The Victoria Era of British Empire

The Victorian era of British History (British Empire) The Victorian era of British history (and that of the British Empire) was the period of Queen Victoria’s reign from 20 June 1837 until her death, on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence for Britain. Some scholars date the beginning of the period in terms of sensibilities and political concerns to the passage of the Reform Act 1832.

The fields of social history and literature often refer to the Victorian era as Victorianism, especially when discussing the attitudes and culture of the later two-thirds of the 19th century. The study of Victorianism is often specifically directed at Victorian morality, which refers to highly moralistic, straitlaced language and behaviour. Those who study Victorianism are Victorianists. The era was preceded by the Georgian period and followed by the Edwardian period. The later half of the Victorian age roughly coincided with the first portion of the Belle Époque era of continental Europe and the Gilded Age of the United States.

Culturally there was a transition away from the rationalism of the Georgian period and toward romanticism and mysticism with regard to religion, social values, and arts. In international relations the era was a long period of peace, known as the Pax Britannica, and economic, colonial, and industrial consolidation, temporarily disrupted by the Crimean War in 1854. The end of the period saw the Boer War. Domestically, the agenda was increasingly liberal with a number of shifts in the direction of gradual political reform, industrial reform and the widening of the voting franchise.

Two especially important figures in this period of British history are the prime ministers Gladstone and Disraeli, whose contrasting views changed the course of history. Disraeli, favoured by the queen, was a gregarious Tory. His rival Gladstone, a Liberal distrusted by the Queen, served more terms and oversaw much of the overall legislative development of the era.

The population of England and Wales combined almost doubled from 16.8 million in 1851 to 30.5 million in 1901. Scotland’s population also rose rapidly, from 2.8 million in 1851 to 4.4 million in 1901. Ireland’s population decreased rapidly, from 8.2 million in 1841 to less than 4.5 million in 1901, mostly due to the Great Famine. At the same time, around 15 million emigrants left the United Kingdom in the Victorian era and settled mostly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

During the early part of the era, the House of Commons was headed by the two parties, the Whigs and the Conservatives. From the late 1850s onwards, the Whigs became the Liberals. These parties were led by many prominent statesmen including Lord Melbourne, Sir Robert Peel, Lord Derby, Lord Palmerston, William Ewart Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli, and Lord Salisbury. The unsolved problems relating to Irish Home Rule played a great part in politics in the later Victorian era, particularly in view of Gladstone’s determination to achieve a political settlement. Southern Ireland achieved independence in 1922.

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