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A Global Power

Constitutional Monarchy and the Bill of Rights

During the coronation of William and Mary, a Declaration of Rights was announced. It established that the king could no longer impose taxes or administer justice without Parliament's agreement. This permanently altered the balance of power between the monarch and Parliament. The Bill of Rights, introduced in 1689, further solidified the rights of Parliament and placed limits on the king's authority. Parliament gained the authority to determine who could become the monarch and stipulated that the ruler must be Protestant. Additionally, a new Parliament had to be elected at least every three years (later extended to seven years and now five years). Each year, the monarch needed to request Parliament's approval to fund the army and navy.
These changes meant that the monarch needed advisers, known as ministers, to secure majority votes in the House of Commons and the House of Lords in order to govern effectively. Two main political groups emerged in Parliament: the Whigs and the Tories. The Tories are sometimes still referred to as the Conservative Party. This marked the beginning of party politics.
The period also saw significant developments in the freedom of the press. Starting from 1695, newspapers were permitted to operate without a government license. This led to an increase in the number of newspapers being published.
The laws passed after the Glorious Revolution laid the foundation for what is known as "constitutional monarchy." While the monarch retained importance, they could no longer impose policies or actions without Parliament's consent. Over time, ministers gained more influence than the monarch, but it was not yet a modern democracy. The right to vote was limited to a small number of people, mostly men who owned a certain amount of property. Women had no voting rights. Some constituencies were controlled by wealthy families, referred to as "pocket boroughs," while others had few voters and were known as "rotten boroughs."

Population Growth

During this period, many people migrated from Britain and Ireland to establish new colonies in America and other regions, while others immigrated to live in Britain. In 1656, the first Jews to settle in Britain since the Middle Ages arrived in London. Between 1680 and 1720, a significant number of Huguenots, who were Protestant refugees persecuted for their religion, came from France. These Huguenots were often highly educated and skilled, and they contributed to various fields such as science, banking, and crafts like weaving.

The Act of Union in Scotland

After William and Mary, Queen Anne became the successor, but she had no surviving children. This raised concerns about the succession in England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. In 1707, the Act of Union, also known as the Treaty of Union in Scotland, was established. This created the Kingdom of Great Britain, merging England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Although Scotland lost its status as an independent country, it retained its own legal and education systems, as well as the Presbyterian Church.

The Prime Minister

After the death of Queen Anne in 1714, Parliament selected George I, a German prince and Anne's closest Protestant relative, as the next king. A Scottish Jacobite attempt to place James II's son on the throne was swiftly defeated. George I faced a language barrier as he did not speak English fluently, which led to increased reliance on his ministers. The most significant minister in Parliament came to be known as the Prime Minister. The first person to hold this title was Sir Robert Walpole, who served as Prime Minister from 1721 to 1742.

The Jacobite Rebellion

In 1745, there was another effort to restore a Stuart king to the throne instead of George I's son, George II. Charles Edward Stuart, commonly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie and the grandson of James II, arrived in Scotland. He received support from Scottish highland clansmen and raised an army. Although Charles initially achieved some victories, he was ultimately defeated by George II's army at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Charles managed to escape back to Europe.
Following Culloden, the clans lost much of their power and influence. Chieftains became landlords with the favor of the English king, while clansmen became tenants who had to pay rent for the land they used.
This period marked the beginning of the "Highland Clearances." Many Scottish landlords cleared individual small farms, known as "crofts," to make way for large herds of sheep and cattle. Evictions became prevalent in the early 19th century, and numerous Scottish people migrated to North America during this time.

Robert Burns (1759-1796)

Known as "The Bard" in Scotland, Robert Burns was a Scottish poet who wrote in the Scots language, a blend of English with Scottish words, as well as in standard English. He also modified and added lyrics to traditional folk songs. One of his most famous works is the song "Auld Lang Syne," which is sung during New Year's celebrations in the UK and other countries (known as Hogmanay in Scotland).

The Enlightenment

In the 18th century, a period known as the Enlightenment, new ideas emerged in politics, philosophy, and science. Many influential thinkers of the Enlightenment were Scottish. Adam Smith developed economic theories that are still referenced today, and David Hume's ideas about human nature continue to impact philosophy. Scientific discoveries, such as James Watt's work on steam power, contributed to the advancements of the Industrial Revolution. A fundamental principle of the Enlightenment was the belief in individuals' rights to their own political and religious beliefs, with the state refraining from dictating them. This principle remains significant in the UK today.

The Industrial Revolution

Prior to the 18th century, agriculture was the primary source of employment in Britain. Cottage industries were prevalent, where people worked from home to produce goods like cloth and lace.

The Industrial Revolution refers to the rapid growth of industry in Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries. Britain was the first country to experience large-scale industrialization. This transformation was fueled by the development of machinery and the utilization of steam power. Both agriculture and manufacturing became mechanized, leading to increased efficiency and production. The establishment of new factories required resources like coal and other raw materials. As a result, many individuals left rural areas to work in the mining and manufacturing industries.
The invention of the Bessemer process revolutionized steel production, enabling mass production of steel. This breakthrough had a significant impact on industries such as shipbuilding and railways. The demand for steel increased, leading to the growth of these sectors. Consequently, manufacturing jobs became the primary source of employment in Britain.

Richard Arkwright (1732-1792)

Richard Arkwright, born in 1732, initially worked as a barber and specialized in hair dyeing and wig-making. When wigs became less popular, he turned to the textile industry. He made significant improvements to the carding machine, which prepares fibers for spinning into yarn and fabric. Arkwright also introduced horse-driven spinning mills that utilized a single machine, enhancing production efficiency. Later on, he incorporated steam engines to power his machinery. Arkwright is well-remembered for his effective and profitable management of factories.
The development of better transportation infrastructure was essential for transporting raw materials and finished goods. Canals were constructed to connect factories with towns, cities, and ports, particularly in the emerging industrial regions of the middle and northern England.
Working conditions during the Industrial Revolution were extremely poor. There were no protective labor laws, resulting in long working hours and hazardous environments. Children were also employed and treated as adults, often facing even harsher conditions.
This era also witnessed increased colonization of overseas territories. Captain James Cook mapped the Australian coastline, leading to the establishment of colonies there. Britain gained control over Canada, while the East India Company, originally established for trade, acquired significant territories in India. Colonies were also established in southern Africa.
Britain engaged in global trade and began importing various goods. North America and the West Indies supplied sugar and tobacco, while textiles, tea, and spices came from India and present-day Indonesia. Britain's extensive trading and colonial presence sometimes resulted in conflicts with other countries, notably France, which pursued similar expansion and trade in many shared regions.

Sake Dean Mahomet (1759-1851)

Sake Dean Mahomet was born in 1759 in the Bengal region of India. He served in the Bengal army and arrived in Britain in 1782. Later, he moved to Ireland and eloped with an Irish woman named Jane Daly in 1786. They returned to England at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1810, Mahomet opened the Hindoostane Coffee House on George Street in London, which was the first curry house in Britain. Mahomet and his wife also introduced the Indian practice of head massage, known as "shampooing," to Britain.

The Slave Trade

During this time, Britain and the American colonies played a major role in the slave trade, despite slavery being illegal within Britain itself. Slaves were forcibly taken from West Africa and transported on British ships under inhumane conditions to work on tobacco and sugar plantations in America and the Caribbean. The slaves endured terrible living and working conditions, leading to attempts to escape and revolts against their owners.
However, there were individuals and groups in Britain who opposed the slave trade. The Quakers, a religious group, established the first anti-slavery organizations and petitioned Parliament to ban the practice. William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian and Member of Parliament, played a significant role in changing the law. Together with other abolitionists, they successfully shifted public opinion against the slave trade. In 1807, trading slaves on British ships or from British ports became illegal, and in 1833, the Emancipation Act abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. The Royal Navy also intervened by intercepting slave ships from other countries, liberating the slaves, and punishing the slave traders.
After the abolition of slavery, around 2 million Indian and Chinese workers were brought in to replace the freed slaves. They were employed on sugar plantations in the Caribbean, in South African mines, on railways in East Africa, and in the military in Kenya.

The American War of Independence

In the 1760s, there were British colonies in North America that were prosperous and had a significant degree of self-governance. The colonists, who had migrated to America seeking religious freedom, were well-educated and valued ideas of liberty. When the British government attempted to impose taxes on the colonies, the colonists saw it as an infringement on their freedom and demanded representation in the British Parliament. Despite some attempts at compromise, tensions between the British government and the colonists escalated, leading to armed conflict. In 1776, the American colonies declared their independence, asserting the right to establish their own governments. Eventually, the colonists defeated the British army, and in 1783, Britain recognized the independence of the American colonies.

War with France

Throughout the 18th century, Britain engaged in several wars with France. In 1789, a revolution took place in France, and the newly formed French government declared war on Britain. Under the leadership of Napoleon, who became Emperor of France, the war continued. The British navy, led by Admiral Nelson, faced the combined French and Spanish fleets and achieved a decisive victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Although Admiral Nelson lost his life in the battle, he is commemorated by Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London. The British army also fought against the French, and in 1815, the French Wars concluded with the defeat of Napoleon by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo. The Duke of Wellington, also known as the Iron Duke, later served as Prime Minister.
The Battle of Trafalgar, fought on October 21, 1805, was a significant naval engagement between the British Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French Navy and Spanish Navy.

The Union Flag

The Union Flag, often referred to as the Union Jack, is the official flag of the United Kingdom. It symbolizes the union between England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. In 1801, Ireland joined England, Scotland, and Wales through the Act of Union, forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The Union Flag combines the crosses of St George, St Andrew, and St Patrick, representing England, Scotland, and Ireland, respectively. The flag has a red cross on a white ground for St George, a diagonal white cross on a blue ground for St Andrew, and a diagonal red cross on a white ground for St Patrick. The Union Flag represents the unity of these nations and is still used as the official flag of the UK today.

The Welsh Flag

Wales, as part of the Union, is not represented on the Union Flag. However, Wales has its own official flag, which features a Welsh dragon. The Welsh dragon is not included in the Union Flag because when the first Union Flag was created in 1606, Wales was already united with England. Therefore, the Union Flag combines the crosses of St George, St Andrew, and St Patrick, but does not include the Welsh dragon.

The Victorian Age

Queen Victoria ascended to the throne of the United Kingdom in 1837 at the age of 18, and her reign lasted until 1901. This period is known as the Victorian Age. During her reign, Britain experienced a significant increase in power and influence worldwide. The British Empire expanded to include territories in India, Australia, and large parts of Africa, making it the largest empire in history, with a population of over 400 million people.
Within the UK, the Victorian era saw the rising significance of the middle classes. Many reformers worked to improve the living conditions of the poor and enact social reforms. It was a time of social and industrial changes, with advancements in technology and the growth of cities.

Immigration and the British Empire

The Victorian era also saw significant immigration movements. Many British citizens left the country to settle in overseas territories, with approximately 13 million people emigrating between 1853 and 1913. At the same time, people from other parts of the world, such as Russian and Polish Jews fleeing persecution, came to Britain. Additionally, individuals from the British Empire, including India and Africa, immigrated to Britain for work, education, and residence. This diversity contributed to the cultural fabric of Victorian society.

Trade and Industry

During the Victorian era, Britain maintained its position as a major trading nation. The government implemented policies promoting free trade, including the repeal of taxes on imported goods. For instance, the Corn Laws, which restricted the import of inexpensive grain, were abolished in 1846. These reforms supported the growth of British industries by allowing the importation of affordable raw materials.
As the era progressed, working conditions in factories gradually improved. In 1847, legislation limited the working hours for women and children to 10 hours per day. Efforts were also made to provide better housing for workers.
Transportation infrastructure saw significant advancements, facilitating the movement of goods and people throughout the country. The Victorian period witnessed the pioneering work of George and Robert Stephenson, who developed the railway engine. This led to a major expansion of the railway network, both within Britain and across the British Empire. Engineers like Isambard Kingdom Brunel played a crucial role in constructing bridges and other impressive structures.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859)

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, born in Portsmouth, England, was a renowned engineer known for his construction of tunnels, bridges, railway lines, and ships. One of his notable achievements was the Great Western Railway, the first major railway in Britain. Stretching from London's Paddington Station to the southwest of England, the West Midlands, and Wales, it remains an important rail route. Many of Brunel's bridges, including the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge spanning the Avon Gorge, are still in use today.
During the 19th century, British industry led the world. The UK was a major producer of iron, coal, and cotton cloth, accounting for over half of global production. It also became a hub for financial services, including insurance and banking. In 1851, the Great Exhibition took place in London's Hyde Park within the Crystal Palace, a remarkable structure made of steel and glass. The exhibition showcased a wide range of exhibits, from large machinery to handmade goods. While countries worldwide displayed their products, the majority of items were manufactured in Britain.

The Crimean War

The Crimean War, occurring from 1853 to 1856, saw Britain, alongside Turkey and France, engage in conflict with Russia. It was the first war extensively covered by the media, with news stories and photographs documenting the events. The war took a toll on soldiers due to poor conditions, and many lost their lives to illnesses contracted in hospitals rather than from combat injuries. Queen Victoria introduced the Victoria Cross medal during this war to honor acts of bravery by soldiers.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Florence Nightingale, born in Italy to English parents, became a pioneering figure in the field of nursing. At the age of 31, she received training as a nurse in Germany. In 1854, during the Crimean War, Nightingale went to Turkey and worked in military hospitals, where she made significant improvements in healthcare practices and reduced the mortality rate. Alongside her team of nurses, she transformed the conditions in the hospitals. In 1860, Nightingale established the Nightingale Training School for nurses at St Thomas' Hospital in London, the first of its kind. The school still exists today, and many of the principles and practices introduced by Nightingale continue to shape modern nursing. She is widely regarded as the founder of modern nursing.

Ireland in the 19th century

Conditions in Ireland during the 19th century were challenging compared to the rest of the UK. The majority of the population, two-thirds of it, relied on farming, often on small plots of land. Potatoes were a staple food for many. However, in the mid-19th century, the potato crop failed, leading to a devastating famine in Ireland. Approximately one million people died from disease and starvation, and another one and a half million emigrated, with many going to the United States or settling in England. Cities like Liverpool, London, Manchester, and Glasgow saw large populations of Irish immigrants by 1861.
Throughout the 19th century, the Irish Nationalist movement gained strength. Various factions held differing views on Ireland's relationship with the UK. Some, like the Fenians, advocated for complete independence, while others, like Charles Stuart Parnell, campaigned for "Home Rule," which would grant Ireland its own parliament while remaining part of the UK.

The right to vote

During the 19th century, as the middle class gained influence, there was a growing demand for expanded political power. The Reform Act of 1832 extended voting rights to more people and eliminated corrupt parliamentary boroughs. However, voting was still restricted to property owners, excluding the working class.
The Chartists, a movement advocating for the rights of working-class and property-less individuals, campaigned for universal suffrage and presented petitions to Parliament. While their early efforts were unsuccessful, another Reform Act was passed in 1867. This act increased the number of parliamentary seats for urban areas and reduced the property ownership requirement for voting. Nevertheless, the majority of men remained without the right to vote, and women were completely excluded.
To secure votes, political parties recognized the need to engage with ordinary voters and began organizing outreach efforts. The pursuit of universal suffrage, which would grant every adult, regardless of gender, the right to vote, continued into the next century.
Women in 19th century Britain had fewer rights than men, and upon marriage, their earnings and property automatically belonged to their husbands until 1870. Acts of Parliament in 1870 and 1882 granted wives the right to retain their earnings and property. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women increasingly campaigned and demonstrated for greater rights, including the right to vote. They formed the women's suffrage movement and became known as "suffragettes."

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)

Emmeline Pankhurst, born in Manchester in 1858, was a prominent figure in the fight for women's suffrage in the UK. She founded the Women's Franchise League in 1889, advocating for married women's voting rights in local elections. In 1903, she co-founded the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), whose members were known as suffragettes. The suffragettes employed civil disobedience tactics, such as chaining themselves to railings, breaking windows, and even committing arson, to demand voting rights for women. Pankhurst and other suffragettes went on hunger strikes to protest their treatment. In 1918, women over the age of 30 were granted the right to vote and stand for Parliament, with further progress made in 1928 when women gained equal voting rights with men at the age of 21.

The Future of the Empire

The British Empire continued to expand until the 1920s, but there were debates about its future direction as early as the late 19th century. Supporters of expansion believed that the Empire brought economic benefits through increased trade and commerce. However, others argued that the Empire had become too large and that conflicts in various parts, like the north-west frontier of India or southern Africa, were draining resources. Despite these discussions, the majority of British people viewed the Empire as a positive global force.
The Boer War, which took place from 1899 to 1902 in South Africa between the British and the Boer settlers of Dutch origin, intensified the debates about the Empire's future. The war was prolonged and resulted in significant casualties from both sides. Public sympathy for the Boers led to questioning of the sustainability of the Empire. Over time, different parts of the Empire gained greater freedom and autonomy from Britain. In the second half of the 20th century, a peaceful transition occurred, with many former colonies gaining independence and becoming part of the Commonwealth.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Rudyard Kipling, born in India in 1865, was a renowned author and poet who lived in various countries including India, the UK, and the USA. He wrote extensively on the themes of imperialism and the British Empire. Kipling's works portrayed the Empire as a force for good, reflecting the prevailing attitudes of the time. In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his exceptional storytelling and literary contributions. Some of his notable works include "The Jungle Book" and the "Just So Stories," which remain popular to this day. One of his most famous poems, "If," has consistently been ranked among the UK's favorite poems. The opening lines of the poem are as follows:

      ‘If you can keep your head when all about you
    • Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
    • If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    • But make allowance for their doubting too;
    • If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    • Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    • Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    • And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise’
    • (If, Rudyard Kipling)

Make Sure You Understand

  • The change in the balance of power between Parliament and the monarchy
  • When and why Scotland joined England and Wales to become Great Britain
  • The reasons for a rebellion in Scotland led by Bonnie Prince Charlie
  • The ideas of the Enlightenment
  • The importance of the Industrial Revolution and development of industry
  • The slave trade and when it was abolished
  • The growth of the British Empire
  • How democracy developed during this period