Britain: 1815-1947

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    Corn Laws

  • Import Act-Corn Laws

    The Tory government of Robert Banks Jenkinson, Lord Liverpool, introduced the Corn Laws in a bid to protect British agriculture. Corn prices had halved following the end of the Napoleonic wars, creating a panic among farmers. The laws imposed heavy tariffs on imports of foreign grain. They were repealed in 1846.
  • King George III dies Succeedeed by Gerorge IV

  • Roman Catholic Relief Act

    Catholic Emancipation
  • Daniel O'Connell elected MP

    Fought for Catholic Emancipation
  • Great Reform Act

    The third version of the Reform Bill finally received assent from the House of Lords and William IV. Tory peers only backed the bill after William IV said he would create 50 new Whig lords - thereby giving the Whigs a majority from which to vote the issue through. The Great Reform Act made important changes to parliamentary constituencies and extended the franchise (those allowed to vote), but did not introduce parliamentary democracy or a secret ballot.
  • Slavery Abolished in the Empire

    After years of intense anti-slavery lobbying and pro-abolition public meetings around the country (including an abolitionist march on 10 Downing Street) parliament finally voted to end slavery throughout the British empire. Slaves would initially become 'apprentices' for a six-year term, starting in 1834. This was later shortened to four years. MP William Wilberforce, who had represented the abolitionists in the House of Commons, died just days before just before the emancipation measure became
  • Poor Law

    Centralized control but did not institute work house
  • Municipal Corporations Bill

    This legislation gave 178 boroughs the right to have their own town council. All ratepayers were thereafter entitled to vote in borough council elections. The new councils gradually took control of local services such as education, housing and street lighting.
  • William IV Dies Queen Victoria

    Victoria became queen at the age of 18 after the death of her uncle, William IV. She reigned for more than 60 years, longer than any other British monarch. Her reign was a period of significant social, economic and technological change, which saw the expansion of Britain's industrial power and of the British empire.
  • People's Charter- Start of Chartist Movement

    The People's Charter advocated democratic reform on the basis of six points: one man, one vote; equal electoral districts; payment of members of parliament; elections by secret ballot; removal of property qualifications for MPs; and parliaments elected every year. 'Chartism' gained substantial support among working people during the next decade and presented three national petitions to parliament in 1839, 1842 and 1849. It was the most significant radical pressure group of the 19th century.
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  • George IV Dies and Succeeded by William IV

  • Robert Peel Creates Conservative Government

    The Whig government under Viscount Melbourne faced increasing financial and public order difficulties, and Sir Robert Peel forced a general election after defeating the Whigs on a no-confidence motion in the House of Commons. The Conservatives won a Commons majority of more than 70. This was the first election in modern times when one political party with a parliamentary majority was defeated by another which gained a workable majority of its own.
  • Prince Albert Dies

    Albert's premature death from typhoid plunged Victoria into a long period of mourning and withdrawal from public life, during which a republican movement gained popularity. Albert had been both a restraining and a guiding force on his headstrong wife and, although never popular with the British public partly on account of his German origins, he was an able and energetic man who played an important part in the scientific and intellectual life of his adopted country.
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    Great Famine

    In September 1845, the potato crop which had previously provided approximately 60% of the nation's food needs, began to rot all over Ireland. The potato blight struck again the following year. What began as a natural catastrophe was exacerbated by the actions and inactions of the British government. It is estimated that about a million people died during the four-year famine, and that between 1845 and 1855 another million emigrated, most to Britain and North America.
  • Corn Laws Repealed

  • Public Health Act

    Following pressure from the administrator Edwin Chadwick and the findings of the Health of Towns Commission, parliament passed legislation to improve urban conditions and reduce death rates. Local boards of health were established in places where the population's death rate exceeded 23 per 1,000. The act was seen as an unwelcome intrusion by central government and proved very unpopular. The central Board of Health was wound up in 1858.
  • Great Exhibition

    This event was the brainchild of Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, and was designed to provide a showcase for the world's most advanced inventions, manufactures and works of art. It was housed in the massive 19-acre Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton. The event attracted almost six million visitors during the five summer months it was open. Many ordinary people travelled to London for the first time on cheap-rate excursion trains.
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    Crimean War

    The Crimean War was fought between the Russians and an alliance of the British, French and Turks who feared Russian expansion in the Balkans. Notable battles included those at Sebastopol, Balaclava (which saw the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade) and Inkerman. Russia was forced to sue for peace, and the war was ended by the Treaty of Paris in March 1856. British troops casualties were as much from poor equipment and medical care as from fighting the Russians.
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    Indian Mutiny

    Following a series of insensitive British demands, members of the Bengal army mutinied in Meerut and marched towards Delhi, which they took two days later. It was re-taken in September. Lucknow was twice besieged before being finally relieved in November. British authority was not fully restored until July 1858 and the events of the mutiny were characterised by great brutality on both sides. The mutiny led to the end of East India Company rule in India and its replacement by direct British rule.
  • Second Reform Act

    This Reform Act was passed by a minority Conservative government led by Frederick, Earl of Derby. Its orchestrator was Benjamin Disraeli, who permitted larger extensions to the franchise than the Liberals would have countenanced. It virtually doubled the electorate, enabling one-third of adult males in Britain and one-sixth in Ireland to vote in parliamentary elections. In a few urban constituencies, working men were an electoral majority. A separate act for Scotland was passed in 1868.
  • William Gladstone PM

    William Gladstone headed a Liberal government after defeating Benjamin Disraeli's Conservative government in a general election. Gladstone's ministry survived until 1874 and is credited with passing many reforms, especially relating to administration, the army and public health. Gladstone was to form three further administrations, resigning as prime minister for the last time in March 1894.
  • Gladstone Disestablishes The Church of Ireland

    The established Church of Ireland was Anglican, although only about 3% of the Irish population belonged to it - the vast majority being Roman Catholic. William Gladstone's legislation put church property into the hands of commissioners, who could use it for 'social schemes', including poverty relief and the expansion of higher education. Irish bishops no longer sat in the House of Lords. The act was designed to reduce tensions and increasing lawlessness in Ireland.
  • Married Women's Property Act

  • Gladstone introduces Secret Ballot

    William Gladstone's Liberal government introduced voting by secret ballot five years after the Second Reform Act had substantially increased the size of the electorate. This realised one of the key points of the reforming 'Chartist' petition of 1838. Voting in secret was not uncontroversial. The proposal was fiercely contested by the House of Lords, which considered it 'cowardly' and 'unmanly'. It was first employed at a by-election in Pontefract in August of the same year.
  • Victoria becomes Emporess of India

    India came under direct British government control in 1858, when the remaining authority of the East India Company was dissolved. The Conservative prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, suggested to the queen that she should be proclaimed empress. His motive seems mainly to have been flattery. Despite objections from the Liberal opposition, who were not consulted, the title was endorsed and Victoria used it officially from 1877.
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    First Boer War

  • Reformed Married Women's Property Act

    The 1870 Married Women's Property Act had been widely criticised for failing to provide sufficient safeguards for married women. A further act provided something approaching equality for women since it allowed women to acquire and retain any property deemed separate from that of their husband's. They also received the same legal protection as husbands if they needed to defend their right to property.
  • Third Reform Act

    The third Reform Act created a uniform franchise qualification based on the Reform Acts of 1867 and 1868. As a consequence roughly two-thirds of adult males in England and Wales, three-fifths in Scotland and half in Ireland were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections. Large numbers of adult males, such as servants, most members of the armed forces and children living in their parents' houses remained disenfranchised. This act, therefore, stopped some way short of creating a male democracy.
  • Women's Suffrage Gains Momentum

    The first organised activity in support of votes for women dates from the 1860s, but pressure grew rapidly in the late 1880s. A turning point was the merger of the National Central Society for Women's Suffrage and the Central Committee for Women's Suffrage into the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. The NUWSS co-ordinated a range of regional activities. Its president, Millicent Fawcett, opposed violence and promoted her organisation as law-abiding and above party politics.
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    Second Boer War

    After the First Boer War in 1880-1881, the Boers (farmers of European descent) of the Transvaal forced the British government to recognise their independence. But the Boers refused to recognise the rights of the British (many prospecting for gold) in the Transvaal, leading to the Second Boer War. Although the Boers had initial military successes, the war ended in May 1902 with a Boer surrender. It was costly and unpopular war and Britain received much international criticism for its use of conce
  • Conservatives and Salisbury reelected

    The Conservatives, benefiting from British success in the Boer War, and from splits in the Liberal Party, were returned to power. Lord Salisbury remained as prime minister and became the last premier to sit in the House of Lords.
  • Victoria dies and Suceeded by Edward VII

    Victoria died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight at the age of 81. As queen-empress she had ruled over almost a quarter of the world's population. Although wilful and narrow-minded in some respects, she established firm precedents for a hard-working 'constitutional monarch', operating as a head of state above the fray of party politics. Her death, coming so soon after the end of the 19th century, was truly the end of an era.
  • Labor Party

    A secret pact was ratified between the Liberal party and the Labour Representative Committee, which in certain constituencies allowed Labour a free run at elections, unimpeded by a Liberal candidate. In the long run, the pact may have done more to destroy the Liberal party than preserve it.
  • Pact between Britain and France

    This agreement reconciled British and French imperial interests, particularly in Africa, but also marked the end of centuries of intermittent conflict and paved the way for future diplomatic and military cooperation. The two countries were united in their suspicion of Germany's ambitions. Germany, in turn, hoped to persuade Britain to abandon the alliance.
  • Beginning Liberal Reform

    In November, the Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Balfour tried to expose the divisions within the Liberal opposition by resigning, but his rival Henry Campbell-Bannerman formed a Liberal government and then led it to a smashing success at the polls in January 1906. Armed with an overall majority, the Liberals embarked on a programme of social reform.
  • Asquith becomes PM

    Illness had forced Liberal Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman to resign, and he was succeeded by Herbert Asquith. In his cabinet reshuffle, Asquith brought in Reginald McKenna and Winston Churchill, and appointed the radical, David Lloyd George, as chancellor of the exchequer.
  • People's Budget

    The introduction of the new 'Dreadnought' class battleship and the subsequent naval arms race with Germany prompted David Lloyd George, the chancellor of the exchequer, to introduce a tax on land, to increase income tax, and to propose a 'super-tax' on incomes over £5,000 per annum. He presented these increases as designed to fund social reforms.
  • House of Lords reject the People's Budget

    In rejecting Chancellor David Lloyd George's budget, the Conservative-dominated House of Lords broke the parliamentary convention that the upper house should not overturn a financial bill. This ensured that House of Lords reform was one of the issues at stake in the next general election.
  • Edward VII dies suceeded by George V

    Both Edward VII, who died in 1910, and his son, George V, ensured that the monarchy was more active than it had been in the latter years of Victoria's reign, but they exercised their influence discreetly. Edward's funeral brought together the royalty of Europe - many of them his relations - for the last time before war broke out in 1914.
  • House of Lords Reform

    The Liberals finally forced through House of Lords reform, which had been on the cards for two years. The reforms meant that the Lords could not veto legislation that had passed the House of Commons in three successive sessions, and that parliament itself would be dissolved after five years, not seven. In separate legislation, pay for members of parliament was introduced.
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    World War I

    When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in July, Serbia's ally Russia mobilised its army. Austria-Hungary's ally, Germany, in turn declared war on Russia. Russia's alliance with France now threatened Germany with war on two fronts. Germany acted to quickly neutralise France by a well-planned surprise invasion through neutral Belgium - the 'Schlieffen Plan'. Britain, as guarantor of Belgian neutrality, told Germany to withdraw. The ultimatum expired on 4 August and Britain duly declared war.
  • Easter Uprising

    Irish nationalists, supplied with German rifles, rebelled at Easter and seized key buildings in Dublin, including the post office where their final stand was made. Most of the population was unsupportive and the rebellion was crushed within a week. The British executed the leaders, inadvertently making martyrs of the rebels and inspiring those who followed.
  • Universal Male and Some women enfranchised

    The Representation of the People Act enfranchised all men over the age of 21, and propertied women over 30. The electorate increased to 21 million, of which 8 million were women, but it excluded working class women who mostly failed the property qualification.
  • Lady Astor first Woman MP

    American-born Nancy Astor was not the first British woman member of parliament (MP), but she was the first one to take her seat. Constance Markievicz became the first woman MP in 1918, but as a member of Sinn Fein she had refused to take her seat.
  • Anglo-Irish Peace Treaty

    This treaty ended the war between the breakaway southern Irish Republic and Britain, and was supposed to resolve the sectarian 'Ulster problem' by partitioning Ireland. It turned southern Ireland into a dominion - rather than a republic - called the 'Irish Free State', with the British sovereign as head of state. The fact that the treaty still bound Ireland to Britain caused deep conflict and led to the outbreak of the Irish Civil War.
  • Irish Civil War

    The civil war was ignited by the Anglo-Irish Peace Treaty, which created a partitioned Irish 'Free State' within the British Empire. The pro-treaty faction under Michael Collins accepted partition and believed the treaty would eventually lead to a republic. The anti-treaty faction, led by Éamon de Valera, rejected partition and wanted a republic immediately. The war ended in victory for the pro-treaty Free State government under Collins (who was assassinated) but caused lasting bitterness.
  • Fifth Reform Act

    The fifth Reform Act brought in by the Conservative government altered the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which had only allowed women over 30 who owned property to be enfranchised. The new act gave women the vote on the same terms as men.
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    Great Slump

  • George V dies Suceeded by Edward VIII

    As Prince of Wales, Edward had visited many parts of the country hit by the prolonged economic depression. These visits, his apparently genuine concern for the underprivileged and his official overseas tours on behalf of his father made him popular in Britain and abroad. But his choice of bride would spark a constitutional crisis. He had fallen in love with a married American woman, Wallis Simpson. When she obtained a divorce in October 1936, it opened the way for her to marry Edward.
  • George VI crowned upon abdication of Edward VIII

    Edward VIII's younger brother, the Duke of York, was crowned George VI. He and his wife Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother), became inspirational figures for Britain during World War Two. The monarch visited his armies on several battle fronts and founded the George Cross for 'acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger'.
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    World War II

  • Independence and Partition of India