The Victorian Age took its name from queen Victoria, whose reign was one of the longest in British history. She was a nice queen, in fact she reigned constitutionally, becoming a mediator above parties (liberal and conservative).
We can divide Victorian Age into three periods: the Early period (1837-1848), the Middle period (1848-1870) and the Later period (1870-1901).
The Early period was a time of great problems and civil unrest: industrial depression, poetry, starvation, child labor, unrepresentative Parliament and deadly diseases.
After the French Revolution, Britain become again conservative with the First Reform Bill in 1832. The working classes were excluded and they hadn’t a representative Parliament. This situation provoked a popular protest called Chartist movement. The Chartists asked for: secret voting, universal male suffrage, the abolition of property qualification, payment of Members of Parliament, the establishment of electoral district equal in population and annually elections. But all their demands were rejected and the movement’s leaders were arrested.
At the beginning of the First Industrial Revolution, British economy was based on textile industry and agriculture. Prices of the finished products fell because of competition, but the manufacturers didn’t earn enough. For this reason, wages were reduced and the Corn Laws were introduced in order to keep the cost of the living high. This situation provoked starvation, poverty, immigration and many people died. Paupers couldn’t feed their children which were sent to work.
The Tory prime minister Robert Peel abolished the Corn Laws under the potato famine, when many people died and many others emigrated.
During this period many people moved from the countryside to the cities in order to find a job in the factories. Poor had to live in overcrowded slums where the few existing buildings were constructed with cheap materials. They lived in unsanitary conditions and many deadly diseases (cholera, tuberculosis, smallpox) spread.
The government made some laws in order to improve working classes conditions, for example the Poor Laws and a campaign to clean up towns, but they hadn’t a real application.
The Middle period was a time of prosperity and reforms. Britain grew both economically and territoriality, becoming the most powerful nation in the world. Everyone’s living standards went up through the trade. In fact, during this period, England become richer thanks to the trade with its most important prosperity, India.
It was also a time of new technological innovations, such as the steam powered machinery, which improved transport, trade and industry; and the telephone that changed completely the way of communication.
Britain become the workshop of the world and a key event was the Great Exhibition in 1851.
The Later Period saw Britain as the most powerful nation although it was already undamaged because of the rapid expansion of Germany and America. It was a time of political and cultural reforms.
In fact the working classes were gradually incorporated in the political life thanks to two important political figures: Gladstone and Disraeli. Thanks to them all the demands of Chartist movement become law.
Also women started to protest in order to obtain the right of voting.
Stuart Mill was the first one who tried to obtain the vote for women but he failed.
Many women united in protest groups; the most important was the Women’s Social and Political Union, also known as the suffragettes led by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst.
Darwin’s theories had a great impact during Victorian period determining a crisis in values. Darwin affirmed that chance and necessity were determining for the survival and the evolution of a species, but British beliefs were still tied to a religious creationism (the belief God has created everything).