A Brief History of Victorian England
The primary subject of this book is social history: how people lived and acted and spent their time, what they ate and wore and cared about. Conventional history--politics, economics, legislation, wars--is important, however, when it helps to explain the forces that shape daily life. This chapter provides an overview of nineteenth-century historical circumstances that framed ordinary people's thoughts and experiences.
Three events before 1837 had a crucial impact on Victorian life. (1) The Duke of Wellington's victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 created an atmosphere of national pride. (2) The Industrial Revolution trans0formed England from an agricultural nation to one based on industry and made it for most of the century the world's greatest economic power. (3) The Reform Bill of 1832, which doubled the number of men eligible to vote, began a gradual progress toward democratic rule and governmental responsibility for the safety and well-being of all citizens.
England and France were at war for much of the time between 1793 and 1815, but none of the battles took place in England; the war did not concern most people. During the period known as the Regency, from 1811 to 1820, the Prince of Wales (later George IV) acted as Regent, or ruler, because his father, George III, had become incurably insane. The Regency, in popular imagination, was a period of aristocratic gaiety, license, and extravagance, when elegant men in tight breeches and women in filmy white dresses floated through a round of balls and social events.