The victorian era

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British History: The Middle Ages
After the departure of the Romans in the fifth century, the island of Great Britain was largely controlled by Anglo-Saxon settlers from the north whose various kingdoms unified during the 10th century. In 1066 the Norman king William I, known as William the Conqueror, invaded England, ushering in centuries of rule by monarchs of French origin. The 12th, 13th and 14th centuries saw the development of a distinct English culture and the establishment of a system of law, including the issue in 1215 of the Magna Carta. In the late 1340s, the plague pandemic known as the Black Death devastated England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, killing an estimated one-third of the British population.

Topics of Interest: Middle Ages, The Crusades, The Real Robin Hood, Richard I, Magna Carta, Black Death

British History: The Tudor Period (1485-1603)
Following the dynastic struggle known as the Wars of the Roses, Henry VII of the House of Tudor ascended the throne in 1485. His son, Henry VIII, broke with the Roman Catholic Church, appointing himself head of the Church of England and effectively making England a Protestant nation. The 44-year reign of Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch, was marked by a flourishing of British literature, music and theater. Elizabeth also led England during its 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada, an event that weakened the Spanish Empire and paved the way for future British colonization of North America.

Topics of Interest: Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Exploration of North America, William Shakespeare

British History: The Stuart Period (1603-1714)
After the death of his cousin Elizabeth I, James I of the House of Stuart, which had ruled Scotland since the late 14th century, ascended the throne of England, bringing the kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland under a single crown. In 1649, in the midst of the English Civil War, the Stuart dynasty was briefly overthrown when parliamentarians executed Charles I and replaced the monarchy with a republican form of government; it was restored to power with the return of Charles II from exile in 1660. In 1707, the Treaty of Union combined the kingdoms of England, Wales and Scotland, creating the United Kingdom. Perhaps most significantly, the Stuart Period saw the establishment of numerous colonies and trading posts in North America and the Caribbean as the British Empire began to take shape.

Topics of Interest: English Civil Wars, Jamestown Colony, Plymouth Colony

British History: The Georgian Era (1714-1837)
Born and raised in Germany, George I succeeded his second cousin Anne to the British throne in 1714, becoming the first monarch of the House of Hanover. In the decades that followed, waves of reform and unrest swept the realm, laying the foundation for the modern British political system and inspiring an artistic revolution. Meanwhile, the British Empire continued to expand through trade, exploration and military victories in conflicts such as the Seven Years War and the Napoleonic Wars. It also suffered a major loss in the form of its 13 American colonies, which gained their independence after decades of escalating tensions and a violent eight-year struggle. In the final years of the Georgian Era, Great Britain emerged as the strongest imperial power on the planet, dominating global trade and leading the world in industry and technology.

Topics of Interest: 13 Colonies, Stamp Act, American Revolution

British History: The Victorian Era (1837-1901)
Bolstered by the riches of its territories abroad and rising standards of living at home, most of the United Kingdom enjoyed a period of prosperity and unprecedented population growth during Queen Victoria’s reign; the exception was Ireland, where in the 1840s a severe famine caused a million deaths and spurred a mass exodus. The era was deeply influenced by the Industrial Revolution, which had begun in the late 18th century and reached its zenith under Victoria, and by advances in the scientific realm, including Darwin’s work on evolution. Britain continued to pursue an expansionist agenda during this period and fought in several conflicts, including the Crimean War and the Boer Wars.

Topics of Interest: Queen Victoria, Industrial Revolution, Jack the Ripper

British History: The 20th Century
The United Kingdom entered the 20th century as the most powerful nation in the world. Within 50 years, it had weathered a violent revolt that culminated in the 1922 secession of the Irish Free State, later known as the Republic of Ireland, and two devastating world wars that upended the global balance of power. The interwar and postwar periods also witnessed the rise and ultimate success of independence movements in many of Britain’s spheres of influence overseas, including India, Sudan, South Africa, Palestine and Hong Kong. The mighty British Empire slowly gave way to a commonwealth of independent nations with shared values and loose cultural ties. On the domestic front, Britain’s social and political institutions underwent a major transformation as women gained the right to vote, immigrants arrived from new corners of the globe and the state became more involved in the lives of its citizens.

Topics of Interest: Titanic, World War I, Battle of the Somme, Winston Churchill, World War II, Battle of Britain


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“British History.” History. 2003. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.



Overview of the Victorian Era

by Anne Shepherd

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was the first English monarch to see her name given to the period of her reign whilst still living. The Victorian Age was characterized by rapid change and developments in nearly every sphere - from advances in medical, scientific and technological knowledge to changes in population growth and location. Over time, this rapid transformation deeply affected the country's mood: an age that began with a confidence and optimism leading to economic boom and prosperity eventually gave way to uncertainty and doubt regarding Britain's place in the world. Today we associate the nineteenth century with the Protestant work ethic, family values, religious observation and institutional faith.

For the most part, nineteenth century families were large and patriarchal. They encouraged hard work, respectability, social deference and religious conformity. While this view of nineteenth century life was valid, it was frequently challenged by contemporaries. Women were often portrayed as either Madonnas or whores, yet increasing educational and employment opportunities gave many a role outside the family.

Politics were important to the Victorians; they believed in the perfection of their evolved representative government and in exporting it throughout the British Empire. This age saw the birth and spread of political movements, most notably socialism, liberalism and organised feminism. British Victorians were excited by geographical exploration, by the opening up of Africa and Asia to the West, yet were troubled by the intractable Irish situation and humiliated by the failures of the Boer War. At sea, British supremacy remained largely unchallenged throughout the century.

During the Victorian heyday, work and play expanded dramatically. The national railway network stimulated travel and leisure opportunities for all, so that by the 1870s, visits to seaside resorts, race meetings and football matches could be enjoyed by many of this now largely urban society. Increasing literacy stimulated growth in popular journalism and the ascendancy of the novel as the most powerful popular icon.

The progress of scientific thought led to significant changes in medicine during the nineteenth century, with increased specialization and developments in surgery and hospital building. There were notable medical breakthroughs in anaesthetics - famously publicized by Queen Victoria taking chloroform for the birth of her son in 1853 - and in antiseptics, pioneered by Joseph Lister (1827-1912). The public's faith in institutions was evident not only in the growth of hospitals but was also seen in the erection of specialized workhouses and asylums for the most vulnerable members of society.

Whilst this brief overview can only partially summarize some characteristics of the nineteenth century, it does illustrate that society was disparate and that no one feature can serve to give a definitive view of what it meant to be “Victorian.” Rather, it is better perhaps to consider the multifarious and diverse research that has evolved in recent years and make up your own mind.

Shepherd, Anne. “Overview of the Victorian Era.” History in Focus. Apr. 2001. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.


Rise of the Middle Class (Between the working class and aristocracy)

The image of the nineteenth century as a period of great opportunity for men of energy and skill is one that has been long established. In the past, historians have argued that an industrious middle-class made great fortunes in the early days of the industrial revolution and converted economic success into political power in the 1832 Reform Act. This political power was then used to ensure policy reflected the middle-class interests. Such arguments present the middle-class as a coherent body mobilising their economic and political power to forge society in their image. Challenging landed privilege and aristocratic corruption, this industrial and urban middle-class can be seen as striving to establish a society based on merit rather than on one's birth. Through education reform, schemes of civic improvement and the growth of the market the Victorian middle class saw themselves as facilitating equality of opportunity by enabling the working classes to realise their abilities. These reforms mean that today we live in an open society in which we all have the potential to become middle-class...doesn't it?

Such diversity makes a satisfactory definition of the middle-class impossible.

The Victorian middle-class is largely associated with the growth of cities and the expansion of the economy. The term was used from around the mid-eighteenth century to describe those people below the aristocracy but above the workers. As a social category, the 'middling sort' always referred to a broad band of the population, but this diversity increased in the nineteenth century. Alongside the businessmen associated with the growth of manufacturing, the period saw the increased numbers of small entrepreneurs. Shopkeepers and merchants undertook to transport and retail the fruits of industry and empire. The increased scale of industry and oversees trade, together with the expansion of empire fuelled the proliferation of commerce and finance such as banks, insurance companies, shipping and railways. This system needed administrating by clerks, managers and salaried professionals. The expansion of cities, towns and the economy produced new spaces that needing regulating and running. The Victorian period witnessed the massive expansion of local government and the centralised state, providing occupations for a vast strata of civil servants, teachers, doctors, lawyers and government officials as well as the clerks and assistants which helped these institutions and services to operate.

Such diversity makes a satisfactory definition of the middle-class impossible. There is no clear relationship to the means of production. Although there were some individuals that accumulated spectacular wealth in the nineteenth century through entrepreneurial activity, there were many more businessmen who scraped a living and many who worked for wages as public servants, managers or clerks. The economic boundary of the 'middle-class' was not clear. Some members of the middle-class used their wealth to buy land and stately homes, becoming as rich, if not richer than the aristocracy. At the same time, many members of the skilled working class could earn as much if not more than some members of the lower middle-class.

Loftus, Donna. “The Rise of the Victorian Middle Class.” BBC. 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.


Queen Victoria

Victoria, the daughter of the duke of Kent and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg, was born in 1819. She inherited the throne of Great Britain at the age of eighteen, upon the death of her uncle William IV in 1837, and reigned until 1901, bestowing her name upon her age. She married her mother's nephew, Albert (1819-1861), prince of Saxe-Coburg Gotha, in 1840, and until his death he remained the focal point of her life (she bore him nine children). Albert replaced Lord Melbourne, the Whig Prime Minister who had served her as her first personal and political tutor and instructor, as Victoria's chief advisor. Albert was moralistic, conscientious and progressive, if rather priggish, sanctimonious, and intellectually shallow, and with Victoria initiated various reforms and innovations— he organized the Great Exhibition of 1851, for example— which were responsible for a great deal of the popularity later enjoyed by the British monarchy. (In contrast to the Great Exhibition, housed in the Crystal Palace and viewed by proud Victorians as a monument to their own cultural and technological achievements, however, we may recall that the government over which Victoria and Albert presided had, in the midst of the potato famine of 1845, continued to permit the export of grain and cattle from Ireland to England while over a million Irish peasants starved to death).

After Albert's death in 1861 a desolate Victoria remained in self-imposed seclusion for ten years. Her genuine but obsessive mourning, which would occupy her for the rest of her life, played an important role in the evolution of what would become the Victorian mentality. Thereafter she lived at Windsor or Balmoral, travelling abroad once a year, but making few public appearances in Britain itself. Although she maintained a careful policy of official political neutrality, she did not get on at all well with Gladstone. Eventually, however, she succumbed to the flattery of Disraeli, and permitted him (in an act which was both symbolic and theatrical) to have her crowned Empress of India in 1876. (As Punch noted at the time, "one good turn deserves another," and Victoria reciprocated by making Disraeli Earl of Beaconsfield.) She tended as a rule to take an active dislike of British politicians who criticized the conduct of the conservative regimes of Europe, many of which were, after all, run by her relatives. By 1870 her popularity was at its lowest ebb (at the time the monarchy cost the nation £400,000 per annum, and many wondered whether the largely symbolic institution was worth the expense), but it increased steadily thereafter until her death. Her golden jubilee in 1887 was a grand national celebration, as was her diamond jubilee in 1897 (by then, employing the imperial "we," she had long been Kipling's "Widow of Windsor," mother of the Empire). She died, a venerable old lady, at Osborne on January 22, 1901, having reigned for sixty-four years.

Cody, David. “Queen Victoria.” Victorian Web. 30 Dec. 2011. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

Victorian Morals and the Poor

The Industrial Age and the financial opportunities surrounding it led to a rapidly growing middle class in early 19th-century Britain. Previously, the aristocratic upper class -- one that scorned working for a living -- dictated economic and social influence. Now the bourgeoisie, including factory owners, managers and purveyors of new services, wanted its place in society and needed to legitimize labor. They put forth a new ideal of work as moral virtue: God loved those who helped themselves, while "burdens on the public" were sinful and weak. This attitude validated the middle class by giving it someone to look down upon.

Subsequently, welfare in Dickens's time was based on deterrence rather than support. Parish workhouses, the last resort for the homeless poor, were made as miserable as possible to discourage reliance on public assistance. Upon entering, inmates were stripped, searched, washed, given shapeless striped clothing to wear and shorn of hair -- in short, they were treated like criminals. Husbands and wives were separated into men's and women's quarters to "avert breeding." Mothers were taken away from children to end "negative influences" on the young. Brothers and sisters were kept apart to avoid the "natural" inclination of the poor toward incest. After inmates were split up by age and sex, no health-related separation took place: the ill, insane and able-bodied all lived together. Meals were purposely inadequate, consisting mainly of single pints of gruel, a few ounces of bread and water. Rooms measuring 20 feet long accommodated upwards of 30 people. Most inmates shared a bed. Heating was overlooked; often a block of rooms shared but one fireplace. Work involved back-breaking labor such as stone-splitting, mill-driving (on treadmills), bone-crushing (for fertilizer) and heavy housework. The least able-bodied -- the old, the sick and the very young -- suffered most of all.

The workhouse was administered by unpaid bureaucrats, headed by the Beadle, an elected official. These civil servants treated workhouse residents with scorn and cruelty, reminding them with Biblical passages how lucky they were ("Blessed are the poor..."). The workhouse staff received a somewhat better class of lodging and food for their efforts.
Child Labor Laws
In less rural environs, industrialization led to a need for cheap labor. Lenient labor laws made children a prime source of workers. The desperately impoverished often sent their children off to factories, mines and workshops. Parish officials, too, sent their young charges off, viewing such situations as divine opportunity. Children worked long hours at the lowest rates. Ruling classes saw this as a positive circumstance, as such children didn't depend on parish relief.

Child labor was so common in the late 18th and early 19th centuries that in 1802 Parliament passed the British Health and Morals of Apprentices Act, the first law regulating child labor. It stated that pauper children (those receiving charity) under the age of nine could not work in cotton mills, and those under 14 could not work at night. The workday was 12 hours long. In 1819, the law was extended to include all children. These laws weren't paid much heed until 1833, when the Factory Act provided for inspections.

Some children helped their parents pay off debts, as did the youthful Dickens. Debt was a crime in Victorian England, and debtors were sent to prison until they could pay off their creditors. Such prisons were filthy, rat-infested places where inmates usually lived with their entire families during the period of incarceration. Family members were free to come and go as they pleased. The 12-year-old Dickens ate with his family at Marshalsea Debtor's Prison, and slept in a squalid rooming house near his job at the Warren Blacking Polish factory.
“Down and Out In Victorian London.” PBS. 2005. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

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