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The 1800s: Historical Context

British policy after the congress of Vienna

After the congress of Vienna, Britain started a policy of ‘isolatism’ and concentrated on her economic supremacy at home and abroad and enlarging her colonial influence. The provisions of the congress helped Britain’s trade and commerce and became the greatest colonial power.
Victoria became queen in 1837. At the beginning her inexperience facilitated the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. She take an active part in political life in the first part of her reign. She was an important symbolic figure for Britain’s political and cultural life.
At the death of Albert in 1861, Victoria withdrew from national affairs but then the Prime Minister understood the importance of the symbolic role of the Crown and encouraged her to resume her interesting imperial matters.

Factors of distruption

The 19th century was the age in which Britain reached the top of its economic and colonial power, with a stable government and a feeling of continual progress.


A lot of conflicts troubled Victoria’s reign, with the exception of the Crimean War in 1854. The peace was broken by the Boer War (1899-1902) that was fight in South Africa between British and Dutch farmers to secure rights for British in the Transvaal where gold had been found in 1886.

Victoria's death

In 1901 Victoria dead and was succeeded by Edward Prince of Wales.

The origins of British empire

The beginning of the British Empire is in the 16th century. The Industrial Revolution influenced the trade: Britain imported a lot of things from colonies to be transformed into finished products that was exported again.
When Victoria became queen, Great Britain had colonies in Canada, West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, India and Africa.

The 19th century: imperial myth

The English felt a chosen race with the mission to carry civilisation and Christian religion all over the world. This view is voice in Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden.


In Ireland there was nation feelings against English dominance and the Irish Question dominated the parliamentary scene till the end of Victoria’s reign.
From the beginning of the 19th century Irish Roman Catholics didn’t have the same political and civil right as Irish Protestants required political reforms and equal civil rights.

In 1886 and 1893 Gladstone’s proposal for Irish Home Rule were rejected and rise a nationalistic movement that demanded an independent republic.


In the second half of 18th century the East India Company started to conquer territory. India exported tea, cotton, wood and pepper and imported British products.
The British Government replaced the East India Company’s authority when opposition to British rule by Hindu and Muslim soldiers was crushed by British solders. So, India was ruled by a Viceroy and in 1877 became “The Jewel in the Crown” of the British Empire when Queen Victoria was named Empress.
Then the British extend their influence in Afghanistan, Burma, the Punjab and Baluchistan.

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