19th Century Politics: Britain
Anyhow, let’s start at the beginning… of the 1800s… Great Britain adds a Ireland to its union, which meant that the United Kingdom now consisted of England, Scotland, AND Ireland
Through the Acts of Union, Irish representatives would now sit in the House of Lords and House of Commons, the legislative portion of the British Government. Yet, many Irish boroughs, or small counties, were left out of this process… which, as you can imagine made them… less than happy. (am I allowed to do an Irish accent here? No? ughk)
This all took place under the tenure of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, the youngest Prime Minister ever (he was 24 when he took office). Under his guidance, the Abolition of the Slave Trade gained momentum and, eventually, the Trade would be abolished by the The Slave Trade Act of 1807… the year after Pitt died.
Also during this time, France was rising from the ashes of the Revolution and had new leadership in the form of Napoleon Bonaparté (Ha! I did get an accent!) Napoleon wanted to expand the influence and domain of France to what it had been during the Reign of Louis XIV… but the British were like, “nah bro”. And numerous battles took place on the continent and at sea following Britian’s declaration of war in 1803. These Napoleonic wars continued until the Battle of Warterloo in June of 1815, which resulted in a largely defeated French force and the eventual exile of Napoleon.
And as if Britain didn’t have enough going on there, they were also at war with, you guessed it, ‘Murica. The War of 1812 (creative name, that) was a war lasting about 3 years from 1812-1815 and revolved around the land and water rights north and south of the former Colonies. Basically, it was squabbling over the Canadian borderlines, fishing rights, and American Expansionism. Native American tribes were funded by the Brits to keep the growing American nation at bay, and they also impressed (or made join the Navy) Americans who were born British. Obviously not cool if you don’t want anything to do with fighting against the French in Europe.
Now, on to one of my favorite topics…… Monarchy, God save the Queen (no, I won’t say it normal… can’t make me). So, during this century, there were only four British Monarchs. King George III, who, by this point, was crazy, senile, depressed, or some combination thereof had his son rule as regent (basically this is done when a crowned monarch is not able to perform daily duties safely or in right mind). In 1820, George III died, and his son became King George IV. George IV led an extravagant lifestyle that ran up the debts of the nation already struggling to keep a balanced checkbook after multiple wars. His coronation party was 20 times more expensive than his father’s had been. He became massively obese and was known for adulterous relationships. Political Satirists had a field day with his overly indulgent lifestyle and lack of political prowess. George IV, would only reign for 10 years and his final years were spent in pain and duress from tumors and other physical maladies.
George’s brother, William IV succeeded him on the throne and carried a very different temperament. William worked far harder than his older brother, and Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley is said to have done more business with William in ten minutes than he did with George in ten days. The political environment that William entered upon his coronation (even before that officially happened), consisted of two factions of very opposite convictions. He was immediately caught between the reformers and traditionalists… Prime Minister Arthur Weasley, no, I mean Wellesley, Arthur Wellesley, moved to not change anything, or at least to be really careful… but America and France had both had revolutions that radically changed the formation of government, and Parliament argued that more people needed better representation and the right the vote. This led to the passage of The Reform Act of 1832, which meant 8 English counties and 3 Welsh counties each received an additional representative.
Yorkshire, which was represented by four MPs before the Act was given an extra two MPs
22 large towns were given two MPs.
Another 21 towns (of which two were in Wales) were given one MP.
So, quite a change, and for awhile, people didn’t love King William because they felt he represented the old ways of Tradition too greatly. Other notable events during his reign:
- The Abolition of Slavery (happened right after he died)
- The Factory Act (or child labour law)
- The Poor Law (having to do with the homeless and poor)
William IV endeavored to live past his niece’s 18th birthday so that she might not have to reign as regent… and he succeeded, dying one month after she turned of age. Thus, in June of 1837, Victoria anointed and crowned Queen! But seriously, from here on out, all 19th Century British political history becomes Victorian, so it’s a pretty big deal.
So, now to cram in 60 years of political history into the next minute.
The Victorian Era is typically associated with reform and progress. Shortly after being crowned Queen, Victoria proceeded with the marriage which had been planned since her infancy (because… arranged marriages) to Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (which were various parts of Germany). The two were happy together and would eventually have 9 children.
In politics, Victoria presided over 20 changes in Prime Minister with which I’ll not bored you now. But I do want talk about the industrialization that occurred during the Victorian Era, as it influenced much of the politics and reforms.
- In 1838 London-Birmingham line opens and the railway boom begins.
- Uniform postage… the system was a mess an prone to abuse, so 1 cent stamps were standardized for any letter… soon, nearly 350 million letters were sent annually
- Vaccinations were made available to all children.
- Interchangeable parts become popular in manufacturing
- 1881 Electric bulbs become mass marketed
- Paper became mass produced, as did pencils
- Metal replaced wood in ship building
- Bicycles were popularized
- Telegraph lines connected all continents (except Antarctica… because)
The increase of policies meant to help the poor, protect workers, and improve the lives of many continued throughout Victoria’s Reign. England enjoyed relative peace at the height of its influence, though the Crimean War and the Indian Rebellion of 1857 were exceptions to this. The Crimean War was to prevent Russia from annexing areas of the Middle-East, whilst the Indian Rebellion was due in large part to poor management and oppression on the part of the East India Trading Company.
After about 20 years of marriage, Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, died from was likely typhoid fever, and she fell into a few years of depression, during which she relied heavily on a Scottish manservant named John Brown. This has continued to be speculated upon and discussed and even is the subject of a movie. But I’m not going to spend time on what didn’t or did happen, because we don’t really know, since the Queen’s journal of it was burned.
And there you have it, the political history of 19th Politics in Great Britain… in under ten minutes
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