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Queen Victoria's accession to the throne


Queen Victoria's accession to the throne

During the reign of William IV (1830-1837) there were a lot of reforms:

  1. The Reform Act (1832) with which he redistributed seats on a more equitable basis in country, and extended the franchise to male house-holder in property worth 10 a year or more.
  2. The Factory Act (1833) that prevented children from being employed more than forty-eight hours a week and no person under eighteen could work more than sixty-nine hours a week.
  3. Ten Hours' Act (1847) limited the adults' work to ten hours a day.
  4. Poor Law Amendment Act (1834) refused outdoor relief to those people who could not support themselves by admitting them to a workhouse.

When William IV died, he was succeeded by Victoria (1837-1901). This reign was based on progress, imperialism expansion. This period was called Victori 414g66e an era, and the exemplary family life of the queen, the code of behaviour was called "Victorianism". The first decade of Victoria's reign was based on two political tendency: the liberal campaign for free trade and the birth of Chartism. The Tory Prime Minister Robert Peel was forced by the scarcity of food and the Irish potato famine to repeal the Corn Laws. "Chartism" was a working-class movement which came from popular discontent. In 1838 Fergus O'Connor, the People's Charter, organised a programme based on six points: universal adult male suffrage, equal electoral districts, the right for a man without property to be an MP, secret ballot, annual general election and payment of members of parliament. All these points were refused. The Britain industries and economy was very efficient but the factory legislation was far from being sufficient. Liberal Lord Palmerston thought that tyrannies blocked free trade.

(9.2) The later years of Queen Victoria's reign

After Palmerston's death, English policy was dominated by two Conservatives, Disraeli and Salisbury, and a Liberal, Gladstone. When Gladstone became prime minister, he tried to solve Irish problem by sanctioning the equality of all religions in the island and by creating a system of peasant proprietorship, in order to prevent an agrarian revolt. In Ireland bore a nationalistic movement, that asked for the self-government, but without success. In 1870 the Elementary Education Act recognised the need for primary instruction; in 1872 the Ballot Act assured the secret vote. During these years the number of voters increased and other social reforms took place to clear the slums, to improve public health (Public Health Act in 1875) and to facilitate trade unionism. The Fabian Society, an association of middle class men and intellectuals, organised the "Labour Representation Conference", held in London in 1900. In 1906 this society became the Labour Party. Another association was the Women's Social and Political Union, whose adherents were called "suffragettes", that asked for women's right of vote.

(9.3) The British Empire

British colonial expansion, after the loss of the American colonies, began in the 1830s, with the "Opium War"(1839-1842), a war fought by Britain (and Coleridge) against China, in order to protect commercial trade. After this war Britain obtained 5 Chinese ports and the control of Hong Kong. During the 1850s Britain faced Russian expansion in Asia, with the war in the Crimea (1853-1856). Russia wanted to destroy the Ottoman Empire but Britain supported Turkey, to maintain the balance of power in Europe. Britain was also supported by France and Sardinia. Russia was defeated but lost no territory. In 1857 a revolt broke out in India, because British occupation of India had completely changed local life by destroying the bonds of loyalty between native rulers and their subjects, by redistributing the land into new administrative units and by imposing the English way of life. The revolt was put down and in 1877 Queen Victoria became "Empress of India". In 1882 Egyptian nationalists brought down their ruler and so Britain to protect his trades, invaded Egypt. In 1884 Britain invaded also Sudan. From 1899 to 1902 there was a war in South Africa, for the control of gold and diamonds, between Britain and Dutch settlers, the Boers. Britain won the war after great difficulties; this war made Britain unpopular in the world and also at home. During the Victorian Age most citizen thought that imperial expansion would absorb too much goods, capital and population, but they were proud of their empire. This attitude was called "Jingoism".

(9.4) A nation of town dwellers

During the 19th century in England there was a great growth of population and people lived in small towns, rather than in the major cities. Victorian cities were horrible, with their massive size, their industries and the extreme density of population. The expansion of trade and industrialism brought much wealth only to the upper and middle classes, leaving poor people in his misery. There was also the growth of a very large lower middle class, due to the new forms of economy such as banking system, insurance, the profession and public service. In the second half of the century there was an increase of wages and a fall of food prices. In the factories women and children were still exploited and workers conditions hadn't changed at all.

(9.5) The urban habitat

In Victorian cities poor people lived in the slums, appalling quarters characterised by squalor, disease and crime. Death rate was high and polluted atmospheres had a disastrous effect on health. In this period became organised campaigns against national ills, like cholera and tuberculosis. Professional medical organisations were founded, following Florence Nigthingale's example, and there were also a development in nursing and pharmacy techniques, with the creation of modern hospitals. Overcrowding was another great problem in Victorian cities. In the end of the 19th century town living conditions improved with the development of trams and trains and the introduction of services such as running water, gas, lighting, paved roads and places of entertainment. Other Victorian institutions were prisons, hospitals, police stations, boarding schools, town halls and mental hospitals (in the old workhouses). Police stations were built close to the poorer parts of the cities, in order to control with the creation of Bobbies (the Metropolitan Police) the most dangerous parts of the towns. Discipline was severe and involved corporal punishments. Public executions continued until 1868.

(9.6) The Victorian compromise

Victorian men were great moralists, the idea of respectability dominated all society. They believed that material progress would emerge from hard work. Respectability was a mixture of morality, hypocrisy, severity and conformity to social standards. It implied the possession of good manners, a comfortable house with servants and a carriage, regular attendance at church and charitable activity (philanthropy was a characteristic of this age). Bourgeois ideals dominated family life: family was a patriarchal unity where the husband had the dominant role and his wife had to obey him, in managing domestics works and in educating children. Sexuality was repressed by extreme and bigot Puritanism. Patriotism was very spread and influenced by ideas of racial superiority: British race was superior and had the obligation given by God to spread their way of life, their institutions, law, politics on native people all over the world. This attitude was called "Jingoism".

(9.7) The Victorian frame of mind

In Victorian period there were some new religious and philosophical movements. One of them was the religious movement of Evangelism, that influenced the extreme moralist attitude upon life conduct. It was inspired by John Wesley, whose principals teachings were:

The need to bring enthusiasm and engagement into the established church.

The dedication to humanitarian causes and social reforms.

The obedience to a strict and bigot code of morality.

The importance of the Bible reading and praying at home.

Another movement was Utilitarianism, based on Jeremy Bentham's principles. It said:

Man's actions are driven by the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.

All institutions should be tested with reason and common sense, in order to understand their utility to provide material happiness for people.

Religious belief is an old-fashioned superstition.

This movement suited middle classes' interests with the idea that every problem could be solved with reason. Another thinker was John Stuart Mill, that said in contrast with Utilitarianism:

  • Happiness is a state of mind and of the spirit, not only a search for selfish pleasure.
  • Legislation should help men in developing their natural talents and personalities.
  • Good society: a free interplay of human character creates the greatest variety.
  • Progress come from mental energy. Art and education have a great importance.
  • A long series of reforms are necessary.

In the middle part of Victorian age, scientific discoveries began to disturb the old theory of the universe seen as stable and transparent to the intellect. The new scientific view of the universe was that it changes incessantly and it's governed by the laws of chance.

An important scientist was Charles Darwin, who presented in this period his theories of natural selection and evolution:

All living creatures have taken their forms through a slow process of change and adaptation in a struggle for survival.

Favourable physical conditions determine the survival of a species, unfavourable ones its extinction.

Man evolved like the other animals, from less highly organised forms, namely from an ape-like mammal.

Darwin's theories discarded the bigot version of creation given by the fucked church in the fucked bible, but on the other hand were supported by Herbert Spencer, that applied his ideas to social life, thinking that economic competition was the same that natural selection, where only the strongest survived and the weakest were defeated. This theories led to the idea that poor and oppressed people didn't deserve any compassion. British bigots replied to these new theories by returning to the ancient doctrines and rituals; this movement of revival was headed by the cardinal John Henry Newman, which founded the "Oxford Movement". Other thinkers protested against the harm caused by industrialism in man's life and in the environment. The supreme Companion Karl Marx, in the Capital exposed his theories, elaborated after a research carried out in England. His works influenced some English writers: William Morris theorised a society based on the simplicity and the beauty of the Middle Ages and thought that only a massive movement of workers could solve the problems of industrial society; Matthew Arnold assigned the task of regeneration to English literature, finding a close link between the way people live and think and the way they respond to literature.

Victorian Literature

During the Victorian age, literature had penetrated into the big and various new middle class, that borrowed books from circulating libraries and also read a lot of peridicals.


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