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Two Great Queens, Two Great Eras

The Victorian Age is known as a glorious period in English history, second only to the
Elizabethan Age.
Some parallels are possible between the two Ages.
To begin with, they were named after the two queens, who reigned from the height of their
personality, their political stature, their determination to do the welfare of the nation. In point of
fact, the two periods brought about radical changes in the social and economic assets of the
country, thus starting each an era of progress and prosperity, which, in the course of time, would
reach all social strata. So, while under Elizabeth England underwent a big process of
modernization in all directions, with Victoria the triumph of the Industrial Revolution made of
England "The first workshop" in the world, deeply changing th life of the country from the
foundations.
Besides, under Elizabeth England became the most powerful nation on the sea, thus initiating the
colonial expansion which was to culminate in the colossal colonial empire under Queen Victoria.
To sum up, England was first in working her way through greatness under Elizabeth, and first
she was again with Victoria in affirming the supremacy of industrialism.
. In short, in spite of their being so distant from each other historically, the two eras mark each a
period of great political changes and economic development along with social emancipation and
awareness. The latter was made possible by the contradictions and injustices that inevitability
and punctually occur every time the structures of society undergo deep transformations. No great
human achievements have ever been accepted favourably from the very first.
Any reorganization of society, be it political, social, economic, scientific, has always had a
difficult start full of uncertainties and hardships. So it was under Queen Elizabeth (see the Poor
Laws of 1601, for instance), so it occurred with Queen Victoria, whose reign social inequities
witnessed too appalling poverty and horrible suffering along with so much wealth and prosperity:
the lower classes became poorer and poorer, the upper classes got richer and richer. So goes
history, and the world with it.

The Historical Background


Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, succeeding to William IV, her uncle. With her, the
Hanover Dynasty gained more respect and prestige, and the queen herself stood out as the best
symbol of the Crown.
Although she was only eighteen on her coronation, Victoria was endowed with a strong character
and a good deal of reservedness and seriousness. She got married to Prince Albert of SaxeCoburg-Gotha, to whom she bore nine children. In spite of her high rank, in all humbleness she
devoted all her life to her own family and her nation, never ceasing to love both.
The greatness of Victoria's personality and political cleverness was immediately shown by her
ability in surrounding herself with the greatest statesmen and politicians of the two parties, the
Liberals and the Conservatives. Such as: Lord Melbourne, and William Gladstone, liberals, and
Sir Robert Peel and Benjamin Disraeli, conservatives. They all exalted the figure of Prime

Minister to the utmost. Eventually, Victoria contributed to the affirmation of the democratic spirit
the two parties were inspired by. Especially, the two great political rivals, Disraeli and Gladstone,
established such a democratic alternation in the rule of the country as to make of England the
first democracy in Europe in the model of ancient Greece.
The reign of Queen Victoria was faced with many problems, both in the home policy and in the
foreign one.
As to the domestic issues (generally the concern of the Liberals) most of them referred to social
and political reforms.
Such as:
The 1832 Reform Bill, which transferred the political power
from the upper to the middle classes, but failed to advantage the working classes. As a result, th
Chartist movement was born (better known as Chartism) with the publication of the Peolple
Charter in 1838, which advocated universal manhood suffrage.
Famine in Ireland caused by the failure of potato crop (1846).
Repeal of the Corn Laws (1846).
Restoration of the Roman Catholic hierarchy (1850).
The London (or Great) Exhibition (1851), which established, through generai admiration and
recognition, England's power as the first industrial country in the world.
The Second Reform Bill (1867), extending the vote to the working classes. (Disraeli called it
"leap in the dark," and Carlyle, "Shootng Niagara").
The Third Reform Bill (1884), which extended Household Suffrage to the county
constituencies.
Of all these domestic events, three stand out as a turning point in English history: the first
Reform Bill (1832), the Repeal of the Corn Laws (1846), and the London Exhibition (1851):
three memorable dates, which paved the way to the political power of the middle-class.

The Oxford Movement


Originally known as the Tractarian Movement, it was also a disquieting event, if only because it
brought about further religious religious unrest divisions.
The movement was born at Oxford University in 1833, and endeavored to overcome the danger
threatening the Church as a result of the politicai and social trends of the time.
Among the founders there were John Keble and John Henry Newman.
As to the foreign events mainly the interest of the Conservatives the most important were:
Rebellion in Canada (1837), which led to Canadian self-determination. England made for its
loss by colonizing India. In 1876 Victoria became Empress of India.
The Crimean War (1854), in which England took part along with France on the side of the
Turks against Russia. The war closed with the Treaty of Paris (1856), by which Turkey was
assured her existence and independence.
Control of the Suez Canal (1875) obtained by Disraeli.
The Boer War (1899). This was the saddest event for Queen Victoria, the more so because she
could not see the conflict come to an end (she died one year before). From the ashes of the war
was born the Union of the South Africa (1902).

Another event, which affected England economically, was the American Civil War (1861-1865).
All told, the reign of Queen Victoria passed to history as the period in which England saw her
democracy fully established, her economy globally flourishing, her world power largely
recognized and respected, her enormous colonial empire still extending.
No wonder Queen Victoria is remembered as the monarch who made a powerful nation of
England, both admired and feared( 1).
1 Queen Victoria was succeeded by Edward VII (1901-1910). During his reign, Australia, New
Zealand, and South Africa mere granted their independence. At home many important political
and social reforms were passed. Such as: the National Insurance Act (1906) and the Old-Age
Pension Law (1909).
George V, Edward's eldest son, was England's next king from 1910 to 1936. Under him broke out
the First World War (1914).
In 1922 Egypt was granted self-determination, and Southern Ireland became a free State, and
took the name of Eire. Northern Ireland remained part of Great Britain, and was called Ulster.
George passed to history as the Pacemaker.

Scientific Progress and Industrialism


The Victorian Age was one of progress, especially in two directions, democracy and science.
Scientific progress (the progress of democracy has already been dealt with in the historical
background) was really great, and the whole century may be said to have been an era of
inventions. Suffice it to mention some of the most important discoveries in such fields as
medicine (Pasteur, and Koch) and natural science (Ch. Darwin, T.H. Huxley, H. Spencer, Mill,
and Tyndall), not forgetting, of course, the terrific advance in material progress given by
communication (telephone, telegraph) and transportation (railways). Industry, too, was
revolutionized by the application of machinery, steam and electricity.