July 19, 2017 | Author: Madalina Mada | Category: Celts, Anglo Saxons, Danelaw, Roman Britain, William The Conqueror
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The Beginnings of Civilisation in Britain Britain’s special destiny is mainly due to its position to the continent. It is insular, but it has never been isolated. The continent has always exercised a strong influence on Britain. Moreover, the British-Irish Isles have constantly attracted invaders, then settlers and immigrants throughout their history. Thus, the British civilisation represents an interesting combination of Latin and Germanic cultures, combination that essentially accounts for its originality. The Iberians Though little accurate information is held about the early settlement of Britain, it is generally considered that the primitive populations in the British Isles were the Iberians. Of Mediterranean origin, believed to have come from Spain in about 3000 BC, the Iberians seem to be the forefathers of today’s inhabitants of Wales and Cornwall, where predominates the small, dark, long-skull type, different from the Celts, tall, blond- or red-haired and blue-eyed, just like the Germanic type. The Neolithic people worked the chalk soil of southern England and built large wood and stone monuments. After 3000 BC, the chalkland people started building ‘henges’, wooden buildings and stone circles situated in a circular area delimited by ditches. The Iberians are associated with the megalithic civilisation in Britain, maintained until 150 BC in the Western part of the Mediterranean, reaching as far as Bretagne, the South of England and Ireland. The megalithic art is characterised by a certain specific way of building, using large blocks of carved stone, without polished surfaces and without a precise form. A megalithic monument was generally built out of religious reasons. In Britain, this type of ritual megalithic monument called ‘henge’ was also a centre of political and economic power. The most spectacular megalithic monument of this type is Stonehenge, isolated in the middle of a plain, twelve kilometres north of Salisbury, in the south of England. Although its precise purposes remain a mystery, it is believed that Stonehenge had a religious function related to the cult of the sun and to the cult of the dead. Stonehenge was built in several stages over a period of more than one thousand years. Basically, Stonehenge could be seen as a very early materialisation of the fundamental principles of architecture: delimitation of the inner space, contrast between the supporting elements (the vertical pillars) and the supported ones (the flag and the architrave), of the principle of order, rhythm and symmetry. The people who built Stonehenge seem to have been well aware of the notions of centre, circle, rhythm, axis, which lie at the basis of the art of architecture. Thus, it can be said that the megalithic monuments mark the beginnings of monumental architecture. Besides, Stonehenge had an exceptional function, different from the previous utilitarian one. No longer uniquely interested in the material and useful dimension of the building, man thought of putting up an architectonic monument for the social group he lived in, conferring it an exceptional, solemn, religious function.

The Beaker Folk By 2500 BC, new groups of people reached Britain coming from Europe and they introduced a Bronze Age culture. Distinguishing themselves by their military and metal-working skills, the Beaker Folk, named for their characteristic pottery found in their graves, exercised a remarkable influence on the British society. They are noted for their bronze tools and their stone monuments, such as Stonehenge, whose construction was finalised during this period, by huge bluestones being brought from Wales. These monuments attest to the social and economic organisation of the Beaker people as well as to their technical and intellectual ability. The Celts The word Celt comes from Keltoi, the name given to these people by the Greek. The Romans called these same people Galli or Gauls. The Celts in the British Isles were known as Britanni. The Celts started from central Europe and settled in France and northern Spain around 800 BC1, crossing the British Isles in the sixth and fifth centuries BC2. This is the period when the Celts were in the course of setting up a civilisation of their own and identifying their own forms of artistic expression. Yet, before imposing themselves as a strong civilisation, the Celts had already assimilated the local prehistoric populations and they continued to live together with the creators of the megalithic civilisation. As they were considerably more advanced from a technical point of view, the Celts managed to impose their form of tribal organisation in most regions of the British Isles. The Celtic tribes met little resistance on the part of the local populations, because the descendants of the Iberians in Britain were not warriors. By the first century BC, most of the Celtic populations gave way to the Romans coming from the south and to the Germanic peoples coming from the north. Thus, in medieval, and later, in modern times, the Celtic cultural identity, customs, culture and languages3, survived only in four geographical areas: Brittany, or Bretagne (in western France), Wales and Cornwall, the Scottish Highlands, and Ireland. Though the main stock of the British today is said to be Anglo-Saxon, a better view would be that it is Anglo-Celt. The Celtic society was organised in tribes ruled by a king or a chief and much of the community’s strength was based on a feeling of solidarity and family. Most tribes had one or two settlements surrounded by palisades, usually called ‘towns’ by the Latin. This is probably the reason why some persistent themes still to be traced in the areas inhabited by the Celts were rural settlement, hospitality feasting, and fellowship drinking. The Celts worked the soil, continuing the same type of agriculture as the Bronze Age people before them, but in heavier soils, as their iron technology permitted them to introduce new ploughing methods. The Celts were good traders, trade being important for the social and political contact between the tribes. 1

This date represents the beginning of the first period of the Iron Age (Hallstatt) in Western Europe. 2 The second period of the Iron Age (500 BC – 100 AD) may be said to have been almost completely marked by the Celtic contribution. 3 In Scotland, more than 75,000 people still speak Gaelic, a Celtic language, in the Highlands, whereas Irish Gaelic, or Erse, is taught in schools as one of the country’s official languages.

There were three main social orders in the Celtic society: the warriors and the noblemen, the druids and the ordinary people. There were only very few slaves. The most honoured class presumably was that of the druids, learned people who underwent a twenty-year training period. Beside priestly duties, the druids were also warriors. Moreover, they were specialised in religion, law, astronomy, poetry, music, and calendrics. Calendrics exemplified the Celts’ knowledge of solar and lunar movements, some of the Celts’ calendars being said to be more accurate than the Roman calendars.4 The family was very important for the functioning of the Celtic society, the woman enjoying rights and privileges more in line with the modern mentality and, certainly, unusual for those times. One important element to understand Celtic culture is the Celts’ belief in immortality. The Celts believed that the soul resided in the head. That is the reason why in the Celtic representations, the heads sometimes had two5 or even three faces, suggesting the power of the soul to look in all directions of the horizon. Celtic deities were gods presiding over different functions. Religious rituals were extremely important for the Celts, the ceremonies taking place in the open air. Human sacrifice was practised, presumably in sacred groves where there were rectangular precincts delimited by v-shaped ditches and containing ritual shafts for offerings. The Lindow man, a 2,200-year-old corpse discovered in an English peat bog, seems to have been a sacrificial victim. Unlike the Germanic peoples, who incinerated their dead, the Celts buried theirs, the cult of the dead also implying a series of funeral rituals. Celtic art is considered to be the first great contribution that nonMediterranean peoples made to the development of European art. Although influenced to a certain extent by Persian, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art, Celtic art had a distinctive style characterised by abstract, sinuous, curvilinear designs, most of it in metalwork and ceramics. The Celtic style displays a clear preference for stylised floral and animal motifs, for curves and spirals combined in intricate geometrical patterns. The spiral motif added to the Greek and Etruscan plant and animal motifs turns the Celtic style into an original one. The style emerging in the British Isles was called Insular, and it is a combination of traditional sinuous Celtic motifs, symmetrical patterns and subtly balanced asymmetry, combination most evident in symmetrical objects such as mirrors and shields. Later on, during the Christian period, the Romans and the Anglo-Saxons influenced the Celtic decoration of ecclesiastical objects, such as metal reliquaries, communion chalices, stone crosses, and gospel books. 4

Out of the main festivals recorded in the Celtic calendars, October 31/ November 1, the beginning of the druid New Year, has survived to our days as Halloween. The origins of Halloween date back to the Druid festival of Samhain, Lord of the Dead and Prince of Darkness. According to Celtic beliefs, on October 31, Samhain presented the souls of those who had died during the year to the Druid Heaven. The Sun God, who shared the holiday, received thanks for the year’s harvest. The druids called supernatural forces to stop the evil forces, reason for which the tradition of modern Halloween implies whole paraphernalia of ghosts, goblins, witches, skeletons, cats, masks and bonfires. The custom of telling ghost stories on Halloween comes from the druids as well. To honour the Sun God and to frighten away evil spirits, the druids would light huge bonfires and relate happenings they had experienced during the year. As Christianity replaced the pagan religions, the church set aside November 1 to honour all saints (all hallows) and called it All Hallows’ Day. The evening before was All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween. 5 The Celtic god Janus is an example.

Celtic art, primarily decorative, includes torcs and neck rings, with the two open ends ornamented with animal heads, brooches decorated with filigree work. These objects, as well as the shields or mirrors, owe their beauty to the elaborate designs engraved in the metal or created with enamel, for whose art the Celts were famous. The Book of Kells is considered to be one of the most famous manuscripts illuminated in gold and colours. The Romans In 55 BC and 54 BC Julius Caesar briefly visited Britain. He gave a description of Britain and of its inhabitants, collectively designated as Britons, although he referred only to the regions in the south and east, where he said he had discovered a civilised society. There were several raids to Britain, which constituted the first attempt to invade the country. The real invasion, however, took place in 43 BC under Claudius. The southern part of the island became thus Britannia, a province of the Roman Empire ruled by a governor, although local Celtic chiefs were still used to keep order. After the conquest, for four centuries Britain became an integral part of the political system that the Roman Empire was, the influence of the Roman world continuing even after Britain broke with the Roman rule. In the first century AD the Romans conquered the Celts in England and Wales. There were also attempts to conquer the Picts6 and other Scottish tribes, yet all these attempts failed. The Celtic populations in Scotland and Ireland remained independent for several more centuries. Once the province of Britannia was created, the Romans introduced forms specific to their own culture. Thus, during the Roman occupation Britain considerably benefited from the advanced technology and culture of the Romans. The native populations were influenced by the Roman civilisation in various areas of life, law and politics, art and engineering. Yet, although the Romans seem to have brought all their culture to Britain, it was only the wealthier classes that accepted the Latin language and the Roman way of life. The upper classes of the British society started to imitate the Roman manners and lifestyle. The Celts under Roman rule were influenced by Latin culture, but Celtic languages continued to be spoken down to the end of the Roman period. The Celts in north Britain and Ireland maintained their old traditions. No matter if they had grown out of old Celtic settlements, military camps or market centres the towns were one of the main characteristics of Roman Britain. The urban civilisation reached a remarkable level of development. The towns also represented the basis of the Roman administration and civilisation. 7 Without walls at first, all towns had thick stone walls by 300 AD. The Romans founded about twenty large towns (about 5,000 inhabitants) and around 100 smaller ones. As many of these towns originally were army camps, the Latin word castra has 6

The Picts are the ancient inhabitants of central and northern Scotland and of northern Ireland. Said to have come from the continent first in Scotland and then in Ireland, the Picts are first mentioned in relation with the history of Britain by the Romans. They are the people because of whose raids from the north against the province of Britannia, Hadrian's Wall was built. 73 miles (117 km) long, 22 feet (6.7 metres) high and 8 feet (2.4 m) wide, Hadrian’s Wall is a line of forts which marks the northern frontier of the province. It was built after Emperor Hadrian’s visit to Britain in 122 AD in order to protect the province against attacks from the north. Parts of Hadrian's Wall remain standing in present-day Britain. 7 The towns in Roman Britain were either coloniae, inhabited by the Romans and municipia, whose entire population was given Roman citizenship, or civitas, which represented the basis of the Roman administration of the Celtic populations in the countryside.

remained part of many toponyms8 to the present. They had a forum and a town hall, shops, public baths and theatres, as well as a very well planned street system. Buildings were put up following the model of the Roman stone buildings. Decorated with painted walls and mosaic floors, the buildings offered the comfort of central heating, glass windows, and even baths. The towns were connected by roads built with layers of gravel on a stone foundation, reason for which they continued to be used long after the Romans left Britain. London, the most important trading centre of Britain, was at the crossroads of six of these Roman roads. London may be said to have become the most important trading centre in northern Europe, as, after the settlement of the first Romans in Britannia, the commercial relationships with the continent increased in number and importance. Outside, but very near the towns for economic reasons, there were large farms called ‘villas’, which represented another important aspect of Britain during the Roman occupation. They belonged to the rich Britons who had adapted to the Roman lifestyle. In the third and the fourth centuries the Roman Empire started to decline, which clearly influenced Britain as well, as in this same period, the Roman legions began to withdraw from Britain to defend other parts of the Roman Empire. Thus, starting from the fifth century, once the last legions had left the island, Celtic culture became predominant again. Unfortunately, Roman civilisation, which had also meant the benefit of the skills of reading and writing brought to the island, rapidly disintegrated. Roman culture and its influence gave way under the pressure of the Germanic attacks in the fifth and sixth centuries, when the Anglo-Saxon culture spread throughout the island. After nearly four centuries of occupation, what remained from Rome as part of Britain’s heritage was a wonderful network of roads, the sites of several towns, such as London or York, and the names of others ending in –cester, -caster or – chester. The most important heritage was, however, Christianity. Christianity was well established in Celtic Britain by the 4th century AD, but in the fifth century, the Germanic peoples’ invasions drove most of the Celtic Christians into Wales and Cornwall. Consequently, between the fifth and the eighth centuries, Celtic Christianity implied a form of monasticism that encouraged the development of craft workshops, manuscript production, and stone architecture. Ireland, where Saint Patrick founded a new church, became the centre of Celtic Christianity. Much of the knowledge of Rome was preserved thanks to the Irish monks’ devotion to learning and to religion. In the sixth century, Saint Columba founded a monastery on the Island of Iona, introducing there the tradition of illumination. The Book of Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels are perfect examples of such illuminated manuscripts. Later on, the Irish missionaries would be extremely active in Christianising the Germanic peoples. Although the art objects from this period demonstrate a clear Roman vision, there also exists a continuity of the vision of the old Celts, which means that the culture of the Celts developed in parallel with the artistic forms representing syntheses of the Roman and Celtic culture. The best illustration of such a


Names of places ending in chester, caster or cester, such as Chester, Lancaster or Winchester.

synthesis could be found in the Celtic stone crosses9 that can still be seen in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Cornwall. From the fifth to the seventh centuries, Germanic tribes started to attack Britain. Most Celts sought refuge in the mountainous regions in the west. The island was conquered with difficulty, as it was bravely defended. In the sixth century, the mythical King Arthur fought on the side of the Romano-British Celts against the Anglo-Saxons.10 The Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes Attracted by the wealth of the country, Germanic tribes raided Britain in the fourth century and began to settle in the fifth. The Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes, people coming from north-west Germany, invaded Britain and settled between the fifth and the seventh centuries AD. Much of our knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon period comes from Bede, whose rendering of events in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People11 has been generally confirmed by archaeology. Tall, blond, and blue-eyed, the Anglo-Saxons represent Britain’s main historical stock and the new name of Britain’s largest part, England, i.e. “the land of the Angles”, is mainly due to the Anglo-Saxon migrations. The Germanic invaders, though fought against by the British Celts, settled in the richest lands of Britain, as many of the Anglo-Saxon invaders were farmers looking for fertile land. The new English civilisation was therefore based on village agriculture and had little, if anything at all, in common with town life. As a consequence, the Anglo-Saxon invasions initially led to the loss of the crafts, science and learning of Rome. The Celts, who had accepted the Roman civilisation as being superior to their own, could not easily accept the AngloSaxon one. Consequently, they withdrew in the mountainous regions of Britain, leaving the richest lands to the Saxons, who, benefiting from favourable geographical circumstances, created a civilisation of their own that demonstrated in time its superiority. Yet, in the Welsh12 mountainous zone, the language and civilisation remained mainly Celtic. In England, however, only too little of the old Celtic languages and culture has survived, except for the names of the rivers Thames, Mersey, Severn and Avon, and the cities of London and Leeds. The Anglo-Saxons set up a number of kingdoms. In the seventh century there were seven kingdoms, whose names are still to be found in the names of some counties of England: Kent, Essex (East Saxons), Sussex (South Saxons), Wessex (West Saxons), East Anglia (East Angles), Mercia (including the Middle Angles) and Northumbria. In the eighth century, there remained only three: Northumbria in the north, Mercia in the centre and Wessex south of the Thames. It is also in the eighth century that the English started to become aware of themselves as an ethnic and cultural unity. King Offa of Mercia, the most powerful English king before 9

Carved from a single stone block, with carved representations from the Bible, the Celtic cross is like a Latin one with a circle surrounding the intersection. 10 King Arthur was the king of England who led the Britons in the battles against the Saxons. The most important heritage surviving these times are the Arthurian legends, which represent the central part of the British tradition and folklore. 11 The Ecclesiastical History of the English People is considered to be the first important and serious work of English history. It was written in Latin by the English monk Bede, also called the Venerable Bede, (673-735) in his monastery in Jarrow in north-east England. 12 The Saxons called the mountains in the far west “Wales”, meaning “the land of the foreigners” and the Celtic people living there “Welsh”, i.e. “foreigners”.

Alfred, is “the first ruler whose charters use the simple, unqualified title ‘king of the English’.”13 The Nordic peoples had much in common: language, religion, customs of war and agriculture, a body of epic poetry, the art of decorating weapons and jewellery. Brave and loyal, they had a deep sense of honour. As a consequence of their condition of warriors, they proved loyalty to their chiefs. It may be even said that the relation of the Anglo-Saxon warrior to his chief represents the basis of aristocracy and feudalism The Anglo-Saxons were organised under the form of kingship and the royal family was considered to be of divine origin. The institutions that the Anglo-Saxons set up contributed to the future consolidation of the English State. From among these institutions, the Witan is one through which a system to survive as an important aspect of the king’s government methods was established. The Witan, or the King’s Council, initiated a tradition of government that may be identified in the latter-day Privy Council 14. Presumably a group of senior warriors and Church representatives, to whom the king turned for advice and support, the Witan became a formal body, with few members, empowered to issue laws and charters. It also represented the highest court of justice. Although the king could ignore the Witan’s advice, kings did not do that, as the Witan had the authority to dismiss an incapable king or to refuse to entrust the kingdom to a minor, especially in wartime. In Anglo-Saxon times, the kingdom was administratively divided into shires, over which shire reeves, name later on shortened to sheriff, were appointed. The Saxon word ‘shire’ meant to designate a distinct administrative area, continued to coexist alongside the Norman word ‘county’, both terms being still used. The term ‘shire’ is present nowadays in the name of some English administrative areas, or counties, such as Oxfordshire or Yorkshire. There was a ‘manor’ in each district, where villagers came to pay taxes, to be done justice and to join the Anglo-Saxon army, the ‘fyrd’. This organisation activity represented the responsibility of the lord of the manor, who also had to watch over land sharing. This is the basis of the manorial system, to be perfected later on by the Normans. The lord was a local official, called an alderman.15 Christianity represented one of the most important aspects of the Roman heritage and it had been firmly established in Britain well before the Romans left the country. Yet, as the Anglo-Saxons belonged to the Germanic heathen religion, with the Celts they drove into the west and north, they also drove Christianity, which continued to spread in the Celtic areas. Christianity was re-established in England by two groups of missionaries. One was coming from the Celtic monasteries of Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The other came from Rome, Augustine being one of the forty monks sent to teach Christianity to the AngloSaxons. Augustine converted the King of Kent and built a church in Canterbury, the capital city of the kingdom. He also became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Canterbury became thus the religious capital of England. The kings’ 13

Blair, J., ‘The Anglo-Saxon Period’ in The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain ed. Morgan, Kenneth O., (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000) 73. 14 The Privy Council is a group of people appointed to counsel the British king or queen. Made up of 400 politicians and lawyers, representatives of the Church and the Commonwealth, the Privy Council has at present only few functions, but it used to be powerful in the 14th century. 15 The word has survived with almost the same meaning to our days. Though it is seldom, if ever used, to designate a member of a city council in England and Wales, it is still used to refer to a member of the government of a city in the United States, Canada or Australia.

conversion to Christianity brought about the ordinary people’s change of religious beliefs and, starting from the eighth century, the whole of England was part of the Roman church. The change of religion meant a step forward that the English took on the path of civilisation. Christianity grafted itself onto the religion common to the primitive Anglo-Saxons, and later on of the Scandinavians, which essentially was a layman’s, a warrior religion. There appeared a very interesting mixture between Christian ideas, which implied a concern with the spiritual, and attitudes, charity, humility, self-discipline, and the Nordic religion, which reflected manliness, generosity, loyalty in service and friendship. The mixture between the morals of the northern warrior with the Christian morals was to give birth to the heroes in the chivalric novels. The Anglo-Saxon poetry is the best evidence of this mixture.16 Christianity also meant the return of learning to the island based on the arts of reading and writing in the Latin alphabet. The monasteries became centres of learning and education. They contributed to increasing the prestige of the Church and, through the close relationship established between the Church and the king, to the growth of royal authority. There are two fields in which art developed in England during the AngloSaxon period: illuminated manuscripts and architecture. The monasteries had a very important role in setting up the Anglo-Saxons’ cultural tradition and identity. The consolidation of the Anglo-Saxon tradition took place in a Celtic cultural environment. A large monastery was set up on the island of Iona in the sixth century. One century later, Lindisfarne was built in Northumbria and it was to mark the climax of the Celtic cultural influence in England. Monastic buildings were extremely austere. The Anglo-Saxon manuscripts combined Copt, Celtic and Germanic elements, which shows an interweaving of the Celtic and the Germanic traditions. The Vikings Around the middle of the ninth century, Britain was raided by a new wave of peoples coming from Norway and Denmark, attracted by the country’s wealth. Towards the end of the century, the Vikings came to settle. As a rule, the Vikings settled in the lands they had raided and very often converted to Christianity. 17 Their organisation was typical of any other warrior society – groups led by warrior chiefs to whom the warriors showed loyalty. The Vikings were pirates, but they were also traders, reason for which they revived the town life. They founded and fortified cities and towns.18 They brought back the sea-faring habits, which the Anglo-Saxons had lost. Moreover, the Viking ships were built to be able to navigate rivers, which became the main routes of penetration into the country. It was only when the Anglo-Saxon kings, Alfred the Great in particular, 16

The Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf is the most important work of Old English literature. Written in the West Saxon dialect, it is believed to date from the late 10th century. Considered to be the work of an anonymous 8th-century poet, Beowulf is illustrative of the fusion of Scandinavian history and pagan mythology with Christian elements. 17 The religion of the Vikings resembled the religion of other warrior Germanic societies. It was a religion of Odin, the god of war and leader of the Norse gods, and Thor, the god of thunder. The Viking warrior died heroically in battle hoping he would be called to dwell in Valhalla, Odin’s palace in the realm of the gods. 18 York in England and Dublin in Ireland became important trade centres.

understood that they should fortify the towns and set up a fleet, that they could stop more effectively the Scandinavian expansion in the British Isles. Thus, the Vikings could not be prevented by the Anglo-Saxon kings from conquering the island. By the end of the ninth century, they had conquered most of England. The only king who opposed them was Alfred the Great, king of Wessex. After a series of defeats, Alfred managed to win the decisive battle against the Danes and later on to capture London. A powerful king, Alfred made a treaty with the Vikings, whose rule was recognised in the east and north of England. This is the territory known as the Danelaw. Alfred ruled the rest of the country. Alfred had the talent of a warrior, administrator, legislator, and scholar. He set up a sound administration, reorganised the land army, the navy19, the legal and education systems and rebuilt the fortifications of the old Roman towns, especially London. Alfred also revived the taste for study, by setting up schools. He is the one who founded the first public school. As a scholar, Alfred may be said to be the initiator of English prose literature by translations. He translated Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, but he also ordered that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle20 should be started. Both documents represent an important source to understand England’s history during this period. After Alfred’s death, the prestige of the Anglo-Saxon kings was increased furthermore by his successors who succeeded in conquering back from the Danes Mercia, then Northumbria. The new Danish invasion took place during the reign of the Saxon king, Ethelred, who decided to pay the Danes to stay away. The tribute, known as the “danegeld” imposed heavy taxation on the people. Yet, in return for money, the Vikings negotiated peaceful coexistence and accepted to be converted. On the decision of the Witan, Ethelred, whose heir had died, was followed to the throne of England by Canute, brother of the King of Denmark. He had been controlling much of England at that time. Canute converted to Christianity and, more importantly, decided to rule like a real English king. In 1016, he was king of England, in 1018, he became king of Denmark, in 1030, he conquered Norway, setting up an empire, which did not survive after his death. Canute’s successor to the crown was Edward, also known as “the Confessor”. Yet, because he had been brought up in Normandy, though he was Saxon Ethelred’s second son, Edward was more of a Norman than of an English king. It may be said that Edward’s reign paved the way for the future Norman invasion and conquest of England. He surrounded himself only by Norman counsellors and appointed a Norman as Archbishop of Canterbury. When Edward died, the Witan chose Harold to become the next king. On account of two promises presumably made first by Edward, and then by Harold himself, Harold’s right to the throne of England was contested by William, Duke of Normandy. William decided to attack England, which he did from the south, while the Danish Vikings were attacking from the north. In 1066, Harold was defeated at Hastings. William entered London and he was crowned king in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day. William’s rule, known as the Norman 19

The Viking culture was one of the most advanced in Europe especially in shipbuilding. Alfred the Great adopted the styles of Viking ships. 20 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is an early history of England written in Old English. It covers the period from the Romans’ coming to Britain until the Norman Conquest.

Conquest, marks the beginning of the Middle Ages in Britain, period during which the English inevitably opened up towards and started shareing in the value system of the continent. The Middle Ages The Early Middle Ages 1066 was the year that marked a turning point in the history of England. Starting with the reign of William I, called ‘The Conqueror’, England benefited from a vigorous new leadership, which made it turn away from Scandinavia towards France. Norman feudalism became the basis of organisation of the country, a new social and political structure being established. French culture considerably influenced English civilisation for four hundred years. William I was the first Norman king of England and he ruled the country from 1066 to 1087. Having many of the qualities of the modern head of state, William is considered to be one of the first modern kings, as well as an outstanding figure in the history of Western Europe. William was a tough ruler, but the conquest of England did not take place right after William’s victory at the Battle of Hastings. Though crowned king in 1066, William continued to meet the opposition of the English, especially in the north and west, and his position was rather precarious until 1070, when the conquest of England was complete. By 1086, two hundred Norman barons possessed the lands that more than four thousand Saxon landlords had lost. There is historical evidence that there had remained only two Saxon landlords and two Saxon bishops. Thus “[…] England received not just a new royal family but also a new ruling class, a new culture and language.”21 William reorganised the English feudal and administrative systems, which is one of the main features of his reign. He dissolved the great earldoms and confiscated the lands from the English, distributing them to the Norman barons who had helped him during his expedition to England. The gradual character of the conquest and of land confiscation considerably influenced English feudalism. A baron’s estates were never gathered in a single part of the country, as things happened on the continent. The possessions of a Norman baron in England were scattered far and wide, which accounts for the royal power remaining greater than that of any individual subject. Unlike the rest of Europe, England had one powerful family, more powerful than the family of any of the numerous nobles. Besides, William introduced the continental system of feudalism in England. The Normans had adopted, much earlier than the English, the hierarchy and the ceremonial of the continental chivalric system. After the Battle of Hastings, the Normans imposed their chivalric ideal and feudal relations on the northern world. The feudal system, which had been originally devised for the defence against sporadic attacks or raids, became the main factor of stability of the society, more efficiently organised both for peace and in wartime. By the Oath of Salisbury of 1086, William increased his power furthermore as he requested that all his vassals’ vassals should swear allegiance directly to him. All landlords swore 21

John Gillingham, ‘The Early Middle Ages’ in The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain, ed. Kenneth O. Morgan (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000) 104-105.

allegiance to William and thus a vassal’s loyalty to the king came before the loyalty to his immediate lord. The Norman Conquest was not followed, however, by a severe break with the Saxon past. William preserved many of the Anglo-Saxon institutions. Moreover, he obliged his feudal lords to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the local law courts. He also separated the ecclesiastical courts from the secular ones, promoting thus the church reform. However, William continued to control the church courts and considerably reduced the power of the papacy in English affairs. Much of William’s power depended on the efficiency of the organisation of the country. The king had a representative in every district. He had taxes collected and set up a solid administration of finances. For him to be able to plan the economy, but also to have accurate information about the taxable income, William ordered that an economic survey should be started, which is incorporated in the Domesday Book22 in 1086. The Domesday Book is historically important, because it offers valuable information about England at that time. One of the major effects of the Norman Conquest is to be identified at the linguistic level. Three languages were simultaneously used. The ruling classes spoke French. French was also used in law courts, although the documents were drawn up in Latin. Starting from the thirteenth century, they would be drawn up in French. The clergy used both French and Latin. The local representatives of the king spoke both French and Saxon. For more than three centuries, English was a popular and spoken language, freed from the constraints of grammar, as it was used mainly by the uneducated people. Consequently, the Norman period starting in 1066 is noted for the clear and extensive influence of French literature on the English one, both in form and themes. French replaced English as a medium of literary expression, though Latin continued to be used. By the fourteenth century, when English started being used again by the ruling classes and by the educated people, it had become simpler and suppler. It had lost much of the original Old English inflections, it had undergone several sound changes, and, more importantly, it had acquired a high degree of flexibility which permitted foreign words, French and Latin for the period under discussion, to be added to the native stock. The Norman Romanesque style replaced the Saxon style23 after the Norman Conquest in 1066. From the eleventh and the early thirteenth centuries, the Normans built numerous cathedrals and castles, including important portions of the cathedrals at Ely and Durham, Lincoln, Winchester, and Gloucester. The vaults replaced the flat roofs, which originally covered the naves, the side aisles being covered with groined vaults. Among some of the characteristics of the Norman style are the heavy walls and piers, enormous round arches and huge columns, the long and narrow buildings. 22

Domesday Book is a written record of an economic survey made in 1086 in order to establish the ownership and the value of the land in England. The systematic survey was meant to determine especially how much the tenants on the land, both lay and ecclesiastical, owed the king. By giving William complete information about the feudal estates, the Domesday Book contributed to the increase of William’s authority as the king also knew from whom he should require oaths of allegiance. Groups of officers called legati went to each county and asked sets of questions, Inquisitio Eliensis, under the form of an inquiry. The answers were gathered into the Domesday Book, originally known as Doomsday (the day of the final judgement) Book, as the judgements referring to taxes could not be changed. 23 Saxon architecture represents Britain’s earliest style of architecture and its main features were the thick stone walls, the small windows and the round arches.

One of the remarkable structures built by the Normans is the White Tower, part of the Tower of London. It was started by order of William the Conqueror in 1078 and completed in 1097 and, although restored in the eighteenth century, its interior still has much of the original style. Beginning with William, the Anglo-French kings considerably contributed to the evolution of Britain. William’s authority over the nobles and the church laid the foundations of a very strong monarchy. Moreover, the gradual character of the conquest led to strengthening the position of the English monarchy and increasing the power of the English kings. After William’s death, the Anglo-French kings used feudalism to build up a strong administration and reinforce national unity. A number of England’s representative institutions, including juries and universities, were set up during this period. William had three sons among which he divided his possessions in 1087. Robert, the first born, received Normandy and William II Rufus, the second son, got England. William II ruled England from 1087 to 1100 and, when he died in 1100 in a hunting accident, the crown of England went to William’s third son, Henry, who profited by his brother’s, Robert, being out of the country on a Crusade24. Henry I (1100-1135) improved the country’s administration and organised its government. It is during his reign that the exchequer or the royal treasury was established. Between the reign of Henry I and that of Henry II, England found itself in a condition of anarchy, on account of the crown being disputed between Matilda, Henry’s daughter, and Stephen of Blois, William the Conqueror’s grandson and Henry’s nephew. All the years of Stephen’s reign (1135-1154) were marked by civil war and the monarchy lost the authority it had had over the barons and the church ever since William I’s rule. Yet, although Stephen spent much of his ruling period to resist Matilda and her attempts to take the crown, he decided to leave the crown of England to Matilda’s son after his death. Henry Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, succeeded to the throne in 1154 as Henry II (1154-1189). As Henry was also Duke of Normandy and ruler of Western France, England may be seen as one of the provinces of an empire over which Henry ruled. Yet, Henry II can be considered one of England’s ablest kings in that he managed to put an end to the anarchy that had characterised Stephen’s reign and strengthen the government created by his grandfather. Under his rule, England conquered North Wales and regained its northern counties, also succeeding in imposing the control over Ireland. Henry increased the power the king, and consequently of the state, by controlling and reducing the power of the barons. Just like William the Conqueror, he also tried to reduce the power of the Church, thus coming into conflict with Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was killed by four of the king’s knights. Henry introduced modern justice systems and court procedures and he laid the foundations of the jury system. One of the most important aspects of his government was that he developed the common law25 under the royal courts’ 24

The Crusades were military and religious expeditions organised from the 11 th to the 14th centuries, through which the Christian armies were trying to get back the Holy Land (the present territories of Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt) from the Muslims. Their main outcome was that they brought the Western civilisations into closer contact with the Eastern ones, contributing thus to a fruitful exchange of ideas and to the development of trade, arts and craftsmanship.

administration and applicable to the whole country. He reduced thus the feudal courts’ jurisdiction and increased the power of the king. As a consequence, starting from Henry II’s reign, an essential feature of England’s history is the unity and homogeneity of the kingdom. The unity depended on the consolidated position of a powerful king, the king’s control over the barons and the Church and the application of the common law, the royal justice being stronger than the private one. On Henry II’s death, England is said to have had the strongest leadership in Europe. Henry II’s son, Richard the Lion-Hearted succeeded his father to the throne of England from 1189 to1199. Richard spent the first part of his reign fighting in the Third Crusade and then in France to get back the land he had lost while being away, being in the end captured in Germany. As Richard left the administration matters in the hands of able ministers, the government he had inherited from his father continued to function, heavy taxation being a characteristic for this period. Money was needed to support Richard’s wars and to pay his ransom. Richard, who was very much like the typical knight, died in battle and his brother John, also known as Lackland, replaced him. John maintained a state of conflict during his reign (1199-1216). Apart from losing Normandy in 1204, John came into open conflict with the Pope as he refused to appoint Stephen Langton as archbishop of Canterbury. He was excommunicated and threatened with the invasion of England by Philip II of France. Consequently, he surrendered England to the Pope and got it back in 1213, acknowledging it, however, as a papal fief. To be able to wage his wars, John increased taxation and confiscated properties, coming thus into conflict with the barons as well. Refusing to go on financing John’s wars and rebelling against John’s excluding them from government, the barons, led by Langton, forced the king to sign Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. By this document, John promised to respect the law and the feudal customs, i.e. the feudal rights and the baronial privilege. Magna Carta sets limits to royal authority and delimits the nature of the relationships between the king and his subjects. Out of the 63 clauses of the 1215 Magna Carta, two, 39 and 40, demonstrate their modernity by their still being valid law in England. The document is considered to be an important step forward in the history of individual liberty, as it establishes a principle according to which no person, not even the king himself, can be above the law. John died in 1216. The barons accepted his son, Henry, though only nine years old, as King Henry III (1216-1272), thus being able to control the government of the country for the following sixteen years. When Henry III finally became able to rule the country by himself at the age of twenty-five, he relied on foreign advisers and got involved in expensive wars in Sicily and France. This behaviour brought him into conflict with his barons who, led by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, opposed the king, as they had done it during John’s reign. The king’s quarrel with the barons led to the latter’s attempt, in 1258, to control the government by electing a council of nobles, which Simon de Montfort called ‘parliament’.26 25

This is a term used in England to refer to that law that is not passed by Parliament, but has been developed from old customs and from past decisions of law courts. 26 The term parliament, or parlement, originates in a French word meaning ‘discussion’ and originally referred to the meetings of Henry III and his nobles in the Great Council, which was to become the future House of Lords. As the king needed money to wage wars, he was forced to resort to the noblemen’s financial support. In their attempt to oppose the king’s spending,the

The original purpose of this ‘parliament’ was to control the treasury and to eliminate Henry’s foreign advisers. Yet, as some of the barons remained loyal to the king, civil war broke out in 1264. Simon de Montfort came to power for a short period of time, until 1265, when he was killed in battle, and power returned to Henry. Yet, it was Edward I, Henry III’s son, king of England from 1272 to 1307, who managed to establish the country’s first real parliament, also called the Model Parliament. Apart from the barons, who had formed Henry III’s parliament, Edward I’s Parliament also included representatives of the counties and towns of England, the real providers of the country’s wealth. The House of Commons, thus set up, was considered to be a representative body in that it included both the ‘gentry’ (knights and wealthy freemen) and the town merchants. Edward initiated in this way the functioning of a principle that would keep valid during the modern history of Britain, that there should be “no taxation without representation”. When Edward I, a Plantagenet king, took the throne of England, the fusion of the Norman and the Saxons civilisations was almost complete. As a consequence, Edward diverted attention from France and became more interested in bringing the rest of Britain, i.e. Wales and Scotland in particular, under the English control. Subsequent to the refusal of the Welsh, led by Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, to submit to the English, Edward started a military expedition to Wales in 1277 and in 1284 west Wales and England were united. The fact that Wales was considered to be part of England was reinforced furthermore by Edward I’s giving his first born son the title of Prince of Wales, title which has been reserved ever since for the eldest son of the ruling king or queen. Edward I’s attempt to submit Scotland was not as successful as it was in Wales. Taking advantage of a situation of crisis generated by the succession to the throne of Scotland in 1290, Edward I, called to settle the dispute among the thirteen heirs, invaded Scotland. Successive incursions to Scotland and Edward’s treatment of the Scots brought about a resistance movement, first led by William Wallace and then by Robert Bruce. Though considering himself victorious at various moments in his war against Scotland, Edward I died in 1307 without being king of Scotland.27 On an overall evaluation, the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries represented a period of prosperity for England. The administration grew stronger and it was more efficiently organised to contribute furthermore to strengthening the king’s position and reconsidering the relations the king had both with the nobles and with the people. The legal system improved, as did the judges’ knowledge of legal matters. The trial by jury gradually replaced the older system of the trial by ordeal.28 The economy of the country developed in the sense that the cultivated nobles were supported by the towns, interested in relaxing the heavy taxation imposed on them. 27 Edward I even managed to steal the Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, from Scone Abbey. It represented the seat on which the Scottish kings were crowned and, by bringing it to England and making it into part of the Coronation Chair, Edward believed that he would be accepted king by the Scots. Removed several times from Westminster Abbey by the Scots, who saw it as a symbol of their independence, the Stone of Scone was returned to Scotland in 1996. 28 The origins of the jury system are to be found in Middle Ages England. The new system replaced that of the trial by ordeal. The ordeal of cold water and the ordeal of hot iron were two of the mechanisms used in the latter type of trial. In 1215, by order of Pope Innocent III, the clergy no longer participated in the ordeal, the system thus losing the sanction of the Church. The twelve neighbours originally chosen by the accused to give their evidence and help him prove his

land increased. Sheep raising became an important aspect of England’s economic life, the sale of wool becoming consequently a significant aspect of England’s trade. London and other newly established towns turned into centres of trade and wealth. The population of the country increased being at the time double what it was in 1066. The monasteries played an important part in the rural development of the country, their wealth being demonstrated by the large number of cathedrals, abbeys and parish churches built during this period. The monasteries were notonly centres of wealth, however. They also preserved their older privilege as centres of learning. The Franciscans and the Dominicans, arriving in the thirteenth century, contributed to improving preaching, but also the quality of learning in universities. It is in this period that England’s most reputed universities, Oxford and Cambridge29, were established. The Later Middle Ages The fourteenth century was a century of political, social and religious unrest in Europe, which considerably affected Britain as well. It was a “century of war, plague and disorder,”30 but it also was the period associated with the age of chivalry. Edward I’s successor, Edward II (1307-1327), was a weak king. Defeated in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, he gave up the idea of conquering Scotland. As he tried to free himself of the baronial control, Edward II was forced to abdicate in 1327, leaving the crown to his son, Edward III (1327-1377). The new king, who tried to prove as able a king as his grandfather, diverted attention from Scotland to France and initiated the Hundred Years’ War, an armed conflict between England and France lasting with intermittence from 1337 to 1453. The ruling families of the two countries had disputes over territories in France and the right of succession to the French throne. The nature of the conflict between England and France, i.e. national rather than local, led to its being considered one of the important aspects of the period of transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. The English victories at Crécy and Poitiers contributed to the English re-establishing control over their former possessions in France, adding only a new, but valuable one, the port of Calais. By the end of the century, however, all previous gains had been lost. Yet, the benefit of the war for the English was of a spiritual, rather than material, order. The Hundred Years’ War contributed to a large extent to the development of a new national awareness. In time, this helped put an end to the subordination of the English culture to the French one, which had been dominant in England since 1066. In 1348-1349, the Black Death31 spread to almost all corners of Britain, leading to a dramatic reduction of the population by a third. As a result of the fall in population, economic changes occurred. Wealth concentrated in the hands of innocence gradually changed into a court to try the accused persons. The importance of the jury system resides in its being a guarantee of individual liberty and a means of protection against tyrannical government. 29 The University of Oxford is the oldest institution of higher learning in Great Britain and in the English-speaking world. It was established in the mid-12th century in the town of Oxford. The University of Cambridge, founded in the 13th century, is the second oldest university in Britain. 30 David McDowall, An Illustrated History of Britain (Edinburgh Gate, Harlow, Essex: Longman, 2000) 43. 31 The name under which the plague was known in the Middle Ages, name by which people designated all fatal epidemic diseases.

the survivors who, nevertheless, had to pay the remaining workers several times more than they used to before the plague. Thus, the drop in population contributed to a consolidation of wealth, especially of the middle classes, while, paradoxically, leading to a decline of the economic position of landlords and merchants, who had to pay higher wages to workers. To keep the economic and social situation under control, The Statute of Labourers was passed in 1351 to regulate the level of wages and the price of food. To increase their income, the landlords imposed higher fees on their tenant farmers, which was one of the main causes of the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Yet, the manorial system was gradually replaced by that of cash payment, which eventually led to the disappearance of serfdom. The Peasants' Revolt32 was mainly directed against Richard II's poll tax, but it also showed people’s dissatisfaction with the authority of the Church. Besides, the move of the pope from Rome to Avignon and the Great Schism 33 increased furthermore the English people’s dislike of the institution of the church and disrespect for the papacy. Thus, the increasingly literate English, benefiting at the time from a larger number of religious writings, started challenging the authority of the Church. The Church condemned this new trend in religious experience, mainly encouraged by an increased level of knowledge, as heresy. The ideas of the later Protestant reformers during the Renaissance were anticipated by the views of John Wycliffe, an Oxford professor, who dared criticise various bad practices common in the Church at that time, including the corruption of this institution. Wycliffe maintained that it was the Bible, not the Church, that was the most important religious authority and that everybody should be able to read the Bible in English. For this reason, he got involved in translating the Bible from Latin into English. Wycliffe’s beliefs were supported by a group of people known as the Lollards, who followed the doctrines 34 that would underlie the process of the Church of England becoming independent of the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century under Henry VIII. For the time being, however, Henry IV (1399-1413) strongly opposed ‘lollardy’ and persecuted the Lollards, whose spirit would only revive one century later in the ideas of Protestantism. The later Middle Ages represented a period of social, political and religious unrest. Yet one of its significant features was chivalry. In association with Christianity, chivalry transformed the otherwise heterogeneous Western Europe into a homogeneous community of ideals and beliefs. Starting during Edward III’s reign, England got integrated into the European system of values, translated into the ‘code of chivalry’, deeply infused with the ideas of Christianity. Chivalry implied the code of behaviour followed by the medieval knight. Originating in the development of horse-mounted cavalry and feudalism in the ninth and tenth centuries, chivalry continued to exercise a lasting influence on models of behaviour of the nobility even during the Renaissance and definitely contributed to the shaping of well-defined cultural models throughout the Middle Ages. 32

Also known as Tyler's Rebellion by the name of the ex-soldier who led it, Wat Tyler. The term refers to the period 1378-1417 when two and then three popes simultaneously claimed to be the legitimate head of the Western church. 34 The Lollards believed that the Bible was the most important authority to guide faith. They opposed the doctrine of transubstantiation and were against the use of images in worship. They also insisted on the idea that the clergy should live a simple and austere life. 33

The rather strict relationship established between the nobility and their mounted warriors was dictated by military and economic reasons. To support the cavalry, the lord gave land to the mounted warrior in return for the latter’s military service, while the land offered the knight the main source of income. In time, knighthood became a privilege of the men of noble birth. An unwritten contract, whose main terms were loyalty and bravery, was established between the king or the feudal lord and the knight. The code of chivalry, which originally implied bravery in battle and loyalty to the lord, was later on adjusted under the influence of Christianity and also included religious piety. As the ideals of courtly love expanded, the code of chivalry presupposed refined social manners as well. At the court of Edward III, the interest in the legendary King Arthur was revived and the Order of the Garter35 was founded in 1348 following the model of the Arthurian Round Table. The chivalric ideals continued to survive in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the military and economic aspects fading away with the disintegration of the feudal system. The code of chivalry and the idea of courtly love would become central not only to an important part of the literature of the Middle Ages, but also to the literature of the subsequent centuries, as a form of reinterpretation and adaptation of the concept of chivalry. On Henry IV’s death in 1413, Henry V (1413-1422) succeeded to the throne of England and maintained peace over a united and strong kingdom. He turned his attention to France once again and managed to get hold of most of Normandy, having considerable chance to become king of France by his marriage to the French king’s daughter. He died, however, short before the King of France and it was his son, Henry VI (1422-1461), a baby at that time, that inherited the thrones of England and France. During Henry VI’s reign, a series of dynastic civil wars to last until 1485 was started. Known under the name of the Wars of the Roses, they were fought between the supporters of the two most powerful families in England at the time, the House of Lancaster, whose symbol was a red rose, and the House of York, whose symbol was a white rose. Each of the families aimed at making its member the king of England. Although each side was successful at different times, the wars only ended when Henry Tudor (House of Lancaster) fought the decisive Battle of Bosworth and defeated Richard III (House of York), becoming King Henry VII (1485-1509), founder of the Tudor dynasty. Henry Tudor married Elizabeth of York ending thus the fighting and uniting the two houses. 35

It is the highest and oldest order of chivalry in England, composed of the sovereign, the Prince of Wales and 24 knights, as well as of members of the British and other foreign royal families. The order use Saint George's Chapel in Windsor Castle as their meeting place once a year, the same place where King Arthur’s Round Table was supposed to have been. The motto of the order is believed to originate in an incident that took place at King Edward’s court. A lady who dropped her garter before the whole audience was saved from embarrassment by the king himself, who picked the garter up and fixed it to his own leg, saying: Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shame on him who thinks evil of it). The badge of the garter is displayed on the coats of arms of the members and the motto is still used nowadays.

It is generally stated that the Wars of the Roses practically destroyed the idea of kingship in England. It seems, however, that the real outcome of the war was exactly the opposite. The power of the Crown increased as a result of the destruction of the old nobility and the strengthening of the financial resources of the monarchy by the confiscation of estates. The Church was the most important institution of the Middle Ages and God was central to the medieval value system. As a consequence, although many secular monuments were built during the Middle Ages, most were put up in the service of the Church. In the latter part of the Middle Ages, there is a tendency, however, to abandon the heavy, massive walls and piers that had characterised the Norman period and adopt lighter, more soaring structures, which would become the characteristic of a new style of architecture, the Gothic. The Gothic evolved from the Romanesque, but the buildings lost in massiveness. The new structural development was the ribbed vault36, which was thinner and lighter. It replaced the solid stone vaults that supported the ceiling of a Romanesque church. The tall, pointed arches replaced the round arches. The windows were also pointed and permitted more light, which was delicately filtered through the stained glass. The function of the heavy walls, which used to bear the weight of the vault in Romanesque churches, was taken over by the flying buttresses37. The effect of this architectural change was that the inside of a Gothic church became suppler and more delicate, light coming in through large windows decorated with stained glass. All these features account for the special, distinctive aesthetic qualities of Gothic architecture. The outside remained, however, as massive and impressive as that of the Romanesque churches. One of the most famous Gothic buildings in England is Salisbury Cathedral, unique for the unity of its Early English style38 and renowned for its tower and spire, the tallest in Britain. During the Middle Ages, very important changes occurred at the linguistic level as well. In the course of four centuries, English progressed from its status of a spoken language, used mainly by the illiterate, to that of a mature, refined language, ready to become the proper medium of literary productions. If at the beginning of the Middle English period English was mainly an inflectional language, at the end of the period the relationship within the sentence were very much like those in the modern language, depending basically on word order. Many of the lexical and syntactical-morphological characteristics of the English language Chaucer or Shakespeare were to use were established during the Middle Ages: plural form in –es, simplification of the conjugation of verbs, of the declension of nouns, grammatical gender replaced by natural gender, introduction of words from Old Norse and Norman-French.


It consists of thin arches of stone, running diagonally, transversely, and longitudinally. (In Romanian: bolta gotică sau bolta ogivală. 37 A structure sticking out from the wall of the building to support it. The arches were thus outside the church and they evenly distributed the weight of the vault and carried it to the ground. (In Romanian: arc butant). 38 The Gothic Age in England (13th to 15th centuries) is generally divided into three periods. The Early English style (13th century), closer in aspect to the Romanesque, is characterised by tall, narrow, pointed windows without decorative stonework and thick walls. The Decorated style (14 th century) added ornamental stone carving around windows and doors. The Perpendicular (15th century) displays most of the general features of the Gothic.

The Midland dialect, and particularly East Midland, acquired considerable importance during the fourteenth century, mainly because it was the dialect spoken in the area around London, spreading south of the Thames into Kent and Surrey. Its influence depended much on its being used by Geoffrey Chaucer and other fourteenth-century poets in their works, as well as by its being adopted by William Caxton39 for the printed works. Due to these circumstances, the East Midland dialect gradually developed into the Modern English language. Although towards the end of the period, English reasserted its status as a medium of expression for literature, it may be generally considered that from 1066 to 1485 French literature exercised a strong influence on native English forms and themes. This is mainly because French replaced English in ordinary literary productions, Latin still remaining the language of the learned works. By the fourteenth century, English became the language of the ruling classes again, but at that time it had already undergone many of the changes that brought Middle English and its various dialects close to Modern English, which makes it easy to read even nowadays. English literature in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries displays a wide variety in spite of its still being under the influence of the French and Italian literatures. Yet, at the end of this process of self-definition, which paralleled in a way the process of the English language imposing itself as a language of the educated, English literature emerged vigorous and highly indicative of the existence of a definite national spirit. Unlike the preceding period, the medieval period includes a large number of literary works, characteristic of different literary modes, as well as other literary manifestations closer to the period’s religious experience40. Mention should be made of two of the most interesting productions which define, even if differently, the spirit of a very complex age. One is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, an alliterative poem, whose author is unknown, written in the late 1300s. Using the romance mode, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight dwells upon the Arthurian legend and its meaning depends much on the context of chivalry and the centrality of the a specific code of chivalry. The other, at exactly the opposite pole, would be Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, begun probably in 1387, which gives, in a manner very similar to the realistic mode, a panorama of the medieval society from the point of view of a member of the clergy. Devoid of any idealisation, Chaucer’s poem may be considered a valuable document on the society of England during the Middle Ages, offering at the same time an interesting, because ironic, view of religion and the religious community of the time. The Renaissance The Tudors The reign of the Tudors (1485-1603) is associated with one of the most important periods in the culture of Western Europe, the Renaissance. The series of 39

William Caxton (1422? - 1491) is known as the first English printer. He is the one who set up the first printing press in Britain and printed the first book in English, translated from French, in 1474. By printing books in English, Caxton considerably influenced the spelling and the development of the language. 40 We refer to the plays performed at religious festivals called ‘mystery plays’, as well as to the more secularised, yet still infused with the religious spirit of the age, ‘the moralities’.

literary and cultural movements known under this name started in Italy and then spread to Germany, France, England or Spain from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. Influenced by the concept of humanism, the Renaissance41 essentially meant a return to the values of the great ancient Greek and Roman civilisations. It is also under the Tudors that the Reformation took place. It represented a significant religious revolution in the Christian church as a result of which the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as that of the pope were put an end to and the Protestant churches were established. Underlain by the ideas of the Renaissance and of the Reformation, the Tudor age may be said to have initiated the era of modern history for Britain. Just as everywhere else in Western Europe, the mentality and way of life of the Middle Ages were altered giving way to the spirit of a new age, whose roots, however, are to be found in the preceding period. The main political, economic and cultural premises of the Renaissance had been long before prepared during the Middle Ages. The Tudor dynasty came to the throne of England after Henry Tudor, King Henry VII, had defeated Richard III, ending thus the Wars of the Roses. There followed Henry VIII and his three children, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. The crown passed then to the Stuart family, as all Henry VIII’s successors were childless. After a period of instability and civil wars, the Tudors managed to reunite the country and make it prosperous, but most important of all, they made the church of England independent of the pope, thus turning England into a Protestant country. Profiting by the old nobility having weakened as a result of the Wars of the Roses, the Tudors strengthened the financial resources of the monarchy by confiscating the estates of the once powerful land owning nobles. Thus the nobility no longer represented an independent political force able to oppose the monarch and was forced instead to depend on and serve the Crown. Consequently, by end of the sixteenth century, the Tudor monarchs had managed to centralise government and administration, although they had failed to establish an efficient financial system to pay for the increasing costs of government. Beneficially for the country, the Tudors had thus to turn to Parliament, the only body that had the right to pass laws and approve further taxes, which obviously led to increasing Parliament’s power and its indispensability to the constitution of the country. In spite of several uprisings during his reign, Henry VII (1485-1509) proved very efficient, even more than any other Tudor monarch, in establishing order in the country. He increased the authority of the Crown by reorganising in 1487 the Court of the Star Chamber42 and strengthened in this way the royal control over the nobles. He introduced a modern system of government and bestowed upon his son, Henry VIII, a greatly improved financial position of the country mainly 41

The Renaissance meant the ‘rebirth’ of the belief in the superiority of the Greek and Roman culture after a period perceived as one of cultural decline, which is not exactly true if we refer to the preceding period known also under the name of the Dark Ages. ‘The Middle Ages’ is a better term to designate an age of transition between the classical and the modern world and what is certain is that, had it not been for the significant achievements of the medieval societies, we could never conceive of the splendour of the Renaissance. 42 Created by Henry VII, the Star Chamber represented a reorganisation of the king’s council. Under the control of the monarch, it exercised a wider civil and criminal jurisdiction, being able to try even the nobles who could not be tried by other courts. In need of money, Henry encouraged punishment under the form of fines. The court could also pass prison sentences, but not impose death penalty. The court also functioned, sometimes abusing its powers, under James I or Charles I, until it was abolished by the Long Parliament in 1641.

generated by Henry VII’s ability to re-establish England’s trading position considerably deteriorated by the Wars of the Roses. The prosperity of the country was also due to Henry VII’s being interested in and capable of maintaining peaceful relationships with Austria, Spain and France. Nevertheless, Henry VII’s main heritage was represented by a new attitude to the merchant and lesser gentry classes, whom he turned into the new nobility, and a correct understanding of the importance of the merchant fleet, which he considerably developed, for the international destiny of Britain. Henry VIII (1509-1547), Henry VII’s second son, can be seen as the typical Renaissance monarch, powerful and confident, head of a powerful and relatively stable state, ambitiously aiming to become Holy Roman Emperor and to extend his control to Europe. He ended in rejecting the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and initiated thus Protestant Reformation in England. Careful to control the nobility and to enrich the crown, Henry VIII executed his opponents and confiscated their estates, raised taxes and avoided getting involved in expensive wars. Yet, his ambition, worthy of a Renaissance monarch, was to expand England’s power in Europe. To this end, Henry VIII tried to mediate between France and Spain, two of the powers at the time, with a view to being in the position of controlling the balance of power in Europe. Henry VIII’s chief minister, as ambitious as the king was and very skilful in advising the sovereign both on home and on foreign policy, was Cardinal Wolsey. He was a good administrator and a remarkable diplomat, playing an important part in the country’s government by using Parliament and the royal council. Trusting his important position in the Church as well as his persuasion skills, Wolsey thought that he would also be able to serve his king’s purpose in the latter’s attempt to have his divorce from Catherine of Aragon accepted by the pope. Henry VIII had pretended that the reason for his asking this divorce was his not being able to have a male heir by Catherine, but the true reason was purely political. Henry had grown constantly dissatisfied with the power of the Church and he considered it his rightful prerogative to be the one in control of this institution. As Henry’s attempt by the pope failed, Wolsey had to face the king’s anger and would have been executed had he not died of natural death. Henry, however, pursued his goal and, in 1531, he persuaded the bishops to make him head of the Church of England. Three years later Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy43, giving thus Henry the freedom to marry Ann Boleyn, whose children, in hope there would also be a boy, were given right to succession, excluding thus Princess Mary. Henry VIII initiated the Reformation in England and set up the Anglican Church.


Passed in 1534, it represents a series of statutes through which the pope was denied any form of power over the Church of England. Although it represented a revolutionary measure, it was well received by the people, mainly because it operated only minor changes in the Catholic faith and practices. The Bible was translated into English, priests were allowed to marry, and the shrines of saints were destroyed. Henry’s religious beliefs remained Catholic, although many people had adopted Protestant ideas. Changes more in line with the European Protestantism would be effected later on by the Act of Uniformity, which would impose a Book of Common Prayer for the Anglican Church until Mary Tudor’s turning England to obedience to papacy and Catholicism during her reign.

Humanism Humanism, beginning during the early Renaissance in Italy, revived the classical learning and speculative inquiry, which challenged the church’s monopoly of learning and led to the contesting of scholasticism as the main philosophy of Western Europe. The invention of printing contributed to a more rapid spreading of the new ideas in Europe. The European humanists, among whom John Colet and Thomas More in England, started evaluating church practices and applied the new learning to the reading of the Bible in an attempt to offer a better and more accurate knowledge of the Scriptures. Based on the humanists’ studies, Martin Luther and John Calvin, as well as other reformers saw the Bible, and not the church, as the source of religious authority. The Reformation In England, the break with Rome differed, however, from the revolts in other European countries, first of all because England was a nation with a strong central government and the revolt against Rome acquired a national character. The king did not enforce the break on his own, but through Parliament, which accounts for this measure being fairly popular. Consequently, the revolt did not lead to the splitting of the country into various factions, which could have ended in civil war. Moreover, Henry VIII’s decision to break with Rome in order to be able to divorce Catherine of Aragon made the Reformation start as a political act. The change in religious doctrine came only later under Edward VI and Elizabeth I. The pope’s revenues in England were cut off by legislation and his religious and political authority was put an end to. Henry VIII’s major interest was to seize the wealth of the monasteries, so his motivation was political and economic rather than religious. The ideas of Roman Catholicism were never denied during Henry VIII’s reign, just obedience to the pope was considered a criminal offence. It was only during King Edward VI’s reign that the Protestant doctrines and practices were introduced into the Church of England. Yet the organisation and ritual of the Anglican Church remain in essence similar to those of the Roman Catholic church, to such an extent that during the Elizabethan age, many believers considered the Church of England too little reformed. Known as dissenters they became in time members of various Calvinist sects such as the Presbyterians, the Puritans or the Quakers. Henry VIII’s reign significantly influenced the history of Britain because of the results of the Reformation, noticeable as a matter of fact throughout the whole of Western Europe. By challenging the position of the Roman Catholic Church, the Reformation implied a transfer of power and wealth to the monarch and to the middle classes. This rearrangement in the society’s hierarchy also derived from the feudal nobility having lost their former political and economic privileges. In Europe, Britain included, the Reformation contributed to political, religious and cultural independence, encouraging individualism and nationalism in politics and culture. The Reformation contested the supremacy of the medieval value and authority system, giving thus impetus to the development of democratic governments and of Europe’s economy. Encouraging personal judgement, Protestantism may be said to have largely contributed to the growth of powerful nation states and of modern capitalism. National languages and literatures were consolidated as a result of religious literature, especially the Bible, being translated into the national languages. In England, the new school founded by

Colet addressed a wider audience and education, in Latin previously, no longer was the privilege of the clergy. Yet although the Reformation in England was smoother than in the continental countries, it cannot be said to have taken place without opposition. Though the king resorted to Parliament to settle his relation to Rome, most of the nation still remained faithful to the Catholic Church. Sir Thomas More, one of the outstanding English humanists, would not recognise the king as supreme head of the church, being executed for his Catholicism. In 1536, Henry VIII’s reign was threatened by an important rebellion in the north and east of England, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace44. Yet Protestant changes finally came to be accepted in most parishes. No matter how contested Henry VIII’s personality was, what is generally acknowledged as a truth is that Henry VIII significantly contributed to the development of English national identity. He re-established the power of the monarchy and made it economically stronger by taking possession of the church wealth. He acted through his two powerful ministers, Wolsey and Cromwell, who knew to make use of the Privy Council and Parliament. Henry VIII also strengthened the navy, which made England safe from possible attacks at sea. He defeated the Scots twice, ensuring thus the relative peace of the kingdom against an armed invasion from the north. Yet Henry VIII’s main contribution to the development of a national identity was the break with Rome. Henry’s popularity decreased as, towards the end of his life, he got involved into continental and Scottish warfare, which forced him to sell the richest monastic lands and to take some unpopular financial measures, such as tax raising and coinage debasing. Henry was succeeded by Edward, his only son by Jane Seymour, ten years old on his father’s death. Edward VI (1547-1553) could not rule on his own and there were regents who governed on his behalf. When he fell ill in 1553, Edward was forced to sign a will depriving his half-sisters, the future queens Mary I and Elizabeth I, of their right to the throne of England, in favour of Lady Jane Grey, whom Mary then managed to depose. The main benefit of Edward’s reign is of a religious nature. Edward supported the principles of the Reformation and under his rule England became firmly Protestant, making it impossible for Mary Tudor later on to bring it back to Catholicism. In 1549, the first Book of Common Prayer was imposed and, though it was contested by some, it finally came into general use in the Anglican Church. Mary I (1553-1558), Henry VIII’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon, became the legal heir to the throne on her half-brother’s death and she had Lady Jane Grey executed. Being a fervent Catholic, Mary’s effort was directed towards bringing Roman Catholicism back to England and re-establishing the authority of the pope. Moreover, in 1554, she married the Catholic Philip II of Spain, very unpopular in England, which brought about fierce opposition on the part of the Protestants. Many religious persecutions took place during Mary’s reign, hundreds of people 44

People coming from various social groups rebelled against Henry VIII’s government in 1536, being dissatisfied with Henry’s having rejected the power of the papacy in England and implicitly his having imposed himself as head of the Church of England. They also disliked the growing power and influence of Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister who had taken Cardinal Wolsey’s place. The people mainly stood against the dissolution of the monasteries, which had previously provided social and economic services.

being accused of heresy and sentenced to death. When Mary died in 1558, Elizabeth I succeeded. The Elizabethan Age Elizabeth I (1558-1603) was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. She had one of the longest reigns in the history of Britain and proved governing qualities worthy of her predecessors. Coming after her highly unpopular half-sister, Elizabeth, called Glorianna and Good Queen Bess, enjoyed enormous popularity during her life. In politics, Elizabeth continued to make effective use of Parliament and the Privy Council and she developed the legal institutions of the country. In point of religion, Protestantism was firmly established in England. Economically, Elizabeth encouraged English enterprise and commerce developed. In foreign policy, Elizabeth took a firm stand against the growing power of Spain and managed to defend the nation by defeating the powerful Spanish Armada. Culturally speaking, Elizabeth’s reign marked the climax of the English Renaissance with an unprecedented development of poetry and drama. The population of England and Wales almost doubled during Elizabeth’s reign, which, also on account of harvest failures, inevitably brought about an increase in food prices. Thus, at least the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign was one of starvation, epidemics and unemployment. Consequently, Elizabeth’s government had to pass what was known as the Poor Laws, transferring to local parishes the responsibility for the poor. Legislation was enacted to regulate wages and ensure correct prices. Elizabeth also decided to issue a new currency, stronger and more stable, which finally contributed to long-term business development. Elizabeth generally followed two policies during her reign. She unofficially encouraged English sailors and explorers such as Sir Francis Drake, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir Walter Raleigh or Sir John Hawkins to attack Spanish ships and bring the Crown the silver and gold brought from the American colonies. She also encouraged these adventurers and traders to settle and create colonies. The latter policy considerably influenced Britain’s destiny during the following centuries by leading to the setting up of Britain’s colonial empire, as Drake or Raleigh established the first English outposts in North America. Elizabeth understood very well that much of Britain’s position in Europe and in the world depended on the development of trade overseas. That is why shipbuilding practically boomed and trade, with woollen cloth as the main commodity, expanded overseas. The merchant class significantly grew during this period. One of the reasons for the English exploring new territories overseas was their desire to develop trade. In 1600, the English East India Company was granted a monopoly to trade in Asia, Africa and America. Just as in all other matters that she considered essential to the proper functioning of her kingdom, in religious matters Elizabeth perfected the policy of compromise. If her father had established Protestantism by controlling the Catholics and her half-sister had persecuted the Protestants in her effort to restore Catholicism to England, Elizabeth tried to effect a compromise and keep under control a still fragile religious balance. The main religious orientation in England was Protestant, with Catholic services forbidden and the principles of celibacy and transubstantiation abolished. Yet the official doctrine of the church was not perceived as a matter of imposition on the part of the monarch, but rather the

result of Parliament’s decision, which also presupposed the vote of the Catholic bishops in the House of Lords. Under the Act of Supremacy, Elizabeth tactfully assumed the title of Supreme Governor of the Church, instead of that of Supreme Head. What is certain is that Elizabeth considered the church inseparable from the monarchy and she wanted the church stable. Thus she repressed any action, be it Catholic or radically Protestant45, that challenged the stability of this institution. What Elizabeth managed to do in this way was to hold the majority of people together. Elizabeth governed the country by making extensive use of the Privy Council and Parliament that she summoned ten times during her reign to endorse her policies and help her raise taxes. Yet, although both houses of Parliament grew in size during her rule, Elizabeth managed to effectively keep them under control and relied on their advice only when it suited her. She also strengthened royal government by expanding it at the local level through increased responsibilities given to sheriffs and justices of peace as official representatives of the monarchy. Of middle class origin by her mother, Elizabeth chose her ministers from among the middle class members whose knowledge of the people’s needs and correct judgement of the country’s problems she relied on. Elizabeth’s best and probably most loyal minister was William Cecil who guided the queen for more than forty years in formulating her policies. Although Cecil’s main concern was the succession to the English throne, the failure to secure it encouraged struggles between various claimants, Mary, Queen of Scots being at their centre until she was executed. In foreign policy, Elizabeth’s refusing to marry a Catholic prince and her not having an heir considerably influenced England’s relations with Spain and France, but also with Scotland whose Protestant Reformation Elizabeth supported. The most important event in Britain’s foreign policy under Elizabeth’s rule was the confrontation between the English navy and the Spanish Armada. The effort of Philip II of Spain to organise a powerful fleet to attack England was dictated by political and religious reasons. He wanted to destroy the English navy, which had been harassing and plundering the Spanish ships, generally with Elizabeth’s, though unofficially given, agreement. As the leader of England’s Catholic rival country, Philip intended to dethrone Elizabeth and reconvert England to Catholicism, also forcing her out of the Protestant war in the Netherlands. The defeat of the armada brought about the future decline of the Spanish Empire and helped Britain redefine its position to the powers of Europe. It also stimulated English nationalism, contributing to the unity of the English nation. Yet, the victory of the English navy did not mean the end of the conflict between England and Spain, which lasted until the end of Elizabeth’s reign. Not having an heir of her own when she died in 1603, Elizabeth I was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary Stuart. James VI of Scotland 45

They were called Puritans. They represented a radical form of Protestantism within the Church of England in the latter part of the 16th century. The Puritans’ efforts were directed towards reforming or purifying that church, considering it too close in doctrine to Roman Catholicism. When the Puritans failed in their efforts to reform the Church of England, they tried to establish separate independent congregations free of bishops. In 1620, one of the separatist congregations sailed on the Mayflower for New England where Puritanism remained the dominant religious force throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

became James I of England, the first king of the dynasty that succeeded the Tudors to the throne of England and ruled the country throughout the seventeenth century, until 1714. What Elizabeth managed to do by leaving the crown to James was to effect, at least formally, the union with Scotland, the long dreamed-of goal of her predecessors. The Elizabethan age increased the role of some of the characteristic English institutions, such as Parliament and justices of the peace, making them indispensable to the future stability of the monarchy. Protestantism was definitively established as the country’s religion. The defeat of the Spanish Armada brought about further trust in the English navy. Besides the decline of the Spanish Empire favoured the birth of the new English one, result of the exploring and adventurous spirit encouraged under Elizabeth’s rule. Elizabeth I’s death marked the end of the cultural period known as the Renaissance, whose climax in England was reached during her reign. The English Renaissance The Renaissance is closely associated with remarkable achievements in literature, art, and music. Although the Renaissance changes are now acknowledged as being rooted in the Middle Ages, being the result of an uninterrupted process, in arts the Renaissance challenged and tried to replace the medieval tradition. Painting, sculpture and architecture were no longer seen as solely instruments at the service of the church, but asserted their status as arts. Science, such as mathematics, was turned to the best account in order to achieve proportion and create perspective, one of the chief characteristics of the Renaissance being the merging of art and science. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, various changes had occurred in society throughout Europe, creating a favourable background for the development of arts. Wealth accumulated, especially in towns, enabling art-loving individuals to support artists. Moreover, the continually growing level of education turned the townspeople into more sophisticated and demanding audiences that imposed on the creator new form and content standards. Experimentation and innovation became central to the Renaissance productions. In spite of its return to the classical models, Renaissance literature tended to focus on individuality by emphasising the beauty and complexity of the human being. It also attempted to delimit and express a new value system consonant with the effervescence of contemporary life. The Renaissance was a period when, under the influence of the humanists’ ideas, people all over Europe developed stronger confidence in the dignity and worth of the individual. Under the same influence, the Renaissance people understood the responsibility of citizenship. They also discovered that the bettering of the society depended on a new, more flexible education system freed from the constraints of religion. The Renaissance, a period characterised by intellectual effervescence, paved the way for the future developments in the philosophy and science of the seventeenth century. Many of the Renaissance ideas, especially those according to which humankind rules nature, were to be found at the basis of modern science and technology. Renaissance political thought largely influenced the future English constitutional theory.

In England, achievements in various arts came to be associated with the Renaissance, and particularly with the Elizabethan age. Choral music and the madrigal developed during this period, the foundations of an important English musical tradition being thus laid. In art, a new style imposed itself. The Elizabethan style used in architecture, though rather eclectic, manifested a clear tendency towards well-ordered symmetry, its huge windows, one of its characteristics, distinguishing it from the castle-like Gothic. Yet, the most spectacular development occurred in literature and the performing arts. In a period of immense creativity, the theatre started to play an essential role in the life of the community. It is in the sixteenth century that the famous Globe Theatre46 was built. William Shakespeare’s, Christopher Marlowe’s and Ben Jonson’s plays were staged at the Globe as well as at other theatres built during this period. Renaissance drama was the result of an outburst of creativity and inventiveness. It evolved from the Middle Ages representations and gradually left the church and its precincts and started to address secular audiences. English dramatists tried to satisfy the taste of constantly wider audiences with whom their productions became extremely popular mainly because they knew how to combine in an artful manner the standards inspired from the classical models with the sensationalism and flamboyance required by the popular taste. Under Seneca’s influence, the blood and revenge tragedies, from Kyd’s simpler Spanish Tragedy to Shakespeare’s sophisticated Hamlet, became fashionable and were very well received in the age. Ben Jonson’s plays, full of verve and imagination, satirising people’s lack of good sense and moderation, marked to a great extent the future evolution of drama, especially during the Restoration. Poetry, represented by Sir Philip Sidney or Edmund Spenser, developed in the direction of a greater elaboration of language to satisfy, unlike drama, the taste of a demanding, educated public.

The Enlightenment The Stuarts During the Tudor age, England’s destiny was inextricably linked to that of Western Europe, the Renaissance and the Reformation being world movements that considerably affected the evolution of England’s political and cultural life. Benefiting from a strong navy, England had redefined its position to the powers of Europe. It had thus gained a new status permitting it to solve its domestic problems without interference of the neighbours, while enabling it to play an 46

The Globe was built on the South bank of the Thames in 1599 by the English actor Richard Burbage in partnership with Shakespeare. It was an octagonal, open-air building enclosing an inner pit into which the stage projected. The audience could seat in the three galleries, one above the other, surrounding the pit. The topmost gallery was covered with a thatch roof. The theatre was destroyed by the Puritans and it was reconstructed in the 1990s copying the design of the original structure.

important part in the world’s affairs. During the Stuart age, which was, as a mater of fact, one of political and religious unrest, the English managed to develop a system of parliamentary monarchy. By taking advantage of the Tudor heritage, they also managed to establish those relations of England to Scotland and Ireland that were to characterise modern Britain. In the same period, the English set up self-governing communities across the ocean laying the foundations of free English institutions in North America. James VI of Scotland became James I (1603-1625) of England and his greatest merit resided precisely in his uniting the crowns of the two countries. As for the rest, the reign of the first Stuart king of England was characterised by domestic conflict. Religiously, the Puritans grew increasingly dissatisfied with the much too Catholic Church of England. James had previously had to cope with the problems created by the conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics in Scotland. Moreover, he had tried to settle it in a violent way by imposing the power of the monarch over that of the church. In England, he manifested the same intolerant attitude to the Catholics, which brought about opposition on their part. It culminated in the Gunpowder Plot47 of 1605. In 1604, King James I ordered that an English version of the Bible should be produced and used in church. Known as the King James Version or the Authorised Version, the English translation was published in 1611 and it is still used in many Anglican churches. In politics, the major conflict was between king and Parliament, on account of James I’s, and then Charles I’s, idea of monarchy by divine right. The Tudors’ Parliament had been a powerful one and the position of the House of Commons had been significantly strengthened under Elizabeth. That is why it was a mistake for James to disregard the claims of the Commoners. The king tried to govern without Parliament from 1611 to 1621, but many of England’s democratic institutions had been already put to test and gained their right to play a part in modern Britain’s political life. Consequently, they represented a force and Parliament in particular was expected to oppose James’ belief in the king’s divine right. In 1628, Sir Edward Coke, who had been dismissed by James from his office as Chief Justice for his ideas about an independent judiciary, helped produce the Petition of Right48 forced upon James’s son, Charles I, to set limitations on the monarch’s authority.


The Gunpowder Plot was a conspiracy by a group of Roman Catholics to kill James I at the opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605. The plot was a consequence of James I’s oppressive laws against the Catholics. Guy Fawkes was to set fire to the gunpowder stored in the cellar under the House of Lords, but the plot was exposed and Fawkes was arrested and executed one year later. The Gunpowder Plot is celebrated every year on 5 November in memory of this historical event. If, originally, it celebrated a victory of the Protestants against the Catholics, it has gradually turned into a festival enjoyed by everyone. The custom is to make a ‘guy’ of rags and burn the ragged effigy of Guy Fawkes on top of a bonfire. 48 The Petition of Right was addressed to King Charles I in 1628 by the members of Parliament led by Sir Edward Coke. From among the most important claims was that the king should not raise taxes without Parliament’s approval and that no subject should be imprisoned without cause shown. Charles signed the petition on condition Parliament approved funds to support his foreign policy. Though the petition did not exactly contribute to the change of Charles’ governing attitude, it became later an integral part of the English Constitution.

Charles I, king of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625 to 1649, inherited many of his father’s ideas, including the belief in the divine right of the king and in the authority of the Church of England. Because of these ideas, Charles, just like his father, came into conflict with Parliament, which finally led to civil war. Charles summoned and dissolved three Parliaments in four years because they refused to accept the king’s arbitrary measures relating to the subjects’ obligation to pay for military expenditure under imprisonment penalty. These measures were at the basis of Parliament’s claims formulated in the 1628 Petition of Right. Although Charles signed the petition, in 1629 he dismissed Parliament and would not summon it again for the next eleven years, during which he took exceptional financial measures to meet his expenses. It was only in 1640 that, in need of an army and funds to put down the rebellion of the Scots on whom he had tried to impose the Anglican liturgy, Charles convoked Parliament again. The summoning was only circumstantial and as Parliament refused to satisfy the king’s demands and insisted on peace with Scotland, it was dissolved after one month only. That is why Charles’ fourth Parliament is known as the Short Parliament. Yet, as he had exhausted finances, in 1641 Charles called his fifth Parliament, the Long Parliament, and he agreed to abolish arbitrary taxation and to see to Parliament not being dissolved without Parliament’s permission. The Scottish revolt was followed by an Irish one, which Charles was likely to put down only if he was supported by Parliament to raise an army. Not only did Parliament refuse support, but it also made further claims for the right of Parliament to approve the king’s ministers. As Charles tried to impose his will by force, he aroused the country’s anger and had to run away. The English Civil War Both Parliament and King then raised armies. Parliament’s supporters were known as the Roundheads; the king’s supporters were called the Cavaliers. These were the two sides involved in the first civil war of the English Revolution. The English Revolution, also called the Puritan Revolution, lasted from 1640 to 1660. It began with Charles I’s summoning the Long Parliament, it continued through two civil wars, it also included the king’s trial and execution, Oliver Cromwell’s republican experiments and, finally, the restoration of the Stuart heir as King Charles II. The first civil war ended in 1646 when Charles gave himself up to the Scots, who, one year later, turned him over to the English Parliament. The second civil war took place in 1648, when the army and Parliament fought against Scotland and the king, the Scottish army being defeated by Cromwell in a battle at Preston. The man who distinguished himself in the conflict between the royal and the parliamentary forces was the leader of Parliament’s army, Oliver Cromwell. After Charles’ beheading in London, he became chairman of the council of state, the parliamentary body that governed England as a republic until the monarchy was restored in 1660. Oliver Cromwell (1653-1658) did not rule, therefore, as king. He was the first commoner to govern England, but as Lord Protector and under the provisions of England’s first written constitution. His military genius, as well as his clear Calvinist views helped him place himself at the head of and keep together the groups who had overthrown Charles I. He conquered Scotland and Ireland and

turned England into one of Europe’s military powers, whose empire expanded overseas. After the victories of Marston Moor, 1644 and Naseby, 1645 and Preston, 1648, Cromwell became one of the prominent military commanders in England. He considered it his duty to get involved in discussions regarding England’s form of government and the electoral reform. If, originally, Cromwell had not contested the position of king, insisting only on the limitation of the king’s authority, after his successive victories, he looked at himself as an instrument of God and saw the king’s position as useless. He also considered it unnecessary that the House of Lords should be maintained. After the king’s execution, the Commonwealth of England was formed, ruled by a Council of State. In 1649, Cromwell had to put down a Leveller49 mutiny in the army. Then he went to Ireland trying to shatter the Catholic power. The next year, he won a victory against the Royalists to prevent them from invading England and defeated Charles II and the Scots, being acclaimed as the saviour of the Commonwealth. In 1653, Cromwell refused the crown and was named Lord Protector. He governed with a Council of State and a truly British Parliament, i.e. England, Scotland and Ireland were represented, which met every three years. As Lord Protector, Cromwell was given broad powers, especially in military and foreign affairs. Adopting a dictator-like attitude, Cromwell tried to establish the reforms demanded by the Puritans during all the years of the English Revolution, among which religious toleration and a strict moral code, which he applied in the Commonwealth, even if to do it well he had to close the theatres. In foreign policy, Cromwell’s actions strengthened England’s position as an international power. He captured several Spanish possessions, such as Jamaica in the West Indies or Dunkirk in northern France. He settled a trade conflict with the Dutch, the English merchant ships sailing safely in colonial waters. Oliver Cromwell may be regarded as the epitome of an age in which the middle class rose against the power of the king and of the great aristocracy. As a Puritan, he represented a group whose religious beliefs presupposed greater liberty of conscience, but also stricter morality. He was successful as an army leader, but his political offer enjoyed little popularity and the revolution that he made possible did not survive his death. In 1660, the Stuart heir took the throne and the monarchy was restored to England. The Restoration Charles II’s reign (1660-1685) brought relative stability to the country after a fifteen-year period of civil war. After Oliver Cromwell’s death, his son Richard succeeded as Lord Protector, but as he proved able to control neither the army nor Parliament, there followed a period of anarchy. Richard Cromwell’s resignation in 1659 made it necessary that the Stuart heir should be called back from his exile on the Continent, paving thus the way for the restoration of the monarchy. 49

The Levellers were a 17th-century English political group during the English civil wars. They demanded extended franchise and government reforms based on the inalienability of individual rights. The Levellers anticipated the ideas of the American Revolution, their philosophy included three main principles: man had certain inalienable rights beyond the jurisdiction of any government, government authority derived from the people and the separation of powers.

As it coincided with an almost general reaction against Puritanism, the Restoration was, unlike the Protectorate, widely popular. And, although it was a period of political unrest, characterised by tense relationships between king and Parliament, culturally, the Restoration represented a period of scientific and literary achievement. It was for the first time in the history of Britain that Parliament summoned the King and not the other way round, as things had happened at various moments of crisis. Charles II was seen as the only solution to prevent anarchy from becoming chronic in the country and to stop the dissolution of the empire abroad. Charles was proclaimed king in 1660 and crowned one year later and, due to the special circumstances of his accession, the authority of the king and that of Parliament were to be seen as inseparable. Besides, Charles had declared that he would accept parliamentary government and grant amnesty to his opponents. Determined to govern legally, Charles II convoked Parliament, which he preserved for eleven years. This first Parliament was Royalist and gave the king full authority, which he delegated to Edward Hyde, First Earl of Clarendon. Edward Hyde was Lord Chancellor from 1660 to 1667. Intent on restoring the supremacy of the Church of England, Edward Hyde had the Clarendon Code50 passed in Parliament, which, by the restrictions imposed on the religious dissenters, practically eliminated the possibility of Puritanism in England. Yet, Clarendon and Charles refused to take revenge against the members of the former Roundhead party. Moreover, they effected a compromise on the land question by permitting the ex-Roundheads to purchase and keep land, reason for which many of them would later become local leaders of the Whig party51. The best-known document passed by Parliament under Charles II’s rule was the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679. Although the writ had been also used earlier in the sixteenth century, it was only in the latter half of the seventeenth that its effectiveness increased. After 1679, the authority of the court became more important than the sovereign’s orders, ensuring thus the individual’s liberty in front of arbitrary arrests. The importance of this measure resides in its being the borderline between democracy and despotism. In foreign policy, Charles II made an alliance with France and got involved in the Dutch War, which, on account of the already acknowledged commercial and 50

The Clarendon Code included four acts passed by Charles II’s first parliament to secure the power of the Church of England over the Puritan nonconformists, who had politically dominated the previous period. The Corporation Act (1661), the Act of Uniformity (1662), the Conventicle Act (1664), and the Five-Mile Act (1665) restored the supremacy of the Church of England and it imposed the use of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It declared at the same time that it was illegal to take arms against the king. 51 The Whig party emerged in the 17th century in opposition to King Charles II and James II. They contributed to a large extent to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, through which the supremacy of Parliament over the king was established. Supported by the British merchants and industrialists, having religious affinities with the Protestant dissenters, the Whig party achieved control of the government at the end of the Stuart era and remained in power for fifty years, when the Tory party took over. Leaving front stage for seventy years, the Whigs started playing an important role during the Victorian period, being largely responsible for the reform legislation, known as the Reform Bills. The Whigs derisively referred to the supporters of the Roman Catholic King James II and of the monarchy as Tory. The Tory party was made up of the landed aristocracy and the supporters of the Church of England. During the 19th century the Tory Party became known as the Conservative Party and the Whig Party as the Liberal Party, ‘Tory’ being a term still used as a synonym for Conservative.

colonial rivalry between the two countries, was highly popular. The outcome was that England managed to get the Dutch colony of New Netherland, now New York. Because of his effort to become an absolute ruler, subserviently supported by a Tory party who had adopted the policy of non-resistance to the king, Charles II brought once more the Stuart dynasty into conflict with Parliament. In 1681, the king dissolved Parliament and until his death he ruled without it. Charles II was succeeded by his Catholic brother James II (1685-1688) on whom he bestowed an almost uncontested power. Moreover, James also inherited a Tory party ready to submit to the king, as well as a Church that would not contest the king’s divine right. James II tried to rely on the Dissenters against the Anglican Church and allowed the free worship of both Dissenters and Catholics, which did nothing but lead to greater religious tension. The king’s intolerant attitude and his appointing the Catholics to key positions in the state increased furthermore the conflict between the Stuart House and the English people. Afraid that James II’s son might ensure a Roman Catholic succession, the king’s opponents proclaimed Mary, James’s elder daughter, heiress to the throne. She ruled together with her husband, William of Orange, from 1689 to 1694 and after her death William ruled alone until 1702. The Glorious Revolution The events through which James II was removed as king in 1688 and replaced by his daughter Mary and her husband William III are known under the name of the Glorious or the Bloodless Revolution. Helped by Louis XIV, James tried to regain his throne, but was defeated by William and had to run away to France where he remained until his death. The revolution was ‘glorious’ first of all because it was successful without bloodshed, but also because it created constitutional monarchy. Thus the power of Parliament increased and the arbitrary actions of the monarch were considerably limited. Mary and William were given the crown on condition they would ratify the Bill of Rights52, which they did in 1689. They also passed the Toleration Act, through which they granted Protestant Dissenters the freedom of worship. In his effort to fight the territorial ambitions of France under Louis XIV, William involved England in the War of the League of Augsburg (1689-1697) and in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). England’s victory at Blenheim in 1704 under the command of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough demonstrated England’s power and gave it the right to an important position among the other European countries. Moreover, England had learned to put its wealth to use and increase it by raising taxes in Parliament. The Whig party became the king’s most loyal supporter in his wars against France, first because he was the leader of the Protestant Princes and secondly, because the war contributed to England’s financial prosperity. To obtain the money necessary to finance the war, in 1693 England created a permanent national debt and in 1694 set up the Bank of England, which, together with the developing stock exchange, 52

In Britain, this is the informal name attributed to the Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subjects. Yet, contrary to the what the name may be taken to mean, the Bill of Rights stipulates the relationships between the monarch and his Parliament, in the sense that the real power lies with Parliament and not with monarch.

contributed to imposing London as a financial power in Britain and in the world. William’s London had become an important centre of finance and commerce, the East India Company of London challenging the position of the rival Dutch Company. In the last year of his reign, to prevent the return of the Roman Catholic Stuarts to the throne of England, William III passed the Act of Settlement 53, which stipulated the order of succession to the throne of England. If Scotland had subscribed to the Bill of Rights, it was reluctant to adopt the Act of Settlement, according to which the crown passed to the House of Hanover. The English were afraid that Scotland might try to restore a Catholic Stuart to the throne. The only solution was the Act of Union of 1707, based on which the kingdom of Great Britain was created. The two countries had been only formally united under the same crown by James I Stuart in 1603 and as a Commonwealth in Oliver Cromwell’s time. When the monarchy was restored, the two countries became separate again. The union presupposed the joining of England’s and Scotland’s parliaments, Scotland being represented in the British House of Commons and receiving the same trading rights as the English. When William died in 1702, Anne, his wife’s sister, became queen of England, Scotland and Ireland (1702-1714) and, by the Act of Union, of Great Britain and Ireland (1707-1714). Relying much on the counsel of her ministers, Queen Anne continued William’s foreign policy and directed the country’s efforts against France and Spain in the War of the Spanish Succession, in which John Churchill, now Duke of Marlborough won several victories. Yet, if William had been tolerant in religious matters, Anne was a devout Anglican and in politics she inclined in favour of the Tories rather than the Whigs. Having no heir of her own, Anne was the last Stuart monarch and passed the crown to the House of Hanover, her German cousin becoming King George I of Great Britain and Ireland. The Restoration Art and System of Thought Elizabeth’s death in 1603 was followed by a period of relative political and religious instability, which brought about a change of tone in the literary productions of the Jacobean period. Even if some Elizabethan dramatists continued to write, Shakespeare and Ben Jonson in particular, their dramatic works became darker and more pessimistic in tone reflecting a gloomier view of the world. Plays such as John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi indicate the same departure from the Renaissance confidence and exuberance. During Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, the theatres were closed and with the restoration of the monarchy, literature, especially drama, was restored to the status and level of popularity it used to have during the Renaissance. Yet, under the influence of French literature, the Restoration productions manifest a clear tendency towards classicism, with rules and standards meant to discipline imagination. The favourite genres are drama and the satire, which generally reflect the cynicism of the age. John Dryden, the representative poet and playwright of the Restoration, is also to be noted for his critical activity. His prose 53

Enacted by Parliament in 1701, the Act of Settlement excluded all the male heirs of Roman Catholic religion from the throne. It was decided that unless Anne, James II’s second daughter, the last of the Protestant Stuarts had an heir, the crown should go to Sophia, elector of Hanover, James I’s granddaughter, and her descendants on condition they were Protestant. King George I, Sophia’s son, became thus king of England in 1714.

work Of Dramatick Poesie, an Essay, written in 1668, is considered to have laid the basis of English literary criticism. The Restoration is also associated with a series of brilliant and flamboyant comedies known as the Restoration comedy. William Wycherley’s or William Congreve’s plays set the pattern for the future English comedy of manners. The same classical tendencies came to be noticed in the English baroque architecture of the seventeenth century. Influenced by the Italian style, the architect Inigo Jones designed the austere Queen’s House, his masterpiece being considered to be the Banqueting House in London. One of his great projects was the restoration of St. Paul's Cathedral, his work influencing Sir Christopher Wren, who reconstructed the cathedral after the London fire of 1666. The premises for the development of science had been already established during the Renaissance. Under the influence of the French scientist and mathematician, René Descartes, one of the most influential thinkers of Western Europe of the seventeenth century, science became Cartesian54. Isaac Newton’s laws of motion and the idea of universal gravitation gained England its incontestable place among the main contributors to the emergence of the new Age of Reason. Newton became a member of the Royal Society, among whose first fellows were Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle and Ernest Rutherford.55 Mechanistic principles were also applied to explain the organisation of the society and human motivation. The society was seen as a mechanical system, actuated by man’s wishes and desires. These ideas were part of the philosophy of the representative thinker of the Restoration period, Thomas Hobbes. His theories about nature, human behaviour and society led him to the conclusion that the society could be held together only by strong social institutions and a powerful ruler, ideas expressed in his work Leviathan. Hobbes’s ideas were attacked by John Locke, who rejected the theory of the king’s divine right and the nature of the state and insisted on the fact that sovereignty was not a privilege of the state, but of the people. Locke’s political ideas formulated in his Treatises on Government and Essay Concerning Human Understanding related to people’s natural rights, the property rights, the role of the state and of the government, as well as the rule of the majority. They clearly anticipated many of the ideas to be found at the basis of modern democratic systems. In the early eighteenth century, many of the philosophical, political and scientific doctrines of the seventeenth century would foster a new view of the world represented in Jonathan Swift’s satires, Alexander Pope’s poetry and Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele’s essays. They would also impose Britain as a leader in the world of thought in the Age of the Enlightenment. The First British Empire 54

According to Descartes, reason was the only source of knowledge. The French thinker considered that nothing could be held as true unless grounds for believing it true had been established. Therefore, he tried to apply the rational methods of mathematics to philosophy. His famous words “Cogito, ergo sum,” (“I think, therefore I am.”) demonstrate that one’s existence is underlain by the clear consciousness of one’s thinking. 55 Evolved from some English scientists’ meetings, the Royal Society was founded in 1660 during the reign of King Charles II, being granted royal charter in 1662. Originally, it was created to contribute to the improvement of the knowledge of nature. Nowadays, its objectives, beside the encouragement of scientific research, also include the recognition of excellence in science and the promotion of international scientific relations and science education.

The foundations of the British Empire had been already laid during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who had constantly supported naval exploration. The English East India Company had been set up in 1600. Yet, under the pressure of Spain, which possessed a large colonial empire across the ocean, England’s colonial expansion in the Americas became really noticeable only during the seventeenth century. The English began to settle in North America, the first permanent settlement being established in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia. In 1620, the Puritan dissidents founded Plymouth colony, the first colony in New England. The presence of the English settlers was extended down the eastern coastline and in 1664 Charles II seized New Amsterdam from the Dutch and renamed it New York. During William III’s reign, the number of colonies in New England increased constantly and the Hudson’s Bay Company was established for the fur trade. Britain gained a new status as an overseas power, which gave it the right to come into competition on equal terms with the other European powers. In the same period, England gained a foothold in the West Indies. As the increasing tobacco and sugar production required larger labour force, which started to be brought from Africa, the islands were turned into a plantation economy based on slavery. The English also conquered the Spanish colony of Jamaica and in 1670 Spain had to acknowledge the English possession in the Caribbean. The Royal Africa Company was established in 1672 to provide more African labour force for the expanding sugar economy. The economic and trade policy influenced England’s, then Great Britain’s, colonial expansion during the seventeenth century to such an extent that by the end of the century most of the population in the English islands was made up of slaves. It may be said that during the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, Britain established its first empire. It mainly covered the Caribbean and North America, but it also expanded in the West Indies. The English presence in India came to be noticed by the activities of East India Company, although India came under the direct British rule only in the nineteenth century. The expansion of the first empire was primarily due to England’s economic policy. The colonies were established with a view to increasing the wealth of the mother country, either as raw materials sources or as markets for the products produced in Britain. In the following period, governmental control over the colonies increased and the wealth of the country supported by its military successes placed Britain in a position that would permit it to dominate the world. Due to its military successes and colonial expansion, on the one hand, and to John Locke’s and Isaac Newton’s contribution to the development of the system of Western thought, on the other, Britain imposed itself as an incontestable leading force of the world in the eighteenth century. The Hanoverians Under the provisions of the Act of Settlement, the crown of Britain passed to the House of Hanover, whose members would rule the country for two centuries, until Queen Victoria died in 1901. During this period, many of the revolutions of the Western world, political, economic or scientific, would originate in or have a certain relation to Britain.

Of German origin, the first Hanoverian king, George I (1714-1727) was unable to speak the language of the country and he never learned English. Thus he was forced to initiate a new system of government. The monarch ruled indirectly through appointed ministers, who had to look for and rely on support in Parliament in order to pass laws, to raise taxes and control foreign policy. The Cabinet was presided over by one minister, whose position was to be known later as that of Prime Minister56. Sir Robert Walpole, on whom George I relied to set up the directions of his home and foreign policy, is mentioned as Britain’s first Prime Minister. Walpole, by his incontestable administrative skills, contributed to a large extent to the strengthening of the position of the Hanoverians in Britain. Rather unpopular in the country, George I feared the possibility of his being replaced by the Stuart heir. Convinced that the Tories supported the House of Stuart, George relied on the Whig party and a long period of government controlled by the Whigs started. The main concern of Sir Robert Walpole, who was a Whig and remained in office for more than twenty years, was to prevent the Tories from coming to power and maintain a homogeneous Cabinet. In foreign policy, George and Walpole’s efforts were directed towards maintaining peace, especially by an alliance with France. Walpole established the connection between George I’s reign and that of his son, George II (1727-60). Like his father, George II remained more interested in Hanover than in Great Britain and sometimes subordinated Britain’s interests to those of Hanover, as in the war of the Austrian Succession. Yet, as long as Walpole was retained as chief minister, due to Caroline’s, the king’s wife, support, the country was peaceful and its wealth increased. In 1739, however, Walpole was forced by the opposition to give up his pacifist ideas and accept the war with Spain over the Spanish colonies. Three years later, he resigned and his favourite ideas relating to the homogeneous Cabinet and the alliance with France gave way to those of William Pitt ‘the Elder’, whose main goal was imperial power and the setting up of a British Empire in India and America. The war between Britain and France, which broke out in 1754 in America, turned into a general European war in 1756. As a result of the Seven Years’ War57 Britain emerged as the leading colonial power of the world. William Pitt had understood correctly that Britain’s fortune depended more on the expansion of its colonial empire than on its dominating Europe. Under George I and George II, wealth accumulated and the markets for the English goods, already existing in America and India, continued to develop by the extension of the merchant service. The mentality of the new age had already been shaped in the previous century based on John Locke’s philosophy and the premises for a new freedom of the individual and for private initiative had been created. As a consequence, Britain under the first two Hanoverian kings became 56

Originally, anyone from the House of Lords or from the House of Commons could be chosen by the monarch to be chief or Prime Minister. Recently, the Prime Minister has always come from the Commons and the job is given to the leader of the party with the largest number of members in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister chooses and presides over the Cabinet. He heads the government of whose activities he regularly informs the sovereign.

The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) was fought between Austria, France, Russia, Saxony, Sweden and Spain on one side and Britain, Prussia and Hanover, 57

on the other. One of its main causes was the colonial rivalry between Britain and France, each country struggling to become the most important imperial power. Britain won and France had to give most of its land in America, Canada and India to Britain.

the proper place for the great changes generally associated with the Industrial Revolution to take place in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Britain’s social, political and legal climate was favourable to change and encouraged and guaranteed investment. The Industrial Revolution The Industrial Revolution implied a series of economic, social and political changes that led to the transformation of essentially agricultural economies into industrial ones. Mechanical labour replaced the manual one, which, together with the systematic application of scientific and technological knowledge to the manufacturing process, brought about an increase of productivity and efficiency. The economic changes considerably affected the society, as they generated far more significant social changes. People left the rural areas in search of work and moved to the rapidly growing cities, where larger business industries concentrated. The amount of goods and services expanded. A considerable number of people, especially belonging to the middle and the upper classes, started to enjoy greater prosperity benefiting from the advantages of a much improved health system. Nevertheless, the Industrial Revolution also meant the displacement of the rural dwellers from their home areas and the crowding of urban areas. Efficient and scientific land working generated the depletion of the natural resources, as well as greater pollution. The Industrial Revolution dramatically changed Britain and the British society. New industrial towns and cities, such as Liverpool, Birmingham or Manchester developed. They became overcrowded, their population increasing to such an extent that by the middle of the nineteenth century half Britain’s population lived in cities. The American Revolution Although William Pitt had come to be associated with Britain’s new status as one of the most important world powers, he did not manage to have his views and ambitions accepted by George III (1760-1820). Unlike his predecessors, George III, born and educated in England, was less concerned with Hanover, whose king he became in 1815. He was determined to take an active part in Great Britain’s government and restore the old prerogatives of the king. As the Whig ministers had held most of the powers during the reigns of the first two Georges, George III decided to rule without the Whigs. The king’s policies, especially those relating to the American colonies, were carried into effect by the king’s Tory supporter, Lord North, Britain’s Prime Minister from 1770 to 1772. To counterbalance the huge expenses generated by the imperial wars and to reduce the national debt, George III had laws passed by Parliament to tax colonial commodities, such as sugar or tea, and legal documents and publications. The Tea Act and the Stamp Act passed without consulting the colonists provoked the Americans’ opposition and represented the pretext for the American Revolution. The Americans objected to their not being represented in Parliament, although taxes were enforced on them. The American Revolution (1775-1783) refers to the war between America and Britain, which ended in Britain’s eventually recognising the United States of America in 1783. The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, stating

that the thirteen American colonies, which formed the Continental Congress, were independent of Britain. The document also stated the new principles of that the thirteen American colonies, which formed the Continental Congress, were independent of Britain. The document also stated the new principles of government making clear reference to men’s inalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as well as to their right to take part in their own government. On account of the stand he took in the American problem, George III and his government were to be held responsible for the loss of Britain’s American colonies. Moreover, France and Spain used the opportunity of the American Revolution to strike back at the British Empire. Britain’s image outside considerably deteriorated. Its defeat in the American wars led to the contesting of George’s and his ministers’ ability to govern. The defeat also marked the end of the First British Empire. The loss of the American colonies, as well as the increasing amount of British products available for export forced Britain to look to the east for new markets to carry on with its international trade. The Second British Empire emerged as a result of Britain’s quest for new markets and its belief in the concept of free trade. Focusing more on Asia and Africa, the Second British Empire expanded all through the nineteenth century, reaching a climax at the end of World War I, after which, under the pressure of national movements, Britain had to grant independence to many of its colonies. After the American Revolution, Britain tried to increase and tighten control over its possessions in India and Canada and, although there had been previous English expeditions to Australia, it is in the eighteenth century that the British got really interested in colonising it. Australia became an important destination for the British convicts and Sydney was founded in 1788. At home, George III solved the crisis generated by Lord North’s resignation as a result of Britain’s defeat in the American war by appointing William Pitt58 Prime Minister. Pitt managed to restore Britain’s stability and improve its financial position. He is also responsible for the Act of Union, passed in 1800 and coming into effect on 1 January 1801, by which the Kingdom of Great Britain and all of Ireland were united into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Surprising as it may seem, one of the most important events to affect Britain during the eighteenth century was the French Revolution of 1789, although its ideas were accepted with much difficulty by the English. The Revolution, however, permitted Napoleon to rise and dominate the world’s stage threatening to destroy the international balance of power. Consequently, Britain could not afford to stay out of the European conflict known as the Napoleonic Wars 59. Britain fought Napoleon to prevent France from controlling Europe. Its main goal was to maintain the balance of power in Europe, on the one hand, and to defend its empire, on the other. That was what it obtained at the Congress of Vienna, which ended the Napoleonic Wars. A balance of power was created among the 58

He is referred to as William Pitt the Younger to distinguish him from his father, known as ‘the Elder’. He was Britain’s youngest Prime Minister, being only twenty-four when he took office. He was Prime Minister from 1783 to 1801 and from 1804 to 1806. 59 The Napoleonic Wars were fought from 1799 to 1815 by Napoleon in his effort to take control of the whole of Europe. Managing to defeat most of his enemies, Napoleon was defeated by Britain in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815.

nations of Europe, which ensured peace on the continent for the following years and the peace of Europe permitted Britain to continue expanding its empire. The Enlightenment The prevailing intellectual movement of eighteenth-century Western Europe came to be known as the Enlightenment. Challenging the traditional doctrines and values, the Enlightenment manifested a clear tendency towards individualism and emphasised the idea of human progress based on the free use of reason and rational principles. Enlightenment thinking revolutionised the mentality of Western Europe by favouring rational scientific inquiry and rejecting obscurantism and superstition. Enlightenment thinkers pleaded for the idea of universal human rights, which necessarily implied humanitarian tolerance. Deism60 replaced religious dogma and revelation. In Britain, the beginning of the Enlightenment may be traced as far back as the Glorious Revolution, with the new ideas and principles it brought about. Religious tolerance and a powerful Parliament became characteristics of the British political and social life. The bases of the Enlightenment thinking in Great Britain were definitely laid by Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, published in 1687 and John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, published in 1690. The end of the Enlightenment is generally associated with the French and the American Revolutions. Most of the Enlightenment ideas and ideals became the driving force behind both events, while being, at the same time, realised through them. These ideals generated new tendencies towards spiritual liberation and free expression, which would take shape in the Romantic art and literature at the end of the eighteenth century. The same ideals would lie at the basis of the political liberalism and reform system in nineteenth-century Britain. Given the peculiarities of seventeenth-century Britain, it may be said that the Enlightenment naturally evolved from the liberal atmosphere and cultural effervescence of Augustan England. In the context of the profound changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution and the colonial expansion, the Enlightenment thinkers tried to impose a new value system meant to undermine and replace the older social and religious order. Starting from a central principle synthesised by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant in “Have courage to use your own reason—that is the motto of Enlightenment,” the Enlightenment intellectuals considered human reason central, and indispensable, to both politics and human conduct. The universe, previously believed to be under the supreme control of a supernatural God, was now considered ruled by scientific laws and consequently lent itself to scientific analysis based on experiment and observation. The revolutionary discoveries in science and technology permitted man to know nature and use it to his own benefit. The individual had, as it was formulated in the American Declaration of Independence, the right to happiness and this could be achieved only by eliminating all external limitations and constraints. The free individual, a man or a woman, had the right and obligation to 60

A system of thought according to which religion should be based on reason rather than on revelation. Although it accepted the existence of a Supreme Being or Creator as a primary cause of the universe, idea supposed to be common to all religions, deism denied the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe.

reform the world in which he lived. Faith in progress and freedom of religion were two of the favourite ideas of the Enlightenment and they definitely influenced the whole course of civilisation in the following centuries. Typical for the spirit of the Enlightenment was the contribution of the Scottish historian and philosopher David Hume, whose philosophical position was influenced by the ideas of the British philosopher John Locke. His Treatise of Human Nature, whose ideas were condensed in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is one of the key works that laid the basis of the tradition of British empiricism, by trying to demonstrate that people could be certain only about what was directly taken in through their senses. Enlightenment Art and Literature The Enlightenment ideas find their reflection in the neoclassical art and architecture that developed in Europe and North America in the later half of the eighteenth century. The neoclassical art, inspired by and trying to assimilate the values of the Greek and Roman ones, became characteristic for an age whose ideals were considered to be rivalling with those of the ancient Roman and Greek democracies. The productions of the British neoclassical artists, including the portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Romney or Thomas Gainsborough’s land or seascapes, observe the principles of order, logic and proportion. The same tendency can be noticed in the style of the Scottish architect and designer Robert Adam, who redesigned a number of stately English houses, such as Osterley Park House, introducing the neoclassical style to Great Britain.(Picture) The literature of the period is characterised by reason, moderation and simplicity. The later seventeenth century and part of the eighteenth century were dominated by a similar neoclassical view. Looking back on the ancient Greek and Roman literary works, considered to have already reached perfection, the British creators try to write according to clearly established rules. Aristotle’s Poetics and Horace’s Ars Poetica substantially influenced neoclassical literature and the neoclassical view according to which art must delight and instruct at the same time. The genres and species61 of classical literature became the favourite forms used by the neoclassical writers. The neoclassical doctrine was best synthesised in Boileau’s L’Art Poétique and Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism. In the context of the Enlightenment, Dryden’s and Pope’s poetry represents the creator’s effort to attain that perfection of form that could be achieved only through human reason. The preoccupation with the power of reason and good sense, the belief in human progress and the tendency towards individualism characteristic of the eighteenth century also encouraged the production of a large number of prose works, such as Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels or Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. A new popular, though highly Protean, form emerged in the century. The novel was discovered as the best means to represent the changing reality of the time. Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne or Jane Austen used the novel to express their view of the complexity of the individual and the power of individualism, as well as of a world subject to constant change. Joseph Addison and Richard Steele’s Spectator imposed a new prose style, satisfying audience’s taste for popular journalism, while taking this opportunity to 61

Tragedy, comedy, ode, epistle, satire, epigram, epic or elegy.

offer witty criticism of their contemporary society in a style characterised by reason, moderation and common sense. Romanticism Towards the end of the century, there occurred in Europe a profound shift in the attitudes to art and human creativity generated by a reaction against the ordered rationality of the Enlightenment, perceived as mechanical and artificial. Paradoxically, Romanticism defined itself by challenging the very same principles in which it originated. Unlike neoclassicism, Romanticism tried to restore imagination and aspiration as the main privilege of the individual. The romantic age stressed emotion over reason. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, painters like John Constable and J. M. W. Turner, who exercised a clear influence on French impressionism, returned to nature as a source of inspiration, emphasising its beauty and force. Far from observing rules that could have generated relatively similar artistic responses, the Romantic paintings may be said, however, to share a specific approach, highly imaginative, capable of suggesting intensity of emotion. In literature, Romanticism subordinated reason to intuition and passion and was characterised by the cult of nature and an interest in the past and the exotic. English Romanticism emerged at the end of the eighteenth century with the writings of William Blake and William Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads. The rejection of the artificiality of neoclassical conventions brought about a revival of lyric poetry. Wordsworth and Coleridge were followed by a second generation of Romantic poets represented by Byron, Shelley and Keats. A new wave of women novelists started creating in Britain during this period. Mary Shelley and the Brontë sisters wrote novels with a powerful imaginative force, trying to overcome the prejudice against women writers.

The Victorian Age George III continued as King of Great Britain and Ireland until 1820. Yet in 1811 his already declared mental illness made it impossible for him to rule and his prerogatives were taken over by his son as Prince Regent until the king’s death. George became king as George IV (1820-1830). It is, however, not surprising that, though George IV, king George III’s eldest son, and then his brother, William IV ruled the country until 1837, the nineteenth century in Britain’s history is generally known as the Victorian era or age, name derived from that of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). On account of his profligacy and extravagance, George IV was better known as “the first gentleman of Europe” rather than as King of Britain and Ireland. The

only important document his reign is associated with was one whose passing in Parliament he opposed as a matter of fact, the Catholic Emancipation Act62. William IV was king of Great Britain and Ireland (1830-37). His reign meant no more than his brother’s did except for the first Reform Bill of 1832 passed under his rule. To have the bill passed in the House of Lords dominated by the Tories, William IV created fifty new Whig peers to counterbalance the Tory opposition. The Reform Bill of 183263 was the first in a series of acts of Parliament passed in the nineteenth century that contributed to the democratisation of the electoral process and brought about electoral reform. By redistributing the seats in Parliament and eliminating certain restrictions relating to residence and qualification, the act almost tripled the electorate. It also increased the representation of Ireland and Scotland. Its importance resided in the fact that it generated a transfer of political power from the aristocracy to the middle classes, from the House of Lords to the House of Commons. Most of the significant changes that characterised nineteenth-century Britain took place, however, under Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Her reign was the longest in the British history, which is why it came to be known as the Victorian age. Moreover, Victoria’s life principles and ideals tended to extend to an entire nation. Devotion to family, the sense of responsibility or obedience to law came to be accepted as standard conduct during the Victorian era. The new mentality contributed much to the period being perceived as a conventional, but also as a highly stable one in spite of the social, political and economic dynamism that characterised it. It is against this background of apparent stability and conventionality that much of the renewal associated with the twentieth century would define itself. Victoria’s reign coincided with Britain’s greatest period as a world power. The British Empire expanded and reached its climax in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Victoria was queen of the United Kingdom and Ireland, but she also was the official head of an empire that included Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand, and large parts of Africa. Queen Victoria’s Britain was the world’s most developed industrial nation. The Industrial Revolution continued to affect the country’s evolution throughout the whole of the nineteenth century. The unprecedented industrial development was at the basis of the Victorian people’s belief in progress, but it also generated the need for further social and political reform. Child labour was one of the aspects subject to reform. Laws were passed to limit the number of hours children could work and the age under which they could not. Child education became an issue in the period and education acts were adopted to help establish public schools in the local districts and make education compulsory for children from five to ten. The mushrooming industrial towns and their increasing population 62

Passed in 1829, this statute granted political and civil liberties to Roman Catholics in Great Britain and Ireland. The act replaced the anti-Catholic laws initiated ever since Henry VIII’s reign, according to which the Catholics were not allowed to buy or inherit land, practice law or vote. By the Catholic Emancipation Act, the Catholics were granted even the right to hold office in Parliament. 63 The Reform Bill of 1832 abolished the ‘rotten’ boroughs, i.e. with no or small population, and the ‘pocket’ boroughs, i.e. whose representatives were controlled by influential landowners, in the sense that their representation in Parliament decreased, while the representation of the new industrial cities increased. By getting rid of the ‘rotten’ boroughs, the Reform Bill led to a more representative government. By taking measures against the ‘pocket’ boroughs, it eliminated corrupt electoral practices, such as bribery.

imposed measures in the field of public health, sewerage and water supply systems. To solve problems relating to wages, working conditions and hours, workers began to organise themselves in trade unions, whose existence and right to strike were recognised by the government in the 1870s. The labour unions gradually grew in number and force until they came to influence the British politics. The Labour Party formed at the beginning of the twentieth century from the representatives of the unions imposed itself later in the century as one of the two major political parties in Britain. Reform Movement The political reform movement in Britain from 1838 to 1848 is known as Chartism or the Chartist movement. The programme known as the People’s Charter aimed to improve the political system by demanding the right to vote for all adult male citizens, the right to vote in secret, annual parliamentary elections and the right to become a Member of Parliament without possessing land. The Chartists’ programme openly supported and signed by more than three million people was rejected by Parliament three times, in 1839, 1842 and 1848. Yet, in spite of Parliament’s opposition, all the Chartists’ demands, except for annual parliamentary elections, were met and they were turned into law later on the nineteenth century or at the beginning of the twentieth. The Reform Bill of 186764 extended the right to vote to urban dwellers and the Reform Bill of 188465 enfranchised the agricultural workers as well. The right to vote in secret was introduced in 1872, but all men and women got the right to vote only in 1918. Result of the changing social situation of Britain, all these acts were the expression of a constant need for reform movement characteristic of nineteenth-century Britain. Although they were far from solving the social inequity and the problem of representation, they meant a considerable step forward in the democratisation of the political process. Victorian Politics Two important political parties emerged during the 1830s and came to dominate the Victorian politics. The Whigs in Parliament created the Liberal Party, whose policy envisaged government reform, free trade and the enfranchisement of a larger percentage of Britain’s population. The Conservative Party, evolved from the former Tory Party, continued the Tory policy as supporters of the monarchy and Britain’s imperialist tendencies. Consequently, the contest between the outstanding leaders of these two parties became a characteristic of the Victorian period. Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the Conservative Party in 1846, was Prime Minister of Britain in 1868 and from 1874 to 1880. William Gladstone, leader of the Liberal Party, was Prime Minister of Britain four times, 1868 to 1874, 1880 to 1885, 1886 and 1892 to 1894. The two political rivals represented the leading figures of British politics for almost half of the Victorian era and considerably influenced the course of Britain’s history


The Reform Bill of 1867 created a number of new boroughs and increased the representation of the industrial cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester; it also enfranchised the householders in the boroughs, who were mainly working men. 65 The Reform Bill of 1884 enfranchised the workers and the agricultural labourers, almost doubling the electorate and making representation proportionate to the male population.

during the latter half of the nineteenth century, both in domestic and in foreign affairs. In spite of his Conservative views, Disraeli contributed to the reform process in Britain. He extended the suffrage to the working classes by introducing the Reform Bill of 1867. He also managed to have legislation passed to improve housing and the working conditions for the poor. However, his major achievements as Prime Minister were registered in foreign policy, where his goal was to protect and expand the British Empire. In 1875, he managed to purchase half of the Suez Canal, increasing thus Britain’s influence abroad. Three years later, following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Russian-Turkish War, Disraeli gained a diplomatic victory at the Congress of Berlin and, though Russia was victorious, he managed to prevent it from extending in the Mediterranean. In 1876, faithful to his imperialist views, Disraeli created the title of Empress of India for Queen Victoria. William Gladstone was a keen supporter of free trade and parliamentary and social reform. The Reform Bill of 1884 increased enfranchisement by extending the right to vote to practically all the adult male population of Britain. The Education Acts passed while he was Britain’s Prime Minister were the expression of Gladstone’s effort to create a national elementary education system, by establishing public schools in the local districts66 and making education compulsory for children from five to ten67. Gladstone was confident that government reform could contribute to improving the life of the British. He also believed in the possibility of improvement for people all over the world, his views being essentially anti-imperialistic. Gladstone imposed the concept of a strong government and thus created the image of stability that Victorian Britain is generally associated with. At the head of a very strong Liberal Party, he was seen as a symbol of the reform movement during the Victorian era. In domestic affairs, Gladstone’s greatest efforts were directed towards finding a solution to the problem of governing Ireland, as the Irish, who had fought for an independent Ireland for centuries, demanded independence from British rule. Gladstone tried to solve the Irish problem by settling first the religious issues, which had been the main cause of the Irish-British conflict for a long time. He thus passed laws that removed the Anglican Church as the nation’s official church. Although Gladstone proved sympathetic to the Irish grievances and took action to provide solutions, the Irish nationalists still insisted that the British rule should be overthrown and a free Irish state should be established. Charles Stuart Parnell led the Irish resistance, violence against the British officials increasing furthermore. Gladstone tried several times to introduce home rule for Ireland, but he failed, which brought about violent conflict between Britain and Ireland68. Although Gladstone’s views were mainly against the Empire and the British expansion brought about discussions on morality in the age, the British selfconfidence and trust in the potential of the individual were generated by Britain’s having gained an unprecedented position of power in the world. The Second 66

The Education Act of 1870 stipulated the responsibility of the local districts to establish public schools supported by local taxes. 67 Passed in 1881. 68 In 1921, most of Ireland gained its independence. Yet the violent conflict continued to represent a problem in Northern Ireland, where the Protestant majority voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the conflict escalated in the latter half of the 20th century.

British Empire represented a source of pride for the British, no matter how contradictory the opinions related to it may have been. The Second British Empire If the First British Empire had been essentially based on the economic relations between the mother country and its colonies, being the result of people’s effort to explore and develop trade, the Second British Empire was the result of political and military actions known as imperialism. Imperialism implied the military domination of the native peoples who were compelled to recognise the efficiency of the British institutions transplanted in the colonies and to observe the superiority of the British and European value system. If the First British Empire meant setting up colonies in little populated areas, which necessarily implied moving the native population aside, the Second British Empire involved the domination of the people in the colonies. In the nineteenth century, the attention of the British shifted from the west to the east and Britain had its most important dominions in the South Pacific, South Asia and Africa. The jewel of the Empire was India, where the British had first set foot in the eighteenth century. By imposing their own institutions and values in India, the British managed to create a unified country out of the many separate kingdoms and principalities. India was ruled through governors-generals, whose efforts were directed towards having the British law and civil service system accepted on account of its unquestionable superiority. An inevitable clash of cultures occurred, mainly because, though more capable of controlling poverty and disease, the British looked down upon the Indians, considering them less cultured than the Europeans. In 1828, English replaced Persian as the official language of government in India. The British people’s lack of respect for native traditions caused widespread resentment among the Indians against the British rule. The Indian soldiers’ rebellion69, though put down by the British, made the British reconsider their relations with India and instead of trying to anglicise it, they tried to govern by also assimilating the Indian traditions. Britain also expanded into Africa, entering the fierce competition between the European powers over the wealth of the eastern coast of the continent. The British drove the French from Egypt and, through Disraeli’s effort, gained control of the Suez Canal. The ambition of the British was to control all the eastern side of the African Continent, which provided a much dreamed-of wealth of diamonds and gold. The British ambition, translated into their effort to establish a railroad from Cairo to Cape Town, generated a state of conflict between Britain and the other European powers, especially Germany and Holland70. Although the middle of the nineteenth century was characterised by relative stability in imperialist matters, in the sense that Britain was more interested in making its possessions function efficiently rather than in expanding its empire, in 1841, the British occupied Hong Kong, enhancing thus their trade opportunities in southern China.


The Sepoy Rebellion took place in 1857. ‘Sepoy’ was the name under which the Indian soldiers were known. 70 The Boer War (1899-1902) broke out between the British and the Boers, who were descendents of the original German and Dutch settlers. The Boers had founded Transvaal and the Orange Free State, two independent republics in south Africa, of which the British wanted to take control.

In the same period, as the concept of responsible government71 imposed itself, Britain started withdrawing militarily from certain colonies. It only reserved its right to control foreign affairs and get involved in external defence. Thus, Canada and the Australian colonies were granted responsible government. The expansion and the strengthening of the empire increased Britain’s international prestige, reason for which Queen Victoria herself preferred the Conservative Benjamin Disraeli to the Liberal William Gladstone. As a matter of fact, the Conservatives dominated Britain’s government during the last decade and a half of Victoria’s reign, which was, to a certain extent, evidence in favour of the Conservatives’ imperialist policy being also preferred by the British nation as a whole. As a matter of fact, Queen Victoria came to be identified with the nineteenth-century empire building, which is why she reached the peak of her popularity towards the end of her reign. It is also on account of the prestige given by the empire that the Victorian era gave an impression of continuity and stability, in spite of its also being an age of contrast, characterised by dynamism and change. Britain became one of the most powerful industrialised nations of the world. Britain’s undoubted position of power was the main message that the World Exhibition, inaugurated on 1 May 1851 by Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, transmitted to the whole world. In a letter addressed to her uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, Victoria synthesised the spirit of enthusiasm that had animated the organisation of the British exhibition of 1851 and given the world the best evidence of Britain’s uncontested position, engendering a nationwide feeling of pride and success. “I wish you could have witnessed the 1st May 1851, the greatest day in our history, the most beautiful and imposing and touching spectacle ever seen, and the triumph of my beloved Albert. Truly it was astonishing, a fairy scene. Many cried, and all felt touched and impressed with devotional feelings. It was the happiest, proudest day in my life, and I can think of nothing else. Albert’s dearest name is immortalised with this great conception, his own, and my own dear country showed she was worthy of it. The triumph is immense, for up to the last hour the difficulties, the opposition, and the ill-natured attempts to annoy and frighten, of a certain set of fashionables and Protectionists, were immense; but Albert’s temper, patience, firmness, and energy surmounted all, and the feeling is universal. You will be astounded at this great work when you see it! - the beauty of the building and the vastness of it all. I can never thank God enough I feel so happy; so proud. Our dear guests were much pleased and impressed.”72 ‘The building’ Victoria was so proud of was the Crystal Palace73, which was certainly intended to impress and suggested Britain’s position as the leading force during the industrial age. Entirely built of cast iron and glass, the Crystal Palace 71

i.e. government by the citizens of a colony The Letters of Queen Victoria, A Selection from Her Majesty’s Correspondence between the Years 1837 and 1861 (London: John Murray, 1907). 73 The Crystal Palace in London was designed especially for the Great Exhibition of 1851 by the English architect Joseph Paxton. Entirely made of cast iron and glass, the building of the Crystal Palace radically challenged the methods and materials of traditional architecture, iron replacing the traditional masonry of stone or brick. Benefiting by the advantages of mass production and prefabrication, a feature of the Industrial Revolution, Paxton managed to erect the building in the record time of six months. Following Paxton’s model, Gustave Eiffel designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1889. 72

epitomised the principles of the Industrial Revolution and anticipated the design of the later industrial construction. Victorian Art and System of Thought The Victorian era developed a style of architecture and furniture of its own. Rather eclectic, the Victorian style emerged out of the tendencies in the age to adapt earlier styles to the needs of the industrial age. The Gothic Revival style can be seen at its best in the building of the Houses of Parliament designed by Sir Charles Barry in 1835 and completed in 1860. The same style was used for the Tower Bridge, opened in 1894, which is also acknowledged as a masterpiece of modern engineering. The apparent stability of the Victorian era was the result of a solid and coherent value system. Faith in God, morality, honesty, devotion to hard work and to family life, patriotism were all qualities embodied by the Queen and thus came to be associated with the monarchy as the guarantee of stability of the Victorian society. There was, however, an important discovery in science that challenged the prevailing belief of Western people, according to which every thing that existed was God’s creation. Darwin’s theory of evolution essentially influenced not only life and earth sciences, but also all modern thought. It was to challenge even the moral premises of the British imperialist tendencies, which was going to be felt as a clearer influence at the turn of the century. The social and political developments in the Victorian era brought about the advent of a materialistic philosophy, thinkers and writers becoming further interested in the progress of the individual and of the society based on the development of education and growth of democracy. The British philosopher and economist, who considerably influenced the nineteenth-century thought, was John Stuart Mill, whose utilitarian doctrines74 lie at the centre of the Victorian system of thought. Mill’s views were seen as radical in the age, as he supported innovating ideas such as equality for women75, compulsory education or birth control. Some of the thinkers of the Victorian age developed specific attitudes as a reaction against the materialism and commercialism of the period. Thomas Carlyle’s idealist philosophy was an attempt to recover the worth and nobility of life by means of work, courage and the discovery of the godlike in man. John Ruskin, writer and artist, believed that beauty and vitality could be reached only by getting rid of the ills of the industrial society. A believer in social justice, Ruskin supported the idea of education for the working people. Scholars like Walter Pater proposed a possible escape from social problems by withdrawing into aesthetic hedonism. Moving away from Romanticism, the Victorian poetry became more intellectual and rational. The Victorian poets themselves addressed issues characteristic of the Victorian age, developing an interest in problems relating to social change, religious faith or political power. Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning and Matthew Arnold are the representative poets of the Victorian age. 74

Utilitarianism represents the system of ideas according to which the useful is the good and good are those actions that produce happiness. It is argued that governments should try to produce the greatest happiness to the greatest number. 75 Mill’s supporting the right to vote for women in the discussions over the Reform Bill of 1867 contributed to the formation of the suffrage movement in the early 20th century.

Their poetry, marked by the tendency towards meditation, introspection and emotional analysis, has clear philosophical and ethical dimensions, anticipating in technique the evolution of modern poetry. From among all literary genres, however, the novel was the most sensitive to the dynamism and change of the Victorian period. That is why it became the dominant form during this period, proving able to be record the contrasting aspects of an apparently stable society. Realism was the creators’ favourite mode of writing, gradually replacing the romantic one. The novelists’ literary effort clearly went in the direction of capturing the individual problems and social relationships. From Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy, whose works marked the beginning and end of a century of unprecedented achievement in the field of novel writing, the Victorian novelists developed a keen sense of observation, becoming interested in the individual’s development as much as in the social relationships. Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, George Eliot set up a sound tradition of novel writing against which much of the renewal of the 20th-century modernists would define itself. Able to capture and expose the social evils, sensitive to the changes in the age, the Victorian writers managed to offer a complete and accurate view of a period perceived as stable and conventional in spite of its obvious dynamism.

The Twentieth Century Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the British history had been marked by a clear effort to define a nation’s identity. To reach this goal and impose itself in the European and world’s context, Britain sometimes chose to remain isolated within its water boundaries. At some other moments, Britain opened up towards the European continent, until, during Queen Victoria’s reign, it managed to gain a position of unprecedented power in the world. By surveying the various periods in the history of British civilisation, there is, however, a recurrent pattern that one can identify in the succession of these periods. The history of civilisation can be seen not necessarily as a succession of historical or cultural periods, but rather as a series of assertions and denials, or rather efforts to challenge what exists, following one another. A form of denial succeeds to another form of denial and what one may have the chance to discover

is that, once it imposes itself, innovation becomes tradition to be replaced by a different type of innovation. Every new cultural period denied and replaced the certainties of the previous one, changing its own questions into newly constituted certainties. The special quality of the twentieth century resides in its essentially being a century characterised by internationalism76. In spite of its privileged position as one of the greatest world powers, if not the greatest, Britain would be forced to learn to live as part of a world whose situations of crisis could be solved only if countries accepted to function as perfectly synchronised systems. The beginning of the twentieth century was characterised by a spirit of change to be sensed everywhere in the world. The stability of the Victorian era was put to severe test and the new value system started challenging the fairly solid Victorian one. As a matter of fact, all the reform movements initiated in nineteenth began to affect considerably the British society at the beginning of the twentieth century. Britain at the Turn of the Century When Victoria died in 1901, her son succeeded to the throne and ruled the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1901 to 1910 as King Edward VII. He also took over his mother’s position as emperor of India. His reign is known in the history of British civilisation as the Edwardian period. Because of Victoria’s unusually long reign, Edward was Prince of Wales for most of his life. He spent his time studying and taking part in social events. In his capacity as Prince of Wales, he also travelled a lot to British dominions and foreign countries, such as Russia or France, inaugurating thus the tradition of goodwill visits by members of the British royal family. Edward’s passion for sports, especially yachting and horse racing, increased his popularity at home, both as Prince of Wales and as king. His reign is noted as a period of peace and economic prosperity for Britain, all the more so as it was followed by the years of conflict and outburst of violence in Europe and around the world of the First World War. As king of Britain, Edward tried to diminish the political tension that had been mounting in Europe in the first decade of the twentieth century and it was on his diplomatic effort that international amity increased in Europe, Britain’s position being subsequently strengthened. On his death, the crown of Britain went to his son, George, who ruled as George V (1910-1936). George’s popularity with the British was as high as his father’s. It depended to a large extent on his supporting the British armed forces during World War I. Besides, under the tensioned political and military circumstances of this conflagration, George found it appropriate to give up his German titles and change his family name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor in 1917. In the years preceding the outbreak of World War I, many of the political and social movements started during the Victorian period continued or began to have visible results. Their impact was higher, however, as their goal was no longer to improve existing conditions, but rather to reorder the society altogether. Socialist ideas began to gain ground not only among the industrial workers, but also among middle-class intellectuals77. 76

Internationalism is to be taken as the belief that countries should work together and learn to understand and accept each other’s traditions.

Free school meals, pensions for the elderly or the National Insurance78 represented some of the measures taken by the government in the first years of the twentieth century to improve the living conditions of the poor. They were made possible by the introduction of the budget known as ‘the people’s budget’79, which permitted the implementation of certain far-reaching social programmes. Closely associated with the country’s social situation, several political movements became more severe during this period, proving indispensable to the reordering of a more just society. The trade union strikes at the beginning of the twentieth century were the best evidence of the power of the labour movement, which had started to organise itself and act as a unified force in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The Labour Party, created to gain representation for the workers, managed to win twenty-nine seats in Parliament in the 1906 elections. Another issue that the British government had to address during this period, although its origins were to be traced as far back as the Age of the Enlightenment80, was that of women’s suffrage. This movement acquired impetus at the turn of the century and was underlain by the women’s effort to get the right to vote and to be represented. Known as the women’s emancipation, this movement sometimes had a rather violent aspect in Britain. Yet it took until after World War I that the women, who had had a significant contribution in wartime and influenced in a favourable way the public opinion, managed to win their rights. In 1918, Parliament enfranchised women householders, householders’ wives and women university graduates over thirty years of age, the voting age limit being lowered to twenty-one only ten years later. Britain’s government also had to cope with the rising tension in Ireland, where the Irish Republicans militated for Ireland’s independence, while the British unionists supported the union with Britain. This tension finally led to the Irish Revolution in 1912. Gladstone’s effort to pass the home rule bill for Ireland had ended in failure. The threat of World War I, however, made British Parliament pass home rule for Ireland in 1914 to avoid civil war, its enactment being suspended, however, until after the war. World War I Britain had been involved in more or less extended wars throughout its history, but none had been as violent as World War I. Moreover, before the twentieth century, the wars Britain played its part in had been regional at the worst. The first conflagration of the twentieth century affected Britain to such an extent that all its domestic problems were perforce pushed to the background of the political stage. 77

One of the most important socialist movements was the one led by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. It was known as the London Fabian Society and it also included among its members the novelist H. G. Wells and the playwright G. B. Shaw. The latter’s plays brought on stage and attacked some of the taboo ideas of the Victorians, such as class distinction or private property. The Fabians considered that the conditions of the workers and of the poor should become the object of scientific analysis and that legislation should be adopted to improve them. 78 It provided health-care and unemployment insurance to the families that lived below the poverty line. 79 Introduced by the Welsh socialist politician David Lloyd George in 1909, the budget was destined to fund social programmes for the poor. 80 British feminism may be said to originate in Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman written in 1792.

The colonial expansionism at the end of the nineteenth century and the struggle to take possession of new territories brought the European powers into a conflict that proved impossible to solve diplomatically. To redress the balance of power and to prevent future hostilities, the European nations formed alliances, which would constitute later on the two opposing sides during World War I. To be able to oppose Germany’s growing military threat, Britain entered into the Triple Entente with France and Russia, while Germany established the Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy. In 1914, when a Serbian nationalist assassinated the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, the European nations had to take a stand and diplomatic alliances had to be honoured. The European powers were thus pulled into a conflict that evolved into a total war. The war seriously affected Britain and changed the British society. Faced with the prospect of war, the two major political parties, at odds ever since the seventeenth century, formed a coalition government, which also included representatives of the Labour party. The trade unions urged that strikes should be put an end to. The movement for women’s emancipation came to a stop. The British economy was reorganised for wartime needs. The munitions industry came under the government’s control. Agriculture had to produce more. Women started working in industry to replace the over six million British men who had become members of the armed forces. For Britain, as for all the other countries involved in this conflict, World War I proved to be extremely expensive. Weapons had become better and more efficient. The new technologies, however, did nothing but make the war even more sophisticated and destructive. More than three million British died in the war and many returned to the British Isles with a certain degree of disability. For the British government, the situation became even more complicated with the claims for the independence of Ireland. Although promises of home rule for Ireland had been made in 1914, the Irish took the opportunity of the war to reassert their claims for total freedom. The Easter Rebellion of 1916 gave further impetus to the Irish Revolution and in 1918 the Irish representatives to Parliament declared an independent Irish Free State with its own Parliament81. As the British government would not recognise it, the British security forces started to be attacked by armed groups organised into the Irish Republican Army (IRA). By the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, the Irish Free State, consisting of the whole of Ireland, except Northern Ireland, became an independent nation, but it remained part of the British Empire. By the Treaty of Versailles concluded between the Allies and Germany in 1919 and which officially ended, Germany was forced to pay for war damage and it lost possession of large colonial territories. Britain got some of the German colonies in Africa and received a small part of the financial reparations Germany had to pay. At home, Lloyd George’s coalition government, re-elected in 1918, had to cope with the serious problems caused by the large number of soldiers coming back to the British Isles. Higher prices and lower wages brought about a series of strikes and generated unemployment, making the government unable to provide unemployment insurance. The economic situation worsened during the following decade and in spite of the social welfare programme proposed by the Labour and Liberal government of 1929, Britain was severely affected by the worldwide 81

It was called Dáil Éireann, meaning ‘Assembly for Ireland’ in Gaelic.

economic crisis. Radical measures had to be taken to raise income taxes and reduce unemployment. Britain abandoned free trade, placing duties on imports. It nationalised utilities, including coal. Most importantly, however, although its economy started to recover by 1935, Britain had to modernise all its sectors to be able to face the fierce competition from the United Sates mainly, but also from Germany, whose economy had recovered due to a sustained rearmament programme. Yet, no matter how seriously affected it was by the Great Depression, Britain still was one of the world’s greatest powers, having a leading role in the newly established League of Nations82, whose aim, after the experience of World War I, was to try and solve international conflicts peacefully. The more serious impact the war had on the British was rather of a moral nature. World War I had brought about a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity. The British, no longer willing to fight, did not see why they should hold on to the colonies of the vast British Empire, very expensive to rule anyhow. Besides, many of these colonies no longer wanted to be ruled by Britain. Under the circumstances, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa became independent countries. They remained, however, part of the British Commonwealth of Nations set up in 1931. In 1922, Egypt was granted independence too, although Britain retained control of the Suez Canal. A nationalist movement, under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership, started in India, making it difficult for Britain to control this colony. World War II In the latter half of the thirties, Germany under the rule of the Nazi Party, through Adolf Hitler’s actions, started to represent again a threat to the peace of the world. German expansionism was not radically counteracted, the European countries, especially Britain, trying to make concessions to Germany in an effort to maintain peace in Europe. Despite Germany’s act of aggression against Austria and Czechoslovakia, Britain did not take a stand until Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. When Britain and France declared war on Germany, World War II began and Britain had an important challenge to face, as for the next two years, it was the only country to fight the Germans in Europe. By 1941, the war had become international and two alliances were created. The Axis powers included Germany, Italy, and Japan, while Britain, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United States were known as the Allied Powers. The British were determined to fight the Germans and win the war, inspired by the artful speeches of one of the nation’s greatest statesmen, Winston Churchill, Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945. By the concerted actions of the allied forces, Germany’s expansion was put an end to and Germany was eventually defeated in 1945. World War II was far more violent and extended than World I. It took its toll on every nation. Practically all countries of the world finally got involved in the conflict. More than fifty million people were killed. The most important problem, however, that the humanity was confronted with in this war was of a moral nature. In 1945, the war ended when the Allies took control of Germany and Hitler killed 82

The League of Nations was established in 1920 as international alliance meant to preserve peace. It existed until 1946, when it evolved into the United Nations (UN).

himself, but Japan was defeated only when the atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States Army Air Forces. According to U.S. estimates, out of the three hundred and fifty thousand people of Hiroshima, sixty to seventy thousand people were killed or missing. Sixty-eight percent of Hiroshima's buildings were destroyed and more than twenty percent were damaged. Three days after the attack on Hiroshima, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing more than forty thousand people. The victory was not necessarily one gained by army commanders, but one gained as a result of making a disastrous experiment upon a civilian population. People died of flash burns, but radiation had considerably more and far-reaching effects. Nothing, however, could equal the atrocity, yet cynical sophistication, of the Holocaust, which represents, as a matter of fact, the greatest problem of morality associated with World War II. It was the work of the Nazis, but, unfortunately, all nations should take responsibility for the worst genocide in the world’s history. The Holocaust meant the almost complete destruction of the Jews in Europe by the Nazis, around six million people being exterminated in the German concentration camps. In the Aftermath of World War II Britain was severely affected by the war. Even if it was victorious, the war exhausted more than a quarter of Britain’s wealth. Consequently, the period after the war confronted Britain with serious problems of food, fuel and housing shortage, unemployment and monetary crisis. It was then not much of a surprise that the Conservative Winston Churchill, highly efficient in wartime, gave way to the Labour Party, which won the 1945 elections. The Labour government started a nationalisation programme, getting ownership of the Bank of England, of the coal, gas and electricity industries. Besides, the government took the iron and steel industries, which had been profitable private businesses. Yet, the fierce competition on the international market also required an ample programme of modernisation of these industries. A series of measures were also taken to improve the living conditions of the British. Welfare programmes were established. The 1946 National Insurance Act provided insurance for maternity, unemployment, old age, disability and death. In 1948, the National Health Service was set up, offering free medical care to the British. The Marshall Plan83 contributed to a large extent to the reconstruction of the United Kingdom after the war. In a few years, Britain managed to re-establish its export industries. The Marshall Plan was clear evidence of the fact that a major outcome of World War II was the new position of the United States as a world power. The most important effect of World War II, however, was to be seen in the political field. This conflict of unprecedented dimensions and violence forced the world’s nations to reconsider their position to one another and to take immediate measures to stop similar future conflagrations. The League of Nations, established in 1920, had been considered a solution to the peace of the world. Yet, it proved too weak to prevent the outbreak of World War II, which meant that it was imperative that such organisations should be 83

The European Recovery Programme, known as the Marshall Plan after the name of the US Secretary of State George Catlett Marshall, was a programme designed by the United States in 1947 to help European countries rebuild their economies after the war through low-cost loans.

strengthened if they were expected to play an active and effective role in the world’s twentieth-century history. Consequently, the United Nations Organisation was set up in 1945. The aim of this international organisation based in New York was to promote peace around the world and solve international problems. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Britain continued to play an important part in international affairs. Moreover, the Labour government supported Britain’s military presence in the British colonies and in Europe, in an effort to maintain its position and role as a world power. The United Kingdom had an equally significant part as one of the founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – NATO established in 1949 as a measure against the Soviet threat after World War II. Disintegration of the British Empire Before World War II, in the aftermath of World War I, Britain had reconsidered its relationships with many of its colonies and in 1931 it created the Commonwealth of Nations. Several colonies were granted the status of dominion, which also implied, apart from the right to self-government, a preferential treatment on the British market for the goods coming from these dominions. By Britain’s adopting this course of action, British rule practically ended in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. A sustained movement for independence eventually made Britain withdraw from India too, although the loss of Britain’s most valued colony represented the beginning of the disintegration of the British Empire. India became independent in 1947, when it divided into two countries, India and Pakistan. In 1922, Egypt had been granted independence, but the British had preserved the Suez Canal, which helped Britain maintain its role as a world trader. In 1956, the Egyptians seized the canal and, despite its efforts and the military assistance of France and Israeli, Britain was forced to leave the canal area, losing thus its influence in the region. In the 1960s, many of Britain’s possessions in Africa readjusted their relations to Britain. They either changed into republics, adopting, however, the British forms of government and law, or they became self-governing states and joined the Commonwealth. Yet, although it lost its empire, Britain continued to exercise considerable, even if indirect, influence in the areas that had once been part of the British Empire, through institutions and, more importantly, education. The Commonwealth also provided the framework for Britain’s having an important contribution in international affairs and acting as a mediator in situations of conflict in zones that had previously been under British control, such as the Middle East and Africa. Developments in the 20th-century Arts and Thinking The twentieth century was, from its very beginning, confronted with a state of crisis in all fields of life, social, political or artistic. More than any of the centuries preceding it, the twentieth was essentially an international one, characterised by a new spirit, under the form of a reaction against the established system of values and break with tradition. The key concept, shared by the whole Western world was that of ‘the modern’. It would be then difficult to speak about distinct achievements restricted to Britain alone. As the two world wars demonstrated it, Britain could no longer play its role on the international stage independently, but

as an integral part of a system whose functioning depended on the individual countries’ ability to interrelate, while acknowledging one another’s identity. Britain was just one of the components of the Western world and the rapid economic, social, political and cultural changes occurring in this world proved unlikely to leave Britain unaffected. An unprecedented development of science and technology led to a complete questioning of the pre-established values of the previous centuries and forced the human mind to adapt itself to a seemingly dismembering system and try to cast order upon it. New values struggled to emerge and become operational throughout the twentieth century. The concept of ‘the modern’ is probably the most difficult to define in the context of this century, but what it certain is that modernisation occurred almost simultaneously in all fields and in all countries of Western Europe. In 1899, the Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud wrote The Interpretation of Dreams, in which he formulated the fundamental concepts to underlie the psychoanalytic method, based on dream analysis and free association. His work was to exercise one of the most notable influences on the twentieth-century modernist literature, in that a new interest in the mind and the mechanisms underlying the mental processes started to be taken. Most significant developments in narrative technique that characterised the twentieth-century literary productions came to be associated with Freud’s theories. In 1900, the German physicist Max Planck developed his quantum theory, postulating that energy is radiated in small, discrete units, called quanta. In 1905, the German American physicist Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity, which would become the basis of the later demonstration of the unity of matter and energy, of space and time and of the forces of gravity and acceleration. Not only did both theories usher physics into the modern era, but they also substantially influenced the new artistic perspective, making creators reconsider the relationships between art and reality. Based on this development of science and technology, arts began to claim their right to represent in a new way, even if this meant deforming them, the data of sense perception and experience. Modern artists started from the assumption that “whether we call it life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, has moved off, or on, and refuses to be contained any longer in such ill-fitting vestments as we provide.”84 Since 1908, the year of Braque Exhibition, Georges Braque85, Pablo Picasso86, Constantin Brâncuşi87 have forced audiences to rethink and reorganise their perception of life or reality. The same tencdencies of refashioning older art were also present in music and dance. Igor Stravinsky’s88 music broke the conventions of harmony and was characterised by asymmetrical rhythms. In 1908, he started composing music for 84

Virginia Woolf, ‘Modern Fiction,’ The Idea of Literature. The Foundations of Criticism (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1979) 198. 85 (1882-1963), French painter, who, with Pablo Picasso, originated cubism and the cubist style, one of the main tendencies in twentieth-century art. 86 (1881-1973), Spanish painter. Considered to be the most important artist of the twentieth century, Pablo Picasso originated cubism, invented collage as an artistic technique and developed assemblage (constructions of various materials) in sculpture. 87 (1876-1957), Romanian sculptor. His work considerably influenced the modern concepts of form in sculpture, painting and industrial design. 88 (1882-1971), Russian American composer, one of the influential figures of the 20 th-century music.

Sergey Diaghilev’s89 Ballets Russes, music of surprising dissonance becoming a perfect match for an unconventional choreography. Gaudí’s90 highly personal style, a mixture of neo-Gothic and art nouveau, also including surrealist and cubist elements, is at its best in the lofty cubist towers of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Família (the Church of the Holy Family) in Barcelona. The forms, colours and textures of the building still impress visitors, forcing them to reorganise their knowledge of what the art of architecture is or is expected to be. If in the period preceding World War I and between the two world wars, Europe had proved to be the incontestable centre of modern art, after World War II, the centre tended to move to the United States. The American artists’ efforts were marked by their intention to move away from European modernism. Various movements such as abstract expressionism91, minimalism92 or pop art93 were associated with the American artists’ endeavour to identify a form of expression of their own. Modern architecture originated in the United States and Europe, from where it spread to the rest of the world. Its distinctive character depended much on developments in iron and concrete as building materials. Modern architects considered it necessary to invent new styles and technologies more appropriate to express the spirit of a new age. A wide variety of buildings, sometimes dissimilar in appearance were put up. If they did not share a style, they shared, however, a sense of the modern understood as an attempt to break with the conventions materials, technologies or styles, of earlier architecture. Britain provides two of the earliest, yet well known examples of modern architecture, which is not surprising if one looks at Britain as the cradle and centre of the Industrial Revolution. The first structure entirely built of cast iron was the bridge94 over the Severn at Ironbridge, a town in England considered to be an early centre of the Industrial Revolution. The iron and glass Crystal Palace in London, designed to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 and bear witness to Britain’s power, undoubtedly anticipated the principles and technology of the twentieth-century architecture. From the art nouveau style, architecture evolved towards an international style95 characterised by a new emphasis on volume, regularity and proportions, on technical perfection given by the use of materials such as steel and glass.


(1872-1929), Russian ballet impresario. His major contribution to the development of 20thcentury art was that he attempted to revive ballet as a serious art form. 90 Antoni Gaudí y Cornet, (1852-1926), Spanish architect, one of the most representative architects of the modern art of architecture. 91 Among its representatives were Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko. 92 Initiated by Frank Stella, minimalism avoided reference to everyday objects and used repetition as a means of composing the picture. 93 Represented by Andy Warhol, pop art tried to establish a strong connection between high art and popular culture. 94 It was designed by the English architect Thomas Pritchard in 1779. 95 In 1932, International Style: Architecture Since 1922, written by the American historian of architecture Henry-Russell Hitchcock and the architect Philip Johnson presented what could be seen as the characteristics of modern architecture, becoming thus one of the influential writings in the field.

Britain in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century In 1951, the Conservative Party came back to the fore of the British political stage, by winning the majority in Parliament. In 1952, Elizabeth II ascended the throne of Britain, associating her name with a period of renewed prosperity for the nation. The British economy grew stronger through sustained investments in the automobile and chemical industries. Besides, the steel and iron industries, highly profitable before and during World War II, returned to private ownership. After several decades of exhaustion and subsequent slow recovery during and after the war, a consolidated economy contributed to the growth of what was called “the affluent society.” The British regained their confidence in the potential of the British nation to play a part in the world’s context. The 1950s represented a climax of Britain’s cultural optimism translated in a definite influence Britain exercised in fashion, style, music or sports over the other countries of the Western world. The enthusiasm of the 1950s dampened in the 1960s and 1970s mainly because of the fierce competition from other European countries, especially Germany and France, which had emerged as industrial and trading powers after the war. France, under De Gaulle’s leadership, even tried to prevent Britain from joining the European Economic Community96, mainly on account of its close relationships with the United States. Because of an economic slowdown, British currency devalued. Important British industries, such as shipbuilding, textiles, coal or steel, started to fall into a decline, bringing about tense relationships between workers and employers and generating strikes. The Labour Party won the 1974 elections by promising to meet the demands of the trade unions. Yet the wages and the prices could not be kept under control and in 1979, the Conservatives took office, under Britain’s first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher’s policy was based on her firm belief that the state should not interfere in business, reason for which many of the industries owned by the state were privatised. Besides, she was determined not to give in to the trade unions and thus substantially reduced their power by a set of laws. The theory at the basis of Thatcher’s policy was called monetarism and it involved control of the money supply to reduce inflation, encouragement of investments by lowering tax rates and expansion of businesses by reducing government intervention in industry. Profiting by the spur of the Falkland War and Britain’s victory in the war, after the electoral victory of 1983, the Conservative government continued their economic policies, still unwilling to accept any compromise as far as the social programmes were concerned. By the mid-1980s, Thatcher’s monetarist policy started having visible effects, in that inflation was reduced, interest rates had been brought down and British industries had become competitive. Yet, while the Conservatives won the support of the upper classes, their policy was less favoured by the lower middle classes, especially because Margaret Thatcher encouraged people to rely on themselves, rather than on the welfare state. In other words, instead of perfecting social programmes to improve conditions for the poor, she made people pay for their own health care, education and pensions.


The EEC was established in 1957 and then changed into the European Community in 1967. Britain began negotiations to join the EEC in 1961, but its application was unsuccessful. After another attempt in 1967, Britain finally became a member of the EC on 1 January 1973.

Some people were critical of Thatcherism, i.e. the political and economic policies of Margaret Thatcher, while she was Britain’s Prime Minister (19791990). Although these policies helped develop British economy, by laying due emphasis on private enterprise and reducing inflation, they also created new social divisions, by increasing the gap between the rich and the poor. Besides, critics of Thatcherism deplored the fact that these policies had led to the loss of Britain’s traditional industries, many workers remaining unemployed. They also feared that they had led to a sort of dehumanisation, as people were more interested in making money than in one another. Because of her attitude to the European Union, Margaret Thatcher was forced to resign in 1990 by members of her own party, after having won three general elections. The Conservative John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher as Britain’s Prime Minister. Unfortunately, the Conservative Party Major inherited was divided mainly over issues relating to European Union. In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty amended the Treaty of Rome through which the European Economic Community had been established. Under the Maastricht Treaty, the major European powers agreed on a greater European integration, by creating a single economic union. Britain’s Conservative government opted out of the Social Chapter97, considering it appropriate that the social policy should exclusively fall under the responsibility of individual member states. Therefore, Britain did not sign the document in 1992, although every other European country agreed to it. Moreover, the Maastricht Treaty also proposed to create euro98 as the single unified currency of the European Union as part of the European Monetary Union. As Parliament and the British people disagreed about whether Britain should join in a single monetary policy, the Conservative government decided that they should not commit Britain to joining. In 1997, the Labour Party, under the leadership of Tony Blair, won the elections. In favour of the Social Chapter, they signed the document, but decided that Britain would not join the Economic and Monetary Union before 2002. The joining was to be considered a possibility only if it had clear economic benefits for Britain and if the British, for whom the idea of the economic union was highly unpopular, agreed to it in a referendum. The Labour Party had lost the elections since 1979, but the defeat of 1992 forced its members to seriously consider the party’s reorganisation. Tony Blair became the leader of the Labour Party in 1994 and effected the change that had imposed itself as indispensable. His great contribution was that he created a new image for his party, which was no longer to be seen under the control of the trade unions. This implied that individuals could get more private wealth and they could have a more personal choice about their education or health care. Despite the fact that Britain had reached a very good economic and social situation under the Conservative government, the Labour defeated the 97

The Social Chapter was that section of the Maastricht Treaty dealing with people’s rights under the European laws. The right of employees to be paid fairly and to work in safe conditions, the right of children and old people to be treated fairly, or the right of men and women to have equal opportunities were stipulated in this document. 98 Euro became the official currency of the European Union on 1 January 1999, replacing the ecu European currency unit). Euros were issued as coins and paper money from 1 January 2002. The Euro was introduced in the eleven countries that had supported the monetary union (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain).

Conservatives in 1997 and Tony Blair, the leader of the party, took office and became Britain’s youngest Prime Minister since the nineteenth century. Tony Blair’s centrist policies contributed to the Labour Party winning the national elections of 2001.

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