 1042, Edward – known as “the Confessor” because of his piety – became king. Edward’s father-in-law was Earl Godwin of Wessex resisted Norman influence and was even exiled, but after Edward’s death on January 1066 Godwin’s oldest surviving son Harold was recognised as king by the Witan, the great council of the realm. Edward had been a weak king and Harold been the real ruler of England for many years. Now Harold claimed that Edward had granted him the kingdom on his deathbed, although Duke William of Normandy argued that Edward had promised him the throne when he visited England in 1051.

The first challenge to King Harold Godwin came from the north. In 1066 at the end of the summer, Harald Hardraada landed in north-eastern England. While Harold and his soldiers were resting after a battle, news arrived from London: Duke William had landed on south coast near Hastings. The English king returned to London gathered new army and marched to Hastings. They stopped on the hill and the battle began. The Normans won the battle and King Harold died in the battle. The battle of Hastings was the last successful invasion of Britain. It is depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy, France.

Edgar was now the Anglo-Saxon claimant to the crown but he had to submit as the victorious William marched to London. On Christmas Day William was acclaimed king in Westminster Abbey. He is now called William the Conqueror and 1066 is the most famous date in English history.

The Normans operated a feudal system, creating and aristocracy that treated native Anglo-Saxons as slaves. In 1086 the Domesday Book, a survey of every manor in England, was compiled for tax purposes.

The most prominent surviving remains from Norman England are stone castles, such as the White Tower in London, and stone cathedrals, such as Durham.

The Early Middle Ages

After the Norman Conquest had begun, there was an Anglo-Saxon rebellion against the Normans every year until 1070. Few Saxon lords kept their lands and who did accepted William.

William organised his English kingdom according to the feudal system which had already started develop in England before his arrival.

When William died in 1087, he left the duchy of Normandy too his elder son Robert and England to his second son William. At this time Robert was in war in the Holy Land and the third brother, Henry, unfairly took charge of king’s treasury and was crowned king. Robert planned an attack, but accepted payment for returning to Normandy. However in 1106 Henry invaded Normandy, captured Robert and reunited Normandy and England. Henry spent the rest of his life fighting to keep Normandy from other French nobles who tried to take it and he certainly wanted to pass on both Normandy and England to his successor. Unfortunately, his only son was drowned at sea, so after years he accepted that his daughter Matilda would follow him.

Henry married Matilda to another great noble in France, Geoffrey Plantagenet, heir to Anjou. The consequences of this marriage were extremely serious for both kingdoms. The throne was seized by Stephen of Blois, Henry’s nephew (son of Adela- daughter of William). Matilda invaded England few years later; her fight with Stephen led to a terrible civil war, neither side won. In 1153 Stephen and Matilda agreed that the latter could keep the throne if Matilda’s son Henry could succeed him. Henry II became 1st unquestioned ruler of the English throne for a hundred years.

The Reign of Henry II, Richard I, John I,

Magna Carta and the Decline of Feudalism

When Henry II came to the throne (1154) he inherited English kingdom, Anjou, Maine, Touraine and acquired vast areas of central and south-western France thought his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine.

He quarrelled with his beautiful wife, and his sons, Richard and John took Eleanor’s side. In 1189 Henry died broken, disappointed and defeated by his sons and the king of France.

The period is also marked by the struggle between the church and the state. It had started already in 1066 when the pope claimed that William had promised to accept him as the feudal lord. William refused to accept his claim, he had created Norman bishops and given land to them, so the question whether they should obey the church or the king, raised a conflict.

Henry was followed by his rebellious son, Richard. He has always been one England’s most popular kings, although he spent hardly time in England. He reigned for 10 years, spending a lot of time on crusades in the Holy Land. He was brave and, a good soldier, but his nickname was French.

When Richard was killed in 1199, his younger brother John I inherited throne of England as well as the Plantagenet dominions in France which he lost again by 1204. John was unpopular with the three most important groups of people. He had taxed them heavily but had not protected their lands in France.

The Pope knew of John’s weak position in England, he called on the king of France to invade England and closed every church in the country. At that most of the population believed that without Church they would go to hell. So finally John accepted the Pope’s choice of archbishop and he was also forced to sign Magna Carta. It limited king’s power to tax the barons, guaranteed the rights of the church and the city corporations as well as the right to a fair legal trial.

England under the Reign of Henry III and Edward I

John’s son Henry who was only nine at his accession, reigned for a long time, but was a middling head of state and had few of the personal qualities to gain respect. He was not able to get back his father’s lands in France. He redeemed himself as a ruler by patronizing arts and inspiring the improvements to Westminster Abbey and construction of Salisbury Cathedral.

It was also during Henry’s reign that the first parliament was summoned in 1265 but the barons quarrelled among themselves and the King reassumed control of the government until his death in 1272.

His son Edward I was a man of authority. He was less interested in winning back parts of France than bringing the rest of Britain under his control. He brought together 1st real parliament, annexed Wales to England in 1282 and also brought Scotland under English control for a time.

He tried to have good relations with the powerful king of France Philip IV. The two kings decided to marry their children (Isabella and Edward II). The concequences of this marriage was disastrous to both countries – Edward didn’t love Isabella, Isabella hated Edward. Falling in love with another man, Isabella together with her loved forced Edward to abdicate in favour of his 14-year-old son in 1327. For the first three years. Isabella and Roger ruled till 1330, when Edward seized power.

The Age of Chivalry, the Poor in Revolt

Edward III and his eldest son, Edward or The Black Prince were greatly admired in England for their courage on the battlefield. They became symbols of the “code of chivalry”. Interest grew in the legendary King Arthur. Edward III founded the Order of the Garter and gave England a new patron, St. George.

Edward was followed by Richard II, his grandson. Richard had neither diplomatic of his grandfather nor the popularity of his father. He became king at the age of 11 so others governed for him. The same year his advisors introduced a tax payment for every person over 15. When this tax was introduced third time in 1381, it caused a revolt in East Anglia and Kent, two richer parts of the country.

The Peasant’s Revolt only lasted for four weeks. During that time peasants took control of much of London. Wat Tyler, the leader of the peasants, was killed and Richard II managed to calm down the angry crowd. Later other leading rebels were killed.

Edward III was one of the most successful English monarchs in the Middle Ages. Restoring royal authority after the disastrous reign of his father went on to transform the Kingdom of England into the most effective military power in Europe.

His reign was dominated by the 100 Years’ War with France. The struggle began when Edward found that he had more right to the French throne that anybody else.

The war began well for England; in the early 1400s English lands on continent were won back. In 1431 the French started to fight back being inspired by Jean of Arc. The English captured and burned her but the luck was on the side of French.

During the war English noblemen began to speak English. English literature was born with “Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer. Also the first large schools and universities were founded.

The Crisis of Kingship, the Wars of the Roses

After the 100 Years’ War two groups of nobles, Lancastrians and Yorkists, thought for the control of throne. Henry IV spent the rest of his reign establishing his royal authority. Although he passed the crown peacefully and Henry V was one of England’s favourite kings, 50 years later the nobility were divided between those who remained loyal to Henry VI, the “Lancastrians”, and those who supported the duke of York, the “Yorkists”.

The house of York was identified with a white rose, Lancaster with a red rose. The Yorkists claimed that Henry VI, who had lost the throne of France and all English lands on the continent, had no right to be king.

The war began in 1455 with the battle of St Albans. Six years later, the York forces crushed the Lancaster army and Edward of York became king as Edward IV. He died in 1470, his son Edward V succeeded him at the age of 12. He was killed by his uncle and his uncle became king as Richard III. He was the king for two years until he died in battle in 1485. War ended with the marriage between Henry VII and Edward IV’s daughter.

The Tudors

The house of Tudor was a European royal house that ruled England and its lands from 1485 till 1603. Its 1st monarch Henry Tudor descended from the rulers of the Welsh principality. The last Tudor was Elizabeth I.

The century of Tudor rule is often thought of as a most glorious period in English history.

Henry VII was born in Wales in 1457. Henry VII is less known than Henry VIII or Elizabeth I but he was far more important in establishing the new monarchy than either of them. He brought unity to the houses of Lancaster and York.

He increased England’s influence in Europe by making important alliances. He arranged a marriage between his son Arthur and the daughter of the king of Spain Catherine of Aragon. After Arthur died Henry married Catherine with his younger son. He also arranged a marriage between his daughter and James IV of Scotland. Henry VIII kept England out of wars, and by severe economy accumulated an immense fortune.

When Henry VIII came to the throne, his 1st act was to marry his brother’s widow. Catherine bore five children but only one of them lived. Henry wanted a son. He wanted to annul his 1st marriage but the pope refused. Anne bore him a 2nd daughter and Anne was beheaded. Henry’s third wife died after giving birth to a son. Now Henry married Anne of Cleves but soon divorced again. In 1542 married Catherine Howard and soon ordered to execute her. His last wife outlived him.

Henry VII was always looking for new sources of money. He spent so much on maintaining a magnificent court and on wars from which England had little to gain from his father’s carefully saved money was soon gone.

The later Tudors

When Henry VII died in 1547, his 9-old-year son, a child dogged by illness, became king as Edward VI. As he was under legal age, the country was actually ruled by a council. Edward died at the age of 16 and on his deathbed named his Protestant cousin Jane Gray his successor.

The Privy Council decided to change sides and proclaim Mary as queen. Lady Jane was executed.

Mary was the 1st queen of England since Matilda, 400 years earlier. She chose to marry King Philip of Spain. The parliament agreed to that marriage unwillingly and accepted Philip as king of England for Mary’s lifetime. The marriage was the first mistake of her unfortunate reign, and then she enacted a policy of persecution against Protestants. More than 300 people were burned alive. She got the nickname “Bloody Mary”.

When Mary died in 1558, her half-sister Elizabeth became queen. She wanted to find peaceful answers to the problems of the English Reformation, bring together those parts of the English society which were in religious disagreement and make England prosperous. The struggle between Catholics and Protestants continued to endanger her rule for next 30 years.

Although relations between Spain and England had begun rather well, with Philip even proposing to marry Elizabeth, over the 30 years since the Queen’s accession, relations had deteriorated. Elizabeth recognised Spain as England’s main trade rival and enemy which finally led to the war. Elizabeth succeeded to defeat The Armada, which was the strongest navy at that time. During the Elizabeth’s reign there lived such people as Shakespeare, Johnson and Marlow.

The Early Stuarts,mary03.jpg

Mary Queen of Scots was one of the most fascinating and controversial monarchs of the 16th century. At one time, she claimed the crowns of four nations – Scotland, France, England and Ireland. She was born in 1542 as a daughter of James Stewart, the King of Scotland and Mary of Guise. In 1558 she married Francois, Dauphin of France and became queen consort of France after the French king Henry died.

However Mary and Francois did not have any children during their short marriage. When François died, his mother Catherine de Medici assumed the role of regent.

Mary married to Lord Darnley and that made Elizabeth very angry. When Mary got tired of him she agreed to his murder and married to a man who was the murderer. English society was shocked; the English government did not look forward to the possibility of Mary succeeding Elizabeth as a queen. Due to her behaviour she destroyed her chance to ever inherit English throne.

Her son James started to rule at the age of 12 as King James VI of Scotland. He knew that if he behaved correctly he would inherit English throne.

When Elizabeth died in 1603 she left James with a huge debt, larger than the total yearly income of the Crown. James had to ask Parliament to raise a tax to pay the debt. Parliament agreed, but in return insisted on the right to discuss James’s home and foreign policy. James was the king who believed in “the divine right”.

Religious dissension was the basis of an event that confirmed and fuelled James’s paranoia: The Gunpowder Plot on the 5th November 1605. Guy Fawkes and four other Catholics were caught when they attempted to blow up the House of Lords. James was not the worst king but his Scottish background did a bad job to him. One of James’s great contributions to England was the Authorised King James’s Version of the Bible.

James, Charles, Civil War, Cromwell

Charles was born in 1600 as the second son of James VI and Anne. Charles’ older brother died in 1612 leaving Charles as an heir. In 1625 he became king and married Henrietta Maria of France. Charles’ reign began with the ingoing tension with the Parliament over money. In addition to that, his wife was catholic and Charles favoured several Catholic elements in worship. Charles dissolved Parliament three times between 1625 and 1629. In 1629 he decided to rule alone. This forced him to raise money by non-parliamentary means. Unrest in Scotland put an end to his personal rule. He was forced to call back the Parliament. They refused him money and the country split between Cavaliers and Roundheads. Leader of the Roundheads was Oliver Cromwell and in 1645 the army of the Cavaliers was defeated. The general of the rebels was Oliver Cromwell. In 1649 Charles was captured and later executed.

Oliver Cromwell and the army emerged as the power in the country. Cromwell dissolved Parliament and became a dictator. It is the only time when England was ruled by a dictator. He died in 1658 but his son was not strong enough to continue his father’s job and republican administration collapsed. One of the army commanders arranged election and invited Charles II to return from the exile.

The new king managed to return with skill. He tried to make peace with everyone and only punished those who were responsible for the execution of Charles I. Charles shared his father’s believe in divine right and he admired Louis XIV. The fears os Charles’ interest in Catholic church and of the monarch becoming too strong also resulted the first political parties in Britain. One of this parties was called „Whigs“- they were afraid of the absolute monarchy and believed that crown depended on the Parliament. The opponents of the „Whigs“ were „Tories“, who upheld the authority of the Crown and were natural inheritors of the „Royalists“ position. Soon after Charles succession 2 terrible thing happened, in 1665 – The Plague, in 1666 – The Great Fire of London.

Charles had no legitimate heir and so throne went to James II.

Unlike his brother James never made a secret of his Catholicism, so he became Catholic king in a Protestant country. His reign proved to be disastrous and there were struggles between Catholics and Protestants all the time during his reign.

Leading politicians hoped that throne would pass to Mary, who was a Protestant, but when James got a male heir their hope was destroyed. William of Orange was invited to conquer Britain and the crown was offered to him. William landed with an army, James fled to Ireland and was later defeated and Parliament proclaimed William king. But now Parliament was more powerful than king and these political events were called the Glorious Revolution.

William was not liked by the people, but his wife Mary was very popular. Upon her death William ruled alone for 8 years until Anne became queen. Queen Anne was the 1st monarch to rule the Kingdom of Great Britain.

She enjoyed a close friendship with Sarah Churchill, whose husband was a brilliant general; he defeated French in the battle of Blenheim, which marked the end of the French dominance in Europe.

Queen Anne died in 1714, exhausted by the cares if state, for which she had no particular aptitude or enthusiasm.

The Georgian Era

The Georgian era is a period of British history which takes its name from, and is normally defined as spanning the reigns of, the first four Hanoverian kings of Great Britain: George I, George II, George III and George IV.

George I came to power on 1714 and he was the king of Great Britain and Ireland, he was Dutch and could hardly speak English, and when he did he spoke with a strong accent.

George II came to the throne in 1727 and before that he had been Price of Wales. He was the last English monarch who was born outside Great Britain. He is famous for his numerous conflicts with his father and with his son.

George III came to the throne in 1760 and he is ruling till 1820. He was the 1st Hanoverian king who could speak English without a foreign accent. He played a minor role in the wars against revolutionary and Napoleonic France from 1793, which concluded in the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. However, many of its American colonies were lost. In the later part of his life, George III suffered from recurrent, and eventually permanent, mental illness.

Britain from George III to Victoria

The conflict between Britain and her American colonists was triggered by the financial costs of the Anglo-French wars of the previous 30 years. In 1764 there was a serious quarrel over taxation between the British government and its colonies in America. eyewitness account of the boston tea party

Some American colonists have decided that it was not lawful to tax them without their agreement. In 1773 a group of colonists threw a shipload of tea into the sea rather than pay tax on it. This event is known as “The Boston Tea Party”. The British government closed the port. Colonists decided to prevent British goods from entering America until the port was opened again. Government decided to defeat colonists by force. The American war of Independence had begun.

The army of the colonists was under command of George Washington and it had an unbelievable task of taking on the largest empire in the world. At last colonists defeated British army and in July 1776 Declaration of Independence was signed.

The Napoleonic Wars

The French revolution of 1789 had a significant impact throughout Europe. The 1st attempt to crush the French Republic came in 1783, when 6 countries formed the First Coalition. However their army was defeated by General Bonaparte and Austria was forced to accept his terms. Only Britain remained diplomatically opposed to the French Republic.

The Second Coalition was formed in 1798 but Napoleon seized the power in France and reorganised French army and again he was victorious. England was forced to sign “peace of Amiens”. Napoleon declared France an empire and himself Emperor in 1804.

French efforts were mainly concentrated on Europe, France sold some colonies to the US and some colonies got independence.

The 1st loss of Napoleon was the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, when Admiral Nelson used a new technique of sea battle and defeated French Navy. He was killed in battle, but became one of the British heroes. The Napoleonic Wars had turned the country from thoughts of revolution to the need to defeat the French. When peace was made and 300,000 soldiers returned to Britain there was no longer much need for factory-made goods and the whole army was looking for work. At that time the income of the landowners suffered because of the cheap corn.

The cost of bread rose quickly and this led to the price increase almost in everything. The general misery began to cause trouble; a lot of people were starving. Some people tried to get food by hunting but almost all forests were owned by the landlords. Several workhouses were built to give some living to the poor but their conditions were rather terrible. To evade workhouses people fled to towns hoping to find a better life there.

In 1830 George IV died and his most liberal brother William IV came to the throne in his place.

Victorian age

The Victorian was the period of Queen Victoria from June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of prosperity for the British people. During the early part of the era, the House of Commons was headed by the two parties, the Whigs and the Tories. From the late 1850s onwards, the Whigs became the Liberals; the Tories became the Conservatives. Victoria married Albert in 1840 and in 1861 Prince Albert dies. Victoria reigned for 63 years and 216 days. An important development during the Victorian era was the improvement of communication links. Stagecoaches, canals, steam ships and most notably the railways all allowed goods, raw materials and people to be moved about, rapidly facilitating trade and industry. Trains became another important factor ordering society, with "railway time" being the standard by which clocks were set throughout Britain.

19th century Britain saw a huge population increase accompanied by rapid urbanization stimulated by the Industrial Revolution. The large numbers of skilled and unskilled people looking for work kept wages down to a barely subsistence level. Available housing was scarce and expensive, resulting in overcrowding.

The Edwardian Age World War I and the Post-War Years

After Queen Victoria’s death in 1906, her son Edward became king at the age of 59 and he was already a grandfather. During Victorian age he was not involved in governing the state.

While Victoria was shunned society, Edward was part of fashionable elite which set a style influenced by the art and fashions of Continental Europe – perhaps because of King’s fondness for travel.

Socially, the Edwardian era was a period during which the British class system was very rigid. About one third of the population was poverty stricken and lived in terrible conditions.

The Edwardian period corresponds to the French Belle Époque period.

The church no longer played as vital a role in the daily lives of Edwardians.

In May 1910 King Edward VII died and was succeeded by his son who became King George V.

He proved to be a capable and dedicated leader during the World War I and during the difficult post-war period that followed. He was much missed by his people when he died in 1936.

The Irish Problem

The reasons for the conflicting situation in Ireland are deep-rooted in religion and history: the Irish are descended from the Celtic people who originally inhabited the island and they are traditionally Catholic, while the Protestant minority is descended from the English and represents the nation that occupied Ireland and make it a colony.

In the 17th century many English Protestants settled in the north-east and colonised it, and this led to conflict with the natives.

In 1689, when James II landed an army in Ireland, the Irish welcomed him and besieged the Protestants at Londonderry, but were defeated by William of Orange one year later.

In 1801 the Act of Union stated that Ireland was part of the UK. The Anglican church became the official.

A bill was passed giving Dublin government full control and it was due to become low in 1914.

In 1916 a group of republicans attempted to seize Dublin.

The suppression of Irish nationalism in 1916 was far from the end of the problem, but for the moment the controversy was lost in the tragedy of World War I. With the end of the war the Irish question rose again.

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