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Сочинение: History of Great Britain

                            History of Britain                            
The kingdom of Great Britain was formed by the Act of Union (1707) between
England and Scotland. England (including the principality of Wales, annexed in
the 14th century) and Scotland had been separate kingdoms since the early
Middle Ages, but since 1603 the same monarch has ruled both lands. Only in
1707, however, did London become the capital of the entire island. Great
Britain from then on had a single Parliament and a single system of national
administration, taxation, and weights and measures. All tariff barriers within
the island were ended. England and Scotland continued, however, to have
separate traditions of law and separate established churches—the Presbyterian
in Scotland, the Anglican in England and Wales. For the history of the two
countries before 1707, see Britain, Ancient; England; Scotland.
     A Century of Conflicts 
One of the chief purposes of the planners of the Act of Union had been to
strengthen a land preoccupied with the War of the Spanish Succession. Under the
leadership of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, Britain and its allies
had won many battles against France, then the most populous and powerful
European state, but by 1710 it seemed clear that not even Marlborough could
prevent Louis XIV of France from installing a Bourbon relation on the Spanish
throne. Marlborough and his political allies were replaced by members of the
Tory Party, who in due course made peace with France. In the Treaty of Utrecht
(1713), Britain acknowledged the right of the Bourbon dynasty to the Spanish
crown. At the same time, France ceded to Britain the North American areas of
Hudson Bay, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. Spain ceded Gibraltar and the
Mediterranean island of Minorca and granted to British merchants a limited
right to trade with Spain’s American colonies; included in that (until 1750)
was the asiento—the right to import African slaves into Spanish
Because Queen Anne had no surviving children, she was succeeded, according to
the Act of Settlement (1701), by her nearest Protestant relative, the elector
of Hannover, who came from Germany in 1714 and was accepted as King George I
of Great Britain. A new era of British history began.
     Government in the 18th Century 
Although the first years of George I’s reign were marked by two major
crises—the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 by followers of Queen Anne’s half
brother, James Stuart, and the South Sea Bubble, a stock market crash of
1720—Britain was actually entering two decades of relative peace and
stability. Local government was left largely in the hands of country
gentlemen owning large estates. As justices of the peace, they settled the
majority of legal disputes. They also administered roads, bridges, inns, and
markets and supervised the local operation of the Poor Law—aid to orphans,
paupers, the very old, and those too ill to work. At the national level, many
Britons came to take pride in their mixed government, which happily combined
monarchical (the hereditary ruler), aristocratic (the hereditary House of
Lords), and democratic (the elected House of Commons) elements and also
provided for an independent judiciary. The reign of Queen Anne had been
marked by parliamentary elections every three years and by keen rivalry
between Whig and Tory factions. With the coming of George I, the Whigs were
given preference over the Tories, many of whom were sympathetic to the claims
of the Stuart pretenders. Under the Septennial Act of 1716, parliamentary
elections were required every seven years rather than every three, and direct
political participation declined. Parliament was made up of 122 county
members and 436 borough members. Virtually all counties and boroughs sent two
members to Parliament, but each borough, whether a large city or a tiny
village, had its own tradition of choosing its members of Parliament. Even
those Britons who lacked the right to vote could claim the rights of
petition, jury trial, and freedom from arbitrary arrest. Full political
privileges were granted only to members of the Anglican church, but non-
Anglican Protestants could legally hold office if they were willing to take
Anglican communion once a year.
     The Era of Robert Walpole 
Although the king could appoint whomever he wished to his government, he
found it convenient to select members of Parliament, who could exercise
influence there. Such was the case of Robert Walpole, who was appointed first
lord of the Treasury (and came to be known as prime minister) in 1721 in the
aftermath of the South Sea Bubble. The Bubble was sparked by the financial
collapse of the giant South Sea Company. The crash slowed down the commercial
boom of the previous three decades, a time when the Bank of England had been
founded, the concept of a long-term national debt formulated, and many large
joint-stock companies established. In part because George I could not speak
English and in part because both he and his son, King George II, were often
in Hannover, Germany, which they continued to rule, Walpole was able to build
up and dominate a government machine. He presided over an informal group of
ministers that came to be known as the cabinet, and he controlled Parliament
by his personality, his policies, and his use of patronage. His influence,
however, had limits. Hoping to curb smuggling, Walpole in 1732 and 1733
sought to replace a land tax and customs duties on imports with an excise tax
on wine and tobacco collected from retailers, but parliamentary critics and
popular rioters protested against the army of tax collectors that the bill
would have created, and Walpole was ultimately forced to give up his plan.
During his administration, Walpole kept Great Britain out of war, and even
Anglo-French relations remained cordial. In the late 1730s, however, a war
party emerged in Parliament. Its members sought revenge against Spain for the
harassment by Spanish coast guards of British merchants who wished to trade
with Spanish colonists in the Americas. In 1739, against Walpole’s better
judgment, Britain declared war on Spain, and two years later parliamentary
pressure forced Walpole to resign.
     Two Decades of Conflict 
Between 1739 and 1763, Great Britain was generally at war. The war against Spain
(see Jenkins’s Ear, War of) soon merged with the War of the Austrian
Succession, which began in 1740, pitting Prussia, France, and Spain against
Austria. Great Britain became Austria’s chief ally, and British armies and
ships fought the French in Europe, in North America, on the high seas, and in
India, where the English and French East India companies competed for
influence. In 1745 the Scottish Jacobites, taking advantage of Britain’s
involvement on the Continent, made their last major attempt to recover the
British throne for the Stuart dynasty. Prince Charles Edward (“Bonnie Prince
Charlie”) landed in Scotland, won the allegiance of thousands of Highlanders,
and in September captured Edinburgh and proclaimed his father King James III.
Marching south with his army, he came within a hundred miles of London, but
failed to attract many English supporters. In December he retreated to
Scotland. The following April he was defeated at the Battle of Culloden and
fled to France.
The War of the Austrian Succession ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle
(1748), which, as far as Britain was concerned, restored the territorial status
quo. By then, a series of short-lived ministries had given way to the
relatively stable administration of Henry Pelham. During the mid-1750s the
British found themselves fighting an undeclared war against France both in
North America (see French and Indian War) and in India. In 1756 formal
war broke out again. The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) pitted Britain, allied
with Prussia, against France in alliance with Austria and Russia. For Britain
the war began with a series of defeats in North America, in India, in the
Mediterranean, and on the Continent (where the French overran Hannover). Under
strong popular pressure, King George II then appointed the fiery William Pitt
the Elder as the minister to run the war abroad, while his colleague, the duke
of Newcastle, oiled the political wheels at home. Pitt was an expert strategist
and conducted the war with vigor. The French fleet was defeated off the coast
of Portugal, the English East India Company triumphed over its French
counterpart in Bengal and elsewhere, and British and colonial troops in North
America captured Fort Duquesne (on the site of present-day Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania), Quйbec, and Montrйal. Although Pitt was forced from office in
1761 and the British negotiated separately from Prussia, the Treaty of Paris
(1763) was a diplomatic triumph. All French claims to Canada and to lands east
of the Mississippi River were ceded to Britain, as were most French claims to
India. Spain, which had entered the war on the French side in 1762, ceded
Florida. The Treaty of Paris established Britain’s 18th-century empire at its
     Population Growth, Urbanization, and Industrialization 
During the first half of the 18th century, the population of Great Britain
increased by less than 15 percent. Between 1751 and 1801, the year of the
first official census, the number rose by one-half to 16 million, and between
1801 and 1851, the population grew by more than two-thirds to 27 million. The
reasons include a decline of deaths from infectious diseases, especially
smallpox; an improved diet made possible by more efficient farming practices
and the large-scale use of the potato; and earlier marriages and larger
families, especially in those areas where new industries were starting up. A
quickening of economic change was noticeable by the 1780s, when James Watt
perfected the steam engine as a new source of power. New inventions
mechanized the spinning and weaving of imported cotton. Between 1760 and 1830
the production of cotton textiles increased twelvefold, making the product
Britain’s leading export. At the same time, other inventions comparably
raised the production of iron, and the amount of coal mined increased
fourfold. By 1830 this Industrial Revolution had turned Britain into the
“workshop of the world.”
The towns that spread across northwestern England, lowland Scotland, and
southern Wales accustomed a generation of workers to factory life. The
advantages were more regular hours, higher wages than those received by
handicraft workers or farm laborers, and less dependence on human muscle
power; many machines could be operated by women and children. The
disadvantages included the devaluation of old artisan skills, a new emphasis
on discipline and punctuality, and a less personal relationship between
employer and employee. For several decades also, such civic amenities as
water and sewage systems did not keep pace with the growth of population.
London remained Britain’s largest city, a center of commerce, shipping,
justice, and administration more than of industry. Its population, estimated
at 600,000 in 1701, had grown to 950,000 by 1801, and to 2.5 million by 1851,
making it the largest city in the world. By then, Britain had become the
first large nation to have more urban than rural inhabitants.
     The Early Years of King George III 
In 1760, the aged George II was succeeded by his 22-year-old grandson, George
III. The new British-born king had a deep sense of moral duty and tried to
play a direct role in governing his country. To this end he appointed men he
trusted, such as his onetime Scottish tutor, Lord Bute, who became prime
minister in 1762. Bute’s ministry was not a success, however, and four short-
lived ministries followed until 1770, when George found, in Lord North, a
leader pleasing both to him and to the majority of Parliament.
During the 1760s, politicians out of office spurred a campaign of criticism
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of the right to vote, and an increase in the frequency of meetings of
     The American Revolution 
The fears expressed by Wilkes’s supporters confirmed the more radical
American colonial leaders in their suspicion of the British government. Long
accustomed to a considerable degree of self-government and freed, after 1763,
from the French danger, they resented the attempts by successive British
ministries to make them pay a share of the cost of imperial defense in the
form of assorted taxes and duties. They also resented British attempts to
enforce mercantilistic regulations and to treat colonial legislatures as
secondary to the government in London. American resistance led in due course
to the calling of the First Continental Congress in 1774 and the commencement
of hostilities the following year. Although parliamentary critics such as
Edmund Burke continued to urge conciliation, the king and Lord North felt the
rebellious colonists had to be brought to their senses.
British governmental authority in the 13 colonies collapsed in 1775. Although
British forces were able to occupy first Boston and later New York City and
Philadelphia, the Americans did not give up. After the defeat of General John
Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1777, the civil war within the British Empire became
an international one. First the French (1778), then the Spanish (1779), and
the Dutch (1780) joined the anti-British side, while other powers formed a
League of Armed Neutrality. For the first time in more than a century, the
British were diplomatically isolated. After General Charles Cornwallis’s
surrender at Yorktown in 1781, opposition at home to the frustrations and
high taxation brought on by the American war compelled Lord North to resign
and his successors to sign a new Treaty of Paris in 1783. The 13 colonies
were recognized as independent states and were granted all British territory
south of the Great Lakes. Florida and Minorca were ceded to Spain and some
West Indian islands and African ports to France.
     Pitt, Reform, and Revolution 
In the wake of the war, many old institutions were reexamined. The Economical
Reform Act of 1782 reduced the patronage powers of the king and his
ministers. The Irish Parliament, controlled by Anglo-Irish Protestants, won a
greater degree of independence. The India Act in 1784 gave ultimate authority
over British India to the government instead of the English East India
Company. The India Act was sponsored by William Pitt the Younger, who was
named prime minister late in 1783 at the age of 24. Pitt remained in office
for most of the rest of his life and did much to shape the modern prime
ministership. In the aftermath of the American war, he restored faith in the
government’s ability to pay interest on the much-increased national debt, and
he set up the first consolidated annual budget. Pitt was also sympathetic to
political reform, repeal of restrictions on non-Anglican Protestants, and
abolition of the slave trade, but when these measures failed to win a
parliamentary majority, he dropped them.
Reformers, such as Charles James Fox and Thomas Paine, were inspired by the
revolution that began in France in 1789, but others, such as Edmund Burke,
became fearful of all radical change. Pitt was less concerned with French
ideas than actions, and when the French revolutionary army invaded the
Austrian Netherlands (Belgium) and declared war on England in February 1793,
a decade of moderate reform in Britain gave way to 22 years of all-out war.
     The Napoleonic Wars 
In the 1790s, the wars of the French Revolution merged into the Napoleonic
Wars, as Napoleon Bonaparte took over the French revolutionary government.
Pitt’s First Coalition (with Prussia, Austria, and Russia) against the French
collapsed in 1796, and in 1797 Britain was beset by naval defeat, by naval
mutiny, and by French invasion attempts. The war caused a boom in farm
production and in certain industries. At the same time it caused rapid
inflation: Wage rates lagged behind prices, and Poor Law expenses grew. In
1797 the Bank of England was forced to suspend the payment of gold for paper
currency, and Parliament voted the first income tax. Rebellion and a French
invasion threat led to the Act of Union with Ireland (1801). The Dublin
legislature was abolished, and 100 Irish representatives became members of
the Parliament in London; only an Irish viceroy and a London-appointed
administration remained in Dublin.
Despite the defeat of the French in the Battle of the Nile in 1798, the war
did not go well for Britain. The Second Coalition collapsed in 1801, and
Britain made peace with Napoleon at Amiens the following year. War broke out
again the following year, but between 1805 and 1807 the Third Coalition also
collapsed. Napoleon’s plans to invade Britain were foiled by the British
naval victory under Horatio Nelson at Trafalgar. Napoleon then sought to
drive Britain into bankruptcy with his Continental System. Difficulties in
enforcing that system prompted Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. This
led to the Fourth Coalition (Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia) and to
Napoleon’s downfall two years later. Britain’s contribution included an army
led by the duke of Wellington fighting in Spain and, after Napoleon’s return
from exile in Elba, the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. The War of 1812 with
the United States was for Britain a sideshow that brought no territorial
     A Century of Peace 
At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, King George III, by then insane, had been
succeeded by his eldest son, who reigned first as prince regent and then as
King George IV. Although a patron of art and Regency architecture, the prince
regent became unpopular because of his gluttony and his personal immorality.
His attempt to divorce his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, provided much cause
for scandal.
     Postwar Government (1815-1830) 
Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, presided as Tory prime
minister from 1812 to 1827, over a cabinet of luminaries including Viscount
Castlereagh, the foreign secretary, who represented Britain at the Congress
of Vienna (1815). Former Dutch possessions such as the Cape of Good Hope and
Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) were added to the British Empire, and a balance of
power was restored to continental Europe. Although eager to consult its
European partners about possible territorial changes, Britain soon made it
clear that it had no desire to join the Holy Alliance (Russia, Austria, and
Prussia) in policing Europe.
Rapid demobilization after the wars, economic depression, and bad harvests
led to rioting in 1816. The Liverpool government sought to aid landlords with
protective tariffs (the Corn Laws of 1815) and to aid other supporters by
repealing the wartime income tax in 1817 and restoring the gold standard in
1819. The so-called Six Acts in 1819 curbed the freedom of the press and the
rights of assembly. A giant political protest demonstration near Manchester
that year was broken up by the militia. The economy recovered during the
early 1820s, and government policies became more moderate. George Canning,
who replaced Castlereagh as foreign secretary, welcomed the independence of
Spain’s South American colonies and aided the Greek rebellion against Turkish
rule—a cause also hailed by romantic poets such as Lord Byron. William
Huskisson at the Board of Trade cut tariffs and eased international trade.
Robert Peel, the home secretary, reformed the criminal law and instituted a
modern police force in London in 1829. Barriers to labor union organization
were also reduced during this time.
Despite an early 19th-century religious revival, especially among Methodists
and other non-Anglican Protestants, Tory ministries remained reluctant to
challenge religious and political fundamentals. In 1828 Parliament agreed,
however, to end political restrictions on Protestant dissenters, and one year
later the government of the duke of Wellington was challenged in Ireland by a
mass movement called the Catholic Association. Wellington bought peace in
Ireland by granting Roman Catholics the right to become members of Parliament
and to hold public office, but in so doing split the Tory Party. In November
1830, after the election prompted by the death of George IV and the accession
of his brother, William IV, a predominantly Whig ministry headed by the 2nd
Earl Grey took over.
     Reforms of the 1830s 
The great political issue of 1831 and 1832 was the Whig Reform Bill. After
much debate in and out of the House of Commons and after a threat to swamp a
reluctant House of Lords with new and sympathetic peers, the measure became
law in June 1832. It provided for a redistribution of seats in favor of the
growing industrial cities and a single property test that gave the vote to
all middle-class men and some artisans. In England and Wales the electorate
grew by 50 percent. In Ireland it more than doubled, and in Scotland it
increased by 15 times. The bill set up a system of registration that
encouraged political party organization, both locally and nationally. The
measure weakened the influence of the monarch and the House of Lords. Other
reforms followed. The Factory Act of 1833 limited the working hours of women
and children and provided for central inspectors. Slavery was abolished in
the same year, and the controversial New Poor Law, enacted a year later, also
involved supervision by a central board. The Municipal Corporations Act
(1835) provided for elected representative town councils. An Ecclesiastical
Commission was set up in 1836 to reform the established church, and a
separate statute placed the registration of births, deaths, and marriages in
the hands of the state rather than the church.
In 1837 the elderly William IV was succeeded as monarch by his 18-year-old
niece, Victoria. She and her husband, Albert, came to symbolize many virtues:
a close-knit family life, a sense of public duty, integrity, and
respectability. These beliefs and attitudes, which are often known as
“Victorian,” were also molded by the revival of evangelical religion and by
utilitarian notions of efficiency and good business practice.
     Chartists and Corn Law Reformers 
The Whig reform spirit ebbed during the ministry of Lord Melbourne, and an
economic depression in 1837 brought to public attention two powerful protest
organizations. The Chartists urged the immediate adoption of the People’s
Charter, which would have transformed Britain into a political democracy
(with universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts, and secret ballot)
and which was somehow expected to improve living standards as well. Millions
of workers signed Charter petitions in 1839, 1842, and 1848, and some
Chartist demonstrations turned into riots. Parliament repeatedly rejected the
People’s Charter, but it proved more receptive to the creed of the
Manchester-based Anti-Corn Law League. League leaders such as Richard Cobden
expected the repeal of tariffs on imported food to advance the welfare of
manufacturers and workers alike, while promoting international trade and
peace among nations. Sir Robert Peel’s Conservative ministry succeeded
Melbourne, and became active in reducing Britain’s tariffs but brought back
the income tax to make up for lost revenue. In the winter of 1845 and 1846,
spurred by an Irish potato blight and consequent famine, Peel proposed the
complete repeal of the Corn Laws. With Whig aid the measure passed, but two-
thirds of Peel’s fellow Conservatives condemned the action as a sellout of
the party’s agricultural supporters. The Conservatives divided between
Peelites and protectionists, and the Whigs returned to power under Lord John
Russell in 1846.
During the Peel and Russell years the trend toward free trade continued,
aided by the 1849 repeal of the Navigation Acts, and a system of
administrative regulation was gradually established. Women and children were
barred from underground work in mines and limited to 10-hour working days in
factories. Regulations were also imposed on urban sanitation facilities and
passenger-carrying railroads, and commissions were set up to oversee prisons,
insane asylums, merchant shipping, and private charities. Attempts to
subsidize elementary education, however, were hampered by conflict over the
church’s role in running schools.
     Mid-Victorian Prosperity 
From the late 1840s until the late 1860s, Britons were less concerned with
domestic conflict than with an economic boom occasionally affected by wars
and threats of war on the Continent and overseas. The Great Exhibition of
1851 in London symbolized Britain’s industrial supremacy. The 10,600-km
(6600-mi) railroad network of 1850 more than doubled during the mid-Victorian
years, and the number of passengers carried annually went up by seven times.
The telegraph provided instant communication. Inexpensive steel was made
possible by Henry Bessemer’s process, developed in 1856, and a boom in
steamship building began in the 1860s. The value of British exports tripled,
and overseas capital investments quadrupled. Working-class living standards
improved also, and the growth of trade unionism among engineers, carpenters,
and others led to the founding of the Trades Union Congress in 1868. In the
aftermath of the Continental revolutions of 1848, a Britain governed by the
Peelite-Liberal coalition of Lord Aberdeen drifted into war with an
autocratic, expansionist Russia. In alliance with the France of Napoleon III,
Britain entered the Crimean War in 1854. Parliamentary criticism of army
mismanagement, however, caused the downfall of Aberdeen. He was replaced by
Lord Palmerston, a staunch English nationalist and champion of European
liberalism, who saw the war to its conclusion—a limited Anglo-French victory
in 1856. In 1857 and 1858, the Sepoy Mutiny was suppressed, and Britain
abolished the East India Company, making British India a crown colony. In
contrast, domestic self-government was encouraged in Britain’s settlement
colonies: Canada (federated under the British North America Act of 1867),
Australia, New Zealand, and Cape Colony (South Africa). Britain maintained a
difficult neutrality during the American Civil War (1861-1865). It encouraged
the unification of Italy, but witnessed with apprehension Prince Otto von
Bismarck’s creation of a German Empire under Prussian domination.
     The Gladstone-Disraeli Rivalry 
During the 16 years after Palmerston’s death in 1865, the rivalry of William
Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli dominated British politics. Both had begun as
Tories, but in 1846 Gladstone had become a Peelite and had thereafter
gradually moved toward liberalism. As Palmerston’s chancellor of
***************************************************** ultimately came up with
the Reform Bill of 1867, which Disraeli successfully piloted through the
House of Commons. The measure enfranchised most urban workers. It almost
doubled the English and Welsh electorates and more than doubled the Scottish.
It also launched the era of mass political organization and of increasingly
polarized and disciplined parliamentary parties.
Disraeli succeeded Derby as prime minister early in 1868, but a Liberal
election victory in December of that year gave the post to Gladstone.
Gladstone’s first cabinet was responsible for numerous reforms: the
disestablishment of the Church of Ireland; the creation of a national system
of elementary education; the full admission of religious dissenters to the
universities of Oxford and Cambridge; a merit-based civil service; the secret
ballot; and judicial and army reform. During the Disraeli ministry that
followed, the Conservatives passed legislation advancing “Tory
democracy”—trade union legalization, slum clearance, and public health—but
Disraeli became more concerned with upholding the British Empire in Africa
and Asia and scoring a diplomatic triumph at the Congress of Berlin (1878).
A whistle-stop campaign by Gladstone in 1879 and 1880 restored him to the
prime ministership. His second cabinet curbed electoral corruption and, with
the Reform Act of 1884, extended the vote to almost all males who owned or
rented housing. The measure made the single-member parliamentary district the
general rule. Gladstone became increasingly concerned with bringing peace and
land reform to Ireland, which was represented in Parliament by the Irish
Nationalist Party of Charles Stewart Parnell. When Gladstone became a convert
to the cause of home rule—the creation of a semi-independent Irish
legislature and cabinet—he divided the Liberal Party and led his brief third
ministry to defeat in 1886. A second effort to enact home rule during
Gladstone’s fourth ministry, which lasted from 1892 to 1894, was blocked by
the House of Lords.
     Late Victorian Economic and Social Change 
The same agricultural depression that led to unrest among Irish tenant
farmers in the second half of the 19th century also undermined British
agriculture and the prosperity of country squires. The mid-Victorian boom
gave way to an era of deflation, falling profit margins, and occasional
large-scale unemployment. Both the United States and Germany overtook Britain
in the production of steel and other manufactured goods. At the same time,
Britain remained the world’s prime shipbuilder, shipper, and banker, and a
majority of British workers gained in purchasing power. The number of trade
unionists grew, and significant attempts were made to organize the
semiskilled; the London Dock Strike of 1889 was the result of one such
effort. Social investigators and professed socialists discovered large
pockets of poverty in the slums of London and other cities, and the national
government as well as voluntary agencies were called on to remedy social
evils. Despite a high level of emigration to British colonies and the United
States—more than 200,000 per year during the 1880s—the population of England
and Wales doubled between 1851 and 1911 (to more than 36 million) and that of
Scotland grew by more than 60 percent (to almost 5 million). Both death rates
and birth rates declined somewhat, and a series of changes in the law made it
possible for a minority of women to enter universities, vote in local
elections, and keep control of their property while married.
     The Late Victorian Empire 
A relative lack of interest in empire during the mid-Victorian years gave way
to increased concern during the 1880s and 1890s. The raising of tariff
barriers by the United States, Germany, and France made colonies more
valuable again, ushering in an era of rivalry with Russia in the Middle East
and along the Indian frontier and a “scramble for Africa” that involved the
carving out of large claims by Britain, France, and Germany. Hong Kong and
Singapore served as centers of British trade and influence in China and the
South Pacific. The completion of the Suez Canal in 1869 led indirectly to a
British protectorate over Egypt in 1882. Queen Victoria became empress of
India in 1876, and both Victoria’s golden jubilee (1887) and her diamond
jubilee (1897) celebrated imperial unity. The Conservative ministries of Lord
Salisbury were preoccupied with imperial concerns as well. The policies of
Salisbury’s colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, contributed to the
outbreak of the Boer War in 1899. Britain suffered initial reverses in that
war but then captured Johannesburg and Pretoria in 1900. Only after
protracted guerrilla warfare, however, was the conflict brought to an end in
1902. By then Queen Victoria was dead.
     The Edwardian Age (1901-1914) 
In the aftermath of the Boer War, Britain signed a treaty of alliance with
Japan (1902) and ended several decades of overseas rivalry with France in the
Entente Cordiale (1904). After Anglo-Russian disputes had also been settled,
this link became the Triple Entente (1907), which faced the Triple Alliance
of Germany, Austria, and Italy. As the reign of King Edward VII began,
however, most Britons were more concerned with domestic matters. Arthur
Balfour’s Education Act in 1902 helped meet the demand for national
efficiency with the beginnings of a national system of secondary education,
but the measure stirred old religious passions. In the course of Balfour’s
ministry, the Conservative Party was divided between tariff reformers, who
wanted to restore protective duties, and free traders. The general election
of 1906 gave the Liberals an overwhelming majority. Union influence led to
the appearance of a small separate Labour Party of 29 members as well. The
Liberal government, headed first by Henry Campbell-Bannerman and then by
Herbert Asquith, gave domestic self-government to the new Union of South
Africa and partial provincial self-government to British India in 1909 and
1910. Under the inspiration of David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, it
also laid the foundations of the welfare state. Its program, from 1908 to
1912, included old-age pensions, government employment offices, unemployment
insurance, a contributory program of national medical insurance for most
workers, and boards to fix minimum wages for miners and others. Lloyd
George’s controversial “people’s budget,” designed to pay the costs of social
welfare and naval rearmament, was blocked by the House of Lords and led in
due course to the Parliament Act of 1911, which left the Lords with no more
than a temporary veto. The Conservatives made a comeback, however, in the
general elections of 1910, and the Liberals were thereafter dependent on the
Irish Nationalists to stay in power. Although the economy seemed to be
booming, wages scarcely kept up with rising prices, and the years 1911 to
1914 were marked by major and divisive strikes by miners, dock workers, and
transport workers. Suffragists staged violent demonstrations in favor of the
enfranchisement of women. When the Liberal government sought to enact home
rule for Ireland, non-Catholic Irish from Ulster threatened force to prevent
Britain from compelling them to become part of a semi-independent Ireland. In
the midst of these domestic disputes, a crisis in the Balkans exploded into
World War I.
     The Era of World Wars 
Although the competitive naval buildup of Britain and Germany is often cited
as a cause of World War I, Anglo-German relations were actually cordial in
early 1914, and Britain was Germany’s best customer. It was Germany’s threat
to France and its invasion of neutral Belgium that prompted Britain to
declare war.
     Britain in World War I 
A British expeditionary force was immediately sent to France and helped stem
the German advance at the Marne. Fighting on the Western Front soon became
mired in a bloody stalemate amid muddy trenches, barbed wire, and machine-gun
emplacements. Battles to push the Germans back failed repeatedly at the cost
of tens of thousands of lives. Efforts to outflank the Central Powers
(Germany, Austria, and Turkey) in the Balkans, as at Gallipoli (1915), failed
also. At the Battle of Jutland (1916), the British prevented the German fleet
from venturing into the North Sea and beyond, but German submarines
threatened Britain with starvation early in 1917; merchant-ship convoys
guarded by destroyers helped avert that danger.
In May 1915 Asquith’s Liberal ministry became a coalition of Liberals,
Conservatives, and a few Labourites. Lloyd George became minister of
munitions. Continued frustration with the nation’s inability to win the war,
however, led to the replacement of Asquith by Lloyd George, heading a
predominantly Conservative coalition, in December 1916. Problems in Ireland,
chiefly the 1916 Easter rebellion, resulted in several hundred dead. By 1918
the annual budget was 13 times that of 1913; tax rates had risen fivefold,
and the total national debt, fourteenfold.
Although many Britons welcomed the end of czarist rule in Russia in 1917,
they saw the Communist decision to make a separate peace with Germany as a
sellout. Only the entry of the United States into the war made possible
General Douglas Haig’s successful tank offensive in the summer of 1918 and
the German surrender in November. The election called immediately thereafter
gave the Lloyd George coalition an overwhelming mandate. The Labour Party,
now formally pledged to socialism, became the largest opposition party, while
the Asquith wing of a divided Liberal Party was almost wiped out. By then the
Reform Act of 1918 had granted the vote to all men over the age of 21 and all
women over 30.
     Changes Wrought by the War 
Lloyd George represented Britain as one of the Big Three (together with
France and the United States) at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The
resulting treaties enlarged the British Empire as former German colonies in
Africa and Turkish holdings in the Middle East became British mandates. At
the same time Britain’s self-governing dominions—Canada, Australia, New
Zealand, and South Africa—became separate treaty signatories and separate
members of the new League of Nations. An intermittent civil war in Ireland
ended with a treaty negotiated by Lloyd George in 1921. Most of the island
became the Irish Free State, independent of British rule in all but name. The
six counties of Northern Ireland continued to be represented in the British
Parliament, although they also gained their own provincial parliament. The
immediate postwar years were marked by economic boom, rapid demobilization,
and much labor strife. By 1922, however, the boom had petered out. That year
a rebellion by a group of Conservative members of Parliament ended the prime
ministership of Lloyd George, and the wholly Conservative ministry of Andrew
Bonar Law represented a return to “normal times.”
     The Interwar Era 
During the early 1920s a major political shift took place in Britain. The
general election of 1922 gave victory to the Conservatives, but another one,
called a year later by Bonar Law’s successor, Stanley Baldwin, left no party
with a clear majority. As a consequence, Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour Party
leader, became the first professed socialist to serve as prime minister of
Great Britain. His first ministry in 1924, rested on Liberal acquiescence; it
lasted less than a year, when yet another election brought back Baldwin’s
Conservatives. Lloyd George’s and Asquith’s efforts at Liberal reunion failed
to restore the party’s fortunes, and it has remained a minor party in British
politics. The Baldwin ministry restored the gold standard and enacted several
social-reform measures, including the Widows’, Orphans’, and Old Age
Contributory Pensions Act, a national electric power network, and a reform of
local government. In 1928 women were given voting rights that were equal to
those of men.
Between 1929 and 1932 the international depression more than doubled an
already high rate of unemployment. In the course of three years, both the
levels of industrial activity and of prices dipped by a quarter, and
industries such as shipbuilding collapsed almost entirely. MacDonald’s second
Labour government found itself unable to cope with the depression, and in
1931 it gave way to a national government, headed first by MacDonald and then
by Baldwin and made up mostly of Conservatives. The Labour Party denounced
MacDonald as a traitor, but the national government won an overwhelming
mandate in the general election of 1931. It took Britain off the gold
standard, restored protective tariffs, and subsidized the building of houses.
Between 1933 and 1937, the economy recovered steadily, with the automobile,
construction, and electrical industries leading the way. Unemployment
remained high, however, especially in Wales, Scotland, and northern England.
Interwar society was influenced by the radio (monopolized by the British
Broadcasting Corporation, which was begun in 1927) and the cinema, but
British life was little affected by the continental ideologies of communism
and fascism. The empire remained a fact, even though the Statute of
Westminster (1931) proclaimed the equality of Commonwealth nations such as
Canada and Australia. Religious attendance declined, but King George V
maintained the prestige of the monarchy. When his son, Edward VIII, insisted
on marrying a twice-divorced American in 1936, abdication proved to be the
only acceptable solution. Under Edward’s brother, George VI, the monarchy
again provided the model family of the land.
     Britain and World War II 
Memories of World War I left Britons with an overwhelming desire to avoid
another war, and the country played a leading role in the League of Nations
and at interwar disarmament conferences such as those in Washington, D.C. in
1921 and 1922 and London in 1930 that limited naval size. Conscious that
Germany might have been unfairly treated at the 1919 peace conference, the
British government followed a policy of appeasement in dealing with Adolf
Hitler’s Germany after 1933. Germany’s decisions between 1934 and 1936 to
leave the League of Nations, rearm, and remilitarize the Rhineland in
defiance of the Treaty of Versailles were accepted. So was the German
annexation of Austria in 1938. In his efforts to keep the peace at all costs,
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain also acquiesced to the Munich Pact of
1938, which gave Germany the Sudetenland portion of Czechoslovakia. Only
after the German annexation of Prague in March of 1939 did Britain make
pledges to Poland and Romania.
When Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, Britain and France declared
war, and World War II began. The
********************************************************at achieved by any
other power. Although a German invasion plan was foiled by British air
supremacy, large parts of London and other cities were destroyed and some
60,000 civilians were killed. Beginning early in 1941, the still-neutral
United States granted lend-lease aid to Britain.
The nature of the war changed with the German invasion of the Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics (USSR) in June 1941 and the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor in December 1941. Churchill then forged the “Grand Alliance” with
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt against
Germany, Italy, and Japan. In the immediate aftermath of the Japanese
intervention, much of the British Empire in Southeast Asia was overrun, but
late in 1942 the tide turned. The British contribution included the Battle of
the North Atlantic against the German submarine menace and the campaign led
by General Bernard Montgomery against the German army in North Africa.
Churchill corresponded continually and met often with Roosevelt, and British
forces joined American in the 1943 invasion of Sicily and Italy, the invasion
of France in 1944, and the ultimate defeat of the Axis powers in 1945.
     The Winds of Change 
The general election of 1945 gave the Labour Party for the first time a
majority of the popular vote and an overwhelming parliamentary majority. The
result was less a rebuke of Churchill’s wartime leadership than an expression
of approval of Labour’s role in the war and of hope that the party would
bring more prosperity.
     Clement Attlee’s Ministry (1945-1951) 
During the years that followed, Labour, led by Clement Attlee, sought to
build a socialist Britain, while surviving postwar austerity, dismantling the
empire, and adjusting to a cold war with the USSR. The two measures that
established a welfare state in Britain, the National Insurance Act of 1946 (a
consolidation of benefit laws involving maternity, unemployment, disability,
old age, and death) and the National Health Service, set up in 1948, were
widely popular. Both drew on the wartime reports of Sir William Beveridge, a
Liberal. The nationalization of the Bank of England, the coal industry, gas
and electricity, the railroads, and most airlines proved relatively
noncontroversial, but the Conservatives vigorously if vainly opposed the
nationalization of the trucking and the iron and steel industries. In 1948
Labour eliminated the last remnants of plural voting (that is, voting in more
than one constituency) and reduced the delaying powers of the House of Lords
from two years to one. These changes were instituted in the midst of a
postwar era of austerity. The national debt had tripled, and for the first
time since the 18th century Britain had become a debtor nation. With the end
of U.S. lend-lease aid in 1945, the British import bill had risen abruptly
long before military demobilization and reconversion to peacetime industry
had been accomplished. Wartime regulations, therefore, had been kept; food
rationing in 1946 and 1947 was more restrictive than during the war.
Postwar Germany was divided into occupation zones among the USSR, the United
States, Britain, and France, but efforts to reach agreement on a peace treaty
with Germany broke down as it became clear that the USSR was converting all
of Eastern Europe into a Soviet sphere. Britain, assisted by the U.S.-
sponsored Marshall Plan (1948-1952), joined other Western powers and the
United States in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 in
order to counter the Soviet threat. The British government felt less able,
however, to play an independent role in the Middle East, and in 1948 it gave
up its Palestinian mandate, which led to the establishment of Israel and the
first Arab-Israeli War. Aware of Britain’s depleted coffers and sympathetic
toward their nationalist causes, the Labour government granted independence
to India and Pakistan in 1947 and to Burma (now known as Myanmar) and Ceylon
(Sri Lanka) in 1948.
     Conservative Rule (1951-1964) 
Its program of social reform apparently accomplished, the Labour government’s
parliamentary majority was sharply reduced in the general election of 1950,
and the election of 1951 enabled the Conservatives under Winston Churchill to
slip back into power. Except for denationalizing iron and steel, the
Conservatives made no attempt to reverse the legislation or the welfare-state
program enacted by Labour, and the early 1950s brought steady economic
recovery. As income tax rates were reduced and the framework of wartime and
postwar regulation largely dismantled, housing construction boomed and
international trade flourished. With a veteran world statesman heading
Britain’s government, the accession of a young queen drew the attention of
the world to London for the coronation of Elizabeth II in June 1953. During
these years Britain perfected its own atomic and hydrogen bombs and pioneered
in the generation of electricity by nuclear power. Churchill’s hopes for
another diplomatic summit meeting were disappointed, but Stalin’s death in
1953 led to an easing of the Cold War.
     Eden and Macmillan 
Churchill’s successor, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, led his party to a
second election victory in the spring of 1955. In the same year he helped
negotiate an Austrian peace treaty and participated in a summit conference at
Eden’s tenure as prime minister, however, was cut short by the crisis that
followed Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956. British forces
had been withdrawn from the canal only a year earlier, and an Anglo-French
reoccupation in 1956 was halted by Soviet-U.S. pressure. The episode led both
to the loss of much of Britain’s remaining influence in the Middle East and
to Eden’s resignation. His successor, Harold Macmillan, presided over a
period of renewed consumer affluence. In 1959 he led the Conservatives to
their third successive election victory—the fourth time in a row that the
party gained parliamentary seats.
In Africa, Macmillan’s government followed a deliberate policy of
decolonization. The Sudan had already become independent in 1956, and during
the next seven years Ghana, Nigeria, Somalia, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Uganda,
and Kenya followed suit. Most of these states remained members of a highly
decentralized multiracial Commonwealth, but the Union of South Africa,
dominated by a white minority of Boer descent, left the Commonwealth in 1961
and declared itself a republic. Independence was also given to Malaysia,
Cyprus, and Jamaica during Macmillan’s tenure.
Even as imperial ties loosened, tens of thousands of immigrants—especially
from the West Indies and Pakistan—poured into Britain. Their arrival caused
intermittent social strife and led to efforts to limit further immigration
sharply, while ensuring legal equality for the immigrants and their
As Britons turned their attention away from their overseas empire, they
became increasingly aware that their economy, although prospering, was
growing less rapidly than those of their Continental neighbors. In 1961
Macmillan applied for British membership in the European Community (EC), or
Common Market (now called the European Union). Many Britons felt unprepared
to cast their lot with continental Europe, but for the moment their feelings
proved immaterial, because the application was vetoed by President Charles de
Gaulle of France. In 1963 Macmillan was replaced as Conservative prime
minister by Sir Alec Douglas-Home. In the general election of 1964, however,
the latter was narrowly defeated by the Labour Party, headed by Harold
     The Permissive Society 
During the 1960s, Britain experienced a widespread mood of rebellion against
the conventions of the past—in dress, in music, in popular entertainment, and
in social behavior. The phenomenon had its positive consequences in helping
to make “swinging” London a world capital of popular music, theater, and, for
a time, fashion. Among the negative side effects, however, were a rising
crime rate and a spreading drug culture.
Harold Wilson’s Labour government sympathized with some of these trends. It
sought both to expand higher education opportunities and to end a high school
system that separated the academically inclined from other students. During
the later 1960s, laws on divorce were eased, abortion was legalized, curbs on
homosexual practices were ended, capital punishment was abolished, equal pay
for equal work was prescribed for women, and the voting age was lowered from
21 to 18.
In economic life the Labour government became more rigorous. A persistent
trend toward inflation, unfavorable balance of trade, and unbalanced
government budgets led to a wage-and-price freeze in 1966 and attempts
thereafter to secure “severe restraint.” These actions eased certain economic
problems but at the price of alienating many of Labour’s union supporters,
and in 1970 the Conservatives returned to power under Edward Heath.
     Battle Against Inflation 
A major theme of British history since the mid-1960s has been the battle to
eliminate double-digit inflation. Heath’s policy of deliberate economic
expansion did not accomplish that goal, however, and the attempt to curb the
legal powers of labor unions in 1971 evoked a mood of civil disobedience
among union leaders. More working days were lost because of strikes in 1972
than in any year since the general strike of 1926. Heath hoped to solve
economic problems by “floating the pound,” that is, by freeing Britain’s
currency from earlier fixed rates of exchange with other currencies, and by
again seeking British admission to the EC. Britain did join in 1973, and two
years later the first national referendum in British history approved the
step by a 2-1 margin. An attempt by Heath in 1972 and 1973 first to freeze
and then sharply to restrain wage and price increases was defied by the
miners. When Heath appealed to the public in the general election of February
1974, the results were indecisive. A revival in the popular vote of the
Liberal Party, however, enabled Harold Wilson to form a minority Labour
government that lasted five years under his leadership and that of James
     Irish and Scottish Problems 
During the 1970s, successive British governments also faced difficulties in
Ireland and Scotland. A civil rights movement supporting social equality for
the Roman Catholic minority in Northern Ireland clashed violently with
Protestant extremists. In 1969 the British government sent troops to keep
order, and in 1972 it abolished Northern Ireland’s autonomous parliament. A
campaign of terrorism by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) followed; its aim
was to unite Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic in defiance of the
wishes of a majority of the Northern Irish people. British measures gradually
curbed but could not totally halt the wave of bombings and killings in
Northern Ireland and England. In Scotland, a Scottish Nationalist Party
scored impressive gains in the elections of 1974, and Callaghan’s ministry
attempted to set up a semi-independent parliament in Edinburgh. When only 33
percent of the Scottish electorate supported the plan in a 1979 referendum,
the project died, at least temporarily.
     Economic Woes Under Labour  
The Labour government of 1974 to 1979 began by ending all legal restrictions
on wage and price rises, but after the annual inflation rate topped 25
percent in 1975, the government did succeed in obtaining some trade union
restraints on wage claims in return for an end to some voluntary restraints
on wage claims; the inflation rate declined somewhat between 1976 and 1979.
In return, union leaders demanded an end to legal restraints on union power
and more government subsidies for housing and other social services. By the
late 1970s, British politics seemed to be polarizing between left-wing
Labourites, who sought an ever larger role for the state in order to impose
social equality, and Conservatives, who hoped to restore a greater role to
private enterprise and individual achievement. By the beginning of 1979,
Callaghan’s government was dependent on two minor parties. A winter of labor
unrest undercut his claims to be able to deal successfully with the unions,
and a vote of no confidence in March 1979 went against him.
     The Thatcher Decade 
In the elections of April 1979 the Conservatives, led by Margaret Thatcher,
emerged with a substantial majority of parliamentary seats and with the first
woman prime minister in British or European history. She was to remain in
office for the next 11 years, making hers the longest continuous prime
ministership since the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Thatcher’s first years were difficult. She sought to halt inflation by a
policy of high interest rates and government budget cuts, rather than of wage
and price freezes. By 1981 and 1982 those policies were showing some success,
but only at the cost of the highest unemployment rates since the 1930s. The
government was jolted in April 1982 when Argentina forcibly occupied the
Falkland Islands, a British-held archipelago in the South Atlantic that
Argentina had long claimed. When U.S. mediation efforts failed, Thatcher sent
a British counterinvasion fleet, and in June that force succeeded in
recapturing the islands.
The decisive Conservative victories in the elections of June 1983 and June
1987 were the consequence not only of widespread popular support for the
government’s Falklands policy, but also of a sharp division in the ranks of
the political opposition. In 1980 a group of Labour Party members headed by
Roy Jenkins and David Owen broke away and in 1981 formed the Social
Democratic Party. The new party joined with the Liberals to constitute an
influential alliance that ultimately won relatively few parliamentary seats
but did garner 25 percent of the total popular vote in 1983 and 23 percent in
1987 (compared to 28 and 31 percent for Labour and 42 percent in both
elections for the Conservatives).
The years between 1982 and 1988 were economic boom years in Britain. The
living standards of most Britons rose and the rate of unemployment gradually
ebbed. British industries became more efficient, and London maintained its
role as one of the world’s top three centers of finance. The economic role of
government declined as Thatcher promoted privatization—the turning over to
private investors of government monopolies such as British Airways, the
telephone service, and the distribution of gas and water. Public housing
tenants were strongly
********************************************************ble-digit inflation,
the enactment of an unpopular “poll tax” (as a substitute for local
government real estate taxes), and the alienation of some members of her
cabinet over the prime minister’s increasingly critical attitude toward
cooperation with her EC colleagues.
     John Major 
Thatcher was succeeded as Conservative Party leader and prime minister by
John Major, who continued Thatcher’s policy of maintaining close ties with
the United States. British troops fought as part of the multinational
coalition led by the United States in the Persian Gulf War (1991). In 1992,
despite an economic recession, Major led his party to victory in the April
general elections, though with a reduced majority. Opposition leader Neil
Kinnock, who had gradually moved his Labour Party back from the left toward
the ideological center, resigned after the election. Following the
Conservatives’ election victory, Major’s government faced a growing financial
crisis as the pound weakened in the currency market, inflation and
unemployment grew, and the nation entered a recession. As a result, Major
received the lowest approval rating, 14 percent, of any prime minister in
British history.
One of John Major’s main accomplishments in office occurred in 1993, when he
was instrumental in opening a dialogue between the British government and the
Irish Republican Army (IRA). Major and Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds
issued a statement requiring the IRA to cease terrorist activities for three
months, after which time Sinn Fein, the organization’s political wing, would
be invited to join talks on the future of Northern Ireland. In August 1994
the IRA announced a cease-fire, bringing to a halt the violence that is
estimated to have killed more than 3000 people in the previous 25 years. In
May 1995 representatives from the British government and the IRA met face-to-
face for the first time in 23 years.
Despite this breakthrough, the Conservative Party continued to lose ground.
Though beset by low opinion polls, large defeats in local elections in April
and May 1995, and a series of scandals, its most serious problem was the
growing rift within the party over policy toward Europe and the European
Union (EU). Many Conservatives felt that closer British relations with the EU
would undermine British sovereignty, and the constant internal conflict over
this issue severely damaged the party. In July 1995, in an attempt to
solidify the party, John Major resigned as leader of the Conservatives,
forcing an election for a new leader. Major won against an anti-European
opponent, but one-third of the party voted against him or abstained.
Dissatisfaction with the progress of the Northern Ireland talks led the IRA
to resume its campaign of violence in February 1996 by setting off a large
bomb in London that injured more than 100 people.
In March and April of 1996 the government disclosed that a link may exist
between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, commonly known as mad cow
disease), an infection that had been found in some British cattle, and
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a degenerative human brain disorder. This
disclosure led the European Union to ban British beef, which devastated the
British cattle industry, further damaging the Conservatives’ popularity. In
April the Conservatives suffered a substantial loss in local parliamentary
elections to the opposition Labour Party, headed by Tony Blair. This loss
trimmed the Conservative parliamentary majority to just one seat.
During the second half of 1996 and early 1997 Major struggled to regain
support for his party, but was unsuccessful. The split within the party over
the issue of European relations, most specifically the question as to whether
the economic and monetary union (EMU) proposed by the European Union would
damage the British economy, continued to widen. In national elections in May
1997 the Conservatives were swept out of office in a landslide. The Labour
Party won almost 45 percent of the vote and came away with 419 seats and a
179-seat majority in the House of Commons. The Conservatives had their worst
showing in over 150 years, receiving about 33 percent of the vote and losing
almost half of their seats, to finish with 165. Labour leader Tony Blair
became prime minister, and after the election, John Major announced that he
would resign as head of the Conservative Party as soon as a replacement could
be found.