The Age of Elegance (Georgian Britain) History of British Social and Culture Week 8 By Yusuf Kurniawan, SS, MA
It was so named because England was ruled by King George I, George II and George III
It was the time of great beauty in music, fashion, architecture and art. But it was also a time of great scientific discovery and invention, coupled with the emergence of the Industrial Revolution dramatically changed the British way of life.
Queen Anne and Georgian Britain
The commence of Georgian Britain was signified with death of Queen Anne.
She got pregnant many times (17x) but none of her children survived childhood.
She finally died in 1714 without leaving an heir.
The new king was George I who used to live in Germany. When he arrived in Britain, he could not speak English. Even more, he never wanted to learn English during his reign, so he always found difficulties in communication in English.
The First Prime Minister
The impact of the Spanish Succession war was that Britain was in deep debt.
The two major parties, the Tories and the Whigs were not in the line. The Whigs managed the country to recover from the debt.
They eventually could find the right person to solve the country’s problems. His name was Robert Walpole –a young landowner who joined the Whigs ministry as Secretary for War in 1708.
Walpole managed quickly. In 1710 he founded the South Sea Company which traded in the Pacific and on the East Coast of South America.
By 1720 the company made a lot of money and its directors offered to pay off the national debt.
However, the South Sea bubble exploded, so the company was in ruins.
Walpole was asked to clear up the mess. He could manage it well.
Even he became the First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He became the most powerful man in the government.
Under Walpole’s guidance, the nation struggled back to prosperity. He accepted bribes but it was considered natural in politics in the 18 th century.
Under George I and George II money was a powerful means to influence someone to vote. Some voters were under the influence of powerful landlords.
King George I’s stubborn refusal to learn English meant that he could not preside at meetings of his ministers.
Since there had to be somebody in charge, the task fell to Walpole, as the most influential person.
Presently, Walpole emerged as what came to be known as ‘chief minister’ (later to be called Prime Minister).
The system seemed to work. When George I died in 1727, the new King, George II, had a better understanding of the language. However, Walpole continued in this role.
Times of War
Robert Walpole believed that trade developed in times of peace. He was a peaceful man.
William Pitt who was elected to Parliament in 1735 was entirely different. His speeches were warlike, clamoring for war, and this made people triggered to demand war against Spain.
Finally, Britain declared war on Spain in 1739.
It was known as the War of Jenkins Ear (as he told that the Spanish officers had cut off one of his ears)
Many people were delighted when the war broke out. But Walpole was less happy.
The dispute became more complicated with another quarrel about who should occupy the throne of Austria.
Most of European nations became involved.
Britain and Prussia allied with Austria against France.
The Battles continued…
In 1743, George II commanded an army of British and Hanoverians troops in a battle at Dettingen, near Frankfurt in Germany.
The War of Austrian Succession at last ended in 1748. For the next 7 years was peace.
But then, 1756 the Seven Years War broke out. It was a really struggle between Britain and France to dominate the world. Britain was allied to the Prussian monarch, Frederick the Great.
The war spread to India.
The French supported the Indian rulers. In 1756, one of the Indian leaders confined 146 English prisoners in the military guard room at Calcutta –the Black Hole of Calcutta.
In the Mediterranean, British troops on the island of Minorca were under siege by the French.
Admiral John Byng was ordered to rescue them. But he failed and finally was sentenced to death and shot.
Britain’s role in the Seven Years War was mainly as a naval power. The British fleet was stationed off the French coast to prevent enemy ships from going in or out of harbour.
The war dragged on. William Pitt was half mad and certain that he was the only person who could save Britain. He became Prime Minister in 1756. One of his aims was to drive the French out of Canada and secure the fishing rights off Newfoundland.
In 1759, an expedition led by General James Wolfe sailed up the St Lawrence River Quebec. His troops could kill more French people but Wolfe was killed in the fighting.
The Seven Years War ended with Treaty of Paris in 1763. Britain received Canada and French possessions in India. French regained the Newfoundland fishing rights, the African trading post at Dakar and the sugar-producing islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Pitt was stressed because he thought that he had given France too much.
Although George II probably did not know it, a young officer who was to cause him a good deal of trouble had been serving with French forces at Dettingen. His name was Charles Edward Stuart, son of the Old Pretender and one day to be so called the Young Pretender (and also ‘Bonny Prince Charlie’).
His father, James, had attempted to gain the throne of Britain in 1715, when the Earl of Mar and a number of Highland chiefs promised him support. But he failed.
Charles was dashing/stylish, handsome and brave. He wanted to make his father get the throne of England. Moreover, he got support from France. However, at last French people lost their interest.
Prince Charlie left France. On 23 July 1745 he landed on the Outer Hebrides; he was only accompanied by seven men.
Prince Charlie was very persuasive. He won a small victory at Prestonpans and crossed the border and wished to reach London. But, he was defeated and finally retreated to Scotland. At last, he was defeated by Duke of Cumberland.
The rebellion which was known as the ‘Forty-five’ was over.
With the price of £30,000 on his head, Charles Stuart escaped and was eventually taken back to France by a French vessel.
The Duke of Cumberland lived up to his nick-name of ‘the Butcher’. The wounded and prisoners were massacred.
Afterwards, the homes of Highlanders were burned down, their cattle driven away and many of their leaders executed.
Life in Georgian Britain
For people with money, the 18 th century produced many beautiful things.
They built new style of houses with simpler style but more attractive designs.
They even liked to match the surrounding with the elegance of their homes.
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was a famous gardener and architect.
He designed no less than 140 estates.
In towns, John Nash was the popular. London was the richest for Nash’ ideas.
Popular artists in Georgian Britain
Joshua Reynolds, a specialist in portraits.
James Gillray, a cartoonist
Daniel Defoe, a novelist (Robinson Crusoe)
Jonathan Swift with his Gulliver’s Travels
Henry Fielding with his Tom Jones
Thomas Arne wrote God Save the King.
Some people were making war.
Some were making money.
Some others were making discoveries and inventions, e.g.: Joseph Priestley found out how to isolate oxygen, Henry Cavendish managed to separate hydrogen from water and used it for experimental balloons.
Benjamin Franklin lightning conductor equipped the Buckingham Palace during the reign of George III.
In 1604 the first English dictionary was printed.
In 1727, Nathaniel Bailey published another edition of his Complete English Dictionary.
In 755 Dr. Samuel Johnson (a poet/ writer) published A Dictionary of the English Language. His effort has helped standardizing the spelling of English language today.
People did various things
Town and Country
The 18 th century was full of new ideas
London was still not much different. The streets were narrow, there were no drains, no lamps and no policemen.
Crime and violence increased. Many of the villains escaped. For those who were caught, the penalties were harsh.
Many crimes carried death penalty; flogging and branding were commonplace; and some villains were transported to America.
In 1715, the Riot Act was passed. If more than twelve people remained together for one hour after being ordered by a magistrate to disperse, they were guilty of crime.
However, it did not make people stop doing that.
In the country, gangs of smugglers controlled large areas near the coast.
For ordinary country people, life was much as it had been for many , many years.
Life in the country
A man had to work from dawn to dusk.
However, he found time to manufacture his own tools and build fence (if he had his own land)
His wife made the family’s clothes; brewed beer and baked bread.
Children were given jobs, such as scaring away birds and combing wool.
The Industrial Revolution
The 18 th century saw the complete change of the British way of life.
Many inventions in the agricultural fields made Britain transformed from agricultural community into the world’s leading industrial power.
The invention of coal mining and the steam engine provided the backbone of the birth of the Industrial Revolution in Britain.
Coupled with the inventions in many other fields made the pace of the Industrial Revolution grow faster.
In enhancing the pace of the Industrial Revolution, roads became the second backbone that needed to be improved.
Since Roman people left Britain, many fine roads in Britain were not well-maintained, so transportation and communication took very long time.
E.g. It took seven days to travel from London to Edinburgh by stage coach, and the journey was absolutely uncomfortable.
Canal was the second alternative for transportation. Britain’s first long canal was 18,5 miles long in Northern Ireland. It took 13 years to build. It was opened in 1742.
The Industrial Revolution continued
By the end of the 18 th century, Britain’s canal system was growing rapidly.
The investor was Josiah Wedgewood.
To travel by water was faster than by roads.
Rebellion in America
The population in Britain in the 18 th century was about 7 million.
Many things had happened since 1620 when the Pilgrim Fathers stepped ashore at Plymouth Rock.
Although London was 3,000 miles away across the Atlantic, the American colonies had to pay taxes to the British government. Goods to and from the colonies had to be carried in British ships, and all American exporters –no matter where they might be going– had to pass through England.
Unsurprisingly, the settlers were objected to this.
In 1770 there were riots in Boston.
Consequently the British government cancelled all taxes except the duty on tea.
On 16 December 1773 an East India Company ship docked at Boston with a consignment of tea.
Suddenly a party of settlers –disguised as Red Indians– swarmed aboard the vessel and threw the cargo into the harbour.
The British government immediately demanded that the company must receive £15,000 as compensation. Otherwise, the port would be closed for shipping.
By the following year, the colonists were practising drill and hiding supplies of arms.
When a British force marched out of Boston to destroy a secret arsenal in the village of Concord, it was ambushed at Lexington on the way back. It triggered the American War of Independence.
On 17 October 1781, British troops, under the command of Cornwallis surrendered. So, it delivered the United States to become the land of its own.
The State of the Empire
After the North America got its independence, King George III felt that it was a must to seek for the dumping ground for British criminals.
James Cook discovered New Zealand and explored the east coast of Australia, New South Wales and colonized it.
Then, in 1788 the first shipload of convicts was disembarked at Botany Bay, and a penal settlement was established.
The purpose of an empire was not, however, to reduce the population of British gaols/ jails. Just as wars were fought to make money, so were these scattered possessions intended to produce wealth.
In matters of law and order, the colonists were allowed to run things their own way.
E.g. the East India Company ruled its territories with its own officials –and even had its own army and navy. But so far as trade was concerned, everything belonged to Britain.
No matter whether the colonists were buying, selling or shipping, the British Government and British businessmen profited.
In short, these overseas provided Britain with invaluable cheap raw materials.
Bloodshed in Europe
After many years, people began questioning: Was it the right way to do things in this way and in that way?
An economist, Adam Smith, argued that customs duties should be abolished and nations should trade freely with one another.
In religion, a preacher named John Wesley questioned the Church of England’s teaching. Ministers banned him from their pulpits (podium).
During the next 50 years, Wesley traveled long distance, delivered 40,000 sermons and built 350 Methodist chapels (small church).
In 1784, the son of William Pitt (now Earl of Chatham) became Prime Minister at the age of 24.
The younger Pitt was strong, wise and ready to accept new ideas.
King George III was going mad. He mistook an oak tree in Windsor Park for the King o Prusia.
King of France, Louis XVI, was an absolute monarch. Seeing the rebellion such as in America, France finally decided to have one colony only.
On 14 July, 1789, mobs broke into the Bastille prison in Paris; released the inmates and helped themselves to supply of arms. Led by fanatics, the new regime declared the country a republic and condemned anyone who opposed it to die on the guillotine.
In 1793, the King and his wife Marie Antoinette were both beheaded.
The bloodshed continued…
That was not the end of bloodshed in France. The new government declared war on England.
British troops were defeated in Holland.
Even worse to come. In 1796, a former corporal in the French army named Napoleon Bonaparte took charge. By allying himself with Spain and occupying Italy, he forced the British out of the Mediterranean.
In Britain things were bad. There were mutinies in the navy. Harvests failed so it created great hardship.
However, the misfortune suddenly turned. On 14 February 1979, a force of British ships led by Admiral John Jervis smashed the Spanish fleet off Cape St Vincent. The hero was a young captain named Horatio Nelson.
Because of his courage and achievement he was trusted to break back into the Mediterranean. In 1798 he came across the French ships that had carried Napoleon’s troops into Egypt. His guns opened fire and the French was defeated. It was known as the Battle of the Nile.
The Napoleonic Wars
Napoleon Bonaparte, supreme general and ruler of France, was determined to invade England.
In Europe, Napoleon conquered one country after another. In 1808 he proclaimed his brother, Joseph, as King of Spain.
The conquest of Europe by France had been a serious blow to British trade. The only market left for British goods was Russia.
Napoleon also wanted to stop the British trade with Russia.
Napoleon and his troops arrived in Moscow but he was defeated.
The fatal battle happened in Leipzig in 1813, when the French troops were in retreat and defeated by combined force of Austrians, Prussians and Russians.
The end of Napoleonic Wars
In Spain, things were going badly. The British troops defeated Napoleon’s brother, Joseph. By 1814 the British poured into France.
The war was over and Napoleon went into exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba. He remained there for about 3 months. He escaped, returned to Paris in triumph and assembled another army.
On 18 June, 1815, it clashed with an army led by the Duke of Wellington assisted by Prussian forces commanded by Marshal Blucher.
Finally, Napoleon was exiled to St Helena in South Atlantic, where he died six years later.
Fear of Poverty
At the early 19 th century there were a number of efforts which aimed at abolishing slavery.
In 1807 the Parliament passed an act suppressing the trade of slaves.
In Britain, the practice of slavery had not been completely removed.
The French Revolution created fear to British people.
Because of the inventions of steam engine there was a large number of unemployed people in Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Nottinghamshire.
Those who remained in jobs were paid miserable wages and made to work unreasonably long hours.
Some people were angered by the invention on machineries that put people out of work (replaced human’s labour). E.g.: Ned Lud Luddites
The luddites were active in 1816. Other riots emerged, such as in Spa Fields, London in 1817. Workers from Manchester marched towards London. They were clad in blankets –therefore their name was ‘Blanketeers’
The most tragic event took place in 1819 when Manchester factory workers gathered in St Peter’s Field to hear an orator named Henry Hunt. In the event, eleven people were killed and hundreds were injured.
Afterwards, Six-Acts were passed by Parliament.
- Seditious meetings should be dispersed
- Any publication that could be used for propaganda against the
government was taxed
- Justice had to be administered promptly
- Civilians weren’t allowed to be trained in the use of arms
- Justices of Peace were authorized to seize arms in counties where
disturbances were likely to take place.
The early Industrial Revolution already showed the symptom of the widening gap between the rich and the poor.
The building of machineries required more iron.
In the Midlands more and more green fields were transformed into “Black Country”. But, the blackest areas were Yorkshire, Lancashire, and South Wales.
Peace of living in the country side (rural areas) decreased considerably.
The end of the Napoleonic wars also showed that it was not necessary to have large army any more. Consequently, a large number of soldiers were disbanded and they sought for jobs.
Pros and Cons
In cotton mills, women and children provided the cheapest labour.
In coal mines women and children (some aged five) could be seen dragging trucks.
In the potteries, young boys laboured for fifteen hours a day.
A Welsh-man named Robert Owen became manager of some cotton mills.
He refused to employ youngsters under the age of ten.
He forbade his foremen to beat the workers with leather straps.
He shortened working hours; even established school for little children.
The Birth of Factory Act
In 1802, Robert Peel the elder (father of the statesman who founded Britain’s police force) succeeded in passing the first Factory Act.
One of its items stated that workers were not allowed to work more than 12 hours a day.
The development of Factory Acts in the following years showed positive improvements.
The Arrival of Railways
In the early 19 th century, steam engines were already used in several factories, but they were not used in transportation yet.
Later on, steam engine was adopted to be used in locomotive engineering.
It was firstly experimented by Robert Trevithick between Holborn and Paddington.
Then he built a circular track and offered rides to the public at 2.5p a head.
Indeed, the early steam locomotives were built to transport coal from the pits (mining areas).
The advent of railways
The fame of road and canal as means of transportation had been over after railways became more perfect in their construction.
They were no longer used to transport coals and other goods but people, linking between or amongst towns and cities in the whole Britain.