HISTORY OF THE UK, The 17th century 285
HISTORY OF THE UK
The history of the United Kingdom as a unified sovereign state began with the political union of the kingdoms of England, which included Wales and Scotland in 1707. The history prior to the Act of this Union is studied separately as the history of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. This unit will describe the items starting with the preconditions to the Act of Union:
· 1. Britain in the 17th century
· 2. Britain in the 18th century
· 3. Britain in the beginning of the 19th century
· 3. Victorian era (1837 – 1901)
· 4. Britain in the 20th century
· 5. Britain in the 21st century
The 17th century
Union of the Crowns: The Union of the Crowns refers to the accession of James VI, King of Scots, to the throne of the England as James I, in March 1603, thus uniting Scotland and England under one monarch.
Queen ElizabethI (1573 - 1587Henry VII of England (1457 - 1509)
This followed the death of his unmarried and childless cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, the last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. The term itself, though now generally accepted, is misleading; for properly speaking this was merely a personal or dynastic union, the Crowns remaining both distinct and separate until the Acts of Union in 1707 during the reign of the last monarch of the Stuart Dynasty, Queen Anne.
James IV King ofScotland (1473-1513) Margaret Tudor(1489 - 1541)
This event was the result of an event in August 1503: James IV, King of Scots, married Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII of England as a consequence of the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, concluded the previous year which, in theory, ended centuries of English-Scottish rivalry. This marriage merged the Stuarts with England's Tudor line of succession. Almost 100 years later, in the last decade of the reign of Elizabeth I of England, it was clear to all that James of Scots, the great-grandson of James IV and Margaret Tudor, was the only generally acceptable heir. Elizabeth died in the early hours of 24 March. Within eight hours, James was proclaimed king in London, the news received without protest or disturbance.
The Jacobean era refers to a period in English and Scottish history that coincides with the reign of James I (1603–1625). The Jacobean era succeeds the Elizabethan era and precedes the Caroline era, and specifically denotes a style of architecture, visual arts, decorative arts, and literature that is predominant of that period.
The Caroline era refers to a period in English and Scottish history that coincides with the reign of Charles I (1625—1642). The Caroline era succeeds the Jacobean era, the reign of Charles's father James I (1603–1625); it was succeeded by the English Civil War (1642–1651) and the English Interregnum (1651–1660).
King JamesVI of Scotland,James II (1685-1688) King James Iof England (1566 - 1625)
King Charles Iof England (1600 – 1649)King Charles II(1630–1685)
English Civil War: The English Civil War consisted of a series of armed conflicts and political machinations that took place between Parliamentarians (known as Roundheads) and Royalists (known as Cavaliers) between 1642 and 1651. Basically, it covers a period of fighting that took place between 1642 and 1651 among England, Scotland and Ireland. Some people consider it to be one big war, while others think it should be seen as several different wars that were linked. Some of these wars and conflicts have been given their own names, such as:
The First English Civil War
The Second English Civil War
The Third Civil War
A civil war is a war where the sides involved in the fighting are both from the same country. In the period of the English Civil War, the King ruled England, Scotland and Ireland, but the fighting that took place in each of these countries broke out at different times and for several different reasons.
The first (1642–1646) and second (1648–1649) civil wars pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament, while the third war (1649–1651) saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The Civil War ended with the Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651. The Diggers were a group begun by Gerrard Winstanley in 1649 who attempted to reform the existing social order with an agrarian lifestyle based upon their ideas for the creation of small egalitarian rural communities. They were one of a number of nonconformist dissenting groups that emerged around this time. The English Interregnum was the period of parliamentary and military rule in the land occupied by modern-day England and Wales after the English Civil War. It began with the regicide of Charles I in 1649 and ended with the restoration of Charles II in 1660.
William III of England(1650-1702)Mary-II-of-England (1689 - 1694)
The Civil War led to the trial and execution of Charles I, the exile of his son Charles II, and the replacement of the English monarchy with first the Commonwealth of England (1649 – 1653) and then with a Protectorate (1653 –1659), under the personal rule of Oliver Cromwell, followed by the Protectorate under Richard Cromwell from 1658 to 1659 and the second period of the Commonwealth of England from 1659 until 1660. The monopoly of the Church of England on Christian worship in England came to an end, and the victors consolidated the already-established Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Constitutionally, the wars established a precedent that British monarchs could not govern without the consent of Parliament, although this concept became firmly established only with the deposition of James II of England, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the passage of the English Bill of Rights, and the Hanoverian succession. For the remainder of the century, Britain was ruled by William III of England, until 1694 jointly with his wife and first cousin, the daughter of James II, Mary II of England.
The 18th century
Peace between England and the Netherlands in 1688 meant that the two countries entered the Nine Years' War as allies, but the conflict, waged in Europe and overseas between France, Spain and the Anglo-Dutch alliance, left the English a stronger colonial power than the Dutch, who were forced to devote a larger proportion of their military budget on the costly land war in Europe. The 18th century would see England (after 1707, Great Britain) rise to be the world's dominant colonial power, and France becoming its main rival on the imperial stage.
In 1701 England, Portugal and the Netherlands sided with the Holy Roman Empire against Spain and France in the War of the Spanish Succession. The conflict, which France and Spain were to lose, lasted until 1714. The British Empire was territorially enlarged: from France, gaining Newfoundland and Acadia, and from Spain, Gibraltar and Minorca. Gibraltar, which is still a British overseas territory to this day, became a critical naval base and allowed Britain to control the Atlantic entry and exit point to the Mediterranean.
Treaty of Union: The United Kingdom of Great Britain was born on May 1, 1707, shortly after the parliaments of Scotland and England had ratified the Treaty of Union of 1706 by each approving Acts of Union combining the two parliaments and the two royal titles. Deeper political integration had been a key policy of Queen Anne (reigned 1702 – 14). Under the aegis of the Queen and her advisors a Treaty of Union was drawn up, and negotiations between England and Scotland began in earnest in 1706.
The Treaty of Union Queen Anne (1665 –1714).
Scottish proponents of union believed that failure to accede to the Bill would result in the imposition of union under less favorable terms, and months of fierce debate in both capital cities and throughout both kingdoms followed. In Scotland, the debate on occasion dissolved into civil disorder, most notably by the notorious 'Edinburgh Mob'. The prospect of a union of the kingdoms was deeply unpopular among the Scottish population at large, and talk of an uprising was widespread. However Scotland could not long continue. Following the financially disastrous Darien Scheme, the near-bankrupt Parliament of Scotland reluctantly accepted the proposals. Supposed financial payoffs to Scottish parliamentarians were later referred to by Robert Burns when he wrote "We're bought and sold for English gold, Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation! Recent historians, however, have emphasized the legitimacy of the vote.
The Acts of Union took effect in 1707, uniting the separate Parliaments and crowns of England and Scotland and forming the single Kingdom of Great Britain. Queen Anne (already Queen of both England and Scotland) became formally the first occupant of the unified British throne, with Scotland sending forty-five Members to join all existing Members from the parliament of England in the new House of Commons of Great Britain, as well as 16 representative peers to join all existing peers from the parliament of England in the new House of Lords.
Jacobite risings: The Jacobites wanted to replace the Hanoverian kings with the son of James II. They attempted armed invasions to conquer Britain. The major Jacobite Rebellions in 1715 and 1745 were speedily suppressed. Their defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 put an end to any realistic hope of a Stuart restoration. The great majority of Tories refused to support the Jacobites publicly, although there were numerous quiet supporters.
Warfare and finance: From 1700 to 1850, Britain was involved in 137 wars or rebellions. Apart from losing the American War of Independence, it was generally successful in warfare, and was especially successful in financing its military commitments. France and Spain, by contrast, went bankrupt. Britain maintained a relatively large and expensive Royal Navy, along with a small standing army. When the need arose for soldiers it hired mercenaries or financed allied who fielded armies. The rising costs of warfare forced a shift in government financing from the income from royal agricultural estates and special imposts and taxes to reliance on customs and excise taxes and, after 1790, an income tax. Working with bankers in the City, the government raised large loans during wartime and paid them off in peacetime. The rise in taxes amounted to 20% of national income, but the private sector benefited from the increase in economic growth. The demand for war supplies stimulated the industrial sector, particularly naval supplies, munitions and textiles, which gave Britain an advantage in international trade during the postwar years.
British Empire: The Seven Years' War, which began in 1756, was the first war waged on a global scale, fought in Europe, India, North America, the Caribbean, the Philippines and coastal Africa. The signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763) had important consequences for Britain and its empire.In North America, France's future as a colonial power there was effectively ended with the ceding of New France to Britain (leaving a sizeable French-speaking population under British control) and Louisiana to Spain. Spain ceded Florida to Britain. In India, the Carnatic War had left France still in control of its enclaves but with military restrictions and an obligation to support British client states, effectively leaving the future of India to Britain. The British victory over France in the Seven Years War therefore left Britain as the world's dominant colonial power.
All the participants of the Seven Years' War.
Great Britain, Prussia, Portugal, with allies
France, Spain, Austria, Russia, Sweden with allies
During the 1760s and 1770s, relations between the Thirteen Colonies and Britain became increasingly strained, primarily because of resentment of the British Parliament's ability to tax American colonists without their consent. Disagreement turned to violence and in 1775 the American War of Independence began. The following year, the colonists declared the independence of the United States and with economical and naval assistance from France, would go on to win the war in 1783.
The loss of the United States, at the time Britain's most populous colony, is seen by historians as the event defining the transition between the "first" and "second" empires, in which Britain shifted its attention away from the Americas to Asia, the Pacific and later Africa. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, had argued that colonies were redundant, and that free trade should replace the old mercantilist policies that had characterized the first period of colonial expansion, dating back to the protectionism of Spain and Portugal. The growth of trade between the newly independent United States and Britain after 1783confirmed Smith's view that political control was not necessary for economic success.
During its 1st century of operation, the focus of the British East India Company had been trade, not the building of an empire in India. Company interests turned from trade to territory during the 18th century as the Mughal Empire declined in power and the British East India Company struggled with its French counterpart, La Compagnie française des Indes orientales, during the Carnatic Wars of the 1740s and 1750s. The Battle of Plassey, which saw the British, led by Robert Clive, defeat the French and their Indian allies, left the Company in control of Bengal and a major military and political power in India. In the following decades it gradually increased the size of the territories under its control, either ruling directly or indirectly via local puppet rulers under the threat of force of the Indian Army, 80% of which was composed of native Indian sepoys.
In 1770, James Cook became the first European to visit the eastern coast of Australia whilst on a scientific voyage to the South Pacific on board the ship “Endeavour”. In 1778, Joseph Banks, Cook's botanist on the voyage, presented evidence to the government on the suitability of Botany Bay for the establishment of a penal settlement, and in 1787 the first shipment of convicts set sail, arriving in 1788.
At the threshold to the 19th century, Britain was challenged again by France under Napoleon, in a struggle that, unlike previous wars, represented a contest of ideologies between the two nations. It was not only Britain's position on the world stage that was threatened: Napoleon threatened invasion of Britain itself, and with it, a fate similar to the countries of continental Europe that his armies had overrun. The Napoleonic Wars were therefore ones that Britain invested large amounts of capital and resources to win. French ports were blockaded by the Royal Navy, which won a decisive victory over the French fleet at Trafalgar in 1805.
The 19th century
Union with Ireland: The second stage in the development of the United Kingdom took effect on January, 1st, 1801, when the Kingdom of Great Britain merged with the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
The legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland was completed under the Act of Union 1800. The country's name was changed to "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". The Act was passed in the British and therefore unrepresentative Irish Parliament with substantial majorities achieved in part (according to contemporary documents) through bribery, namely the awarding of peerages and honors to critics to get their votes. The separate Parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland were abolished, and replaced by a united Parliament of the United Kingdom. Ireland thus became part of an extended United Kingdom. Ireland sent around 100 MPs to the House of Commons at Westminster and 28 peers to the House of Lords.
Napoleonic wars: During the War of the Second Coalition (1799–1801), Britain occupied most of the French and Dutch colonies (the Netherlands had been a satellite of France since 1796), but tropical diseases claimed the lives of over 40,000 troops. When the Treaty of Amiens ended the war, Britain was forced to return most of the colonies. The peace settlement was in effect only a cease fire, and Napoleon continued to provoke the British by attempting a trade embargo on the country and by occupying the German city of Hanover (a fief of the British crown). In May 1803, war was declared again. Napoleon's plans to invade Britain failed due to the inferiority of his navy, and in 1805, Lord Nelson's fleet decisively defeated the French and Spanish at Trafalgar, which was the last significant naval action of the Napoleonic Wars.
All the participants in the Napoleonic Wars.
Blue: The Coalition and their colonies and allies.
Green: The First French Empire, its protectorates and colonies, and allies.
In 1806, Napoleon issued the series of Berlin Decrees, which brought into effect the Continental System. This policy aimed to eliminate the threat of the United Kingdom by closing French-controlled territory to its trade. The United Kingdom's army remained a minimal threat to France; the UK maintained a standing army of just 220,000 at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, whereas France's army exceeded a million men in addition to the armies of numerous allies and several hundred thousand national guardsmen that Napoleon could draft into the military if necessary. Although the Royal Navy effectively disrupted France's extra-continental trade, both by seizing and threatening French shipping and by seizing French colonial possessions, it could do nothing about France's trade with the major continental economies and posed little threat to French territory in Europe. In addition, France's population and agricultural capacity far outstripped that of the United Kingdom.
Many in the French government believed that cutting the United Kingdom off from the Continent would end its economic influence over Europe and isolate it. Though the French designed the Continental System to achieve this, it never succeeded in its objective. The United Kingdom possessed the greatest industrial capacity in Europe, and its mastery of the seas allowed it to build up considerable economic strength through trade to its possessions from its rapidly expanding new Empire. Britain's naval supremacy meant that France could never enjoy the peace necessary to consolidate its control over Europe, and it could threaten neither the United Kingdom nor British colonies outside the continent.
The Spanish uprising in 1808 at last permitted Britain to gain a foothold on the Continent. The Duke of Wellington and his army of British and Portuguese gradually pushed the French out of Spain and in early 1814, as Napoleon was being driven back in the east by the Prussians, Austrians, and Russians, Wellington invaded southern France. After Napoleon's surrender and exile to the island of Elba, peace appeared to have returned, but when he escaped back into France in 1815, the British and their allies had to fight him again. The armies of Wellington and Von Blucher defeated Napoleon once and for all at Waterloo.
Simultaneous with the Napoleonic Wars, trade disputes and British impressment of American sailors led to the War of 1812 with the United States. A central event in American history, it was little noticed in Britain, where all attention was focused on the struggle with France. The British could devote few resources to the conflict until the fall of Napoleon in 1814. American frigates also inflicted a series of embarrassing defeats on the British navy, which was short on manpower due to the conflict in Europe. A stepped-up war effort that year brought about some successes such as the burning of Washington D.C., but many influential voices such as the Duke of Wellington argued that an outright victory over the US was impossible.
Peace was agreed to at the end of 1814, but not before Andrew Jackson, unaware of this, won a great victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815 (news took several weeks to cross the Atlantic before the advent of steam ships). The Treaty of Ghent subsequently ended the war. As a result, the Red River Basin was ceded to the US, and the Canadian border (now fixed at the 49th parallel) completely demilitarized by both countries, although fears of an American conquest of Canada persisted through the 19th century.
George IV and William IV: Britain emerged from the Napoleonic Wars a very different country than it had been in 1793. As industrialization progressed, society changed, becoming more urban and less rural. The postwar period saw an economic slump, and poor harvests and inflation caused widespread social unrest. Europe after 1815 was on guard against a return of Jacobinism, and even liberal Britain saw the passage of the Six Acts in 1819, which proscribed radical activities. By the end of the 1820s, along with a general economic recovery, many of these repressive laws were repealed and in 1828 new legislation guaranteed the civil rights of religious dissenters.
A weak ruler as regent (1811–20) and king (1820–30), George IV let his ministers take full charge of government affairs, playing a far lesser role than his father, George III. The principle now became established that the king accepts as prime minister the person who wins a majority in the House of Commons, whether the king personally favors him or not. His governments, with little help from the king, presided over victory in the Napoleonic Wars, negotiated the peace settlement, and attempted to deal with the social and economic malaise that followed. His brother William IV ruled (1830–37), but was little involved in politics. His reign saw several reforms: the poor law was updated, child labor restricted, slavery abolished in nearly all the British Empire, and, most important, the Reform Act 1832 refashioned the British electoral system.
There were no major wars until the Crimean War of 1853-56. While Prussia, Austria, and Russia, as absolute monarchies, tried to suppress liberalism wherever it might occur, the British came to terms with new ideas. Britain intervened in Portugal in 1826 to defend a constitutional government there and recognizing the independence of Spain's American colonies in 1824. British merchants and financiers, and later railway builders, played major roles in the economies of most Latin American nations. The British intervened in 1827 on the side of the Greeks, who had been waging a war of independence against the Ottoman Empire since 1824.
Whig reforms of the 1830s: The Whig Party recovered its strength and unity by supporting moral reforms, especially the reform of the electoral system, the abolition of slavery and emancipation of the Catholics. Catholic emancipation was secured in the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which removed the most substantial restrictions on Roman Catholics in Britain.
The Whigs became champions of Parliamentary reform.They made Lord Grey prime minister 1830–1834, and the Reform Act of 1832 became their signature measure. It broadened the franchise and ended the system of "rotten borough" and "pocket boroughs" (where elections were controlled by powerful families), and instead redistributed power on the basis of population. It added 217,000 voters to an electorate of 435,000 in England and Wales. The main effect of the act was to weaken the power of the landed gentry, and enlarge the power of the professional and business middle-class, which now for the first time had a significant voice in Parliament. However, the great majority of manual workers, clerks, and farmers did not have enough property to qualify to vote. The aristocracy continued to dominate the government, the Army and Royal Navy, and high society. After parliamentary investigations demonstrated the horrors of child labor, limited reforms were passed in 1833.
Chartism emerged after the 1832 Reform Bill failed to give the vote to the working class. Activists denounced the 'betrayal' of the working class and the 'sacrificing' of their 'interests' by the 'misconduct' of the government. In 1838, Charists issued the People's Charter demanding manhood suffrage, equal sized election districts, voting by ballots, payment of MPs (so poor men could serve), annual Parliaments, and abolition of property requirements. Elites saw the movement as pathological, so the Chartists were unable to force serious constitutional debate. Historians see Chartism as both a continuation of the 18th century fight against corruption and as a new stage in demands for democracy in an industrial society.
In 1832 Parliament abolished slavery in the Empire with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. The government purchased the slaves for £20,000,000 (the money went to rich plantation owners who mostly lived in England), and freed the slaves, especially those in the Caribbean sugar islands.
The Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria's rule between 1837 and 1901 which signified the height of the British Industrial Revolution and the apex of the British Empire. The era was preceded by the Regency era and succeeded by the Edwardian period.
Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)
Victoria became queen in 1837 at age 18, after a difficult childhood under the control of her mother. Her long reign saw Britain reach the zenith of its economic and political power. Exciting new technologies such as steam ships, railroads, photography, and telegraphs appeared, making the world much faster-paced. Britain again remained mostly inactive in Continental politics, and it was not affected by the wave of revolutions in 1848.
Foreign policy. Free trade imperialism: The Great London Exhibition of 1851 clearly demonstrated Britain's dominance in engineering and industry; that lasted until the rise of the United States and Germany in the 1890s. Using the imperial tools of free trade and financial investment, it exerted major influence on many countries outside Europe, especially in Latin America and Asia. Thus Britain had both a formal Empire based on British rule and an informal one based on the British pound.
Russia, France and the Ottoman Empire: One nagging fear was the possible collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It was well understood that a collapse of that country would set off a scramble for its territory and possibly plunge Britain into war. To head that off Britain sought to keep the Russians from occupying Constantinople and taking over the Bosporous Straits, as well as from threatening India via Afghanistan. In 1853, Britain and France intervened in the Crimean War against Russia. Despite mediocre generalship, they managed to capture the Russian port of Sevastopol, compelling Tsar Nicholas I to ask for peace. A second Russo-Ottoman war in 1877 led to another European intervention, although this time at the negotiating table. The Congress of Berlin blocked Russia from imposing the harsh Treaty of San Stefano on the Ottoman Empire. Despite its alliance with the French in the Crimean War, Britain viewed the Second Empire of Napoleon III with some distrust, especially as the emperor constructed ironclad warships and began returning France to a more active foreign policy. But after Napoleon's downfall in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, he was allowed to spend his last years exiled in Britain.
American Civil War: During the American Civil War (1861–1865), British leaders personally disliked American republicanism and favored the more aristocratic Confederacy, as it had been a major source of cotton for textile mills. In September 1862, during the Confederate invasion of Maryland, Britain (along with France) contemplated stepping in and negotiating a peace settlement, which could only mean war with the United States. But in the same month, US president Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation. Since support of the Confederacy now meant support for slavery, there was no longer any possibility of European intervention.
Meanwhile the British sold arms to both sides, built blockade runners for a lucrative trade with the Confederacy, and surreptitiously allowed warships to be built for the Confederacy. The warships caused a major diplomatic row that was resolved in the Alabama Claims in 1872, in the Americans' favor.
Empire expands: In 1867, Britain united most of its North American colonies as the Dominion of Canada, giving it self-government and responsibility for its own defence although Canada did not have an independent foreign policy until 1931. Several of the colonies briefly refused to join the Dominion despite pressure from both Canada and Britain; Newfoundland held out until 1949.
The second half of the 19th century saw a huge expansion of Britain's colonial empire in Asia and Africa. Having possessions on six continents, Britain had to defend all of its empire with a volunteer army, for it was the only power in Europe to have no conscription.
The rise of the German Empire since 1871 posed a new challenge, for it (along with the United States) threatened to take Britain's place as the world's foremost industrial power. Germany acquired a number of colonies in Africa and the Pacific, but Chancellor Otto von Bismarck succeeded in achieving general peace through his balance of power strategy. When William II became emperor in 1888, he discarded Bismark, began using bellicose language, and planned to build a navy to rival Britain's.
Ever since Britain had taken control of South Africa from the Netherlands in the Napoleonic Wars, it had run afoul of the Dutch settlers who further away and created two republics of their own.
Ireland and the move to Home Rule: Part of the agreement which led to the 1800 Act of Union stipulated that the Penal Laws in Ireland were to be repealed and Catholic Emancipation granted. However King George III blocked emancipation, arguing that to grant it would break his coronation oath to defend the Anglican Church. A campaign under lawyer and politician Daniel O'Connell, and the death of George III, led to the concession of Catholic Emancipation in 1829, allowing Catholics to sit in Parliament. O'Connell then mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the Repeal of the Act of Union.
Most Irish people elected as their MPs Liberals and Conservatives who belonged to the main British political parties (note: the poor didn't have a vote at that time). A significant minority also elected Unionists, who championed the cause of the maintenance of the Act of Union. A former Tory barrister turned nationalist campaigner, Isaac Butt, established a new moderate nationalist movement, the Home Rule League, in the 1870s. After Butt's death the Home Rule Movement, or the Irish Parliamentary Party as it had become known, was turned into a major political force under the guidance of William Shaw and in particular a radical young Protestant landowner, Charles Stewart Parnell. The Irish Parliamentary Party dominated Irish politics, to the exclusion of the previous Liberal, Conservative and Unionist parties that had existed. Parnell's movement proved to be a broad church, from conservative landowners to the Land League which was campaigning for fundamental reform of Irish landholding, where most farms were held on rental from large aristocratic estates.
Parnell's movement campaigned for 'Home Rule', by which they meant that Ireland would govern itself as a region within the United Kingdom, in contrast to O'Connell who wanted complete independence subject to a shared monarch and Crown. Two Home Rule Bills (1886 and 1893) were introduced by Liberal Prime Minister Ewart Gladstone, but neither became law, mainly due to opposition from the House of Lords. The issue divided Ireland, for a significant unionist minority (largely though by no means exclusively based in Ulster), opposed Home Rule, fearing that a Catholic-Nationalist parliament in Dublin would discriminate against them and would also impose tariffs on industry; while most of Ireland was primarily agricultural, six counties in Ulster were the location of heavy industry and would be affected by any tariff barriers imposed.
Britain in the 20th century
Queen Victoria died in 1901 and her son Edward VII became king, inaugurating the Edwardian Era, which was characterized by great and ostentatious displays of wealth in contrast to the sombre Victorian Era. With the advent of the 20th century, things such as motion pictures, automobiles, and aeroplanes were coming into use. The new century was characterized by a feeling of great optimism. The social reforms of the last century continued into the 20th with the Labour Party being formed in 1900. Edward died in 1910, to be succeeded by George V, who reigned 1910 – 36. Scandal-free, hard working and popular, George V was the British monarch who, with Queen Mary, established the modern pattern of exemplary conduct for British royalty, based on middle-class values and virtues. The era was prosperous but political crises were escalating out of control. Strange "death" of liberal England was the multiple crisis that hit simultaneously in 1910 – 1914 with serious social and political instability arising from the Irish crisis, labor unrest, the women's suffrage movements, and partisan and constitutional struggles in Parliament.
World War I:After a rough start Britain under David Lloyd George successfully mobilized its manpower, womanpower, industry, finances, Empire and diplomacy, in league with the French and Americans, to defeat the Germans and Turks.Most Britons eagerly supported the war, but the Irish were restless and plotted a rebellion in 1916. The economy grew about 14% from 1914 to 1918 despite the absence of so many men in the services; by contrast the German economy shrank 27%. The War saw a decline of civilian consumption, with a major reallocation to munitions. The government share of GDP soared from 8% in 1913 to 38% in 1918 (compared to 50% in 1943). The war forced Britain to use up its financial reserves and borrow large sums from the US.
The spark that set off the war came in June 1914, when the multi-ethnic Austrian Empire declared war on Serbia. The system of alliances caused a local conflict to engulf the entire continent. Britain was part of the Triple Entente with France and Russia, which confronted the Central Powers of Germany, Austria and Italy. Following the assassination Austria attacked Serbia, which was allied to Russia. Russia then mobilized its army, leading Germany to enter into war against Russia. France could not afford a mobilized Germany on its border, and it mobilized. Germany declared war on France. Britain was neutral at first as the Liberal government of Herbert Henry Asquith had a pacifist tendency, but it was committed to defending Belgium, which Germany invaded. Britain declared war on Germany and its allies. The romantic notions of warfare that everyone had expected faded as the fighting in France bogged down into trench warfare.
Along the Western Front the British and French launched repeated assaults on the German trench lines in 1915–1916, which killed and wounded hundreds of thousands, but failed to make gains of even a mile. By 1916, volunteering falling off, the government imposed conscription in Britain (but not in Ireland) to keep up the strength of the Army. Industry turned out munitions in large quantities, with many women taking factory jobs. The Herbert Henry Asquith government proved ineffective but when David Lloyd George replaced him in December 1916 Britain gained a powerful and successful wartime leader.
The navy continued to dominate the seas, fighting the German fleet to a draw in the only great battle, the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Germany was blockaded and was increasingly short of food. It tried to fight back with submarines, despite the risk of war by the powerful neutral power the United States. The waters around Britain were declared a war zone where any ship, neutral or otherwise, was a target. After the liner Lusitania was sunk in May 1915, drowning over 100 American passengers, protests by the United States led Germany to abandon unrestricted submarine warfare. With victory over Russia in 1917 Germany now calculated it could finally have numerical superiority on the Western Front. Planning for a massive spring offensive in 1918, it resumed the sinking of all merchant ships without warning. The US entered the war alongside the Allies without actually joining them, and provided the needed money and supplies to keep them going. The u-boats were defeated by a convoy system across the Atlantic.
On other fronts, the British, French, Australians, and Japanese occupied Germany's colonies. Britain fought the Ottoman Empire, suffering defeats in the Gallipoli Campaign) and in Mesopotamia, while arousing the Arabs who helped expel the Turks from their lands. Exhaustion and war weariness were growing worse in 1917, as the fighting in France continued with no end in sight. The German spring offensives of 1918 failed, and with the arrival of the American in summer at the rate of 10,000 a day the Germans realized they were being overwhelmed. Germany agreed to an armistice, actually a surrender, on 11 November 1918. The war had been won by Britain and its allies, but at a terrible human and financial cost, creating a sentiment that wars should never be fought again. The League of Nations was founded with the idea that nations could resolve their differences peacefully, but these hopes were unfounded. The harsh peace settlement imposed on Germany would leave it embittered and seeking revenge.
Victorian attitudes and ideals that had continued into the first years of the 20th century changed during World War I. The army had traditionally never been a large employer in the nation, with the regular army standing at 247,432 at the start of the war. By 1918 there were about five million people in the army and the fledgling Royal Air Force, newly formed from the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), was about the same size of the pre-war army. The almost three million casualties were known as the "lost generation," and such numbers inevitably left society scarred; but even so, some people felt their sacrifice was little regarded in Britain.
Following the war, Britain gained the German colony of Tanganyika and part of Togoland in Africa. It also was granted League of Nations mandates over Palestine, which was turned into a homeland for Jewish settlers, and Iraq, created from the three Ottoman provinces in Mesopotamia. The latter became fully independent in 1932. Egypt, which had been a British protectorate since 1882, became independent in 1922, although the British remained there until 1952.
Lloyd George said after victory that "the nation was now in a molten state" and his Housing Act 1919 would lead to affordable council housing which allowed people to move out of Victorian inner-city slums. The slums, though, remained for several more years, with trams being electrified long before many houses. The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave women householders the vote, but it would not be until 1928 that equal suffrage was achieved. Labor did not achieve major success until the 1922 general election.
Irish independence and partition:In 1912 the House of Lords managed to delay a Home Rule bill passed by the House of Commons. It was enacted as the Government of Ireland Act 1914. During these two years the threat of religious civil war hung over Ireland with the creation of the Unionist Ulster Volunteers opposed to the Act and their nationalist counterparts, the Irish Volunteers supporting the Act. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 put the crisis on political hold. A disorganized Easter Rising in 1916 was brutally suppressed by the British, which had the effect of galvanizing Catholic demands for independence. Prime Minister David Lloyd George failed to introduce Home Rule in 1918 and in the December 1918 General Election Sinn Féin won a majority of Irish seats. Its MPs refused to take their seats at Westminster, instead choosing to sit in the First Dáil parliament in Dublin. A declaration of independence was ratified by Dáil Éireann, the self-declared Republic's parliament in January 1919. An Anglo-Irish War was fought between Crown forces and the Irish Republican Army between January 1919 and June 1921. The war ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 that established the Irish Free State. Six northern, predominantly Protestant counties became Northern Ireland and have remained part of Britain ever since, despite demands of the Catholic minority to united with Eire. Britain officially adopted the name "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" by the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927.
Appeasement:Vivid memories of the horrors and deaths of the World War made Britain and its leaders strongly inclined to pacifism in the interwar era. The challenge came from dictators, first Benito Mussolini of Italy, then Adolf Hitler of a much more powerful Nazi Germany.The League of Nations proved disappointed supporters; it was unable to resolve any of the threats posed by the dictators. British policy was to "appease" them in the hopes they would be satiated. By 1938 it was clear that war was looming, and that Germany had the world's most powerful military. The final act of appeasement came when Britain and France sacrificed Czechoslovakia to Hitler's demands at the Munich Agreement of 1938. Instead of satiation Hitler menaced Poland, and at last Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain dropped appeasement and stood firm in promising to defend Poland. Hitler however cut a deal with Joseph Stalin to divide Eastern Europe; when Germany did invade Poland in September 1939, Britain and France declared war; the British Commonwealth followed London's lead.
World War II:Britain, along with the dominions and the rest of the Empire, declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939, after the German invasion of Poland. After a quiet period of "phoney war", the French and British armies collapsed under German onslaught in spring 1940. The British with the thinnest of margins rescued its main army from Dunkirk (as well as many French soldiers), leaving all their equipment and war supplies behind. Winston Churchill came to power, promising to fight the Germans to the very end. The Germans threatened an invasion, which the Royal Navy was prepared to repel. First the Germans tried to achieve air supremacy but were defeated by the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain in late summer 1940. Japan declared war in December 1941, and quickly seized Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, and Burma, and threatened Australia and India. Britain formed close bonds with the Soviet Union (starting in 1941) and the United States (starting in 1940), with the US giving $40 billion in munitions through Lend Lease; Canada also gave aid. (The American and British aid did not have to be repaid, but there were also loans that were repaid.)
The media called it a "people's war", a term that caught on and signified the popular demand for planning and an expanded welfare state. The Royal family played major symbolic roles in the war. They refused to leave London during the Blitz and were indefatigable in visiting troops, munition factories, dockyards, and hospitals all over the country. Princess Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS – a part of the army) and repaired trucks and jeeps. All social classes appreciated how the royals shared the hopes, fears and hardships of the people.
Postwar period:The Second World War ended in Europein May8th, 1945.Britain was a winner in the war, but it lost India in 1947 and nearly all the rest of the Empire by 1960. It debated its role in world affairs and joined the UN in 1945, NATO in 1949, where it became a close ally of the United States. After a long debate and initial rejection, it joined the European Union in 1973. Prosperity returned in the 1950s and London remained a world center of finance and culture, but the nation was no longer a major world power.
The end of the war saw a landslide victory for Clement Attlee and the Labor Party. They were elected on a manifesto of greater social justice with left wing policies such as the creation of a National Health Service, an expansion of the provision of council housing and nationalization of the major industries. Britain faced severe financial crises, and responded by reducing her international responsibilities and by sharing the hardships of an "age of austerity." Large loans from the United States and Marshall Plan grants helped rebuild and modernize its infrastructure and business practices. Rationing and conscription dragged on into the post war years, and the country suffered one of the worst winters on record. Nevertheless, morale was boosted by events such as the marriage of Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and the Festival of Britain.
Empire to Commonwealth:Britain's control over its Empire loosened during the interwar period. Nationalism strengthened in other parts of the empire, particularly in India and in Egypt.
Between 1867 and 1910, the UK had granted Australia, Canada, and New Zealand "Dominion" status (near complete autonomy within the Empire). They became charter members of the British Commonwealth of Nations (known as the Commonwealth of Nations since 1949), an informal but close-knit association that succeeded the British Empire. Beginning with the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the remainder of the British Empire was almost completely dismantled. Today, most of Britain's former colonies belong to the Commonwealth, almost all of them as independent members. There are, however, 13 former British colonies, including Bermuda, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, and others, which have elected to continue rule by London and are known as British Overseas Territories.
From the Troubles to the Belfast Agreement:In the 1960s, moderate unionist Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Terence O'Neill tried to reform the system and give a greater voice to Catholics who comprised 40% of the population of Northern Ireland. His goals were blocked by militant Protestants led by the Rev. Ian Paisley. The increasing pressures from nationalists for reform and from unionists for No surrender led to the appearance of the civil rights movement under figures like John Hume, Austin Currie and others. Clashes escalated out of control as the army could barely contain the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Ulster Defence Association. British leaders feared their withdrawal would give a "Doomsday Scenario," with widespread communal strife, followed by the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees. London shut down Northern Ireland's parliament and began direct rule. By the 1990s, the failure of the IRA campaign to win mass public support or achieve its aim of a British withdrawal led to negotiations that in 1998 produced the 'Good Friday Agreement'. It won popular support and largely ended the Troubles.
War in Afghanistan and Iraq, and terrorist attacks at home:In the 2001 General Election, the Labor Party won a second successive victory, though voter turnout dropped to the lowest level for more than 80 years. Later that year, the September 11th attacks in the United States led to American President George W. Bush launching the War on Terror, beginning with the invasion of Afghanistan aided by British troops in October 2001. Thereafter, with the US focus shifting to Iraq, Tony Blair convinced the Labor and Conservative MPs to vote in favor of supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq, despite huge anti-war marches held in London and Glasgow. Forty-six thousand British troops, one-third of the total strength of the Army's land forces, were deployed to assist with the invasion of Iraq and thereafter British armed forces were responsible for security in southern Iraq. All British forces were withdrawn in 2010.
The Labor Party won the 2005 general election and a third consecutive term. Four Islamist home-grown terrorists plotted retaliation and on 7 July 2005, a series of four suicide bombings struck London, killing 52 commuters, in addition to the four bombers.
Nationalist government in Scotland:2007 saw the first ever election victory for the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) in the Scottish Parliament elections. They formed a minority government with plans to hold a referendum before 2011 to seek a mandate "to negotiate with the Government of the United Kingdom to achieve independence for Scotland." Most opinion polls show minority support for independence, although support varies depending on the nature of the question. The response of the unionist parties was to establish the Calman Commission to examine further devolution of powers, a position that had the support of the Prime Minister.
Responding to the findings of the review, the UK government announced on 25 November 2009, that new powers would be devolved to the Scottish Government, notably on how it can raise tax and carry out capital borrowing, and the running of Scottish Parliament elections. These proposals were detailed in a white paper setting out a new Scotland Bill, to become law before the 2015 Holyrood elections. The proposal was criticized by the UK parliament opposition parties for not proposing to implement any changes before the next general election. Scottish Constitution Minister Michael Russell criticized the white paper, calling it "flimsy" and stating that their proposed Referendum (Scotland) Bill, 2010, whose own white paper was to be published five days later, would be "more substantial". According to The Independent, the Calman Review white paper proposals fall short of what would normally be seen as requiring a referendum.
The 2011 election saw a decisive victory for the SNP which was able to form a majority government intent on delivering a referendum on independence. Within hours of the victory, Prime Minister David Cameron guaranteed that the UK government would not put any legal or political obstacles in the way of such a referendum. Some unionist politicians, including former Labor First Minister Henry McLeish, have responded to the situation by arguing that Scotland should be offered 'devo-max' as an alternative to independence, and First Minister Alex Salmond has signaled his willingness to include it on the referendum ballot paper.
The 2010 coalition government:The United Kingdom General Election of 6 May 2010 resulted in the first hung parliament since 1974, with the Conservative Party winning the largest number of seats, but falling short of the 326 seats required for an overall majority. Following this, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats agreed to form the first coalition government for the UK since the end of the Second World War, with David Cameron becoming Prime Minister and Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister.
Under the coalition government, British military aircraft participated in the UN-mandated intervention in the 2011 Libyan civil war, flying a total of 3,000 air sorties against forces loyal to the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi between March and October 2011. 2011 also saw England suffer unprecedented rioting in its major cities in early August, killing five people and causing over £200 million worth of property damage.
In late October 2011, the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth of Nations voted to grant gender equality in the British royal succession, ending the male-preference primogeniture that was mandated by the 1701 Act of Settlement. The amendment also ended the ban on the monarch marrying a Catholic.