History of Great Britain

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ct of the Corn Laws of 1815 was to keep the price of wheat at the famine level it had reached during the Napoleonic Wars, when supplies from Poland and France were prevented from reaching Britain. The Corn Laws were repealed in 1846, a small, temporary tariff being retained till 1849. Still, there was no fall in prices, what could be explained by a number of reasons: increasing population of Britain, greater demand due to the revival of industry, bad harvests in a number of years and the Crimean War which soon interrupted the import of wheat from Poland.

Another act of law that became the result of the economic crisis was the Reform Bill of 1832, which had two sides. One regularised the franchise, giving the vote to tenant farmers in the counties and to the town middle class. Another swept away the rotten boroughs and transferred their members to the industrial towns and the counties.

In the first half of the nineteenth century a protest organisation called the Chartist Movement gained power. The Chartist Movement urged the immediate adoption of the so-called Peoples Charter, which would have transformed Britain into a political democracy, and also was expected to improve living standards. Drafted in 1838, it was at the heart of a radical campaign for Parliamentary reform of the inequities remaining after the Reform Bill of 1832. Some of the main demands were universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts, annual general elections and the secret ballot. There were three unsuccessful attempts to present the Charter to the House of Commons were made in 1839, 1842 and 1848, and the rejection of the last one brought an end to the movement.

The years between 1829 and 1839 were the time of foundation of the modern police force in Great Britain. This development became the direct result of the upsurge of a militant working class movement in the first decades of the nineteenth century. The Chartist Movement with its demonstrations and riots played the major role in initiation of the reorganisation of the police. One more reason for it were the multiple problems of factory workers.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Britain had become an industrial nation. In the earliest stages of the Industrial Revolution, when machinery was crude and unreliable, factory owners were determined to get the fullest possible use out of this machinery in the shortest possible time. Hours of work rose to sixteen and even eighteen a day, and in this way the greatest output could be obtained with the least outlay of capital. The terrible conditions of labour caused a number of legislation acts to ease the burden of factory workers. The first legislation, passed in 1802, was a very mild act to prevent some of the worst abuses connected with the employment of children. It was followed by the Cotton Factories Regulation Act of 1819 which forbade the employment of children under nine and cut their hour down to thirteen and a half a day. One more effective act was passed in 1833, which provided a number of regular inspections to control the labor conditions. In 1847 the Ten Hours Bill limited the hours of women and young people and secured a ten hour day for most of the men.

The years 1837 1901 are remarkable in the British history for what is called the Victorian period. King William IV died in June 1837, yielding the throne to his niece, Victoria, and so the great Victorian epoch started. 1837 to 1848 is considered as the early Victorian period, which was not that much different from the beginning of the nineteenth century as the following years. The time between 1848 and 1866 is known as the years of Mid-Victorian prosperity. Rapid and efficient development of manufactures and commerce took place mainly due to the removal of protective duties on food (such as he Corn Laws of 1815) and raw materials. Also, the British industry and the technological development began to experience a steep rise in those years. The first half of the nineteenth century is widely known among historians as the Railway Age. The idea of railway emerged as a result of the development of steam locomotives, but building locomotives and rail systems was so expensive that railroads were not widely used in Britain until the late 1830s, when the increase in economics began.

The striking feature of the Victorian time was the growing urbanization of Britain, which is commonly explained as the result of the development of industry. In 1801, 20 per cent of Britains people lived in towns, and by the end of the nineteenth century, it was 75 per cent. The inflow of people in towns was caused by the increasing demand for new workers at factories and plants.

The middle of the century was marked by the Crimean War which lasted for three years (1853-1856). In 1853, Russia attempted to gain territories in the Balkans from the declining Ottoman Empire. Great Britain, France and Austria joined the Ottomans in a coalition against Russia to stop the expansion. Britain entered this war because Russia was seeking to control the Dardanells and thus threatened Englands Mediterranean sea routes. Although the coalition won the war, bad planning and incompetent leadership on all sides, including the British, characterized the war, leading to the large number of casualities. The exposure of the weaknesses of the British army lead to its reformation.

Among the internal problems, Britain experienced much disturbance in its relations with Ireland. A set of conflicts, based on both the political and religious grounds, followed the British attempts to suppress the Irish struggle for independence throughout the whole nineteenth century.

2.5. Britain in the twentieth century


Queen Victoria died in January 1901, and Edward VII, the son of Queen Victoria ascended the throne. Edwardian Britain was a powerful and rich country, much of its wealth coming from business abroad. By that time, British money had been invested in many countries, and British banks and insurance companies had customers and did business all over the world, and, as the result, much of the policy and affairs concerning the Edwardian Britain at that time were the international ones.

In 1902, when Germany, supported by the Triple Alliance, became extremely powerful and the ambitions of the Kaiser became evident, Britain entered the Anglo-Japanese alliance to avoid political isolation. The war of 1904-1905 between Russia and Japan made the first one and Britain nearly enemies, with the end of the war political situation changed. In 1907 the Triple Entente of Great Britain, Russia and France was achieved as a countermeasure to the expansion of the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria and Italy in Balkans.

Still, while the reign of King Edward VII was taking place, many of the British were concerned with domestic matters. Some important changes in the way that people lived and were governed happened.

In 1900 the Labour Representation Committee, which soon became the Labour Party, was formed. Its aim was to see working people represented in Parliament, with the powerful support of trade unions.

The Education Act of 1902 met the demand for national system of secondary education. The government began providing such kind of education, although only a small number of schoolchildren could pay for the secondary school, and the rest had to be clever enough to pass the scholarship exams.

The general election of 1906 gave the Liberal Party an overwhelming majority in Parliament, with the programme including old-age pensions, government employment offices, such as Employment Exchanges, unemployment insurance, a contributory programme of national medical insurance for most workers, and a board to fix minimum wages for miners and others; but women still were not given the right to vote.

The years 1911 to 1914 were marked with strikes by miners, dock workers, and transport workers, as wages scarcely kept up with rising prices; suffragists carried out numerous demonstrations in favour of the enfranchisement of women, and while the Britain was in the midst of these domestic problems and disputes, World War I broke out.

The first large operation in which the British expeditionary force took part was the battle of Marne in 1915, which also happened to become the turning point of the whole war in the West front. The German advance across the French territory was halted, and it made the quick victory of the Germans impossible and gave time for great but slowly mobilized material resources of the British Empire to have their effect. In the course of the following years the war turned into the stalemate with mostly positional fighting and no significant advances of any of the combatants; the peace among Germany and Britain was signed in 1918.

World War I had both positive effect on the British industry and negative effect on the internal political situation. The Irish problems drew to the 1916 Easter Rebellion. If necessary, the Irish nationalists were ready to seek German aid and support in fighting the British government. The rebellion led to some several hundred casualities and imprisonment and execution of most of the Irish political leaders. The civil war in Ireland began and lasted until the peace treaty of 1921. Most of the Ireland became the Irish Free State, independent of British rule in all but name. One more result of the disturbances in Ireland was the development of the new Irish Sinn Fein political party.

World War I created more opportunities for women to work outside domestic service. Women aged 30 and over were granted t